Simro Simar Simar Sukh Pao - Thoughts and Ruminations

In a kirtan program organized last month to remember Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru, I was asked to sing this shabad. I have been singing the first few lines of the Sukhmani Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth guru, since the early 90s.

It has been over 300 years since Mughal Emperor Jahangir ordered that Guru Arjan Dev be killed by extreme torture. The guru was made to sit on a metal plate and hot sheet while boiling hot sand was poured over his burnt body. After enduring five days of unrelenting torture, the Guru left for heavenly abode. Recitation the following first few lines of his masterpiece Sukhmani, written between the years 1601 and 1604AD, therefore has a special meaning to me:

ਅਸਟਪਦੀ ॥
असटपदी ॥

ਸਿਮਰਉ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਉ ॥
सिमरउ सिमरि सिमरि सुखु पावउ ॥
Simra▫o simar simar sukẖ pāva▫o.
Meditate, meditate, meditate in remembrance of Him, and find peace.

ਕਲਿ ਕਲੇਸ ਤਨ ਮਾਹਿ ਮਿਟਾਵਉ ॥
कलि कलेस तन माहि मिटावउ ॥
Kal kales ṯan māhi mitāva▫o.
Worry and anguish shall be dispelled from your body.

ਸਿਮਰਉ ਜਾਸੁ ਬਿਸੁੰਭਰ ਏਕੈ ॥
सिमरउ जासु बिसु्मभर एकै ॥
Simra▫o jās bisumbẖar ekai.
Remember in praise the One who pervades the whole Universe.

ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਤ ਅਗਨਤ ਅਨੇਕੈ ॥
नामु जपत अगनत अनेकै ॥
Nām japaṯ agnaṯ anekai.
His Name is chanted by countless people, in so many ways.

ਬੇਦ ਪੁਰਾਨ ਸਿੰਮ੍ਰਿਤਿ ਸੁਧਾਖ੍ਯ੍ਯਰ ॥
बेद पुरान सिम्रिति सुधाख्यर ॥
Beḏ purān simriṯ suḏẖākẖ▫yar.
The Vedas, the Puraanas and the Simritees, the purest of utterances,

ਕੀਨੇ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਇਕ ਆਖ੍ਯ੍ਯਰ ॥
कीने राम नाम इक आख्यर ॥
Kīne rām nām ik ākẖ▫yar.
were created from the One Word of the Name of the Lord.

ਕਿਨਕਾ ਏਕ ਜਿਸੁ ਜੀਅ ਬਸਾਵੈ ॥
किनका एक जिसु जीअ बसावै ॥
Kinkā ek jis jī▫a basāvai.
That one, in whose soul the One Lord dwells -

ਤਾ ਕੀ ਮਹਿਮਾ ਗਨੀ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥
ता की महिमा गनी न आवै ॥
Ŧā kī mahimā ganī na āvai.
the praises of his glory cannot be recounted.

ਕਾਂਖੀ ਏਕੈ ਦਰਸ ਤੁਹਾਰੋ ॥
कांखी एकै दरस तुहारो ॥
Kāʼnkẖī ekai ḏaras ṯuhāro.
Those who yearn only for the blessing of Your Darshan -

ਨਾਨਕ ਉਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਮੋਹਿ ਉਧਾਰੋ ॥੧॥
नानक उन संगि मोहि उधारो ॥१॥
Nānak un sang mohi uḏẖāro. ||1||
Nanak: save me along with them! ||1||

The first ingredient that goes in any arrangement is the meaning. Perhaps due to several practices of singing these lines, or due to the influence of other shabads and experiences, over the years, I have slightly adopted to different arrangements of this shabad to better explain what I understand from this shabad.

I generally look for focal words in any shabad, and have found that arrangements focusing on the right focal words can help bring out the meaning of any shabad. Focal words when used effectively, can help create a singular atmosphere that can then be easily remembered with the help of raags, even while one is busy doing daily chores.

There are two key focal words in this shabad: Simro and Ekai.

With the focus on the rhyming, and the presence of 'Simro' at the beginning of the shabad, there is no doubt that that is a focal word; the earliest of my arrangements try to bring that out. However, more recently, I use a slightly diverging meaning of 'Simro' than what I have read in most translations of the Sukhmani. Now, more than ever, 'Simro,' means 'I do Simran,' and not necessarily 'Do Simran.'

To me there is no good English substitute for Simran (say Sim-Run). 'Meditation', 'remembering' and 'contemplation' are often used to describe Simran. To me, true Simran is a 'constant remembrance' of the Truth at all times. Several meditative techniques can be used to help in doing Simran; music can be used, recitation can be used, repitition of certain words can be used, kirtan can certainly be used.

The second focal word in the shabad is Ekai. This one was tougher for me to find because it did not appear conveniently in the beginning of the shabad. However, interestingly, Ekai finds itself, in some shape or form, in all lines following the first line. Also interestingly, I find that Ekai has two meanings in each line. The most obvious meaning of Ekai is as an adjective, 'One' describing Bisambhar, Akhar, Fragment, and Vision.

Ekai rhymes with 'Nameh,' the focal word in God's salutation at the begining of Sukhmani, the lines that precede this shabad. So, I believe Ekai is a key focal word in the shabad. It comes to me as no surprise that, in one of his key poetic work that took 3 years to complete, Guru Arjan Dev focuses on Ekai, very similar to the opening message of the first guru, Guru Nanak, 'Ek Omkar'!

I have narrowed down to the following meaning of this shabad:

With 'Simran', sorrows go away, and bliss is attained;
'Simran' of The ONE who is extoled by countless;
The ONE, who is the synopsis of extensive holy scriptures;
Whose ONE fragment in anyone's heart can elevate them beyond limits;
With Them, Who seek ONE glimpse of the Truth, Oh God, liberate me!

Simro Simar in Bangla Sahib: Set in raag Gauri, which symbolizes the purity embodied by Shiv's wife Parvati, Sukhmani is meant to be recited in the afternoon.

Sa Ga ma Pa ni Sa., Sa. ni Dha Pa ma Ga Re Sa.
Thaat: Khamaj
Timing: 3-6PM, Anytime in the summer
Vaadi: Ga
Samvaadi: Ma
Pakad: .Pa .ni Sa Ga ma Ga, Ga ma Pa Dha ma Ga

The popular version of khamaj maintains the tension of the dominant by including a sharp 7th note (Ni shudha), and has the heavenly peaceful Ga as one of the key notes. However, if one goes to the pure mixolydian mode, the tension of the Ni shudha is removed by introducing a Ni komal that relaxes into the Sa. At the same time, you retain the effect of peace through Ga. What I have added to this is a frequent slide between ma and Ga to depict purity which is emblematic of Raag Gauri. This element reminds us of Parvati, the wife of Shiva, whose name (Gauri) and deeds (Sati) symbolize the utmost purity.

No wonder, when an atmosphere of purity, peace and relaxation is desired composers opt for this raag. According to The school of musical composition, by Adolf Bernhard Marx, the mode conveys "a desire for the infinite and exalted" because of the missing resolution of a major dominant.

This raag is similar but different from kalavati, khamaj, lankeshree, khambavati, Janasamohini.

Mary Kathryn uses this scale a lot.

Only One:
when sun is on the rise
and moon is on the low
chasing stars of night
till there is only one

only one, one

when god created man
He knew there'd be a sun (or Son!)
salvation was His plan
to make us all as one

only one, one