SALOK MAHALLĀ 9 , i.e. ślokas of the composition of Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX, form the concluding portion of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, preceding Gurū Arjan's Mundāvaṇī (GG,1426-29). These ślokas are intoned as part of the epilogue when bringing to a close a reading of the Gurū Granth Sāhib on a religious or social occasion and should thus be the most familiar fragment of it, after the Japu, Sikhs' morning prayer. Śloka, in Sanskrit, signifies a verse of laudation. In Hindi and Punjabi, it has come to imply a couplet with a moral or devotional content. Its metrical form is the same as that of a dohā or dohirā, a rhymed couplet. Gurū Tegh Bahādur's ślokas, 57 in number, were incorporated into the (Gurū) Granth Sāhib by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. As is commonly believed, they were composed by Gurū Tegh Bahādur while in incarceration in the kotwālī, in the Chāndnī Chowk of Delhi, before he met with a martyr's death. Whether the ślokas were written during the days just before Gurū Tegh Bahādur's execution or earlier in his career as some say, their mood is certainly in consonance with the crisis of that time, when the Gurū confronted the imperial might of the last great Mughal emperor, Auraṅgzīb, to defend the freedom of religion and worship in India and gave his life for a cause which to him meant true commitment to God. The message of the ślokas is fundamentally the same as that of the rest of the Sikh Scripture. Here, as everywhere else in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the stress is on remembrance and contemplation of God and recitation of nām, i.e. God's Name. To quote the opening śloka :
To the praise of God you have not lent yourself,
Your life you have thus wasted away.
Says Nānak cherish God's name in your heart,
As the fish cherishes water.
The same message is repeated almost in every other line. The underlying assumption is that God, referred to by various names such as Gobind, Rām, Hari, Bhagvān, is the only true reality and the source of all existence. Everything except God is a passing phenomenon. Since all things of the world, no matter how much sustenance and satisfaction they may appear to give, must pass, there is nothing permanently valuable in them. Their value as well as their existence is ultimately derived from the eternal source of Being, God. It is, therefore, short-sightedness to seek lasting happiness in worldly things as such, without realizing that the happiness we associate with them does not proceed from them but from God. On the other hand, since prayer and contemplation on the Name are the means to God-realization, the enjoyment of the ephemeral things of the world, accompanied by these, becomes an enjoyment of the perennial Divine Reality. Without constant remembrance of the Divine Name such enjoyment remains absorption in merely short-lived things and is, therefore, bound to end in grief. While advocating devotion to God, the ślokas also preach detachment from worldly pleasures. The need for detachment is the theme here as important and as closely intertwined with the importance of prayer as it is in other parts of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The argument for detachment is the unreliability of the world. The ślokas depict unremittingly the fickleness and inconstancy of all that most of us ordinarily seek and cherish in life -- material possessions, power and authority, love and loyalty of friends and relations, strength of limbs and faculties. The focus is on the short-livedness and transience of human life. Life passes all too soon, youth being quickly replaced by decrepitude and senility. But blind to reality and overconfident of our strength, most of us continue to spend ourselves in mundane pursuits and remain oblivious of God. A life completely devoted to worldly pursuits is a life spent in delusion, unreality taken for Reality.
The vanity of worldly things and the attitude of renunciation seem to be much more pronounced in the ślokas than anywhere else in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Yet in keeping with the spirit of the entire gurbāṇī this feature of the ślokas does not imply a rejection of life. On the contrary, the message is one of a strong affirmation of human life. The advice is not to renounce living, only to give up wrong living. That life should be lived right and not wasted in wrong pursuits clearly indicates a belief in its intrinsic worth. The essence of the teaching here is that one should not cling to life indiscriminately without regard to right or wrong. It is such loss of discrimination that robs life of its meaning and makes it worthless, even evil. Lived right, life is meaningful and precious. To follow good in the world and to renounce only that which is opposed to good is the essential lesson of the ślokas.
While the ślokas advocate detachment, there is also implicit in them the advice to be involved with the world. Detachment is enjoined because the evanescent world provides no basis for building anything permanent in it. But at the same time, there is a deep concern for accomplishment and for full use of one's time and energy to do so. Regret over time lost without significant achievement is a sentiment as strongly and frequently expressed as the tendency towards aloofness. The best use of time is to devote it to remembering God. But contrary to what might be assumed, immersing oneself in nām-simaran, does not mean withdrawal from the world but contemplation of God in the midst of it. It does not imply an ascetic life; it does not necessarily require the abandonment of things that yield the common pleasures and satisfactions. These things are given by God. God's gifts cannot be but good and their enjoyment wholesome. We should be grateful for them. Our lack of gratitude is to be deplored. Only when worldly things are considered sufficient in themselves and God is forgotten, attachment to them becomes unwholesome. Otherwise, acceptance of the world is essential to godliness.
The ślokas comprise some of the most moving poetry in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Their music, imagery and other poetic features combine to capture the experience of life with lyrical intensity. The music of the ślokas can be appreciated only in reading or listening to them in the original. There is in this music quality that makes one sad and is yet very charming to the ear and soothing to the soul. It arouses a keen awareness of the tragic in life and at the same time allays the pain of this awareness. Only a few examples need be cited here in order to convey the poetic quality of the ślokas:
As a bubble on water, momentarily appears and bursts,
The same is the way the world is made;
Remember this, my friend, says Nānak !
Head shaking from old age, steps infirm, eyes devoid of light;
Says Nānak, this is the state you have come to,
Yet you seek not the joy from God flowing.
* * *
False, utterly false, is this world, my friend,
Know this as the truth;
Says Nānak, it stays not, as stays not a wall made of sand.
Here is poetry that strongly evokes the fleeting spectacle of human existence. It fills the mind with deep thoughts, producing a mood in which all fretfulness about worldly gains or losses in a fundamentally unstable world seem utterly senseless. The effect is not lassitude. Instead, the mind is released from all those oppressive feelings such as anxiety, despair and grief which the setbacks and difficulties of life generally bring with them. There prevails an inner peace giving intimations of abiding self and reality as perennial reservoirs of security accompanying one in the passage through an impermanent world. A renewed commitment to life, in spite of life's limitations, is the gentle yet powerful message of the ślokas.
Surjīt Siṅgh Dulāī