This composition is based on the Panjabi folk poetic form Alahania related to death. In the first and second stanzas, the glory of IkOankar (the Divine) is described. In the third, the state of a being trapped in vices is portrayed. In the fourth, the being is consoled by showing death to be occurring under the command of IkOankar. In the fifth and sixth, the state of a being in this world and in the Court after death is described. In the seventh, by depicting the regret of a being who has spent their life in vain, there is advice to reflect and remember IkOankar. In the eighth, a happy and pleasant state of the being connected with the Wisdom (Guru) is presented.
vaḍahansu    mahalā  1    dakhṇī.  
sacu  sirandā    sacā  jāṇīai   sacṛā  parvadgāro.  
jini  āpīnai  āpu  sājiā   sacṛā  alakh  apāro.  
dui  puṛ  joṛi  vichoṛianu   gur  binu  ghoru  andhāro.    
sūraju  candu  sirjianu   ahinisi  calatu  vīcāro.1.  
sacṛā  sāhibu  sacu  tū   sacṛā  dehi  piāro.  rahāu.  
-Guru  Granth  Sahib  580  
Literal Translation
Interpretive Transcreation
Poetical Dimension
This composition is set in the rag or musical mode of Vadahans Dakhni, which is common to both wedding and death ceremonies. Vadahans is associated with folk traditions, and the combination of Dakhni and Vadahans brings joy and sadness simultaneously. In this composition, Alahania are the songs of sorrow sung after someone dies, which vary based on the deceased’s age and the circumstances of their passing. Usually, the immediate female relatives sing these songs as a group and publicly display their grief and pain by beating themselves or wailing. Vadahans literally means the great swan. The swan is often associated with the self or the being or the spirit within. In the Guru Granth Sahib, many compositions often distinguish between being swan-like (calm on the waters) versus being crane-like (full of pretension). This is about our potential to be swan-like and more vastly understanding folk culture. 

In the first stanza, Guru Nanak sets the scene by describing the Creator, IkOankar (One Creative and Pervasive Force, the One), and creation. The Guru says, true is the Creator. Only the Creator should be known as true. True is the Nurturer. True is that imperceivable and limitless Creator, Who by Own-Self has created Own-Self. That Creator is eternal and steady. That Creator has created all of creation and nurtures it. The Guru describes the process of creation by saying having united both the grindstones, That Creator has separated them. The imagery of the grindstones used to turn wheat into flour creates an understanding of a coming together and a separation, a perpetual movement between these two things. After Guru Nanak emphasizes that without the Wisdom, there is pitch darkness, that movement of the grindstones is replicated in the line that follows: That Creator has created the sun and moon. Day and night, the Creator contemplates this play. In Indic philosophy, the sun and the moon are important in understanding the mind and intellect, the lineages and gods, and the spaces they occupy. The Guru describes the presence and the expanse of creation in a more commonly understood way, emphasizing the incredibleness of creation and of the Creator. Even with all this description and acknowledgment of paradigms that make reference to debates on making sense of existence, the Guru ends with: You are the true Master. You are true. You bestow true love. There is no mention of understanding, just of love. This is the ask. It is so simple. We are asking for love.

The Guru begins this series of stanzas by establishing the One, who is incomprehensible and infinite. We do not know what this is compared to us and our infinitesimally small lives. We witness it constantly and might sense it somehow, but we cannot have a real sense of it. Without this constant reminder, death can feel like the largest and most looming thing in our lives, even though it happens so much and is happening constantly. Death is just one part of this incomprehensible nature of the Creator! The Guru references grindstones and the sun and moon to point to a kind of waxing and waning even of creation — a kind of play or dance we cannot understand. We cannot understand these separations and unions without the Wisdom (Guru). We cannot operate in these spaces of coming and going without the Wisdom. We will remain in utter darkness. How is the mind operating in this space? How is the intellect operating? We can apply every faculty available to us, but without the Wisdom, there is not even a sense of understanding. 

Even with all this reframing and recontextualizing, we are reminded of the vastness of existence, and our tendency might be to continue to ask for understanding. The Guru gently guides us away from that response with the last line. All that is asked for is love. We do not need to understand to practice devotion to the One. Will we reframe our understanding of death as part of this larger waxing and waning of creation? Will we resist the urge to pull meaning from such a vast and infinite play? Will we instead operate from a place of devotion?