Rāga mājh is a perfect landscape for poems of love and longing. Love is not just one emotion. Along with the quiet joy of union, there are separation’s hurt and longing, calling and searching during times of waiting, and sweet surrender, the sacrifice of the self. Guru Arjan’s letters, remembered in shabad hazāre, appear in raga mājh. When Guru Arjan was sent out of town by his father, Guru Ram Das, to attend a relative’s wedding, he was kept away for an unbearably long time. He wrote a series of four letters, “My mind longs for the vision of the Guru, it cries like a thirsty songbird, my thirst is not quenched, I cannot find peace without the saint’s darshan, I am a sacrifice, always a sacrifice for the beloved saint guru’s darshan. You are so beautiful……..”
These beautiful letters of longing were included in Siri Guru Granth Sahib and preceding them is a collection of seven poems by Guru Arjan’s father, Guru Ram Das. They are in the same spirit of love and longing for the darling beloved, best friend, dear king, true guru, mother and father, my life, my breath, the great giver, sublime essence and ambrosial nectar, the inner knower and searcher of hearts.
Contact with these songs is like contact with greatness. Any great masterpiece connects the viewer with the artist and the kirtan artists are the gurus themselves, the bhagats and other composers, and musicians who came later after being touched by their own experience with the bani and the music. Touching the art is touching the artist and sampling a taste of the artist’s experience, the artist’s perception, the artist’s vision.
Today after attempting to read and sing from the book, I listened to this recording from Bhai Avtar Singh Ragi. The oral tradition is a treasury of memory which has to be heard. Learning to sing by listening is a totally different experience from learning to sing from written notes. Notation can help ensure that what has been heard can be recalled but it’s not a substitute for hearing. Having listened, singing is an altogether different experience .
I learned today that different parts of the brain are used for hearing and understanding a language, speaking a language and reading and writing a language. Speaking requires a personal engagement, active participation, it’s different from passive listening. That is why some children grow up understanding a language they have heard in the home, without being able to speak it and without literacy skills. The same must be true for music, which is another kind of language. To be fully experienced, this music must be read and heard and sung!