VAR MĀJH KĪ, by Gurū Nānak occurs in the musical measure Mājh, in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The word mājh, in Punjabi, means in the middle or midway, and the rāga which goes by this name was a folk tune of Mājhā, the central country of the Punjab, which attained literary form at the hands of Gurū Nānak. This rāga is meant to be sung is the evening. At the head of the Vār is recorded the direction by Gurū Arjan, Nānak V, as the tune to which it should most appropriately be sung, i.e. the tune of a well-known ballad about a battle between the two chiefs of Emperor Akbar, namely Malak Murīd and Chandrahaṛā. The pauṛīs, or stanzas, in this Vār are preceded by ślokas or couplets, which were not part of it originally but were added by Gurū Arjan at the time of the compilation of the Holy Book with a view to supplementing the theme presented in the pauṛīs. The Vār comprises a total of twenty-seven pauṛīs of eight lines each.
Of a total of 63 ślokas which vary in length as well as in authorship, 46 are by Gurū Nānak, 12 by Gurū Aṅgad, three by Gurū Amar Dās and two by Gurū Rām Dās. Each pauṛī is preceded by two ślokas except the first and the seventh which are preceded by three ślokas each and the ninth and thirteenth which are preceded by four and seven ślokās, respectively.
Although the Vār is cast in the mould of a ballad, it is not a ballad in theme but, in common with other vārs in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, a devotional and spiritual composition. Praise of the ideal Gurū, the perfect preceptor, to whom our implicit obedience is due and without whom "all is pitch darkness" marks the beginning of the vār. The Gurū, who is called the "lamp of the three worlds" is the only means to achieve absorption with God without which human life is a poor and sorry thing. Attachment and illusion which hinder man's march towards his ultimate end can be sundered not by the performance of prescribed rituals, but by our earnest acceptance of the Gurū's instruction. The true spiritual guide, i.e. the Gurū, who is called a great holy river in comparison with the hypocrite setting himself up as such being no more than a filthy pond, A Gurū-oriented person liberates himself and brings liberation to others.
This material world has been called "a mountain of smoke." Man is enthralled by various worldly temptations. This attachment to māyā makes man forget God, who has not only created it but also permeates it. Passages rich in poetic imagery and having a classical finish of form recount the pleasures of life which ensnare man. Neither pleasure nor suffering which is likely to embitter man's mind must make him deflect from the path of devotion to God, who is all-pervasive and omnipotent. He is the only ever-lasting reality while all else vanishes (8). He is infallible and none can deceive him---kartā apī abhulu hai na bhulai kisai dā bhulāiā (16). Neither the study of scriptures (Vedas) nor empty rituals can help man realize God. Performance of such rituals without having overcome one's ego is called "folly and unsoundness of mind." It is only through meditation on the holy word (śabda) that the highest objective of life can be achieved---sachā sabadu vīchāri sachi samāṇiā (13). A synthesis is commended between devotion and a working life of full social and moral responsibility (5). Justice and equality must be the guiding principles. Says Gurū Nānak in one of the ślokas, "If blood stains the cloth, that dress becomes soiled, how may then the practice of such as suck the blood of others be reckoned pure?" He asks both Hindus and Muslims to cultivate tolerance as "the two paths are indeed one; one thinking otherwise must fall into hell-fire" (9).
Apart from the condemnation of hypocrisy, orthodox rituals and caste pride, the Vār rejects occult and miraculous powers as futile and unspiritual. It also discounts the feelings of avarice and ambition. "In the body burns the fire of desire which can be assuaged only through the holy Word." The Vār decries manmukhs, self-willed, unregenerate ones as persons who are full of ego and who render not gratitude to God for His blessings. They are bitter like the bitter fruit and poisonous like dhatūrā, nīm and such others. They are as far away from His grace as akk (another one of the latter variety) is from sandalwood.
Little good can come to man unless he sheds ego, constantly meditates on His Name and earns, through devotion, the divine grace. All else is fruitless ritual. The spiritual value of the early morning meditation is stressed. In highly poetic terms, the Gurū calls them true lords among men who, in the early hour of dawn, meditate on God with minds concentrated. Such devotees of God are His loving spouses happily lodged in their Lord's Mansion (22).
The texture of life comprises both joy and sorrow. To seek a life all of joy is to forget the Divine Will. In fact, joy and sorrow have been designated as the vestures which man must wear by turns. The blessing of Divine grace can alone annul the sorrow and haunting fears of life.
The Vār closes with an ecstatic delineation of the Divine bard, expressive of deep fervour of devotion. "The bard was called by the Master into His mansion. He lauded Him and was honoured with a robe. God's eternal Name was his food on which satiated he found His bliss" (27).
The pauṛīs of the Vār are, for the most part, in Praise of God who is described in all his grandeur and transcendental marvel, whereas the ślokas are full of ethical content, scrutinizing human character from various angles. The Vār which embodies a deep spiritual experience and the ultimate ethical vision does not form part of the daily Sikh service, but its affirmations are in no way less celebrated and oft-quoted. Close interrelationship of various passages composed by the Gurūs shows the one an integrated mind behind the work. Passage after passage unfolds the nuances of the theme, summoning a coherent vision of holy, but active, life proceeding from the insight of Gurū Nānak and his spiritual successors.
The language of the pauṛīs is literary Punjabi, but not so of the ślokas most of which are in Sādh Bhākhā, a few in a form of Prākrit and in Persian mixed with Indian vocabulary, following the Punjabi grammatical pattern. The reason for this variation of language and style between the pauṛīs and the ślokas is that the latter were composed at different times and were addressed to audiences in different locales.