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Bhai Vir Singh: The Art of The Eyewitness




We celebrate Bhai Vir Singh's birthday on Sunday, December 5, 2010, by offering you the following, a tribute from one poet-mystic to another, written while Bhai Vir Singh ji was still alive.



Bhai Vir Singh is an epoch in himself.

With him begins the most modern Punjabi language; he gives it a new style, a new rhythm and a new flow. He has not been able yet to pour his best, but we thank God for what he has already given us.

He sits under the tree of life in maiden freshness like his Guru. His song is vital and he imparts most of his joy to his poems. He is the representative poet of those old Sikh poets who revolved round the Beloved' s throne in wonder and worship. He is a true eastern genius, still loyal to the Asiatic idea of art, philosophy and religion. He is a democratic aristocrat, as every joyful man must be.

As a poet, Bhai Vir Singh is a rider whose fairy horse careers up and down the past and the future. He encounters the people that have gone by, talks to those that are coming, thus becomes intimate with future centuries.

He rises in joy and pride of his great Guru, Nanak Govind Singh, to and fro in the golden regions of the spirit of God. It is but rarely that the hoofs of his Pegasus strike a spark of life on our stony hearts.

Having seen him, I realize how the touch of the foot of the great Rama freed the imprisoned Ahilya. To us the efficacy of this touch means everything.

The rejoicing and chanting of happy angel voices in a thousand temples ring in him. One marvels what can stay him away from bursting into a dance like that of Shiva or Chaitanya.

What holds him?

He keeps all his joy within himself, for so hath ordered Guru Nanak. He retains all this excellence until his very flesh savors of the perfume of roses.

On the full moon of November, when Guru Nanak was born, this great Sikh becomes the scene of the Avatar, which invites the whole world to drink the soma of life.

His art is of the eyewitness; he writes what he sees; draws his poems from the melody of his soul. When the scene is before him he draws his rough outline, but before he fills it in, the original scene had dissolved.

His art is of the highest, not for its power of story telling; that conjures up past events in panorama, nor for the delicate grace of its purity and beauty; nor, even, for its great humanity. It is the deep realization behind it, so masterly in its imperial authority that the very stones, when called by his voice, move and offer a prayer of thankfulness to their Creator. He cleanses the outcast, dresses them in moonlight so that the most abject feel like gods.

There is the mysterious halo of new spring in his poems. He adds a new universe to our soul. His voice is as the voice of the Beloved.

The lofty, gorgeous, infinite, eternal melody of the Guru Granth rings in his blood and his being is resonant with the song of the Beloved.

His writings are spiritual in effect. They do not stimulate intellect so much as the soul. He is a mode, like a virgin, hiding his passion in the deepest recesses of his heart.

His life is vowed in love to God.

He is invisible to the vulgar eye; now and then we have a glimpse of the poet, when he pours out his passion suddenly, in the memory of his beloved Guru, in the bosom of a river, or the heart of a rock, and makes them sing aloud his secret pain.

This silent poet makes the rivers cry and sets the hills on fire by the touch of his emotion. He remains behind the scenes, invisible, with his flute ringing in the loneliness of a dark midnight.

His touch alone can make a poet. I have seen unlettered men and women glowing with poetry when sitting near him.

I wander round his rooms, sit here and stand there, do nothing, think nothing, just wonder and admire, taking tea with him, or
enjoying a morning meal in his company, gaze at him as he bathes, as he eats and talks, as he listens to the conversation of those around him; and when I come away I invariably find myself full of divine glow; my consciousness has grown iridescent, full of God, His mercy and His love.

After seeing him I find myself a beautiful thing worthy of my own homage and love and admiration. I feel like worshipping myself. I find myself intensely creative and when he thinks of me ardently I am inspired with a new passion for life. He is seen only indirectly, through the inspired consciousness that is induced by his goodness in others that go near him.

He is the true poet of the East, who opens our eyes to see the Beloved. "See! There is rain of glory everywhere. Joy rains down - beauty is flooding everywhere," says he, in confidence.

And we see, we are drenched, deluged with God.

Lo, a silent, profound man of God with a presence that inspires joy of life, love of God and goodness of man.


[Courtesy: Panchbati Sandesh]

December 4, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Tejbir Singh (Delhi, India), December 04, 2010, 10:07 AM.

Thanks for this. Please tell us when was this piece written?

2: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), December 05, 2010, 12:34 AM.

It was in 1948 when Bhai Vir Singh's book of poetry, 'Matak Hularay', came my way as part of the prescribed Gyani (Hons-in-Punjabi) course at Punjab University. Its unforgettable lines - "Supnay vich tussee(n) millay assaanu, assaa(n) dhaa gullwukri paa-ee. Nira noor tussee(n) huth na aey sadi kumbdee rahee kallaa-ee" - have forever haunted me since. I would enjoy reading this charming anthology under the dense shade of Shehtoot trees growing around the local village gurdwara. Thus was a recently matriculated youth introduced to Punjabi literature. My other favourite read has been Prof.Puran Singh's 'Khullay Lekh'. I owe my interest in Punjabi literature to these two pioneer, stalwart writers.

3: Raj (Canada), December 05, 2010, 2:04 PM.

My favourite book about Bhai Sahib is the compilation of his letters written to his friends about life, spirituality and relatives. He always addressed his correspondents as "Piaray Jee-o" in his letters, hence the title of this book is "Piaray Jee-o".

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), December 05, 2010, 7:03 PM.

It was in 1945, perhaps, when my sister, Bhenji Pritam, while waiting to get married decided to sit for the Gyani exzminatioin. She too had 'Matak Hullaray' prescribed. She would sing the unforgettable lines - "Supnay vich tussee(n) millay assaanu, assaa(n) dhaa gullwukrri paa-ee. Nira noor tussee(n) huth na aey sadi kumbdee rahee kallaa-ee". As a child this was subliminally recorded on my mind. Year later, when I read those books, it brought back a flood of memories. This is how I was weaned on Bhai Sahib's works. Every Thursday (Veervaar) my sisters would wait for the postman to bring the weekly Khalsa Samachar that was read and re-read by all. "Pyaarey Jee-o" is now available in audio and now recently two more - "Gurmukh Sikhiaa" and "7 Aukhiaan Raataa(n)" consisting of excerpts from "Baba Naudh Singh" are added as audio files. The site for ease of reference is:

5: Harinder Singh (San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.), December 06, 2010, 10:10 AM.

Every rendition of Bhai Sahib I have read has had a profound effect on me. The way he approaches bani is incredible for it covers the gamut from linguistics to theology and then raises our 'surat' to higher flights. His Janamsakhi interpretations of the Guru Sahibs' life accounts transport you to a moment where time is still. His exploration of the five khands in Punjabi novels is beautiful creative genius at work. And, last but not least, Prof. Puran Singh's foreword to the second edition of Bhai Vir Singh's Guru Granth Kosh is out of this world ... every serious student of the shabad must read it.

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