JAITSARĪ MAHALĀ 5 VĀR SLOKĀṄ NĀLĪ, by Gurū Arjan, is one of the twenty-two Vārs, i.e. compositions in this folk form but moulded to a spiritual theme, included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib. It has been named Jaitsarī because of the musical measure it belongs to. While the philosophical standpoint in the entire system of teaching and belief in gurbāṇī is the same, as flowing from the revelation embodied in Gurū Nānak's vision, in the compositions of the Gurūs certain individual characteristics are perceptible. These might be in those points of spiritual experience or imagery that most appealed to each or in the dominant nuance or emphasis of a particular composition. Typical of the bāṇī are compositions of Gurū Arjan himself with the large variety of languages and dialects used by him. While dialect of the central Punjab is the principal tone of the language used in this composition, there is a considerable mixture of the Lahindī idiom in this poem. The reason may have been the larger influx of Lahindī-speakers during Gurū Arjan's time. The ethnic character of the Gurū's disciples who now dominated the Sikh population may have been responsible for this. The dominant Lahindī element is Gurū Arjan's characteristic stylistic contribution.

         This Vār, consisting of twenty stanzas, is uniformly patterned in three language-layers. Each one of these parts, for convenience to be called a stanza, opens with a śloka in an adaptation of Prākrit called, because of its popular form, Sahaskritī or Gāthā. This form of speech was the common element in the language then spoken by saints and sādhūs in most parts of India. This language, must have been the common denominator in which the adepts from different language areas conversed and which was intelligible to people, living in diverse parts. Otherwise a hermit or sannyāsī from Bengal, for example, could have hardly conversed with one, say, from Rājasthān, Gujarāt or Mahārāshṭra or from any other region of India. This adopted language provides the opening couplet for each of the stanzas in the composition. This is followed by a restatement of the theme of the śloka clothed in this form of the Prākrit, in the Lahindī dialect for the benefit of the common people. As new trade channels were being opened up in the wake of the development of a major centre on the northwest frontier, Kābul became a flourishing centre of trade. As Gurū Arjan encouraged trade in the new township of Amritsar, large numbers of the trading people from Western Punjab, who had commercial links with Kābul and Central Asia, must have settled there or visited the new town on missions of devotion and trade. After these two ślokas, comes the pauṛī or the stanza proper, in the standard variety of spoken Punjabi of central Punjab, which has all along been considered to be the principal form of Punjabi and which, since the modern period of cultural renaissance in the Punjab, became the language of literary expression.

         The Vār opens with a mantra or enunciation, in the classical Indian style, of Sikh faith or belief of which the pillars are the eternity of the Creator and His grace in annulling evil in those that are devoted to Him. This is, so to say, paraphrased in the style of Punjabi-ized Braj, the spoken language of the masses. Then follows a pauṛī (stanza) culminating in the affirmation : Realization of Him comes by His own will and grace.

         The next stanza (2) traces the filth-covered path of birth from the foetus. Never shall one escape from suffering should one fail to bear God ever in mind. In stanza 3 are recounted the pleasures and satisfactions of life valued by man spiritually unawakened. Wherein does real joy lie? In meditating on the Divine attributes in holy company. The fourth stanza expresses the might of the Divine Law of Retribution, whereby the individual self is judged according to its merits. Herein is an echo of one line from Gurū Arjan's Bārah Māhā. There the world is called karmā sandṛā khetu. Here, in almost the same phraseology, is affirmed : "jaisā bijai so luṇai karam ehu khetu -- one reaps what one sows; this is the field of actions" (GG, 706). Stanza 5 expresses, in words echoing Gurū Nānak's couplets on the same theme and employing similar imagery, the doctrine of grace. This follows also as a sequel and complement to the foregoing doctrine about the inevitability of retribution, leading to unending transmigration. One act of sincere devotion, like a tiny spark of fire burning away huge piles of wood, cancels the evil effects of karma. Thus is annulled the terror of transmigration. This bliss, however, comes to those bearing the Divine writ on their forehead. This is to be interpreted, as in numerous other places in gurbāṇī, as the impenetrable Divine mystery that inclines some to devotion and thus to win the fruit of grace.

         In stanza 7 is the expression of bliss despite worldly poverty, should one's mind be dyed in God's Name (i.e.devotion) . One, though poor, forlorn and condemned but devoted, is to be reckoned a true king, and even to touch the dust of his feet shall bring liberation. In stanza 8 the imagery is that of a dream, which the world in its unreality is. In stanza 10 worldly joys are seen to be the bitter gourd pleasing to the eye, yet poisonous to the tongue. Stanza 11 confirms : to God's devotee nothing is sweet (joyful) except devotion to Him. Of devotion examples are given from classical Indian imagery in the twelfth stanza. These are devotion of the fish to water, of the chātrik to the mystic drop, of the humming-bee to the flower, and such others. Stanza 13 presents the statement " Never does sorrow come to him who to the Lord is united. The dust of God's feet is purifying, and to such is He ever present by their side." Then follows stanza 14 in praise of God's devotees, in ecstatic language : "inexpressibly beautiful are the hands that record God's praise; Holy are the feet that traverse the way of God. What hour is auspicious? That is the theme of stanza 15. Auspicious is the hour (mahūrat) in which the self is united with the Lord, i.e. the hour of realization." In the next (16) is supplication to God : "Save me, I have fallen for succour at Thy Portal. Save me, I have whirled endlessly in sequestration from Thee. Lift me with Thy mighty arm from the ocean of worldliness."

         Not the appliances of various orders, such as sandalwood paste, bring cooling joy in the fire of suffering, but meditation on God's Name (17). In 18 is the continuation of the same imagery: By grace of the Lord, the Preserver, is extinguished the fire of suffering. Nānak, meditate thou on Him who the world has created. Thus comes poise to the self and to all associated (kuṭamb) with the devoted self. In 19 are three successive images : the Lord as Purifier of the fallen, as the ship to carry sinners across the ocean of worldliness, and He who snaps as under the hard knots tying those gripped by the lure of the world. In this stanza homage is also paid to the holy preceptor, whose company has inspired the seeker with devotion and meditation. This last is a constant theme in gurbāṇī, since without the true spiritual guide (gurū) the path to the highest life may not be found. The preceptor is not, however, an intercessor, but as described herein, "the guide to meditation." This implies that, according to the teaching of the Sikh faith, the seeker has to strive under guidance, for his liberation. This blessing cannot be conferred on him by anyone; only Divine grace, called forth, by devotion may lead him to such bliss.

         In the closing stanza 20 is reiterated at all three 'layers' the uncompromising principle of the unicity of the faith : (a) all creation is subject to birth and death -- God (herein apostrophized as Thou) alone is immutable; (b) the only boon begged of Him is devotion, worldly objects of course excluded; (c) even liberation is not begged, which must come as a reward for devotion (nām).

         In this Vār, in the Sahaskriti ślokas (though not so designated here), classical attributive names for the Supreme Being are employed; for example, jagadīsvara (Lord of the Universe), Gopāl (Preserver), Prabhu (Lord), Gobind (Lord of the Universe), Paramesvara (the Supreme Lord), Nārāyaṇa (Viṣṇu, i.e. the Supreme Being), Narhari (the Puissant Lord), and such others. The classical atmosphere would help to instruct in the fundamentals of the Gurū's teaching even those whose orientation has been in the various philosophies and ritualistic creeds of India.


  1. Bishan Siṅgh, Giānī, Bāī Vārāṅ Saṭīk. Amritsar, n.d.
  2. Arshī, Sāhib Siṅgh, Jaitsarī dī Vār. Jind, 1974
  3. Śabadārth Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib. Amritsar, 1964
  4. Kohli, Surindar Singh, A Critical Study of Adi Granth. Delhi, 1961

Ātam Siṅgh