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Gopaal: Using Mantra To Center the Self

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Photograph: Grayson Teg Gian // Barcelona, Spain // Light of the Beloved Tour

Watch Snatam perform live at the 2019 Grammys Awards Premier Ceremony, February 10 from 12:30p-3:30p at Grammys.com

Last year, I remember walking down the stairs in our house and the words “bandanaa har bandanaa” came to mind. As I recited these words, it brought me into my navel center, and I felt boundless strength to remain in my navel center come what may. The word “bandanaa” means “to be tied to.” Gloriously, we tie ourselves to God, that essence of light within each of us, and we celebrate this connection by chanting God’s Name, “har.”

It was in that moment that I decided to record these words that would soon become the second track of my new album Beloved, because I wanted others to have access to this same centering energy.

The question that we each have to ask ourselves is “Who is the boss? Who are you serving?”

Once there was a great musician named Tansen who performed in the court of the emperor of all of India, Akbar, who ruled in the 16th century. As a composer, musician, and vocalist, Tansen became known far and wide for his enchanting performances. He was, of course, paid very well by the emperor, who loved him very much.

The emperor was a spiritual man with an inquisitive mind. One day, he sat with Tansen and said, “Oh Tansen, you have such an incredible voice, and your compositions are truly beautiful. I wonder what your teacher’s voice is like?”

Tansen replied, “Oh sire, my teacher’s musical capacity and his voice are beyond description!”

The emperor replied excitedly, “Then you must invite your teacher to come to the royal court and perform! We will pay him very well!”

Tansen replied with his eyes down cast, “Sire, with all due respect, my teacher will not come to this court.”

The surprised emperor said, “Well then, we will go to him!”

Tansen looked up and shook his head, “Oh no sire, my teacher will not like that at all!”

But, after some thought, Tansen’s face brightened and he said, “I know of one way. You and I will have to go in secret early tomorrow morning to listen to him sing by the river.” The emperor nodded excitedly in agreement.

So, early before dawn, Tansen and the emperor set out to a clearing by the river, and as the sky was still dark, they hid behind some bushes and waited. As was his custom, Tansen’s teacher soon came to the clearing, bathed in the river, and then sat to sing as the sun rose. When the teacher started singing, the sound of his voice was so transporting that the emperor went into a deep meditative trance. His voice was soft yet powerful, enough to melt away any trouble or pain of the heart. After a few hours, the teacher finished, got up, and left. The emperor just sat there behind the bushes in a total state of ecstasy.

Tansen nudged him, and the emperor looked up in surprise. “Sire, can we go back to the palace now?”

“Of course, yes!”

That whole day, the emperor felt like he was floating through the air, the energy of the morning still carried him.

That night, the emperor took Tansen aside and said, “Tansen, you are an incredible musician. I have loved everything that you have done! But your teacher is so amazing! What is it that makes him so much better?!”

Tansen laughed and said, “Yes indeed! Well, I am your musician and play for your court. My teacher is God’s musician and plays only for God, who is the emperor of all emperors!”

When we choose to serve God, it is at once the best and most difficult decision to make. I invite you to ask yourself, what do you do in your life that brings you true authentic joy, peace, and well-being? You will most likely find that those things that bring you great joy come from the will of the heart, or God. In order to make choices to stay in the flow of the heart, we have to be fierce warriors, able to stay in our center. Sacred chant is a powerful tool, in that it fills our beings with the vibratory frequency that allows us to withstand stressful energies.

As I recall my spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan saying, “If you feel depressed, press back!” Our practice of sacred chant presses back. Through positive affirmations, it strengthens our sense of self-worth.

So, let’s get back to those powerful words, “bandanaa har bandanaa.” These words are from a sacred poem or Shabad by Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs, who lived shortly after Emperor Akbar’s reign. Here is the first line of that poem:

bandanaa har(i) bandanaa guṉ gaavah(u) gopaal raa-i. I am in service, and tied to God, tied to that One, and this union is achieved by singing of the qualities of God the Sustainer of the world, and King.

Through chanting these sacred words, we can find the way to tie ourselves to spirit, to love, to light, and to God. We allow this essence to become our master, and then we find the way to master this life, filled with courage, strength, and peace in our core. It is not only possible, but it is our destinies, in this time, to pave the way for humanity to find a new boss, for each one of us, called Spirit. Then, as you hear in our recording, we chant “gopaal,” the name of God the King. This moment of chanting “gopaal” is pure joy for me. I hope you enjoy it too.

Here is the entire Shabad, or sacred poem, by Guru Arjan for you:

bandanaa har(i) bandanaa guṉ gaavah(u) gopaal raa-i. I am in service, and tied to God, tied to that One, and this union is achieved by singing of the qualities of God the Sustainer of the world, and King.

vaḏai bhaag(i) bhayṯay guradayvaa] Coming into union with God is a great occasion.

koṯ(i) paraadh miṯay har(i) sayvaa ]1] In the service of God the residue of millions of sins is cleared.

charan kamal jaa kaa man(u) raapai. That one who imbues his heart, mind and soul with the essence of God’s Lotus feet,

sog agan(i) tis(u) jan na bi-aapai. That one is no longer attached to the fire of sorrow.

saagar tari-aa saadhu sangay One is carried across the ocean of life in the company of saintly people.

nirabha-u naam(u) japah(u) har(i) rangay. Singing the Name of God who is the essence of fearlessness, one is imbued with this essence.

par dhan dokh kichh(u) paap na phayṟay One who does not steal the wealth of others, and does not commit regretful acts,

jam jandaar na aavai nayṟay The Messenger of Death does not touch that one.

trisanaa agan(i) prabh aap(i) bujhaa-ee The fire of desire is replaced with deep understanding and awareness.

naanak udharay prabh saraṉaa-ee. Oh Naanak, one is liberated and forever in the sanctuary of God’s domain.


Note from Snatam:

I love to look at Beloved as a sound medicine tool kit, with each track having a specific healing effect. Please use this list as a quick reference to help navigate which track will be helpful for you at this time.

Amul – Priceless – To Feel the Priceless Love of the Divine

Gopaal – To Center the Self

Water of Your Love – To Tune in to the Sacredness of Water

Har Uplift – To Restore Equilibrium

Darashan Maago – Reestablishing Self-Esteem and Honor

Pooran Jot – Pure Light – To Access Your Authentic Light

Har Har Har Har Gobinday – The Power to Self Elevate to Your Highest Destiny

Sat Naaraa-iṉ – To Bring Inner Peace and Blessings

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