A. Classical Languages Period
Tradition of Epic poetry writing in India is very old. The ancient literature of India, like in Greece or some other cultures has begun with creation of Epic and Drama. Thus in the period of classical languages, particularly in Sanskrit and Tamil, many such epics have been written, which have become world classics. Monier Williams in his nineteenth century book-‘Indian Epic Poetry” has discussed in detail the ancient Indian classic epics. Two of Sanskrit Epics deserve special mention here, which is known world wide, i.e Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ramayana was written one or two centuries prior to Mahabharata. One is yet to determine the exact time of Ramayana’s writing. But it is generally accepted that it was written between 5th to 1st centuries B.C. Two manuscripts of Ramayana were found-the northern and Bengal. Out of the two, northern manuscript is considered to be older and purer, whereas Bengal manuscript is considered to be altered with additions and interpolations.
Celebrated author of Ramayana is Valmiki, about whom not much is known. He is considered to be coming from oppressed castes in India and many modern young Dalit writers use Valmiki surname proudly. Ramayana is story of Ayodhya prince and king Rama, who was exiled for fourteen years by the machinations of his stepmother Kaikayee, in order to make her son Bharat as king. King Dasrath dies after exiling his elder son, but Rama refuses to return before the expiry of exile term. Lanka king Ravana abducts his wife Sita, who had joined her husband Rama in his exile. There is a war between the two armies and Rama defeats Ravana and brings Sita back and triumphantly returns to Ayodhya, as his exile term is also over. Rama is coronate king, but he exiles Sita at the taunt of a commoner that she has stayed at Ravana’a place for a year or so. Ramayana consists of 24000 shlokas in seven books. The story continues in Uttarkand(postchapter),the seventh chapter of Ramayana, which some scholars consider as interpolation.
Valmiki Ramayana became the source of inspiration to poets in many languages and hundreds of Ramayana’s have been written in different Indian languages with the different titles with a bit of difference in storylines as well. In Tamil ‘Kamaban Ramayana’ is almost as much popular as Valmiki Ramayana is in other parts of the country. In Hindi Tulsidas’s ‘Ramcharitmanas’, written in 15th century is part of many Hindu households in north India as religious scripture. But Tulsi is considered and taught as major medieval poet of Hindi in academia as well. There have been Ramayana stories in almost every Indian language in some form or the other. In some of Buddhist Ramayana tales Rama and Sita are shown as brother and sister. There is a tradition of playing ‘Ramlila’, a poetic-drama form in large parts of north India. Ramlila(story of Rama) is played by local amateur drama groups in towns and cities for ten days prior to ‘Dussehra’ festival, which falls twenty days prior to ‘Diwali”(festival of lights), the day of Rama’s return to Ayodhya after completing fourteen years exile. These folk Ramayana’s and poetical creations are different in art form, but common in mythical story line.
After a century or more of Ramayana’s creation, another very popular epic was created in Sanskrit language, called ‘Mahabharata’. Mahabharata consists of 220000 lines in eighteen chapters, called ‘parv’ in Sanskrit. Its authorship is not as firmly established as of Ramayana. Its compiler’s name has been given as Krishan Dwaipayan, called Ved Vyas also. There is suspicion of more interpolations in Mahabharata than in Ramayana. Mahabharata story is much larger and contains stories between stories. It is story of two mythical dynasties-solar and lunar kings of India. Out of these kings were Dushyanta as well, on whose son Bharat, India has got its present name in Hindi version-‘Bharat’,i.e.-‘India, that is Bharat’ as per Indian constitution. Pandu and Dhritrashtar are two brothers. Pandu had five sons, known famously as Yudhishtra, Arjun, Bhim, Nakul and Sahadev, the five pandavas. Dhritrashtra has hundred sons and a daughter. Dhritrashtra is blind, so his wife Gandhari binds her eyes with cloth permanently. She would not see with her eyes, as her husband can not see with his eyes. Kunti, the mother of Pandavs, has another son Karan from the god Sun, which is taken care of by Kaurvas, the clan of Dharitrashtra. Dharitrashtra divides the kingdom between two streams, but Duryodhan, son of Dharitrashtra and leader of Kaurvas, invites Pandavas on gambling and with cheating grabs everything from them. Dharitrashtra , on the advice of his half brother Ved Vyas, the compiler of Mahabharata, returns the kingdom, but Duryodhna again traps the Pandavas. This time it is too cruel, he gets them to be his slaves, by cheating and also unrobed Draupadi, the common wife of five pandavas, who is saved from this shame by magical power of Krishna, who keeps on covering her with clothes. Bhim, Arjun pledge to take revenge in blood. Pandavas are exiled for thirteen years and they stay in disguise at various places, sometimes becoming even servants. Even after exile period is over Duryodhna refuses to part with the kingdom. Krishna, the relative of both sides and close friend of Arjuna tries to mediate but to no avail, so the war becomes inevitable. Krishna’s army fights for Kaurvas and he himself is chosen by Arjuna to be with him in the Great War. And this bloodiest wear is fought on the plains of Kurukshetra, near to Delhi, the capital of India. Eighteen days war destroys almost everything, Pandavas won but they loose heart to rule. So they hand over the kingdom to younger generation and walk towards their destiny towards the heaven. All die on the way, only Yudhishtar survivies along with his dog and he refuses to enter heaven without his dog. He is allowed in, only to be known that Dharma, was accompanying him in the guise of a dog.
There are hundreds of stories inside this main story, which are immensely interesting. Interestingly while Ramayana is treated almost as religious scripture in Hindu homes and read with devotion, Mahabharata is not brought home. It is said that its presence in home will bring strife. Though Rama and Krishna are both considered gods in Hindu tradition and both as incarnations of god Vishnu. While Rama is considered as ‘an ideal for social conduct’, Krishna is accepted more as romantic hero, with having hundreds of beautiful women as his admirers, even beloveds. Ramayana and Mahabharata both have been filmed and televised many times and in many forms and are hugely popular with viewers.
Ramayana and Mahabharata set certain high standards for epic writing in Sanskrit. Sanskrit produced many significant epics later, including the epics by greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidas. Kalidas’s ‘Meghdoot’(Cloud messenger), Kumarsambhav and Raghuvansh etc. epics have left an indelible impression on Sanskrit literature and poetics and these had made Sanskrit epics as treasure of world classics. Ashawa Ghosh’s ‘Buddhcharit’,(The story of Buddha) has been one of the most famous Sanskrit epic, which has been translated in English under the title-‘Light of Asia’. This Buddhist epic has been translated into many more world and Indian languages.
Classical Tamil had also made a significant contribution in writing of early epics. Thus in 2nd century A.D. Elango Adigal wrote his ‘Cilappatikaram’, story of princess Kaniga, whose statue is displayed on the famous Marina Beach of Chennai in India. In fourth century a Buddhist epic was written in Tamil. ‘Manimekala’ was written by Cattanar. It is based on Buddhist tales. The reference to Kamban’s Ramayana has already been made above. Tamil grew as a very strong language, as the first grammar book-“Tolkappiyam’ was written in first century by Tolkappiyar. This grammar text is considered as significant as ‘Ashtadhayi’ of Panini, a Sanskrit classic grammar text known world over.
B. Modern Indian Languages Epics
Tradition of epic writing continued in modern Indian languages as well. Thus beginning tenth century, epics appeared in Telugu, Kannada etc. in south India. Around the time, in other major Indian languages also, epics were written, such as in Hindi, Bangla, Oriya, Assamyia, Sindhi, Gujrati, Marathi etc. A brief introduction to modern Hindi and Punjabi epic poetry will be given here, whose two epics are under discussion in this paper.
In Hindi, first epic is considered ‘Prithviraj Raso’ by Chandbardai. This was written in eleventh century. Most of the epics written in ancient or medieval period are related to the stories of feudal wars or romances or both. Thus Prithviraj Raso is story of Prithviraj Raso’s bravery in wars and his romance with Sanyukta. This is a huge epic consisting of nearly 25oo pages in 69 chapters, though three shorter versions are also found. There are doubts about the authenticity of the author, period and text in almost all four versions, yet shortest version is considered a little more credible.
Not all epics need be mentioned here written in medieval period, but some deserve attention. ‘Padmavat’ by Jayasi, a sufi epic is greatly appreciated for its literary merit. It is a tragic tale of Sri Lankan princess Padmavati, who gives her life for love. Around the time Tulsidass’s ‘Ramcharitmanas’, story of Rama’s life appeared. By far it is the most popular book among Hindi speaking states in India. It is treated as literary as well as religious text. A century or more later, Keshav’s epic ‘Ramchandrika’ was published, but it did not catch readers imagination, though this was also Rama’s story. In eighteenth century, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru of Sikhs wrote ‘Chandi Charitar’ , story of godess Chandi, the war goddess. Guru Gobind Singh wrote mostly in Hindi as he was born and brought up in Patna, Hindi speaking area far away from Punjab.
In modern period of Hindi literature, epic writing continued, but with selective poets. Jagannathdas Ratnakar wrote ‘Gangavataran’(The story of Ganga) and Udhav ‘Shatak’ in Brajbhasha. Ayodhya Singh Upadhyaya ‘Hariaudh’ wrote “Priya Parvas’ and ‘Vaidehi Vanvas’(Exile of Sita). Maithilisharn Gupt wrote ‘Saket’(story of Rama) and ‘Yashodhra’(story of Buddha’s wife). Gurubhakat Singh wrote ‘Noorjehan’.Balkrishan Sharma wrote ‘Urmila’(story of Lakshman’s wife). Lakshman was Rama’s younger brother, who accompanied Rama in exile, while leaving behind his just married wife Urmila for fourteen years. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar wrote ‘Urvashi’, a heavenly beauty, threat for sages. But the most famous modern Hindi epic is Jaya Shankar Prasad’s ‘Kamayani’(the story 0f civilization). It has been translated into many languages including English and is given prime place among modern Indian epics.
There have been hundreds of other Hindi epics, but few significant ones have been referred here.
In Punjabi, epic writing is not so strong. In ancient period, in place of epic, there is narrative poetry called ‘Qissa’, somewhat like ‘Dastaan’ of Persian tradition. Dastaan is in prose form, but Qissa is poetic. The most famous Qissas(poetic narratives) of Punjabi are—‘Heer Ranjha’, Sohni Mahiwal’,Mirza Sahiban, Sassi Punnu, Shirin Farhad etc. These all are earthly romantic tales, mostly tragic between young lovers. Not all are Punjabi pairs, some are from Sindh, some from Iran etc. Even Arabic tale of Yousaf Zulaikhan is written in Punjabi.
Anther form of Punjabi poetry is written as Ballads of war and strife. Known are the ballads of Dulla Bhatti , Jaimal&Fatta etc. These are the warriors of medieval times who challenge feudal authority and help poor after squandering the rich.
Bhai Veer Singh the first modern Punjabi poet , wrote an epic ‘Rana Surat Singh’. Then Mohan Singh wrote ‘Nankayan’(The story of Guru Nanak). Shiv Kumar’s ‘Luna’ (story of young bride, married to old age king) has been immensely popular in Punjabi. Every language has its own cultural environment, out of which its literary creation take place. Punjab has been a land of valor and strife, so the ballads and Qissas have been created more than the epics.
C. Freedom Movement and Epic poetry
India’s colonization by East India Company of England started from 1757 onwards, which culminated in first war of Independence in 1857. In these hundred years there were innumerable revolts in the different parts of the country and the folk tales and folk songs of different Indian languages are full of their valorous stories. 1857 war was lost by Indians and Britain established its direct rule on India from 1858 onwards. The freedom struggle in various forms continued till 1947 in all parts of the country, somewhere by peaceful means and at other places in the form of revolts, including armed revolts. By 1857 most of Indian languages literature had taken shape and one can see hundreds of literary texts in the form of epics, poetry, drama or novels on first war of Indian Independence in almost all major Indian languages. Of particular references is the PhD thesis of Bhagwan Das Mahour, himself a revolutionary and comrade of Bhagat Singh on this subject. Mahour wrote his PhD in Hindi on ‘The impact of first war of independence on Hindi literature’. He not only focuses upon hundreds of Hindi texts in this process, he had a bird view of Sindhi, Bengali, Marathi and Gujrati literature as well, written under influence of 1857 war of independence.
Since 1885 Indian national congress, later led by Mahatma Gandhi came into existence. It wanted to achieve independence through constitutional and peaceful means. Congress had mass following, but youth were frustrated by its methods and leadership and conservative programme. Subhash Chander Bose like Congress leaders rebelled against this methodology and formed Indian National army to fight for Indian freedom. This army had bases in East Asian countries as well. Bhagat Singh was the supreme revolutionary youth, who appeared on political scene for freedom struggle for brief period of 1924-31 and became the legend by his sacrifice for the country. Many more revolutionary revolts like Kakori, Chhitgaon, Navy revolt, Quit India movement etc. had been the glorious chapters of Indian freedom movement. Few heroes of national movement caught the imagination of Indian poets and writers and they created hundreds of epics, dramas, novels, stories etc. featuring these heroes of freedom movement. The most popular heroes to catch the imagination of poets/writers were Gandhi, Nehru; Subhash Bose, Bhagat Singh and Dr. Ambedkar, apart from many more.
Hundreds of literary texts, particularly poetry books were banned by British colonial regime during the peak of movements, as these used to arouse the masses by its emotional appeal. After the execution of Bhagat Singh in 1931 and also during his trial during 1929-31, literary texts appeared in almost all major Indian languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Gujrati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil , Bangla etc. and many of these got banned by the regime. Yet the writing on these heroes never stopped. After independence in 1947, again there was a flood of writing on national heroes and here also Bhagat Singh drew maximum attention of poets and writers. This trend continues till day.
Shree Krishan Saral, author of ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’ in Hindi was born on Ist January, 1919 at Guna in Madhya Pradesh state of India. He was a freedom fighter and a teacher after independence. He lived a long life and passed away on Ist September 2000 at Ujjain in India. He was a prolific writer and wrote more than one hundred books, all in Hindi. These include poetry including epics, biographies of freedom fighters, encyclopedias of revolutionaries etc. One of his epic on freedom movement-‘Kranti Ganga’(The river of Revolution) is considered to be largest poetry book or epic. Written in the style of Mahabharata, it has eighteen chapters like it. In each chapter, he has created a poetic description of each phase of freedom movement. He had nearly fifty books of poetry to his credit and nearly sixty of prose. His poetry books include twelve epics, apart from other forms of poetry. His epics include the depiction of life of eminent revolutionary freedom fighters like Subhash Chander Bose, Chandershekhar Azad, Ashfaquallah Khan,Tilak, Kartar Singh Sarabha etc., apart from epic on Bhagat Singh under discussion here.
The author of epic on Bhagat Singh in Punjabi language, Professor Didar Singh had shorter life .Born on 14th January 1922 in Arup village of Gujranwala district(now in Pakistan), he became a teacher in 1953 and taught in schools till 1964, before becoming in Professor in English in a Government College. He retired from service in 1979 and passed away on 30th November 1982. Didar Singh has much less number of books to his credit. He wrote mainly poetry and that too on historical personalities or movements. He wrote epical poetry on ‘Mahapandit Carvaka’(The great scholar Carvaka), who was a materialist thinker of ancient India,,’Ajatshatru’, ‘Baba Punjab Singh’, ‘Tripasur’ etc., apart from his epic under discussion on Bhagat Singh.
After the brief biographical detail of these two authors, these two poetic creations on national hero Bhagat Singh would be discussed in some detail. But before discussing these literary creations, a brief introduction to Bhagat Singh would be useful. As such Bhagat Singh is most popular national hero in India, but he may not be known much outside India and Pakistan.
A brief introduction to national hero Bhagat Singh Bhagat Singh was born on 28th September 1907 in a village called Chak no. 105 Bange in then Lyalpur and now Faislabad district of then India and now Pakistan. Bhagat Singh’s grandfather Arjun Singh, his father Kishan Singh and two uncles were all freedom fighters. One of his uncles Swarn Singh died in young age of 24 years because of tuberculosis, he cantacted in jail. Another Uncle Ajit Singh was exiled in 1909 and stayed in exile, mostly in Latin America till 1947, few months before the achievement of independence and he died on the morning of independence,i.e. 15th August, 1947. Bhagat Singh was too much attached to his exiled uncle Ajit Singh and his wife, who nurtured him like his own child. She herself was childless. Due to family environment, Bhagat Singh became aware about his country’s condition in a very early age. Though the family was well off and had fertile lands to till, yet they were ready to make sacrifices for the country’s freedom from British colonial rule. At the age of twelve, Bhagat Singh had gone to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, few miles from Lahore, where he was a school student, in the aftermath of massacre of Indian people and had brought the blood strained soil of the place to his home and kept it as a pious symbol. He joined National College Lahore after his schooling and came under the influence of underground revolutionary movement. To avoid getting married under pressure from home, he went to Kanpur and further strengthened his bonds with revolutionary movement. He left his studies and organized student and youth organizations in Lahore and in whole of Punjab. He was arrested in 1927 and bailed out after five weeks on huge amount’s guarantee. In 1928, Bhagat Singh was instrumental in giving socialist and Marxist direction to his revolutionary organization. Hindustan Republican Association turned into Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. The organization was planning to organize masses and build mass organizations of youth, students, workers and peasants, when Lala Lajpat Rai, a respected leader of freedom movement died following the batons blown upon him by British police officer Saunders in Lahore, when he was leading a mass protest in 1928 against continuation of British rule in India. Another eminent national leader of freedom movement challenged the youth of nation to avenge the death of such respected national leader. So Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary organization decided to kill Saunders, as a symbol of colonial and oppressive power. Exactly a month after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, British police officer Saunders, who blew lathis(batons) on Lalaji, was murdered in broad daylight in Lahore, when he was coming out of his office. Since Bhagat Singh was part of this action at the age of 21 years, he knew that his fate was sealed now.
British colonial regime proclaimed two anti worker ordinances, despite being rejected as bills in Central assembly Delhi forced the revolutionary organization to make a wake up call to Indian workers and other people. Bhagat Singh and B.K.Dutt threw bombs in Central assembly on 8th April 1929, when these ordinances were being forced against the wishes of majority of assembly members. No one was hurt and few benches were affected by the blast, as the bombs were made to make noise and not kill. The inspiration to throw harmless bombe ‘to make the deaf hear’ came from a similar action by French revolutionary Valliant, who threw bomb in French parliament in 1893 to draw attention towards hungry masses of France at that time. He was also executed later by French Government. Bhagat Singh and Dutt could have escaped, but they offered themselves for arrest. Bhagat Singh used British courts for political propaganda during his trial, a thoroughly miscarriage of justice. He along with his comrades observed longest hunger strike till then in jail, of 115 days. Hunger strike by revolutionaries and their political statements in courts made them hero, not only in India, their voice reached world over. Bhagat Singh was executed along with Sukhdev and Rajguru on 23rd March 1931 after a farcical trial in Saunders murder. Mass protests by millions of Indians throughout the country made no impact on colonial government. Bhagat Singh made no appeal against the sentence and all three went to gallows cheerfully and shouting the slogans of ‘Inqlab Zindabad’(Long Live Revolution). Communist paper ‘Daily Worker’ published from Newyork and London published the news of this execution prominently on 25th March 1931 and condemned British colonial regime for these executions.
Bhagat Singh became a hero of Indian people during his life time and his popularity grew much more after his execution. He became the most respected martyr of freedom struggle and today his name has become internationally renowned. He is being clubbed with Che Guvera in terms of martyrs for socialist cause world over. Books, articles, poetry started getting published on Bhagat Singh during his jail term itself and there were hundreds of publications in all Indian languages after his execution. Largest number of banned publications in all Indian languages during British rule were focused on Bhagat Singh Till now more than three hundred publications in all Indian languages, many of these published after independence have come to notice. The maximum number of these publications is in Hindi, more than half of total publications, followed by Punjabi, English, Urdu, Marathi, Tamil etc. So these two literary creations of Hindi and Punjabi will be discussed in the above background of Bhagat Singh’s life and his popularity in India and elsewhere.
(i) ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’:
An epic in Hindi by Shree Krishan Saral
This epic by Shree Krishan Saral was first published in 1964 from Ujjain. It was given subtitle as ‘progressive epic of national consciousness’ by the author. This epic became popular with Hindi readers and by 1983; its fifth edition came out. It is out of print these days and one has to struggle to locate its copy in libraries or with individuals. 448 pages epic is dedicated to ‘that mother from whose womb Bhagat Singh like sun was born’. The epic is divided into 23 chapters, referring to twenty three plus years age lived by Bhagat Singh. The poet has titled his preface to the epic as ‘visphot’ meaning ‘Blast’. Poet Saral had narrated a story or rather true experience in this preface. Poet has gone to Ferozepur, a border town of Punjab, where Bhagat Singh and his comrade’s memorial have been built by Punjab Government and there is a huge gathering on 23rd March, the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh. The poet was confronted by a thin person, who wanted to know whether he was writing something on Bhagat Singh. The poet admitted it and the unnamed person tried to dissuade him from doing so, as ‘whatever had been written on Bhagat Singh earlier was all trash and he did not want that trash to further increase.’ The poet assured him of writing correctly and accurately, but the stranger warned him ‘to Shoot’ if he wrote anything wrong . This threat shocked the poet but made him realize also that he can not write such things casually or for pleasure. He has to be strong on facts about historical events. So he contacted the family members and living comrades of Bhagat Singh and collected facts. He started writing the epic on 23rd March 1963 at the memorial of the martyr and completed it in seven months and 23 days. The epic was completed in Ujjain, the poet’s home city on 14th November 1963. Incidentally 14th November is birthday of first Prime Minister of independent India and freedom fighter himself- Jawaharlal Nehru. The poet wanted to complete the epic in the lifetime of martyr’s mother and he was able to do it. The poet had explained the process by which he wrote this epic. According to him, he was careful about following things:
a) Only true events have been made the base of poetical creation with least imagination.
b) Family has been source of childhood events of his hero and later life history had been gathered from living revolutionary comrades of the martyr.
c) The poet had been concerned about depicting the personality of the character, based on the events rather collatering the crowd of events.
d) The poet had been careful to project the ideas of his hero accurately and had tried to read all those books which Bhagat Singh himself read during his life.
While the poet had introduced all the male members of Bhagat Singh’s family, including his grandfather, father, uncles, and five brothers, yet strangely he had skipped grandmother, mother, aunties and three sisters, one of which is still alive. The poet had then moved to describe Bhagat Singh’s personality and his contribution to armed revolutionary movement of India. After this long introduction, the poet starts his first chapter, titled ‘Lion’s Mother.
First five chapters of the epic deal with baby age of Bhagat Singh, who had been acquiring images of national movement from home. One image of first year of baby’s life has been depicted by the poet as of a ‘mischievous’ baby, who used to make not only family members, even the neighbors also smile by his mischief’s. In one playful incident, the child throws away the jewellary, but is attracted for gun. The child was like a plaything himself and was centre of affection by all aunts in the house. In second chapter the mother hands over the child to his aunt and wife of his exiled uncle Ajit Singh, with whom the child was otherwise also attached. In the third year and third chapter of epic, child is shown as sowing the guns in family farm and at the query of father’s fried ,the child declares to ‘organize his own army and with the pistols growing in farm, he would arm his army with these, and throw British out.’ Father of the child is worried at such talk by his son, but his friend explains that it is natural in his case as the child is always listening to anti British discourse from his elders in the house. The child in his fourth year consoles his aunt and pledges to take revenge from Britishers for the exile of his uncle.
From sixth year as depicted in sixth chapter onwards, the critical mind of Bhagat Singh develops and he starts questioning his father about the role of Congress party in freedom struggle. His father was a Congress party activist. The growing child also questions about the landlord’s exploitation of poor peasants and questions that why he does not himself labor in the farms? He also queries that why these ‘Goras’(Whites), who are so small in numbers, do not leave our country? The poet shows by children playing together that Bhagat Singh is building a tough body as well. At the age of nine, Bhagat Singh had a dream, in which he sees the British forces killing Indian people; they are firing upon them, crushing them under horses etc. The child says that one old man saved him from this torture and he narrates this dream to his aunt. His father goes to school and discuss the dream with his teacher, who assures him not to worry as the child has listened to a saga of freedom struggle in the day in school, which developed into a dream in the night. By the age of eleven years Bhagat Singh is sent to city school in Lahore, where he is admitted into sixth class. Here his personality grows further. When he was twelve years old, the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh in nearby city Amritsar took place and Bhagat Singh went to Amritsar from his school, without informing the family. He brings a bottle full of blood soaked soil of that place and at the query of younger sister that this is the ‘blood of martyrs’ and he pays respect to this soil everyday along with his sister. In thirteenth and fourteenth year of his life as depicted poetically by the poet, the adolescent sees the oppression of British forces on Indian people and in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi begins his mass movement against British rule. Under the impact of this even school students replace ‘Union Jack’, the British flag with tricolor Indian flag and get baton charged from British police. Bhagat Singh also takes part in such activities. But when Gandhi withdrew his mass movement after an incident of burning of police personnel in Chauri Chaura village of Gorakhpur district in north India, Bhagat Singh was shocked and started thinking about the futility of peaceful struggle. The poet has narrated Bhagat Singh’s association with Sikh movement to free Gurdwaras from the religious places from the hands of corrupt preachers appointed with British collaboration.
By 1923, at the age of 16 years, Bhagat Singh joins national college Lahore, set up an alternative education system to counter British colonial education system. In national schools and colleges established in various cities of India, training of patriotism was part of curricula and education system. National college Lahore was being looked after by an ex revolutionary of Ghadar party, who escaped the gallows by a whimper. Here Bhagat Singh grew into a full fledged revolutionary with inspiration from his teachers as well. Poet Saral has devoted one full chapter to national college Lahore and depicted the youthful behavior of his hero. The poet describes friendship among five friends in the college, who grew to be part of revolutionary movement. These friends were-Jaidev Gupta, Sukhdev,Bhagwaticharn Vohra,Yashpal and Bhagat Singh. Out of these Sukhdev was executed with Bhagat Singh, Bhagwaticharn Vohra died while testing a bomb, a year prior to the execution of Bhagat singh. Yashpal turned out to be a major Hindi writer at a later stage and wrote many memorable novels in Hindi, apart from memoirs of revolutionary movement. Jaidev Gupta took care of Bhagat Singh during his life time and used to send books to his friend in jail. His memoirs are most valuable to understand the personality of Bhagat Singh. The friends used to be night birds and talked throughout night on river bank of Lahore. Poet has narrated few incidents like the harassment of a hungry old man. Bhagat Singh won a prize also in an essay competition in Hindi during this period. Poet narrates the bravery of ‘Babbar Akali’ movement of this period and Bhagat Singh wrote an article after six ‘Babbar’ revolutionaries were hanged in 1926. During his Lahore college days, Bhagat Singh was part of drama group of the college and this group staged many plays, in which Bhagat Singh played the part of hero many times.
Whil e family started looking for a bride for Bhagat Singh, it alarmed him, as he thought that ‘his life is committed for the nation’ only. Getting an introduction from his teachers, he goes to Kanpur and meets national leaders as well as revolutionaries there. Poet refers here to Yogesh Chatterji and Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi as ‘two great teachers’ of revolution. Bhagat Singh worked in daily’ Partap’ here under fictitious name and wrote many articles in it. He took part in flood relief work here and also taught in a national school near Aligarh. His friend Jaidev Gupta comes to bring him home as his grandmother had fallen sick by missing him. He returns home and the talk of his marriage is abandoned altogether by the family. In 1926, during Dussehra festival in Lahore, there was a bomb blast, Bhagat Singh is arrested in that case in May 1927 and is released after five week detention in police station. The real reason for arrest was the organization of Naujwan Bhart Sabha(National youth organization), on the pattern of ‘Young Italy, inspired by Gari Baldi and Mazzini, national heroes of Italy. The poet has reached in his twenty first chapters, where he narrates that how these young revolutionaries try to arouse people’s imagination for patriotism by showing the slide show of martyrs for national cause. This show is organized in Bradlaugh hall of Lahore, where national college was also located. The hall was built in the memory of pro Indian freedom British M.P. Charles Bradlaugh by Indian national Congress. During bail period Bhagat Singh was tied to milk farm of his father, where he has no interest. He used to invite his comrades there and served milk in abundance to them. He got the hard bashing from his father for that. This time he bade a final goodbye to the family. Poet narrates the Delhi meeting of revolutionaries in September 1928, where the organization was given a socialist direction and it was decided to create mass organizations. But the death of national leader Lala Lajpat Rai with the baton charge by British officer Saunders, the youth avenged Lalaji’s death by shooting down Saunders in broad daylight in Lahore in front of Police headquarter. While Bhagat Singh and his comrades escaped from Lahore after this action, they planned another action of throwing bomb in Central assembly to protest against anti people laws. Poet while describing these historic events has not forgotten to depict most sensitive friendly feelings among revolutionary youth and there cheerfulness. Thus poet depicts the physical strength contest between Bhagat Singh and Chandershekhar Azad, who was considered more strongly built character of the movement. But Bhagat Singh defeats him in this contest. Poet also depicts how these young revolutionaries liked good food and used to eat from their friends and teased them also. These are very humane pictures of emotional richness of the self sacrificing youth. When Bhagat Singh and Dutt are going to Central assembly in Delhi, they are bade goodbye by very close comrades in a park, where Durga Bhabhi, widow of Bhagwaticharn Vohra brings sweets and oranges for Bhagat Singh, who had very affectionate relations with her.
After throwing bombs in assembly and getting arrested, it is two year political struggle in jail and courts. This is the period, when through his actions of hunger strike, court statements , reading and writing in jail ,made Bhagat Singh a most popular hero of the nation. He became almost like a folk hero in his lifetime itself. The poet has depicted the last two years life of Bhagat Singh in chapter 22nd and 23rd with great sensitivity. During the hunger strike, Jatin Das, a close friend and comrade of Bhagat Singh died on 63rd day of his hunger strike, here poet refers to Bhagat Singh’s record sixteen week hunger strike, which ultimately got them the status of political prisoners. Before the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, their most precious comrades and leaders-Bhagwaticharn Vohra and Chandershekhar Azad lost their lives in May 1930 and February 1931 respectively. It made Bhagat Singh extremely sad in jail, but he faced the gallows in a most heroic manner.
Embracing Sukhdev and Rajguru, his co comrades in execution, all three raised sky sounding slogans of ‘Long Live revolution’ and death to Imperialism’ and poet concludes his epic with the last comment that ‘ it seems you are living in every particle of this world. It seems you are living in every patriot’s pledge. It seems that you are alive in revolutionary spirit of the age. You are living in heart on the touchstone of sacrifice.’
In overview one can say that poet has lengthened the epic, which would have been more effective, had it been little shorter and more compact. Poet had well maintained the rhythm and the meter. Generally Indian epic are focused on feudal heroes, but Shree Krishan Saral broke this tradition and made rebels and revolutionaries as his heroes in epics. Poet used the form of epic quite effectively to convey his emotions and ideas both. Though poet had pledged to the stranger he met at Ferozepur to remain faithful to the fats and ideas of the hero, yet while depicting facts faithfully, he has not been able to do justice to the socialist and atheist ideas of Bhagat Singh, which he propounded most assertively. Here one can see the weakness of the epic also. Here the ideology and perspective of the poet becomes important. Non socialist and non atheist perspective of the poet here becomes a hindrance in the true depiction of his hero’s declared ideas. Yet in totality, one can appreciate this epic, as it was first full fledged biographical poetic creation of Bhagat Singh’s life, which otherwise is quite fascinating for creative artists.
(ii) Punjabi Epic: Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ by Prof. Didar Singh’
This epic by Professor Didar Singh is available in two forms. It was first published in 1968 in an abridged form. It was published by Yuvak Kender(Youth Centre) Jalandhar in Indian Punjab, without mentioning the name of the author. It has been reprinted by Malwinderjit Singh Waraich with his introduction in 2006 from another publishing house and called ‘Qissa’(Ballad).
However another edition of this ballad was published in 1984 from Shaheed Bhagat Singh Research committee Ludhiana in Punjab. This is larger and fuller edition of the earlier published version. This edition came out after the death of the author and its introduction was written by eminent Punjabi critic Professor Kesar Singh. While the earlier version has fourteen chapters, this enlarged edition contains thirty chapters and this is more than double in size of earlier version.
Prof. Kesar Singh in his introduction has described this creative work by author as ‘epic’ and underlined the fact that its contents are based upon research and historic writings. As per critic this epic authenticate three main aspects-- (a) Martyr Bhagat Singh’s ancestral background and political events of his life,(b) Aims, programme and struggle of a powerful organization of Indian freedom struggle called Hindustan Socialist Republican Army(HSRA). (c)and lastly National-international politics of one decade (1921-31) its background and future. Prof. Kesar Singh appreciates the language, folk meter and rhythm and simplicity of the epic, but he considers its real literary strength in the choice of poet’s subject and hero and mature ideological truthfulness. Kesar Singh had also noted that poet has created a type character as per realism theory of literature, particularly propounded by Hungarian Marxist critic George Lukach’s. Kesar Singh opines that till the system of economic exploitation of workers and peasants continue, the relevance and literary value of this epic will remain intact.
Except for few pages, both the editions carry the same content, in abridged or enlarged form. The poet follows the typical formula of epic writing. The first chapter is ‘Prayer’ (of the poet), where poet expresses his resolve to create a truthful account of the hero. The second chapter begins with description of birth of the hero. The poet describes that how the grandfather of the child called ‘Pandit’ or ‘future teller’, who said that ‘the child will get either the political power or go to gallows’. Poet also describes the event as ‘good fortune for Sandhu clan of Jats( Punjabi dominant caste)’. In third chapter poet describes the mythical story of phoenix and narrates the history of the clan, whose forefathers even fought the Greek aggressors on India during Alexander’s time. Poet describes Charmak, as the king of Sandhu clan, based in Narli village of erstwhile Lahore district of undivided India. At a later stage, the family shifted to Khatkar Kalan, a village where one ancestor of the clan was married to the only daughter of local lord. As the grandfather of the child takes the nine year child to the ancestral village and narrates the story of family tree, the thrust of the poet is to show the readers the ruling class background of would be martyr. Poet refers to the mythical image of phoenix here to show that the brave ones continue to reborn in some form or the other. Poet shows the child taking pledge to become phoenix. In family accounts, Bhagat Singh was born in Faislabad district and lived mostly at Lahore and perhaps rarely visited his ancestral place. In next chapter poet refers to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, led by Lenin and he describes this event as ‘ The sons of the soil woke up’. Further poet refers to the growth of Bhagat Singh into a Youngman and then narrates ‘the night of alien rule..’ In this chapter poet refers to the organization of young men’s organization by Bhagat Singh. In very next chapter poet gives a poetical shape to ‘The manifesto of Youth Organization’. Poet focuses upon youth’s sacrificing spirit for the nation everywhere. From manifesto poet focuses upon the aim of revolution to ‘get power in proletarian hands’. In next chapter poet jumps to the incident of Saunders murder in Lahore and gives poetical shape to the poster put on Lahore walls that night, whose title was-“Blood avenged with Blood’. This murder was in revenge to the killing of national leader Lala Lajpat rai with the baton blows of Saunders.. In continuing chapter poet narrates the escape of Bhagat Singh from Lahore to Calcutta, with Durga Bhabhi, the wife of their comrade Bhagwaticharan Vohra, shielding Bhagat Singh as her ‘husband’ in British officer’s dress.
Revolutionary group decide to throw bomb in Central assembly ‘to make the deaf hear’ and not to harm anyone. After throwing the bombs along with another Comrade B.K.Dutt, both raise sky rocketing slogans of Inqlab zindabad’(Long Live Revolution) and Samrjyavad Murdabad’(Death to Imperialism).Incidentally the slogan raised by Bhagat Singh of Inqlab zindabad became a clarion call of Indians afterwards and this slogan is as much popular in present day Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Nepal as well, apart from India.. Poet moves to narrate the trial scene of Bhagat Singh in British courts and give poetical shape to historic 6th June 1929 statement of Bhagat Singh and Dutt in session’s courts. In spite of proclaiming that their only purpose to draw the attention of law makers attention towards the people’s plight and they stood for revolutionary transformation of whole society, to make it free from all kinds of exploitation, they were sentenced to ‘transportation for life’.
The poet is focusing upon the ideological development of Bhagat Singh and he next moves to the message he sent to student conference of Punjab, held in Lahore on 19th October, 1929, where he declares that ‘it is not advisable for students to take the path of bombs and pistols. It is advisable for them to move to workers and peasants and other poor to organize them in mass organizations’. In the continuation of this theme , poet further moves to the letter addressed by Bhagat Singh to the editor of ‘Modern Review’, who had ridiculed the concept of ‘revolution’ by attacking the slogan of ‘Long Live Revolution’ in his journal. Published in ‘The Tribune’, a most respected daily of Lahore on 22nd December, 1929, Bhagat Singh clarifies the concept of ‘revolution’, which was not just ‘sanguinary strife’; it was a total transformation of society on socialist principles. Moving further, the poet now poetically recreates ‘the manifesto HSRA’, called at that time as ‘The Philosophy of the Bomb’. It was a rejoinder to Mahatma Gandhi’s editorial in his paper, called ‘The Cult of the Bomb’. By this time, it became clear that there were two perceptions about Indian freedom struggle, one propounded by Mahatma Gandhi as non violent movement and other propounded by Bhagat Singh like revolutionaries, which emphasized upon revolutionary transformation of society by all means including armed struggle as well.
Though close friends, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, two intellectual stars of the group had occasional differences as well. On two issues they exchanged strong notes. One was on the issue of sensitive aspect of ‘Love’, which Bhagat Singh appreciated as an inspiring feeling, whereas Sukhdev had somewhat puritan approach. When revolutionaries were on hunger strike, Sukhdev became a votary of ‘Suicide’, while outside jail; he condemned the idea of suicide in very harsh terms. Here Bhagat Singh snubbed his friend by saying that revolutionaries have to remain prepared for suffering worst kinds of deprivations and suicide could be an easy escape from those troubles. Bhagat Singh used to have more compassionate view of suicide in normal circumstances for human beings. Both were so well read that exchange notes about Great Russian literature and other aesthetic aspects of life.
Poet narrates the courtroom scenes and the boycott of courts as sham by revolutionaries. Poet further gives poetical shape to one of the most important writing of Bhagat Singh, called-‘Why I am an Atheist’. Written on 4th October 1930, few months before his execution, this is like swan song of Bhagat Singh. Around the same time, Bhagat Singh wrote a very strong letter to his father censuring him for interfering in his political life in order to save his son’s life. He declares that for him, his ‘principles were far more important than his life’. He instructs his father to get the letter published in media and strictly forbids him to interfere in his political life. The father followed the instructions of his son and got the letter published before the day of pronouncement of death sentence.
Significant aspect of Prof. Didar Singh’s epic on Bhagat Singh is his poetical transformation of major documents of Bhagat Singh. Poet further poeticize Bhagat Singh’s letter on ‘how to fight revolutionaries court cases’ and his very important political document of 2nd February 1931, titled as ‘Letter to Young Political Workers’. He is in best philosophical and political thinker form in this letter and declares that ‘except for very brief period of his early revolutionary life, he was never ‘a terrorist’, as British colonial government tried to project him. He declares himself to be ‘a professional revolutionary’ in the sense of Leninist concept.
In one sensitive chapter, poet recreates the emotional exchanges between Bhagat Singh and his family members, which included grandfather, mother &father, two aunts, sister Amar kaur and two younger brothers. This was the last meeting held on 3rd March 1931, three weeks prior to his execution; Bhagat Singh inspires his brothers and other family members to work for the nation. After this chapter, the poet moves to Bhagat Singh’s historic letter addressed to Punjab Governor, exhorting him to send an armed squad to shoot them as they were ‘ in war with British colonialism’ and in war they should have been treated as ‘war prisoners’ and should have been ‘shot dead’ by firing squad. A day before execution Bhagat Singh wrote his final goodbye to his comrades, by telling them to live and continue struggle for freedom. He underscores the fact that living in adverse conditions is much more difficult than dyeing and as true revolutionaries they ‘must live in most adverse conditions’ to continue their struggle for revolution. The poet has free flow to his imagination in the chapter’ the last night of the martyr’. He even imagined a dream of the poet as well. In the lat chapters the poet recreates the scene, when Bhagat Singh is reading a book of Lenin, got through his lawyer a day earlier, when suddenly in the evening itself he is asked to be ready to go to gallows, though the practice world over is to conduct execution in the early morning. Bhagat Singh is not surprised, as he understood British colonial rulers too well. He tells the jail warder to just wait for few minutes, ‘a revolutionary could meet another revolutionary warmly’. He completes the page he was reading, folds the book and announces that he is ready to go. All three- Bhagat Singh Rajguru and Sukhdev are taken to gallows; they hug each other warmly and shout slogans, which resonate in whole jail-‘Inqlab Zindabad’ and ‘Death to Imperialism’. The poet creates two more emotional scenes of grandfather’s dream of Bhagat Singh in 1932, prior to his death and mother Vidyawati’s message in 1970 at the age of 86 years. The poet concludes his epic at this juncture.
Prof. Didar Singh’s Punjabi epic tries to depict ideas of Bhagat Singh in more objective manner than Hindi poet Saral. However Punjabi poet Didar Singh also falters when he eulogizes ruling class background of his hero and being part of higher caste clan Sandhu jats. Less attention could be paid to literary merits or demerits of these two epics here as the theme or contents of epics weigh heavy on artistic aspects. Still one can say that both poets had tried their best to remain close to the principles of realism in their literary creation. But one may have to agree that novel in present age is more effective genre to depict such characters and movements.
1. Shree Krishan Saral, ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’, Rashtriya Prakashan, Ujjain, 5th edition 1983(Ist ed.-1964)
2. Prof. Didar Singh, Qissa Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Tarakbharti Prakashan Barnala, ed. 2006
3. Prof. Didar Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Research Committee, Ludhiana, Ed. 1984
4. W.J.Wilkins,’Hindu Mythology’, D.K.Printword Delhi, Ed. 2006(ist ed. 1882)
5. John Dowson,’A Classical dictionary of Hindu Mythology and religion, D.K.Printword, Delhi,Ed.2005
6. John Garrett,’A Classical Dictionary of India’,Low Price Books Delhi, Ed.1996(Ist 1871)
7. Monier Williams, ‘Indian Epic Poetry,
8. William Jones, Discourses and essays’, PPH, Delhi, 1984
9. Sant Singh Sekhon/Kartar Singh Duggal,’A History of Punjabi
literature’,Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1992 10. Ramchander Shukla, ‘Hindi
sahitya ka Itihas(History of Hindi literature), Nagri pracharini sabha, Benars. 11. Paper presented in international workshop on “Vietnam Epic” at Buon Me Thout city, Vietnam, held on 24-26th October,2008