This composition is revealed in the rag
or musical mode of Ramkali. Ramkali is used to evoke feelings of triumph regardless of circumstance. In the larger Indic musical tradition, it is about two moods — madhur (sweet) and chakat (startled). There is a level of sweetness and startling that is expressed in these compositions. The way it is explained in many traditions is that Ramkali is usually used to communicate a disciplined and wise teacher explaining something to a disciplined and wise student. They are both very aware that there is pain, but they know that this is what is best. The struggle and pain make the triumph and the budding with the Beautiful One much sweeter.
This composition is often sung during the handing over of the palla
, wedding scarf, or hem during the Anand Karaj. Culturally, we often see this through a patriarchal lens, stating that handing over the palla to the groom is an act of giving the bride away or of the bride attaching to the groom as an extension of him. This composition is not about the handing over the physical palla, but instead about all seekers as feminine beings attaching themselves to the palla or hem of the One, IkOankar (One Creative and Pervasive Force, 1Force).
Guru Arjan says, Praise, slander, O IkOankar ji! I have let go of all. I have forsaken; I have renounced everything.
What are praise and slander? Praise can act like sycophancy — like flattery towards a particular end. It can be calculating and transactional. Slander is motivated by the parts of ourselves that we hope to do away with — jealousy, fear, anxiety, and anger. As this composition is sung during the wedding ceremonies, it is important to contextualize its message. We struggle with praise and slander in all our relationships, but we especially see this struggle in our closest relationships, like in the dynamic between spouses. To discard praise and slander is to get rid of ill will toward others and to abandon all the things that build and bruise our egos. The Guru
says I am making an effort to leave all of those things!
This means that praise and slander are no longer uttered
and that these things do not even enter our consciousness
. They leave both the mind and the tongue. This is what is required for us to bloom.
Praise, slander, O IkOankar ji! I have let go of all. I have forsaken; I have renounced everything.
When that forsaking or renunciation of praise and slander happens, we are ready to attach to the hem of IkOankar. The Guru says I have looked at all relationships in this world and seen that they are all temporary. No one is our eternal companion. Because I have witnessed this, I have come to hold the hem of Your robe. I have taken Your refuge
. This is not to say that the relationships we have in the world are useless or somehow bad. It is only that they are transient and shortlived. We cannot take refuge in short-lived things, especially when we know that our worldly relationships go through great change, tension, and growing pains as time goes on, unstable and shapeshifting. That praise and slander described by the Guru manifest in our temporary and unsteady relationships. We pull people down and put them on pedestals; we remain in the falseness or trash of our temporary relationships due in part to these things. We build up and bruise our egos and act out of ego; because of this, we cannot be free or carefree in our relationships. We are unable to attach ourselves to the One because we are attached to others. When we realize this is unsustainable, when we are exhausted by the games of temporary relationships and our participation in praise and slander, when we finally seek to be free and carefree, we can rid ourselves of these things that ail us and come to the One. The Guru shows us that we can come and fall at the refuge of the One, exhausted by our temporary relationships and seeking the support of the One who is stable and eternal.
In this composition, we are all
being elevated to a feminine level and shown that we ought to seek to attach ourselves to the ‘palla’ of IkOankar. This image is not specific to only the Sikh context — the idea of grasping the hem of one’s robe appears in many contexts. In the context of the human-Divine relationship across faith traditions, this image evokes a sense of humble submission and devotion, of reverence, of the alliance we are choosing, of the relationship we are placing all of ourselves into, of support and refuge in the One, of trust that the One will lead us where we need to go. Even in the context of the marriage, we are being asked, regardless of gender identity, whether we have taken steps to rid ourselves of praise and slander, whether we have realized that all other relationships are temporary, and whether we will take refuge in the One. Will we hold that