This composition is based on the Panjabi folk poetic form Alahania related to death. The first stanza guides the being to realize the Creator as pervading everywhere and in everyone. The second stanza conveys that the birth and death of a being and their deeds are under the will of the Creator. The third stanza mentions the obstacles that a being engrossed in vices faces on the path hereafter. The fourth stanza distinguishes between the state of the being connected with Nam and the one devoid of Nam. The one connected receives honor in the Court, whereas those devoid of Nam gain nothing despite toiling away.
vaḍahansu    mahalā  1.  
jini  jagu  siraji  samāiā   so  sāhibu  kudrati  jāṇovā.  
sacṛā  dūri  na  bhālīai   ghaṭi  ghaṭi  sabadu  pachāṇovā.  
sacu  sabadu  pachāṇahu    dūri  na  jāṇahu   jini  eh  racnā  rācī.  
nāmu  dhiāe    sukhu  pāe   binu  nāvai  piṛ  kācī.  
jini  thāpī    bidhi  jāṇai  soī   kiā  ko  kahai  vakhāṇo.  
jini  jagu  thāpi    vatāiā  jālou   so  sāhibu  parvāṇo.1.  
-Guru  Granth  Sahib  581  
Literal Translation
Interpretive Transcreation
Poetical Dimension
This composition is set in the rag or musical mode of Vadahans, which is common to both wedding and death ceremonies. Vadahans is associated with folk traditions. 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. These compositions are about more than the funeral ceremony, more than the folk culture around death, more than the folk culture of women grieving and beating their chests, and the sadness of this occasion. Guru Nanak uses this common experience to guide us toward a larger understanding of how we get through a painful time without building on that pain. How do we practice acceptance? How do we come to reflect in these times of mourning? How do we move toward remedies for our pain rather than picking at our wounds?

In the first stanza, Guru Nanak says, the One who, having created the world, has merged it with Own-Self, know that Sovereign to be dwelling in creation. This is the reminder right from the beginning. The One who has created this world is very much in the world, not separated from us. Our issue is that we feel separated. But, the Guru reminds us that we ought not to go looking for that eternal Sovereign somewhere far away—that we ought to remember and recognize the Command of that Sovereign in each and every heart. The One is in every heart, in every home, pervading all places, seen and unseen. This idea is repeated twice. Recognize that eternal Command. Know the Sovereign as not far away, as pervasive. We discover that pervasiveness through Sabad (hymn-like stanza that exemplifies the word-sound of the Infinite Wisdom). We can discover the Sovereign within ourselves through the Nam (Identification with IkOankar). If we Identify with IkOankar, we will find comfort. Then, there is no separation between the Being and the being! Our lives become more joyous with that understanding. Without Nam, the arena of life is unprepared. This game is one we are not prepared to play. Our purpose in life remains unfulfilled. The Guru continues, the One who has established creation, that Sovereign alone knows the way. The question is posed: What description can one offer? We cannot know the way of the One. What can we do? All we can know is that the One is present, that the One is operating in this space, and that the One who established this world also cast the net of Maya, or allure of material things and relationships. This is the insight of the Guru!

The Guru begins with the reminder we all need—this larger idea that that world created by the One is also the world the One is living in. We are shaken out of our illusions of separation with the reminder that the Eternal One is not far away but instead is a constant presence in our hearts. We can recognize that through the Sabad, through the Nam. Those who identify with the One are in perpetual joy and comfort. They understand the play experientially and through feeling, even if they do not intellectually understand it. This is how the entire arena of life becomes ripened. We spend our time fruitfully. We stop fixating on the smaller parts of this larger game. We stop getting swallowed up by our immediate reactions to life and its temporariness. We become mature and prepared. The Guru acknowledges the inability to describe the One. We have so many questions and desires to know, but there is no way to know for sure. Theories change and are proven and disproven, and we constantly find out that what we think existence does not remain true or constant. No one knows but the One. Instead the Guru redirects us to an understanding that the One who created this world also entangled us in the net of Maya. This is the One we recognize as the Sovereign. People lay all sorts of their own nets, but the net of Maya is the net we ought to try to disentangle ourselves from.

Will we overcome our illusions of separation? Will we feel the presence of the One within, through the Sabad, through Nam? Will we become prepared and ripened in this game of life? Will we Identify with the One? Will we recognize the eternal Sovereign?