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Bhai Vir Singh (1872 - 1957)

Discussion in 'Sikh Personalities' started by Tejwant Singh, Dec 4, 2009.

  1. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Jun 30, 2004
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    Bhai Vir Singh (December 5, 1872 - June 10, 1957) is known as a ‘Maker of Punjabi Literature' and hence ‘The Sixth River of Punjab‘. He was a poet, novelist, editor, exegete, historian and a journalist. He was the leading figure in the Singh Sabha, the dynamic Sikh renaissance movement in early 20th century Punjab.
    The following is the talk given in 1960 by Dr. Balbir Singh (Bhai Vir Singh's younger brother) on the 3rd death anniversary of his brother. It is being reproduced here to commemorate his 137th birth anniversary celebrations, which are scheduled for December 5, 2009.
    [PLEASE NOTE: Bhai Sahib's birthday celebrations are scheduled for Saturday, December 5, 2009 at New Delhi, Dehradun and Mumbai. Details of each programme are listed hereunder, following the text of the lecture.]
    Today, we commemorate the death anniversary of one who never believed in death.
    He believed in life eternal, in the immortality of man and he conveyed this message of hope through prose, poetry, music, history, philosophy, drama, conversation and commentaries.
    He not only gave these contributions but also influenced many writers that have written in Punjabi. This fact has been noticed far and wide.
    The other day I read an article that appeared a while back in the Times Herald in Virginia, U.S.A. and lately has been reproduced in some local papers in India. The editor there, taking notice of Bhai Sahib and his works, remarks, "It can easily be understood how this man has influenced every writer, poet and scholar of his age. He has a delicate and flower-like touch, yet beneath the greatness is a consciousness of immortality that does not fail to communicate itself to the reader."
    Now about those writers that have influenced others, there is a remark by a critic named ‘Lander.' Talking about Shakespeare he said, "A rib of Shakespeare would have made one Milton, the same portion of Milton made all the poets born ever since."
    In as much as Punjabi literature is concerned, and the Punjabi poets and writers are concerned, these remarks can aptly fit Bhai Sahib.
    He was born somewhere about 1872 and lived for about 84 years. His literary career lasted a good 66 years. During that period, he wrote and edited something like twelve hundred tracts (booklets) of the Khalsa Press Society, fifty books and left a good deal of unpublished work to be published as posthumous volumes. Out of which I have personally published so far six volumes during these last five years.
    His books that made a mark were:
    Rana Surat Singh 1905
    Raja Lakhdata Singh 1910
    Lehran de Haar
    Baba Naudh Singh 1907-1921
    Neeti Shashtra 1916
    Matak Hulare
    Bijilian de Haar 1927
    Qualgi Dhar Chamatkar 1925
    Suraj Prakash 1926-1933
    Satwant Kaur 1928
    Guru Nanak Chamatkar
    Preet Veena 1957 (the year he passed away).
    [Also, Sundari, Bijay Singh, and a string of other poetry and essay anthologies]
    To understand Bhai Sahib, I give you a quotation from the Yajur Ved: ‘O god, give me wealth, give me cows, give me land, children, wives, property all these things.' But one rishi who was a great poet and saint, turned it into his own prayer - "O god, in me let there be music, poetry, fame, knowledge."
    The exact words are:
    swarsh chamey - give me music
    sloksh chamey - give me poetry
    shavarsh chamey - give me fame, glory so that people may appreciate my worth and honor me
    sharuthish chamey - give me knowledge
    Now, that was a great improvement on people asking, "Give me wealth, give me cows and give me children."
    But Bhai Sahib made a further departure in his own version of the prayer.
    He pleads: "O God, Give me swar, (music) and give me slok (poetry), but take away fame and take away knowledge!"
    That is the spirit of Bhai Sahib and that spirit pervades all his works.
    He wrote a beautiful poem on violets. The gist is, if I may put it in English: "I am like a violet who remains concealed in his foliage. I wish to remain concealed and die unlamented. Alas! It is my perfume that betrays my existence."
    The lines in Punjabi are very famous and they are now sung in every home. They begin this way:
    Meri chhipei rahey gulzar, Main neevaan ungiyaa
    Koyee lage na nazar tapaar, Main parbat lukiyaa
    Main liyaa arsho rang jo shonkh na vann da
    Haan, dhuro garibi mang, main aayaa jagat te.

    Then he goes on, the last lines being -
    Meri bhinni eh khusboye kiven te chhipdee
    Meri chhipei rehan di chaah te chhip tur jaan dee:
    Haan, puri hundi naah, main tarley le rehaan.
    He says: my art, my conversations are like a perfume. I cannot conceal it. I have concealed my color. I have concealed my structure. But this fragrance, this perfume is all pervasive. It travels far and wide and brings in recognition. This recognition interferes with my work of self-realization and self-expression. The idea that I want to remain concealed is not a matter of mood. It is not an expression of constraint. It is a shunning of society and fame.
    This was a constitutional part of Bhai Sahib's self.
    The Punjab University, though belatedly, recognized the merit of his work. They adopted a resolution to confer upon him the Doctor's degree. I think it was D.O.L. (Doctor of Literature). It was perhaps to be conferred in the first convocation when Trivedi and Patel and some others were invited for that purpose.
    Bhai Sahib would not go. He said, "I don't want it." Of course, he was very polite in saying so but he would not accept it. The result was that the University Syndicate passed a resolution to send the Registrar to his home with the degrees and honors and all that.
    Sardar Bhopal Singh, the Registrar of East Punjab University, came to our house with that diploma or whatever you call it and that big gown that you wear - the red one - it is still lying in our house as a piece of decoration.
    Sardar Bhopal Singh made a short speech and concluded his remarks by saying: "Please permit us to add that in honouring you, it is not so much an honour to your person as a recognition of the fact that in honouring men such as you, the Punjab University is honouring men and women of letters who deserve as much honour as statesmen, politicians and others of the world."
    That was his Doctor's degree. I was not there. This ceremony took place in Amritsar. I was at Dehra-Dun. Bhai Sahib immediately wrote to me a small poem of four lines beginning with -
    Dada piyoo san ved doctor
    Shafaa jinhaa de chumdee pair
    Our father was a medical man, Dr. Charan Singh. Our grandfather, ‘Dada ji', was a famous hakeem (traditional doctor) of olden times. Bhai Sahib wrote they have made me a doctor. But I am not a doctor. My father was a doctor; my grandfather was a hakeem. And they were so good that they had the art of healing. Wherever they would go, they would heal and cure: Paani garo vidiyaan sande man budh vasey jinhaa de kher, Assee anari rahe umar bhar ... However, I never learnt this medicine or practiced the art of healing. I remained anaari ... Na pandit na bane hakim, Doctor da je hudam chalaa aan lagaa ta lagsee gair - I feel so odd that at this age I have to carry this appendix of Doctor.
    His satire was - Doctor da je hudam chalaa aan lagaa ta lagsee gair ... This is to illustrate the man was cultivating only swar (music) and slok (poetry) while shunning shruv (fame) that was showered upon him. I say to you that he threw overboard these goods and the heavy load of learning.
    He was quite learned and was a great Persian and Sanskrit scholar. He knew grammar very well but he never thought that these things would help in the emancipation of his soul; or in giving that taste of freedom or bringing about the union of the individual soul with the cosmic soul to which he was aspiring.
    About knowledge - his remarks were, that, whatever our learning is, ultimately it is - Sir kachkaul banna hath leetha ... ‘kachkaul' is a beggar's bowl, the bhikshapatra, that I made my head the beggar's bowl.
    After giving up this side of knowledge and refusing to chase fame, he was cultivating only two things in his life: music and poetry.
    Music to him was not a mere piece of recitation on a musical instrument or a piece of melody sung by a person.
    No! Music to him was a living personality, which gains an independent existence, independent of the singer or the musical instrument. That was his personal experience about music.
    Once I was asked by the editor of the ‘Everyman's Library' to give a sample of Bhai Vir Singh's poetry in English. For his benefit, I translated this piece of poetry that was published in the Empire edition of poetry in London. The translation:
    There arose a melody
    From the throat tuned and fine
    A shake
    Of folded thrills near me
    It moved
    Like a cloud of grey
    On the point to shine
    Through its touch
    It made me shiver
    I quivered
    As one endowed with wine
    For a moment
    I swam in fragrant air
    Tossed to and fro
    To the edge of space and time
    Then left melting
    With the song in void
    Like a flake of snow
    On the ocean's chime
    These two things, poetry and music, become warp and woof of his life and wove a very good pattern on the whole. And that pattern is his dreamland - the land of his visions, which becomes real for him, in which he lives; which he portrays, which he interprets and to which he directs the attention of other people so that they may get their guidance from that.
    About dreams, an author has remarked that dream abides, it is the only thing that abides. And then, another famous poet writes: "Yet after break and still or stone are gone and flesh and blood are dust, the dream lives on."
    Now Bhai Sahib's poem:
    Supne vich tussi mile asannu, asaa dha galvakri payee
    Niraa nor tussi hath na aaye saadi kambdi rahee kalayee
    Dha Charna te sees nivayaa sadey mathe choh na payee
    Tussi ocche assi nivey sa sadee pesh na gaeeya kayee.
    Phir larh farney noo uth daurhe par larh O bijlee-lehraa,
    Ood-da janda par oh apni choh saanu gayaa layee;
    Mitti chamak payee eh moyee te tussi looyaa vich lishkey
    Bijlee koond gayee tharaandi, hun chakachundh hai chayee
    I met You in dreamland
    I rushed and embraced You.
    All brilliant,
    All bright,
    My hands
    Failed to grasp such light.
    I was left
    With my trembling, vain wrists.
    Passionate desire once failed,
    I try again
    Race to pay obeisance,
    My head bent
    At the feet of the Divine.
    But even a wisp
    Eludes my forehead.
    You stood so high
    I, so very low,
    My appeal,
    My attempts
    Go unfulfilled.
    Then I try again.
    I get up,
    Run to grasp
    One end of Your robe.
    But woe,
    Lightening rippled through it.
    It flew
    Fluttered past
    And rewarded me
    With the slightest, softest touch......
    [Translation from Punjabi by Sanmeet Kaur]
    This is one of his best pieces in which both music and poetry are woven together.
    I was saying earlier that he wove the reality of dreams with music. What I want to convey by this is that his idea was that it is the experience of dreams that give content to the living moments.
    It is different from a similar idea found in English literature. A well-known poet writes about giving appointments to others to meet him in dreams.
    There is a poem by that heading -
    "Meet me in dreamland,
    And make my dreams come true."
    The idea that dreams are true only in dreamland, though Man wants the dreams to be extended. But for Bhai Sahib, it is the experience of dreams that gives content to the living moments of life.
    After having experienced something in his dreams, he says: "Kamdi rahee kalayee" in relation to the spiritual experience of life. It arises out of that vision which he wove through the cultivation of his intense poetry and music.
    Today, we celebrate the death anniversary of Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh. As I said in the beginning, he never believed in death. He is still here although we can't see him. He wrote a poem before his death describing the same thing.
    Kithe ho?
    Kole ho
    Koonde nahin?
    Koonde ho par kanni sad sunendi nahin
    Kithe ho?
    Kole ho,
    Disde nahin?
    Disde ho par soorat nen vasendi nahin.
    Kithe ho?
    Kole ho,
    Milde nahin?
    Milde ho par tan noo deh lapetdi nahin.
    Kithe ho, mere shone sayee.
    Kole ho, mere pyaare saayee.
    Hao kole par taraf Milan di sambediyaa sambeldi nahin.
    Where are You?
    You are beside me
    Why can't I hear You then?
    I do hear you yet my ears are deaf to Your call.
    Where are You?
    You are beside me
    Why can't I see you then?
    I so see you but my eyes cannot grasp your form.
    Where are you?
    You are beside me
    Why can't I meet you then?
    We do meet yet I cannot wrap Your body around mine.
    Where are you, my Beautiful Beloved?
    You are beside me, my Loving Lord.
    Yes, You are, yet I pine for our reunion,
    As I contain my passion, it drowns me.
    [Translated from Punjabi by Sanmeet Kaur]

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  3. harbansj24

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    Feb 19, 2007
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    Another memorable incident from Bhai Sahib's life narrated by my mother a number of times is as follows:

    On 25th December 1954, a function was organised in Bombay to honour Bhai Sahib. A "Abhinandan Granth" (Book of honour) was prepared listing his life time achievements. This was done without the knowledge of Bhai Sahib since it was known that he being a person who shunned publicity would never give his consent. Now after the function was organised and invitations had gone out to many well known personalties of the time, including highest ranked funtionaries of the Govt., it was presented as a fait accompli to Bhai Vir Singh ji. He was taken aback, but being the type of person he was, he could also let the organisers down. Very reluctantly he agreed to attend.

    In the function where praise after praise was being heaped upon him, he quietly sat through it all. In the end he was asked to speak. (Bhai sahib had never spoken a word in public throught out his life). He got up, folded his hands, shut his eyes and with utmost humility uttered the following:

    "Hum rulte phirte, koi baat na phoochta,
    Gur Satgur sang keere hum thaape"

    And then immediately sat down!

    For a few moments there was a stunned silence, the audience not knowing what exactly had happenned. Then as realisation dawned there was thunderous and a continuos applause.
    (This is a part of shabad by Guru Ram Dass ji who acknowledges his gratitude to Guru Amar Dass ji for having spotted and picked him as non entity and put him in such an exalted position)

    It translates roughly as follows:

    I was nobody, with no identity, with no voice and was just like worm on the ground. It was only Sat Guruji who picked me up and blessed me and brought me up to this level!
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