What is Japji? The Sacred Ritual, Explained

Japji is a universal prayer that brings wisdom, blessings, and peace to anyone who chants it. It’s the most effective incantation 🪄  I know of, but it involves less magic than you might think! This beautiful prayer is foundational to Kundalini yoga and originates in the spiritual tradition of Sikhism. Chanting japji brings us closer to who we are meant to be by tuning our being to the frequency of the universe. In this article, learn about the origin and meaning of this prayer, plus expert tips for handling the pronunciation (it’s not easy) and making the practice your own. 

japji

What Is Japji?

Japji is a Sikh prayer believed to carry the frequency of enlightenment in its very words.  The words were strung together in 40 parts (known as pauris) by Guru Nanak, the first spiritual teacher of Sikhism, in a way that moves energy through all the seven chakras you may be familiar with, the eighth chakra, and beyond.  

In this way, Japji is a ritual prayer that helps awaken practitioners to their dharma – your truth!  It helps us connect to the divine so we can see beyond our habitual patterns, deepen our spiritual practice, and progress our journey towards our highest purpose.  

Japji Sahib Meaning

Japji is also known as japji sahib in the Sikh tradition. The word itself means something along the lines of ‘song of the soul’ (I’m sure Walt Whitman would love it).  Ji translates to soul, and jap means to repeat or recite. Reciting japji is the practice of connecting directly to the soul, and singing its praises. It is a song of the soul that takes you on the journey to meet your dharma.

Japji connects you with your destiny, fortifying you with the wisdom, patience and confidence to meet it. When chanting this poem, many people experience breaking through their limitations and replacing them with power, grace, and self respect.  It opens you to trust in your intuition through rhythmic vocalization and pure concentration (it takes a heck of a lot of focus to recite it properly). These are some other amazing benefits built into the sacred meaning of japji:

  • Removes obstacles from your path, both external obstacles, accumulated karma, and self imposed challenges
  • Unites you with the divine and protects you from harm
  • Encourages understanding and realization, allowing you to truly live in bliss  
  • Aligns all 10 bodies: mental, physical, and subtle

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Origins of Japji Sahib 

In our Kundalini Demystified course, Guru Singh lights. UP. when he shares the story of japji’s origin. Legend says that Guru Nanak was lost in a river for three full days – many believed him to be dead. But when he re-emerged, he was reciting japji.  

Guru Nanak was passionate about the power of these words. It is said that he traveled on foot for miles and miles to share his words with people all over. For this reason, the recitation of japji can be thought of as the essence of Sikhism. Later, it evolved into a foundation of Kundalini yoga, which integrates Sikh wisdom with yogic practices.

painting of Guru Nanak spreading Sikh wisdom
A 19th century watercolor depiction of Guru Nanak meeting Nath Yoga Siddhas (Yogins) in the village of Achal Batala from the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

 Japji and the Aquarian Sadhana

 Japji is foundational to the Aquarian Sadhana, Yogi Bhajan’s offering to contemporary Kundalini practitioners. The 2-3 hour morning practice opens with this beautiful chant. As we shift through the astrological ages, we move through the energies of the astrological signs, experiencing the essence of each sign’s energy. The energy of the Aquarian Age invites – even demands! – us to open, evolve, and awaken so we can create a better world for ourselves and collective society.  

Aquarian energy encourages authenticity and growth. In the Aquarian Sadhana, reciting Japji is an important part of self-discovery. It enables us to clear out the old and awaken to a new dawn.  

But I Can’t Pronounce Any Of It!!!

The most experienced Kundalini yogis will admit that Japji is a tongue twister – and that’s the beauty of it! We move through our lives very habitually. In the midst of all the habits, Japji gives us a chance to do something differently, to undo patterns, and to devote our focus completely to the sacred poetry. Just as practicing yoga postures helps increase our physical mobility and ease, Japji helps our brain break old patterns. Guru Singh likes to say it improves the flexibility of the nervous system 😊 Who doesn’t need that?

As many yogis know, sounds are powerful on their own. Even if you feel like you aren’t pronouncing any of it “properly”- keep at it. Chanting it in Gurmukhi is likely a brand new physiological experience for you! It’s not uncommon to feel a sore throat after reciting japji in its entirety. This is a sign that you’re changing vocal patterns and using new muscles. This prepares you to change your vocal patterning and typically soothes the nervous system, just like meditation, because it demands your complete attention.

Can You Chant Japji Sahib in English?

Japji was originally written in Gurmukhi, which is a modern branch of Sanskrit blended with Punjabi. Like Sanskrit, Gurmukhi not only sounds utterly gorgeous, but was designed to produce powerful physiological effects as you pronounce the words.

Stimulation happens when the tongue accentuates different parts of the words. Practice japji in Gurmukhi first, if you’ve never tried it before, simply for that experience. You can always practice japji in English (or your native language, if it’s not English) for a more meaningful experience. Japji has been translated into TONS of languages. Browse through to find the language you’re most comfortable singing in.

japji amrit vela, dawn

Practicing Japji 

Traditionally, the entirety of Japji Sahib is practiced at the Amrit Vela, or to be more specific – four in the morning! You don’t have to be a morning person to get something out of the practice, though. Life happens, and Kundalini is meant to fit into life. We know the more consistent our practice is, the better!! Here are some tips for practicing japji that fit into any schedule:

  • Full Japji Sahib: Consider how you learn and experience things best and trust your intuition. Visual learners benefit from a printed copy of the prayer. Auditory learners might enjoy listening to a recording. Some practitioners enjoy both at the same time. After practicing with support for a while, eventually you’ll be able to recite it by heart.
  • Practice It Over 40 Days:  The fact that there are 40 pauris in Japji and 40 days in a 40 day kriya practice is not a coincidence! Practictioners, beginners especially, often find value in experiencing one pauri at a time and taking the day to savor it. By the end of your 40 days, you will have formed an intimate relationship with all of Japji and its meaning. 
  • Alternate Languages:  Again, you’re welcome to chant japji in your native language. Just don’t discredit the power of Gurmukhi. Practitioners typically find that a combination of both works best for the full experience, physiological and meaningful. Gurmukhi then your native language, or vice versa, the order you choose is up to you. Offer yourself grace and patience as you go.  
  • Focus: Try to stay out of your head and in your heart. It’s natural to intellectualize the pronunciation and the translation. Instead, focus on your heart or naval center as you feel the meaning of the words and the way the Gurmukhi FEELS in your body as you make the sounds.  

In the long run, it matters less how you’re practicing japji, and more that you are ritually doing it! Let your intuition and heart help you decide how to practice.  Settle into a comfortable meditation seat and add support if you’d like. At first you may want to just take the words in, but encourage yourself to embrace the power of your voice and recite aloud. Think of it like memorizing a song that you sing along to on the radio and find your own meaning in the lyrics. Aaaand… enjoy! After a few tries, you may find yourself getting completely immersed in the chant, only to emerge, like Guru Nanak did, enlightened. 

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