AMRIT VELAA by Rajinder Singh ‘Arshi’ Literally translated ‘amrit’ means nectar (elixir) and ‘velaa’ equates to time, the ‘nectar time’ or more precisely the time to bathe and swim in ambrosial nectar, the time to unlock the fountain of nectar, to let it trickle down and permeate into our body, mind and soul while concentrating on shabad and Naam either by normal recital or through kirtan (shabad based on musical notes – dhun). It is also often translated as the 'The Ambrosial Hour'. The meaning of term ‘amrit velaa’ has not always been equated to its literal translation. In the context of the Sikh Initiation Ceremony ‘amrit’ means ‘Pahul’ or ‘khandey dee pahul’ i.e. amrit prepared in a bowl of water sweetened with sugar cakes (patashaa) stirred with the double edged sword while the Five Banis are recited. The human birth is also referred to as amrit velaa by some – the attainment of the human form is considered a reward for past karmas to redress our earlier transgressions and work towards jeevan mukti (liberation) in this lifetime. If we submit ourselves to His Hukam in this lifetime the Lord may be forgiving and merciful. But there are no guarantees as forgiveness can only be obtained though His Grace. Guru Arjan states: Gur ke charan hirḏai vasaae mûrre pichhley gunah sabh bakkas lai-eaa. SGGS 435 Let your heart and mind reside at the lotus feet of the Guru and all your past indiscretions will be forgiven. One must be sincere in his approach and seek constant and continual guidance from his Guru (Guru Granth Sahib) and direct his life according to the Guru’s teachings based on the three cornerstones (the three pillars) of a devotee’s life, briefly, Naam japna (meditate and reflect on Naam), kirat karni (earn a living by honest sweat and toil) and wand shakna (share the rewards, both material and spiritual, with others). Again, Guru Arjan sayst: Pichhley aougun bakhas lae prabh aagai maarag paavai. (SGGS 624) (O Lord) Please overlook my previous transgressions and direct and place me on the true marg (spiritual path). In this article, however, we are not dealing with the latter interpretations but with the former, i.e. amrit velaa observed by devotees in their current lifetime to stay on the straight and narrow path of their spiritual quest through meditation and application of the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib. When the conscious mind is attuned to the Shabad Guru the soul is elevated and both the mind and the body experience a tingling vibration as the nectar trickles down the ‘spine’ of the body, mind and soul. Gradually the flight takes off to a higher spiritual plane, wherein the soul experiences a stillness which we normally describe as anand (Bliss) – the prani relinquishes his/her will to the Supreme Will. Is there a special time and place to experience (to taste) this sublime essence of the Ambrosial Naam (amrit naam ras - ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁਨਾਮੁਰਸੁ)? Not really, since amrit velaa can also be state of mind in the case of more advanced spiritual seekers. It all depends on the spiritual level of the devotee. Guru Ram Das says that the Sublime Essence of the Lord is everywhere, in the forests, in the fields, but the unfortunate ones cannot taste it (ih har ras van tin sabhat hai bhaagheen nahee khaa-e – M 4: SGGS 41-13). Guru Ram Das in Jaiṯsari Mehalla 4 adds: Merai man ṯan amriṯ meeth lagaanaa (SGGS 698). His Ambrosial Amrit is so sweet to my mind and body. How can I get to taste this most sublime essence of the Ambrosial Naam? Asks Guru Ram Das - ras amrit naam ras at bhalaa kit bidh milai ras khaa-ay. (SGGS 41-9). Guru Ji answers his own question: ”Go and ask the happy soul-brides as to how they come to meet God (SGGS 41-9). But they are care-free and do not speak; I wash and massage their feet.” Guru Ji carries on and utters “I must follow in the footsteps of the Gurmukhs who enjoy His Love. I implore them: O my Siblings of Destiny, I have this intense yearning to meet the Lord; please unite me with Him” (SGGS 41-2). In His Kindness, He blesses me with the Ambrosial Nectar which trickles down my soul’s spine. The body and mind begin to blossom forth and flourish. The Lord comes to dwell within the mind (SGGS 41-16). I am a sacrifice to the Perfect Guru, who has shown me the Lord and in deep humility I lay my head on the feet of the Perfect True Guru: SGGS 41-3/4). Although there is no set place or time for Amrit Velaa as discussed, by tradition, the recommended time are the early hours of the dawn. These are considered, again by tradition and past experience of devotees, ideal for most people, especially for the beginners. Getting up early (most devout people do so at about 3-4 am) is considered a great way of paying one’s tribute to the Lord (kar isnaan simar parabh apnaa man tan bha-ay arogaa- After your cleansing bath praise the Lord, and your body and mind will become free of (physical, mental and spiritual) ailments – SGGS 611). However, with changing lifestyles and values many question the validity of this tradition and the interpretation of the term ‘Amrit Velaa’. The first parman that come to mind are: Amriṯ velaa sach naa▫o vadi-aa-ee veechaa (Japji Sahib Pauri 4). In the Amrit Velaa (ambrosial hours) chant the True Name, and contemplate His Glorious Greatness (japji sahib). The meaning of Amrit Velaa in its wider context may be taken as that special time when the elixir flows, as described above (or even the great privilege of attaining the human form). Many would argue that this could be any time of the day depending on the individual, but such a privilege is only accorded to those who are highly elevated on the spiritual ladder. Most writers and speakers take the traditional interpretation and use the term as synonymous with early morning, as dawn is considered to be free from worldly activities, noise and pressures. Such a time is seen as conducive for uninterrupted simran, enabling the devotee to experiences flights of ecstasy as he or she bathes in the elixir of ambrosial Naam. The hectic environment and commitments of the day would render this impossible for the vast majority of us unless the individual has an unusual time frame of operation (i.e. a night worker) or is vastly advanced on the spiritual ladder. For those who are on the initial stages of spiritual quest and keep regular hours, should have no problems with Guru Ji’s recommendation: Gur saṯgur kaa jo sikh akhaaey so bhalke uth har naam dhe-aavai. One who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru should rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the His Name (SGGS 305). The Sikh Gurus recognised the need of pratkal meditation despite their awesome spiritual prowess and led by example. Guru Amar Das Ji used to rise early in the morning to bring water from the Beas River for Guru Angad Dev Ji's bath. The biggest advantage of rising early is that at this time there are the least distractions, and whilst there may be some evil/wicked atmaa-vaas (e.g. thieves, murderers) about, they are outweighed by the pious atmaa-vaas (souls). The pure outbalance the evil. However, as the morning develops, the world comes into its full swing and all the atmaa-vaas (including ourselves) are sucked into the vicious circle of worldly maya. It now gets a little more difficult to concentrate on Naam for the less disciplined, although it is no issue for the more attuned Gursikh who can meditate on Lord’s Name anytime. Rising early and conversing with the Guru and the Lord offers a great psychological advantage – the uplifting feeling of being ahead of schedule and others helps. However, this feat has always been more difficult to achieve but has become increasingly difficult in recent times due to TV, late social events, internet, mobile phones and other man-made distractions. Man is becoming increasingly entrapped in his own ingenuity. It is therefore, important, in my humble opinion, that we focus on our life styles and what we really require from life. Look at our demands and see whether they are commensurate with our spiritual needs, i.e. the pros and cons of the ‘rat race’. Whilst amrit velaa as viewed by most, is considered an ideal time for prayers, it is also for many, ironically the most difficult time to get up. Therefore, to rise early it is essential to go to bed early and whether we sleep well or not will again depend on our life styles, e.g. the company we keep, our work, our priorities, what we listen to, what we watch and what and when we eat etc. All these factors have a great impact on our mindsets and subsequently our routine. On a personal basis, observing amrit velaa is a great spiritual booster but it has not always been possible, I must admit. Here, the author is not preaching (one who does not practice what he preaches shall remain in the cycle of birth and death - SGGS 269) but only sharing his thoughts with fellow seekers.The wiser and advanced practitioners recommend that we adjust our daily routine and set aside special sessions of meditation – e.g. cutting down on TV, internet, visiting friends and relatives and idle gossip, to name a few. For a suitable schedule we must first nurture contentment within ourselves, because without it there can be no effective schedule. Generally, it is recommended meals should be taken early, at about 7 pm, and the latest bed time, about 10 pm. A good six hours sleep, for most individuals, ought to be sufficient for a sound body and mind. Where living in a large family, it is important that he (she) does not disturb other members of the family. Imposing our will on others cannot be right, in my opinion.I recall seeing on TV a yogi narrating that a Sikh lady approached him once and complained of her husband waking up at 3 am, doing his Nitnem loudly and in the process disturbing everyone else. Amrit velaa observance is a personal thing but consideration for others is also part and parcel of observing one’s faith. The term ‘amrit velaa’, at least in general terms, can be a debatable issue with some individuals. We use this term so often in conversation and its ‘early morning’ meaning is widely accepted and has never been questioned in my long experience (and I have kept good company), written or spoken. The current cohort of young scholars (bless them) are increasingly asking questions. There is no harm in that; having an inquisitive mind is a good thing, but that does not mean we reject things just on the basis of these being ‘old’ or traditional. Some of our traditions are good for discipline and ought to be retained. For the more enlightened, the term has little importance as they can elevate their conscious to higher levels at will, i.e. they can unlock the fountain of nectar anytime. There is little doubt about what we mean by the term ‘amrit velaa’, in terms of discipline when the term is usedon stages and in general conversation andunnecessary controversy ought to be avoided. A study of holy men and women (bhaktas) will reveal that they all got up very early and paid their tribute to the Lord whilst most of the world was asleep – that is what, I think, most of us understand by the term amrit velaa. This of course does not mean that one cannot do the same at any other time of the day (as acknowledged above). Provided there is sincerity and good intention in our invocations, it does not matter what term we use. In practice one must meditate and remember the Lord at all times: oothat baithat sovat jaagat har dhiaaeeai sagal avradaa jeeo (SGGS 11). Guru Arjan Dev Ji blesses us by saying that a Gursikh should meditate on the Lord at all times, the same message that Guru Nanak gave when he said – “O Lord, bless my soul, lest these worldly distractions lead me astray and I forget Thy Name” (SGGS 14). Spiritually advanced seekers have no problem in attuning to Lord’s Name at will. One should make an effort to observe amrit vela but where one’s work pattern dictates otherwise, different times can also be quite effective. Where there is a will there is a way. Author's notes: 1 This is the first draft of a topic the author has been pondering over for a while. Differences of opinion in interpretation are inevitable and the author’s thoughts/opinions must not be interpreted as cast in stone. the article may, therefore, undergo changes for quality and accuracy. 2 For simplicity, throughout this article, I have referred to the masculine gender but, wherever appropriate, this should be read as including the female gender. 3 The author most humbly regrets any inaccuracy or errors in quoting or interpreting Gurbani and prays Sat Guru grants him the boon of greater insight into understanding the Guru’s word.