The human body is perishable. After death, all the elements of this body dissolve into their origin, and the life-force is merged with the all-Pervading IkOankar (the Divine). The life-force is a part of IkOankar and never perishes. The being enchained in the bondages of illusion and attachment weeps and wails. The seeker who recognizes the way of IkOankar realizes that this world is merely a Divine play. Through the Wisdom (Guru), all illusions are removed, and the seeker realizes that no one dies or takes birth in this world. No one comes or goes.
rāmkalī  mahalā  5.  
pavnai  mahi  pavanu  samāiā.  
jotī  mahi  joti  rali  jāiā.    
māṭī  māṭī  hoī  ek.    
rovanhāre    kavan  ṭek.1.  
kaünu  mūā  re  kaünu  mūā.  
brahamgiānī  mili  karahu  bīcārā   ihu  taü  calatu  bhaïā.1.  rahāu.  
aglī  kichu  khabari  na  pāī.  
rovanhāru  bhi  ūṭhi  sidhāī.  
bharam  moh  ke  bāṁdhe  bandh.  
supanu  bhaïā  bhakhlāe  andh.2.  
ihu  taü  racanu  raciā  kartāri.  
āvat  jāvat  hukami  apāri.  
nah  ko  mūā  na  marṇai  jogu.    
nah  binsai  abināsī  hogu.3.  
jo  ihu  jāṇahu  so  ihu  nāhi.  
jānaṇhāre  kaü  bali  jāu.  
kahu  nānak    guri  bharamu  cukāiā.    
 koī  marai  na  āvai  jāiā.4.10.  
-Guru  Granth  Sahib  885
Literal Translation
Interpretive Transcreation
Poetical Dimension
Ramkali is a rag (musical mode) used to evoke feelings of triumph regardless of circumstance. In the larger Indic musical tradition, it is about two moods — madhur (sweet) and chakat (startled). There is a level of sweetness and startling expressed in these compositions. Ramkali typically signifies a scenario where a disciplined and wise teacher imparts knowledge to a disciplined and wise student. Both parties acknowledge the struggle and pain of learning, yet they understand its necessity for growth. Through the struggle, they recognize that eventual triumph becomes all the more gratifying.

Guru Arjan begins by saying, Who has died, O! Who has died? By meeting a Brahamgyani, do reflection; this is a wondrous play that has happened. In a compassionate tone, the Guru invokes a rhetorical question and challenges our unsubstantiated understanding of death. In the eyes of the Guru, leaving the earthly realm is nothing more than a part of the wondrous play of the 1, IkOankar (One Universal Integrative Force, 1Force, the One). In this question, we find the negation of the whole popular understanding of death. Everyone, from the scientists to the zealots, researches, talks, describes, and explores death in their own way, yet the expansive theories do not guarantee the truth. The Guru guides us to the eternal answers, and we turn to the ones who have authentic insights. The holder of these answers is the ‘Brahamgyani,’ one who has insights on Braham, the Supreme being, a synonym for IkOankar, and hence a complete understanding of death. If we do not want to keep going in circles, then our conversations need to be with the ‘Brahamgyani’ for whom the final departure from the body is just another part of IkOankar’s play. Engaging in conversations with people who have their own philosophies and theories of death breeds misconceptions, whereas, in the company of the insightful, the truth is revealed.

In the first stanza, the Guru elucidates an understanding of the larger context. Various cultural, religious, and indigenous schools of thought agree that the body diffuses back into the elements it is made of. The lines, The air has merged into the air. The light has blended into the light. The soil has become one with the soil; confirm this. It signifies that nothing truly perishes; everything returns to its source. Drawing knowledge from this, the Guru prompts us to ponder: If departing the body is akin to fulfilling a natural transformation cycle, what is the basis for sorrow?

In the second stanza, the Guru observes how we operate and says, No one has found any news of the hereafter. Nobody knows where one goes after leaving the earthly realm, but we assume we do. Entanglement in worldly relationships breeds these unsubstantiated assumptions that make us believe everything will last forever. The idea of permanence feels safe even if, at its core, that sense of safety might be hollow. Collective reinforcement of these assumptions continues, and before we know it, the phrase ‘a lie told a hundred times becomes a truth’ becomes a lived reality for us. Blinded by ignorance, we live this life like a dream. We cannot handle the truth and cry when it is time for us or our loved ones to leave this world. The pain, cry, fear, anxiety, and resistance happen because our tower of false ideas suddenly comes crashing down.

In the next stanza, the Guru elaborates on the vastness of the Hukam, the Divine Command, This is a play the Creator has created and challenges our existential understandings. As per the Command, nothing truly fades away; everything endures eternally. Even the laws of thermodynamics incorporate this truth. We are reminded that we cannot fully comprehend the infinite Command due to our finiteness. Rather than seeking to fully understand it, we ought to accept it fully. By not invoking the words ‘soul,’ and the like, the Guru breaks all the vocaburial fixations that take us away from the truth and elucidates that Creation is the Creator’s divine play; our arrival and departure are integral parts of this cosmic drama.

In the last stanza, the Guru confronts our self-created theories and says, What you think this is, it is not that. The Guru retains compassion yet points out the superficiality in our hollow understandings of life, death, and more. The Guru adores the one who understands this and is willing to give anything to that individual. This tells us that the Guru has experienced this and knows it is difficult. In the maze of complex illusions, the Wisdom eliminates our doubts and reminds us that it is all a game, a game of the 1 by the 1. 

In the web of our collective assumptions, truth has become distant. We reduce the Creator’s expansive play to fit our understanding of death. Tunnel vision distorts our ability to see the bigger picture, hindering our ability to see and understand things more clearly. It is difficult to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘illusive’ when the misconceptions are a shared reality. It is challenging to break these delusions, but it is possible. The Wisdom can rescue us by guiding us to the truth only if we are willing to unlearn these assumptions. To unlearn, we ought to identify what it is that needs to be unlearned. Retracing the journey of our beliefs, we may ask: What is the source of the belief? How does embracing the Divine Command change our relationship to death and to IkOankar? How does the Wisdom cast away our doubts and fear about death and make us open to IkOankar?