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‘Var’ is a heroic poetic form, similar to a ballad, written in stanzas (pauris). According to the Mahān Kosh: “Var is a composition that describes war. The meaning of the word ‘var’ has become pauri (ni:shreni/nisheni/nishani) chand also, because poets have mostly used this chand to sing praises of the valor of warriors.”

In old Panjabi literature, the subject of vars is generally focused on worldly rule and the struggle for material wealth. Although vars written in the Guru Granth Sahib bring other subjects within their expansive scope, they fundamentally focus on the internal struggle of virtues and vices within the human mind, in a quest to become Divine-like. At the same time, these vars, while praising the Divine-existence, also praise the Truth-seeking travelers and the Guru, their mentor on this path.

In their original form, vars recorded in Guru Granth Sahib were written only in the form of pauris. During the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan Sahib added appropriate saloks with the pauris of each var, while maintaining the central message of the pauris (usually expressed in their last line). Those saloks that did not match the central message of any pauri were recorded on pages 1410-1426 under the title ‘salok vārāṁ te vadhīk’ (saloks beyond the vars).

Information given at the beginning of a var about its creator, mahal (e.g., mahalā 1), is actually an indicator of the creator of all of the pauris in that var. Wherever a pauri by another mahal is used, it is indicated through an appropriate title (e.g., pauri m: 5).

There are twenty-two vars included in the Guru Granth Sahib. Out of these, two vars contain only pauris and no salok. In the rest of the twenty vars, saloks accompanying the pauris that are either of the same mahal or another were added by Guru Arjan Sahib at the time of Adi Granth’s compilation. Usually these saloks (accompanying a pauri), are two or more in number.

In a var, saloks appear before the pauri. The number recorded at the end of each pauri indicates only the number of pauris (in a var), and not the number of saloks. For this reason, numbers counting the pauris (in a var) remain in sequential order from the beginning to the end, while the numbers counting saloks are limited to their respective pauris. The numbers accompanying saloks restart (from 1) with every new pauri.


‘Pauri’ is a distinct pattern or a verse structure of Panjabi heroic-poetry (var). In other words pauri is that genre of poetry that is especially employed for the creation of a var. “Actually, there is a traditional relationship between var and pauri. Poetry on war cannot be called a var if it is not composed in the pauri form. ‘Nādarshāh Dī Vār’ (ballad of Nadirshah) is written as ‘Nādarshāh Dī Pauri’ (pauri of Nadirshah) even today. The author of ‘Lau Kush Dī Vār’ has stated ‘kīrati dās suṇāī paṛi paṛi paüṛīāṁ; dās thīā kurbāṇe paüṛī ākhi ākhi’ (Kirati Das recited by reading pauris repeatedly; Das was humbled by repeating the pauris) at a lot of places in the ballad. Even at the end of ‘Canḍī Dī Vār’ (ballad of Chandi), it says ‘durgā pāṭh baṇāiā sabhe paüṛīāṁ’ (Durga composition was created entirely in the form pauri). It is clear that pauri is an inseparable part of a var, and both are based on each other. Dr. Charan Singh has described pauri as a genre of ballad in ‘Bāṇī Biurā’. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha has offered pauri as one meaning for var amongst others in Mahān Kosh.”

A pauri cannot be categorized into any particular poetic genre, though it is commonly used in poetic forms such as ‘sirkhanḍī’ and ‘nishānī.’ Just as a poem or stanza of six verses (musaddas), is usaged in Urdu-Farsi, pauri has been used similarly in Panjabi poetry to accommodate long compositions.

Poetic forms like two-line verse (doharā/dohā) and four-line verse (caupaī), etc. have been used in the pauris of the vars recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib. That is why there is no uniformity in the number of lines used in these pauris. Pauris in Asa Ki Var are mostly four or five lines long; the last line is half in length. According to Dr. Ratan Singh Jaggi, the last phase of a pauri is shortened to highlight its meaning.

At the time of the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Arjan Sahib retained the prominence of pauri in a var. He recorded the first line of the pauris in the table of contents of Guru Granth Sahib instead of the saloks.


‘Salok’ is a poetic form, literally meaning ‘praise.’ In Sanskrit, chands (anushṭup - अनुष्टुप्) are written under the title ‘salok.’ Due to the prominence of compositions based on letters (varṇak-chand) in Sanskrit, this chand was also used under the varṇak system. As popular pronunciation of the language evolved, over time, varṇak chand also gave way to compositions based on the poetic meter (mātrik chand). In Prakrit, the systemic approach towards chand was replaced by the usage of a single title (salok) for different types of chands. The transition of salok into poetic forms such as ‘gāthā’ in Prakrit and ‘dohā’ in Apabhransh is a testimony to that.

The poetic form ‘salok’ has enjoyed a special place in medieval literature. In the Devanagari and Gurmukhi writings of the medieval period, there is broad usage of ‘dohā’ chand under the title salok. The same holds true even in the Guru Granth Sahib. For example, the saloks (first and second) appearing with the first pauri of Asa Ki Var have also been written in ‘dohā’ chand, even though there is no uniformity in the meter. This is primarily because in the Guru Granth Sahib, the message supersedes specific poetic restrictions. Bhai Kahn Singh, the author of ‘Gur Chand Divākar’ has indicated the use of saloks in poetic genres such as ‘upmān, anushṭup, sarsī, saloks in the form of dohā,’ etc.

Saloks ranging from one to twenty-six lines can be found in the Guru Granth Sahib, although most of the saloks are two lines long. It is clear from the diversity visible in the number of lines in the saloks that, in the Guru Granth Sahib, meaning and message take priority over maintaining structure.


The word ‘mahalā’ used in the titles within the Guru Granth Sahib indicates the Guru who has uttered the respective composition. There are different opinions on the etymology, meaning, and pronunciation of this word. Some scholars believe the Arabic word ‘halūl’ (مَحلَ) to be its source. They interpret it as ‘the place of alighting (descending),’ and pronounce it as ‘ma-halā (mahallā).’ On the other hand, some scholars connect it with the Sanskrit ‘mahalā,’ and interpret it as ‘body.’ They read it as ‘mahilā’ on the pattern of pahilā, gahilā, etc.

Regardless of the origin of this word, the real issue is related to its pronunciation, which in turn is connected to the break-down of the syllables of this word. Even though research on this topic should continue, the solution to this for now could be that we break-down and pronounce it as ‘ma-ha-lā’ instead of breaking it down and reading it as ‘ma-halā’ (mahallā) or ‘mah-lā’ (mahilā). Regarding the pronunciation of this word, ‘mahalā shabad dā shuddh ucāraṇ,’ ‘bāṇī biurā’ and the bibliography given in the latter can also be checked.

Numbers appearing with ‘mahalā’ in the Guru Granth Sahib are ordinal numeral adjectives. They depict the sequential order of ‘mahalā.’ Because of that, its correct pronunciation here is pahilā (first), dujā (second), tijā (third), etc. and not ik (one), do (two), tin (three), etc. Guru Arjan Sahib, the compiler of Guru Granth Sahib, has indicated this at many places. For example:

rāgu sirīrāgu mahalā pahilā 1 gharu 1. –Guru Granth Sahib 14
gūjarī mahalā 3 tījā. –Guru Granth Sahib 492


Use of Aesthetic and Musical Elements

In the Indic and Panjabi culture, the use of the terms ‘jī’ or ‘jīu’ while addressing someone is considered to be an expression of love and respect. In the Guru Granth Sahib as well, wherever these terms are used as an address, they express a sense of love and respect for the noun or pronoun with which they appear. That is why, generally, a noun or pronoun is used with them in the case of an address to someone:

tūṁ ghaṭ ghaṭ antari sarab nirantari jī hari eko purakhu samāṇā.
iki dāte iki bhekhārī jī sabhi tere coj viḍāṇā. -Guru Granth Sahib 11

prabh jīu khasmānā kari piāre.
bure bhale ham thāre. rahāu. -Guru Granth Sahib 631

In addition to the above, the terms ‘jī’ and ‘jīu are also found to be used in non-addressing (non-vocative) form, such as:

hari kī tum sevā karahu dūjī sevā karahu na koi jī.
hari kī sevā te manahu cindiā phalu pāīai dūjī sevā janamu birthā jāi jī.1. -Guru Granth Sahib 490

manñu kucajī ammāvaṇi ḍosaṛe haü kiu sahu rāvaṇi jāu jīu.
ik dū iki caṛandīā kaüṇu jāṇai merā nāu jīu. -Guru Granth Sahib 762

The use of the terms ‘jī’ or ‘jīu’ in the non-addressing form is similar to the words/phrases like ‘hāṁ, hāṁ ki, hari hāṁ, rām, rām rāje, vaṇāhambai,’ etc. Regarding the use of these words/phrases in the Guru Granth Sahib, scholars like Bhai Vir Singh , Prof. Sahib Singh, Principal Teja Singh , Giani Haribans Singh, etc. are of the opinion that they have been used in poetic compositions as supporting terms, complementary terms, terms for completing a meter, for rhyming, or melody, etc. Linguistically, these words have no direct connection with the meaning of the line. The message of the line is complete even without them.

Every language has some words which do not fall into any of the grammatical categories. Dr. Harkirat Singh has placed similar terms in the category of ‘particles.’ He writes, “In grammar, such words are usually placed in the adverbial category. But if we look closely, it is clear that they cannot be adverbs. In modern English grammar, such words are called particles, but in the parts of speech there is no such category as particles. There are some examples of such words in Panjabi: ‘hī,’ ‘bhī,’ ‘vī,’ ‘nā,’ ‘nahiṁ,’ ‘hāṁ,’ ‘nīṁ,’ ‘ve,’ ‘jī,’ etc.” -Panjabi Bhasha Viakaran Ate Bantar, Compiled by Surinder Singh Khaira, page 98.

Thus, these terms ought to be understood as aesthetic or musical elements instead of semantic elements. Primarily, they can be divided as follows:

  1. As a complementary term in a verse, like ‘vaṇāhambai,’ ‘hāṁ ki,’ ‘harihāṁ,’ etc.

    anbhaü kinai na dekhiā bairāgīaṛai. binu bhai anbhaü hoi vaṇāhambai.
    sahu hadūri dekhai taṁ bhaü pavai bairāgīaṛai. hukmai būjhai ta nirbhaü hoi vaṇāhambai. -Guru Granth Sahib 1104

    janu nānak bhagatu dari tuli braham samsari ek jīh kiā bakhānai.
    hāṁ ki bali bali bali sad balihāri.1. -Guru Granth Sahib 1385

    ās piāsi sej su kanti vichāīai.
    harihāṁ mastaki hovai bhāg ta sājanu paīai.2. -Guru Granth Sahib 1361

  2. As a musical element, like ‘hāṁ’:

    gobind gobind kari hāṁ.
    hari hari mani piāri hāṁ. -Guru Granth Sahib 409

  3. To maintain a consistent musical flow, like ‘rām,’ ‘rām rāje,’ etc.

    merai mani merai mani satigur prīti lagāī rām.
    hari hari hari hari nāmu merai manni vasāī rām. -Guru Granth Sahib 572

    jiu rātī jali māchulī tiu rām rasi māte rām rāje.
    gur pūrai updesiā jīvan gati bhāte rām rāje. -Guru Granth Sahib 454

Gurbani is revealed. Each word appearing in it is important. Certain words are understood cognitively, while others enhance our aesthetical or musical experience. The words that lean towards the aesthetic and musical understanding and seem to express a tone of love and respect are included in the literal translation, but not in the interpretive transcreation.