by Harnaak Singh

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. ANALYSIS SHOWS THAT THIS PRINCIPLE IS A FAILED PRINCIPLE.


The author authoritatively and very verbosely presents and explains the “RAHAO PRINCIPLE”, making it appear very SCIENTIFIC and his own creation (no references stated).  In the process of doing so he states that the dictionary meaning of RAHAO is useless and further goes on to ridicule the dictionary meaning.  He further states that there are some 5000 RAHAOS in the SGGS.  He also ridicules others who state RAHAO means pause/stop using copious examples to drum in that everybody is wrong and does not know.  He also takes a swipe at Kirtanias who do not use the RAHAO verse as the asthai.  In this manner he cements his authority on the subject.

Finally, after some very juicy explanations, the author concludes and espouses “the RAHAO principle” as follows

  • the RAHAO verse contains the core message of the shabad
  • the RAHAO verse should be used as the asthai of a shabad
  • shabads with TWO RAHAO verses have two core messages
  • the final verse of shabads, which do not have a RAHAO, is equivalent to the RAHAO verse.

Let us now analyse this hypothesis espoused by the author.


First to some number didactics.  The number of RAHAOs in the SGGS is 2686, five of which are used within the verses.  The author’s claimed number is almost double the actual number in SGGS – ‘so much for’ the rigour of his research.


Next we will address the poetry and musical aspect of a shabad.  References “Kafi: A Genre of Punjabi Poetry, by Saeed Bhutta” and “Basic Structure of Hindi Poetry Part 1-Structral Units of a Poem, Vindood Tewary” refer.

Those shabads without a RAHAO are those that are have rhyming lines and are composed to fit easily into regular beat (matra) pattern.  An example is a common shabad SGGS P802 (only the first stanza is written below).

ਬਲਾਵਲੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥

ਬਿਖੈ ਬਨੁ ਫੀਕਾ ਤਿਆਿਗ ਰੀ ਸਖੀਏ ਨਾਮੁ ਮਹਾ ਰਸੁ ਪੀਓ ॥

ਬਿਨੁ ਰਸ ਚਾਖੇ ਬੁਡਿ ਗਈ ਸਗਲੀ ਸਖੁੀ ਨ ਹਵੋਤ ਜੀਓ॥

ਮਾਨੁ ਮਹਤੁ ਨ ਸਕਤਿ ਹੀ ਕਾਈ ਸਾਧਾ ਦਾਸੀ ਥੀਓ ॥

ਨਾਨਕ ਸੇ ਦਿਰ ਸੋਭਾਵੰਤੇ ਜੋ ਪ੍ਰਭਿ ਅਪੁਨੈ ਕੀਓ ॥੧॥

Each and every of the verses in the shabad easily FIT into the same beat rhythm e.g. 6 beat cycle (Dadra Taal) or 8 beat cycle (Keherava Taal).  Notice the rhyming of the last sound in the verses in this shabad.  In this case all the verses have the rhyming ending sound.  In other shabads two verses can be rhyming (repeated as necessary) or in others three rhyming followed by two rhyming in a stanza.

Now consider the shabads with a RAHAO.  Saeed Bhutta explains that in Bhajans and Kafi genre “the RAHAO or the climatic lines (the verses may be shorter or longer than the rest) is an essential constituent” and Vinood Tewary states that if asthai and antara does not have the same matra “the sthaayee can be repeated or a PAUSE introduced that is covered by the tabla without losing the sum”.  This correction of the matra mismatch applies generally in the case of the RAHAO verse.  An example is shabad on SGGS P25 (only the first stanza with RAHAO is written below).  We have heard this shabad sung in a 7 beat cycle (Roopak Taal).

ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੫॥

ਅਛਲ ਛਲਾਈ ਨਹ ਛਲੈ ਨਹ ਘਾਉ ਕਟਾਰਾ ਕਰਿ ਸਕੈ ॥

ਜਿਉ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਰਾਖੈ ਤਿਉ ਰਹੈ ਇਸੁ ਲੋਭੀ ਕਾ ਜੀਉ ਟਲ ਪਲੈ॥੧॥

ਬਿਨ ਤੇਲ ਦੀਵਾ ਕਿਉ ਜਲੈ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

The word RAHAO is not normally sung as a part of the shabad.  It is clearly apparent that the RAHAO verse DOES NOT FIT into a regular rhythmic cycle.  The Kirtania can pause at the end of “… ਕਿਉ ਜਲੈ” to complete the cycle or more commonly extend the sound of “ਲੈ—-” or some other means to complete the cycle at the RAHAO verse, which would be the asthai.  This is an example and various other techniques can be used by the Kirtanias to maintain the beat cycle. The key is to maintain the beat cycle.  So in a sense the RAHAO does mean PAUSE.

Therefore the RAHAO verse is essential in a particular genre of poetry where it is the climatic line.  NOT ALL POETRY need to have a RAHAO in it.  Trying to nominate a RAHAO type verse to poetry that does not have a RAHAO does not make any poetic sense.  The composer would have done so if it was necessary.  So “the RAHAO Principle” does not “tally” here; it is not universally valid and hence “the RAHAO Principle” is a failed hypothesis.


We know from the above section that the RAHAO verse is a “climatic” verse meaning it sort of encompasses the key to the related verses.

Let us look at Mahan Kosh (MK), the “apex” dictionary of SGGS which explains RAHAO as follows.  The meaning given in MK are (1) the concept of the composition or shabad (2) Asthai of the shabad.  Further MK adds meaning for RAHAO DOOJA as where there are two verses for the asthai, the methodology used is that the singer can make either one the asthai.  However the MK is silent on shabads with multiple RAHAOs (not RAHAO and RAHAO DOOJA) nor does it make a statement about shabads without a RAHAO.

Considering both the Mahan Kosh and what Saeed Bhutta explained about RAHAO, we can gauge that the RAHAO verse provides a key to the meaning of related verses in the shabad.  Key meaning can be that the RAHAO verse provides

  • a summary of, an explanation of, or a solution to, the related verses
  • the related verses provide a summary of, an explanation of, or a solution to, the RAHAO verse.

For example in the shabad with RAHAO in section poetry didactics, the first stanza explains that Maya is very powerful, and it is difficult to overcome (metaphorically cannot be cheated ਅਛਲ ਛਲਾਈ, or hurt with a dagger ਘਾਉ ਕਟਾਰਾ).  The greedy succumb to it ਲੋਭੀ ਕਾ ਜੀਉ ਟਲ ਪਲੈ.  The RAHAO verse states “without oil ਬਿਨ ਤੇਲ how can there be a flame ਜਲੈ in the lamp ਦੀਵਾ”.  This is metaphorically explaining that one who does not acquire the teaching from Gurbani, will not be enlightened and hence will succumb to the 5 vices (including greed). So you see that by reading the RAHAO verse, it is not possible to know the intent.  The preceding verses are summarised metaphorically in the RAHAO verse.  The poet decides the intent of the RAHAO verse and the intent is not STATIC.

It is possible that the RAHAO verse has some verses before and after it.  In this instance the RAHAO verse will have two parts.  The first part is the explanation of the preceding verses and the second part presents a problem and the following stanza provides a solution.  Consider for example SGGS P12.

ਆਸਾ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥

ਤਿਤੁ ਸਰਵਰੜੈ ਭਈਲੇ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ ਪਾਣੀ ਪਾਵਕੁ ਤਿਨਹਿ ਕੀਆ ॥

ਪਕੰਜੁ ਮੋਹ ਪਗੁ ਨਹੀ ਚਾਲੈ ਹਮ ਦੇਖਾ ਤਹ ਡੂਬੀਅਲੇ ॥੧॥

ਮਨ ਏਕੁ ਨ ਚੇਤਸਿ ਮੂੜ ਮਨਾ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਬਸਰਤ ਤੇਰੇ ਗੁਣ ਗਲਿਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

ਨਾ ਹਉ ਜਤੀ ਸਤੀ ਨਹੀ ਪੜਿਆ ਮੂਰਖ ਮੁਗਧਾ ਜਨਮੁ ਭਇਆ ॥

ਪ੍ਰਣਵਤਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਤਿਨ ਕੀ ਸਰਣਾ ਜਿਨ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ ਵੀਸਰਿਆ ॥੨॥੩॥

The first stanza, metaphorically, says people reside ਭਈਲੇ ਨਿਵਾਸਾ in a pool of water ਸਰਵਰੜੈ that is like fire ਪਾਵਕੁ ਤਿਨਹਿ ਕੀਆ.  Greed (ਮੋਹ) makes one enter the muddy sludge (ਪਕੰਜੁ) but one cannot walk in it (ਪਗੁ ਨਹੀ ਚਾਲੈ) and sinks (ਡੂਬੀਅਲੇ) in the sludge.  The first RAHAO verse then explains the predicament people are in, is because they are foolish ਮੂੜ ਮਨਾ and their mind ਮਨ does not remember God ਏਕੁ ਨ ਚੇਤਸਿ.  The second part of the RAHAO verse states that if we forget God ਹਰਿ ਬਸਰਤ our virtues ਗੁਣ will wither away ਗਲਿਆ.  The stanza following the second part of the RAHAO verse elucidates the RAHAO by explaining the one who is virtueless (is celibate, not truthful ਨਾ ਹਉ ਜਤੀ ਸਤੀ, not scholarly ਨਹੀ ਪਿੜਆ, foolish and ignorant ਮੂਰਖ ਮੁਗਧਾ) should humbly seek ਪ੍ਰਣਵਤਿ the sanctuary of God through those who never forget God ਤਿਨ ਕੀ ਸਰਣਾ ਜਿਨ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ ਵੀਸਰਿਆ.  So the stanza following the second part of the RAHAO is providing a solution of getting out of the predicament of one described in the second part of the RAHAO verse.

When there is no RAHAO in the shabad, the composer had no intent for a climatic verse.  Further there is no statement in the Mahan Kosh on this matter.  Therefore the most likely scenario is that for one to understand the shabad all the verses must be analysed to have an understanding of the shabad.  If one chooses to just analyse the meaning of the last verse, it is individual choice but the meaning of the last verse will not necessarily give a complete picture as intended by the composition.

As an example consider the Rehraas shabad “So Dar Tera Keha ਸੋ ਦਰੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਕੇਹਾ”. The shabad is relating the awe one is feeling in God realisation describing the fact that God is taking care of the whole creation.  The whole creation, musicians with numerous sounds and ragas, the elements of wind, fire and water, the metaphorical record keepers, the dieties Shiva, Brhama etc, the siddhas etc, essentially the whole creation revers God.  Guru Nanak says all are subject to God’s will.  Should one just read the last line which means “all are subject to the will of God” one would not really get the essence of the whole shabad which is “God is taking care and providing for the entire creation and the entire creation revers and is operating within the bounds of God’s command”.

Therefore the author’s  “RAHAO Principle” is actually misleading by proposing a “watered down” instruction for deciphering a shabad without RAHAO.  Again it appears to be a FAILED HYPOTHESIS.


There are just over thirty shabads with multiple RAHAOs in SGGS.  A third of them are with multiple RAHAOs and the rest with a RAHAO plus RAHAO DOOJA.  We shall look at some of the shabads from the perspective of the meaning.

Shabad SGGS P16BL8:  The multiple RAHAOS are related to the same theme. There are FOUR RAHAOS in the shabad one for each stanza.  Each of the RAHAOS are related to “activities” (ਖਾਣਾ food; ਪੈਨਣ apparels; ਚੜਨਾ sport; ਸਉਣਾ sleep) which we indulge “in excess” of needs (what we should be doing is outlined in the related stanza – the RAHAO verse hints at consequences if the teaching in the stanza is not followed – sort of REVESE PSYCHOLOGY).  When indulging in these, excess pain (ਪੀੜੀਐ) is caused to the body (ਤਨੁ) and the mind (ਮਨ) is engrossed in vice (ਵਿਕਾਰ).  The vices are a result of us being controlled by the 5 evils. (NOTE: P16BL8 means the shabad is on page 16, 8 lines up counted from the bottom; TL8 would mean 8 lines down counted from the top)

Shabad SGGS P25BL4: The shabad has TWO RAHAOs.  The two RAHAOs are linked with the theme of a lamp and the need for oil to light the lamp – used METAPHORICALLY to mean THE NEED FOR GURU’s TEACHING and what happens when there is oil and the lamp (RAHAO 1) is lit to mean WHEN DARKNESS IS DISPELLED GOD REALISATION IS ATTAINED (RAHAO 2).

Shabad SGGS P81BL5: This shabad has 6 stanzas each ending in a RAHAO (total 6 RAHAOs).  Each of these stanzas are independent of each other and cover a particular theme (sort of 6 shabads combined into one).  Each of the RAHAO sums the positive aspect of teaching in the stanza.  The stanza outlines the teaching and also what happens if the teaching is not followed.

Shabad SGGS P154BL3:  This shabad has 6 stanzas the first ending in a RAHAO, Stanzas 2 and 3 in one RAHAO, 4 and 5 in one RAHAO (total 3 RAHAOs).  There is one stanza after the third RAHAO.  The first stanza talks about the Maya in the form of body engulfed in greed and falsehood, eventually ends up in dust.  RAHAO states the need for good deeds.  The second and third talks about vices we exercise (slander, praise, lies and gossip, evil eye on others wives, steal, commit evil deeds) for the pleasure of our body which is temporary and hence the wrong doings are of no use and life wasted.  RAHAO states doing this we will all be miserable.  The fourth and fifth states that our possessions (attachment – horses, houses etc) will be of no avail and they will come to pass.  The third RAHAO states that we are fools and ignorant as only Gods command will prevail.  The line following the third RAHAO says that all belong to God and God’s will prevails.

Shabad SGGS 91BL3 has a RAHAO plus a RAHAO DOOJA.  In this shabad two themes are covered.  The first before the first RAHAO, talks about the attachment to Maya (mother’s attachment to the child) not realising the TRUTH that the life of the child is decreasing day by day whilst her thought is that the child is growing.  The first RAHAO alludes to this illusion.  The second theme is advising us how to get out of this illusion of the attachment to Maya.  The SECOND RAHAO then states the result when the teachings in second theme are adhered to.  This is sort of a predicament in the first RAHAO and its related stanzas followed by the solution in the SECOND RAHAO and the related stanzas. This is generally the case with RAHAO and RAHAO DOOJA shabads.

In summary in the case RAHAO and RAHAO DOOJA shabads a predicament is presented followed by a solution.

For the shabads with multiple RAHAOs, the intent of the RAHAO can be multifold.  The RAHAOs and the related stanzas

  • could be independent,
  • could be on the same theme but different aspects of the theme
  • could be linked through the same theme

to name a few.

From the music perspective the Kirtania may choose any one of the RAHAOs as the asthai if more than one are present in the shabad or part of the shabad being sung.


It has been shown that the use or not of RAHAO is poetic genre related.

When used it is the climatic or key verse.  When RAHAO is not used there is no particular key verse in the shabad.

Additionally the RAHAO is an indication where a PAUSE should be used to maintain the cyclic rhythm when singing the shabad.  It is not wrong to say that the RAHAO means PAUSE, completely NEGATING the author’s explanation and UNCALLED FOR RIDICULING THE DICTIONARY MEANING.

Two types of RAHAO are observed.  One type is the RAHAO and RAHAO DOOJA combination which has a predicament/solution style and the other MULTIPLE RAHAOs where the intent can be multifold.

The Kirtania may choose any one of the RAHAOs as the asthai in the composition being sung.

Therefore the author’s “the RAHAO Principle” does not completely elucidate the use or not of the RAHAO in shabads, its purpose both from music and meaning perspective, and is an INVALID HYPOTHESIS.   It is therefore A FAILED HYPOTHESIS.

Click to Download

The Rahao Principle – A Failed Hypothesis