Guru Nanak Sahib describes the universe’s ‘Arti’ of IkOankar (the Divine) as opposed to a ritualistic Arti performed according to Hindu tradition. The entire manifest creation, the sun, moon, stars, air, water, fire, vegetation, etc., perform Arti perpetually of the transcendent IkOankar. The consciousness (light) of IkOankar alone infuses life in everyone. This shifts the practice from an individualistic context and expands it to the cosmos’ Arti to include all things and beings.
rāg dhanāsarī mahalā 1
gagan mai thālu ravi candu dīpak bane tārikā manḍal janak motī.
dhūpu malānlo pavaṇu cavaro kare sagal banrāi phūlant jotī.1.
kaisī ārtī hoi.
bhav khanḍanā terī ārtī.
anhatā sabad vājant bherī.1. rahāu.
sahas tav nain nan nain hahi tohi kaü sahas mūrati nanā ek touhī.
sahas pad bimal nan ek pad gandh binu sahas tav gandh iv calat mohī.2.
sabh mahi joti joti hai soi.
tis dai cānaṇi sabh mahi cānaṇu hoi.
gur sākhī joti pargaṭu hoi.
jo tisu bhāvai su ārtī hoi.3.
hari caraṇ kaval makrand lobhit mano andinou mohi āhī piāsā.
kripā jalu dehi nānak sāriṅg kaü hoi jā te terai nāi vāsā.4.3.
-Guru Granth Sahib 13
Guru Nanak sets the third stanza in the context of a common practice known to South Asians due to popular culture and tradition — the “physical” ritual performance of the Arti. In Hindu practice, Arti involves worshipping an idol, deity, or revered personality by rotating lamps in a circular motion. These lamps are lit and rotated four times up and down in a circular motion in front of the feet, twice in front of the navel, once in front of the face, and seven times in front of the whole body. Guru Nanak takes this element of the dominant practice and expands it by juxtaposing the physical Arti with nature’s Arti, shifting the practice from its individualistic context, and expanding it into the Arti of the cosmos, to include everything and everyone.
In this Arti of the cosmos, the sky becomes the salver, the moon and sun become the lamps, and the stars become the shining pearls. The fragrance of sandalwood from the Malaya mountains becomes the incense, and the wind the fanning fly-whisk. Everything in nature, all of the things around us, are continually performing this Arti all on their own, offering flowers to IkOankar (One Universal Integrative Force, 1Force), referred to by Guru Nanak here as the Fear-Eliminator. In this Arti, the unstruck sound echoes and resonates like a clarinet.
Guru Nanak then asks, what kind of Arti ought to be there? Again, Guru Nanak is expanding the traditional form Arti takes in everyday practice. Guru Nanak is asking us to imagine a new kind of Arti. One that has never been done, or rather is always being done — one that, instead of being used as a tool to maintain specific systems and power structures and hierarchies, is used to break them down and equalize the creation to its original self. This Arti of IkOankar, the Fear-Eliminator, is revolutionary because it is accessible to all, happening all the time, whether we take part in it or not. This Arti is for the One who eliminates fear rather than for those people in power who instill fear, who rule by fear.
Guru Nanak is asking, How do I do Your Arti, Fear-Eliminator? How do I take part in this Arti of the cosmos? In this Arti, there is so much music being played. Unlike the music that is being constructed in performances and concerts for people in power, this music plays on its own. This music is unstruck, not produced to perform, but that does not mean one cannot hear it. This is the music we can listen to after we quieten the noise all around us and listen closely to the sounds being played in nature all on their own.
Guru Nanak then moves from discussing the things present before us, the things we can see and hear and feel with our senses, and asks if we can perceive things with those same senses that are not visible. Again, there is an expansion of shared understandings, this time of the dichotomy between a conception of a Divine that is Nirgun (transcendent), versus a Divine that is Sargun (immanent). Guru Nanak plays with these dichotomies by addressing the Fear-Eliminator and saying, You have thousands of eyes, and yet You have none. You have thousands of forms, and yet You have none. You have thousands of feet, and yet You have none. You have thousands of noses, and yet You have none. The senses again come into play here, but this expansion addresses the larger religious world that either believes the Divine has forms and features and tangible physical existences or that the Divine has none of these things and cannot be embodied. This dissolving of the line between immanence and transcendence is an important acknowledgment of this Fear-Eliminator’s play and a challenging idea of a faraway and inaccessible Divine. We can get to IkOankar through the senses — it is not that the senses can perceive everything or the whole picture, but they can perceive some of it. The perception of this play can captivate us and bring us closer to the One for whom the cosmos continuously performs Arti.
Guru Nanak then speaks about the Light. All of the grandness of the cosmos and the use of these senses to tune into the Arti that is happening all around us is a testament to the fact that everyone has this Light within them. Guru Nanak reveals, That One whose Light is in all is the Embodiment of Light. It is by the radiance of IkOankar that there is Light in all. Sometimes, we may not see it. This is where we struggle. This is where both the religious and non-religious world struggles — there is so much othering. We may not see that this Light is in everything because it is hidden. But the way that it becomes evident, the way we bear witness to it, is when the Wisdom enters our lives. When the Wisdom brings out recognition of Light everywhere, that is when we can take part in the Arti of the cosmos.
These senses, when we use them to Identify with IkOankar, entice our intellect and charm our minds. Once we are charmed, we are filled with love and a continuous longing to Identify with the Beloved, IkOankar. Guru Nanak refers to himself here as a pied cuckoo, a bird with a lot of patience, waiting for its thirst to be quenched. This pied cuckoo refers to the lover who loves with patience, and it is when we become loving like the pied cuckoo, we can identify with IkOankar and taste the nectar of Grace. This comes after we witness the Light, and we embody love. This is when we feel the grace.
Even outside of the South Asian context, one could say that humans perform their own sorts of ‘artis’ in different ways. We do this through politician or celebrity ‘worship.’ We do this by participating in things that maintain systems and power structures and hierarchies rather than attempting to challenge those things with a radical sense of equity and equality. These are the things that are rooted in a kind of individualism that further separates people from one another, puts distance between creation and Creator, and does not honor IkOankar. Then, the ‘root-oriented’ don’t just preach oneness where all beings share attributes of the One; the radical Wisdom then allows us to practice 1Ness, where all beings are the attributes of the One.
The lover-being emerges when individualism is transcended, fear is eliminated, the Light is seen, patience is practiced, and grace is felt! That is when the Fear-Eliminator is seen as the 1-Light!