What do the Raags of the Guru Granth Sahib Mean?

These are two entries from a discussion board on Sikhnet (from 2008).  I think that there are many colors to a raag. I continue to study what the raags signify through understanding shabads within each raag. I think the meaning behind the names of the raags has a lot to do with what they are trying to portray. So my research in along the lines of the second post here (from Serjinder Singh ji):

From CS Ghumman

I had been thinking for quiet some time that what does RAAGS mean for a person like me who doesn’t know abc of music?
This is what I could make of it so far.

RAAGS are like subject headings and RAAG INDEX contains the whole philosophy of GURBANI.
I divided the raags in three groups.

1.Sri raag to Dhanasari Raag which I call GYAN KHAND.(Knowledge or theory part.)
2.Jaitsri to Maru Raag which I call SARAM KHAND(Practical in real life)
3.Tukhari to Jaijaivanti Raag which I call KARAM KHAND(Changes that occur in life after going through first
two khands)
1)SRI RAAG: SRI means starting point,beginning.This chapter deals with the basic question.What is God?
2)MAAJH:means within.God is within
3)GAURI:means gunn,attributes.God is realised by attributes
4)AASA:means Laathi,stick,support.This chapter deals sums up all that humans have done so far for realisation of God.It evalutes all paths travelled so far.Discusses pros and cons of all rituals and practices etc.
5)GUJRI: means LIFE. This raag is about rational examination of human life.
6)DEVGANDHARI:Dev+Gandh(Elevated humans+smell/potential)Human life has potential to elevate.
7)BIHAGRA This chapter deals with the challenge faced by human life.BIHAGRA is the spoiled mind(mann)
8)VADHANS:is the elevated mind
9)SORATH:RATH(hard) is the opposite of RASS(liquid)Here sorath MEANS THAT God is everywhere in the form of natural laws.He is not HARD on you .But HE is lawful.You go against HIS laws,you pay for it.
10)DHANASRI:(DHAN+AVSAR)Golden opportunity.The human life is a golden opportunity to realise HIM.
11)JAITSIRI: (JAIT+SRI) Efforts+Begin.Lets us make efforts to realise God.
12)TODI:It means same as AASA .Stick or Tek leana.Prayer to seek the support of the God to be successful in efforts.
13)BAIRARI:resembles the word ruri (in gurbani there is a word RURI BANI which means sodhi hoyi bani )which in this context means making up your mind
15)SUHI:Dedication/commitment.Getting married to the God.
16)BILAVAL: Churning, giving time to the seed to flourish you have sowed in raag suhi.
17)GAUND:TO tie up with God,gandya jana
18)RAMKALI: To get coloured in God’s colour.In raag suhi you get married to god.As in the traditional marriage between man and a woman,it takes time when both partners adapt or adopt each others habits etc.After some time even the facial feature start to resemble.Getting married /commitment is the beginning.To get soaked in each other’s colour is the result.
19)NATNARAYAN:Nat means stage player and Narayan is the opposite of the word Ram.HE is involved in everything but at the same time disassociated from everything.Its HIS unique feature.HE does not manifest in others in the same way HE manifested in you.You are not going to realise HIM in the same way as NANAK did.
20)MAALI GAURA:Garland of attributes.Your efforts,by the grace if God,have made you a treasur of attributes.You have elevated yourself.
21)MAARU:To conquer.Reached the destination.
The changes that occurred in your life.
22)TUKHARI:Tukhari is the opposite word of BUKHAAR.When you did not have good attributes,the bad attributes were giving you a lot of pain.Now the good attributes have taken over.They give comfort and well being.
23)KEDARA:Yor live life at a higher level.
24)BHAIRON:All your fears are gone
25)BASANT:No matter how the circumstances change,they are pleasurable to you.
26)SARANG:means elephant.You are always in a carefree mood.
27)MALHAR:Sailor,You have the ability to bring positive changes in others too.
28)KANRA:You are like GOD.(I am not too sure about it.)
29)KALYAN:Seeking welfare for everybody.
30)PARBHATI:All your suspicisions,doubts,confusions and sanskaar(mental impressions) have vanished and you enjoy the life to the fullest.

From Serjinder Singh


I could be wrong but the names of the Raags in SGGS or out with SGGS, eg in Raagmala have historical, geographical, and cultural roots. Guru ji did not attempt to link the ideas in the sabads in a particular raag to the literal meaning of the raag name.

Most of the names of the raags refer to the area where the raag originated, probably in the folk songs of that area. Alternatively, the raag names refer to deities, seasons, or other cultural motifs.
I have attempted to give the meanings of the words in Raag names below:

1)SRI RAAG: SRI means goddess Laxmi the consort of Bishnu the Hindu provider deity in the Hindu Trinity.

2)MAAJH: or pertaining to Majha, the area in the Majh (Sanskrit Madhya) or middle of two rivers. Specifically it refers to the area between rivers Beas and Raavi. This area in Indian mythology was also known as Madar desh.

3)GAURI: Gauri means pertaining to the Gaur area of Eastern India. Spercifically, Gaur Desh or area is the area around the border of present day Bengal and Orrisa.

4)AASA: Pertaining to the area in Eastern India now known as Aasaam.

5)GUJRI: Pertaining to the area in the present day Gujrat. Alternatively, it may be the Raag that originated with the arrival in India of the Indo-scythians known as Gurjars or Gujjars, the animal breeders. Several towns such as Gujaranwala, Gujjerkhan, Gujrat in Pakistan refer to the settlement of this migrant community that arrived from Central Asia.

6)DEVGANDHARI: Literally, the raag popular with the Gandhari (present day Kandhar in Afghanistan) noble (Dev) people.

7)BIHAGRA: The Raag to be sung when the sky is painted in Bihaag colours (at the time of sunset, or sunrise)

8)VADHANS: Vadhans means ‘Raj hans’ or the Royal swan. A raag that is pure and sung for and by ‘Bibeki’ or intelligent and discerning persons. A Hans or a swan is always refered to as a Bibeki bird that unlike the lowly heron or crow does not eat rubbish.

9)SORATH: Sorath or ‘Saurashtar’ is the name of the peninsular area in Gujrat state of India that projects into the Indian Ocean. A Rajput female of Gujerat named Sorathi who loved a young man named Beeja. The story is referred to in Vaars by Bhai Gurdas saying, “Sorathi Beeja Gavieai..”.

10)DHANASRI: is derived from two words ‘Dhan’ and ‘Aishvarya’ (Dhanaishvarya). Refers to Raag fit to be sung for rich and prosperous persons.

11)JAITSIRI: is derived from ‘Jayat’ and ‘Shri’. Jaitsari means a raag to be sung celebrating the victory of a prominent person.

12)TODI: Raag originally sung by the ‘Toda’ tribals in the forests of Central Telguland or Andhra Pardesh.

13)BAIRARI: Raag sung by the people of Berar region of present day Mahaarashtra.

14)TILANG: Raag originating in thirteenth/fourtheenth century in Central Asia, the land where the invader Taimoor came from. Taimoor was also known as ‘Timarlang’ or ‘Tamoor the lame’ because he had damaged leg.
Since the central Asians, ie persons from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan spoke Farsi. Many Shabads with Farsi words are in Raag Tilang for the above legacy.

15)SUHI: Deep red colour in Punjabi is known as Sooha colour. A bride wears to this day deep red attire at the time of marriage. So, raag Soohi contains numerous Shabads relating to a marriage or brides.

16)BILAVAL: Bilaval means merriment or happiness.

17)GAUND: Gond are forest dwelling tribal people in Central India like the Bhils on the border areas of Gujerat and Madhya Pardesh.

18)RAMKALI: Kali is a famous folk tune popular in Punjab. Thus , we have Kuldip Manak known as the ‘Kaliaan da badshah’. Folk singers like Harbhajan Mann sing Kali. This may be ‘Mirze di Kali’ or ‘Heer di Kali’ or ‘Dulley di kali’. Similarly the devotional persons would sing ‘Ram di Kali’ or Ramkali. In SGGS we have this Raag Ramkali employed when the Sabad in question refers to Sidhs or Naths. For instance, Sidh Gost and other sabads referring to Sidh Yogis.
There is also another Raag known as ‘GunKali Sarang’ sung by expert classical singers these days and even played by vetern Ravi Shankar on Sitaar.

19)NATNARAYAN: Nat Narayan refers to deity Siva who is a dancer and a god.

20)MAALI GAURA: Is a raag Gauri adapted in the Malva area of Madhay Pardesh around Indore. This Malva is different from the Malwa area of Punjab.

21)MAARU: Maru refers to the desert area of Rajsthan along the Indo-Pak border. This raag was sung or played on instruments mostly at the time of battle when Rajputs would go to fight. The area known as Marwar refers to the area in the Maru or Maruthal or desert. Community known as Marwaha in Punjab probably also came from Maruthal.
The agricultural land that is arid or without any source of irrigation in Punjab is known as Maroo land.

22)TUKHARI: Tukhar, Tushar, or Tokhar referes either to very cold climate or specifically to the area south of Kazakhstan and to the north of Kashmir on the Silk route. Some anceient scrolls over 2000 yrs old have been discovered in that area. The language on these scrolls is a previously unknown branch of Indo-European language. And the name given to this language is Tochari.

23)KEDARA:Himalayan snow covered area near the source of Ganges is know as Kedar.

24)BHAIRON:is a deity assistant to god Shiv and is fearful looking.

25)BASANT: is simply spring.

26)SARANG: has several meaning in Indian languages, such as Cloud, rainbird (Papeeha), Bow and arrow, or even elephant and many more.

27)MALHAR: Originating in the ‘Malya’ land. Malya is known as the area where Chandan or Sandalwood grows. Guru Nanak Dev ji refer to a breeze coming from this area as ‘Maliaanlo’ in Aarti in Keertn Sohila. Since this area in Kerala and Tamilnadu is the first to greet the monsoon in India therefore the raag Malhaar is sung for Sabads mentioning the monsoon weather with dark skies and torrential rane and clouds.

28)KANRA: Kanara or Kanad is a language or an area in modern day Karnataka and this raag belongs to that part of the world.
There is another Ragini mentioned in Ragmala known as Karnatee (Bairari Karnatee dhari, ਬੈਰਾਰੀ ਕਰਨਾਟੀ ਧਰੀ ॥

29)KALYAN: Kalayan is an area in Maharashtra on the border of Mumbai
30)PARBHATI:All simply refers to Parbhaat or early morning.

31JAIJAIVANTI: ‘Jai’ ‘Jayanti’ is simply a raag to hail one’s deity or to celebrate or wish for the victory of your mentor.


  1. http://sikher.com/wiki/sikh-scriptures/raag-melodies/

  2. Jaijavanti – 1352
    Raag Jaijavanti (ਜੈਜਾਵੰਤੀ) – Jaijavanti expresses the feeling of happiness and satisfaction of achievement, however it simultaneously conveys the sadness of losing. An apt simile for this Raag is that of a king winning a battle, however he is then told that his son has perished on the battlefield. This Raag conveys a sense of having to put your duty first, no matter what your inner feelings may be. The duality of the emotions of joy and sorrow help to keep you stable and prevent you revelling in your own achievement.

    Raag data kindly provided by Prof. Surinder Singh from Raj Academy