The vars of Sikh martyrs and heroes enjoy much vogue and are sung with fervour at Sikh gatherings. The secular vars were sung by the bards before village audiences, panegyrizing the gallantry of folk heroes and warriors. Vars were also sung to the warriors before they marched into the field of battle.A common practice was for the family bard to sing vars standing at me portal of a tribal or local chief, recounting the brave deeds of his ancestors. Most chiefs maintained hereditary bards whose one function was to compose and sing verse concerning the history of the family.
Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains twenty two vars dealing with spiritual and ethical themes. They sing praises of the Lord Almighty and adjure man to endeavor to live a life of love and devotion. Of the vars in the Guru Granth Sahib, three are by Guru Nanak, four by Guru Amar Das, eight by Guru Ram Das and six by Guru Arjan. One var is by the bards, Satta and Balvand, attached to the Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh composed a var depicting the battles of goddess Chandi against the demons.
This mythological story was chosen by him to infuse among the Sikhs martial ardour. The var is called Var Sri Bhagaut Ji Ki, popularly known as Chandi di Var, and is included in the Dasam Granth.Next to scriptural vars is a collection of forty vars by Bhai Gurdas, a Sikh much revered in Sikh piety. His vars occupy a place of honour in the religious literature of the Sikhs. A var commonly cited is attributed to another Sikh poet with the same name (Bhai Gurdas II, or Bhai Gurdas Singh).
The Gurus from the time of Guru Arjan onwards had Bhatts and bards in attendance on them. After Satta and Balvand, whose var was given scriptural status by Guru Arjan, we come across bards Abdullah and Natth Mall who sang vars in the time of Guru Hargobind .They are believed to have written 72 vars, though only a few fragments of these are still extant. Guru Gobind Singh had living with him a large number of poets and bards, prominent among them being Mir Mushki and Mir Chhabila who recited vars at the afternoon divans. They are said to have composed eight vars on the battles of Guru Gobind Singh which were in popular circulation, especially during Sikh times, but none of which is now available.
Short vars also called pauris written by Bhatts, mainly about Bhai Mani Singh, the martyr, and some members of his family, have come down to modern day.In the Guru Granth Sahib we come across title of nine vars which must have been popular in different regions. These are mentioned indirectly by Guru Arjan while adding directions with regard to the style in which some of the scriptural vars are to be sung.The vars mentioned as models in this behalf are : VarMalak Muria tat ha Chandrahara Sohia, Rai Kamaldi Mauj di ki Var, Tunde Asraje ki Var, Sikandar Birahim ki Var, Lalla Bahilima ki Var, VarJodhe Virai Purbani Ki, Var Rai Mahime HaSrie Ki, Pane Kailas ate Maldeo ki Var, and Muse ki Var.
One stanza each of these vars was quoted as a specimen by Pandit Tara Singh Narotam (1822-91) in his Gurmat Nirnaya Sagar.The same stanzas have been quoted by some later writers as well, but fuller versions of none of these vars are known to exist. Structurally, a var consists of a number of stanzas, called pauris. The number of pauris as well as of lines to a pauri varies from var to var, though the lines in a pauri must have a common rhyme.
The pauri has also been identified with a kind of poetic metre : Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha gives 30 different specimens of pauri chhand, varying in scale from 20 to 32 matras or prosodic syllables. The word `pauri` has also been used as another name for a var. The vars in the Guru Granth Sahib, with the exception of Basantki Varund Ramkaliki Var by Satta and Balvand, have slokas added to their pauris by Guru Arjan at the time of the compilation of the Scripture. These slokas, which precede the pauris, vary in number and sometimes also in authorship.
1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959
2. Ashok. S.S., Prachin Varan te Jangname. Amritsar, 1983