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Deep Dive

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Guru Nanak

Barah Mah

 

(The practice of composing lyrics according to the twelve months of the year, to highlight human emotions and make spiritual or moral messages accessible to people, was common among Indian poets. Guru Nanak’s Barah Mah, composed in Tukhari raga, is the most highly rated in the Punjabi language. It is believed to be among the last of the Guru’s compositions.)

 

Chet (March-April)

Chet basant bhala bhavar suhavre

 

It is the month Chet,

It is spring. All is seemly–

The humming bumble-bee

And the woodland in flower-

But there is sorrow in my soul.

 

The Lord, my Master is away.

If the Husband comes not home, how can a wife

Find peace of mind?

 

Sorrows of separation waste away the body.

The Koil calls in the mango grove,

Its notes are full of joy.

Why then the sorrow in my soul?

 

The bumble-bee hovers about the blossoming bough,

O mother of mine, it is like death to me,

For there is a sorrow in my soul.

 

Nanak says: When the Lord her Master comes home

                     to her,

                     Blessed is then the month of Chet.

 

Vaisakh (April-May)

 

Vaisakh bhala sakha ves kare

 

In beauteous Vaisakh the bough adorns itself anew,

The wife awaits the coming of her Lord,

Her eyes fixed on the door.

‘My Love, You alone can help me across

The turbulent waters of life. Come home.

Without You I am worthless as a broken shell.

When You look upon me with favoure, Love,

And our eyes mingle;

Then shall I become priceless beyond compare.’

 

Nanak says: ‘Where seek you the Lord?

Whom are you awaiting?

You have not far to go to find Him.

He is within you, you are His mansion.

If your body and soul yearn for the Lord,

The Lord shall love you and Vaisakh be beautiful.’

 

Jeth (May-June)

 

Mah jeth bhala pritam kiun bisrai

 

Why forget the Beloved in the month jeth

When the land shimmers in the summer’s heat?

Grant me the Virtues, O Lord,

As win favour in Your eyes.

You are free from all attachment

And live in truth.

And I am lowly, humble, helpless.

How shall I approach You?

How find the heve of peace?

 

Says Nanak: She who knows the Lord

Becomes like the Lord.

She knows Him

By treading the path of virtue.

 

Asad (June-July)

 

Asad bhala suraj gagan tape

In Asad the Sun scorches.

The sky is hot

The earth burns like an oven,

Waters give up their vapours.

It burns and scorches relentlessly in the month of Asad.

 

The Sun’s chariot passes the noon’s sky

The wife watches the shadow creep across the courtyard.

And the cicada calls from the glades.

The beloved seeks the cool of the evening.

If the comfort she seeks be in falsehood,

There will be sorrow in store for her.

If it be in truth,

Hers will be a life of joy.

 

Says Nanak: Life and life’s end are at the will of the Lord

         To Him have I surrendered my soul.

 

Savan (July-August)

 

Savan sars mana ghan varsai

 

The season of rain has come.

My heart is full of joy,

My body and soul yearn for the master.

But He is away in foreign lands

If He return not, I shall die pining for Him.

 

The lighning strikes terror in my heart.

I am alone in my courtyard

In solitude and sorrow.

 

O Mother of mine, I stand on the brink of death,

Without the Lord I have no hunger nor sleep

I cannot suffer the clothes on my body.

 

Nanak sys: She alone is blest

                   Who becomes One with the Lord.

 

 

Bhadon (August – September)

 

Bhadon bharm bhuli bhar joban pachtani

Lost in the maze of falsehood

I waste my full-bloom youth.

River and land are one expanse of water

For it is the glad season of the rains.

It rains.

The nights are dark.

There is no peace for me.

Frogs croak in contentment.

Peacocks cry with joy.

The papeeha calls peeooh, peeooh.

The fangs of serpents that crawl,

The bite of mosquitoes that fly,

Are full of venom.

The seas have burst their bounds in the ecstasy of fulfillment.

I alone am bereft of joy,

Whither shall I go?

How shall I find Him?

 

Nanak says: Ask of the Guru the way

                     He knows the path which leads to the Lord.

 

 

Asan (September-October)

 

Asun au pira sadhan jhur mui

 

O Master come to me,

I waste and will die.

If the Master wills,

I shall meet Him.

If He wills not,

I am lost utterly.

I took the path of falsehood,

And the Master forsook me,

Age has greyed my locks

I hav lived many winters

The fires of hell still lie ahead,

And I am afraid.

The bough remains evergreen

For the sap that moves within

Night and day, renews life.

 

If the Name of the Lord courses in your veins,

Life and hope will for ever be green.

Meditate calmly on the Name.

That which ripens slowly ripens best.

 

Nanak says: Come now, my Love,

                     Even the Guru pleads for me.

 

Katak (October-November)

 

Katak kirat paiya jo prabh bhae

 

What pleases the Lord

Is all I merit.

The lamp of wisdom burns steadily

If the oil that feeds it

Be reality.

If the oil that feeds the lamp be Love

The beloved will meet the Lord and find fulfilment.

 

Full of faults, she is caught

In the cycle of birth and death

And finds no favour with the Lord.

Good deeds alone will end her sorrow.

Those who are granted the worship of Your Name

Hope to meet You in Your mansion.

 

Nanak says: O Lord till You grant us Your vision

                     And break the bonds of supersition,

                      One watch of day will drag like half a year.

 

 

Maghar (November-December)

 

Maghar mah bhala harigun ank smavai

 

The month of Maghar is bliss

To her who is lost in the Lord

For she is the virtuous one

And loves the Lord Eternal.

 

He Who is eternal, omniscient, wise is also the Master of destiny.

The world is in turmoil without faith.

She who has knowledge and contemplates on Him

Loses herself in Him.

By His grace she loves the Lord.

 

Proclaim the name of Rama in song and dance and verse,

And sorrow will flee away.

 

Nanak says: Only she is loved

         Who prays to her Lord

          With her heart.

 

Pokh (December-January)

 

Pokh tukhar pare van trin ras sokhai  

As the winter snow

Freezes the sap in tree and bush,

The absence of the Lord

Blights the body and the soul.

O Lord why do You not come?

 

He who gives life to the world

Him do I praise through the Guru’s word.

His light is in all life born

Of the egg or womb or sweat or seed.

O Merciful Master, O Bounteaous You

Grant me Your vision

That I may find salvation.

 

Nanak says: She who is in love with the Lord

                     Is infused with grace.

 

Magh (January-February)

 

Magh punit bhai tirath antar jania

 

The Lord has entered my being.

I make pilgrimage within myself and am purified.

I met Him.

He found me good

And let me lose myself in Him.

 

‘Beloved! If you find me fair

My pilgrimage is made,

I am cleansed.

More than the sacred waters of Ganga, Yamuna and and

            Tribeni migled at the Sangam;

More than the seven seas,

More than charity, almsgiving and prayer

Is the knowledge of Eternity that is the Lord.’

 

Nanak says: He who has worshipped the Great Giver of life

                    Has earned more merit than those who bathe at the sixty

        and eight places of pilgrimage.

 

Phalgun (February-March)

 

Phalgun man rehsi prem subhae

 

She whose heart is full of love

Is ever in full bloom.

Joy is hers for she has no love of self.

Only those who love You

Conquer love of self.

Come, Lord and abide in me.

 

Many a garment did I wear,

The Master willed not and

His palace was barred to me.

When he wanted me, I went

With garlands and strings of jewels and raiment of finery.

 

Nanak says: A bride welcomed in the Master’s mansion

                    Has found her true Love.

 

 

This translation of Guru Nanak’s ‘Barah Mah’ is taken from Hymns of the Gurus, translated by Khushwant Singh.