RĀṆĀ SŪRAT SIṄGH, an epic like poem by Bhāī Vīr Siṅgh published in 1905. This poem of more than fourteen thousand lines is written in blank verse, tried for the first time in Punjabi. With all its protracted search and pang, it is ultimately a poem of complete spiritual certitude, of utter harmony and undifferentiation, of turīyāpad, the final stage of realization. But despite this religious leitmotif the work does not degenerate into a dry and didactic poem, but possesses intrinsic worth, as a literary production of high aesthetic value.
The backdrop of the story is the eighteenth century when the Sikh people were facing oppression and persecution. The plot turns on Rāṇī Rāj Kaur's heartache and its resolution. The Rāṇī was the daughter of a hill monarch ruling in one of the Himalayan principalities who had embraced Sikhism under the influence of Sādhū Siṅgh, a Sikh of saintly character, who had been driven to the hills by state persecution. The ruler had no male heir and married his daughter to Sādhū Siṅgh's son, Sūrat Siṅgh. Upon his death, Sūrat Siṅgh succeeded to the throne. But, although he was now the chief of a small territory, he never failed to answer the call of his compatriot Sikhs whenever they needed his help in battle. In one such battle Rāṇā Sūrat Siṅgh got killed .
This shattered the world of Rāj Kaur whose love for her husband was tender beyond words. Nothing could assuage the pain of her heart. Duties of state which now fell to her engaged not her attention. She had the ashes of the burnt body of her husband brought to her and entombed them in a shrine of white marble on stream bank on the summit of a small hill. Her mother dissuaded her, but she did not listen to anyone. She had sculptors sent for from Āgrā and had a life-size white statue of the Rāṇā made. She placed it in a temple especially erected for the purpose. Thus did she occupy herself in her love irrepressible. Never for a moment was she abstracted from her sorrow.
Lovelornness was thus Rāṇī Rāj Kaur's fate. Her life was one long-drawn sigh. She wept tears of blood for her husband. She offered flowers before the sculptured image and she worshipped the enshrined ashes. But nothing seemed to assuage the pain of separation. And, then, one day as she lay inert with grief, "She felt she had stolen out of the body where it lay and started soaring upwards like a kite in the skies... Like a bird flying in the skies she saw clear-eyed all things below — the mansion, the women's apartments, the whole palace indeed; the forest, the pastures and the trees; the streamlet and the shrine; gardens, and orchards, servants and retainers, maids and her mother herself... the body lay unconscious, and wide-awake she.... As she soared further heavenwards, there sprang into sight spirits in myriads floating in the region refulgent. Who could describe their beauty? The beauty of the world below was as if soot, compared to theirs. Blithesome they all were like the lotus in bloom."
One of those blithe happy spirits advanced towards Rāj Kaur from behind to lead her to regions beyond. Upwards they went into subtler and more luminous spheres. They came to a plane where "the ground shone like crystal. " This was Giān Khaṇḍ, the Realm of Knowledge. The residence here "were without desire and of pure frame. Sustained by knowledge they dwelt in continued felicity." Then they came to Saram Khaṇḍ, the Realm of Aesthetic Beauty. Here speech subtler than thought took form most beauteous; and here consciousness and intellect, understanding and reason were reformed and refashioned. Further on was the Realm of Grace, Karam Khaṇḍ, peopled by those of dedicated soul and power. "Beyond words and beyond limit was the splendour that here prevailed. Here death had no access... Grace abounding rained here without cease."
They could go no further. The ultimate domain Sach Khaṇḍ, the Realm Eternal, was beyond the reach of Rāṇī Rāj kaur's heavenly companion. So she pointed it out to her from a distance. As she turned her gaze in that direction, she beheld a vast shoreless ocean of light. It flashed with the brilliance of millions of lightnings. In this light so unlike the daily light of the world, the queen could see nothing. But she rejoiced to have a sight of the "exalted city" in which dwelt the Loved One. In gratefulness, a prayer arose from her heart. The prayer was heard and a glimpse was vouchsafed to her of her husband seated in front of the Throne of the Timeless. She was enchanted. The duality ended. "I and mine were annulled.” The pain of separation was erased.
This was a fleeting vision and it vanished with the alacrity of lightning. The queen was left in a daze. Or, was she intoxicated? As she recovered, she felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Her "friend comforting" came forth to escort her back. In descent, the experience was reversed. She was becoming heavier and less radiant as she bore downwards. On the way, her heavenly guide instructed her in the secret of attaining Sach Khaṇḍ while still in the world as indeed her husband had done. The suspension of ego and selfless, but active, living in the love of mankind and of the Creator transported one into that state. Then the celestial being disappeared "like a drop of milk in a pool." When Rāṇī Rāj Kaur opened her eyes, she saw that it was the same spot — the same body in which she had lapsed into unconsciousness in the acuteness of her torment. She stood up and felt light like a rose-petal. What had happened was sculptured vividly in her memory.
Yet her pain was far from abated. For her "the time-cycle without her husband flowed but emptily." Disconsolate in her consuming love, she remained withdrawn from all worldly business. The queen mother tried cure by charms and exorcism and, not entirely novel in courtly code, by stratagem. A letter was brought to Rāj Kaur said to have been written by Rāṇā Sūrat Siṅgh in his own blood just before he died. He described the fury of the raging battle and his own hopeless condition owing to a serious wound he had received. He advised her that after his death she marry the neighbouring chieftain who had done him a good turn in that desperate state. It was not difficult for Rāṇī Rāj Kaur to see that such could never have been her husband's suggestion.
The long-suffering search finally ended when an old man found her lying exhausted and senseless in front of a remote mountain-cave and took her to a satsaṅg, the Sikh word for holy company engaged in prayer and devotion. She was told that by her immaculate love she had become worthy of satsaṅg. The old man who was the leader of that sacred fellowship, started by Rāṇā Sūrat Siṅgh himself, instructed her in the way of truth. "To recognize one's duty in the world, to stay firm in it like the mountain, to overcome one's ego and give oneself to deeds of service and love like the cloud expending itself in rain, to accept the Divine Will as the principle of all things, to harmonize consciousness with Word and to remain ever in union with the Creator through Nām was to attain Sach Khaṇḍ while still alive — a consummation which was the happy lot of Rāṇā Sūrat Siṅgh in this world."
Rāj Kaur was a changed being. She took the reins of government into her hands and yet daily shared in the satsaṅg. Rejoicing in God's Will, attached to Nām and diligent in her daily duty, she was united to her lord as never before. She had reached the state of grace and equipoise..
A superficial reading of the poem might bring out the yearning and emotional agony of a wife born of physical separation from her late husband, but, allegorically, it is the story of the eternal longing of the human soul for merger with its original essence, of the matter-bound human consciousness to reach out to its divine source. There could perhaps also be discerned in it an autobiographical motif tracing the poet's own spiritual strivings, progress and fulfilment. Aesthetically, the poem presents an ardent and artistically wrought vision of a world beyond the categories of time and space — a glowing, but substantive, re-collection of one who has gazed upon the innermost mystery of the phenomenon. It is definitely tempered to a moral end and has its religious and theological meanings.
Jasbīr Siṅgh Āhlūwālīā