What do you know of Bhai Gurdas’ Varan?
Varan Bhai Gurdas is the name given to the 40 Varan (chapters) of writing by Bhai Gurdas. They have been referred to as the “Key to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib” by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru. Bhai Gurdas was a first cousin of Mata Bhani, mother of Guru Arjan Dev. He was the first scribe of Guru Granth Sahib and a scholar of great repute. From his work its clear that he had mastery of various Indian languages and had studied many ancient Indian religious scriptures.
In Macauliffe’s “The Sikh Religion,” he makes the following remark to express the importance place by the Guru on Bhai Sahib’s work: “The Guru, probably to make trial of his learned and able scribe Bhai Gur Das, whose compositions he admired, offered to insert them in the Granth; but Bhai Gur Das said that they were not worthy of such honour. The Guru complimented him on his modesty and ability, and said that whoever read the Bhai’s writings should acquire spiritual profit and instruction and faith in the teachings of the holy Gurus.” 
Each of the 40 chapters of “Varan Bhai Gurdas” consists of a differing number of Pauris (sections, paragraphs). The composition is a collection of detailed commentary and explanation of theology and the ethics of Sikh beliefs as outlined by the Gurus. It explains the Sikh terms like sangat, haumai, “Gun”, Gurmukh and Manmukh, Sat, Naam, etc. Many of the principles of Sikhism are explained in simple terms by Bhai Sahib and at times in many different ways.
Varan bhai Gurdas is the title given to the collection of forty vars or “ballads” written in`PUNJABI by Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636) much honoured in SIKH piety and learning. These forty vars comprise 913 pauris or stanzas, with a total of 6,444 lines. There is no internal or external evidence available to determine the exact time of the composition of these vars, but it can be assumed that vars (Nos. 3,11,13,24,26,38,39) which have references to GURU Hargobind who came into spiritual inheritance in 1606 after the death of Guru ARJAN, his predecessor, might have been composed sometime after that year, and the others implicitly prior to that date. The Var36 on the Minas was probably written before the compilation of the Sikh Scripture in 160304. The var, in Punjabi folk tradition dealt with the themes of martial valour and chivalry, but this poetic form underwent a complete transformation in the hands of Guru NANAK (1469-1539), whose vars had a spiritual meaning, with the battleground shifting to the human psyche. They depicted the fight between the forces of good and evil symbolized in the persons of GURMUKH and MANMUKH, respectively. The vars of Bhai Gurdas are also spiritual rather than heroic in theme. They were written for separate audiences and that is why they lack a consistently pervasive thematic burden amongst or within them.
However, comprehensive study of them all can help us build a fairly authentic biography of Guru Nanak and the milieu he inherited and he and five of his successors lived in. They provide us with information about the prominent SIKHS of those days and, more important dian anything else, they enunciate almost every Sikh concept as it appears in the Guru GRANTH Sahib and constitute the core of Sikh moral code. On the whole, these vars form a critique and interpret moral principles in a simple idiom through familiar images and homely instance and give us an insight into the meaning and teaching of the Sikh faith in its earlier years. The first var, which is the longest with fortynine stanzas, is a work of historical importance. It begins with an invocatory canto, followed by a description of the creation of the world, six systems of Indian philosophy and the four yugas or timecycles. The following six stanzas (1722) refer to the serious crisis in the moral state of man, and die world is shown as debased owing to the accretion of pupa (evil, sin). For Bhai Gurdas the elements contributing to, and to some extent consequent upon, this papa are the intolerance practised by men of various faiths and their indifference to and disregard of the Divine (17).
Elsewhere also Bhai Gurdas refers to the conflict between the Hindu and the Muslim, each vying with the other for superiority, basing his claim on the profundity of their respective scriptures rather than on rightful practices. While making this criticism, Bhai Gurdas was envisioning the role of Sikhs as the needle that sews together the fabric of religious life torn asunder by Hindu and Muslim scissors (33.4). Pauris 2344 mention the main events in the life of Guru Nanak. The following four stanzas (4548) eulogize the successors of Guru Nanak till Guru Hargobind. In the last stanza (49) die term vahiguru has been explained in the Puranic context. This Var has also been paraphrased, in considerable detail, by Bhai Mani SINGH and is known as Gian Ralnavali. The tenth var (23 stanzas) comprises the lifesketches of 23 Hindu bhaktas, and the eleventh (31 stanzas) contains the list of prominent Sikhs of the first six Gurus. The 28th Var addresses in the main the question as to what constitutes the true Sikh way of life, and the 36th is about the Minas.
Bhai Gurdas has taken up for detailed analysis in these vars Sikh concepts of God, Guru, gurmukh, manmukh, SANGAT, seva, gurmantra, and others. God is omnipotent and allpervasive. He is not only the creator of this universe, but He also permeates through His creation. The ultimate aim of human life is to realize God which can be done only through the help of the Guru. Bhai Gurdas proclaims that all the Gurus were one in spirit though different in body. God dwells in man`s own heart and to realize Him man need not wander in forests or mountains. The life of the householder was to be preferred to that of the ascetic. Since Bhai Gurdas is more concerned with life in this world, there is little in his vans of the rapturous bliss of the beyond ; instead he recalls the disciple to the need of assiduously cultivating an abiding sense of moral obligation and duties. Such an understanding of the world was afforded Sikhs by Guru Nanak, who had, in epigrammatic manner, declaimed on the absolute reality of moral categories. Bhai Gurdas posits sidq or constancy in spiritual faith and sabr or contentment while still engaged in worldly activity as the supreme virtues required of true Sikh (22.16). The term used for a true Sikh is gurmukh, his opposite being manmukh; sidq and sabr are nourished in sadh sangat or company of the holy, not through ecstatic or mystic experience but through living together in a spirit of faith, humility and service.
Bhai Gurdas is of the view that human existence is fortunately acquired and is a chance to find liberation. He describes the path Of a Sikh as thin as a hair, as sharp as a dagger`s edge (9.2). It is a difficult, yet a straight path. The whole ofvar28 is devoted to this theme. Steadfastness and fidelity are the other virtues Bhai Gurdas recommends for a Sikh who is enjoined upon to have one wife and respect other females as sisters and daughters (6.8). He is not to covet another`s wealth. Illgotten wealth should be like pork to the Muslim and beef to the Hindu (29.11). He stands firm in his belief and is of undivided mind, with no dubiety which is considered a moral lapse for which responsibility lies solely on the individual. He holds that in satyuga a moral lapse invoked the accountability of every being, in tretayuga of every person in the village, in dvaparyuga of all kinsfolk, and in kaliyuga of the single person who is the agent of the immoral act (12.16). These vars, which are accepted as part of approved Sikh canon, reiterate or explain in simple idiom what was contained in the Sikh Scripture. In fact, the vars were designated by Guru Arjan as the key to the Guru Granth Sahib. However, the technique of Bhai Gurdas is not to take words from the sacred text and expound their meanings, but to pick up ideas and concepts and interpret them in simple and easily intelligible language. This technique of annotation was followed later on by Bhai Mani Singh and then flowered into what we today call the Giani school ofhermeneutics.
1. Hans, S.S., “Bhai Gurdas” in Proceedings of Panjab History Conference (Twelfth Session). PATIALA, 1969
2. Jodh Singh, tr., Varan Bhai Gurdas. Patiala, 1998
3. Jaggi, Ratan Singh, Bhai Gurdas, Jivani te Rachna. Patiala, 1974
4. Varan Bhai Gurdas, SHABAD Anukramanika ate Kosh. Patiala, 1966
5. Jagat Singh, Varan Bhai Gurdas Ji. AMRITSAR, n.d