OAṄKĀRU is a composition of Gurū Nānak's in the measure Rāmkalī in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The full title of the bāṇī is Rāmkalī Mahalā 1 Dakhaṇī Oaṅkāru. The title is explained differently by different scholars. According to one tradition, dakhanī is the adjective for the noun Oaṅkāru which is the actual name of the bāṇī. It is called dakhaṇī because it was addressed to the priest of the Oaṅkār temple in the dakhaṇ (South), on an island in the river Narmadā, in Madhya Pradesh. According to another tradition, the designation of the bāṇī is Oaṅkāru and the term dakhaṇī goes with Rāmkalī, as Dakhaṇī is a form of the Rāmkalī rāga. Many other instances of the titles written on similar lines are quoted in support of this view, as, for instance, Gauṛī Mahalā 1 Dakhaṇī and Vaḍahaṅs Mahalā 1 Dakhaṇī. In these bāṇīs, dakhaṇī stands for the rāgaṇī or the measure of music.
Oaṅkāru is composed in the form of an acrostic, each stanza beginning with one of the letters of the script meant for writing Sanskrit. Some of the sounds of Sanskrit do not exist in the language used by Gurū Nānak. In such cases, prevalent equivalent sounds are used to represent the letters of the old script. For example, ‘j' is used for ‘y' and, 'b' for ‘v'.
Oaṅkāru opens with verses in praise of God who is remembered as the creator of all that exists, of time with all its different cycles, and of the entire universe.
Then follows the verse of rahāu (pause) indicating the central theme of the bāṇī : O Pāṇḍe, why are you involved in the writing of such idle hieroglyphics. Write the name of God alone.
Hereafter begins the acrostic form. The emphasis is on ethical and spiritual teaching. Men whose deeds fall short of their professions have been called moving corpses, i.e. corpses which only breathe. They are dead, spiritually. But even those so degraded have a chance of saving themselves if only they would make a total surrender to the will of God. If such a person devotes himself to Nām, his mind would be cleansed of worldly temptations and cravings. The grace of the Gurū will be a decisive factor in this process of spiritual regeneration. Temptation is the cause of suffering and sinfulness. Only those guided by the Gurū's wisdom overcome it. No rituals can be of any help, nor any intellectual or scholarly accomplishment. Renunciation of the world and ascetic practices are of little avail. The real Paṇḍit or wise man is he who follows the path shown by the Gurū and remains united with God while performing his worldly duty.
The language of the composition is a mixture of Hindavī and Punjabi. Words of Perso-Arabic origin are rarer here than in some of Gurū Nānak's other poems. The grammatical patterns are closer to those of Apabhraṅśa. The style is simple without any conscious attempt at poetic ornamentation. Yet certain artistic features are noteworthy. Striking specimens of the use of simile and metaphor as well as of alliteration are not infrequent. The poem has contributed to Punjabi many crisp maxims and aphorisms.
guṇ vīchāre giānī soi—he who imbibes merit is the real knower, Giānī (GG, 931)
kāmu krodhu kāiā kāu gālai — lust and anger consume the body (GG, 932); and
lekhu na miṭaī he sākhī jo likhiā kartāri — the destiny the Creator has written for you will not be erased, my friend (GG, 937).
Sīta Rām Bāhrī