Asa di Var
A Review by Gajindar Singh
Author: Maneshwar Singh Chahal
Publisher: Prakash Books India Pvt Ltd., New Delhi.
Pages:296; Price: not given
The intense exploration and research by the author is visible from page one to bring out the essence of Gurbani in this well-produced thesis, preparing the reader to delve deep into the philosophy of Guru Nanak. For it an in-depth vision is necessary in a scholar and the book under review has plenty of proof of it. Guru Nanak was direct and frank in disseminating his message of truth and truthful behaviour to all who came in contact with him and denied the merit and worth of formalism, of rites and rituals practised by the established faiths which had deviated from the original purpose of the past prophets, namely, to bring the devotee directly to the presence of the Creator. In “Asa di Var,” Guru Nanak charted the course of a gursikh to see the pitfalls of the prevalent methods and how the common folk had gone astray from the straight path. The author has given a general meaning of each line of gurbani, followed by interpretations given by outstanding thinkers and scholars. Each phrase is critically examined and explained to reach the best import. This practice is followed for all the twenty four pauries and their accompanying slokas. Maneshwar S Chahal has then evaluated various views of the well-known scholars to arrive logically at the best interpretation of the Guru’s famous discourse which for the past five hundred years has been recited and sung every morning in the gurdwaras and homes of the devout.
“Asa di Var” is a dissertation to remove superstitions and expose falsehood of the common ‘mayadhari’ man, in what goes by the name of spirituality and to point out the straight road God-wards. It is led by the true guru so that all frills and fallacies are discarded.
It is clear from the detailed comments of the author that he is deeply committed and concerned in conveying the Guru’s true message to the devotee so that instead of recitation by rote, the bani should touch the chords of the reader every time it is delivered, to edge closer to the presence of the Divine. In ‘Asa di Var’, Guru Nanak has stressed the point that all lesser gods are bound to act in firm discipline under command of the Timeless Creator who is ever in a state of Supreme Bliss. All creation is revealed in practising naam. The author has painstakingly expounded the scope and vision of naam. The concept of Dharamraj acknowledges the play of one’s conscience as a guide to virtuous thought and action.
Guru Nanak was a firm believer of the concept of indivisible Supreme God, but acknowledged the existence of lesser gods who were busy in meditating on the Supreme Being. This stance was different from the Hindu pantheism and the Islamic monotheism. It can be termed as monolatry.
In Asa-di-Var, Pauri 5, there is clear reference by Guru Nanak to the reverberations and constant motion of various forces in the universe, which so far have been literally interpreted by our scholars as the typical village scene, the kolu (oil mill) with its circular motion, the charkha (spinning wheel) rotating fast and non-stop, chakki, (flour mill) and chakk (potter’s wheel), spinning constantly. It may be that Guru Nanak in describing “Ql vwroly bhuqu Anµqu ] lwtU mwDwxIAw Angwh ]” had the nebular and planetary orbit in his cosmic view. Thus the text will yield much deeper significance of the Guru’s observation.
In Pauri 6, on page 107, there is an observation by the author that “it is never the Guru’s style to run down another master’s message. He seeks always to only put it in perspective.” It appears where the Muslim beliefs are in question. It seems that the author is keen to expiate the sabd for harmony sake, since there is no such concern where (in Pauri 15) Hindu frontal marks and sacred thread are mentioned in Guru’s bani. Incidentally, Pauri 6 created quite a historic ruckus in the imperial court in the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir and led to the expulsion of Ram Rai from Sikhism. The argument of ‘perspective’ is equally valid about the frontal marks of the Brahmins and the sacred thread of the high-caste Hindus. It was the courage that mattered in Guru Nanak to say it without any qualms that simply concentrating on shriya and the last rites of burial, were not a sure password for a Muslim to attain God’s presence. The last line of Pauri 6 amply makes it clear that God alone knows what destiny holds for each one of us.
Another point which required better appreciation by the author and seems to have been passed by is in Pauri 13, where the great Guru refers to the four Vedas and prevalence of each Veda in succeeding yugas. Atharva Veda has been specially mentioned by Guru Nanak in relation to Kali yuga and emergence of Islamic culture and the adoption of name of God from Ram, Kanha Krishna to Khudai, Allah and the change in dress and thinking of the people. He remarks: charey ved hoey sachiar. There is no explanation of this assertion in the book under review. Atharva Veda was the last to be revealed, less on sacrificial ceremonies and more on intellectual base. It also had a wider impact of magical mantras, to the detriment of the opponents, to ensure success in the mode of tantra.
Guru Nanak gave mankind a new glimpse into the dispensation of Providence, not only as a Creator but also as the Doer Himself and writes the destiny of each one of us according to His pleasure! As soon as man understands this position and acts in consonance with the Divine bliss, his ego fades and contentment and joy of living commences.
The author has produced a remarkable thesis, well studied and argued in all subtle details. His earlier book on “Jap ji” was equally scholarly. It was reviewed by S. Gurdev Singh, IAS (retd) in the Abstracts of Sikh Studies of the Jan-Mar 2007 issue, as the proper “way to God in Sikhism”. S. Maneshwar S Chahal has toiled hard and studied the subject in depth to produce a highly comprehensive and scholarly commentary on Asa-di-Var, of which the available Sikh theological literature in English was in dire need. He deserves all praise in his venture and it is strongly recommended as a must for all public libraries and private collections for regular perusal.
The book is attractively bound with well designed title page. However, there are occasional mistakes and misprints which need to be erased in subsequent editions.