How do I know I am singing Raag Dhanasri?

Following the posting of a new shabad in Raag Dhanasri earlier this week (Ab Main Kaun Upao Karoon), I received a couple of inquiries on how to sing Dhanasri. People often ask me about styles of singing, and especially definitions of several raags. And because I get these questions often, I think it is appropriate to put the response on the blog.


The request reminded me of my last lengthy discussion on Dhanasari -- which was memorable one. A few years ago one beautiful afternoon, after the normal Gurudwara program, I had the fortune of sitting with the gifted Bhai Gurmeet Singh Shaant and his jatha in the Norwalk Gurudwara in Connecticut, and we were sharing Dhanasari bandishes with each other; In his opinion this would be categorized as a Thumri in Dhanasari, not a Khayal, the more popular Kirtan style prevalent nowadays. The best way to learn the musical aspects of Dhanasri is to listen to accomplished musicians sing it. See the Compilation of Dhanasri Shabads for more examples of singing Dhanasri.

If I stopped here, I would be wrong. 

The question is how do I know I am truly singing Dhanasri? Several musicologists will agree with the musical notes and other perfunctory intricacies, which are necessary, but still inept in creating the atmosphere of Dhanasri. I have found big and small encyclopedias of Indian classical music and Gurmat Sangeet fall short in a meaningful way. The more you sing, Dhanasri, like all raags from the Guru Granth Sahib, it becomes harder to sing. The musical rules are the first step and maybe easy for an adept musician, but that is only the tip of the iceberg; the true Dhanasri, like any true raag, has to fortify the meaning of the words we are singing. And then it has to take you beyond, to the anhat shabad.  That is the purpose of any raag. 

Raag Dhanasari, in my experience is the extrovert cousin of Raag Sri, although you don't ordinarily find any similarities in the notes. I have heard some experts claim that Dhanasri comes from two words: Dhan and Aishwarya, both dealing with wealth. Raag Dhanasri, as I have come to discover, has to reminds us that Sri is Dhan, that God is Great, He is the true wealth; not temporarily, incessantly so! In song Dhanasri becomes an incessant celebration of the Greatness of God! And one also has to remember that for a theist, a synonym of "God is Great" is "I am fortunate." Let me explain.

If you want to really learn what Dhanasri truly is, and why Sri is Dhan, there are no better better teacher than the Guru Granth Sahib ... than Guru Nanak, or Guru Arjan, or Guru Tegh Bahadur.

I know I am singing the Dhanasri which Guru Nanak sang when in astonishment in gazing at the stars I feel the magnanimity of our Creator who has studded the sky with stars, those innumerable candles in the platter of the sky. When I get out of my office in the late evening and open the door to smell the jasmine surrounding my office, Dhanasri plays a video of Guru Nanak's walk through sandalwoods. Dhanasri's is a melody with a persistent fragrance, a persistent reminder. And by the conclusion of Guru Nanak's Aarti the fragrant reminder lights my heart with the candle that lights everyone else.

Even if you stopped here, it is clear that there is no better way to adorn God than the sights and smells conjured by Dhanasri.

Dhanasri comes as a blessing when you feel that Guru Arjan singing with you ... a blessing by the Great one, whose power extends in all four directions, Chatur disa! The true wealth of Dhanasri does not stop at the shear magnificence of the proportion of His Creation, but it resides in the Love that He shares with insignificant beings. Even when this shabad is sung not from its rahao tuk, and not in the correct raag ... take "Jo Mange Thakur Apne te," in the famous Pahadi tune that everyone knows ... the glow of Dhanasri is resplendent in moments when God's will is so well inculcated in oneself, that one receives whatever one asks for! Whatever! Soi soi deveh!

How Great is our Creator to have created innumerable amenities, and then provided us, lowly beings with these as gifts. The candle of true love shines even for me, a nobody in stark contrast with the rest of Creation. Guru Arjan reminds me that I am quite inept ... I have only one tongue, how can I sing praises of the infinite ... kavan gun kahiye? Still You like my father take care of me.

Even Guru Tegh Bahadur reminds me of my ineptness, of my spending life on worthless pursuits in the aforementioned shabad I have grown to love - Ab Main Kaun Upao Karoon. In conclusion of "Ab Main Kaun Upao kAroon" Guru ji gives you a concise answer about Greatness and true wealth of Dhanasri: The closer I get to realizing that I cannot comprehend the awesomeness of God, the essence of Mool Mantra, even a lowly sinner like me, who is removed from pure thoughts, pure words, and pure action, can be saved by His mercy!

That is His awesomeness -- His powers are Great, qualities innumerable, nevertheless He is merciful and unconditionally loves me like my father. That is why Sri is Dhan, and thats what we celebrate in Dhanasri.

Following are English translations of Dhanasri shabads that have helped me in thus defining Dhanasri:

Guru Nanak's Dhanasri:
Aarti - Gagan Main Thaal Rav Chand Deepak
In the bowl of the sky, the sun and moon are the lamps;
the stars in the constellations are the pearls.
The fragrance of sandalwood is the incense, the wind is the fan,
and all the vegetation are flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. 1

What a beautiful lamp-lit worship service this is!
O Destroyer of fear, this is Your Aartee, Your worship service.
The sound current of the Shabad is the sounding of the temple drums. 1Pause

Thousands are Your eyes, and yet You have no eyes.
Thousands are Your forms, and yet You have not even one form.
Thousands are Your lotus feet, and yet You have no feet.
Without a nose, thousands are Your noses. I am enchanted with Your play! 2

The Divine Light is within everyone; You are that Light.
Yours is that Light which shines within everyone.
By the Guru's Teachings, this Divine Light is revealed.
That which pleases the Lord is the true worship service. 3

My soul is enticed by the honey-sweet lotus feet of the Lord;
night and day, I thirst for them.
Bless Nanak, the thirsty song-bird, with the water of Your Mercy,
that he may come to dwell in Your Name. 4179

Guru Arjan's Dhanasri :
Jo Mange Thakur Apne Tay (Har Jan Rakhey Gur Gobind)

He has extended His power in all four directions, and placed His hand upon my head.
Gazing upon me with his Eye of Mercy, He has dispelled the pains of His slave. 1

The Guru, the Lord of the Universe, has saved the Lord's humble servant.
Hugging me close in His embrace, the merciful, forgiving Lord has erased all my sins. Pause

Whatever I ask for from my Lord and Master, he gives that to me.
Whatever the Lord's slave Nanak utters with his mouth, proves to be true, here and hereafter.

He has extended His power in all four directions, and placed His hand upon my head.
Gazing upon me with his Eye of Mercy, He has dispelled the pains of His slave.

Another one of Guru Arjan's Raag Dhanasri: Jehwa Ek Kavan Gun Kahiye

You are the Giver, O Lord, O Cherisher,
my Master, my Husband Lord.
Each and every moment, You cherish and nurture me;
I am Your child, and I rely upon You alone. 1

I have only one tongue - which of Your Glorious Virtues can I describe?
Unlimited, infinite Lord and Master - no one knows Your limits. 1Pause

You destroy millions of my sins,
and teach me in so many ways.
I am so ignorant - I understand nothing at all.
Please honor Your innate nature, and save me! 2

I seek Your Sanctuary - You are my only hope.
You are my companion, and my best friend.
Save me, O Merciful Saviour Lord;
Nanak is the slave of Your home. 312

Guru Tegh Bahadur's Dhanasri
Ab Main Kaun Upao Karoon
Now, what efforts should I make?
How can I dispel the anxieties of my mind?
How can I cross over the terrifying world-ocean? 1Pause

Obtaining this human incarnation,
I have done no good deeds; this makes me very afraid!
In thought, word and deed, I have not sung the Lord's Praises;
this thought worries my mind. 1

I listened to the Guru's Teachings, but spiritual wisdom did not well up within me;
like a beast, I fill my belly.
Says Nanak, O God, please confirm Your Law of Grace;
for only then can I, the sinner, be saved.


  1. surinder singh bolaAugust 5, 2011 at 7:27 AM

    Liked the content..
    shall be a regular visitor..
    God Bless you..

  2. Thank you very much. It's very helpful.