Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh (1878-1961 AD.) was an intensely austere, practical and militant saint, who unlike most militant saints and revolutionaries was a deeply emotional poet-mystic, whose devotional raptures, witnessed by all his contemporaries in open Kirtan assemblies, when he was seen singing the hymns of Guru Granth for days and nights at a stretch, were governed by utter humility, compassion, charity, justice and fortitude. The immense energies of his active life, the inhuman brutalities he calmly and heroically suffered in the dark dungeons of prisons during British rule, from the age of 37 to 53, the tremendous demands he made upon himself, bring before us an unforgettable and dynamic saintly personality of our times.
He was born at Narangwal, a village thirteen miles from Ludhiana, on Sunday, 7th July, 1878. His father, Sardar Natha Singh a learned scholar of Punjabi, Urdu and Persian, was at first District Inspector of schools and after passing Law examinations rose to be High Court Judge in Nabha State. His mother, Punjab Kaur, was descendant of Bhai Bhagtu, who served the fifth, sixth and seventh Sikh Gurus. After matriculating, Bhai Randhir Singh, whose name before accepting baptism was, Basant Singh, studied from 1896-1898 in Government College Lahore, and from 1898-1900 A.D. in F. C. College Lahore. He distinguished himself as an Urdu poet during college days.
It has been the central fact in the life of many saints and mystics that the awakening of the soul to their sense of destiny has always come as a response from an unsuspected stimulus, which opens the way for a deep and insatiable yearning for higher spiritual life, followed by a flooding Light of higher mystical experiences In case of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh the stimulus came from a letter from his father urging him to regularly recite Guru Nanak's Japji (Morning prayer), if he wanted to pass his B.A. final and Law examinations. He read and recited the Japji and other compositions of the Sikh Gurus with such intense devotion and perseverance, that in the absorbing inspiration of these prayers he nearly forgot the examinations.
He then spent two years as novice and fully prepared himself to accept the baptism of Guru Gobind Singh. He received baptism at a special function, which was organised by leading Sikh organisations at Bakapur, near Phillaur, (on G.T. Road) to baptise the Muslim family of Karim Bakhsh on 14 June 1903. Karim Bakhsh, after baptism came to be known as Sant Lakhbir Singh who devoted all his life to missionary work. Bhai Randhir Singh believed and emphasised throughout his life, that one must practise, what one learns from the scriptures and authentic traditions, because ideals and theories without being imbibed and practised are like a body without the Spirit. Throughout his life no suffering, no temptation and no other interest in life could divert him from his single-minded devotion to God and Truth.
Early in life he made-up his mind not to serve any government or secular institution which may obstruct his life of service to humanity and obedience to God. For this high ideal he had to tread the path of affliction, blame and endless suffering. His whole life reflects at every stage, his intimacy of devotion, his sincerity of purpose, his purity of love, and his unbending dedication to freedom, justice and dharma. From 1904 to 1912 he devoted all his time to religious reforms, establishing educational institutions, and inspiring young people with missionary zeal and noble ideals of faith and freedom.
Early during this period his father and friends tried to convince him that serving some social cause through government institution was serving humanity, and out of filial piety and respect for his father's wishes he reluctantly accepted a government post at Abottabad in 1905. The beautiful surroundings of these hilly areas gave him solitude and peace he greatly needed for his intensive meditations. He wished to dive deep into the mystery of meditations as revealed by Sikh scriptures. So he searched for the mystic path in his prayers. "I did not know," 'he writes, in his Autobiography,' "the different methods of contemplating the Divine Name. I had not learnt the various techniques of this spiritual practice from anyone. All I was anxious about was to have a glimpse of the Beloved. It was this burning passion to have a vision of His Light that impelled and roused my wavering thoughts and feelings to the sublime heights and set me on the straight Path to God." (Autobiography: p 57)
Bhai Randhir Singh's prayers became worship and his worship was concentrating his entire mind, thoughts and feelings on the message of the Hymns of Guru Granth. He did not seek the intercession of any saint or human being who had achieved something, although after inner illumination he met eminent saints like Sant Attar Singh and Sant Baba Sham Singh of Amritsar whom he considered the most perfect and enlightened saints of his times. Alone with God and his Living Guru, Embodied in the Guru Granth, he contemplated His Name and reflected on His unseen Presence. Nature, in all its beauty, around Abbotabad Hills, filled his heart and soul with sublime feelings and spiritual perceptions which to him were the intimations of the Presence of God.
God warned Moses: "Thou canst not see my face, for man shall not see Me and live." Guru Nanak's message in his Sacred Writings is, "A Sikh should accept death and never rest till he has seen the Face of God." Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was overwhelmed by the promise of this hope. Unmoved and undisturbed, he sat for forty-eight hours listening intently to the continuous reading of Guru Granth. His mind and soul were bathed in the ambrosia of the Word of God. His whole inner being was aglow with the beatitude of being deeply absorbed in the Celestial Music of the divine Word. Then on the night of Guru Nanak's birthday in the year 1905, God revealed His Light to him in the Elected Silence of midnight meditation, which experience he describes in his Autobiography thus:
"God was now resplendently revealed within my inner self. I tried to return my love for his boundless grace and beneficence through prayer, songs and supplication to the Beloved who was now manifest as Knowledge and Light in perfect revelation. I gave him the most sanctified place in my heart. I expected that He would come to my room from the Unknown and reveal Himself outside myself. I did not in the least expect that my strange Beloved, my Lord God with His unfathomable powers, would miraculously appear within my own Self, and reveal Himself on the altar of my heart."
"Ah, blessed was all my search that night. I could see a sea of divine Light flooding within me and outside me in shimmering resplendence. I was able to endure the unendurable Light only by prayerful utterances of Gurbani (Sacred Hymns), which strengthened my mind and soul by seeking grace and strength. The more I was absorbed in it, the more wonderful and sublimely dazzling spiritual phenomenon were seen by my inner eyes (div dirshti) which cannot be expressed in the language of our physical and earthly world. I could now see through the roof and the walls of the room in which I was sitting. Right through the sky I could see space beyond space, all crystal clear and bathed in purity. The whole of the universe was filled with Incomprehensible Light which was penetrating me and enfolding me. The music of His divine Presence filled my heart with blissful joy. I could see all this clearly and visibly in a wide awake condition." (Autobiography: p. 60-61)
After these mystical experiences he resigned his government job, but was persuaded by Sardar Harbans Singh Attari to work as superintendent of Khalsa College Amritsar but he gave up even this job to do missionary work in a wider field, Dr Dharam Anant Singh who later studied Greek and Sanskrit and distinguished himself as a learned scholar of Greek and Ancient Indian philosophy was a student of Khalsa College at this time and he has vividly portrayed the remarkable moral and spiritual influence of his personality in his Punjabi article entitled: "Divine Influence of a Perfectly Virtuous Sikh" (Khalsa Advocate, Amritsar:?). As the Chief Khalsa Diwan was virtually controlled by the British government, Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh in association with Sant Attar Singh founded the Panch Khalsa Diwan at Damdama and was its first Secretary. When Bhai Sahib was involved in political activities of Ghadar Party, Babu Teja Singh became loyalist of British Raj, shifted the Diwan office to Bhasaur and used it to serve his own ends in a such a manner that Bhai Sahib severed his connections with it even before he went to prison.
In January 1914 the British Indian government razed the wall of the historical shrine of Rakabganj at Delhi associated with the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur in order to beautify the surroundings of the newly built Parliament House. Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh spearheaded the agitation against the desecration of the holy shrine with such zeal and fervour that it sparked off a revolutionary passion throughout the Sikh community.
It was at this critical juncture that the Ghadarite emigrants from U.S.A. and Canada arrived to fight for freedom by giving a call to the people to prepare for an armed revolt. Bhai Randhir Singh was the only outstanding leader from Punjab who along with his sixty to seventy companions became active participants of the revolt. During this very period Mahatma Gandhi was supporting the British war efforts believing that "it was the duty of the Indian slaves to make the need of the British Masters an opportunity to seek more freedom." Dr Annie Beasant vigorously condemned this attitude and supported active revolutionaries saying: "India is no longer a child in the nursery of the empire." She ridiculed all talk of reward for serving the British loyally saying, "India does not chaffer with the blood of her sons, and the proud tears of her daughters in exchange for so much liberty, so much right. India claims the right, as a Nation to justice among the peoples of the Empire".
An armed revolt organised by the Ghadar leaders and Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh failed. On May 9, 1915, Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was arrested. His other companions Kartar Singh Sarabha had been arrested earlier. On March 30, 1916 Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was given life imprisonment. The judgement ran: "Of his guilt there can be no possible doubt whatever, and we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was his influence that brought several of the co-accused from an early period and conspired to wage war on several occasions as above indicated, and that he committed an act of war in going to Ferozepore in a warlike array to attack the arsenal there and we accordingly convict him under Section 121 A, 121, Indian Penal Code and sentence him to transportation for life and direct that his property liable to forfeiture be forfeited to the government."
Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was 37 the day he was arrested. His ten-year-old daughter Bhagwant Kaur could not bear the separation of her dear father, and died within a month of his arrest and imprisonment at Ludhiana. His son Balbir Singh was hardly four years old and his second daughter Daler Kaur was just two.* Both these surviving children were too young and too innocent to know the calamity and the excruciating suffering their young mother Smt. Kartar Kaur would have to face.
Bhai Sahib suffered harrowing tortures in Multan prison from April 1916 to June 1917, and for four years 1917-1921 in Hazaribagh prison in Bihar. He enjoyed some peace in Rajahmundry prison where he was kept in isolation but not tortured for a year in 1922, but his prison life in Nagpur prison (1923-1930) reads like a horror story where he was made the merciless victim of inhuman tortures. Six months before his release he was brought to Lahore where he was released on 4th October 1930. On the eve of his release Bhagat Singh the great freedom fighter met him as an atheist but parted as a believer in God and a man of faith. Exactly six months and 20 days after this meeting Bhagat Singh suffered death sentence on the night of 23rd March 1931. According to an eyewitness account four hours before his death he continuously sat in prayer and recited all the prayers he found in a Sikh Prayer Book (Gutka).
In the Rajahmundry prison Bhai Sahib wrote some books which were published long after his release. On Guru Gobind Singh's birthday in the last year of his imprisonment in Nagpur (January 1930) he wrote 4000 lines of a mystical epic within seven days. He did not have paper or pen. He wrote all the 4000 lines on the margin of a book with a copying pencil. The manuscript is preserved as a relic. It was in Rajahmundry prison that this dialogue with Kartar Singh took place, which was recorded and published after their release.
After his release the Sikhs of U.S.A. and Canada sent Robes of Honour and a gold medallion for Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh. Hukamnamas and robes of honour blessing his sacrifices for the Sikh Panth and the freedom movement were bestowed on him by all the 4 Takhats of the Sikhs. The Sikh Community elected him as one of the Panj Pyaras (the Five Elect) for inaugurating the Kar-seva of Tarn Taran Sacred Tank, and to lay the foundation stones of the following historical and sacred places: Punja Sahib (Hasan Abdal) now in Pakistan: Shahidganj Nankana Sahib (now in Pakistan), Akal Bunga (Patna Sahib), Kavi Durbar Asthan (Paonta Sahib).
Bhai Kartar Singh with whom this dialogue took place was different from Kartar Singh Sarablia the Hero of the First Lahore Conspiracy case. He was born in Naven Chand a village near Moga but left for Canada sometime in 1908-10. When Baba Gurdit Singh's ship Koma Gata Maru dropped anchor in Vancouver harbour, Bhai Kartar Singh was one of the very few Canadian Sikhs who knew good English and could contact and communicate with the Press and the Canadian sympathizers to help the patriots. He also confronted and took to task the Police Chief, Hopkins, who employed spies to create dissensions among the Sikhs and was instrumental even in killing a few patriots. Bhai Mewa Singh found this out, and while giving evidence in the court, he not only exposed Hopkin's misdeeds but also shot him dead in the court, and then refused to appeal for mercy or to defend himself. Bhai Kartar Singh was eyewitness to these events. Hopkins had already marked Bhai Kartar Singh as a very dangerous revolutionary. So he went underground and contacted the German government for arms aid for the Ghadar revolutionary movement. A German General was already bringing a ship load of arms to be delivered to the Ghadar revolutionaries when he came to know that Bhai Kartar Singh and other Ghadar leaders had been arrested. Bhai Kartar Singh had to suffer 20 years of rigorous imprisonment out of which he had the good fortune to live as a prison-mate of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh from 1917 to 1930. They first met at Hazaribagh and then were together in Rajahmundry and Nagpur prisons. It was in Rajahmundry prison this dialogue took place in the year 1922. Bhai Kartar Singh has recorded his experience and his role in the Revolutionary movement in Canada in a book which unfortunately has not been published. The translator of this booklet met Bhai Kartar Singh during his college days twice at Narangwal during summer vacation of the year 1940 and then twice in other places just before his sudden and unexpected death. He was a tall wiry person, with a calm but cynical face, and mentally very alert. He was a lively conversationalist and a man of extremely simple habits. It was only in his conversation his revolutionary zeal and passion flamed up into words. He was still quite rational and straightforward in his outlook and had an incurable craze for medieval alchemy (preparing oxides from mercury etc). Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh repeatedly warned him not to waste his time and energy on it, because amateurish attempts in alchemy lead to dangerous results. I read this booklet Amrit Ki Hai in manuscript form and when I expressed my boyish appreciation of it, he turned round and curtly remarked: "I have still not understood what Amrit really is." I was shocked to hear this from him because I began to reflect as to how would it be possible for a young man of 21 like me to understand it if he had not understood it after so close associations with Bhai Sahib and after reading the scripture so much. I requested him to explain how much he had understood it and how much and which part of it he had not understood. He assured me that he would do it when we met next time.
I became so impatient about this question that the next day when I was alone with Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh I asked him "How is that Bhai Kartar Singh confesses that he has still not understood what Amrit is? What part of this subject is so mysterious that even he has not understood it so far?" Bhai Sahib had till then not written some of his other works on mysticism which he was persuaded by us to write later on. On hearing my question Bhai Sahib first burst into laughter and then became very serious about the matter. He said, "Bhai Kartar Singh had an intellectual interest in the subject and, he had hurriedly explained to him the basic things. But I told him repeatedly that the real understanding will come from meditations, contemplation and inner spiritual experiences resulting from it." He sadly pointed out that with the exception of Sant Bhai Attar Singh of Jodhpur none of his prison mates took the spiritual life with the seriousness they were expected to after release from prison. If Bhai Kartar Singh had spent half the time and energy on Simran (divine contemplation) which he was wasting on study and experiments of alchemy, said Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh, "he could have fully known what Amrit is. And yet Bhai Kartar Singh's interest in alchemy and homeopathy was with the sole motive of helping poor people in the villages by giving them simple medical aid. His motive still was charity and service."
This booklet is not a treatise on the subject under discussion, nor does it give complete information on all the points raised. It is a vast subject in itself. There are many things which the participants in the dialogue took for granted and there are many things they had already discussed earlier, and the questioner understood them but the reader does not understand them. It is a short dialogue which took place in a prison cell in the summer of 1922 between a rational minded enquirer and an illumined saint-scholar bringing out some of the hitherto unrecorded aspects of Sikh baptism and mysticism. They are unique because they come from the profound and authentic experience and knowledge of one of the greatest Sikh saints and mystics of our century. We sum up some of the fundamental ideas brought out in this booklet which have not only been authenticated with quotations from scriptures but have been subsequently elaborated in his books: Charan Kamal ki Mauj, Anhad Shabad Dasam Dwar and Amrit Kala.
1. Mere intellectual knowledge of Sikh scriptures based purely on theology and grammar, though necessary is not quite helpful in contemplative understanding of the hymns of Guru Granth. Contemplative recitation of hymns and absorption of the mind in the Spirit of the Word of God opens the portals of our inner consciousness and gives us experiential understanding of the moral and spiritual light of Sikhism.
2. Occult powers (Siddhis) are easily attained by normal religious practices and meditations in Sikhism, but to use these occult powers for getting cheap publicity or popularity or to overawe people and seek material gains is a type of earthly attachment (moha) which may degenerate into hedonism and materialism. It proves to be the greatest stumbling block and a persistent hindrance in moral as well as spiritual progress. Sikh saints and mystics shun it just as they would avoid the company of crafty men.
3. Our gross organs of sight or hearing are not the only channels of knowledge. This also is proved by clairvoyance, telepathy and such well-known phenomenon. Through the powers acquired in previous birth or by constant repetition of divine mantras, insignificant powers like mesmerism, hypnotism some time appear in life. These powers are also acquired by practising severe austerities. But Sikh mysticism rejects these as diversions from the true path of the love of God.
4. People who do not take their religion and spiritual life seriously remain complacent and self-satisfied in their moral and spiritual condition. They neither do such self-searching nor seek guidance from persons who have achieved the highest spiritual states. Such people are religious with many ulterior motives. They remain ignorant of spiritual life and do not make much progress in their moral life also. Either they take religion and accept its broad principles just as lazy and dull-headed citizens accept civil laws or if they are at all serious about it they simply become fanatic without understanding the spirit of their religion, just to pose as orthodox religious people. Such people express their bigotry in the field of politics and religious culture only to poison the social atmosphere with bitterness.
5. Baptism in Sikhism is not mere ritual. It is a spiritual rebirth. Those who go in for baptism without inner preparations and discipline remain deprived of its spiritual impact in their body and mind. They may remain formally religious, but they remain ignorant and live in complete darkness about contemplative spiritual life and its blessings.
Many Sikhs go in for baptism not to become morally and spiritually better Sikhs but with some petty ulterior motive. Most of them accept baptism as a ritual with the sole motive of posing as very orthodox Sikhs and then exploiting innocent believers with their pretentious orthodoxy. Such false and pretentious orthodoxy has been made an instrument of exploitation in the administration of religious institutions and politics these days, on a massive scale. This is what Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh strongly resented and discouraged. This is what persuaded him from keeping away from the second phase of Akali Dal politics.
6. Sikh baptismal Water is called Amrit (Nectar). The Hymns of Guru Granth are called Amrit. The Name of God or the divine Word (Shabad) is also called Amrit. The subtle mystical relation between these three is briefly explained in this booklet. There are detailed comments on this subject in his other books on this subject, namely: Gurmat Nam Abhyas, Gurmat Lekh, and Gurmat Bibek and Amrit Kala, all works of theology based exclusively on scriptures.
7. Such terms as rasa, charan kamal, Nada, sahaj, nijghar used frequently in the Guru Granth have acquired such vague popular meanings in our everyday language that it is taken for granted even by our Tikakars (Interpreters of Scriptures) that the readers is supposed to know about them, and they conveniently skip over these mystical terms in their interpretations. As a result of this, Tikkas with very few exceptions are shockingly unspiritual and dry and they read like paraphrasing of students� textbooks. English translations based on such Tikkas by persons without religious background and knowledge of mystic symbolism of Guru Granth are equally spiritless and lifeless, however correct they may be as literal translation.
8. "Every Sikh contemplative," says Bhai Sahib, "who meditates on God's Name deeply develops all his human senses of smell, hearing and sight to such a refined perfection that he can not only feel, see, hear the gross aspect of life and existence but also the subtle forms of life and powers, and these finer perceptions can develop to a highly refined and exalted state of inner power and perfection."
9. The last three chapters are a beautiful exposition of the aesthetics of Sikh mysticism. Bhai Sahib says, "The fragrance of the ambrosial Divine Name of God is so sweet and engrossing that its aroma is incomparable. It surpasses the fragrance of sweet smelling earthly objects like musk, sandalwood and other aromatic essences. All the foul smelling passions within the heart are changed to fragrant feelings in the soul of one who meditates on the Divine Name." This aesthetic aspect of Sikh mysticism nourished by the poetry and music of Guru Granth has been tragically ignored by Sikh and non-Sikh writers on Sikhism.
10. As this booklet is in the form of a dialogue, its language is much simpler than that used by Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh in his bigger books, which he has written in a scholastic style of mystical theology, using a large number of Persian, Braj and Punjabi words of mystical traditions having a veiled and symbolic meaning.
Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh was, as I knew him from close association with him for the last twenty-five years of his life, an intoxicated mystic bubbling with love and affection for everything good, virtuous and beautiful. It was a lovely sight to see him embracing and affectionately blessing every child, young and old persons who came to him, and even before those in agony had expressed their sorrows or anguish over their personal problems to him, tears rolled down his eyes in genuine sympathy. The doors of his house were open for everyone day and night. He demonstrated throughout his life and in all his actions the noblest achievements of perfect love and a devout submission to the Will of God. He exemplified the deepest possibilities of personal piety and devotion in Sikhism. Like those saints who derive their spiritual sustenance mainly from the scriptures, he was orthodox in his approach and his orthodoxy was a sustained self-disciplining to maintain the highest moral purity of the mind, heart and soul.
Plato said, "Such is our situation in the physical world that the things we see are only shadows, the realm of truth and reality lies beyond. So if we are to see Truth, our souls must be illumined by the light of Supreme Reality, which is the Sun of the Eternal world." (Republic Bk vii). Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh's whole life was to transcend the affliction and suffering of the darkest hour of life in this world of strife and contradictions, and bask in the sunshine of Eternal Love and Truth. His tormentors perhaps acquired wealth, power and position for some time, but they all died in ignominy and shame, cursed and condemned by history and society.
"Among the saints," says the German scholar Rene Fulop Miller, are the first proclaimers of humanitarian ideals, the first fighters for social justice, the first champions of the poor. They deemed all nations and races equal; their horizon was truly global; they were the first liberators of slaves. They established the sanctity of work and were the first to insists on its ethical status. They elevated woman to the rank of a partner of man, and assigned new importance to her functions in the social structure. They were the spiritual counsellors of humanity, the protagonists of intellectual freedom, the first educators and the founders of the first scientific institutes. Whether we study history from a political or economic point of view, whether we consider the realm of culture or of science and technology, everywhere we find that the saints have proclaimed and fought for the kind of culture which we are striving to preserve today. Aside from this, the lives of the saints hold a message of beauty and hope. All our cultural treasures, the eternal values and ideals of ethical progress, charity, love, justice our application of art, and the feeling we have for the grandeur of nature, are expressions of a form of creative energy which is focused in, and emanates from the lives of the saints."
During the last eighty years of our century, the impact of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh's life and works has been deeply felt in the religious and political spheres of the Sikh world. The more seriously he is studied the better will be the understanding of the people about moral, mystical and cultural depths of Sikhism. The English Translation of his Autobiography has been greatly appreciated throughout India and abroad, the second revised Edition of which is appearing shortly.
The translation of this booklet was prepared in 1974, and when I was in England in 1975 some Missionary societies claiming to be admirers of Bhai Sahib's writings expressed their desire to publish it, but it is a sad reflection on the so called Religious and Missionary Societies in U. K. that they waste tons of money in publishing cheap pamphlets, distorting the material presented by a serious writer and issue them as pamphlets of self propaganda in which the name of every donor of a pound or two has to be printed. Living in such an advanced and civilised country they do not know what book printing really is, and what the requirements of a serious book and translation are which can really impress the civilised world.
Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Trust had to give priority to the publication of the out of print Punjabi books, and although the English Translation of Bhai Sahib's Autobiography became the rallying point of the Trust and the Publishing House under it, readers have had to wait for the publication of this booklet and the second edition of the Autobiography of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh for nearly seven years. If finances of the Publishers and the time and energy permit the present translator to undertake more translations of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh's writings, he is likely to take up the translation of one or two more books which would be of interest to the western needs.
34 Nehru Nagar,
13th April 1981