The Rahao Principle – Part 1

If we understand the significance of the Rahao verse, understanding the message of the Shabad becomes easier. In this first of a three-part series, KARMINDER SINGH explores the subject in a new Understanding Gurbani Series. Do hear the audio as well.


By Karminder Singh / Audio transcript by Harwan Singh, Butterworth

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.

Gurmukh Pyareo. This commentary comes to you in the form of a series of audios that will attempt to establish the basic principles which we can apply, in helping us understand Gurbani.

Each audio will be devoted to one basic principle. After establishing the principle, we will attempt to apply the principle to Shabads from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS).  

This is the first audio in this series. The principle that we will discuss here will be termed the Rahao principle.  

A vast majority of Shabads in the SGGS have what we call a Rahao Verse. The Rahao verse is easy to identify because the word Rahao appears immediately after the verse ends.

The Rahao Principle – Part 1 (Asia Samachar, 10 Nov 2016)

The Rahao Principle – Part 2 (Asia Samachar, 13 Nov 2016)

The Rahao Principle – Part 3 (Asia Samachar, 20 Nov 2016)

In all cases the Rahao verse is located within the Shabad. In most cases, it is somewhere in the middle of the Shabad. In some cases it is the first verse. In some others, it is the final verse. But in all cases, the word Rahao is placed at the end of that particular verse.

If we understand the significance of the Rahao verse, understanding the message of the Shabad becomes easier. Understanding the Rahao verse, further enables us to derive a more accurate understanding of  the remaining verses of the Shabad.

Understanding the Rahao verse prevents us from the pitfalls of mis-understanding or mis-interpreting the Shabad.      

So what is the significance of the Rahao verse?

Rahao comes from the word Therao. The dictionary translation of Rahao is Pause. This however is the literal translation. And because it is literal, it is of no help.  

We don’t pause at the Rahao verse – whether we are reading the Shabad or singing it. During sehej and akhand path recitals, for instance, no one pauses at the Rahao verse. IF we did, the Akhand path would take much longer than 48 hours; given that there are some 5,000 Rahaos in the SGGS.

Some have argued that we should pause and contemplate at the Rahao verse. The counter argument is that we should pause and contemplate at every verse, not just the Rahao verse. So this is what happens when we attempt to provide literal translations to words. Literally Rahao means to Pause. And such a literal translation is of no real help.

We, thus, need to look for contextual meaning of the word Rahao. What is meant by contextual? Perhaps an example of a simple word in English – but used in different contexts – would help us understand.

The word is stop. STOP. We know what it means in the literal sense i.e to halt doing whatever it is we are doing.

But when STOP is used in the context of a telegram, for instance, it means the end of a sentence.  It means the punctuation mark of a full stop. This, then, is the contextual meaning. The telegram being the context.  

When STOP is used in the context of a road sign at a junction, it means to stop, and look and then go. So in the context of a road sign, stop means to keep going – after having made sure it is safe to do so.

IF in the context of a road sign, we understood stop to mean to halt what ever we are doing, all roads would become parking lots. And we would not be going anywhere.

Similarly, if in the context of a telegram, we understood STOP to mean a halt to reading, then no telegram would get read beyond the first sentence.

So, in order to understand the contextual meanings of the word Rahao, we need to understand the different contexts of the Shabad.



Every Shabad in the SGGS has three basic contexts. So Rahao would then have three contextual meanings. Each would depend on the particular context.

What are the three contexts? First, every Shabad has a message. So in the context of the message, the Rahao verse contains the gist of the message, the crux of the message, the core of the message, the summary of the message.   

Second, every Shabad is a poetic composition. Every Shabad is a poem. Poems have titles, or headings. So in the context of a poem, the Rahao is the title verse.  

Why is the title verse not at the top of the Shabad and placed within the Shabad? Because the top verse of the Shabad has been reserved for the name of the raag and its author. For instance, Raag Suhee Mahala. So the Rahao verse has to move within the Shabad.  

Third every Shabad is meant to be sung. So this is the third context. Within the Indian musical system, every song has ONE asthai and multiple antras. The order of singing is asthai first, then antra one. Then asthai again, then antra two. Asthai again and then antra three. And so on. And, finally, Asthai again.

In the context of singing, the Rahao verse is the Asthai. All the other verses are antras. So if a particular Shabad has 6 verses, there will be one asthai (which is the Rahao) and 5 antras – which are the non-Rahao verses.

If a 6 verse Shabad is sung as Kirtan, the asthai will be sung a total of  7 times – starting, after each of the 5 antras and in ending. The antras will, however, be sung only once each.

What is the reason for saying the Rahao is the asthai? Because in the context of the message of the Shabad, the asthai contains the gist of the message. The antras are illustrations or exemplifications of the gist. So it makes sense to sing the gist multiple times. Over and over again.  

After listening to the kirtan of the Shabad, the take home is that we internalise the asthai – the Rahao – the gist of the message in our minds because we heard it sung multiple times 7 times in this example of the 6 verse shabd. So the Rahao, or the gist, is our take home.

By the way this rule of the Rahao being the asthai is more often not followed by our Ragis & Kirtenias. While singing a Shabad they pick their own asthai which is not necessarily the Rahao verse.

Their self selected asthai will usually be the more catchy verse, the shorter verse, the simpler verse or the verse that best fits their chosen tune. So what happens then is that the gist verse (Rahao) gets sung just once as an antra and the example verse gets sung 7 times as the asthai. The take home is thus the example verse. We go back internalising the example, but not the gist. We go back internalising the catchy verse but not the gist verse of the Shabad.

So, in summary, pyareo, Rahao has three contextual meanings.  

In the context of Kirtan, the Rahao verse is the pre-determined asthai by the author of the Shabad – our Gurus or the Bhagats. In the context of the poetry – the Rahao verse is  the title of the poetry. In the context of the message of the Shabad, the Rahao verse is the one that contains the gist or the crux of the message.  

By extension, therefore, the Rahao verse is the most important of all. It is the Rahao verse that is exemplified and expanded in the remaining verses of the Shabad.

It is also the Rahao verse that ties in all the non-Rahao verses. It is the Rahao verse that connects all non-Rahao verses to each other. The Rahao is the unifying verse. The core verse, the central verse that ties in all the peripheral verses.  

Understanding the Rahao verse first; therefore is crucial. Understanding the Rahao verse properly is equally crucial. The understanding a Shabad must begin with the Rahao verse.



Three questions need to be answered before we can conclude.

First, what about Shabads that have two or more Rahao verses?

Long Shabads in the SGGS are often divided into parts or sections. For instance there is a Shabad on page 642 of the GGS that has 10 verses. It’s long and hence broken into two parts.

The first part tells of all the ways people try to reach God but fail. The second part talks about the right way. This Shabad has two Rahaos. The first Rahao provides the gist of the wrong ways and the second the gist of the correct ways.

ਪਿਆਰੇ ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਿਲਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ ਮੈ ਕੀਏ ਕਰਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ॥

ਹਾਰਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਸੁਆਮੀ ਕੈ ਦੁਆਰੈ ਦੀਜੈ ਬੁਧਿ ਬਿਬੇਕਾ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Pyare En Bidh Milen Na Jayee Mein Keeyey Karam Aneka.

Haar Pareyo Suami Key Duarey, Deejey Budh Bibeka. Rahao. [SGGS, p641]

This is the first Rahao. It is a gist of the ways in which God cannot be reached. ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਮਿਲਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਈ En Bidh Milen Na Jayee.

Then 8 verses later:

ਤੇਰੋ ਸੇਵਕੁ ਇਹ ਰੰਗਿ ਮਾਤਾ ॥

ਭਇਓ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾਲੁ ਦੀਨ ਦੁਖ ਭੰਜਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕੀਰਤਨਿ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਤਾ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ਦੂਜਾ ॥੧॥੩॥

Tero Sewak Eh Rung Maata. Bhayeo Kirpal Deen Dukh Bhanjun Har Har Kirtan Eh Mun Raata. Rahao Duja. [SGGS, p642]

This is the second Rahao. It is a gist of the ways in which God can be reached. ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਕੀਰਤਨਿ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਰਾਤਾ Har Har Kierten Eh Mun Rata.

Another way of looking at is that the first Rahao summarises the problem, and the second Rahao summarises the solution.

So that’s the first question – Shabads with multiple Rahaos.

The second question is: do long Banees have Rahao verses. Yes, some do. For instance Sukhmani – perhaps the longest banee, has a Rahao verse in it.

ਸੁਖਮਨੀ ਸੁਖ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਨਾਮੁ ॥

ਭਗਤ ਜਨਾ ਕੈ ਮਨਿ ਬਿਸ੍ਰਾਮ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Sukhmani Sukh Amarit Prabh Naam.  Bhagat Jana Key Munn Bisraam. Rahao. [SGGS, p262]

So this verse contains the gist of the messages of Sukhmani Sahib. The entire banee revolves around this Rahao verse.

The third question: What about Shabads that do not have Rahao Verses? How do we apply the Rahao principle to these Shabads?

In such shabdas, the gist of the message is always in the final verse. So all the rules that apply to the Rahao verse – it being the title of the poetry, it being the asthai for kirtan, and it being the gist verse – all of these things apply to the final verse of Shabads that are without Rahao.

In our second audio, we will attempt to apply the Rahao principle we discussed above to a Shabad by Bhagat Kabeer ji on page 870 of the SGGS ji.

ਗੋਂਡ ॥
ਨਰੂ ਮਰੈ ਨਰੁ ਕਾਮਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥ ਪਸੂ ਮਰੈ ਦਸ ਕਾਜ ਸਵਾਰੈ ॥੧॥
ਅਪਨੇ ਕਰਮ ਕੀ ਗਤਿ ਮੈ ਕਿਆ ਜਾਨਉ ॥
ਮੈ ਕਿਆ ਜਾਨਉ ਬਾਬਾ ਰੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Naru Marey Nur Kaam Na Avey. Psu Marey Dus Kaaj Swarey. Apney Karam Kee Gutt Mein Kya Jano. Mein Kya Jano Baba Rey. Rahao.  [SGGS, p870]

We will discuss this Shabad in the next audio by applying the Rahao principle.

Till then, Thank you for listening. Bhul chuk di khima. Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.

Audio Transcribe by courtesy of Harwan Singh Butterworth and Harpreet Kaur


Karminder Singh, PhD (Boston) writes on Gurbani and Gurmat issues in The Sikh Bulletin, USA. He also conducts Gurbani Katha in local Gurdwaras. He is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Samachar.


Logic and Sikhi – Part 1 (Asia Samachar, 24 Sept 2016)


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  1. Salute to a great soul who is keeping the internal spirit of sikhi alive in the hearts of millions of sikhs worldwide
    Salute to your efforts karminder singh dhillon ji

    In this article we will review “The RAHAO Principle” espoused by Karminder Singh in his “the RAHAO Principle Part 1” posted in Asia Samachar 10-Nov-2016.

  3. Santokh Singh Randhawa
    [ KDM ]
    A fine and detailed discourse of the word RAHAO. Often we read through without analysing or digesting the meaning of the verses in the Gurbani. Though I knew the meaning of RAHAO, but I did not know the fine details as explained by Dr Ji.
    I hope these kind of short and simple messages reach as many Sikhs as possible so as not only we read the Bani correctly but with understanding.
    Waheguru bless.

  4. Great that gurbani is studied in such depth and detail and the results are shared. Gurbani vichar is also Naam japna and sharing is “aap japeh avraay Naam japaveh” which is ” sarbat tha bhala”. All paath and vichar of gurbani and Naam and god’s praises are good as told by gurbani to get “stha sarb sookh and dookh paap ka naas”. Do keep up the good work

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