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Sri Gur Panth Parkash

Kharak Singh

Rattan Singh Bhangoo’s magnum opus, Sri Gur Panth Prakash, occupies a unique position among the primary sources of Sikh history. His account of the Guru period concentrates on Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh, following the Janamsakhi tradition for the former and Bachittar Natak for the latter two Gurus. He makes only a passing reference to the other patshahis. However, his narration of the origin and rise of the Khalsa during the eighteenth century is original and fairly comprehensive. In fact, there is no other original and reliable source for this period. The accounts given by the Mughal rulers, were highly biased and derogatory, and showed the Sikhs as outlaws and criminals interested only in trouble making. Far from showing them as saint-soldiers fighting for freedom and human rights and defence of the weak and the downtrodden, they painted them as devils with no legitimate claim to power and authority. It was, therefore, decided by the research committee of the Institute of Sikh Studies to take up the work of translating into English, this great Punjabi epic which gives a true account of the happenings of the 18th century.

As explained by the author of this epic, the British who had already occupied a large part of the Indian sub-continent, wanted to know how the Sikhs, coming from poor and helpless subjects of a ruthless empire, had risen to power and authority, overthrowing the mighty Mughal rulers. It was necessary for them to understand this, for they had their eyes on the Punjab also. For this, they knew they would have to confront the Khalsa. The East India Company Governor General's Agent, General David Ochterlony, had gathered some information through the Mughal Emperor, Farrukh Siyar, and also commissioned one Maulvi Bute Shah of Batala, through his representative at Ludhiana, Captain David Murray, to write a history of the Sikhs. His report not only confirmed the earlier Mughal version, but was even more damaging. It was at this stage that Captain Murray came into contact with Rattan Singh Bhangoo, and sought his opinion on Bute Shah's account. As expected, it was highly biased and distorted, and made no mention of the sacrifices made by the Sikh Gurus and their countless Sikhs defending the defenceless people and the lofty moral and spiritual ideals preached by Guru Nanak and his successor Gurus. Bhangoo told him all this, and added that Maulvi Bute Shah was a Musalman, and was not expected to shower praise on the Sikhs.

Captain Murray then asked him the pointed question, "How did the Sikhs establish their rule, and who gave them sovereignty?" Bhangoo replied that it was Guru Nanak, the True Emperor (Sachcha Patshah) who had conferred sovereignty on the Khalsa. This epic is, in fact, an elaboration of this brief answer to Murray’s crucial question. It is the history of the struggle waged by the Khalsa to end the tyrannical foreign rule and to win freedom for their sacred motherland. It is an eye-witness account of the supreme sacrifices made by countless martyrs like Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Mehtab Singh, Sukha Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Baba Gurbakhsh Singh, etc., whom the Sikhs remember everyday in their congregational prayers. But for this great epic written by Bhangoo, this great heritage, which has inspired and continues to inspire the Sikhs, generation after generation, would have been lost.

Rattan Singh Bhangoo was in a unique position to record the episodes narrated in the epic, since he had firsthand information on these events through his father and grandfather, who were active participants in the high drama of Sikh history during the 18th century. On the maternal side also his grandfather, Sardar Shyam Singh was the Chief of the Karoresinghia Misl. Bhangoo was also related to the famous court poet of Guru Gobind Singh, Sainapat. With these connections, he was in touch with the current developments in high circles of the Panth, and had access to the oral history of his and the earlier times. He fully availed himself of this unique position, and has produced an epic which is testimony to the glory of the Panth as well as to his own greatness as a historian, an epic writer and a devoted Sikh.

The epic was discovered and first published by Bhai Vir Singh in 1914, and has since seen four editions. The SGPC published an edited version of this granth in 1984, with suitable comments and explanations, which has been adopted as basis for this translation. Access to this great epic has so far been limited to Punjabi-knowing readers only. The vast English-knowing audiences have, however, remained unaware of this great epic, and have thus been deprived of the inspiration it provides. To meet this keenly felt need, the Institute of Sikh Studies decided to produce an English translation. Prof Kulwant Singh, who was commissioned to do it, has done an excellent job, and its Volume I with eighty one episodes is ready. The second volume will follow soon, which will conclude the story of the origin of the Khalsa and its rise to power, as recorded by Rattan Singh Bhangoo.

Prof Kulwant Singh has added a detailed Introduction, which greatly enhances the value of this publication. He has described this work as an epic comparable to some of the best ones in the Eastern as well as Westerm classical literature. There is one difference, however, that Bhangoo’s epic is based on history, unlike some of the others which are largely mythological, or reflect the authors' imagination, unrelated to any historical facts.

Bhangoo wrote this epic in Punjabi verse. He was, however, well-versed in Persian and Sanskrit also. This is clear from the liberal use of vocabulary from these languages in the text. Apart from the accuracy and vividness of the account given by the author in various episodes, a remarkable feature is the astonishing brevity of his expression. Its translation without loss of original beauty, is no easy task. Prof Kulwant Singh, has, however, not only succeeded, but has come out with laurels. As a result of his efforts, we have a highly readable versified free English rendering of the epic.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Prof Darshan Singh of Canada (formerly Professor of Agronomy, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana), who sponsored this project with a handsome donation.

I am also deeply grateful to S Gurdev Singh, President, Institute of Sikh Studies, Dr Kirpal Singh, Dr Gurbakhsh Singh and Dr Birendra Kaur for the valuable help rendered by them in this task. Dr Kirpal Singh has also contributed a scholarly note which highlights the importance of Sri Gur Panth Parkash as a primary source of Sikh history. An episode from this epic translated into English, along with original text and its transliteration in Roman script is being reproduced for our readers in this issue of the Abstracts of Sikh Studies.

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