Bara Maha Majh (Song of Twelve Months in Majh Raga) is a composition of Guru Arjan Dev,the fifth in the line of the ten Gurus or prophet-teachers of the Sikh faith. Guru Arjan Dev\’s poetry has the imprint of chaste classical culture, despite its limitation today, being in a mixture of Punjabi and Braj languages.Bara Maha is a form of folk poetry in which the yearnings of a love-lorn young woman separated from her spouse are expressed in terms of the moods of nature as they change from month to month. In Sanskrit, a poetical form of similar import was Shad ritu varnan (Sad rtu varnan) i.e., description of the six seasons. 

Kalidasa\’s Ritu Sanar is an outstanding example of this genre.In the Punjabi language, over 100 Bara Mahas have been identified (compiled by Piara Singh Padam). The oldest of these is the one composed by Guru Nanak Dev in the raga Tukhari. This was followed by the one by Guru Arjan Dev in raga Majh. Although Guru Nanak\’s Bara Maha, in the eyes of many a literary vituoso, stands out in poetic splendour and philosophical import, Guru Arjan Dev\’s Bara Maha has been able to enjoy wider popularity because of the simplicity of its diction and profundity of emotions expressed.

That is why, perhaps, the latter has been adopted for ceremonial recitation by congregations in the Sikh Gurdwaras on the first day of each month both as a way of its announcement and of invoking divine blessings for the current month.Bara Maha is an allegorical composition. In it the virhan (separated bride) stands for the dtman (human soul), and the spouse for Paramatma (the Supreme Soul or God). While formally Guru Arjan\’s Bara Maha unfolds itself in the context of time (kald), its content is dedicated to the one that transcends Time (akala). The work comprises 14 stanzas—a prologue followed by one stanza each pertaining to the 12 months, and a concluding stanza forming an epilogue.

The theme of the poem has been announced in the opening stanza steeped in intense emotion: To us, from Thee separated, As a consequence of our own deeds, 0 Lord, In Thy grace grant reunion! Pointlessly we wandered in diverse directions, Worn out, to Your protection, have we repaired.Like a dry cow is my state, of use of none; A sapling without water, that never shall blossom. How can a forlorn woman, separated from her spouse, find peace? Cursed is her town. cursed her village, If her home the Lord has visited not. Of what worth are her embellishments, Her betel-flavoured mouth, and even her whole body? To one from her Lord separated, Even friends are a spectacle of doom.

Supplicates Nanak: Be merciful And grant me devotion to your Name. 0, the Lord of abode imperishable! Unite me with Thyself. The subsequent 12 stanzas have a more or less similar structure. In each, the opening line voices a yearning for union with God.The subsequent lines expand the pathos of the opening line in a variety of moods consonant with the seasonal variation month by month. The last line of each stanza suggests one or another means for reunion with God.

The final stanza, the epilogue tends to reflect on the benefits that come to those who attain union with the Lord. The closing couplet of this stanza appears to epitomise the spirit of the entire work: Every month and day and moment Auspicious becomes for those Who the grace of the Lord obtain. \’Grant me Thy Grace\’, supplicates Nanak, \’I crave for a glance of Thy face.\’

References :

1. Guru Nanak, “Bara Mah Tukhari”, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, (English Translation Dr. Gopal Singh), SGPC, Amritsar, 1929.
2. Kohli, Surindar Singh, A Critical Study of Adi Granth, Delhi, 1961.
3. Uberoi, Mohan Singh (ed.), Punjabi Bhagti-Kavya, 1944.