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Gurbaani di Kunji Baani Jo Bhai Gurdaas Vakhaani’ (Giani Narain Singh Mujangwale, Vaaran Bhai Gurdaas Sateek, p. 2, 1918)
These words once used to be popular among Sikhs. The Baani they refer to, namely forty Vaaran and 675 Kabitt-Savaiyye, were written by Bhai Gurdaas ji (d. 1636) at different periods of his life. He was then the honored scribe of Aad Bir, or first recession of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, thus his understanding and knowledge of Gurbaani can be held very close to Guru Sahib’s true intention with the Holy Word. Sikh tradition tells us that even though Guru Arjan Dev ji didn’t include Bhai Gurdaas ji’s writings in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, he awarded his Baani with the title Gurbaani di Kunji or ‘the Key to Guru’s Words.’
The usage of the word ‘kunji’ or ‘key’ means that Bhai Gurdaas Ji’s writings were accepted as reliable explanations of Sikh philosophy as found in Gurbaani. Thus, the word key indicates authenticity. The contents of both ‘Bhai Gurdaas Baani’ and Gurbaani show a similarity, applying that Bhai Sahib based his writings upon the Words uttered by Gurus. The Vaaran have an explanatory function in Sikh circles and are used in the exegesis of Gurbaani. Concepts such as niranjan, oankar, karta-roop, gurmukh, etc are explained in the verses of Bhai Gurdaas Ji.
Creation of the universe is described in accordance with Gurmat. Bhai Sahib writes that ‘All prevading Oankar through His One Word created the whole expansive cosmos.’ (Vaar 1, Pauri 1:1)
The Vaaran of Bhai Gurdaas Ji support the Nirgun-bhakti thought of Gurbaani, and denounces the worship of gods and goddesses. It is stated that such beings were created under Waheguru’s command, and are themselves creations engaged in the worship of Supreme God.
Vishnu incarnated ten times and decimated his opposing warriors. The incarnations in the forms of fish, tortoise, swine, man-lion, dwarf and Buddha etc. have happened. Parsu Ram, Ram, Kishan and a very much proud incarnation of Kalki have flourished. Ram was hero of Ramayan, and Kishan was all in the Mahabharat. But the lust and anger were not sublimated and greed, infatuation and ego were not eschewed. None remembered the true Guru (God) and nobody benefited himself in the holy congregation. All acted arrogantly being full of evil propensities. (Vaar 12, Pauri 8 - Feats of the ten incarnations)
Here we see that Bhai Gurdaas Ji criticizes the acts of the so-called gods and goddesses, and at the same time the importance saadh-sangat (holy congregation) is highlighted.
The concept of holy congregation is widely described in the Vaaran. Bhai Gurdaas Ji says that Guru-Shabad is the form of the Guru, which is all-pervading in the saadh-sangat – gur moorati gur shabad hai, saadh-sangat vich pargati aaya (Vaar 24, Pauri 25:7) Bhai Gurdaas ji also stress upon the importance of self-less service (gur-seva) in the holy congregation.
The root of Gursikhi lifestyle is bhau-bhakti. The word bhau denotes love, both towards God and Guru Sahib. Bhau-bhakti can also be written as prem-bhakti. Vaar 29 is fully devoted to the enlightenment of this concept, where Bhai Gurdaas Ji explains about the love of the devotee and how the disciple becomes one with Waheguru.
Bhai Gurdaas Ji has fully maintained the principles of Sikh social philosophy and fully discouraged the belief or practice of the caste system, which had restrained the social development of human beings throughout the middle ages. Similarly, he has criticized the ashram-system of Indian philosophy, and accepted the family-lifestyle (gristhi jeevan) valued in the Sikh social philosophy. In Vaar 5 pauri 16, Bhai Gurdaas ji talks of the woman, and says that ‘she is the door to salvation.’ Thus, he demands a respectable place for the woman in society in a husband-wife (gurmukh-naari) relationship.
Thus, it is clear that Bhai Gurdaas ji has adopted the philosophy of Gurbaani. There is no doubt that the Vaaran are a valuable work related to the Gurmat philosophy. The language of Vaaran makes it easy to understand and accessible for all sections of the society. Therefore, the Vaaran are ‘the key to Gurbaani’. Secondly, in the Vaaran, Bhai Sahib has frequently given explanations of many concepts and verses from Gurbaani. There have been hundreds of attempts to textually explain the meanings of Gurbaani; however no other word has yet been given as much acceptance as is awarded to Bhai Gurdaas ji’s works.
Bhai Gurdaas ji explains the ‘basic principles’ or ‘life codes’ of Gurmat. The Vaaran don’t translate or give a conventional commentary on every shabad (hymn) or tuk (line) of Gurbaani, but they give an easy-to-understand interpretation of the basic principles. Therefore, Bhai Gurdaas ji’s Baani has a certain literary value, as his writings are formed in his words.
Guru Nanak Sahib has given a comparison of gurmukh and manmukh in Raag Maaru (SGGS:990). Both gurmukhs and manmukhs reside in the pure waters of ocean of life. In the ocean, both the lotus and the slimy scum are found. The lotus flower is with the scum and the water, but it remains untouched by any pollution. But the frog is always in the slimy scum, and doesn’t understand the value of the pure waters. Bhai Gurdaas has in his own language given us the following explanation of these verses:
It is a pond full of pure and fine water wherein the lotuses blossom. Lotuses are of beautiful form and they make the environment fragrant. Black bees live in bamboo forest but they somehow search and get the lotus. With the sunrise, they come attracted from far and wide and meet the lotus. With the sunrise, the lotuses of the pond also turn their faces toward the sun. Frond lives in the nearby mire close to the lotus but not understanding the real delight it cannot enjoy like lotus. Those unfortunate persons who listening to the teachings of the Guru in the holy congregation do not adopt them. They are most unfortunate in life like the frogs. (Vaar 17, pauri 2 - Manmukh, the mind oriented and the frog are identical)
There are many such concepts that Bhai Gurdaas ji has explained in his writings. In Vaaran Bhai Gurdas Sateek, Gyani Narain Singh of Mujang has included Gurbaani verses in the commentary to indicate which shabads, Bhai Gurdaas ji has used as basis for his writings and interpretations.
In the Kabitt-Savaiyye, Bhai Sahib has explained concepts such as guru-bhakti, prem-bhakti, daas-bhakti, relation between Guru and Sikh, importance of Guru-gyan, strength of Guru’s command and salvation through guru-bhakti etc. The language of the Kabitt-Savaiyye, being Braj-Bhasha, makes it difficult for a common Sikh to understand their contents. However, pioneering efforts by Bhai Vir Singh ji in the beginning of the last century ended in the discovery of more then 100 lost Kabitt-Savaiyye, and later a publication of the a comprised total of 675. Bhai Sewa Singh, the establisher of Singh Brothers Company, translated the Kabitt-Savaiyye in Punjabi and published a useful Sateek some years ago.
History is evident of this fact that religious notions are build upon the understanding of a religion’s philosophy given by its scholars. In Sikhi, Bhai Gurdaas ji established the interpretative tradition. Therefore, his writings are the very examples of textual preaching of Gurmat. His prime motive was to give a proper understanding of Gurbaani concepts, however, at the same time; his writings strengthen the belief in Sikh religion.
Every Sikh who wants to understand Gurbaani should use this ‘key’ to open the door of understanding.