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Kant Maheli - The Fragrance of Bhai Vir Singh

Twelve Months of a Lover

Wednesday
,
14
March
2018

Kant Maheli - The Fragrance of Bhai Vir Singh

Twelve Months of a Lover

Wednesday
,
14
March
2018
Sikhism
Bhai Vir Singh
⟵ Back to articles

Kant Maheli - The Fragrance of Bhai Vir Singh

Twelve Months of a Lover

Wednesday
,
14
March
2018

This poem is from a lived experience of the one who is drenched with love. Nature and its seasons become a mere reflection of that love. The yearning, the anguish, the abandonment, the devotion, the surrender, the ego-annihilation and the union are all unveiled in this exquisite piece.

The poem Kant Maheli of Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh has been sitting on my desk for over two years.
For some strange reason, I was fearful of it.
I ignored the whispers I kept hearing: “You need to read Kant Maheli.”
But when the poem spoke loudly and clearly, “You have to read me. Now.”
I had no choice.
With great trepidation, I picked up the poem with a mindset that I would only read it, not trans-create it.

Well, all that changed when I reached the fourth verse.
Heart tightened.
Eyes moistened.
Breath whimpered.
At that moment, I knew why I had been ordered to read this poem.
I also knew that I had to trans-create it.
This is a story about a century’s old love.
How could I not tell this story? This is my story.

Weeks of reading, absorbing, crying, and much more followed.
Every pain, every emotion—I felt deeply.
I went back in time. It was painful as well as therapeutic.
Kant Maheli and I became one. The words resounded within.
The tears dried. I felt comfortable.
And only then…

I ventured, trying to transcreate it, knowing fully well that my words would never do it justice. It is the burden we translators carry. My trans-creation will never have the original's depth, beauty, and nuance.

And yet, I chose to recreate it, or did the poem choose me?

I am sharing my reflections, knowing fully well that they will change as I continue to delve deeper into this poem. Yet, I chose to share them.

Kant Maheli flows from a lived experience of the one drenched with love. Nature and its seasons become a mere reflection of that love. The yearning, the anguish, the abandonment, the devotion, the surrender, the ego-annihilation, and the union are all unveiled in this exquisite piece.

The voice in this poem is that of a maheli. A maheli who is drenched in love.

How does one translate maheli? But more importantly, who is a maheli?

I search.
I ask.
I plead.

I came up with a few possible meanings of maheli: woman (istri), a true friend; life partner (sakhi); wife (vahuti). In Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptural cannon), the word maheli appears as maheli-a or maheli-ho. The Nanaks label themselves Mahal or Mahala; when at love’s epitome, they are Kant’s Maheli. I am tempted to use the word lover for maheli, but I chose not to, for it does not feel right.

How, then, do I translate Kant? Husband is way too limiting. It also does not capture the symbolism and depth the word evokes. The word Beloved comes to mind, but I feel something is missing there too. To me, the word Kant is uttered when the physical element in a relationship transcends to a relationship of aligned consciousness. It is the ultimate intimate union. Rare, yet possible. I could translate the title Kant Maheli as Beloved Lover; Lover of Beloved; Beloved’s Lover. However, none of these convey depth, beauty, or essence; therefore, I stay with the original for the title.

Kant Maheli unveils the love feelings of a maheli. Multiple words express the degrees of intensity, amplification, and subtle elevations of love flow throughout this piece. Mahi evokes the feeling of impending separation. I sense an element of waiting in this word usage. I am choosing to translate mahi as Lover. However, when Sai is evoked, I cannot find the right word because Sai is uttered only when one willingly and reverently surrenders oneself. I could use the word Owner, but it does not feel right, for there is no reverence in the word Owner. So, I keep the original. I have translated piare as Beloved and pia as Husband.

Symbolism and romance woo me to keep the native words describing the year's twelve months. In Guru Granth Sahib, the Barah Maha (Twelve Months) revealed by Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Arjan Sahib invoke human-divine separation-union in musical measures capturing the weather’s interplay with the weather within.

Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh follows the Guru’s genre. Through the five words (Kant; Mahi; Sai, Piare; Pia), emotions of separation of a being are presented in this sensitive poem.

In Cet (mid-March - mid-April), her Lover leaves.
She weeps through Vaisakh (mid-April - mid-May).
In Jeth (mid-May - mid-June), she tosses and turns on the bed.
Her pain intensifies in Har (mid-June - mid-July).
In Savan (mid-July - mid-August), she is lying withering on a rope-woven cot.
She yearns for Lover’s return in Bhadao (mid-August - mid-September).
In Asu (mid-September - mid-October), she surrenders her all.
She admits that her love is strange in Kattak (mid-October - mid-November).
In Maghar (mid-November - mid-December), she wails incessantly.
Her home becomes foreign in Poh (mid-December - mid-January).
In Magh (mid-January - mid-February), she becomes a dried twig.
Laying on a floor of straw, we find her in Phagan (mid-February - mid-March).
And then, at the end of Phagan, she gets a glimpse of her Lover.
Life enters her.
And she lives…

This verse has touched my inner core.
May you be touched by its beauty and sensitivity as I have been.
Read it with an open heart, savor each verse, and allow it to permeate you.
May the pangs of separation enter us as we enter the month of Cet.

The Verse

Cet (Mid-March)


Delightful Cet is here.
Sweet breeze is blowing,
Garden is blooming,
Joy is gushing.

Kant enters saying,
Preparing to march somewhere.
Immediately, my heart sinks.
The heart’s longings remain within the heart.

Oh! Month of Cet,
Kant begins preparing.
I plead endlessly.
Nothing was heeded.

Lover mounts on the horse    
Like a cherished warrior
Rides far away on a mission.
I begin drowning within.  

Vaisakh (Mid-April)


Weeping, Vaisakhi has come.
I have no desire.            
Sweet delicacies in every home,
No fire is lit on my stove.                      

Jeth (Mid-May)


O’ Kant! Jeth is here.
Earth and ether are heating,                    
Separation is smoldering within,  
I am squirming, wrenching on a bed.        

O’ Jeth! I beg you,
Send me the scorching heat.
O’ Sai! Let the gust of hot air
Touch not Lover’s body.

Har (Mid-June)


The month of Har is here.
Buckets are smelting, scorching.
Crows and birds are crying.
My simmering is increasing.

One pain is my separation,
The second is anxiety for Lover.
Drinking sips of patience,
I am lying in misery.

Your brothers have umbrellas,
When they go out in the sun.
When you were leaving,
Why would I not give you one?        

O’ Sun! Scorch not there,
Where my Husband has gone.
O’ Scorching air! Blow only after cooling
Where my Life has gone.

My beautiful Creator!
Bestow shadows of blessings.
If ‘Lover’s-region’ is hot,
May hot air strike not.

Savan (Mid-July)


The month of Savan is here.
Friends are on the swings,                  
Thorns are piercing my heart,
I am lying withering on a cot.            

Friends taunt: “O’ Come! Come,
Get up; monsoon season is here.”
O’ Ignorant ones! Without Lover,
Sorrows are killing me.

He’s gone to a foreign land…
Oh! He’s left me all alone.
I have become insane, weeping and wailing…
Why am I even alive?

Bhadao (Mid-August)


The month of Bhadao is here.
Nights are getting darker,
Clouds are getting darker,
Thunder and lightning have begun.

O’ Kant! Wherever you are,
May Sai protect you.
But now, turn and return,
This pain is killing me.

Asu (Mid-September)


The month of Asu is here.
Nights are becoming colder,
Days blazing sunlight,
I continue worrying about you.

Whichever region is my Lover,
Divine Willing! Sun scorch not there.
O’ Lover! Turn your reins,
I am offering my all to you.

O’ Kant! Come, come!
Come see your beloved.
Wrung in your sorrow,
Not a drop of blood remains.

Kattak (Mid-October)


The month of Kattak is here.
Candles light every home.
Weeping, wailing, my shirt is soaked.
Friends mockingly say:

“Is your Kant unique?
“Who’s gone to a foreign land?
“Others have also gone,
“They all are playing.”

Whom should I tell?
My love is strange.
I cannot live with this separation,
Why do I even look alive?

Beautiful blushing season,
Eating, drinking, donning.
Although everything is pleasing,
All my friends are enjoying the season.

Nothing pleases my core,                        
Without my beloved Kant.
Limitless pangs within me,
Devouring and terrifying me.    

Maghar (Mid-November)


Crying, Maghar has come.
Cold season is here.
Cotton-filled are the quilts and mattresses,
Friends are with their kants.

Like a konj1 separated from its flock,
I am separated from my Kant.
I writhe, wriggle, squirm,
Wailing, wailing in anguish.

Poh (Mid-December)


The month of Poh is here.
Weeping, wailing, my shroud is soaked.      
Cold is now bone-chilling.
My being is becoming listless.

Which land have you gone to?
Oh! Left me all alone!
What are you doing there?
I have no clue.

The nights of Poh are endless,
As lengthy mountain paths.
Moon and stars cannot be seen.
Fear and fright keep waking me.

Friends come calling:
“Let’s show you the Lohri2.”
“Let’s see the sugarcane fields.”
“Bang! Bang! Shots of celebrations.”

“Let’s end the cold.”
“Seize Poh, make it run away.”
“Burn all the spinning wheels.”
“Bring back the warmth.”

O’ Kant! Without you,
The courtyard is bare—there is no joy.
This land is now foreign,
I’m lying here, mourning in separation.

Oh! Beloved Kant!
O’ My Sai! Without me,
At times, are you sad or lonely?
O’ Tell me! Tell me!

Magh (Mid-January)


The month of Magh is here.
My eyes have not dried.
As the filled clouds,
My eyes remain filled.

Cold has shed its wings.
The season of renewal is coming.
The eyes of vines and flora,
Are now filling and seeping.

But Separation cried out,
“Our eyes are not full.”
But my eyes refuse to dry,
I am crying and weeping…  

I have shriveled into a thin stick.
O’ Kant! Come, see.
Without you, O’ Beloved!
I am now lying finished.

Come, see this plant.
You left it as a rose.
Now, all there’s left is a dried twig.
I am completely thrashed.

Phagan (Mid-February)


The season has become delightful.
O’ Spring has arrived!
The month of Phagan is here.
Pale yellow, I have become.

Friends are making merry,
They come calling me,
Teasing and taunting
But also pampering me.

“O’ Sister! Get up, come.”
“Walk, look around.”
“The heart may get distracted.”
“Focus may get diverted.”

Oh! Beloved Kant!
Oh! Life of my life!
Oh! Where have you gone?
No one can tell me.

Phagan is about to end.
Still no news of Sai.
O’ Sai! I’m lying on straw,
I am lying on straw.

O’ Sai! I lost all senses,
Trailing, searching for you.
O’ Sai! I’m lying on straw,
I am lying on straw.

End of Phagan (Mid-February)


Who is sitting by my pillow
With a hand on my forehead,
Pulsating life into me?
O’ Creator! Life, life is entering!
O’ Sai! The straw is dispersing.

Who is bending down, looking at me?
These are my Beloved’s eyes.
These are glimpses of Lover.
Lover’s glimpse falls on me.

O’ Friends! Come, come!
My Lover has come.
O’ My Lover! Without you,
I am no longer me.

1 Demoiselle crane. This bird figures prominently in the literature and poetry of Panjab. Beautiful women are often compared to the kunj because their long and thin shape is considered graceful. Symbolically, it is used when people venture far from home or undertake hazardous journeys.

2 Popular wintertime Panjabi folk festival.

Revised:

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Creative Director

Inni Kaur is Creative Director at the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). She has served SikhRI in several capacities since 2010, including Chair of the Board, and most recently as CEO. 

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