Vaar Asa – Wisdom of Life
This project is humbly dedicated to the sacred healing power of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
I present this recording with sincerest gratitude to my Vidya Guru, the late Mahant Ajit Singh Ji, for teaching and sharing with me the traditional rendition of ‘Vaar Asa’ and the Tunday Asrajay Ki Dhunni (the melody of Tunda Asraja), Raag Asa.
In present times this tradition is no longer practised in the authentic manner; neither is it sung according to the prescribed instructions clearly stated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the title. This means that mostly people do not sing Vaar of Raag Asa in the specified raag nor use the melody, or dhunni, by the Guru.
Following and adhering to these instructions allows us to understand and absorb the teachings shared by the Gurus on a much deeper level.
Special Thanks to Mahant Ajit Singh
And now a journey into my past as I recall a memory so clear, it is as if it happened just yesterday…
When I was 12 years old, one evening after school had finished for the day I had been to visit my Gurmukhi teacher, Kanwar Imtiaz. As usual he had given me more texts to read and sent me on my way. As I was walking slowly through the narrow streets to my home, I was constantly thinking about how I could learn Gurmukhi as quickly as possible.
Before I knew it I had reached the southern gate of the village. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I had no idea how long I’d been walking. As I gazed in a daydream at the sun glaring through the arch of thin, crumbling Nanakshahee bricks, I was drawn into the beauty of the light.
All of a sudden my head turned, my ears were on edge and my eyes were frantically searching to understand from where this heavenly sound was emerging. I was almost hypnotised by the sound; my body froze, I could not take a step further and my entire being was captivated by what my ears were hearing.
As my eyes continued to search for the source of this enchanting music, through the gate I caught sight of a group of people sitting, singing and swaying to the music that they played. My heart wanted to run towards these people but my body was frozen in shock at the impact that the music was having on me.
As I stared at the group, one of the elderly musicians glanced over at me with a very welcoming smile and waved at me, gesturing that I should come and join them. I smiled back with a smile that stretched from ear to ear!
The joy within me was so strong that before I realised what was happening, I was standing next to the man who had waved at me. He directed me to sit while they continued to play and sing. As I looked around, most of the village was gathered there, grandparents were sitting with their grandchildren and everybody was singing, completely engrossed in the beautiful music.
I recognised the lead singer as Mahant Ajit Singh and beside him was Giani Najar Singh. Giani Ji was playing the dholki and Mahant Ji was playing the chimta with one hand. I was mesmerised by what I was witnessing, feeling so blessed to be there, I could feel the joy dancing in my heart. I continued to stare uncontrollably at Mahant Ji; he was singing with closed eyes, his body was swaying and he was completely submerged in the music, oozing the divinity of the beautiful poetry he was reciting. It took me a while to come to my senses and then I realised that what they were singing was the vaar of Raag Asa.
I didn’t recognise it at first as it sounded very different from what I was accustomed to hearing. I was listening hard and realised that the whole vaar was being sung in Raag Asa, with the saloks sung in alaap format, using no rhythm. All the pauris had the same structure, with the same tune used with the rhythm.
The experience was so powerful for me that even in this moment, I can back be in that same place, sitting there and witnessing it all over again. This memory is no doubt one of my dearest and most valuable. It’s only after 30 years that I’ve finally gathered the strength to dare to replicate and sing the vaar of Raag Asa as I once heard it from the mouths of such great inspirational souls.
The biggest lesson for me that day was simplicity. When it comes to taking a step towards connecting with something deeper in your soul, as you seek a teacher or guide along that journey, simply follow the purity of the teachings.
Mahant Ji showed me the text of the vaar in the Guru Granth Sahib and explained how clearly the instructions were written in the title. He said, “All we sang was exactly what we are being told to sing in the title.” Following these clear instructions can have such a profound impact on the psyche and this became the inspiration for me to learn more and practise this beautiful music in the simplest and most powerful way.
I have put my heart and soul into this project and it’s taken me more than three years of hard work, research and recording to produce it. I sincerely hope that it will bring you the same love and inspiration that it has brought to me.
This is one of the 22 vaars (ballads) written in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, on pages 463-475.
The title clearly instructs a prescribed raag, Asa, and a tune called ‘Tunday Asrajay Ki Dhunni’.
The Story Behind the Dhunni of Tunda Asraja
During the 16th century in ancient India there lived a king called Sarang, who had three sons. The eldest of his children was named Asraj. The king’s first wife, Asraj’s mother, had died several years ago. He then married again and had two more sons. Asraj’s stepmother never favoured him; she disliked him very much. Her wish was for one of her sons to become the next king and she secretly conspired to get rid of Asraj, the current heir to the throne. Upon the sudden death of Sarang, the queen secretly arranged for the assassination of Asraj, instructing the executioner to ensure that he would suffer a slow and painful death.
Consequently, he chopped off both Asraj’s hands and threw him into a dry well, leaving him there to bleed to death. After many hours Asraj gained consciousness and heard distance voices. He started to shout for help and luckily passers-by heard his cries and rescued him, putting him on a trolley and treating his wounds. The people took Asraj along with them, pushing the trolley at the front of the group. They walked for hours and it was only on the morning of the following day that the gate to the next city was seen in the distance.
As the sun was beginning to rise over the horizon they entered the main gate and to their surprise, they were greeted by members of the royal court of the city who decorated Asraj in garlands of flowers and jewels, while musicians played celebratory music for him and everyone danced for joy. Asraj and his fellow travellers were confused and disillusioned – they couldn’t understand what was going on.
They were approached by a member of the royal court who explained that the previous night the king of the city had died and as per the law of the place, whenever a king had no next of kin, then upon his death whoever was the first to enter the city would be crowned as the new king. As Asraj had been pushed on the trolley at the front of the group, he was the first to enter the city and was now crowned king. From this moment Asraj was known as *Tunda Asraja.
Asraj then quickly recovered and regained his inner strength. He set out to seek justice in his home kingdom and was victorious there. Asraj was righteous, fair and noble, loved by his city and truly a king of the people. His courage brought him victory and ever since people have sung tales of his bravery for their own strength and inspiration.
This was the tale of Tunda Asraja.
*Tunda is the term used to refer to somebody who has no hands.
The time period of this story is the 16th century, during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das Ji and the rule of Emperor Akhbar in India.
‘Vaar Asa’ was a fundamental part of a Sikh’s daily discipline from the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. During the heaviest and most challenging days that our ancestors faced in the battlefields of Chamkaur and Bhangani they never gave up their practice of ‘Vaar Asa’; it gave the Sikh warriors the strength and spiritual focus they needed to achieve their victory.
The significance of this tune of Tunda Asraja within the Siri Guru Granth Sahib is that it is sung for this specific vaar to encourage strength and victory in our life’s daily challenge, while reminding us always to seek inner inspiration.
‘Vaar Asa’ holds the light and courage our mind needs to overcome the pain and laziness that we encounter each day. It has the power to heal the deepest pain and shine the brightest light within us. It was given as a blessing to humanity to unfold and share the true Wisdom of Life.
Professor Surinder Singh
Vaar Asa – Available for Purchase
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