My Nana ji (maternal grandfather) was also intensely passionate about Kalgiyavaley (Guru Gobind Singh Sahib). For 33 continuous years, Nana ji would make a trip to Sri Darbar Sahib, Patna Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s birthplace on his Agman Divas; the last decade or so, the trip was made from Toronto. I vividly remember one of the last times he went. He was ill; soon thereafter, he would be on dialysis. Flying out at the last moment, he landed in Bombay. Nani ji (maternal grandmother) had hoped my parents would make him see sense. They did try their best to have him stay, but it was of no avail.
That evening we had kirtan at home, and Master Mohan Singh sang one of my favorite poems from Bhai Vir Singh’s book Kambdi Kalai - Dhur Patney Apnaye Ganga...
Dhur Patney Apnaye Ganga
Take me home, Mother Ganga,
Take me home…
O’ Ganga! With your thousand hands,
Carry across my love-lamp,
To my Beloved,
To your ghats in Patna!
My tiny flame
Like a star –
With every crest and trough,
Rocking and floating,
I leave myself in your hands.
Take me gently to,
Where I must go.
Return me safely,
To my core.
Do not linger.
Do not tarry.
Do not let me falter.
Carry me straight.
To Patna’s shores!
On your ghats, Beloved sits.
Immersed in meditation,
Like the constant star.
In measured steps –
Do not disturb Beloved’s reverie.
Place my love-lamp,
At His feet.
Is a flaming light - Adorned,
With blossoms of my heart.
Sing this song for Him alone!
Take me home, Mother Ganga,
Take me home…
Carry me across to Him.
Return me to my core!
The ghats of Patna,
Have come a-calling.
Carry me home today.
Face buried in his hands, Nana ji’s body racked with sobs. I had never seen a grown man cry before. Greatly alarmed, I understood neither his pain nor his passion. He made it out on the last flight from Bombay to Patna Sahib, making it to Sri Darbar Sahib minutes before janamvela.
I was in my late teens when my mother took us children to Patna Sahib. It was December, and I remember sitting on the Ganga ghat – the steps that lead into the River Ganga. “Dhur Patney Aapnaye,” I, too, had returned to my core…to one of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s favorite childhood haunts.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture him leading his army of boys. I wondered at which spot the womenfolk would come to fill their pots with water. Where was it that young Gobind Rai and his mates would hide and take aim, breaking their earthenware and drenching them? I tried hard, but it was one of those rare moments where my imagination completely failed me. Not granted even the shadow of a glimpse, I was left in this very ordinary setting with the feeling of having totally missed the point. I had returned but only physically.
Well, one must possess both - the eyes and the gift of sight - to see. I had hoped that passion, like other things, could be passed on and inherited. That one day, I would understand, perhaps even feel my parents’ passion for Kalgiyavale. And if I was very, very fortunate, be accorded the shadow of a glimpse.
My mother's relationship is the same yet different with each Guru. The deep deference she possesses for Guru Nanak Sahib is translated into a passionate surrender for Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. Only she feels deeply all things connected to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib and his family, perhaps because she sees herself as part of it.
Knowing my family’s reverence for Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, my mother’s cousin once asked me if I’d like darshan (glimpse) of one of the gulel (small lead balls) that young Gobind Rai propelled through his slingshot to shatter the women’s earthen pots. Without thinking (I was not supposed to), I handled the small, smooth ball; it was small but heavy. I tried to picture the boy who used it, and I was left with little else than the impression that he must have been very strong for his age and possessed an unusually steady hand. Missing its mark could cause serious damage. But no action of young Gobind Rai or Guru Gobind Singh Sahib ever missed its mark.
The size of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s arrows, spear, and sword have always left me floored, marveling at the sheer strength of the Guru. Incredibly, I am told, it was not his physical prowess but his inner strength – a force within – which made him both a leader and lover incomparable.
In my mind, I see Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s likeness to the dashing air of his grandfather Guru Harigobind Sahib. They shared a love for swords and horses and possessed the same passion that lent distinction to and infused spirit in the Sikh Panth in its darkest hours. However, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s verses flow in a natural meter, and he has the rare gift of marrying languages without breaking the poetic flow, just like his great-grandfather Guru Arjan Sahib. He owned both - a mighty pen and a mighty sword.
Guru Gobind Singh Sahib penned the Zafarnama, ‘Epistle of Victory,’ after the infamous Battle of Chamkaur. If the Zafarnama is described as an admonishment to Aurangzeb, it is unjustly so. Its verses stand testimony to Guru Sahib’s indestructible spirit and that of his Khalsa. We emerged victorious because we did not allow ourselves to be defeated.
Prof. Puran Singh describes the Khalsa as Spirit Born People - those who are (re)born from Kalgidhar’s indomitable inner force.
In one of his essays in the Spirit Born People, he writes that the kara (bracelet) on his wrist reminds him of a similar much-loved hand, his Beloved’s hand, and that was reason enough for him to wear one. I immediately connected with that thought. I do not understand; I cannot understand; however, I love deeply. I rely wholly on love. And, this may be the best of my inheritance.
When I read the Zafarnama the verse which had the most impact on me was:
“Even if I had taken an oath on Quran in concealment,
I would not have budged an inch from my place.” - 18.
This one verse speaks volumes to me on Guru Sahib’s stance on tolerance, integrity, respect, honesty, and honor. A stance that’s equally relevant and difficult to maintain today.
Apart from these fragments, to me, he remains mostly elusive. How do you pin down a man who demonstrates that the value of the Guru-Panth is worth every member of your family, your all, and still more?
What words do you use to describe a Guru who addresses himself as ‘Chela,’ and the Divine as “Mittar Pyare,” ‘Dear Friend’ and “Yaar-reray,” for which I cannot even think of an English equivalent – Dear Beloved-Friend?
Sometimes I wonder…the loss of money and less has driven good people over the brink. But here was a person, yes, he was Guru, but then we are swamped with new-age Gurus these days, and not one can give up either money or comforts, or one child let alone four, father or mother, home or country for the sake of his followers. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib ‘lost’ all and emerged victorious.
In 1984, I was nine. It was then I realized that life was lived on a blade as fine as a hair. Anything could happen at any time. That entire year we as a family did 100 Chaupai Sahib prayers each day. Coins would drop from one jar to another, no matter what it took. We did not sleep till all 100 coins were safely in.
“Sikh soldiers etched the Chaupai on their armors,” Dad said, “When you recite the Chaupai, Kalgidhar Patshah is with you, looking after you.”
The words of Chaupai Sahib are etched within me. Fear is an uninvited guest, never allowed to linger.
In Dad’s most difficult times, he would say, “Mera Kalgiavala mere naal hai, (My Kalgiavala is with me). I’m not worried.” And if he ever were, he would do an Ardas, “Kalgiavalley, mere naal chalo. Aap sambhalo – (Kalgiavala, walk with me. You, look after me; look after the situation).”
In writing this, I have taken the first baby steps to understanding Kalgidhar Patshah through my eyes. And not just through my Mom’s, Dad’s, or Nana ji’s eyes.
I write this piece during the time when we mark the Battle of Chamkur and the martyrdom of the young Sahibzadey. In a way, celebrating their father, our father, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, and acknowledging the fierce spirit of the two gentle souls. For, gentler the soul, fiercer the spirit – if there is anything Guru Sahib’s life and bani have brought to me, it is this realization.