In 1920 the United States granted women the right to vote. In 1921, Bhai Vir Singh published a book titled, The Redemption of Subhagji through the grace of Baba Naudh Singh. With great sensitivity, he wrote about the plight of women through the voice of a young Jain widow – Jamuna. Men dressed in pious garbs prey upon her. Each new experience shows their immorality which pushes her to seek refuge in death. However, her plunge into the raging waters paves the way for her rescue and redemption. She is carried out of the waters, by a young Sikh saint who gives her hope and then disappears as suddenly and mysteriously as he appeared. The deftness of Bhai Vir Singh’s writing reveals his deep understanding of the social conditions, human relationships, and divinity. The saint is a transparent symbology, an emblem of divinity in human form. This free-style translation is the first chapter of his above-mentioned book. The book is a study of idealism that represents a moment in Sikh consciousness around the turn of the century.
Book Title: Subhag Ji De Sudhar Hathin Baba Naud Singh
Author: Bhai Vir Singh
Translator: Inni Kaur
Listen on: Spotify, Apple Podcast, Anchor or Podbean
Loss and Hope
In a small town situated on the banks of a river, piercing shrieks resound from a house where death has grabbed a young man in the prime of his life. His parents wail. His young bride, Jamuna, who has yet to experience the joys of marital bliss, sits motionless in a corner burning like a furnace.
Near and dear ones leave.
The young widow occasionally breaks into sobs.
It is her first night of an eternal separation.
Sleep eventually overpowers her.
Before long, faces with blood-shot eyes invade her consciousness: “You sinful soul, you can hide in a corner but you cannot escape my grip. A single blow will crush your delicate frame. Don’t try to escape me. My blood-stained teeth will crush your very bones.”
Startled, she wakes up. Thoughts of her husband flood in.
“Where is he? What suffering is being inflicted upon him?” Absorbed in these thoughts, she dozes off only to find herself standing in the world of the dead. The cries of the inhabitants are unbearable. She sees her husband in chains, waiting for the god of death to pronounce his judgment.
The wailing of newly arrived relatives awakens her.
Four days have gone by.
The days are long. The nights, even longer.
The loss of nuptial bliss; the indifference of the world; the fear of death and dreams of the next world have become her constant companions.
Thoughts of her own death nudge her to seek and unravel the mysteries of the next world.
Renunciation is the key, she decides. She confides in her grandmother.
“Child, let the days of mourning end. I will find a way to occupy you in meditation, service, and charity. That which will bring you peace.”
Pale and haggard, Jamuna goes about her daily chores.
With her grandmother out of town, she is forlorn and desperate. Seeking solace, she wanders into a temple.
An old woman seeing her ghostly pallor remarks, “Dear girl, your beautiful face is shadowed. What has brought about such sadness?”
“Don’t ask about my plight,” cries Jamuna. “I am an unlucky woman who is destined to live a life of misery. I don’t want to burden you with my suffering.”
“Child, troubles when talked about, make the soul lighter. Repressed suffering is like a virus that will eventually damage every cell of your body. Lighten your soul, and tell me what is troubling you.”
“I am the most unfortunate woman. My husband has left this world. I burn in agony thinking about him. I am finding it hard to live this miserable life. I don’t know what to do.”
“Child, to be a widow at such a young age, is no small tragedy. But it is God’s Will, which one must learn to accept. One cannot die when loved ones leave. Have patience, have courage. Time is a great healer. Your anguish will dissipate gradually.”
“I long for peace of mind. But having seen my husband in pain, it is driving me insane. My earnest desire is to see him happy once again. I will do anything to make that happen.”
“Oh! That is easy to do. You are very fortunate; a renowned swami (Hindu ascetic) has just gotten back from the Prayag fair. He will definitely be able to ease your mind. He has helped many people communicate with their departed loved ones. He even goes into the next world and brings back messages to them. He can make the deceased souls appear in this world. He also cures people of their ailments. You should see the crowds that surround him. Tomorrow evening, meet me at the front of the garden and I will take you to him.”
“How lucky am I to have met you. I was drowning in my grief, but you have saved me. Is it possible to meet the swami when he is alone? He may be able to connect me with my dear husband.”
“Excellent idea! Tomorrow at 5 am, meet me at the entrance of the garden. The swami will be alone and most likely will hear your story without interruptions. Child, I normally don’t get up so early, but for your sake, I am willing to bear this hardship.”
“God has specially sent you to me for this purpose. Thank you so much,” replies Jamuna gratefully.
Early the next morning, Jamuna stood outside the garden entrance waiting for the old woman. Upon her arrival, they both walk in silence towards the center of the garden. Their footsteps alert the swami and his men. The swami immediately closes his eyes, goes silent and begins to breathe slowly.
Jamuna bows reverently and gently places a coconut along with a rupee coin in front of him before sitting down.
“Holy Swami!” says the old woman. “You are the most renowned and powerful all-knowing miracle-worker, please help this young widow. All her efforts to find peace have failed. Bare-footed, she has come to worship at your holy feet. Her deepest desire is to meet her late husband. Please have mercy and fulfill her longing.”
One of the swami’s men gently says, “Mother, don’t worry. The swami is a great yogi (adherent of Yoga philosophy) and has many powers. Have faith. He fulfills all desires.”
“Do you want to see heaven? Do you want to meet your husband?” asks another of the swami’s men.
“I should be that lucky?” replies Jamuna shyly.
“Dear daughter, what is it that you truly seek?” asks the Swami gently.
“I wish to reassure myself that my husband is alright. I seek peace of mind and want to live the rest of my life in prayer and service,” answers Jamuna nervously.
“You will certainly have the sight of your husband. Do you wish that I also hand you the keys of heaven?” asks the Swami.
“Swami ji, what more could she want?” said the old woman quickly. “Please shower her with grace and bestow your blessings on her. You are the holder of all treasures.”
The Swami nods and begins chanting.
Jamuna and the old woman are mesmerized.
From that day on, they both begin visiting the Swami every morning. As the days go by, Jamuna’s confidence and trust in the Swami grows stronger. She begins to lean on him. She is convinced that he is the only one who can fulfill her desire to meet her husband. He appears to be such a noble soul, unlike her husband’s relatives who had revealed their greed. Day by day, her trust in the Swami grows deeper.
One day, when Jamuna is immersed in the feeling of renunciation, the Swami says, “If you desire to enter heaven, you will have to go to the top of a mountain. I am going there the day after tomorrow. If you still wish to meet your husband, you can come with me.”
“Swami ji, I’ll go wherever you want me to. Please release me from my troubles and also grant liberation to my husband as you see best,” Jamuna replies.
“Alright then, we will leave the day after tomorrow. But remember, continue to free your mind of all entanglements, otherwise your mind will stray. Child, when you begin to meditate on spirits, your prayers become more powerful and amazing things happen. Tell me, are you attached to your money and jewelry?”
“Swami ji, I have no love for money or jewelry. If you like, I can donate everything to the temple.”
“I don’t think you should do that. Bring them with you. Your mind will remain secure having them in your possession.”
The next day, Jamuna leaves her home with all her worldly possessions. She gets on a train with the swami heading towards the Himalayas. They reach the city of Jammu and from there, they travel on foot through desolate mountains and hazardous valleys. Eventually, they reach a high mountain top near a waterfall.
“My daughter, sit on this rock and gaze continuously into the water flowing below. Do not allow your eyes to flicker. When you begin to experience a whirling sensation, close your eyes, and meditate. In your meditation, you will see the path to heaven. Then you will hear the voice of your dear husband saying “come.” You must go immediately. If you hesitate for even a moment, you will lose this rare opportunity and the door of heaven will close. Chant the name of Shiva and don’t let any other thought enter your mind,” says the Swami lovingly.
Jamuna does as she is instructed. Her desire to see her husband is overwhelming.
The Swami kindles a small fire and throws in fragrant substances. Then, with particles of sand, he draws numerous charms around her and asks her to begin chanting. As her chanting increases, the Swami quietly gets up and leaves with her money and jewels.
“Young lady, why are you sitting at such a dangerous spot? Stand up, otherwise, you will fall into the water from dizziness. Why are you inviting death?” shouts a tall man wearing a long brown cloak.
Annoyed at the intrusion, Jamuna answers, “I am not sitting here to die. I am undergoing discomfort to get real joy. Please go away and do not bother me.”
“I fail to understand what type of real joy you will be getting by sitting here. Please enlighten me so that I too may know what you are seeking,” the man persists.
Jamuna does not want to reveal her secret. Baffled and scared, she calls out, “Swami ji, Swami ji.” But the Swami is nowhere to be seen.
She feels alone. Terrified, she reveals everything to the newcomer.
“Dear lady,” says the stranger, “the Swami was a thief. He cheated you and tried to kill you too. Get up! You will get nothing sitting here. Allow me to lead you to a true savior, the one who has sacrificed his life for guilty souls like us. If you take his refuge, you will not need to perform any other rituals. Gentle lady, if the Swami was honest, then where are your money and jewels? How can the way to heaven be downwards? Below is Hades, a breach in the earth and fire. Heaven is above the earth. Accompany me and I will show you the way to heaven, and unite you with your departed husband.”
With great reluctance, Jamuna accepts the fact that the Swami is indeed a cheat.
About the Translator
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. She is a frequent speaker at community and interfaith events, the U.S. Office of the Pentagon Chaplin, as well as at Yale, Fairfield, Columbia, and several other universities. She is a passionate author, poet, and artist. Her published works include Journey with the Gurus, a children’s book series that is inspired by the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Sahib, Sakhi-Time with Nani ji, Thank-You Vahiguru, Daddy’s Turban, and The Story of Us. She is passionately involved in trans-creating Sabad and the writings of Bhai Vir Singh. She currently resides in the USA and continues to bring multifaceted perspectives to her work.
Books by Inni Kaur: