PAHARE, usually pronounced pahire, is the title shared by four of the Sikh hymns — two by Gurū Nānak and one each by Gurū Rām Dās and Gurū Arjan — recorded consecutively in the Sirī Rāg portion of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The term pahare is the plural of paharā, meaning a guard or watch, and is cognate, etymologically and semantically, with Sanskrit prahar which is a unit of time in the Indian system of calculation. Eight pahars make a day and night, a pahar thus equalling three hours. In the poems entitled Pahare, the span of human life is compared to night and is divided into four stages, each stage being called pahar corresponding to four pahars of night. Man is called a trader (vaṇjārā) and is addressed in the vocative form as vaṇjāriā mitrā (O, friend trader). Each composition consists of four to five stanzas, and each stanza begins on the vocative note. For instance, the first stanza of Gurū Nānak's composition begins with : "pahalai paharai raiṇi kai vaṇjāriā mitrā hukami paiā garbhāsi” — in the first pahar of the night, O, friend trader, were you conceived in the womb by the Will of the Lord (GG, 74).
Through the example of a vaṇjārā starting out on his travels to sell his goods profitably, the purpose of human life and the frailties to which man is subject are set forth in these compositions. As the vaṇjārā must make his deals wisely and ensure that his means are honest, the human soul should traverse the journey of life always mindful of the Creator, union with Whom is its ultimate purpose. This is the true bargain for the trader (the human soul). But the trader generally stumbles at each stage, called pahar of the night, and comes to harm.
The first stage of human life begins when man is conceived in the womb of the mother. In the womb he constantly remembers God and prays for release from his travail. The second stage begins at birth. That is the time when he is unconscious of the purpose for which he has come into the world; he loses contact with the Creator and becomes increasingly entangled in the earthly temptations. The third stage is that of youth, when he indulges in sex and begins accumulating material goods. He loses all restraint, and is totally oblivious of the purpose of life. The fourth stage is that of old age of despondence and dejection, finally ending with death. Thus the vaṇjārā finishes his journey losing all that he possessed and throwing away a precious chance of regaining proximity to the Creator. It is repeatedly emphasized that mukti, i.e. release from the circuit of birth and death, can be obtained only by remembering God and by repeating His Name. This is the real aim of this journey of life which the vaṇjārā (man) tends to forget as soon as he sets out on it.