Professor Puran Singh was a versatile genius. He was a poet of ethereal virtues tempered with the essence of the soil. He wrote rhythmical prose in Punjabi, Hindi and English, in which he poured out his soul in remarkable simplicity. He translated the excerpts from the Guru Granth Sahib with rare delight and devotion. Above all, he was a profound man of God and one of the greatest sons of Punjab who wanted to establish the Divine Kingdom on earth through the love of man.
The Punjabi University has reproduced a number of books by this laureate of the Punjab. Quite a number of manuscripts have been edited and published. The University is also bringing out Puran Singh Studies Journal which generally includes his rare or unpublished writings.
It is in this series that the University feels honoured in reproducing The Book of the Ten Masters which contains in lyrical prose the biographical account of the ten Sikh Gurus; suffixed by select translations from Gurbani and the Dasam Granth. He is tracing, as it were, the unity of the Sikh essence through the lives of the ten masters leading to the consequent evolution of the Khalsa, the religion of love and of humanity. The book is as simple as it is mystical.
The University has planned to bring out the complete works of Professor Puran Singh, which I believe shall be a perpetual source of inspiration for generations of writers to come.
The Book of the Ten Masters is the record of the teachers of the Sikhs, who have handed on the mystic doctrine first taught by Guru Nanak in the sixteenth century. Nanak is “the unknown man who roams disguised on earth,” who enters into the vacant house, the heart of his disciples; through whom the mystery of the divine in men is revealed. A poem of Puran Singh in an earlier volume says, Nanak “is still with us, a Song, a Book,…his voice still sings in our ears, his figure flits before us, his eyes meet ours, his feet we touch.” He is part of the Changing Permanence of Things Eternal, which is one of the secret doctrines of the sacred Book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth.
Nanak, the first Master, not only lives in his disciples. His spiritual self, his very presence, passed into the mind and body of the nine Masters who were his successors. “Him have I seen not once, but for ten generations.” After him, Angad received the sacred message and became the apostle of his inspired faith in God. To Angad, succeeded Amar Das. “I saw Amar concealing the All-Father in a majestic form of man, the silver knot of hair on high, the white beard flowing down like a river of light, a tall ancient stern man of love and labour; for behold, Nanak is now become Amar Das.” So the succession goes on and in the following pages the Western reader will be able to find the opening into that region of ecstasy which was sealed of Nanak and entered by his true disciples.
But while the line of the Gurus, of Saints and Masters of the Sikh religion, was maintained, there was a break of the tradition after the fourth, Ram Das. Already in his time a change had begun to affect the people. He it was, who founded the Golden Temple at Amritsar, and planned the bathing tank from whose waters that city takes its name, which means the divine essence of the true Ambrosia. Under the next Master, fifth in the line, Arjun, the tank and the temple were completed. That meant a new stage in the growth of the Sikhs: They were becoming a propertied people, acquiring a collective religious and social sense. The Golden Temple of Amritsar was a symbol of their new consciousness. They worked to complete it with such desperate devotion and unsparing energy, that “when Arjun saw the stage of their bodies, he wept for pity.” Another sign. It was on Arjun’s initiative, that the bible of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth took form, and the orally preserved saying, songs and other remains of the four previous Masters or Gurus were written down. But Arjun’s fame, and the growing wealth of his people, excited the envy of the Emperor Jahangir. He was attacked too because of the heretical doctrines, detected by the orthodox, in the Granth Sahib. Arjun was not to be moved. He was of the seed of the martyrs, and his doom was inevitable. He was put to torture-fire and water and boiling cauldron-he bore all firmly. The last message he sent through the Sikhs to his son and successor, Har Gobind, was one that sounded ominously the change from peace to war: “let him sit armed on his throne, and raise as best he can an army at his right hand!” That was in the year 1806 A.D., and the religion of the Sikhs went though a gradual metamorphosis in succeeding years, and their quietist faith became more and more militant.
So Har Gobind, in the Song of the Masters, appears in warrior guise. As his father had presaged, he and his fellow-Sikhs were to learn the truth of the fatal proverb-“Wealth must wear a sword!” Under Har Gobind and his successors, the Sikhs still strengthened their commonalty. With Tegh Bahadur, ninth of the Gurus, were come of the advent of an over-whelming enemy, Aurangzeb who vowed he would covert all within his reach to Islamism. When Tegh Bahadur heard the cry of the Sikhs, imploring his aid against Aurangzeb, he sat so still, that his small son (who became that last of the Ten Gurus), grew uneasy and questioned him:
“Father, why art thou so silent?”
“My son,” he said, “thou art still a child, and cannot know how the very earth is grieved at the great oppression (by the Turks). Yet none is brave enough to give up his life, in order to free the earth from the burden of Islam.”
“Oh, Father thou art brave and thou art generous. Who is worthier than thou to free the Sikhs from the sons of Islam?”
Then Tegh Bahadur knew that this path was to be the same as Arjun’s, and he gave himself up to Aurangzeb, and suffered martyrdom and a cruel death for his people’s sake. His son, another Gobind-Gobind Singh became the most warlike of all the Sikh leaders and Gurus. In the Son of the Masters he as the tenth reincarnation of Nanak appears in the form of the Ancient Huntsman, before whose arrows flies the Stag of Death.
“He wears the starry crest. He carries the Hawk on his thumb, the bears aloft the flags of the Kingship of Heaven.”
“His pennon waves. His flags flutter on the walls of Heaven. The Angels cry aloud to him, “Hail, Lord and Master.”
“The Rider on the Blue Horse; the Wearer of the Blue Robe he leads the Sikhs, the armies of the Heroes, to defend the sacred cause and the purples of God on earth.”
The end of Gobind Singh was in keeping with his warrior’s aspect. His four sons, mere boys, were cruelly ordered to execution by Aurungzib; and died fearlessly. Their mother took her own life by suspending her breath when she found she could not save them or aid her husband. Again Gobind Singh, while still his wounds from the last battle he had fought were only half healed, took up mighty bow to try his strength, and his blood burst out afresh. Sic itur ad astra. With his last breath he left the beloved book, the Granth Sahib, to the disciples.
That is one account of his end. The story told in the later pages of this book is not so dramatic but it is more mysterious. When the predestined day came, Gobind Singh sent for the sacred offering-simply a coco nut and five piece-and laid them before the Holy Book, the Granth Sahib. “The Word is Master now,” he said “Let all bow before Saint Book, as my successor!” There upon attired in his symbolic blue soldier’s dress, he mounted his blue war horse, as Marko of the Serbs did his horse Sarac, rode away and vanished behind the spiritual veil of the sensual world.
It is no wonder that the Sikhs look upon Gobind Singh as their deliverer, he who by the sword became the true defender of their faith. For he had realized with Socrates, as we read in Plato’s Republic, that a state of a city must have that courage which is a kind of safe-keeping –“the safe keeping of that wisdom which teaches what things and what kind of things are to be feared.” It was the sacred Idea of the Sikhs which was imperiled and which as Gobind Singh knew had to be saved and “to be preserved alike in pleasure and in pain, in fear and in desire, and never to be cast away.”
There is a transcendental touch in this record of an end, which was in reality a new beginning. Milton’s familiar saying about the Book which is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, treasured up to a life beyond life, receives a new meaning by Gobind Singh’s committal of the sacred office to the Guru Granth. The living Spirit of the Ten Masters of Gurus, passes finally into the pages of the ever-living inspired Book, the Testament of the Sikh faith, the revelation of the divine Father to “the Child lost in the World-Fair,” as Puran Singh has it. Its message was that of Coleridge:
The conflict of the Sikhs with the powers of Islam, which reached its climax under the Tenth Master, Gobind Singh, was one based on a fundamental religious difference. In an interesting study of the two creeds. Puran Singh points out that like the ancient Vedism, out of whose scattered remains Hinduism arose, Islamism was incompatible with the real and ideal doctrine of Nanak and the nine Masters who carried on his work. The religious faith of Islam was akin to Hinduism, in its dual worship of principles that are contrary to those of Nanak and of Buddha.
“Islam was, in fact, extremely dualistic in practical life. As the conqueror’s religion, it lost its original beauty of universal good-will, implicit in the faith and sacred name of Allah. These two civilizations met in India, whence the religion of Buddha had already been driven out, only to suffocate the religious life of the people. The Hindu and Muslim cultures met, clashed and died, after giving brief life to Hindu Muslim art and thought: they never met in a living faith of the people; nor did they give any impetus towards true contemplation or right conduct. Both the Hindu and the Mussalman became slaves of selfishness, in their common contempt of the common people. Opposed to both these civilizations is the Dhyanam, the inspiration alike of Buddha and Nanak, which comes of art, not of philosophy. Both these teachers insist on the attainment of the unflickering flame of Dhyanam, of a life-calm, unruffled, supremely felicitous. In Buddhistic history, they carved the image of Buddha in stones, while in the Sikh history they aimed at chiseling the image of Guru Nanak in living status of human bodies. This realization was higher than anything art alone can do, but human nature still craves artistic expression. There ought to have been a great renaissance of art and letters in the wake of Sikh Culture; and a beginning was made by the Tenth Guru at Anandpur, which assumed the proportions of a great Sikh university. But the Sikh culture was thrown into the fire by the Muslim emperors.
“Neither Buddha nor Guru Nanak insists on a metaphysical philosophy of life. The work before man really is to transmute himself into very God. The Dhyanam of Buddha is the way, and there is no other way. In comparison with this civilization of art, joined to life and to religion, the Hindu and Mussalman philosophic systems divorced from life and to religion, the Hindu and Mussalman philosophic systems divorced from life are dead or derelict.
“Indeed the monastic tendency of Hindu Philosophy and Hindu life had by Nanak’s time well-nigh killed the spirit of religion in India. After many ages, the sense of religious vision had awakened in the m ediaeval Bhaktas, under the leadership of the Hindu philosopher, Ramanuj. But he could not found his new religion of mysticism without torturing the Vedanta philosophy; this religious movement did little beyond producing a few Bhaktas who were something between monks and householders, rapt in their own metaphysical reveire. The only exception was Kabir, a weaver, a Muslim by birth, whom Ramanand won as his disciple more through the latter’s enthusiasm than the former’s choice. Kabir, by his inheritance of Muslim ideas, was well fitted to shock those followers of Hinduism whose ritual went by the name of religion. He clearned the air, and his name to-day is the only bright and living memory of the awakening led by Ramanuj and Ramanand. But neither Kabir nor Ramanand had that mastery over the laws of spiritual life that would have enabled them to create a new spirit in India. They were voices of reform, but lacking the original power at whose signal the graves would open and the dead arise from their sleep. Still we do see in their awakening the forerunner of the coming of the Master in the Punjab. The Master saw the darkness, and he rose to scatter the ghosts of night under Heaven’s own Inspiration, and on the authority of his own direct realization of the Truth.”
From the crude and often confused reports of the life of Gobind Singh that have come to us, we discern the noble figure of a true leader, a soldier of God, who deliberately set out to storm the strong-holds of superstition and tyranny; and we find that he did it with unfailing power, making every one confess his soul to him, the Master. A word, a song, a smile from him, was enough to search the hearts of the people; and as the Master gave to them, so he took the Living Word from their lips. Such words as Yama, Destiny, Nirvana, Yoga, Atma, Anhad, Brahman, Para-Brahman, Guru, Sadhu,. and Saint are caught from the people as they used them, and these terms were given back to them with the inner illumination that came from the personal sanction of the Master. The Sikh people saw the meaning of everything: life, love, death and after-life in Him. The language of Nanak cannot be interpreted by taking it in its literal or traditional meaning. The simple word, Hukam, is a whole song in Japji-suggestive of a law of the Creator’s mind, that we cannot, indeed, clearly express it in modern philosophic phraseology because the Master is dealing with the secret laws of life and not with the thought-products of his mind as does a mere philosopher. The word, Suniye, literally “hearing,” is visible a simple word; but the Guru devotes four complete songs in its praise. The highest meaning we can think of is “Inspiration.” Such words again as “Rama,” “Krishna,” “Govinda,” “Raghunath,” Vedas,” “Vishnu,” carry in them the devotional fervour of centuries. The sentence, “Rama is my Beloved,” began to have a new significance to the people, when it was weighted with their own personal devotion to the Master.
The faith of the Sikhs, we learn by this book, is a living one, inspired and reinspired by Divine Idea and by the Living word that passes current in the mouths of the people. To understand it the Western reader needs to enter with sympathy into the mind, child-like spirit and religious imagination of the followers of Nanak. That can be learnt from many episodes in the these innocent pages, such as the stories of Gobind Singh as a merry boy or as a man who had not good-humour of Amardas who, when he was kicked by the would be Master, Datu, said, “Honoured Sir, my old bones are very hard. They must have hurt your precious foot?” With that he rubbed Datu’s feet in deep reverence.
As a revelation of the inner mind of the Orient, in its transparent truth and faith the book is unique. We need to throw aside our modern disbelief to get on terms with so child-like a spirit, with a temper of mind which was gentle to fearfulness, yet brave and fierce as the four young sons of Gobind Rai, or as the lion-heart of that Master himself.
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