The sky is a cosmic plate upon which the sun and the moon are the lamps, and all the stars and the planets are like pearls. The fragrance of sandalwood in the air is like the incense, which the wind propels, and all the plants of the world are altar flowers.

These are not words from an 18th-century epistolary novel. This is a rough translation of a raw, emotional, awe and reverence for the divine in the form of a hymn that Guru Nanak, the founder and the first of the 10 gurus of Sikhism, composed way back in the early 16th century during his visit to the revered Jagannath Temple in Puri. Below are the lines from the original verse whose translation you just read:

ਗਗਨ ਮੈ ਥਾਲੁ ਰਵਿ ਚੰਦੁ ਦੀਪਕ ਬਨੇ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਮੰਡਲ ਜਨਕ ਮੋਤੀ ॥
गगन मै थालु रवि चंदु दीपक बने तारिका मंडल जनक मोती ॥
gagan mai thaal rav cha(n)dh dheepak bane taarikaa ma(n)ddal janak motee ||

ਧੂਪੁ ਮਲਆਨਲੋ ਪਵਣੁ ਚਵਰੋ ਕਰੇ ਸਗਲ ਬਨਰਾਇ ਫੂਲੰਤ ਜੋਤੀ ॥੧॥
धूपु मलआनली पवणु चवरो करे सगल बनराइ फूलंत जोती ॥१॥
dhoop malaanalo pavan chavaro kare sagal banarai foola(n)t jotee ||1|||

The Anthem of the Universe

Guru Nanak had set on a journey, called an udasi, in spiritual pursuits. While on his journey to East India, Guru Nanak visited the Jagannath Temple and witnessed the elaborate aarti that the priests conducted every evening. Overcome by deep awe and reverence, and the universalism of Lord Jagannath, he composed the Sikh Aarti as a spontaneous reaction to what he felt.

Such is the impact of the Aarti that the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore declared it as the anthem for the universe, when the veteran Indian actor, Balraj Sahni asked him to compose one for the world just like India’s national anthem and also translated it into Bengali.

Rabindranath Tagore in his study at Shantiniketan, West Bengal.

Image courtesy: Encyclopædia Britannica

The Idea of One

The main idea of the Aarti is that the majesty of the creator of this universe is too great to be sung with a modest set of candles and incense; the sky itself is the vast plate; the stars are the lights; the wind is the cosmic fan; and the perfume is the fragrance of the flower-filled forests.

Guru Nanak promulgated the idea of Ik Onkar, meaning there is only one creator, or one “Om-maker”. He also believed in and emphasized the oneness of the creator and believed in formless worship, being a saint of the Bhakti movement. The symbolic representation of Lord Jagnnath which neither had a form, Akar, nor was it formless, Nirakar, left Guru Nanak utterly astounded and overcome with intense devotion, and made him realize the universalism of the Lord. This intense devotion, coupled with the realization, motivated him to incite the name of the Lord, or perform Naamkirtan, in his own unique manner.

In Onkar as the opening phrase of the Mūl Mantar in Guru Arjan's handwriting, the opening verse of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Image courtesy: Wikipedia

For most of his life, Guru Nanak traveled far and wide, throughout Asia spreading the message of Ik Onkar. With this message, and through his teachings, he created a distinctive platform founded on fairness, brotherly love, goodness, and virtue.

You can listen to the mesmerizing Aarti and experience what Guru Nanak must have felt when composing it here: SIKH AARTI

Feature image courtesy: wallpapercave.com

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