Guru Nanak Sahib advises seekers to sing the praise of ‘Nirbhaü’ (the Fearless) in the lines of ‘rahau
.’ Singing the praises of IkOankar (the Divine) in the company of virtuous beings invokes IkOankar and allows seekers to feel the happiness of connecting with IkOankar. This Sabad encourages seekers to long for the presence of IkOankar and strives to end the cycle of birth and death.
sohilā rāgu gaüṛī dīpakī mahalā 1
ikoaṅkār satigur prasādi.
jai ghari kīrati ākhīai karte kā hoi bīcāro.
titu ghari gāvahu sohilā sivrihu sirjaṇhāro.1.
tum gāvahu mere nirbhaü kā sohilā.
haü vārī jitu sohilai sadā sukhu hoi.1. rahāu.
nit nit jīaṛe samālīani dekhaigā devaṇhāru.
tere dānai kīmati nā pavai tisu dāte kavaṇu sumāru.2.
sambati sāhā likhiā mili kari pāvahu telu.
dehu sajaṇ asīsaṛīā jiu hovai sāhib siu melu.3.
ghari ghari eho pāhucā sadaṛe nit pavanni.
sadaṇhārā simarīai nānak se dih āvanni.4.1.
-Guru Granth Sahib 12
'Sohila,' in the Panjabi cultural context, is a form of a wedding song, sung at the groom’s house in his praise. The wishes, desires, and dreams of the sister, sister-in-law, and mother are expressed in the songs of Sohila. In some songs of Sohila, praises of the maternal home, praises of the father, the glory of the mother, admiration of the groom, and the wishes related to the arriving daughter-in-law are sung.
The first stanza of Sohila, of the Song of Joy, is one of happiness, praise, and excitement, set in a marriage context. It is written in Rag Gauri Dipki — a unique musical mode of nuptial bliss.
It is that song of joy that Guru Nanak devotes to. It is that song of joy that the Guru is willing to do anything and everything for because it brings with it eternal joy and happiness and comfort. Guru Nanak says, in that school of thought, in that home-heart, in that body where there is praise of the One, let us sing the Song of Joy and remember the Creator, IkOankar (One Universal Integrative Force, 1Force). This is singing that happens both externally and internally. It is happening in physical spaces, in the physical company of truth-oriented ones, and it is happening in the hearts of those who are reflecting and singing of IkOankar’s glory.
Singing is not a thing we can think through and then do — it is a spontaneous burst, something we feel the urge to do on an emotional level. It is rooted in feeling and not in thinking. We may sing after we have thought about many things, maybe after we have prepared in some way, but the urge to sing, the impetus that drives one to a song, is deeply emotional. It pours out of us.
In this case, the wedding to the Fearless is one that requires preparation, and the singing is of the song of the Fearless. This is not customary or ritualistic singing that we do with no deep reflection. We must prepare. Reflections on the One are constant and happening every day. Preparations for union with the One are happening every day. In a way, Guru Nanak is asking whether we have reflected — whether we have prepared — whether we have found what does that thing for us.
Guru Nanak asks, if we cannot value the Giver’s gifts, how can we fully value the Giver? There is an infiniteness in the Creator; there is an infiniteness to the gifts of the Creator. There is an infiniteness to the ways in which the Giver takes care of all of us.
Many interpretations of Sohila see it only as a reference to a union that happens in death. In other Indic and Abrahamic cosmologies, the union is only possible upon death. But this union in the Sikh context is possible in life, too. In fact, we are urged to prepare and experience union while we are still alive. This marriage, this union with the One, is what leads us to sing. It is the joy of that preparation and the anticipation of that union that causes people to gather around us, encourage us, sing with us, prepare to see us off by pouring the oil. In South Asia, oil is generally poured at the door when the bride is brought home to the in-law’s house. This oil symbolizes Identification with IkOankar (Nam). If we do not have the oil of Identification with IkOankar to light our inner lamps, we do not have the right oil. What are we pouring within? What are we asking people to pour for us on the day we go to meet our Sovereign?
The year and time of this moment of the pouring of oil and the union are set. Guru Nanak uses the symbolism of the wedding day, that set moment of union. People come and encourage the one who will be married, celebrate them and their union, and bless them on their day. Here, the bride, the seeker, asks their friends to come and ignite the love of the One within, to encourage union. The seeker asks their friends to encourage them to experience union while they are living, not when they physically depart the earthly realm.
The wedding or union and death are synonymous, but not in the way we might think, given the common religious conceptions of union being possible only upon death. Most of us do not know how to marry death, not while we are living, because we fear death the most. But if we have married death in our lifetimes, we will begin to sing the song of the Fearless. We are being encouraged to marry death while we are alive.
The last lines tell us that invitations for weddings are going to every house — death is happening every day. Guru Nanak says if we are reminded every day of this eventuality, if we remember the One who calls us to union, we will act differently. We know these things to be true, but we see them as distant realities. Why do we not spend our time remembering the Caller? Why do we not marry death while we are alive?