Sikh thought is very proactive about societal and fraternal relations of a devotee. Spiritual development is seen linked to sat sangat – association of seekers of truth. This is not only commended for congregational worship. The society that a devotee keeps also determines how the person may develop spiritually. The slok at the conclusion of Japji says that jinni nam dhai-ayya gaye musakat ghaal, nanak te mukh ujlai keti chhutti naal’ – the endeavor of those who meditated on Divine name is approved. Not only are they liberated but also liberated are those who were associated with them.

The same strand of thought finds expression in a different way using the metaphor of kul several times in the Guru’s writings. The expression aap tarai saglai kul tarai – not only are they saved but they also save their entire family – appears in various verses twenty times or more. The Guru’s intent seems to be to convey the message unambiguously and they repeat it to be emphasized. One can read into this message the simplistic thought that liberation might come because those around you are virtuous and you will be carried across with the current. This would counter the persuasion for spiritual endeavor. We will try to explore the various facets of this hopeful message as it transpires from the Guru Granth Sahib.


There are two operative words in the subject verse – taarai and kul. The word taarai is derived from taarnaa which means to cause or help to swim; to carry one across the river of existence; to liberate from the cycle of birth and death; save or deliver from sin. The literal meaning of the word kul is lineage, line, dynasty, descent, ancestory, pedigree, family, house; caste, tribe, race.[1]

In Gurbani the life experience is seen akin to crossing a dangerous ocean to connect with the Divine and the word taarna and its various derivative forms have been used invariably to convey the metaphor of liberating or helping to swim across bhavsagar or bhavjal – the ocean of existence or the chasm spanning the divide between the divine and the mundane. In this crossing Guru helps but the individual has to make the effort.

The opposite of taarnaa is dobnaa – causing to drown or continue in birth and death cycle. The use of term drowning is in that context and means those who fail to cross the ocean. For them there is no liberation. They continue in the process of reincarnation. We will encounter this word later in our discussion.

The word kul has been translated in Gurbani [2] to mean all generations[3], all ancestors[4] and all family[5] in three same/similar verses that I picked. All these verses carry the message that [such a person] saves himself and also his family. The translated meanings fit in with their context and seem appropriate. If we look further Bhagat Ravidas includes families of both parents obviating thinking of kul as going back along patriarical [or matriarical] lineage only.[6] Other verses include friends and companions as beneficiaries – witness ‘She saves herself, and saves her family and friends as well’[7] and ‘I myself am liberated, and my companions swim across; my family and ancestors are also saved’.[8] There is no suggestion that the benefit may extend to the racial, tribal or caste grouping but the circle of those saved may transcend such divides to include the entire creation swimming across with them in addition to family.[9]

The concept of kul thus seems to extend to family, family of parents, relations, ancestors, future generations, friends, companions and even the world around the person blessed by divine grace. This surely is a great testimonial for the virtuous but we want to explore as we go forward if the spin off for those around as above is unqualified or do they have to meet some expectations to be worthy of this reflected benefit.


Total surrender to God and acceptance of Divine will through seeking sanctuary of Akal Purkh is commended. In this state of submission the individual submerges his sense of self in the higher self through total surrender, love and devotion thus earning the promise of liberation for the individual as also all their ancestors.[10]

The Gurmukhs[11] live a prayerful, righteous life and are liberated. Such spiritually evolved persons are commended strongly by the Guru as exemplars and Gurmukh chanting Naam is redeeming for the individual as also all their families and ancestors.[12]

Those who serve the true Guru are recognized as the greatest people of the world. Serving the Guru translates into prayerful life serving God’s purposes. Keeping Naam clasped tightly to their hearts they cross over the terrifying world-ocean. They save themselves, and redeem their generations.[13] The important thing is to follow the Guru’s teachings, live by them and enshrine the Divine within one’s conscious.[14]

Those who chant are sanctified. Those who listen are blessed, and those who write save their ancestors. Those who join saadh sangat, company of the seekers, are imbued with God’s Love; they reflect and meditate on Him. God has showered His mercy upon them and blessed them to dwell on His praises. Contemplating God, their lives are reformed and they no longer have to wander in the cycles of birth and death.[15] Singing glories of and meditating on God the devotee crosses over the ocean of sin, and saves all his generations as well.[16]

This terrifying world ocean is also alluded to all that is transitory – maya. The mortal gets entangled in its numerous attractions and their pursuit. It is through the Shabad that a true hermit is able to overcome this attachment while still living a normal life and achieve liberation for self and his ancestors. Such persons wash away pollution within; they serve up truth and remain dead [to worldly attachment] while alive.[17]

Divine grace is important for this to happen. Blessed is the one who God unites with the true Guru. Blessed also is the one who receives grace of the saintly. They are freed from worldly attachment – all their generations are saved.[18]


Such exemplars that have a catalytic effect in spiritual transformation of others are indeed blessed and the Gurus have a lot of praise for them, their parents and the Guru who helps to put the devotee onto the virtuous path and guides along the way.

Blessed are the mothers who give birth to the virtuous who live by and put others on the path of righteousness. They save themselves, their families are saved, relatives liberated, ancestors redeemed and they even become saviors of the whole world.[19]

Those whose minds are pleased by the praises of Har, Har, are joyful in their own homes. As they sing God’s praises it is like they savor sweet delicacies. Such meek devotees save their families for twenty-one generations and they save the entire world![20]

If children are told stories[21] of their heritage they learn good ways. They accept what is pleasing to the true Guru and live accordingly. As said, in Simritees and Shaastras and the writings of Vyaas, Suk Dayv, Naarad[22] and others who preached to the world, those who God attaches are attached to truth and contemplate Naam forever. O Nanak, their coming into the world is approved; they redeem all their ancestors.[23]

Rare are those who contemplate word of the Guru [Shabad], and remain detached. They save themselves, and save all their associates and ancestors; fruitful is their birth and coming into this world.[24]

Guru shows the way. Without Guru there is no hope of any spiritual progress. Doubly blessed therefore are the father, the family and the mother, who gave birth to the Guru.[25]


The blessing of saving the future generations is intended to be lasting. The Gurus have in a couple of cases put a number on it – twenty-one generations. Though this number may in fact only be a metaphor for conveying the extended beneficence that one good life may bring to his/her succeeding generations nonetheless emphasis by the Gurus on the good that such lives may do is quite clear.

Bhagat Prahlad who was steadfast in his belief of one God was saved from being killed by divine intervention. The mythology has it that because of his resolute devotion his coming twenty-one generations were blessed with liberation. Guru says ‘following his Guru’s instructions child Prahlad[26] only chanted God’s name. His teachers Sandaa and Markaa[27] went to his father the king, and complained that Prahlad has gone astray and is leading other pupils astray. At this the king planned to scare Prahlad into submission. He with sword in hand, and in great pride ran up to his son and shouted, “Where is your God, who will save you?” Seeing this as a test of Prahlad’s, his mother advised her son not to abandon God’s name to save his life. Prahlad assured his mother that he would never give up his Guru’s teaching.  In an instant, God appeared in a dreadful form, shattered the pillar and tore Harnaakhash [the father/king] apart by His claws. Prahlad was saved.  God always helps the Saints in their righteous puesuits. He saved Prahlad and blessed twenty-one generations of Prahlad’s descendents with liberation.’[28]

At another place says Guru Ram Das ‘God’s humble servants are saviors of their families saving them for twenty-one generations and also save the entire world.’[29]


The blessing of being saved is not restricted to any specially privileged persons. Guru Arjan says ‘O True Guru, Your Word saves even the worthless. In your company the most argumentative, vicious and indecent people, have been purified and families of those who were destined to wander in reincarnation and consigned to hell have been redeemed. Those whom no one knew and no one respected have become known and respected at His Court.’[30]

The five-year-old orphan boy Dhroo[31] due to his devotional meditation of God received the blessing of a fixed and eternal position in the firmament as pole star. Faced with death Ajaamal[32] called out Narayan – his son’s name but also name for God. Hearing his call, God appeared and struck down the messenger of death thus saving Ajamal. Baalmeek the outcaste was saved, and the poor hunter was saved as well. The elephant [who otherwise is said to be motivated by lust] only momentarily remembered God and was carried across. God saved Prahlad and tore Harnakash with his nails. Bidar, the son of a slave-girl, was purified, and all his generations were redeemed. My Master has saved countless beings.[33]

Vibrating and meditating on Har, who has not been carried across? In company of the holy, sadh sangat, those born as birds, fish, deer, bulls et al are saved. Pain of those who meditate and vibrate on God in saadh sangat is taken away and families of gods, demons, titans, celestial singers and human beings are carried across the ocean.[34]

The Lord’s servant, although of lowly birth, is exalted. Associating with him, one obtains the fruits of his mind’s desires.[35]

The litany of those saved thus is broad – seems none is excluded; low, high; young, old; celestial beings, men, animals – as long as they experienced spiritual transformation and were purified through personal endeavor or inspired by closeness to the virtuous. The dividend distribution however seems to have some riders. Let us see some conditions that may lead to drowning self and others rather than saving or helping them swim across the life ocean.


Those who turn their backs on God their families are stained with disgrace.[36] Those who forget Naam their family is sterile, barren, dishonored and mother made a widow. They drown themselves, and their entire family; speaking lies, they eat poison[37]– lies being the opposite of true, eternal, abiding reality. In other words those who deny the existence of, disown or forget God bring such curse and dishonor to their families.

Those engrossed in duality and who forget Guru’s Shabad are always beset with hunger and thirst [of desire]. They wander around burning [never at peace]. Those who befriend the wicked and harbor animosity to the saintly shall drown with their families. Their entire lineage shall be obliterated.[38]

Slandering others, they drown themselves, and drown all their generations as well.[39]

If a servant runs away when his master is in trouble, he brings shame to all his family and he will not have a long life. I shall not abandon Your devotional worship even if people make fun of me [for being steadfast in your worship]. Your lotus feet abide within my heart.[40]

The whole world is engrossed in corruption. This corruption has drowned entire families. O man, why have you wrecked your boat and sunk it? You have broken with the Lord, and joined hands with the corrupt. Angels and human beings alike are burning in the raging fire. The immaculate and pure water brought forth by constant contemplation and awareness is near at hand, but the beast does not drink it.[41]

That family, whose son has no spiritual wisdom or contemplation, why didn’t his mother just become a widow? That man who has not practiced devotional worship, why didn’t such a sinful man die at birth? So many pregnancies end in miscarriage, why was this one spared who lives his life in this world like a deformed and ugly person? Says Kabeer, without Naam beautiful and handsome people are nothing but images of ugliness.[42]

Kabeer that family in which the Lord’s slave is born is good; a family that does not bring forth Lord’s slave is as useless as weeds.[43]

Responsibility to family extends beyond being prayerful – one must also look and carry the self with dignity. Those look hideous, with their uncut hair matted and disheveled bring dishonor to their family and ancestry.[44]


In sum then there is great benefit to be gained by joining the sangat. Surely there could be some who are more virtuous than several others and their association can be a catalyst for motivating those still wavering. But ritual joining of sangat has no meaning. It does not help – for the benefit of association can only flow if one is willing and ready to accept the Guru’s teachings and live by them. That not happening the hope for being saved by mere being part of sangat is not likely to help. The examples of those who failed are eloquent in bringing that message home.

Let us therefore focus on our personal conduct even as we are part of the sangat. Our living should accord with Guru’s teachings; not just in ritual prayer but devotion, thought and action. If that happens we will be able to connect with the Guru and association with the sangat will help. This is not unique for us. This is the criterion that the Gurus used in their lifetime too. The divine grace was bestowed on the deserving, or the serving, and not those who may have made a forceful claim. Satta and Balwand describe the choice of Lehna as successor by Guru Nanak in these words: ‘Nanak proclaimed Lehna as his successor because he earned it — Nanak’s sons turned their backs on him as Guru and did not pay heed to his Word. Untrue of heart they became rebellious and earned loads of sin. Lehna obeyed and lived by whatever the Guru said. The Guru therefore installed him on the exalted position.’[45]

[1] Lieral meanings from Punjabi-English Dictionary, Patiala, 1999

[2] For the purpose of this discussion I am going by the on line translated text on the more popular sites like Sikhi to the Max and Gateway to Sikhism.

[3] aap tharai sagalae kul thaarai – Dhanasri M I, p. 662

[4] aap tharehi sagalae kul thaarae – Majh M III, p. 117

[5] aap tharai sagalae kul oudhhaaraa – Gauri Guareri M III, p. 160

[6] hoe puneeth bhagavanth bhajan thae aap thaar thaarae kul dhoe – Bilaval Ravidas, p. 858

[7] aap tharai sangath kul thaarai – Asa M I, p. 353

[8] aap mukath sangee tharae kul kuttanb oudhhaarae – Bilaval M V, p. 814

[9] oue aap tharae srisatt sabh thaaree sabh kul bhee paar paeiaa – Malar M IV, p. 1264

[10] aap tharehi sagalae kul thaarehi jo thaeree saranaaee – Bhairon M III, p. 1155

[11] Gurmukhs are Guru oriented persons. Though usually the term has been used to convey the sense of those who have belief in Sikh Gurus’ thought, it is not necessarily restricted to that e.g. Prahlaad meditated on God as Gurmukh and was saved. Janak as Gurmukh lovingly centered his consciousness on Naam. Vashisht spread divine teachings as Gurmukh. No one has found Naam, my brethren without the Guru for devotion is a blessing bestowed on a Gurmukh – guramukh prehilaadh jap har gath paaee  guramukh janak har naam liv laaee  guramukh basisatt har oupadhaes sunaaee  bin gur har naam n kinai paaeiaa maerae bhaaee  guramukh har bhagath har aap lehaaee – Wadhans M III, p. 591. In Japji also Guru Nanak says – gurmukh nadang gurmukh vedang, gurmukh rehya sammaee – —————————————————–

[12] aap tharai kul sagalae thaarae guramukh janam savaaraniaa – Majh M III, p. 125; guramukh hovai raam naam vakhaanai aap tharai kul thaarae – Gauri M III, p. 246

[13] satgur saeveh se mehapurkh sansarae aap udharae kul sagal nisatarae har kaa naam rakhehi our dhaarae  naam rathae bhoujal utarehi paarae – Gauri Guareri M III, p. 161

[14] gurmatee jagajeevan man vasai sabh kul udhaaranehaar – Maru M I, p. 1009

[15] kehatae pavitr sunatae sabh dhann likhatya kul taria jeo  jin ko saadhoo sa(n)g naam har ra(n)g thinee breham beechaariaa jeeo  breham beechaariaa janam savaariaa pooran kirapaa prabh karee  kar gehi leenae har jaso dheenae jon naa dhhaavai neh maree – Sri Rag M V, p. 81

[16] prabh gun gaae bikhai ban thariaa kuleh samooh oudhhaariou – Devghandhari M V, p. 534; simar suaamee antharajaamee kul samoohaa sabh tharae – Ramkali M V, p. 928

[17] maaeiaa mohu bhavajal hai avadhhoo sabadh tharai kul thaaree – Ramkali M I, p. 908; vichahu mal kattae aapanee kulaa kaa karae oudhhaar – Maru M III, p. 1087; sangath kul thaarae saach pareesehi – Maru M I, p. 1025; jeevath marai sabh kul oudhharai – Basant M III, p. 1170

[18] jis maelehi sathigur aap this kae sabh kul tharaa – Maru M V, p. 1096; santh prasaadh tharae kul logaa naanak lipath n maaeiou – Kanra M V, p. 1299

[19] kul udharae apanaa dhann janaedee maaeiaa – Majh M II, p. 138; aap thariaa kul jagath tharaaeiaa dhhann janaedhee maaeiaa – Gujri ki Var, M III, p. 513

[20] mandar ghar aanand har har jas man bhaavai sabh ras meethae mukh lagehi jaa har gun gaavai  har jan parvaar sadhhaar hai eikeeh kulee sabh jagat chhaddaavai – Gauree Bairaagan M IV, p. 165

[21] story telling tradition has the purpose of sharing religious wisdom, challenging the listener and talking of followers and teachers of the faith. Unlike reading sacred texts, kirtan, offerings et al that glorify, praise and thank God such discourses fall in the genre of preaching rather than worship. This mode – katha – is a tool for teaching history and beliefs to the devotees and is practiced in all faiths in slightly varying formats. As an addendum to worship [sing/pray one’s way to God] this mode may help think, consider and reflect one’s way to God..

[22] Vyas, Sukhdev and Narad were great sages. Sukhdev son of Vyas, a Brahmin, was a disciple of King Janak of Mithila who was respected for his eminent spiritual attainments. Narad is said to know everything that transpires in the three worlds [earth, space above and below] and a great preceptor. In mythology he is depicted conveying messages and creating discord between gods and men.

[23] baabaania kehaania put saput karaen j satigur bhaavai s mann lain saee karam karaen  jaae puchhau simrit saasat biaas suk naarad bachan sabh srisatt karaen  sachai laaeae sach lagae sadhaa sach samaalaen  naanak aaeae sae paravaan bheae j sagalae kul taaraen – Ramkali Slok M III, p. 951

[24] aisae jan viralae sansaarae gur sabadh veechaarehi rehehi niraarae aap tharehi sangath kul thaarehi thin safal janam jag aaeiaa – Maru M I, p. 1039

[25] dhan dhann pitaa dhhan dhhann kul dhhan dhhan s jananee jin guroo janiaa maae – Gauri M IV, p. 310

[26] Prahlad was son of Harnakash, a demon king, who wanted to be worshipped by his subjects. He however was a staunch devotee of Vishnu, also identified with the Supreme Being, and did not succumb to intense threats and pressure to give up his beliefs. Prahlad’s steadfastness to one God has been lauded in Guru Granth Sahib and story of his trials and tribulations has also been detailed in Bhairon M III, p. 1154. There also are numerous other references to him.

[27] Teachers assigned by Prahlad’s father to teach him but Prahlad refused to learn anything except Naam.

[28] maeree patteeaa likhahu har govi(n)dh gopaalaa  dhoojai bhaae faathhae jam jaalaa  sathigur karae maeree prathipaalaa  har sukhadhaathaa maerai naalaa  gur oupadhaes prehilaadh har oucharai  saasanaa thae baalak gam n karai  maathaa oupadhaesai prehilaadh piaarae  puthr raam naam shhoddahu jeeo laehu oubaarae  prehilaadh kehai sunahu maeree maae  raam naam n shhoddaa gur dheeaa bujhaae  sa(n)ddaa marakaa sabh jaae pukaarae  prehilaadh aap vigarriaa sabh chaattarrae vigaarrae  dhusatt sabhaa mehi ma(n)thra pakaaeiaa  prehalaadh kaa raakhaa hoe raghuraaeiaa  haathh kharrag kar dhhaaeiaa ath aha(n)kaar  har thaeraa kehaa thujh leae oubaar  khin mehi bhaiaan roop nikasiaa thha(n)mh oupaarr  haranaakhas nakhee bidhaariaa prehalaadh leeaa oubaar sa(n)th janaa kae har jeeo kaaraj savaarae  prehalaadh jan kae eikeeh kul oudhhaarae – Bhairon M III, p. 1133

[29] har jan paravaar sadhhaar hai eikeeh kulee sabh jagath shhaddaavai – Gauri Bairagan M IV, p. 166

[30] satgur bachan tumhaarae  nirgun nisataarae  mehaa bikhaadhee dhusatt apavaadhee thae puneeth sa(n)gaarae  janam bhava(n)thae narak parra(n)thae thinh kae kul oudhhaarae  koe n jaanai koe n maanai sae paragat har duaarae – Raag Aasaa M V, p. 406

[31] Dhru was the son of king Uttanpada off his wife Suniti. Suruchi the other wife of the king was the favored one and once reproved Dhruv as a child on insisting on sitting in the lap of his father. Disconsolate, Dhruv went to his mother who told him the real accomplishment would be to connect with the Divine. Dhru left home, perchance met Narada who instructed him on devotional worship. Dhru’s devotion is said to have been approved and he was given the status of Pole Star, called Dhru in Indian mythology.

[32] Ajamal born a Brahmin fell in love with and married a shudra woman. He lived an evil and dissipated life. Old, he was accosted by Yamdoot when scared he called out Narayan, his son – also a name God is known by. God intervened at his call and his life was spared. He instantly transformed, gave up all vices and was liberated.

[33] paanch barakh ko anaath dhroo baarik har simarat amar attaarae  putr haet naaraaein kehiou jamaka(n)kar maar bidhaarae  maerae t(h)aakur kaethae aganath oudhhaarae  mohi dheen alap math niragun pariou saran dhuaarae  baalameek supachaaro thariou badhhik tharae bichaarae  eaek nimakh man maahi araadhhiou gajapath paar outhaarae  keenee rakhiaa bhagath prehilaadhai haranaakhas nakhehi bidhaarae  bidhar dhaasee suth bhaeiou puneethaa sagalae kul oujaarae – Maru M V, p. 999

[34] har kai bhajan koun koun n thaarae  khag than meen than mrig than baraah than saadhhoo sa(n)g oudhhaarae  dhaev kul dhaith kul jakhy ki(n)nar nar saagar utarae paarae  jo jo bhajan karai saadhhoo sa(n)g thaa kae dhookh bidhaarae – Malar M V, p. 1269

[35] har kaa daas neech kul oochaa tis sang man baanshhat fal paaeiaa – Gujri M V, p. 497

[36] jo baemukh gobindh thae piaarae thin kul laagai gaal – Sorath M V, p. 641

[37] aap ddubae sagalae kul ddobae koorr bol bikh khaavaniaa – Majh M III, p. 124; jin aisaa naam visaariaa maeraa har har this kai kul laagee gaaree har this kai kul parasooth n kareeahu this bidhhavaa kar mehathaaree – Malar M IV, p. 1263

[38] gur kaa sabadh visaarya doojai bhaae rachan  tisanaa bhukh n utarai anadin jalat firan  dusattaa naal dosatee naal santaa vair karan aap dubae kuttanb sio sagalae kul doban  – Suhi M III, p. 755

[39] oue aap ddubae par nindhakaa sagalae kul ddobaen – Ramkali M III, p. 951.

[40] saahib sankattavai saevak bhajai chirankaal n jeevai dhooo kul lajai thaeree bhagath n shhoddo bhaavai log hasai charan kamal maerae heearae basain  – Basant Namdev, p. 1195

[41] bikhiaa biaapiaa sagal sansaar bikhiaa lai ddoobee paravaar rae nar naav chourr kath borree har sio thorr bikhiaa sang jorree sur nar dhaadhhae laagee aag nikatt neer pas peevas n jhaag chaethath chaethath nikasiou neer so jal niramal kathhath kabeer –

[42] jih kul pooth n giaan beechari bidhavaa kas n bhee mehatari jih nar raam bhagat nehi saadhee janamat kas n muou aparaadhhee much much garabh geae keen bachiaa buddabhuj roop jeevae jag majhiaa kahu kabeer jaisae sundhar saroop  naam binaa jaisae kubaj kuroop – Gauri Kabir, p. 328. Gauri Kabir

[43] kabeer soee kul bhalee jaa kul har ko dhaas jih kul dhaas n oopajai so kul dtaak palaas – Salok Kabir, 111, p. 1370

[44] eik jattaa bikatt bikaraal kul ghar khovehee – Malar M III, p. 1284.

[45] lehanae dhee faeraaeeai naanakaa dhohee khatteeai —- puthree koul n paaliou kar peerahu ka(n)nh muratteeai  dhil khottai aakee firanih ba(n)nih bhaar ouchaaeinih shhatteeai  jin aakhee soee karae jin keethee thinai thhatteeai – Ramkali, Var Satta Balwand, p. 966

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