What kind of dreams do you dream? Can you put your dreams into words? If your dreams are like mine, they might be absurd, confusing, rarely profound, hard to describe. Can you imagine having a dream that is a vision of God permeating nature? What if the dream became a poem and the poem became a song? And what if someone found the song, perhaps centuries later, and made a new song that expresses in the melody the depth and breadth, the height and delight of the dream itself?
Bhai Gurdas Ji was a co-traveler with the Gurus themselves. He wrote and composed poetry and ballads in praise of the One, in praise of the Gurus, and describing the experiences of the spiritual life. Only his songs, along with bāni from Siri Guru Granth Sāhib, Dasam Bāni and Bhai Nand Lal’s ghazals are allowed to be sung in the Guru’s darbār. Over the centuries the kirtānyās created new melodies for these poems, just as they composed melodies for the guru bāni.
In rāga gauri, Bhai Gurdas describes a marvelous dream of the beloved, a fantastic vision of the friend. In Gurbāni Sangeet there are two melodies in raga āsā that the tradition has remembered for singing this dream poem. One kirtānyā, we do not know who it was or in what century, placed the poem in a partāl, a complex dhrupad composition in which the tāl changes from asthai to antarā to sanchāri and abhog.
The song begins with asthai, the refrain, in chartāl, a twelve-beat rhythm which conveys the deep meditative state of the dreamer. For the antarā, the stanza, the tāl switches to iktāl, a faster twelve-beat rhythm, which begins to convey the enjoyment of the dream, the heightened state of communion, drinking the joy. The sanchāri comes in tālvāra, 8 beats, simply sustaining the meditation, delivering the love, savoring the contentment. The abhog begins in sultāl, 10 beats of delight and ecstacy, like a birdsong, celebrating the miracle of the vision, then returns to chartāl for the final lines, describing the dreamer’s awakened state of clarity, swimming in love, like a fish in water.
Once again, I am in awe. Who were these people and how did they compose these words and this music? What did they know, what did they practice, where did they dwell? And I am grateful for those who remembered, who kept the music alive, the kirpā that placed this page in front of my eyes today.