ALAHNIANALAHNIAN, Guru Nanak\’s composition in measure Vadahans in the Guru Granth Sahib. Alahni, generally used in its plural form alahnian, is a dirge wailingly sung in chorus by women mourning the death of a relation. Etymologically, the word means an utterance in praise (of the departed person). The sorrowful singing of alahnian is part of the mourning custom of siapa. The women assemble at the house of the dead person and cry aloud beating their breasts while standing, or sit together and bewail.
They weep bitterly and sing alahnian in most pathetic tones. The village barbress (nain) or mirasan starts the alahni by singing aloud the first line of the dirge eulogizing the dead person, followed by the group in chorus.The siapa goes on continually for a number of days until the last ceremonies are held; and the relatives of the deceased keep coming from far and near, the women joining in the heartrending wail from day to day. Alahni is also a poetic form in Punjabi in the style of this mourning song. The strain may alter with the subject.
Guru Nanak employed this mode in his bani, as he adopted several other popular and folk forms. Five of his sabdas (hymns) included in the Guru Granth Sahib in Raga Vadahans (pp. 578 to 582) are entitled Alahnian. In these hymns, the sovereignty of God\’s Will is proclaimed. By implication, the customs of siapa and alahnian are deprecated.
One must not give way to idle wailing, but learn to accept what has been ordained by the Almighty. The reality of death is brought home to man. “As man hath come into this world, so must he depart.” The recitation of Alahnian brings solace to the griefafflicted soul and leads it to seek shelter in God. Surrender to His Will is the burden of this verse.
“None ever die with the dead,” says Guru Nanak. “Blessed is he who praises the Lord\’s merits and weeps in fear of Him. They who bewail by remembering Him are through the ages acknowledged wise.” Death is inevitable. But death is for the manmukh, one who is ruled by his own ego, one who has turned away from God.
Death is not for the gurmukh who is turned towards God. By nam simran, i.e. constant remembrance of the Name of God, one discards the fear of death. This is the way to achieving the state of fearlessness, the state of liberation and everlastingness. He is truly triumphant in the world who absorbs himself in nam and is firm in his faith, who performs his worldly duty and yet remains unattached, always ready to leave the world without sorrow. One, who submits to the Will of the Lord and leads a pious life, lives in peace and tranquillity and dreads not the call of death.
Death for such virtuous persons is a victory. All have to reach the same destination, says Guru Nanak.Instead of crying and wailing at the death of a relation, men should sit together and sing the praise of God. The poetic metre used in Alahnian corresponds with the tune in which this folk form is cast. It is a kind of duvaiya chhand, in which last line of each sabda echoes the burden of the in the first part of Alahnian.
The language is Sadh Bhakha with a strong flavour of Lahndi dialect. Alliteration has been used and new compounds formed to make the lines musical. Some of the verses convey the eternal truths in such homely yet terse language that they have become part of Punjabi speech. For instance: “jeha likhia teha paia” as is it foreordained for one, so does one receive, and “ko marai na moia nale” none ever die with the dead.
1. Kohli, Surindar Singh, A Critica} Study ofAdi Granth. Delhi, 1961
2. Taran Singh, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji da Sahitak Itihas. Amritsar, n.d.