Through the letters, comes the Naam; through the letters, You are Praised.
Through the letters, comes spiritual wisdom, singing the Songs of Your Glory.
Through the letters, come the written and spoken words and hymns ...(sggs 4).

The Sikh Gurus wrote Shabads in poetical-metric forms. They were then associated with various Raagas and Ghars and many other terms such as Partaal, Sudhang, Rahaaou, Pauree, Vaar, Ikpadaa, Dupadaa, Tipadaa, Chaarpade, Ashatpadee, Chhand, Ghorian and Alahunian of folk music, types of Kirtan music, Gaathaa, Funhe, Chaubole, Savayyas, Karhale, Solahe, Mahalaa, Pattee, and so on. This Gurbani Reflection will attempt to have a brief discussion of these.


Raaga — combination of a set pattern of notes — is a condition of melody, which literally means to color or to please. Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) is arranged in chapters that bear names of musical Raagas, according to the nature of the composition, the musical clef (Ghar), etc. Each of the Raagas is unique. From a music standpoint, specifically the Bani of the SGGS is arranged and indexed according to the prescribed Raagas, singing forms, music signs/ headings and the other guidelines noted in the Bani. Popularly known as Gurmat Sangeet, such system of Gur-Shabd Kirtan instituted by the Sikh Gurus (initially established by Baabaa Nanak) is a unique musical tradition indeed, which creates original and specific musicology. The Gurus made the Kirtan an inseparable part of the Sikh way of life. The mixture of both the Shabad and the Raagas compliment each other in that the Raaga conveys a feeling and the Shabad a message. Thus combined together both produce very potent effect and impact on the human mind and heart, invoking spiritual sentiment, concentration, discipline, longing and love for God, etc. Thus the aim of the Kirtan is to experience the inner joy (Bliss) and Sahaj (one's natural state of Being). Therefore, the Kirtan is mentioned in the SGGS to be "the support of life", "remedy against evil", "source of virtues", "invaluable gem", "ocean of bliss", "divine nectar", "bestower of salvation", and so on. Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee (who first compiled and installed the Aadi Granth at the Harmandir Sahib, was very fond of the Kirtan and the music) initiated the system of music sessions (Chowkies) at the Harmandir Sahib.

The entire Bani of the SGGS has been classified under 31 main Raagas. They are as follows: Sri, Maanjh, Gauree, Aasaa, Gujree, Devghandhaaree, Bihaagraa, Wadhans, Sorath, Dhanaasree, Jaitsree, Todee, Bairaaree, Tilang, Suhee, Bilaawal, Gaund, Raamkalee, Nat Naaraayan, Maalee Gauraa, Maaroo, Tukhaaree, Kedaaraa, Bhairav, Basant, Saarang, Malhaar, Kaanraa, Kalyaan, Parbhaatee, and Jaijawantee.

Besides these 31 main Raagas, there are also variants of Raagas such as Gauree Guaareree, Gauree Dakhanee, Gauree Chetee, Gauree Deepkee, Gauree Poobee, Gauree Maanjh, Gauree Poobee Deeplee, Gauree Sulakhanee, Gauree Maalvaas, Gauree Maalaa, Gauree Bairaagan, Gauree Sorath, Wadhans Dakhanee, Tilang Kaafee, Suhee Kaafee, Suhee Lalit, Bilaaval Dakhanee, Bilaaval Gaund, Bilaaval Mangal, Raamkalee Dakhanee, Maroo Kafee, Maaroo Dakhanee, Basant Hindol, Kalyaan Bhoopaalee, Praabhaatee Dakhanee, and Praabhaatee Bibhaas.

Each Raaga offers a unique relationship to human moods and feelings. Another interesting aspect of Raagas is that there is a seasonal allocation as well as daily twenty-four hour time cycle allocation. For example, there are some morning Raagas, some evening Raagas, some afternoon Raagas, some night Raagas, and so on . Also, there are Raagas that are associated with seasons. For example, Malhaar and Megha Raagas, are sung in the rainy season, in the spring the Basant Raaga, etc. The reason is that human mind and heart undergo varying degrees of mood changes during a twenty-four hour time cycle as well as different seasons, therefore, certain Raagas are particularly suitable for certain time of the day and night as well as season. Dividing daily twenty-four hour timing cycle in eight Pahars and each Pahar in approximately three hour-period, the Raagas of each Pahar are as follows:

  • 6 AM - 9AM: Bilaaval, Devgandhaaree
  • 9 AM - 12 PM: Saarang, Suhee, Bilaaval, Gujree, Goaud, Todee
  • 12 PM - 3 PM: Wadhans, Maaroo, Dhanaasaree
  • 3 PM - 6 PM: Maanjh, Gauree, Tilang, Tukharee
  • 6 PM - 9 PM: Sri Raaga, Basant, Maalee Gauraa, Jaitsree, Kedaaraa, Kalyaan
  • 9 PM - 12 AM: Bihaagra, Nat Naraayan, Sorath, Malhaar, Kaanraa, Jaijawantee
  • 12 AM - 3 AM: No Raaga specified in the SGGS. The reason could be that this is the time to sleep!
  • 3AM - 6AM: Aasaa, Raamkalee, Bhairav, Parbhaatee

Unfortunately, Kirtan today has been commercialized to such an extent that most Raagees (Kirtan singers) are only focused and concerned with making quick money. This is commercialization and exploit of the faith. We all are to be blamed for this condition. Because, we do not perform Kirtan ourselves as envisioned by the fifth Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee. Instead we hire the so called professionals to sing it for us. The results are in front of us.

Before Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee started amateur class of Kirtan singers to perform Kirtan, professional singers (like nowadays) called "Rabbaabees" used to perform Kirtan for the Sangat (congregation) and the Guru. To cut the long story short, once these "Rabbaabees" went on strike, and thus denied to sing. It was that time Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee started training the amateur class of Raagees to perform Kirtan. The sixth Guru (Sri Guru Hargobind Jee) started a new class of Raagees called "Dhaadee", who sang heroic deeds of old warriors. They thus inspired the Guru's soldiers. The name "Dhaadee" came from "Dhad", which is a relatively small handheld percussion drum.


It is a musical sign, used at the top of the Shabad in the SGGS. It gives a hint to Raagees as to what musical clef (beat) to sing the Shabad in. In other words, "Ghar" binds music and poetry in their metrical-form. There are up to seventeen "Ghar" mentioned in the SGGS. Musicologists have different interpretations of this term. But the consensus seems to be that it denotes the parts of a Taal (beat). Following is a list of seventeen Taals used in Indian Music with their respective "Ghar". A close observation of the following list indicates that the majority of the modern Raagees generally seem to sing only in the first three or four.

  • GHAR 1 — Daadraa Taal (There is 1 Taalee* and the Beat has 6 Maatraas**
  • GHAR 2 — Roopak Taal (There are 2 Taalees and the Beat has 7 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 3 — Teen Taal (There 3 Taalees and the Beat has 16 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 4 — Chaar Taal (There are 4 Taalees and the Beat has 12 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 5 — Panj Taal Swaaree (There are 5 Taalees and the Beat has 15 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 6 — Khatt Taal (There are 6 Taalees and the Beat has 18 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 7 — Matt (Ashat) Taal (There are 7 Taalees and the Beat has 21 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 8 — Asht Mangal Taal (There are 8 Taalees and the Beat has 22 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 9 — Mohinee Taal (There are 9 Taalees and the Beat has 23 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 10 — Braham Taal (There are 10 Taalees and the Beat has 28 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 11 — Rudra Taal (There are 11 Taalees and the Beat has 32 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 12 — Vishnu Taal (There are 12 Taalees and the Beat has 36 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 13 — Muchkund Taal (There are 13 Taalees and the Beat has 34 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 14 — Mahashanee Taal (There are 14 Taalees and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 15 — Mishr Baran Taal (There are 15 Taalees and the Beat has 47 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 16 — Kul Taal (There are 16 Taalees and the Beat has 42 Maatraas)
  • GHAR 17 — Characharee Taal (There are 17 Taalees and the Beat has 40 Maatraas)

* Taalee is the pattern of clapping. Taals are typified by a particular pattern and number of claps.
** Maatraa is the beat, which may be subdivided if required.

There are many other Taals that may or may not have the same number of Taalees and/or Maatraas. For example Punajabi Taal, Chhotee Teen Taal, and Thumri all have the same number of Taalees and Maatraas as the Teen Taal. Both the Jhap Taal and Sool Phaak Taal have 3 Taalees as in Teen Taal but only 10 Maatraas. Both Dhamar Taal and Chnachal Taal have 3 Taalees as in Teen Taal but have only 14 Maatras. Ik Taal has 4 Taalees and 12 Maatraas as in Chaar Taal. Aadaa Chautaalaa, Bhaan Matee Taal (Chaar Taal Dee Savaaree), Jagg Paal Taal, and Jai Taal all have 4 Taalees as in Chaar Taal but not the same Maatraas (14, 11, 11 and 13, respectively). Sikhar Taal has 3 Taalees as in Teen Taal but 17 Maatraas. Talwaaraa Taal has 2 Taalees as in Roopak Taal, but 8 Maatraas. Indra Taal has 6 Taalees as in Khatt Taal, but 19 Maatraas. Deep Chandee or Chaachar Taal and Jhumraa Taal have 3 Taalees as in Teen Taal, but 14 Maatraas, and so on. Evidently the Indian music has developed and expanded in such a disciplined way that it has Taals of a just a few Maatraas to many Maatraas.

Not only music, Taal also pervades every movement of the entire Creation. Days, nights, weeks, months, years, seasons, movement of the planets in orbits, constant spinning of electrons around the center of the atom (called the nucleus where the protons and neutrons are located) etc. are a few reminders.


There are 22 Vaaras included in the SGGS, 9 of them come with distinctive assigned traditional folk musical tunes (Dhuni) of their own as noted below. Thus, they have a simple rhythm or a pattern of a folk Taal (beat) with a wider simple and emotional appeal. Vaars are not assigned with any particular "Ghar" notation. They are accompanied by "Slokas" and "Paurees", and the essence of the Vaar lies in the "Pauree". They are generally intended to produce martial feelings.

  • Maanjh Kee Vaar Mahalaa 1 — Malak Mureed Tathaa Chandharaa Soheeaa kee Dhuni (sggs 137).
  • Gauree Kee Vaar Mahalaa 4 — Raai Kamaaldee Mojdee Kee Dhuni (sggs 318).
  • Aasaa Dee Vaar Mahalaa 1 — Tunde Asraaje Kee Dhuni (sggs 462).
  • Gujree Kee Vaar Mahalaa 3 — Sikandar Biraahim Kee Kee Dhuni (sggs 508).
  • Wadhans Kee Vaar Mahalaa 5 — Lalaan Bahreemaa Kee Dhuni (sggs 585).
  • Raamkalee Kee Vaar Mahalaa 3 — Jodhe Veere Poorvaanee Kee Dhuni (sggs 947).
  • Saarang Kee Vaar Mahalaa 5 — Raai Mahame Hasane Kee Dhuni (sggs 1237).
  • Malaar Kee Vaar Mahalaa 1 — Raanai Kailaas Tathaa Maalde Kee Dhuni (sggs 1278).
  • Kaanare Kee Vaar Mahalaa 5 — Moose Kee Dhuni (sggs 1312).

Vaars are to be sung in appropriate Raaga and Dhuni indicated in the SGGS. For example, Maanjh Kee Vaar is to be sung in Raaga Maanjh accompanied by the Taala of "Malak Mureed Tathaa Chandharaa Soheeaa kee Dhuni". Unfortunately the art of traditional Dhunis mentioned in the SGGS appears to be dying out, and needs to be preserved by training youngsters.


In addition to the classical music, the folk music (because of its wide appeal) is also given importance in the SGGS. In this regard, in addition to the Vaars listed above, there are some Shabads about the "Ghorian" and "Alahunian" etc. "Ghorian" Shabads are on marriage and other festive occasions. "Alahunian" Shabads are on death.

Karhale is a type of the "Chhand". It also denotes a type of folk music the camel riders sing while traveling. The Gurbani has repeatedly compares our wandering minds with the camel as well. For example, see SGGS pages 234-235.


This is also a musical sign for the Ragees. Partaal means there are different Taals (beat) for the parts of the Shabad. In other words, Partaal means the parts of the Shabad should be sung in different Taalas and tempo. In the SGGS, there are 49 Shabads in Partaal set to different "Ghar".


This is also a musical sign for the Ragees. This term appears once in the SGGS (page 369, Aasaa Raaga). Essentially it conveys direction to Raagees to sing the Shabad in its pure form. For example, when the Shabad is in Aasaa Raaga, then it must be sung in that Raaga (and Ghar).


The word "Rahaou" marks "pause", and denotes main theme line. In other words, the verse of "Rahaou" contains the basis, essence or central thought of the Shabad. Whilst, the remaining lines of the Shabad are considered an exposition of the verse of "Rahaou". That's why Raagees use it as "Asthaaee" (first or the main part of the music composition) and thereby sing it repeatedly. In some Shabads, there are more than one "Rahaou", such as Rahaaou 1, Rahaaou 2, Rahaaou 3, Rahaaou 4, etc.(for example, see Pages 26-26, 154, 96-97, 899 of the SGGS). This indicates introduction of a new thought. There is no "Rahaou" in the "Slokas". In regard to the Vaars of Bhai Gurdaas Jee, the last line of the "Pauree" is considered to contain the main thought.


As the name implies, "Ikpadaa" denotes the Shabads of one verse. When "Ikpadaa" shabads have two verses, they are sung as one verse. "Dupadaa" are the Shabads that contain, besides the Rahaou lines, two stanzas. "Tipadaa" are the Shabads of three stanzas. Similarly, the "Chaupade" are the Shabads of four verses, "Chhands" are the Shabads of six lines, and "Ashatpadee" are the Shabads of eight verses. "Chhhakaa" is of six Padaas. Someplaces both "Chaupade Dupade" appear together (for example, see SGGS page 185). It means that particular Shabad contains "Chaupade" following "Dupade". The "Savayyas" are the compositions of praise.


A form of verse or stanza, generally a two-liner form allowing a variety of metrical arrangement.


"Paurees" are a form of stanzas. They also contain the essence of the Vaars. Literally meaning ladder or rung, it is a form of stanza adopted for Vaars. They generally consist of 6 to 8 lines each. Stanzas of Baabaa Nanak's Japuji are also traditionally called Paurees. Traditionally, Raagees are supposed to conclude Kirtan with singing of a "Pauree" from Raagas Bilaaval, Kaanraa etc.


Funhe is a form of the Chhand (for example, see SGGS page 1361). Chaubole is also a form of the Chhand (for example, see SGGS page 1363 where it has 11 verses). Gaathaa denotes composition in an ancient language (mixture of Sanskrit, Paalee and other languages). Many Buddhist scriptures are written in this language (for example, see page 1360 of SGGS).


"Solahe" is the Shabad containing generally sixteen stanzas (for example, see SGGS page 1021). They are only found in Raaga Maaroo. There is no "Rahaaou" in them. Also, they follow "Ashatpadees".


Initially called Adi Granth, the contents of the SGGS (1,430 pages) contains Bani of the Gurus (Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Raam Das, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and one Sloka of Guru Gobind Singh Jee), and Hindu saints (Brahmans and Soodras) and Muslim Sufis. These 15 saints were Kabeer, Nam Dev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Bhikan, Sur Daas, Parmanand, Pipa, Raamanand, Sadhana and Sain. It also contains the hymns of eleven Bhattas and Bards, they were Mathuraa, Jalap, Harbans, Talya, Salya, Bhal, Kulh Sahar, Nal, Kirat, Sadrang and Gayand. In addition, it also consists of the hymns of Mardaanaa (the minstrel of Baabaa Nanak), Raamkalee Sad by Sunder , and Vaar of Sattaa and Balwand.

The word "Mahalaa" at the top of the Shabad identifies which Guru is the author. For example, "Mahalaa 1" identifies the first Guru, "Mahalaa 2" identifies the second Guru, "Mahalaa 3" identifies the third Guru, "Mahalaa 4 " identifies the fourth Guru, "Mahalaa 5" identifies the fifth Guru, "Mahalaa 9" identifies the ninth Guru. This notation appears with the Bani of the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru only.


Literally "Pattee" means a writing board, slate or notebook (Fattee). When it appears at the top of the Shabad, it's also used to impart the Divine Teachings in the order of Varanmaalaa (alphabet), for example see page 432 of the SGGS.

— T. Singh