The Use of Metaphor In Gurbani and How to Understand When Interpreting Shabads

Authored By Jasleen Kaur

Someone recently asked me how do you know that your interpretation is correct when there are so many different ways of thinking? I thought I would demonstrate my way of thinking using a shabad that most people know but that I commonly see misinterpreted – RamDas Sarovar Nate. However, Sikhi is a constant process of learning so I would appreciate feedback to develop my way thought processes in line with Gurmat.

The shabad is from Ang 624.
ਸੋਰਠਿ ਮਹਲਾ  ॥
ਗੁਰਿ ਪੂਰੈ ਕੀਤੀ ਪੂਰੀ ॥
ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਰਵਿ ਰਹਿਆ ਭਰਪੂਰੀ ॥
ਖੇਮ ਕੁਸਲ ਭਇਆ ਇਸਨਾਨਾ ॥
ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਵਿਟਹੁ ਕੁਰਬਾਨਾ ॥

ਗੁਰ ਕੇ ਚਰਨ ਕਵਲ ਰਿਦ ਧਾਰੇ ॥
ਬਿਘਨੁ  ਲਾਗੈ ਤਿਲ ਕਾ ਕੋਈ ਕਾਰਜ ਸਗਲ ਸਵਾਰੇ ॥॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਮਿਲਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਦੁਰਮਤਿ ਖੋਏ ॥
ਪਤਿਤ ਪੁਨੀਤ ਸਭ ਹੋਏ ॥
ਰਾਮਦਾਸਿ ਸਰੋਵਰ ਨਾਤੇ ॥
ਸਭ ਲਾਥੇ ਪਾਪ ਕਮਾਤੇ ॥
ਗੁਨ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਨਿਤ ਗਾਈਐ ॥
ਸਾਧਸੰਗਿ ਮਿਲਿ ਧਿਆਈਐ ॥
ਮਨ ਬਾਂਛਤ ਫਲ ਪਾਏ ॥
ਗੁਰੁ ਪੂਰਾ ਰਿਦੈ ਧਿਆਏ ॥
ਗੁਰ ਗੋਪਾਲ ਆਨੰਦਾ ॥
ਜਪਿ ਜਪਿ ਜੀਵੈ ਪਰਮਾਨੰਦਾ ॥
ਜਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ॥
ਪ੍ਰਭ ਅਪਨਾ ਬਿਰਦੁ ਰਖਾਇਆ ॥੧੦੬੦

Literal meaning (taken from
The Perfect Guru has made me perfect.
God is totally pervading and permeating everywhere.
With joy and pleasure, I take my purifying bath.
I am a sacrifice to the Supreme Lord God. ||1||
I enshrine the lotus feet of the Guru within my heart.
Not even the tiniest obstacle blocks my way; all my affairs are resolved. ||1||Pause||
Meeting with the Holy Saints, my evil-mindedness was eradicated.
All the sinners are purified.
Bathing in the sacred pool of Guru Ram Das,
all the sins one has committed are washed away. ||2||
So sing forever the Glorious Praises of the Lord of the Universe;
joining the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, meditate on Him.
The fruits of your mind’s desires are obtained
by meditating on the Perfect Guru within your heart. ||3||
The Guru, the Lord of the World, is blissful;
chanting, meditating on the Lord of supreme bliss, He lives.
Servant Nanak meditates on the Naam, the Name of the Lord.
God has confirmed His innate nature. ||4||10||60||

Looking at the literal meaning we can see several things that don’t make sense:
1) What does the 1st line mean? What is the definition of perfect? How does this line further our understanding?
2) The most important message is the rahao line in every shabad. The rahao line here is telling us to enshrine Akal Purakh into our hearts then we will not be afflicted by any problems. The literal translation refers to lotus feet but this contradicts the line above which states God is everywhere and later the shabad says God is innate in his creation-so how can he have lotus feet?
3) How can a purifying bath wash away sins? Eradicating bad points is an internal process and cannot be achieved by cleansing superficially (outside). The Guru Granth Sahib Ji has spoken against rituals in several places including ritual bathing. Here are 3 examples from the 1st half of Jap Ji alone:

ਸੋਚੈਸੋਚਿਹੋਵਈਜੇਸੋਚੀਲਖਵਾਰ ॥ (page 1 pauri 1)
Even if I have 100000 ritual baths to keep my body clean, my mind will not be clean.

ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨਾਵਾ ਜੇ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵਾ ਵਿਣੁ ਭਾਣੇ ਕਿ ਨਾਇ ਕਰੀ ॥ (page 2 pauri 6)
What is the point of pilgrimages and ritual baths when they do not please Akal Purakh.

ਭਰੀਐ ਹਥੁ ਪੈਰੁ ਤਨੁ ਦੇਹ ॥ ਪਾਣੀ ਧੋਤੈ ਉਤਰਸੁ ਖੇਹ ॥ ਮੂਤ ਪਲੀਤੀ ਕਪੜੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਦੇ ਸਾਬੂਣੁ ਲਈਐ ਓਹੁ ਧੋਇ ॥ ਭਰੀਐ ਮਤਿ ਪਾਪਾ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ॥ ਓਹੁ ਧੋਪੈ ਨਾਵੈ ਕੈ ਰੰਗਿ ॥ (page 4 pauri 20)
When the hands and feet and body are dirty then water can wash them clean. If clothes are dirty, they can be cleaned with soap. But when the mind is full of sin and bad thoughts, only love of Akal Purakh can clean the mind.

Gurbani is poetry so if we now use metaphor to interpret the same shabad, the meaning changes:

In the 1st pauri Guru Ji is telling us that Waheguru (the perfect/complete) Guru has given me great success in this life-I see God everywhere. Inside my soul is at peace (this is the bath). I am a sacrifice/I am indebted to Waheguru who has joined me with himself.

In the rahao line (the most important line that forms the basis of the shabad), the komal charan or lotus feet are analogy for the beauty of Waheguru’s nature. So the meaning here is that whoever instils Akal Purakh’s beauty/good qualities in himself, will not suffer from any problems in his/her life. Waheguru looks after him/her. This does not mean problems in a wordly sense but refers to our spiritual strength so that like Guru Arjan Dev Ji and the shaheeds we can deal with whatever happens without worry and say “Tera bhanna meetha lage”.

In the 2nd pauri saint refers to Waheguru himself as no person is considered a saint. Guru Ji tells us that when we join with Waheguru (by breaking down our internal barriers) your rudeness goes far away. Even an immoral person becomes a good person when meeting with Waheguru. This shabad was written by Guru Arjan Dev Ji so Darbar sahib was already built. It was a place for people to congregate and further their learning about Sikhi hence a place of sadh sangat. The ramdaas sarovar natey refers to spending your life amongst sadh sangat and doing ishnan in the naam (as in pauri one-this is the bath of the soul, immersing it in following Waheguru) in order to eradicate the wrongs you have committed earlier in your life and turn over a new leaf.

In the 3rd pauri Guru Ji is telling us remain with the Guru’s sadh sangat and always remember Waheguru, to always sing His praises. Whoever, instils Waheguru (the perfect Guru) in his/her whole being obtains the fruit of their wishes.

In the 4th pauri, Guru Ji is telling us that Akal Purakh has a very loving nature. He is greater than all beings, He is the creator of this world and is the embodiment of spiritual peace. Whoever walks on his path, is able to live a spiritual life of peace.

* This shabad is actually about sangat and finding Waheguru rather than doing ishnaan in Amritsar.
* It is important to interpret Gurbani as poetry as literal meanings will often give rise to conflicting ideas.
* To understand the correct interpretation, look at the message in the context of all the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji as 2 shabads will NEVER contradict.

Jasleen Kaur

Originally Posted on the Sikh Philosophy Network

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.