Jaisi Main Aveh Khasam ki Baani - Translation and History

"Jaisi Main Aveh" is one of the four poems included in what is called "Babarvani" describing the four invasions by Mughal Emperor Babar (1483-1530).  While three of these poems are in Raag Asa (the color of Hope), this poem is in Raag Tilang (the color of Mideast).

Read More: Complete Babarvani

Babar and Guru Nanak in 1520-1521

Before we go into the shabad, let's consider the historical background based on what I have gathered from several sources including Babar's Autobiography in the past few days.

The year was 1520.  The season was winter.  Babar made his third invasion into India and easily subdued several cities including Sialkot.  He wanted to do the same with Saidpur, a town of landowners and merchants.  The inhabitants of Saidpur, not knowing Babar's savage intentions, resisted and in his wrath Babar ordered a bloody massacre of city dwellers.

Guru Nanak was traveling back home after his trip to Mecca, and reached Saidpur from Punja Sahib and stayed with disciple and friend Bhai Lalo.  Guru Nanak and Bhai Lalo, along with other older men, women and children were imprisoned by Babar.  Babar had to leave Saidpur because of attacks at his home in Afganisthan.  According to the Puratan Janam Saaki, Guru Nanak and Bhai Lalo were made to carry loads of wealth on their backs for Babar's troops to take away (See Babur's Invasion).

Many of the historical accounts of Babar's third invasion I found were short and colorless. For example, one account mentioned Babar's invasion in the following way:
"There is no doubt, however, that he made an expedition, called the third, in 1520. On this occasion he crossed the Indus, marched into the part known now as the Rawal Pindi division, crossed the Jehlam, reached Sialkot, which he spared, and then marched on Saiyidpur, which he plundered. He was called from this place to Kabul to meet a threatened attack upon that capital."

In comparsion ... Guru Nanak is beautifully descriptive, and he calls the savagery like it is: evil and sinful:

Calling it like it is ... Guru Nanak Style

Guru Nanak's courageous song of truth that describes the condition of Saidpur after it was devastated by Babar's attack in 1521:

Tilang, First Mehl:

Jaisi Main Avai Khasam ki Baani, taisada kari gyaan vey Lalo
As the Word of the divine comes to me, so do I express it, O Lalo

Guru Nanak is going to describe the horrors of Babur's atrocities. He says, look, I'm going to say it like it is. This is not just ordinary "Bani" or ordinary "word," it is "Khasam ki Bani" or the "word of the eternal husband." And what is "khasam" according to Guru Nanak -- it is "satnam" or the truth. So this is the word of truth according to Guru Nanak! Because Khasam can also be defined as "love," one can say that Guru Nanak is saying, "These are not necessarily my words. These are the words that have come to me from my love."

Another interpretation of this line is that Guru Nanak is emphasizing that it is not he who is making any judgements, because in the end whether someone is good or evil, is a judgement.  He says that the source his knowledge (gyaan) is the divine husband (khasam).  He is just imparting what has come to him from the divine.  He is just doing what God willed him to do: sing!

This line reminds me of Bob Dylan's song Blowin in the Wind. In this song that was meant to be a protest against war, Bob Dylan asks several poignant questions. For instance:
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The convenient thing to do is to ignore atrocities.  It saves you from any negative repercussions.  But the right and courageous thing to do is to stand by the truth.  Guru Nanak's poem is especially courageous because it could result in him losing his life; despite this, he choses to write and sing this.

Paap kee janj lai Kabulon Dhaaeiaa Jori Mangai Daan vey Lalo
Bringing the wedding party of sin from Kabul he (Babur) demands land as his wedding gift, O Lalo.

He is saying it like it is.  

The Wedding Metaphor

Wedding are often used as metaphors of death in sufi poetry and gurbani. Just like the bridegroom leaves her temporary house and goes to her husband's house one day, it is inevitable that we all die.  Guru Nanak extends this metaphor chillingly -- the wedding party has come from Kabul and "demands" land.  This sin has come from greed.  Through this poem he slays the greed of acquirers of land and women. The fact that he wanted the land and riches of the people of Saidpur has been corroborated from primary sources.  

The wedding party of sin comes from Kabul.  After Babur's failures in Central Asia he had moved south east to Kabul and established his supremacy.  He was especially punitive to the Afghans, often setting up "pillars of heads" after winning battles; now he brings such horrors to India.  

One historian remarks that Guru Nanak knew about Babur's attack beforehand and came to Saidpur to warn Bhai Lalo of the devastation.  I believe the shabad was written afterwards because of the specific description and the evidence (chakki). 

Saram Dharam Doi Chhap Khaloye Kood Phire Pardhaan vey Lalo
Decency and righteousness are hiding, and falsehood struts around like a leader, O Lalo.

Kajiyan Baamana ki gal Thakki, Agad Padai Saitan vey Lalo
The Qazis and the Brahmins have lost their roles, and Satan now conduct wedding rites, O Lalo.

Normally weddings are decent and righteous affairs; they are celebrations. And normally the pious elevated individuals conduct marriage ceremonies. So that would be the brahman for hindus and the kazi for muslims. But in this case Satan is conducting wedding rites. As we go on in this shabad, the wedding metaphors will continue - especially about singing wedding songs in the end of the shabad.

Toll of War on Women

Musalamaaneeaa parrehi kathaebaa kasatt mehi karehi khudhaae vae laalo
The Muslim women read the Koran, and in their misery, they call upon God, O Lalo.

Jaath sanaathee hor hidhavaaneeaa eaehi bhee laekhai laae vae laalo
The Hindu women of different statuses, as well, have been met with the same fate, O Lalo.

The Muslim women are suffering ... they have no where else to go but God. And Hindu women of all statuses are met with the same fate.  Everyone is suffering.

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi author, who has written a book on the plight of women in war, claims that things are not different now. She claims that we talk about only one side of war.  We talk about the missiles, the destruction, the valiant warriors, the vanquished ones, troop levels, tactics, dollars and casualties. We treat casualties rather casually. We don't talk about where the social fabric is most torn. We don't talk about the suffering of women, the suffering of children ... they remain the the unspoken sufferers of war. And the fact is that seventy-five percent of the casualties of war are women and children.

It is also possible, that Guru Nanak only mentions women, because he is continuing to use the wedding metaphor, where everyone is the soulbride of the one in power.

Babar - Jabar - Equal Opportunity Savage

It is clear from this description that Babar is indiscriminately killing and torturing people regardless of religion.  He was an equal opportunity savage. History shows that Babar (and for that matter his ancestor Genghiz Khan) was more interested in capturing land and wealth than converting folks to Islam. As an aside, it was much later, after he had conqured Delhi, Babar used Islam to rally his troops to defeating Rajputs of Mewar.

A noted Pakistani Journalist, Mushtak Soofi, describes Babar's intent in his article on Guru Nanak
Babar was like a character one finds in one of Bertolt Brecht’s poems; 'where my tank passes is my street/what my gun says is my opinion.'
When Babar decided to savagely kill the people of Saidpur, much of its male population must have been killed in the attack. Guru Nanak only mentions the plight of the Muslim and Hindu women, perhaps because most of the men were dead. But, it is clear that it was the women who suffered the most. 

Guru Nanak And Bhai Lalo Survive

It is interesting that both Guru Nanak and Bhai Lalo survived the attack. It might have been because Guru Nanak was highly regarded (because he was returning from Mecca and was considered a Haji; there weren't too many people in that time and place who had completed the Hajj), or because he was spiritual, because he was a musician (and Babar loved music and musicians), or just because he was old (>50 years old). We don't know this; but it is also possible that Babar only killed folks who were opposing his invasion; he imprisoned the others. According to the puratam janam sakhi over 11,000 people were imprisoned.

Imbued in Red

Khoon kae sohilae gaaveeahi naanak rath kaa kungoo paae vae laalo |1|
Sing the songs of murder, O Nanak, sprinkling kungoo* of blood, O Lalo.

Although kungoo is often translated as "saffron" in most translations of this shabad, this is not accurate. Kungoo is a powdered dye from a variety of millet that was used as make-up by women. I found some references of modern use of this millet for making hair pink (More on Kungoo)! Continuing the extension of this chilling metaphor of death, the poet is also decorated with the kungoo, but its the kungoo of blood and he sings the songs of murder.

It is interesting to note that Khoon is red.  Kungoo is pink, derived from red. And Lalo, although a person's name, is also derived from red.  Red is the color of blood. It is the color of blood that makes a memory of war so gory. Yet, it is also the color of love. It is the traditional color of a bride's dress.  The redness of Guru Nanak's last line highlights the dichotomy of the world that we live in. This world is full of suffering, yet it is also full of love.  And all us poets of life have a choice.

Guru Nanak Sings His Part 

What does Guru Nanak do despite all the suffering. He is not dejected. He sings! The poet of the soul is ready to die.  He is ready to die a bloody death.  Not just ready, he accepts the bloody death gleefully. He sings the songs of murder. He does what he is here for. He does his part.   In the darkest hours of life, he sees stars; he has optimism. He has hope. He rejoices in His Will.
How can we remove all this dark falsehood? By rejoicing in His Will, says Nanak! (Japji 1)
We live in a time of great confusion and pain. There was uncalled for bloodshed in Paris, Syria and California last year.  Terrorists were killing innocent people for reasons even baser than Babar's. But you shouldn't be discouraged. While you might not be able to fix this, but you should not lose heart. Peace begins with you. Just like Guru Nanak, you have a unique mission. Just like him, you can be singing.  Just like him, you can make a big difference. Just like him, you can truly live.

Martin Luther King once said, "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true." To truly live, you have to sing what is right, you have to sing for justice, you have have to sing the truth.  The Guru Nanak within us lives as long as we sing the truth. He sings eternally, 'Akhaan Jeevan Visrai Mar Jaon' ... he sings, "As long as I sing I live; as soon as I forget I die."

Note: This is ongoing research as of December 2018. Please contribute if you can help improve this.

Also spelt: Jaisi Main Avai


  1. Beautiful! Very deep understanding of the Guru's verse. Thanks for this contribution.

  2. Very well written bro... Are you writing the next part?
    What is the significance of the numbers towards the end of the shabad? Any thoughts?

  3. That is such a beautiful explanation. I am reading this on the day of Guru Ji's gurpurab, and it really resonates with me and my understanding of Guru Ji's words 🙏

  4. You’re a legend

  5. Can’t thank you enough