During the initial days of his professional life, the late veteran actor, Balraj Sahni worked as a teacher in the late 1930’s in a school called Shantiniketan (in West Bengal), which was established by a well known writer and poet, Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore. He knew well that Rabindra Nath Tagore was a very good writer / poet and the first person from India to win Noble Prize in literature for his book of 104 songs called Geetanjali. By then, another song known as “Jana Gana Mana and ending with jaya he, jaya he, jaya he!” was used to be sung on some national occasions and this song was also written by Rabindernath Tagore in 1911 (originally in highly Sanskratised language and later on translated into Hindi and Urdu also). It was later on adopted by Indian National Congress and decided to be further adopted as our National Anthem, as and when India gets freedom.
One day, he had chance to have long chat with Rabindra Nath Tagore and discussed many of his literary works. It was during the course of this discussion that he asked Gurudev, “Sir ! You have written a song Jana Gana Mana eulogizing the entire Indian states so beautifully that it has been very much praised by many writers and big Congress leaders and it is also going to be adopted as our national anthem when we get freedom. One thing I would like to suggest or rather ask from you, “Have you ever tried to write a Universal or International Anthem, which is very much required by the entire world, to make all the countries aware of the need to establish world peace, promote the spirit of universal brotherhood, as after all, we are all children of one God, irrespective of the country where we are born or where we are living. All people should realise His real value and praise that one super power whom we may call God, Allah / Khudah / Bhgawan / Eishwar or Nirankar etc. This song may be in the genre of an Aarty as it is being sung very religiously / devotionally in many temples or Gurudwaras.”
The Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore listened to him very carefully, had a deep breath and then after a brief pause, he replied, “Balraj ! I don’t think that anybody can write such a beautiful Universal Anthem or Aarti as has been already composed. Nobody has that much high quality of calibre and intelligence or divine power as the writer of that universal anthem has been written.” Balraj Sahni was really very wonder-struck to know that such an international anthem has been written, and he was not aware of it. Let me here inform the readers that Balraj Sahni was MA in English Literature and was very fond of reading and writing. So he asked again, “Gurudev ! Who has written this universal anthem, and let me admit this lapse to you, that I have neither heard of it from any person nor read it. Please do tell me about that anthem as I would really like to benefit by reading it.”
Rabindra Nath Tagore also expressed his surprise about the lapse committed by Balraj Sahni, and he said, “This universal anthem has been written by a great Punjabi Guru and I am sorry to know that you are not aware of it. Nevertheless, let me apprise you that this universal anthem or Aarty as you may like to call it, was written more than 430 years ago, by Guru Nanak Dev ji. When I had the opportunity to listen to it for the first time, it sounded me very unique and beautiful, but I could not comprehend it fully, as it is written in Punjabi dialect. Hence, I sought help of a Punjabi Scholar to translate it into English for the benefit of better understanding of the same. It is really very beautiful, and Guru Nanak Dev ji had written this Aarti (the Sikh Aarti). As legend goes, in 1508 AD, Guru Nanak Dev ji along with his disciple, Bhai Mardana, visited the famous temple of Jagannath at Puri in Orissa, which was very well known for its Aarti sung in the praise of Lord Krishna. The temple priests conducted an elaborate Aarti every evening. They brought a big platter on which many lighted lamps were kept and it was accompanied by paraphernalia of flowers, incense, ornaments, pearls etc. and began the Aarti. This was also accompanied with the beating of big drums and cymbals, the ringing of bells and chants from some scriptures.
And this Aarti was sung in the praise of Lord Krishna. Guru Nanak Dev ji felt that even though the Aarti being sung at that temple was good, but it was neither complete nor that much encompassing, trying to praise the almighty God, as it should be. So, Guru Nanak Dev ji sat down very next day morning and composed a new Maha Aarti. Every evening, after the recitation of Hymns from Rehraas, the melodious rendition of this Aarti is sung by the Raagis in Raag Dhanashri and it can be heard in many Gurudwaras. Mind it, listening to this Aarti is tremendously soothing experience, and it is capable of taking us directly into the spiritual realms of devotion to the supreme God, through music. It also brings the boundless bliss and peace of mind for you.
By that time, Balraj Sahni was also got so engrossed in the praise of God that he requested Tagore ji to sing a few lines of that Aarti, and the latter obliged him. The Maha Aarti goes like this :-
“गगन में थाल रवि चन्द दीपक बने / तारिका मंडल जनक मोती /
धूप मल्याणलो पवन चवर करे / सगल बनराई फुल्लन्त ज्योति /
कैसी आरती होये भव खँडना तेरी आरती / अहंता शब्द वजंत भेरि /
किरपा जल देहि नानक सारिंग कयोउ / होई जात तेरे नाम वासा /
कैसी आरती होये / भव खँडना तेरी आरती !!! ”
Meaning : The sky is like a big Puja Thaal (platter used for performing Aarti), in which the sun and the moon function as the Diyas or lamps. The stars and planets in the constellation are the jewels, the wind laden with sandal wood fragrance blows like the incense, and these are the celestial fans. All the flowering fields, forests are the radiance. Oh ! What a wonderful Aarti is being performed with such an intense devotion and engrossment with the almighty God. No human being or a set of people can perform such a beautiful and perfect Aarti as it is being sung / performed by the nature itself.
Gurudev Tagore further informed Balraj Sahni that he was so enamoured of this Aarti that he personally translated it into Bengali so that our Bengali brothers and sisters could read and enjoy the bliss of this Maha Aarti. And if you want to really enjoy it to the maximum, listen to it with closed eyes and full peace of mind. And remember, this wonderful Aarti is being hummed by Nature before the invisible altar of God, the supreme creator of this universe. And I feel that, no poet or any other writer of our times is competent enough to compose such a wonderful and compassionate Universal Aarti which embraces the pinnacle of Bhakti Ras to the maximum.
R.D. Bhardwaj “Noorpuri”