This is the final postcard from a year-long journey. One year ago, on January 1, 2012, I resolved to sing my way through the 400+ shabds in Gurbani Sangeet, a collection of songs remembered by Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh. This remarkable collection is a gift to humanity, the first time the oral tradition has been written and published, a tradition which has been passed from generation to generation in the family for more than 400 years. Inside these volumes are the family jewels, treasured compositions that came from the Sikh gurus themselves and masterful musicians through the centuries. Connecting with the songs is connecting with greatness.
I started this adventure invoking the metaphor of a cookbook with 400+ recipes. Like family recipes passed through the generations, these are timeless formulas of sound that still produce delicious results. Gourmets will be impressed with the artistry, complexity, and subtlety. The rest of us will know we have been treated to a memorable feast.
Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh brilliantly placed lāvān as the last shabd in Gurubani Sangeet. Lāvān is the traditional wedding song for the Sikhs. After the banquet of more than 400 dishes, it is like serving up an inspired and memorable wedding cake. In the first three rounds, the meditative melody and meends in raga suhi kafi create a perfect setting for contemplation, renouncing the ego and preparing the heart. The notes remain in the lower half of the middle octave, never passing madham, and reach down into the mandir saptak, the lower octave. In the fourth and final round the notes attain the pancham and stretch into the upper half of the octave as the atttainment of union is celebrated.
Although the wedding song works nicely to formalize the vows between earthly husband and wife, it is actually a song about the mystical union of soul and God. It’s lovely to imagine an actual wedding in an alternate spirit world where soul, beautifully dressed, meets the perfect spouse for an eternity of wedded bliss. In actuality, what is this union? If the One is pervading everything, when is there separation? Is there a time when union happens or is there only a time when union is recognized? Is the time of realization the culmination of the spiritual journey or the beginning?
The wedding of an earthly couple, while a culmination of planning and preparing, dreaming and waiting, is only the beginning of a lifetime together. The marriage however isn’t a guarantee of hearts filled with love and a life of enjoyment. There is a continual investment, a continual remembrance, a tuning of the hearts. Does the mystical union require a similar commitment?
In lāvān the first round is a remembrance of Nām simran. Realization of oneness comes in the second round, and the soul sings. This realization fills the heart with love in the third round, and the soul sings praises and speaks bāni. In the fourth round, the mind rests in contentment, the sweet Nām resounds, and the heart blooms. Throughout the wedding and marriage there is singing, joyful music, bāni, love, sweetness and resonance of Nām. This is the path of the Sikh gurus, and in Gurbani Sangeet we have a roadmap, the recipes for a wedding feast just waiting to be tasted.