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The Lion in Chains
Rabindranath Tagore

 AWAKE, ye dour and doughty Sikhs,
 Your Guru calls.
 Tie up your hair in twisted braids,
 On Indus banks lift up your heads,
 Your Guru calls.
 The Sikh awake now greets the dawn
 With steadfast gaze.
 “Hail Guruji” - a thousand throats
 The slogan raise.
 The awful clamour rends the sky:
Guruji, Hail !
The fetters fall and fear goes by,
A thousand swords clang furiously,
And Punjab echoes to the cry:
Guruji, Hail !

The Day of Reckoning is now,
Now is the Hour,
To purge the breast of shame and fear,
Old scores to scour.
Life and Death are but meanest slaves,
The soul is free,
The Day has dawned on Punjab ‘s shores,
Hail, Guruji !                   

Lo, Delhi’s Satrap in his bower
Stirred in his sleep:
Whose voices tear the midnight air,
Beneath the sky whose torches glare
On banks so steep?
The life-blood gushed from many a gashed
Devoted breast,
A hundred thousand souls fly past
Like birds to nest,
His mother’s brow the warrior decks
With the blood-red stain.
Sikh and Mogul grimly fight,
In death’s embrace each other tight
They clasp, the twain.
The bitten hawk now fights the snake,
With beak and nail,
The Sikh shouts back the fierce refrain,
Guruji, Hail !

In Gurudaspur’s fort at last
They bound in chains,
And led the captive lion through
The streets and lanes,
To Delhi ‘s gate they led proud Banda
Bound in chains.
The Mogul troops marched on and raised
The dust ahead,
Each soldier on his pike upbore
A gory head,
They raised the dust in Delhi ‘s streets
And marched ahead.
Seven hundred Sikhs lagged in the rear,
Their fetters rang,
The royal roads were thronged,
and windows
Open sprang,
They vied who should the foremost be
To give his life,
At dawn a hundred heads fell to
The butcher’s knife.
Seven hundred dead in seven days;
The murder done,
In Banda’s arms the Quazi gave
His only son.
“Your hand shall kill, nor wince to kill
The little one,”
They bound him fast, the little child,
His only son.
And Banda drew into his breast
The comely lad,
Just laid his right hand on his heart,
Just kissed awhile his turban red,
Then slowly drew his dagger’s blade,
Looked in his eyes and whispering said;
“Jai Guruji, Jai Guruji,
“Fear not, my lad !”
A heavenly light lit up the young
And buoyant face;
A fresh young voice rang through the hall:
“Jai Guruji, no fear at all,”
The boy kept fixed on Banda’s face
His steadfast gaze.
Now Banda threw his left arm round
The little head,
His right hand plunged into his breast
The dagger’s blade,
“Jai Guruji”, the boy sang out,
And fell down dead.**
An awful hush fell on the court,
A silence dead—
And Banda’s flesh they tore in shreds
With tongs burnt red,
Brave Banda died without a groan
A hero’s death,
All eyes were shut.  Fell on the court
The hush of death.
Rabindranath Tagore
                                                                      (Translated from the original Bengali by S C Dutt)
Our special thanks to Mr Tapan Das Gupta, the librarian at Central Library Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan, who was kind enough to locate from the library archive the translation of Bandi Bir named as The Lion in Chains. This was published in Hindustan Standard in Puja Annual in 1946. (Courtesy: “Kiran Dhaliwal” <kirand@sbcglobal.net>)

* Translator’s Note: “The Lion In Chains” is a translation of the well-known Bengali poem “Bandi-Bir” by Rabindranath Tagore.  It is based on the thrilling episode of the Sikh leader, Banda, who fought the Moghul troops and after a series of fights during the reigns of Bahadur Shah and Farrak Siyar was at length taken prisoner and put to death.  The subject of this poem, the heroism and martyrdom of Banda and his followers, determined to free their country from the domination of the tyrannical Moghul emperors, has a unique and powerful appeal such as only the pen and genius of a Rabindranath could evoke in an enslaved and downtrodden country.  It is impossible to render the subtle beauty of the original in any foreign language, but I have attempted in some small measure to reproduce in translation the sense as well as the spirit and music of the Bengali poem as faithfully as possible without sacrificing the English idiom for the sake of mere literalness. — S.K.D.

** Banda Singh was then given a short sword and ordered to kill his own son Ajai Singh. As he sat unperturbed, the executioner moved forward and plunged his sword into the little child cutting the body into two. Then pieces of flesh were cut from the body and thrown in Banda’s face. His liver was removed and thrust into Banda Singh’s mouth. The father sat through all this without any signs of emotion.
... The executioner then stepped forward and thrust the point of his dagger into Banda’s right eye, pulling out the eyeball. He then pulled out the other eyeball. Banda sat through all this as still as a rock. His face gave no twitch of pain.
The cruel devil then took his sword and slashed off Banda’s left foot, then both his arms. But Banda’s features were still calm as if he was at peace with his Creator. Finally they tore off his flesh with red-hot pincers, and there being nothing else left in their book of tortures, they cut his body up into a hundred pieces, and were satisfied. (Sikhism: Its Philosophy & History, Eds Daljeet Singh & Kharak Singh, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 2nd Edition, 2008, pp 451-452)
– Editor




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