Gagan Mein Thal Rav: Lyrics, Meaning and Thoughts on Guru Nanak's Aarti

[from 2013] Recently I recorded Guru Nanak's Aarti.  It was just me and the piano in my studio one evening. The essence of this beautiful poem is "How can I light candles for the one who has ignited all the stars in the platter of the sky, and lit all the flowers in the forest, and blows their perfume with the celestial wind? Nanak says that the true Aarti (lighting of candles) is the lighting of the heart's candle."

Raag Dhanasri

Guru Nanak used to sing Aarti in raag dhanasri. But the question remains how do I know we are 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. 

Rabindranath Tagore on Guru Nanak's Aarti

Famous saint poet of India Rabindranath Tagore was once asked by Balraj Sahni, who used to teach at Santiniketan then, that the way he has written the National Anthem of India, why doesn't he write one for the world? He replied that it has already been written. It was written in 16th Century by Guru Nanak, and this was sung by Guru Nanak as Aarti at Jagannath puri to the lord (the omnipresent God). and that this anthem was not only for the world, but for the entire universe. He was so influenced by this aarti that he himself translated it into Bangla language. 

Someone shared the following story on my youtube page: 

Once thespian Balraj Sahni (who used to teach at Santiniketan then) asked the Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, "You have written the national anthem for India. Can you write an international anthem for the whole world?" Tagore replied, "It has already been written. Not just an international anthem, but an anthem for the entire universe. It is the aarti written by Guru Nanak in the 16th century." Tagore was referring to the Sikh Aarti (ceremony of light). Gurudev Tagore was so enamoured of this aarti that he personally translated it into Bengali. Here is the story behind it :

When Guru Nanak traveled to Puri at the Jagannath temple, the temple priests invited Guru Nanak to join them to join in the Aarti of the Lord. Guru Nanak agreed and went and sat inside the temple. The priests stood in front of the idol gods and started to wave platters with lights, incense and offerings placed on it. All the devotees who had gathered stood up and gazed at the Lord with great devotion. Guru Nanak filled with great pleasure, was transfixed and remained seated. So overwhelmed was he, that tears rolled down his eyes

At the end of the aarti, the priests complained to Guru Nanak, "You said you would join us to join us in the Aarti of God, but you remain seated on the floor with your eyes closed!" Guru Nanak then replied with this Shabad, saying “Dear brothers! Does our Jagannath exist only here and in this wooden image? Is he not dazzling in the aura of his own greatness, inside all creation? Cannot his Mahima be felt and experienced without the accompanying rituals?"

Rituals and Aarti 

A few Sikh Gurdwaras perform Aarti with a platter, or 'Thali', while singing the above Aarti Kirtan, including two of the Panj Takhts: Thakat Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib Abchal Nagar and Thakat Sachkhand Sri Patna Sahib Harimandir Sahib. Most Sikhs adhering to essence of Guru Nanak's aarti, resist performing Aarti perform, instead singing 'Aarti Kirtan', which are a few shabads from Guru Nanak, Ravidas and other Bhagats/Gurus. 

Gagan Mein Thal Rav - Lyrics of Guru Nanak's Aarti

There are two versions of Guru Nanak's aarti in the Granth Sahib (one on page 13 and another on page 663); they are the same in essence but a few words are changed for instance "tere naam vaasa" on page 663 versus "tere naye vaasa" on page 13; and "tis kai chaanan" versus "tis dai chaanan" on page 663.  

I assume Guru Nanak would change some of these words as he sung them (like the puratan raagis used to); this made gurbani alive. It became different from the religious texts in sanskrit, where the exact word and pronunciation mattered; here it didn't because the essence mattered most. The emotion and the essence is key in any gurbani recitation. 

[from page 13]

Rāg ḏẖanāsrī mėhlā 1. 
Gagan mai thāl rav cẖanḏ ḏīpak bane ṯārikā mandal janak moṯī. 
Ḏẖūp malānlo pavaṇ cẖavro kare sagal banrāe fūlanṯ joṯī. ||1|| 

Kaisī ārṯī ho▫e. 
Bẖav kẖandnā ṯerī ārṯī. 
Anhaṯā sabaḏ vājanṯ bẖerī. ||1|| rahāo. 

Sahas ṯav nain nan nain hėh ṯohi ka▫o sahas mūraṯ nanā ek ṯohī. 
Sahas paḏ bimal nan ek paḏ ganḏẖ bin sahas ṯav ganḏẖ iv cẖalaṯ mohī. ||2|| 

Sabẖ mėh joṯ joṯ hai soe. Ŧis ḏai cẖānaṇ sabẖ mėh cẖānaṇ hoe. 
Gur sākẖī joṯ pargat hoe. Jo ṯis bẖāvai so ārṯī hoe. ||3|| 

Har cẖaraṇ kaval makranḏ lobẖiṯ mano anḏino mohi āhī piāsā. 
Kirpā jal ḏėh Nānak sāring kao hoe jā ṯe ṯerai nāe vāsā. ||4||3|| 

[from Guru Granth Sahib page 663]

Gagan mein thaal rav chand deepak bane
Tarka mandal janak moti
Dhoop malaanlo pawan chavaro kare
Sagal banrai phoolant jyoti

Kaisi aarti hove
bhavkhandna teri aarti
Anahad shabd vajant bheri

Sahas tav nain nan
Nain hai tohe kau
Sahas murat nan na ek tohe
Sahas pad bimal nan ek pad gandh bin
Sahas tav gandh ev chalat mohi

Sab mein jot jot hai sohi
Tis ke chaanan sab mein chaanan hoi
Gur sakhi jot pargat hoe
Jo tis bhave so aarti hoe

Har charan kamal makrand lobit mano
Aneno mohe aaee piyasa
Kirpa jal de nanak sarang ko
Hoe jate tere naam vasa
Hoe jate tere naam vasa

Alternative Translation of Guru Nanak's Aarti

The Sky is your platter,
The sun and moon are the lamps
The Stars in the sky are the pearls,
The ‘Dhoop’ (Incense) is the fragrance,
That the wind propels, the whole forest is Your flowers.

O! What a wonderful Aarti, this is!
You, are a destroyer of Fear,
The sound of Your Name, which is so subtle, that It goes unheard,
Resounds endlessly.

You have a thousand eyes, but not one is yours
You have several forms, yet not one is yours
You have feet, noses…And you have none…
I am charmed by your

Your Light enlightens all!
It is by the Grace of the Guru that the real Light (Knowledge) Manifests.
What pleases the Almighty is this Aarti

Nanak is like the thirsty bird that asks,
For a drop of water, From You O Lord!
That drop (Grace) will make Nanak find comfort,
In the uttering of Your Name.

Traditional Translation

Raag Dhanaasree, First Mehl (Guru Nanak)

Upon that cosmic plate of the sky, the sun and the moon are the lamps. The stars and their orbs are the studded pearls. 
The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is the temple incense, and the wind is the fan. All the plants of the world are the altar flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord. ||1|| 

What a beautiful Aartee, lamp-lit worship service this is! 
O Destroyer of Fear, this is Your Ceremony of Light. 
The Unstruck Sound-current of the Shabad is the vibration of the temple drums. ||1||Pause|| 

You have thousands of eyes, and yet You have no eyes. You have thousands of forms, and yet You do not have even one. 
You have thousands of Lotus Feet, and yet You do not have even one foot. You have no nose, but you have thousands of noses. This Play of Yours entrances me. ||2|| 

Amongst all is the Light-You are that Light. By this Illumination, that Light is radiant within all. 
Through the Guru's Teachings, the Light shines forth. That which is pleasing to Him is the lamp-lit worship service. ||3|| 

My mind is enticed by the honey-sweet Lotus Feet of the Lord. Day and night, I thirst for them. 
Bestow the Water of Your Mercy upon Nanak, the thirsty song-bird, so that he may come to dwell in Your Name. ||4||3||

Lyrics in Gurmukhi and English 

ਰਾਗੁ ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥ Raag Dhhanaasaree Mehalaa 1 || Raag Dhanaasaree, First Guru:

ਗਗਨ ਮੈ ਥਾਲੁ ਰਵਿ ਚੰਦੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਬਨੇ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਮੰਡਲ ਜਨਕ ਮੋਤੀ ॥ Gagan Mai Thhaal Rav Chandh Dheepak Banae Thaarikaa Manddal Janak Mothee ||

ਧੂਪੁ ਮਲਆਨਲੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਚਵਰੋ ਕਰੇ ਸਗਲ ਬਨਰਾਇ ਫੂਲੰਤ ਜੋਤੀ ॥੧॥ Dhhoop Malaaanalo Pavan Chavaro Karae Sagal Banaraae Foolanth Jothee ||1||

ਕੈਸੀ ਆਰਤੀ ਹੋਇ ॥ Kaisee Aarathee Hoe ||

ਭਵ ਖੰਡਨਾ ਤੇਰੀ ਆਰਤੀ ॥ Bhav Khanddanaa Thaeree Aarathee ||

ਅਨਹਤਾ ਸਬਦ ਵਾਜੰਤ ਭੇਰੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ Anehathaa Sabadh Vaajanth Bhaeree ||1|| Rehaao ||

ਸਹਸ ਤਵ ਨੈਨ ਨਨ ਨੈਨ ਹਹਿ ਤੋਹਿ ਕਉ ਸਹਸ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਨਨਾ ਏਕ ਤਦ਼ਹੀ ॥ Sehas Thav Nain Nan Nain Hehi Thohi Ko Sehas Moorath Nanaa Eaek Thuohee ||

ਸਹਸ ਪਦ ਬਿਮਲ ਨਨ ਏਕ ਪਦ ਗੰਧ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਹਸ ਤਵ ਗੰਧ ਇਵ ਚਲਤ ਮੋਹੀ ॥੨॥ Sehas Padh Bimal Nan Eaek Padh Gandhh Bin Sehas Thav Gandhh Eiv Chalath Mohee ||2||

ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਹੈ ਸੋਇ ॥ Sabh Mehi Joth Joth Hai Soe ||

ਤਿਸ ਦੈ ਚਾਨਣਿ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ This Dhai Chaanan Sabh Mehi Chaanan Hoe ||

ਗੁਰ ਸਾਖੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਪਰਗਟੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ Gur Saakhee Joth Paragatt Hoe ||

ਜੋ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਵੈ ਸੁ ਆਰਤੀ ਹੋਇ ॥੩॥ Jo This Bhaavai S Aarathee Hoe ||3||

ਹਰਿ ਚਰਣ ਕਵਲ ਮਕਰੰਦ ਲੋਭਿਤ ਮਨੋ ਅਨਦਿਨਦ਼ ਮੋਹਿ ਆਹੀ ਪਿਆਸਾ ॥ Har Charan Kaval Makarandh Lobhith Mano Anadhinuo Mohi Aahee Piaasaa ||

ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਜਲੁ ਦੇਹਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਾਰਿੰਗ ਕਉ ਹੋਇ ਜਾ ਤੇ ਤੇਰੈ ਨਾਇ ਵਾਸਾ ॥੪॥੩॥ Kirapaa Jal Dhaehi Naanak Saaring Ko Hoe Jaa Thae Thaerai Naae Vaasaa ||4||3||


  1. needed this on this gloomy day here in Mumbai
    so much sorrow so much pain, gurubaba is with us. will carry us through.

  2. Have always been hypnotized with this since childhood. This aarta I used to hear at my Nani's place which was adjacent to Gurudwara. 30 years later I could find out what that sound was and 45 years later I came to know the meaning. It is as wonderful as it sounded back then.

  3. Waheguru ji ka khalsa waheguru ji ki fateh

  4. I am lost in it. This is so beautiful. Waheguru.

  5. You have a great job... Bless you...

  6. Thanks Veer for enlightening lesser mortals like us. Stay blessed. Stay safe and happy always

  7. London 18.30 cold dark and grey listening to the version by bhai satwinder and harvinder Singh (Delhi Wale) I am overwhelmed and have tears rolling down my chin. Waheguru 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾

  8. This is the most beautiful explanation I have heard. Your rendition bought tears to my eyes. You are blessed by Waheguru through the medium of your voice.

  9. True recital with immense love and gratitude to Lotus feet of WAHEGURU relieves one of the all pains of life.. Pls bless and shower us with the amazing bliss so as to get rid of all the sins of material world. WAHEGURU ji 🙏

  10. Waheguruji Mehar Karan !
    Gurbaani has its own essence, the beauty hidden in the words needs to be explored and followed modestly. Thanks for the wonderful explanation.

  11. Waheguru!
    What a great translation and explanation including the context and story of Dhan Guru Nanak's Aarti.
    Rabb ji Meher karan!

  12. Love your listening to your beautiful version and your lovely explanation. Waheguru

  13. Hi, you seem to have gotten confused between Bhava and Bhaya. Bhavakhandana means liberator from the cycle of birth and death.
    कैसी आरती होइ भव खंडना तेरी आरती ॥ अनहता सबद वाजंत भेरी ॥१॥ रहाउ॥

    पद्अर्थ: भवखंडना = हे जनम मरण काटने वाले! अनहता = (अन+हत) जो बिना बजाए बजे, एक रस। सबद = आवाज़, जीवन लहर। भेरी = नगारा।1। रहाउ।

    अर्थ: हे जीवों के जनम-मरण नाश करने वाले! (प्रकृति में) तेरी कैसी सुंदर आरती हो रही है! (सब जीवों में रुमक रही) एक-रस लहर, जैसे, तेरी आरती के लिए नगारे बज रहे हैं।1। रहाउ।

  14. I have been searching for the meaning of GAGAN ME THAL ...
    Today I found it and feel satisfied.
    I find it to be absolutely universal and totally Secular. Tagore rightly called it The Prayer of the Universe.