BĀRAH MĀHĀ or BĀRAH MĀSĀ, in Hindi, is a form of folk poetry in which the emotions and yearnings of the human heart are expressed in terms of the changing moods of Nature over the twelve months of the year. In this form of poetry, the mood of Nature in each particular month (of the Indian calendar) depicts the inner agony of the human heart which in most cases happens to be a woman separated from her spouse or lover. In other words, the separated woman finds her own agony reflected in the different faces of Nature. The tradition of Bārah Māhā poetry is traceable to classical epochs. In Sanskrit, the Bārah Māhā had the form of shaḍ ṛtu vārṇan, i. e. description of the six seasons (shaḍ =six; ṛtu = season; vārṇan = description), the most well-known example being Kālidāsa's Ṛtu Saṅhār. The mode was commonly employed to depict the moods of the love-stricken woman in separation, and it became an established vogue in medieval Indian poetry. Modern languages of northern India claim several distinguished models. In Hindi, the first instance of this poetic form occurs in Malik Muhammad Jāyasī's Padmāvat. In Punjabi, Gurū Nānak's Bārah Māhā in the measure Tukhārī is not only the oldest composition belonging to this genre but also the first in which the theme of love poetry has been transformed into that of spiritual import. He made the human soul the protagonist which suffers in the cesspool of transmigration as a result of its separation from the Supreme Soul. This is followed by Gurū Arjan's Bārāh Māhā. Later some Sūfī poets such as 'Alī Haider, Bulleh Shāh, Hāsham and Shāh Murād also wrote bārah māhās. Hāfiz Barkhurdār was the first poet in the Punjabi romantic tradition to compose a bārah māhā as an independent work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were a number of bārah māhās and sīharfīs written in Punjabi. Poetry in this class can be broadly divided into various types-religious, farmers' narrative (included in an epic poem), vīrahā (separation) and 'trial of chastity' variety. Gurū Arjan's Bārah Māhā falls in the virahā category, depicting through the twelve months the pangs of the bride, i. e. the human soul separated from her Divine Essence.
BĀRAH MĀHĀ MĀÑJH is Gurū Arjan's calendar poem in the measure Mājh included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib (GG, 133-36). The opening verse of the composition presents the binary theme of the poem : the factual situation of the human soul's separation from the Divine Soul (kirati karam ke vīchhuṛe - bound by our deeds are we parted from Thee), and its quest for union with Him (kari kirpā melahu rām - by Thy grace grant union, O' Lord). Torn asunder - from her Immutable Origin, she suffers; for instance: āsāṛu tapandā tisu lagai hari nāhu na Jinnā pāsi - the month of Āsāṛ burns for her who does not have her Divine Husband close to her. These individuals are tortured by duality : they see themselves apart from the Eternal One. Thus they remain victims to Yama, the god of death, and keep migrating from one birth to another. This existing tragedy is attributed to karma, past deeds, which are referred to as malu or filth which accumulates through successive births. But time passages. One month passes into the next. The Bikaramī year begins with Chet and ends with Phagaṇ (Phalguṇa) only to begin again with Chet (Chaitra). As one sows so shall one reap. With good deeds then, the chasm can be bridged. Time - these very twelve months - offers opportunities to unite with the Timeless One. But two conditions apply - first, initiative on the part of the individual in the form of an intense longing (8), keeping company of the holy (2, 6, 12), reciting the Divine Name (4, 6, 8, 10), singing the praises of the Infinite (13) and realizing that He is indeed with the self (2); and second, the favour, the grace of the Lord Divine. Throughout the composition we hear Gurū Arjan beseech Him for His mercy, His benevolent glance (nadar). Once united, ultimate liberation is achieved and one is freed from the cycle of birth and death. Through the months, months are transcended. Time takes one into the state of Timeless everlasting bliss.
Excluding the opening stanza which serves as a prologue and the concluding one which serves as epilogue, each of the intervening stanzas commences with the name of the month, beginning with Chet. By cherishing the Lord in the month of Chet one attains bliss abundant. Baisākh the month following Chet, becomes gladsome only if one meets the Lord's devotees who help him end his duality (3). Āsāṛ is scorching for those separated from the Spouse (5) and Sāvaṇ is blessed for such of the united wives as cherish in their hearts the Name Divine (6). However, man's own forgetfulness of God is the cause of all his suffering. All duality and pangs end as one by excelling good fortune attains union with the Lord (9). In the month of Māgh, man must 'bathe' in the dust of the feet of the holy and remember His name, for thus alone can he wash off the dirt of past deeds (12). The poem concludes with the statement that for him upon whom rests the Lord's grace, all months and days and all timings are auspicious (14). It is this Divine nadar or benevolent glance coupled with the individual's own initiative which helps him break the cycle of transmigration and win acceptance at the Lord's portal.
The Bārah Māhā has its philosophical structure. It artistically celebrates the existence of the Singular Reality and reiterates that there is none other besides Him: Prabh binu avaru na koi (3); prabh tudhu biṇu dūjā ko nahī (5); prabh viṇu dūjā ko nahī (8). This adumbrates the basic tenet of the Sikh faith. The poem also poses the Sikh paradox that while He is in everything and is everywhere: Jali thali mahīali pūriā raviā vichi vaṇā - He pervades waters, the earth and the spaces and He is in the woods and glades (2), He is utterly unfathomable and unknowable - agam agāhu (11). Thus fully Immanent as well as Transcendent is He. The Sikh understanding of the world is here affirmed as a "separation" in which there is no essential gap between the Creator and His creation, but because of the illusionary vision, the human ego, the self is seen as apart from its ontological core. The soteriological goal thus is the "unity" which rather than being a physical merging is fundamentally a realization of That One within. Furthermore, in keeping with the Sikh metaphysical postulate, God is compassionate and merciful, and He will by His grace (nadar) end some day all duality and suffering. In fact, so caring is the Lord Master that "He will draw you unto Himself by the arm for union everlasting - karu gahi līnī pārbrahmi bahuṛi na vichhuṛīāhu (11). The concluding verses recall towards the phenomenal world. One must participate in life, discarding hesitation. All beginnings will be made auspicious for him were he to have trust in the Divine favour. Optimism is the keynote of this poem of virahā or the pang of separation. The philosophical ideals of the Sikh faith have thus been mirrored most poetically in the Bārah Māhā. The reader is struck immediately by the enthralling rhythm of the composition. Both assonance and consonance have been employed to telling effect. The lines in the different stanzas run in rhyme. For instance, in the opening passage, "ām" is repeated throughout; in the second, "ṇā"; in the last “re". Gurū Arjan's Bārah Māhā is recited ceremonially at Sikh congregations or by individuals at their. homes on the first day of each of the Indian solar months. This is a way of announcing the beginning of the new month and invoking Divine blessing.
BĀRAH MĀHĀ TUKHĀRĪ, Gurū Nānak's twelve-month hymn in Rāga Tukhārī in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, stands out in Sikh literature for its poetic splendour and philosophical import. The movement of the twelve months, including the lunar and solar days, and the effect of their transition upon beings of diverse species - those born from the egg (aṇḍaj), those born from the foetus (jeraj), those born from the sweat (setaj), and those born from the earth (utbhuj) - have been poignantly and picturesquely portrayed in this poem. Herein, time and space - universal as well as particular - have been richly fused in the person of a young bride ardently searching for her Divine Bridegroom through the cameos of the changing reality of the twelve months.
The Indian calendar begins with the month of Chet or Chaitra (mid-March to mid-April). It is a month of splendour. Flowers in the woods are in bloom, the bumblebee hums rapturously, the koel sings on the mango tree, the bee hovers around the bush fully in blossom. Chet is springtime when Nature is at its glorious best and the air is saturated with joy. Every creature seems to have someone to celebrate the season's beauty with - the bumblebee its blossoms, the wood its flowers, the koel its mango tree. . . . But,
piru ghari nahī āvai dhan kiu sukhu pāvai birahi birodh tanu chhījai
The Groom hasn't returned home;
then how will the bride be comforted?
She shrivels away in pangs of separation.
The young woman, then, is the only one who stands isolated. She is the one who does not have her Groom by her side. The beauty and lusciousness of springtime sharpen her sense of deprivation. Whereas everything in Nature is blooming, she in separation is withering away. Paradoxical though it may sound, this state of contrast with the surroundings presents the picture of an organic structure to which she belongs and of which she indeed is the centre. But unfortunately she cannot participate in the reigning beauty of the season, for her Groom is not with her. Perhaps because of her separation and forlornness, she becomes all the more aware of the togetherness and rapture of everyone and everything around her and who all seem to her to fit into a perfectly integrated joyous "system. "
Following Chet is the month of Vaisākh (mid-April to mid May) when the tree boughs get clothed in fresh leaf. The bride "sees" (dhan dekhai) the newness in verdure and begs the Groom to come home. Since this is the month of harvest, the farmers negotiate business deals. Commerce enters the bride's vocabulary too : ". . . tudhu binu aḍhu na molo kīmati kauṇ kāre tudhu bhāvāṅ - without you I am not worth a dime, but if you are with me, I become priceless" (GG, 1108). She then wishes that someone, somehow, would see her Beloved and help her to see Him - dekhi dikhāvai ḍholo . Nature, commerce, fellow human beings, spiritual quest become synthesized in the bride's world view.
In the month of Jeṭh "Why should the Groom be forgotten? - prītamu kiu bisarai" (GG, 1108) sings the bride. In the heat of Jeṭh, the earth burns like a furnace. This external heat drives all beings to inwardness. In search of the cool, all creatures are on the lookout for the farthest interior. The bride too - like St. Teresa - moves into her Interior Castle, contemplating upon the Divine Groom and His virtues. The geographical locale is in harmony with her psychological state.
In the scorching month of Āsāṛ, the sun blazes in the skies. Its fire sucks the sap of the earth. The earth roasts and suffers. Even the crickets wail. But the chariot of the sun marches on. The bride seeks shade - chhāiā dhan tākai. Here the bride is a full participant in the cosmic scene: she shares the suffering of the earth, of the cricket. The great earth and the tiny cricket are representatives of the entirety of creation. All suffer. Their search for the cool shade is quintessentially reflected in the bride's search for chhāiā (shade).
After the blazing heat of Āsāṛ comes the month of Sāvaṇ bringing welcome rainshowers. The earth is cooled and quenched, but not the bride, for her Groom is still in the far-off land - pir pardesi sidhāe. She lies alone on the bed. Along with the pain of solitude is the fear: the lightning amid the monsoon clouds terrifies her. Nature around her does not soothe the pain of her heart. She addresses her mother: "maraṇu bhaiā dukhu māe --- O' mother, it is death for me" (GG, 1108). Having lost her sleep and appetite, the bride in the month of Sāvaṇ lives a death-like life. The integration of polarities - life and death, lightning in the skies and the bed on which she, alone, tosses and turns in darkness - is accomplished in the person of the bride.
Bhādoṅ is the month of opulence: both land and river are in flood. During the entire dark night it rains. Birds and animals feel invigorated. They shriek as if they cannot contain the fullness within : peacocks sing, the frogs croak, the papīhā cries forth, "priu priu- Love O' my Love. " Overflowing with life, the snakes sneak out to bite; the mosquitoes swarm out to sting. And the pools overflow with water. The pulsating animate and inanimate worlds are co-ordinated into a vivid pattern. Juxtaposed to this bursting forth of Nature is the bride's desolation. She yearningly contemplates the fullness, the energy, the joy surrounding her. Standing in the centre of it all, she exclaims, "binu hari kiu sukhu pāīai - where, where is comfort for one without the Groom?"
The bride's actualization of Asuni (Asūj), the seventh month, is, in fact, a realization of her own self. The cosmic time and space mirror her situation. Because she is beguiled by a sense of duality, she stands forsaken by her singular Groom and remains in separation. On the ground, "kukah kāh si phūle - the country-shrubs bearing white flowers are in bloom" (GG, 1109). These white flowers represent her own white hair; the bride is greying. Furthermore, the coming season frightens her: "āgai ghām pichhai ruti jāḍā dekhi chalat manu ḍole - gone is the summer and cold winter is soon to come; this makes my heart tremble" (GG, 1109). What the bride realizes at this seasonal juncture is the loss of her youth and the setting in of old age, and she becomes apprehensive. But she also sees in this autumn month some green boughs which instil optimism in her. The possibility of meeting with her Groom again strikes her. "sahaji pakai so mīṭhā - that alone is ripe sweet which ripens slowly in its own sweet time" (GG, 1109), the bride tells herself.
In the month of Kattak or Kārtik, the days begin to get shorter. Lamps are lit earlier in the evenings. The lamp becomes in the poem a symbol rich in nuance. It represents the refined emotional and intellectual faculties of the bride which will eventually lead her to apprehend the Divine. The traditional lamp or dīpak is a tiny clay bowl, pointed at one end, with a cotton wick and filled with oil. But only that lamp shines steadily which is lighted by the match of knowledge - dīpaku sahaji balai tati jalāiā, and whose oil is rasa, the aesthetic essence of love - dīpak rasa telo (GG, 1109). Simultaneously, the lamp is essential to seeing, to recognizing. The powers of eyesight and insight coalesce in it. Suggesting coalition of knowledge (kindling match) and love (oil) in the bride's psychological condition, the dīpak connects her physical with "cosmic" time, with the evenings of the month of Kattak. In this state she feels she is closer to achieving her goal - union with the Groom.
In the month of Maghar, the bride listens to the praise of her Divine Groom through song, music, and poetry, and her sorrow departs-- "gīt nād kavit kavai suṇī rām nāmi dukhu bhāgai" (GG, 1109). Here can be discerned the effect of aesthetics upon the human mind: music/sound which travels in external atmosphere penetrates into the very being of the bride. Thereby, her sorrow (dukhu), literally vanishes away (bhāgai). Vividly comes through the passage: the picture of the bride sitting amidst other women and men, listening to song, music and poetry. She is part of a symphonic gathering, the congregation or saṅgat in Sikh terminology - in the Tolstoyan sense, a community created by art. We thus see in the month of Maghar the bride as a participant within a community which cherished the recital of the Divine Name.
The description of the month of Poh or Pokh begins with the line :
pokhi tukhāru paṛai vaṇu triṇu rasu sokhai
In Pokh the snow falls, sapping the rasa from woods and grass.
And it ends with :
nānak raṅgi ravai rasi rasīā hari siu prīti saneho
Says Nānak, the bride who is in love with her Groom has the rasa of the charming Beloved to savour.
The contrast between the opening and the final line of the hymn is conspicuous: the cold white frost covering the earth sapping sway rasa of all vegetation is juxtaposed to the bride who, in her love for the charming Groom, would be savouring its rasa. Perhaps it is the panorama of the starkly white frost which ignites in the bride's imagination that warm and vibrant phantasy. Also, in the month of Pokh, the bride discerns herself to be related with all other creatures :
aṇḍaj jeraj setaj utbhuj ghaṭi ghaṭi joti samāṇī.
darsanu dehu daiāpati dāte gati pāvau mati deho.
The one light (jyoti) permeates (samāṇī) all hearts (ghaṭi ghaṭi), be they egg-born (aṇḍaj), foetus-born (jeraj), sweat-born (setaj), or earth-born (utbhuj). Through the singular elan vital the bride perceives the unity of the universe. From within this linked circle, she, in a lovely alliteration of the "d"-"d's" creating a circle of their own, ardently implores her Compassionate Groom (daiāpati dāte) to bestow upon her a vision of Himself (darsanu dehu).
In Māgh, the month of pilgrimage, the bride realizes that the pilgrim seat is within herself. The sacredness of all holy places and of all time would be hers, if her beauteous Groom was pleased with her :
prītam guṇ aṅke suṇi prabh baṅke tudhu bhāvā sari nāvā
Gaṅg jamun tah beṇī saṅgam sāt samund samāvā
puṅn dān pūjā parmesur jugi jugi eko jātā
nānak māghi mahārasu hari japi aṭhsaṭhi tīrath nātā
This would be my bath in the Gaṅgā, the Yamunā and confluence with the Sarasvatī and in the Seven oceans as well.
All charity and worship for me is the recognition that, throughout the yugas, there is but One Singular Groom.
Says Nānak, in the month of Māgh, to taste the great essence of the meditation upon the Beloved is alone worth bath in the sixty-eight holy rivers.
The pilgrim seat is within and not anywhere without. The sacredness of all holy places and of all time, the merit of bathing at the Gaṅgā and the Yamunā and at their confluence with the Sarasvatī as well as in the seven oceans, of all charity and worship would be the bride's if she were to win the Groom's favour. The Sikh view that external ritual is empty and unnecessary is here artistically established. Also, time is not chopped up : "yugas" are, in the literal sense, "yoked together" by the knowledge that the Singular Beloved pervades time past, present, and future.
Finally, in the month of Phalgun, the bride effaces herself - "āpu gavāiā. " With the ego gone, her desires are ended "man mohu chukāiā. " Paradoxically, with the "integrator" of time and space gone, what remains is the integration itself. Continuous bliss is experienced. All duality vanishes. Even night and day are conjoined, for what is experienced continuously is utter ecstasy : "andinu rahasu bhaiā. " (GG, 1109).
The twelve months thus are very important, for it is within them that the "interaction of timeless with time" takes place : the young bride remains in quest of envisioning her Timeless Beloved within her historical context. One discerns here the foundations for the positive approach to life and living in the Sikh faith. In the final passage of the Bārah Māhā, Gurū Nānak esteems all the twelve months, the six seasons, the lunar and the solar days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds as "bhale" - blessed. Gurū Arjan in his composition Bārah Māhā, in Rāga Mājh, reiterates this affirmative view of the phenomenal world in identical terminology. According to Nānak I, it is sometimes now, somewhere here that the Singular Being pervading all time and space is instantaneously found :
be das māh rutī thitī vār bhale
ghaṛī mūrat pal sāche āe sahaji mile.