THIS collection of Professor Puran Singh's poems is being reprinted for the first time after a lapse of more than fifty years. It was first published by a reputed English firm, and a clergyman and his wife, working in India at that time, who had acquired a rare understanding of the Indian people and their cultural aspirations, wrote an introduction to it. That it never came to be reprinted is a sad reflection on the state of culture in the Punjab, but more so in the whole of India which has let the Punjab get so isolated from its cultural mainstream. If that part of the Punjab which opted to stay in India, with a vehemence which would return violence with violence, has today succeeded in joining the mainstream, the credit should go mainly to the tradition of literature and culture to which men like Professor Puran Singh in this twentieth century made large-hearted contributions.
This collection is steeped in the tradition of the Punjab in many important aspects. The first part of it consists of poems which celebrate the land of the five rivers, by singing of its birds, of its legends of self-sacrificing love, of the halls and courtyards in which its young women gather at their spinning wheels to spin yarns not only of cotton, but of their youthful longings and visions of the life lying ahead of them, of which they care to acknowledge more joys than sorrows; of weddings that launch these young innocents upon a world where innocence involves ceaseless self-sacrifice and love that asks for so little in return, and to which they contribute much more indeed than they take from it. And so we are compelled to join the saint in his wonder at this phenomenon. "How sublime this surrender of the bride to the bride-groom in love! Would I could die like her, to this house of my childhood, and wake in that house of love! ... But, my soul! is this all that they call death ?"
The second part has been called 'Poems of a Sikh', in which Professor Puran Singh presents a devotee in front of the Divine to mingle with whom is his highest aspiration. To the Sikh, God is first of all a turbaned man like himself, whom he then internalizes, till he is filled with the sense of Wonder at His glory and Miracle, which is a highly valued Sikh attitude. Follows a long poem on Nam- the Infinite-that changes almost imperceptibly in the sensibility of a Sikh into Guru Nanak and his nine successors. And this aptly ends with the Sikh's feeling like a child lost in the World Fair, who becoming in the end a World-scorched mad man' sees 'in dream-light a Figure of Heaven.' This Figure is the Mother' into whose arms he falls 'asleep unconscious' only to wake up as 'a holy man', who in his new childhood has learnt to speak only "Hail, Master ! Hail, Holy One." In this Divine Word, he finds his father, his saviour : 'One Nam alone is our Saviour.' And `Call it what you will, this is Guru Nanak's life of love.'
The third section is named 'Poems of Simran' or 'Meditations', followed by the beautiful poem, 'I am the Gardener's Daughter' whose flowers are not for the market, but are her humble offerings to the Lord. In fact, as the last poem in this section avers, man has nothing to offer the Lord. 'My Lord, I have nothing to offer Thee, only a pair of blind, old, shivering hands groping in the dark for Thee.
' It is so because Professor Puran Singh's response to the world of phenomena is of ceaseless wonder, landing him into divine despair, which is the typical religious attitude, east and west, as against the scientific attitude of 'divine discontent'.
The fourth section consists of considerably free translations of that famous long poem of Guru Nanak, Japu, or 'Recitation', with which the Guru Granth begins, and some other poems of Guru Nanak and the other Sikh Gurus. Professor Puran Singh has not tried to reproduce the subject matter and spirit of these poems in strict exactitude for that would be inexcusable vanity in an artist who not only realises that the original is untranslatable, but bows before it as the Word Divine. Therefore he has contented to call his renderings 'Readings from the Guru Granth'. And as Readings they are a devoted Sikh's renderings which combine the devotee's humility with the loftiness of the Worshipful. They are like the handling of sacred things by one No ho stands in awe of what he handles.
THIS book of Puran Singh's poems is the latest offspring from a famous old root. It is founded on the Granth Sahib, and most of the songs that follow are in one way or another derived from that inspired book, which has sometimes been called the Sikh Bible. But as that is the youngest of the bibles, so these songs and lyrics are re-charged, we shall find, by the spirit of youth in poesy. It may be that the ideas, images and figurative expressions in these poems are often openly borrowed, and a fairly close transcript of certain passages may even at times be given. But whether the rendering be close or free, the religious emotion is always in essence the same, and it is always authentic. It runs right through the songs from beginning to end, and no reader can fail to be touched by its sincerity, grace and fervour.
English versions of the Granth Sahib have already been given to the public in the six volumes of Mr M. A. Macauliffe's remarkable work, The Sikh Religion, and with his versions any reader who likes can compare Mr Puran Singh's poems, and will find the comparison most interesting. In The Sisters of the Spinning Wheel we have a living emotional verse that conveys the ecstatic mood of the original, while it adds a new impulse to the old one. In the other work we have a series of careful scholarly translations, faithfully rendering the Indian texts.
It was Rabindranath Tagore who carried over into the English tongue with a new power and melody the first convinc-ing strains of Bengali poetry. Puran Singh has fortunately something of the same gift, and his music also freely naturalizes itself in the English medium and makes good its accent, and one soon becomes aware of its living charm. Later, the spirit of his poetry is seen to involve a rare sense of delight in devotion, and the closer the thought one brings to bear upon it the profounder its effect. All the evidences of a high spiritual ancestry are joined to the fine pageantry of the Eastern world that glows on the page.
The figured reality in this pageant carries us far, and uses vivid symbolism, to interpret the region of its imagination. The set symbol is the key to an ever widening world. The songs that open this fair region to us appear all parables, or picture poems: and we shall find in reading them, that their mode often recalls the other parable-makers. It was the method of many Eastern teachers; nay, was it not the method consecrated by Christ himself?
In other poems like "Simran", on the other hand, the thought, the inner ecstasy, is directly expressed without any aid of the imagination, without any ascent from the real to prepare the approach. And these we may term songs of worship.
No doubt some unevenness of workmanship was bound to result from this double method. It was at first thought it might be wiser to divide the poems into two definite groups; but afterwards it was felt that the very irregularity lent a certain charm to the sequence : something like that which we find in a necklace of gems of different values, colors, shapes and sizes, strung on the one golden thread.
Perhaps the only serious difficulty that will be felt by the Western reader in understanding Puran Singh's book is the obscurity caused by the identification of the Guru, the earthly Master or Teacher with the Almighty Father, the Guru Who is above all. The same word is often used for both. The passion of love for the Master who in himself unites God and man is expressed in a hundred ways throughout the book-most memorably in the remarkable poem, "A Turbanned Man".
This passion melts by degrees into adoration of the Eternal One, and bound up with the worship of the spirit of God incarnate in the Guru, the Master and Teacher, is the worship of the Name of God. It is believed that an entrance into the presence and the heart of God can be made by the use of the symbol of his Name-the key, as it were, that takes us into His kingdom. This is that NAM which can be found throughout the book. Nam stands both for the name of God, and for the union with god, to be attained by the devout repetition of his name. It is akin to the calling upon god mentioned in our own Bible. The world Nam is an old Sanskrit word and is actually the same as our name the Latin nomen and the Greek ovava come from the same root.
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