BACHITRA NĀṬAK (bachitra = marvellous, wondrous + nāṭak = drama, play) is the name given a complex of compositions, commonly attributed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, the Tenth Gurū or prophet teacher of the Sikh faith, assembled in his book, the Dasam Granth : hence, the name Dasam (tenth) granth (book), i. e. Book of the Tenth Master to distinguish it from the earlier work, the Ādi (first, primary or original) Granth, now venerated as Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib. The most familiar section of compositions collectively called Bachitra Nāṭak Granth is the Bachitra Nāṭak itself, some of the others being Chaṇḍī Chritra Ukti Bilās, Chaṇḍī Chritra, Vār Srī Bhagautī Jī kī (or Chaṇḍī dī Vār), Giān Prabodh, and Chaubīs Autār.
The composition of Bachitra Nāṭak may have begun in 1688, at Paoṇṭā during the first spurt of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's literary activity. The date (Bk 1755/AD 1698) of completion of the section "Rāmāvatār, " as mentioned in that section, may also be that of the completion of the whole work. In any case, autobiographical Bachitra Nāṭak must have been completed before 1699, when Gurū Gobind Siṅgh inaugurated the Khālsā Panth, for the text does not refer to the event. The poem, however, contains a detailed description of the battle of Bhaṅgāṇī which took place in 1688, which lays down the other end of the date, i. e. the work was completed after 1688.
The Bachitra Nāṭak opens with an invocation to Bhagautī, i. e. sword embodying the divine principle of justice. In the second canto the poet says that limitless is the Divine Reality, fathomless its deeds. The poet then says that he would narrate his own story. The implication appears to be that the Divine has relevance for man only in its role in the human context. This seems to be the reason why the poet provides his story with a long preface (cantos 2-5) giving its mythical, legendary, historical and genealogical antecedents which link the action in heaven to that on the earth. He traces the lineage of his house, the Soḍhīs, to Lava, the son of Rāma, a scion of Raghū. The Soḍhīs were long in conflict with the descendants of Kuśa (Lava's brother). Eventually when the latter, overthrown, immersed themselves in the Vedas (hence called Vedīs/Bedīs), the Soḍhī king, in recognition of their profound learning, gave them his throne. The Bedī chief, in return, promised that the throne would be returned to the Soḍhī's during the Kali age. So after Gurū Nānak, a Bedī, had shown the way, the leadership in the person of Gurū Rām Dās passed to the Soḍhīs. All the Gurūs from Gurū Nānak to the tenth and last successor, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, embodied the light of Nānak. The poet recalls their names pausing particularly to reflect upon the martyrdom of the Ninth Gurū, Gurū Tegh Bahādur, "who sacrificed his life to save the symbols of Hinduism, a deed unparalleled for heroism in the Kali age. "
In the sixth canto, beginning with the words ab mai apanī kathā bakhāno (now I relate my own story), the narrative becomes more personal. The poet tells us how in a previous life he practised intense meditation and austerity on the mount Hem Kuṇṭ until his spirit merged with the Divine. Then, how despite his desire to stay absorbed in harmony at His feet, he was told by the Almighty to take birth in the Kali age to show the world the path of truth, to rid it of superstition, and to teach it to worship God alone. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh accepted the charge humbly : "Thy word shall prevail in the world, with Thy support. " Without fear or malice, he would, he said, proclaim what God had told him. Lest people should start worshipping him instead of God, he warns them, "Those who call me God shall into the pit of Hell be cast. I am but the slave of the Supreme Being come to watch the world spectacle. " Gurū Gobind Siṅgh adored none but God and attached no importance to any religious garb or practice except the constant remembrance of God's Name.
Cantos 7 to 13 treat of the poet's life as Gobind Rāi, name by which Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was earlier known. (Gobind Siṅgh was the name he assumed after he had himself admitted to the Khālsā Panth). Apparently, owing to the hostility of the neighbouring hill rājās, he moved to Pāoṇṭā where he lived happily for some time. Then Fateh Shāh (the Rājā of Srīnagar) attacked him "without provocation. " The rest of the autobiography is largely a description of the armed conflicts between the Gurū and his adversaries. He defeated Fateh Shāh, and his allies at Bhaṅgāṇī. At Nadauṇ he defeated Alif Khān, a Mughal commander sent to exact tribute from the hill chiefs. The Gurū's former enemy, Bhīm Chand of Bilāspur, sought the Gurū's help in this action. Three expeditions sent by Dilāwar Khān were also put to rout. The first, under Dilāwar's son, turned back merely upon hearing the tumult of assault by the Gurū's forces. The second and third, under strong commanders Hussain and Jujhār Siṅgh, were distracted by other hill chiefs and ended in the death of these commanders. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh ends the story in canto 14 reaffirming his faith in God's cosmic play. "All-Time saveth His saints and punisheth those who renege on Him. He protecteth his saints from all harm. . . . He hath succoured me, His own slave. "
Bachitra Nāṭak is a clear and strong statement of God's, and Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's role in history. That is what gives it central importance in the formation of Sikhism. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh confirmed the preceding Gurūs' teaching centring on the oneness and perfection of the Absolute. Such oneness also implied the essential perfection of creation as part of the Absolute. But creation is perfect only in relation to the Creator not in itself. To see it as self-sufficient is to distort reality and convert its goodness into evil. If human life is believed to be a separate and complete affair in itself, selfishness prevails and human existence is perverted. Men thus immersed in the world are eventually chastised by God as is illustrated in Gurū Nānak's treatment of Bābar's invasion of India. One very common way of being severed from the Divine is to attach meaning to the external forms of religion in themselves rather than as means of attaining the Divine.
Gurū Gobind Siṅgh conceived God as the embodiment of the fighting spirit. But as the evil is in man's perspective, it must be remedied in human terms; the visible action in God's war on evil must be performed by men of realization. The Gurū's proclamation of his gospel is but a readiness to fight in God's name and when he goes to battle, he does God's work. No wonder, he always wins. The Bachitra Nāṭak is an exultation over God's triumph acted out by noble souls on the world's stage and an expression of faith in future victories. It is a confident call to saints to put on arms in continuation and transformation of earlier Sikhism.
Consequently, Bachitra Nāṭak is largely a series of vivid battle scenes created with forceful imagination. Through a variety of generally quick and sinuous metres, apt descriptions and a profusion of appropriate similes and metaphors, mention of the entire paraphernalia of battle, diction reproducing its very sounds and sensations, and glimpses into the psychology of the warriors, the poet captures the verve of battle and quickens the readers' spirit. To reproduce an image, Mahant Kirpāl Dās rising in his stirrups and shouting Sat Srī Akāl smote Hayāt Khān's head with his wooden truncheon that his skull was crushed and "his brains, spilt forth as butter flowed from the Gopīs' pitchers broken by Krishna. "
Surjīt Siṅgh Dulāī