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A Ballad of Hope

Kulbir Kaur

A var or ode, a heroic measure famous in the Punjab, is often used to rouse the martial spirit in men. The Sikh Gurus took up the measure for the religious purpose. Not surprisingly, there are 22 such odes in the Guru Granth Sahib, set to 17 different kinds of ragas. Asa di Var, one of these odes, meaning a ‘ballad of hope’, is sung in the Sikh congregation as a morning prayer which evokes a calm mystical mood by creating a blissful and devotional atmosphere.

A composition of Guru Nanak, consisting of Pauris (stanzas) and Shlokas (staves), Asa di var traces the progress of a man from the state of an ordinary man to that of a Gurmukh. From passage to passage, the var touches upon several issues, social as well as religious, but the central theme remains. “How to become a spiritual person”? How can a person liberate himself from the bondage of self? How can he unite with the Divine?

The var opens with a thanksgiving to the Guru, for he is the perfect one, he is the enlightened one, and he is the only one to show the Path towards salvation.

“I am grateful to my Guru a hundred times a day who has turned men into angels, and that too without delay”.

The Guru helps in the shaping of the character by eradicating the evils which are mainly born of egoism. This egoism may be of many kinds but says Guru Nanak, the most dangerous is the religious pride by which man often does evil. Most heinous crimes have been committed in the name of religion. Even Guru Gobind Singh in Vachitra Natak, says, “The sins that men do in the name of religion are such that even the greatest sins blush before them.”

In addition to religion, there is the false pride of caste. But the truth is there is only one Supreme Being who fulfills all beings, whether high or low, and whose light reaches down to the lowest orders of this creation. Even an illiterate Sudra is not denied nor is a learned Brahmin immune from the effect of his sins if he leads a wayward life. In the same vein, the Gurus denounce the false ideas of impurity, which was supposed to consist in matter and was contracted from mere touch. He declares that all impurity lies in the heart which is alienated from God.

“They say “touch it not! O Touch it not or this food of ours shall be polluted.
Look their bodies are already defiled with their foul deeds.
And their hearts are false even while they rinse their mouths.
Says Nanak, we should worship the Truth;
If we are pure at heart, we shall have it.”

There also exists the ordinary pride of position and wealth, which the Guru removes by showing the disciple how to live according to truth. The practice of humility and love are the most effective qualities for keeping people away from sin, far better than mere performance of rituals. God reads our heart and is not won by religious ceremonies, almsgiving or by incurring physical torture to oneself.

In Asa-di-var, the Guru praises the role of woman in the family life. Why should she be called low or inferior? It is by women, that we are conceived, and born; it is with her that we are betrothed and married. Why should we call her evil from whom great men are born? All human-beings are equal and worthy of respect.

The disciple is also admonished against rudeness of his fellow-men. By addressing others rudely, a man’s mind and appearance lose all its grace. And it is God’s function to judge them, not ours.

Some people, in order to avoid these evils, have gone to the other extreme and have sought to kill their individual will, which in fact makes the realization of God impossible. Not the destruction, but the attuning of our will to the supreme will is the only remedy which can be achieved by a life of constant praise of the Almighty, balanced desires and active service. Only love, humility, mercy and righteousness can save men, to whichever creed, class, religion or gender they may belong. In the world beyond, neither caste nor power will prevail.

The transformation in man occurs only when he submits himself to the supreme will and does good actions since this is the only way to connect man with man, and to connect man with God. Everybody without this force of connection will exist for himself, will live only for himself resulting in moral isolation. In this way, foundation is also laid of a society of the purified, who, as an organized force, strive for the good of the whole mankind.

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