DAKHNI ONKAR, or simply ONKAR, is a composition of 54 stanzas by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, in the measure Raag Ramkali in Guru Granth Sahib. The full title of the bani is Ramkali Mahala 1 Dakhni Onkar. The composition appears on angs 929 to 938. The title is explained differently by different scholars. The word "Dakhan" means "south" and "Onkar" is a reference to "The Creator". 

According to one tradition, dakhani is the adjective for the noun Oankaru which is the actual name of the bani. It is called dakhani because it was addressed to the priest of the Oankar temple in the dakhan (South), on an island in the Narmada River, in Madhya Pradesh. According to another tradition, the designation of the bani is Oankaru and the term dakhani goes with Ramkali, as Dakhani is a form of the Ramkali raga. Many other instances of the titles written on similar lines are quoted in support of this view, as, for instance, Gauri Mahala 1 Dakhani and Vadahans Mahala 1 Dakhani. In these banis, dakhani stands for the raga, more the measure of music.

Oankar is composed in the form of an acrostic, each stanza beginning with one of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. However, some of the sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet do not exist in the Gurmukhi language used by Guru Nanak. In such cases, prevalent equivalent sounds are used to represent the letters of the old script. For example, 'j' is used for 'y' and 'b' for 'v'.

The Opening Theme

Oankar opens with verses in praise of God who is remembered as the Creator of all that exists; of time with all its different cycles; and of the entire universe. Then follows the verse of rahau (pause) indicating the central theme of the bani : 0 Pandit, why are you involved in the writing of such idle hieroglyphics - write the name of God alone.

The Main Message

After this begins the acrostic form. The emphasis is on ethical and spiritual teaching. Men whose deeds fall short of their professions have been called moving corpses, i.e. corpses which only breathe. They are dead, spiritually. But even those so degraded have a chance of saving themselves if only they would make a total surrender to the "will of God" - Hukam. If such a person devotes himself to Naam, his mind would be cleansed of worldly temptations and cravings.

The grace of the Guru will be a decisive factor in this process of spiritual regeneration. Temptation is the cause of suffering and sinfulness. Only those guided by the Guru's wisdom overcome it. No rituals can be of any help, nor any intellectual or scholarly accomplishment. Renunciation of the world and ascetic practices are of little avail. The real Pandit or wise man is he who follows the path shown by the Guru and remains united with God while performing his worldly duty.

Punjabi, Hindi Prevalent

The language of the composition is a mixture of Hindavi and Punjabi. Words of Perso - Arabic origin are rarer here than in some of Guru Nanak's other poems. The grammatical patterns are closer to those of Arabhrarisa. The style is simple without any conscious attempt at poetic ornamentation. Yet certain artistic features are noteworthy. Striking specimens of the use of similie and metaphor as well as of alliteration are not infrequent.

The poem has contributed to Punjabi many crisp maxims and aphorisms. For instance:

  1. gun vichare gian soihe - who imbibes merit is the real knower, Giani (GG, 931)
  2. kamu krodhu kaia kau galai - lust and anger consume the body (GG, 932); and
  3. lekhu na mitai he sakhi jo likhia kartari - the destiny the Creator has written for you will not be erased, my friend (GG, 937).