Asa Di Var and Its Relevance to Present Day World
Mr T Krishna Nathan
Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scripture of the Sikhs is the ocean of spiritual and human values entrusted to the Sikhs to celebrate and cherish, to learn and follow, to spread and educate the humanity. It glorifies the God and the world, makes the people aware of the socio-cultural situations into which the people are thrown. Guru Granth Sahib renders valuable guidelines to live and better the world, proffers the people to upgrade themselves and stands one with the subaltern people to make them stubbornly encounter the odd situations. It contains a unique philosophy of post-medieval period that had with stood the challenges of even the modern period.
Asa Di Var occupies a prominent place in Guru Granth Sahib, loved and nourished by the Sikhs for so many centuries. It forms part of the morning prayer of all the Sikhs and it is affectionately recited in the Gurdwaras. As every other part of Guru Granth Sahib, Asa Di Var too is a musical composition. The Gurus have wished the Sikhs to recite the wonderful songs of Guru Granth Sahib, including the Asa Di Var in groups better than to murmur the mantras or mere meditating.
The present paper is an attempt to look into the themes of Asa Di Var with a bias to modern context.
Asa Di Var celebrates the idea of God as the god is one, nameless, formless, invisible, incomprehensible, self created, true reality and true king. God’s glory is ascribed in so many words, He has been portrayed as the god of Justice and Just acts. God’s doings can not be described by human words, however could be understood by those who feel Him in the depths of their heart. A fifth century mystic of Tamil Nadu, Thirumoolar, maintains that “There is one caste and there is one God”. Although such an idea of One God and One Humanity had occasional references in the history of humankind, this idea did not get consistent philosophical and theological exposition in the history of mankind. So many other considerations crept into religions and made them factors of dividing people. Guru Nanak Dev refinds the conception of Oneness of God and inseparably relates it with the ideal of oneness of humanity. One finds in Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism the twin aim of discovering the one God and to abolish the caste system that divides that divides and insults the groups of humans.
One of the unique features of Asa Di Var is that God is portrayed as the master and indweller of Nature, the poem containing the rarest passages commemorating the wonders of the created world. Asa Di Var says that God has created the world and its beings, takes care of them, save them by His Grace, indwells in them and administers them. The world has been identified by Guru Nanak as the True one’s house. God has created the earth, sun, moon, the stars and the sky, the forms and color distinctions of various animals, creatures born from egg, womb, sweat etc. God takes the created beings as His/Her own abode too. The creation is, according to Asa Di Var, justice bound. God reckons with the creatures with profound justice.
Sikhism denounces all these cowardly outlets to escape from the worldly life . The geography and history of Sikhism propose the Sikhs to make out a meaningful life. Life is precious and dear according to the Asa Di Var. The Sikh Guru introduce a life model that makes the Sikhs Saint-soldiers. The Sikhs are trained by the Gurus to overcome the pains and penuries of life and face the terror without any fear. Fearlessness is one of the cherished ideals of Sikhism. In Asa Di Var, the Gurus energize their people by eulogizing the wonderfulness of nature created by God.
Asa Di Var identifies that every created being is endowed by God’s Will with ego that determines its conduct. It asserts that all the diseases, as well as all the remedies are lying in the realm of ego. All the earnings/loses, truth/falseness, sins/virtues, descending to hell/raising to heaven, laughs/weeps, wisdom/foolishness, all the possible positive and negative aspects lie with the ego. The created begins are free to choose the path. Nobody can escape these possibilities of choice. This discussion found in Asa Di Var formulates in the simplest words the ethical question proposed to humans.
Purity of impurity does not lie objectively in the outer world. God has given us pure birth, pure eatable items and even pure death. It is humans who made them impure. Asa Di Var says that the heart becomes impure due to greed, the tongue by lying. The eyes acquire impurity by staring at another’s wealth or wife. The ears get impurity by listening to the slanders of others. Guru Nanak says that these impurities lead the men/women to hell. Not that the body or flesh itself automatically leads one to evil, as it was believed by some many religious schools in the past. Neither is impurity in any untouchable or ritually polluted. Impurity is in our mind, in our mental constructions, in our ways of looking into the things. Consequently, impurity can not be removed by mere ritual pilgrimage or bath or by wearing rosaries. Impurity has to be removed from one’s mind. Human conducts and behavior with pure mind only serve the purpose. This ethical discussion conducted by Guru Nanak Dev in Asa Di Var and elsewhere makes the spiritually inspired ethical acts of humans the central aspect of Sikhism and has very deeply philosophical implications.
One of the significant aspects of Asa Di Var is how it makes out the Master Disciple or Guru-Sikh relationship. As we understand from Asa Di Var as well as from the entire history of Sikhism, the Gurus worked out the Guru-Sikh relation from the so many other types of interrelations existing in the history of religions between God and humans. The Gurus indeed speak about the master-slave relation between God and humans. The saints are such persons who serve their God with all devotion. Service to God or serving God by way of serving God’s creation is a theme often occurring in Guru Granth Sahib. However, the Gurus predominantly speak of the interrelation between God and humans as a relationship of Love. God loves his creation and out of His/Her love graces the humans with abundant and wonderful world. The humans too love God. Guru Nanak Dev often uses the metaphor that the God-bound humans are in thirst of God. The theme of love between God and humans includes, so to say, the previously mentioned master-slave relationship. The innovative aspect the Gurus introduce into the loving relationship between God and humans is the relationship of Guru-Sikhs. The Guru-Sikh relationship itself is a thick metaphor of Love. The Gurus teach and train their Sikhs for divine love. They recreate them into Gurmukhs. The Gurus make the Sikhs into true servants of God and God’s creation. The Gurus produce from them the most responsible spiritual and social begins. The Gurus teach them to be the best of the ethical beings. And the Gurus always have loved their Sikhs. The Gurus offered an identity and history to the Sikhs. Indeed, it is a very great theme which has no parallel in history. The Sikhs too are abundant in their love towards their Gurus. They dedicate themselves to the Gurus everything they possess, including their life. They glorify their Gurus, praise their deeds and words, they learn, cherish and celebrate their Gurus. The Guru-Sikh relationship is the micro form of the divine love between God and humans, but consciously inculcated and implanted, meticulously modeled and trained. The Guru-Sikh relation very naturally develops into the relationship between God and humans. As it has been mentioned in Asa Di Var, when God in His mercy sends Grace to man, in Guru-Sikh relation He chooses to realize His will. The guru prepares the Sikh to enter the court divine arrayed in honor. The significance of Guru has been stressed in Guru Granth Sahib by so many way, one of them is to compare the guru to a ship to cross the waters or to save ourselves not to be drowned. Asa Di Var says,
“The merchants who leaving their Master attach
themselves to worldly things get themselves drowned
How a few have realized that true Guru is the Ship”
Another metaphor we find is,
“Water is held by the pitcher,
But the pitcher itself could not have been without the Water”.
The pitcher here is the Guru or the disciple, and the Water is the Guru. The pitcher holds the water as the Sikhs hold the divine love, however they are prepared to divine love by the Gurus.
Towards conclusion, let me take the privilege to compare Guru Nanak Dev to a saint of southern Tamilnadu, Ayya Vaikundar of middle nineteenth century. The term Ayya too is like the Guru who takes the disciples nearer to God. The term Ayya too an affectionate one as it almost equals to the fatherly figure. It shall be interesting to note that the followers of Ayya Vaikundar too wear turbans as a symbol of self-dignity and respect only to God. Ayya Vaikundar hailed from a downtrodden but a hardworking community and proposed casteless and classless society. Ayya too previewed a society which he called as Acchamilla Boomi, that is Fear-free-world. I see so many common features between Guru Nanak Dev and Ayya Viakundar. I work on this particular aspect for my Ph.D. theses and I hope that I would be able to bring out more interesting aspects of the comparative study in the future. It appears the Tamil saint would have taken inspiration from Guru Nanak and his verses especially in Asa Di Var.