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Sundri
 
Sundri
by Bhai Vir Singh
(translation by Dr. G. S. Mansukhani)

 
Sundri

"Increasing people in our ranks seem to be turning their back on our glorious past.  The book stresses the need of recapturing the divine spirit of the Khalsa created by Guru Gobind Singh.  The Khalsa represents spiritually elevated people who are blissfully cheerful, fearless, invincible but non-aggressive.  The book highlights the glorious manner in which the Khalsa remained steadfast to its high principles even when faced with the greatest odds… Let us hope that it would help us to re-imbibe the spirit of courage, humanity, compassion and all the divine qualities with which our forefathers were gifted."

Contents

Forword
Introduction
Sundri

Forword

Sundri is the first Punjabi novel which comes from the pen of Bhai Vir Singh.  It was conceived during the time period when it was imperative to boost the morale of the Sikhs after the downfall and subsequent annexation of the kingdom of Punjab.  The path of austerity was hard to pursue and people had fallen prey to mundane pleasures.  Bhai Vir Singh, surcharged with the spirit to redeem the glory of the Sikhs and with abundance of knowledge wrote voluminous literature of didactic nature.  He had a purpose in view and his entire efforts were to achieve the same by awakening the masses and the intellectuals to imbibe practical aspects of Sikh religion.  In writing such books, the purpose kept in view can be best described in the author's own words:
"Increasing people in our ranks seem to be turning their back on our glorious past.  The book stresses the need of recapturing the divine spirit of the Khalsa created by Guru Gobind Singh.  The Khalsa represents spiritually elevated people who are blissfully cheerful, fearless, invincible but non-aggressive.  The book highlights the glorious manner in which the Khalsa remained steadfast to its high principles even when faced with the greatest odds… Let us hope that it would help us to re-imbibe the spirit of courage, humanity, compassion and all the divine qualities with which our forefathers were gifted."
Base on a popular folk song and set in the historical period of Mir Manu that is notorious for large scale massacre of the Sikhs, Sundri is a symbolic representative of that milieu.  Nawabs had courtiers were bent upon annihilating the Sikhs.  The rulers were lustful and tyrannical.  Hindus as a class failed to meet the challenge.  At the best they could offer compensation to get back the captured girls. Men like Balwant Singh, brother of Sundri, and girls of her stock faced all kinds of persecution at the hands of the Moghul sepoys and humiliation at the hands of Nawabs.  The story depicts incidents and events which inculcate universal brotherhood and love for humanity.  A Sikh girl treats an injured Moghul sepoy but on learning that she is a Sikh woman he attacks with his dagger.  Surasti, the earlier name of Sundri, was forcibly taken away by the Moghul official but when she is baptised and renamed Sundri, she earns respects of the members of the Sikh Jatha who treat her as their own sister.

Through his writings Bhai Vir Singh Succeeded not only in restoring the morals of the people of his time but also in providing the Punjabi - his mother tongue - the honour and glory long denied to it as a result of political and cultural slavery.  A Colossus of modern Punjabi Literature, Bhai Vir Singh alone wrote more than all his contemporaries put together.  The present attempt to render Bhai Sahib's works in English will go a long way in taking his message to the world at large.

Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan is glad to note that Sri Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha, Gurdwara Katong, Singapore, have taken up a programme to get Bhai Vir Singh's works translated into English and other languages, publish them and make the same available to the people in foreign lands. The Sadan wish the Sabha all success in their noble endeavours.

HARBANS SINGH
New Delhi
April, 1983

Honorary General Secretary,
Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan


Introduction

There is no aspect of Punjabi culture which Bhai Vir Singh has not illumined and enlarged.  By his dedicated and inspiring works, he put the Punjabi language on the same pedestal as other modern Indian languages.  He is truly the doyen of the Punjabi Commonwealth of letters.  He could rightly be called the father of modern Punjabi literature, for he began writing in this language when nobody was interested in it and when people's thoughts were influenced more by Urdu and Persian.  All educated Punjabis who know something of the Punjabi language have acclaimed that Bhai Vir Singh occupies in Punjabi the same place as Iqbal in Urdu, Rabindra Nath Tagore in Bengali and Wordsworth in English.  His name is a household word in Punjabi.  He gave the language a new style, a new rhythm, a new flow and a new though-content.

As a writer of fiction, Bhai Vir Singh need not be judged critically from the point of view of style and treatment of subjects in his novels. He wrote all his fictional works with a purpose.  The purpose was to awaken in the Sikhs the sense of chivalry and to instil in them a sense of pride in their cultural and rich heritage.  Bhai Vir Singh emerged on the literary scene at a time when the Sikhs had started harbouring misgivings about the achievements of their ancestors.  This is described piquantly by Khushwant Singh in his book 'The Sikhs' (p. 166). He says "English historians harped on the crude and corrupt rule which they had replaced by an enlightened one.    Sanskrit scholars belittled the religion of Sikhs as a poor imitation of the Hindus and ridiculed its forms and symbols…"  This was too much to endure for a person of Bhai Vir Singh's sensitivity and understanding.  He took it as a challenge and proceeded to blow away the dust almost single-handedly.  Through his novels, he emphasised the ethical excellence of the Sikh religion and reminded the Sikhs of heroism and chivalry practiced by their co-religionists. His novels SUNDRI, BIJAY SINGH, SATWANT KAUR, and BABA NAUDH SINGH carried an instant appeal for the Sikhs who read them with enthusiasm and pride. They are historical novels written with a religious background.  It may be argued that the style and treatment of subjects dealt with does not conform to the standards of fiction.  It has to be accepted, however, that these novels do succeed in bringing out the necessary change in the attitude of the Sikhs towards their heroic heritage.  Novels like SUNDRI and SATWANT KAUR have gone into scores of editions and are still read by persons having interest in history and religion.  By his novels, Bhai Vir Singh was able to put across his message and was thus able in warding off the challenge posed to the Sikh religion by the English historians and Sanskrit scholars, to which a reference has been made above.

Bhai Vir Singh's novel SUNDRI is based on the folksong which narrates the tale of a young, beautiful and recently married Hindu girl.  She is carried away forcibly by a Moghul who happens to see her.  All the male members of the family go to the officer and entreat him to release the girl. They offer a big ransom.  All these appeals fall on dear ears.  The Moghul does not agree to release the girl.  To save her honour, the girl decides to burn herself alive.  As soon as the Moghul goes out of his camp, she collects the wood, lights the fire and jumps in it.  Providentially, her Sikh brother appears then and saves her life.  Then the brother and Sister join the roving band of Sikhs.  The Sikhs in the days of Zakaria Khan (1726-1745 AD), the last Moghul Governor of Punjab, were mostly hiding the thick forests and mountain recesses.  They were not allowed to move freely in the plains. Sundri, the rescued girl, was respected by the Sikhs.  The respect in which women were held by the Sikhs is testified by Qazi Nur Mohammed, the author of Jang Namah. He says, "Whether a woman is younger or old, they call her budhiya, an old lady, and ask her to get away. There is no adultery amongst these dogs."

The death of Zakaria Khan in July, 1745 led to a war of succession between his sons Yahya Khan and Shah Nawaz Khan. This gave some respite to the Sikhs who had been hiding in the mountains.  On one side, the Raja of Jammu rose in revolt, and on the other , Sikhs began to cause tumult and trouble. In 1756, Jaspat Rai, brother or Lakhpat Rai, Dewan of Yahya Khan was killed in battle by the Sikhs. The Sikhs were attacked from all sides near Gurdaspur and a large number of them were brutally massacred. The event has gone down in history as Ghalughara or Holocaust. SUNDRI gives details of this event.  The first invasion of Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1748 and subsequent appointment of Mir Manu as the Governer of Punjab are significant events in the history of the Sikhs. During the rule of Mir Manu, the Sikhs were persecuted ruthlessly. Kaura Mal, the Dewan of Mir Manu, was an ancestor of Bhai Vir Singh. The latter therefore, has taken great pains to collect anecdotes relating to his administrative wisdom. SUNDRI ends with the events of 1752 A.D. The same year Kaura Mal passed away. The purpose of Bhai Vir Singh in writing SUNDRI was to present some of the ideal Sikh characters regarding their symbols, religion and their cult of sword, and in this, he succeeded fully.  The characters portrayed in SUNDRI became household words in Punjab in later years.

Sundri is the heroin of the novel.  She is portrayed as an embodiment of faith and purity.  The novel carries an inspiration to the Sikhs who read it with enthusiasm and pride.  It is a historical novel written with a didactic purpose.  The purpose is to inspire the Sikhs by reminding them of their duty as preached by their Gurus.  Through the novel, Bhai Vir Singh is able to put across his message.  The fine points of Sikhism and Sikh character are vividly brought out. To mention a few of these, a Sikh makes use of his sword for defensive purposes only or to remove the tyrannical injustice of those in power.  A Sikh cannot helplessly submit to the evil designs of his oppressors.  He actively struggles for his self-respect, liberty and faith.  Even in such efforts, a Sikh shows a high sense of charity to the relatives of his oppressors or even to oppressors themselves.  This is his religious faith. This is his spirit.  This is his character. He has an abiding faith in the teachings of his Gurus. He lives with his very being saturated by these teachings.

It is not always possible for one to have a proper estimate of the genius of Bhai Vir Singh by reading English renderings of his works. Every language has its peculiarities which cannot be rendered faithfully into another language.  Punjabi is no exception to this universal rule.  A translation, howsoever painstakingly done, cannot capture fully and successfully the totality or the sprit of the original work.  There is, however, a requirement for attempting translation of great works are communicated to the general public not conversant with Punjabi language. By rending SUNDRI into English, Dr. G.S. Mansukhani has done service to the Punjabi language. The English version is a reasonably successful effort.  It succeeds in conveying to the English knowing public the full meaning and the essence of the original work.  This effort evokes our appreciation. By his sensitivity and understanding, Dr. Mansukhani has succeeded in placing in our hands a reasonably good version in English of this novel of the great Master. The English version does succeed in capturing the original atmosphere and times in which the novel was initially conceived and executed in Punjabi by Bhai Vir Singh. It must be conceded that the translation done by Dr. Mansukhani is not merely an effort for substituting words of English in place of Punjabi words.  It keeps the spirit of the original work constantly in view and faithfully transmits this spirit in English.  The English version captures the ethos and excitement of the original. It is readable and enjoyable. It is an excellent endeavour for which Dr. Mansukhani deserves our appreciation and thanks.

J.S GULERIA
Lt. Col. (Retd.)
New Delhi
April, 1983

Hon. Joint Secretary,
Bhair Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan,
and Editor KHERA



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