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Sri Gur Panth Parkash (Rattan S Bhangoo)
(English Translation)

A Review by Gurdev Singh*

Translation by : Prof Kulwant Singh
Published by : Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh
Pages: 529+xliii; Price: : Rs 400/-
Volume : First; Edition : First

The volume in hand covers the floating historical developments taking place in North-West India particularly in the Punjab region during the declining years of Mughal rule in India and emergence of new Forces that ultimately eclipsed the dominant power of the day. It is a period account penned down by Rattan Singh Bhangoo who belonged to the line of a family that had remained prominently conspicuous by being an active player in decimating the authoritarian and cruel domination of the ruling class of the day and providing encouragement and inducement to the emerging forces of socio-political change. Written in poetic genre of the day, the account uses the current medium of expression and vocabulary with which close familiarity is to be established to grasp the full import of the expression and the sentiment behind the detail. Floating accounts of happenings have a high content of truth and reliability as they are transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. These accounts are like heavier materials that are not easily carried away by the swift current of the times as they pass through closer scrutiny.

The whole account is prompted by the curiosity of English officers of East India Company who wanted to be fully conversant with the political and cultural background of the region they had set their sights upon for incorporation in their domain in India. To have a comprehensive grasp of the situation, they tried different sources and Rattan Singh Bhangoo proved to be the most rewarding who provided the most elaborate and exhaustive canvas of the events and their analysis in respect of the rise of Sikh power. Earlier accounts in this respect were sketchy and biased.

The narrative opens with the perceptible appearance of the Sikhs on the politico-military scene of the times in the wake of the sale of this territory left by a Maratha employed disgruntled French General to the British. The British Commanding officer Sir David Ochteilony entered Delhi but soon the Sikh Forces attacked and laid a siege to Delhi. All this shocked and startled the British and prompted them to know the maximum about the Sikhs whom they perceived as potential rivals from different sources.

The treatise, sub-divided in episodes, gives a comprehensive detail about the Sikhs, their religion, the hierarchy of their guilds and Gurus and splinter Sikh sects like the Gangushaias. The subsequent episodes discuss in detail the prevailing social and political panorama of the times. The geneology and lineage of the Sikh Gurus bear clear relationship to the evolution of Sikhism, particularly the transformation of the faith from only reformative to the active politico-military organisation call of the times.

The rise of the Khalsa to checkmate the Mughal tyranny was a logical consequence to save the oppressed and the exploited. Upto Episode 26, detailed references have been made to Guru Gobind Singh’s movement in the Malwa region to which he moved after leaving Anandpur Sahib for reasons of strategy and establishing a strong defensive base there to face the increasing pressure of Mughal and allied powers.

The Volume acquires momentum with the description of movement of Guru Gobind Singh to the south and his encounter with Banda Singh Bahadur. This cut-off period provides a fast pace to the developments and, with intimate description of the events, pins down the reader’s attention. Banda Singh Bahadur’s exploits at the bidding of Guru Gobind Singh to unite and lead the Sikhs to their destined goal and to avenge the death of the Sahibzadas as also to fire the zeal of the Khalsa to do away with the suppression and cruelties of the ruling class, have been very brilliantly detailed by the descriptions of the numerous expeditions conducted. Many out-of-routine expositions like the killing of the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh contrary to the general belief of their being bricked alive sound like a revelation. There are situations where the reader gets slightly jolted where he is confronted with descriptions that do not fit into the normal conceptual regime of human nature like the necromantic powers of Banda Singh Bahadur. The mention of Bhai Nand Lal acting as a go-between Farrukh Siyar and the Guru Mother Mata Sundri has been disputed and proven untrue. The above-mentioned facts do shock the Sikh psyche as it directly dents their faith. On the other hand, the parting of ways between Banda Singh Bahadur and the Tat Khalsa has been elaborately described and fortifies the Sikh religious laws that the deviation from the righteous path brings divine retribution.

Episodes from 61 upto the end of the narrative describe the last days of Banda Singh Bahadur, Mughal attack on Banda Singh Bahadur’s Fort, the ensuing battle and capture of Banda Singh Bahadur and his death. Episode 70 describes in a dramatic way the death of Farrukh Siyar.

The volume is a monumental contribution towards having an intimate feel of the historical developments of the times, particularly the origin of the Khalsa Panth, its evolution, nurturing, trials and tribulations. It is packed with sound facts and corroboratory material that is authentic and relevant.

The translator and interpreter Prof Kulwant Singh has done a yeoman’s service by undertaking the task of translating this book into English. It involves not only an apt rendition but also demands a clear and deep understanding of the subtle nuances of the medium of expression, the tone and tenor of the idiom and the spirit of the text embodying the vision of its author. On these three counts, English translation is superb, at places more readable than the original. The translator’s marvellous adaption of the four-line stanza for translating each of Bhangoo’s two-line couplets in a free verse, equally compact, rhythmical and racy as the original throughout the volume is really unique. One is reminded of the chaste, telling and terse heroic couplets of the 18th century great classical English poet Alexander Pope. With the availability of this English translation along with the transliteration in Roman script, a long-felt need of a vast section of readership of Sikh history all over the world, who were otherwise handicapped in reading in original this great historico-poetical source of Sikh history, has been met.

The critical Introduction by the translator presents a comprehensive critique and an objective evaluation of this great epic of Sikh history. It not only pinpoints the excessive mythologization on this part of its author, of certain major characters such as Banda Singh Bahadur in contravention of the well-documented military exploits of this great Sikh warrior and a brilliant military strategist, but also explodes Bhangoo’s narrative account of certain events such as Mata Sundri’s alleged edicts to Banda Singh Bahadur, based solely on his oral sources. Some of the Punjabi editors and scholars in their otherwise well-edited versions of this epic have glossed over these contentious issues either intentionally or inadvertently. Moreover, it brings out Bhangoo’s poetic vision of a paradoxical relationship between one’s ideology and progeny which often work at cross purposes to the deteriment of each other and his vindication of Sikh Gurus’ propagation of their ideology even at the cost of their own as well as their progeny’s lives in the great tradition of earlier spiritual prophets. It also gives a proper generic classification to this epic by placing it at par with the greatest epics of the world in both the Western and Eastern Canons of classical literature. Elucidation of innumerable epic similes in the footnotes and references at the end of each episode brings out the full significance of the intended qualities of epic’s dramatis personae. Innumerable mistakes in chronological dates of major events in the original text have been pointed out and corresponding exact dates given in the references.

The additional merit of the treatise has been enhanced by the highly informative and scholarly additions made by Dr Kharak Singh and Dr Kirpal Singh in the Preface and the subsequent write-up, respectively, along with Prof Kulwant Singh’s exhaustive Introduction. These three pieces are a key to the proper and thorough understanding of the narrative. The reader will do well to go through these before reading the text in translation.

The work is, on the whole, free from common incidences of printer’s devil and has been brought out beautifully. The general getup, title and back page displaying the imposing portraits of Sikh heroes together with concise information on the blurbs, are appealing both to the eye and the perceptive mind. Priced moderately at Rs 400/- for a 529 pages volume, the book is indeed a scintillating achievement of the Institute of Sikh Studies.

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