yak araj guftham paes tho dhar gos kun karatar
Bhai Dharam Singh Zakhmi Ji with Bhai Shamsher Singh Zakhmi, Bhai Hariqbal Singh Zakhmi and Bhai Amrik Singh Zakhmi
There are always some shabads that inexplicably grab your attention, at a very visceral level. I’m pretty sure I first heard Bhai Sahib Dharam Singh Zakhmi Ji and his Jatha sing Yakk Arz Guftam decades ago, as a boy, growing up in Gangtok. The rendition that has been stuck in my head is a part of a set of LPs, released in 1969 to celebrate the 500th Prakash Purb of Sri Guru Naak Sahib. I’m sure that every Sikh household that owned a record player, must have bought that set when it was released. It features shabads by Guru Nanak Sahib, sung in Nirdharit Ragas by some of the leading lights of Gurmat Sangeet and Shastriya Sangeet of the day. Ragis like the legendary Bhai Samund Singh Ji, Bhai Dharm Singh Zakhmi Ji, Bhai Sahib Avtar Singh Gurcharan Singh Ji, Bhai Devinder Singh Ji and Bhai Bakshish Singh Ji. Renowned singers such as the redoubtable Sardar Sohan Singh Ji of the Agra Khayal Gharana and the queen of Thumri/Dadra Siddheshwari Devi Ji.
Of course at that time I didn’t really care who Bhai Sahib Dharam Singh Zakhmi was! Raga Tilang didn’t mean anything. Yakk Arz Guftam, revealed to Guru Nanak Sahib in Farsi didn’t speak to me, but unbeknownst to me, seeped into my soul!
Decades later. I have been blessed by the Sangat of a few enlightened souls, who have introduced me to both Gurmat Sangeet and Shastriya Sangeet. The Gurmat Sangeet Project has been in existence for several years now. Tilang is probably of all the beautiful Ragas that appear in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, my clear favorite!
Tilang does not seem to be a ‘major’ Raga in the Classical world. A quick search in my Itunes throws up many Thumris and short instrumental pieces in Mishra Tilang, which is such a cop out J, but there are few Tilang recordings. It seems to be to be squarely relegated to the Light Classical shelf, though I do discover fairly long instrumental pieces by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee. Interestingly I find a sixteen minute Dhrupad Alaap by the inimitable Faiyaz Khan Sahib, which tells me that at some point Tilang must have been considered worthy of serious exploration. I have never come across any recordings of the Maliks or anyone from the Dagar tradition singing Tilang, but the Faiyaz Khansahib recording gives me hope. As an aside the recording I have is incomplete L The alap terminates abruptly and there is no bandish! The best recording I have by far is a masterful Khayal by Ustad Mohammad Hussain Khan Saharang, the Patiala maestro, who unequivocally ranks in my list of all time favorites. His Darbari, BTW is unrivalled. Perhaps Pandit Pran Nath’s Darbari comes close. But I digress!!
Tilang by contrast, thrives in the world of Gurmat Sangeet. Beautiful shabads abound by some of our best known Ragis of yesteryear and today. Tilang in Gurmat Sangeet is such a passion of mine that I must devote another article to introducing my readers to some of my favorite Shabads. But now let us return to the topic at hand….. Yak Arz Guftam. Without further ado….here is the shabad:
This Shabad, revealed to Sri Guru Nanak Sahib is the first that appears under Raga Tilang in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
rwgu iqlµg mhlw 1 Gru 1
<> siq nwmu krqw purKu inrBau inrvYru Akwl mUriq AjUnI sYBM gur pRswid ]
Xk Arj guPqm pyis qo dr gos kun krqwr ]
hkw kbIr krIm qU byAYb prvdgwr ]1]
dunIAw mukwmy PwnI qhkIk idl dwnI ]
mm sr mUie AjrweIl igrPqh idl hyic n dwnI ]1] rhwau ]
jn ipsr pdr ibrwdrW ks nys dsqMgIr ]
AwiKr ibAPqm ks n dwrd cUM svd qkbIr ]2]
sb roj gsqm dr hvw krdym bdI iKAwl ]
gwhy n nykI kwr krdm mm eNØI icnI Ahvwl ]3]
bdbKq hm cu bKIl gwiPl bynjr bybwk ]
nwnk bugoXd jnu qurw qyry cwkrW pw Kwk ]4]1]
raag thila(n)g mehalaa 1 ghar 1
ik oa(n)kaar sath naam karathaa purakh nirabho niravair akaal moorath ajoonee saibha(n) gur prasaadh ||
yak araj gufatham paes tho dhar gos kun karathaar ||
hakaa kabeer kareem thoo baeaib paravadhagaar ||1||
dhuneeaa mukaamae faanee thehakeek dhil dhaanee ||
mam sar mooe ajaraaeel girafatheh dhil haech n dhaanee ||1|| rehaao ||
jan pisar padhar biraadharaa(n) kas naes dhasatha(n)geer ||
aakhir biafatham kas n dhaaradh choo(n) savadh thakabeer ||2||
sab roj gasatham dhar havaa karadhaem badhee khiaal ||
gaahae n naekee kaar karadham mam ea(n)aee chinee ahavaal ||3||
badhabakhath ham ch bakheel gaafil baenajar baebaak ||
naanak bugoyadh jan thuraa thaerae chaakaraa(n) paa khaak ||4||1||
Arj Petition; request
guPqm I say (or make)
pyis qo Before You
dr gos In your Ear
krqwr Creator; God
krIm Merciful; Generous
byAYb Without vice
prvdgwr God; Sustainer
mukwmy Place (Temporary place)
idl O My heart
mm sr mUie By the hair on my head
AjrweIl Azraeel, the Messenger of Death
hyic n Nothing at all
dwnI You know
ks None of them
nys Is not
dsqMgIr Holding your hand
AwiKr In the end
ibAPqm When I fall
n dwrd Cannot keep or save
svd Will happen
qkbIr The Namaz (Muslim Prayer) that is recited at the time of burial
krdym I am engaged in
bdI Bad; slanderous
gwhy n Never
nykI Good; kind
krdm I did
eNØI icnI Like this
hm cu Like me
bynjr Shamless; obdurate
bybwk With no fear
I speak in your ear, beseeching you, Lord
You are True, Great, Merciful and perfect ||1||
The world is evanescent; know this for sure
Azraa-eel, the Messenger of Death, has me by the hair on my head, and yet, I am oblivious ||Reflect||
Your wife, your children, your father, your brothers; none of them will be there to hold your hand.
As I fall, and the final prayers are said for me, none shall rescue me. ||2||
Day and Night, I have wandered around in greed, hatching evil schemes.
Never doing good; this is my unfortunate state. ||3||
I am ill-fated, slanderous and negligent, shameless and bereft of the fear of God.
Says Nanak, I am your humble servant, the very dust of the feet of your servants. ||4||1||
Often times our confusion leads us to focus selectively on a few particular aspects of our Guru Sahibs’ personalities, to the exclusion of others, in the process forgetting the unity of thought that runs through their message, without exception. This leads us to pigeon-hole Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib as the arbiter of Vairag, while forgetting his valor. Or seeing Guru Nanak Sahib primarily as the beacon of love and peace, completely losing sight of his fierce commitment to fighting oppression and injustice.
This shabad, powerfully underscores this unity of thought. If one were to read the translation, not knowing who the shabad was revealed to, it would be easy to conclude that it was written by Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib; so strongly does the central idea resonate with what he reiterates in shabad after shabad.
The shabad is primarily concerned with the impermanence of human life. Guru Nanak Sahib reiterates that our life is like a way station, which is subject to the ravages of time. While we are know that death is inevitable, we live our lives carelessly, in reckless abandon, as if we were immortal.
The bitter truth is that no matter how attached we are to our spouses, our parents, our children or our siblings, ultimately we will leave this world, alone. None of them will go with us. None of them will be able to stay the hand of the Messenger. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, too, consistently reflects on similar themes.
hir ibnu qyro ko n shweI ]
kW kI mwq ipqw suq binqw ko kwhU ko BweI ]1] rhwau ]
har bin thaero ko n sehaaee ||
kaa(n) kee maath pithaa suth banithaa ko kaahoo ko bhaaee ||1|| rehaao ||
There is no one that you can turn to for support, except the Lord.
Of what use are your mother, father, child or spouse? Who is anyone's brother? ||1||Reflect||
Similar thoughts appear in the Bani of Bhagat Kabeer Ji :
hir ibnu kaunu shweI mn kw ]
mwq ipqw BweI suq binqw ihqu lwgo sB Pn kw ]1] rhwau ]
har bin koun sehaaee man kaa ||
maath pithaa bhaaee suth banithaa hith laago sabh fan kaa ||1|| rehaao ||
Other than the Lord, is there another source of succor?
Attachment to our mother, father, siblings, children and spouses; all this is illusory ||1||Pause||
Depressing, you think? It could be indeed, if we misunderstand what the Guru is really saying. Is the Guru telling us that we should renounce our parents, our children, our spouses, our siblings, our friends as these relationships are illusory?
In the Jaap Sahib, as Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji enunciates the myriad Karam-Naam (names that signify the actions) of Waheguru, he uses the following phrases to describe and salute Waheguru :
srbM Bugqw You revel in everything that has been created
nmo srb Bogy I salute You; you who revels in his creation
The concept of Bhog, which is a complex one, connotes sensual pleasure; all feelings of well-being that are generated through anything our senses experience. When Guru Sahib salutes Waheguru as the ultimate Bhogi, this act of divine Bhog becomes joyous. Just as Waheguru sits back and revels in every aspect of his creation, why should we not joyously embrace and celebrate that part of his creation that surrounds us and touches us, of which our parents, spouses, our children, our siblings and friends, are an integral part!
Surely this is a conundrum? A paradox? On the one hand we are exhorted to enjoy His creation in every way, on the other we are warned that the relationships that we take the most joy in are illusory and false!! Fortunately there is no paradox at all. It is possible to be attached, while staying detached. It is possible to enjoy life to its fullest, while being constantly aware of its evanescence. Lack of this awareness is what makes us bdbKq (Ill-fated) bKIl (Slanderous) gwiPl (Lazy) bynjr (Shamless and obdurate) bybwk (With no fear. The vision of Azraeel holding us by our hair, is not meant to scare us. It is to help us put this life in perspective. It is to drive this awareness home, which surely has the potential to make us better human beings.
This is what this beautiful shabad means to me. And Bhai Sahib Dharam Singh Zakhmi Ji’s rendition is absolutely sublime. My only regret is that I have not heard a live version of this composition. If anyone has a live version stashed away…… it’s time to share J
October 2008. There is a gathering of some very accomplished Ragis at the Stockton Gurdwara Sahib, the first Gurdwara to be built in North America, to celebrate the 300th Gurta Gaddi Divas of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Bhai Kultar Singh Ji, Bhai Surjit Singh Ji, Bhai Devinder Singh Gulbagh Singh Ji, Sardar Harbhajan Singh Ji, Bibi Gurleen Kaur Ji and many other kirtaniye are in attendance. All 31 major Ragas of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib are to be covered in the two day program.
Two young girls sing Raga Tilang. The Shabad is Yakk Arz Guftam. Yes they are off key in a few palces and they are having some trouble hitting the high notes. But that’s not the point; they will get better; especially when they find better teachers. The point is that these old compositions, that have deep, mystical qualities that are impossible to articulate, are alive again. I am humbled and awed by the emotion the event generates; yet it is one of the proudest days of my life.
Mehr & Amrit the 2008 Stockton Darbar; with Amandeep, Jaspreet and Harman Singh