Two Indian Epics on National Hero Bhagat Singh*
I. Tradition of Indian Epics
A. Classical Languages Period
Tradition of Epic poetry writing in
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
Celebrated author of Ramayana is Valmiki, about whom not much is known. He is considered to be coming from oppressed castes in
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
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
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
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
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
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
In modern period of Hindi literature, epic writing continued, but with selective poets. Jagannathdas Ratnakar wrote ‘Gangavataran’(The story of
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.
C. Freedom Movement and Epic poetry
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.
2. Introduction to two Indian authors of Epics on Bhagat Singh
Shree Krishan Saral, author of ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’ in Hindi was born on Ist January, 1919 at Guna in Madhya Pradesh state of
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
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
British colonial regime proclaimed two anti worker ordinances, despite being rejected as bills in Central assembly
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
3. Hindi and Punjabi epics on Bhagat Singh
(i) ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’: An epic in Hindi by Shree Krishan Saral
This epic by Shree Krishan Saral was first published in 1964 from
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
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
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
By 1923, at the age of 16 years, Bhagat Singh joins national college
While 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
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
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
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
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.
- Shree Krishan Saral, ‘Sardar Bhagat Singh’, Rashtriya Prakashan,
, 5th edition 1983(Ist ed.-1964) Ujjain
- Prof. Didar Singh, Qissa Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Tarakbharti Prakashan Barnala, ed. 2006
- Prof. Didar Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Research Committee,
, Ed. 1984 Ludhiana
- W.J.Wilkins,’Hindu Mythology’, D.K.Printword Delhi, Ed. 2006(ist ed. 1882)
- John Dowson,’A Classical dictionary of Hindu Mythology and religion, D.K.Printword,
- John Garrett,’A Classical Dictionary of
India’,Low Price Books , Ed.1996(Ist 1871) Delhi
- Monier Williams, ‘Indian Epic Poetry,
- William Jones, Discourses and essays’, PPH,
, 1984 Delhi
- Sant Singh Sekhon/Kartar Singh Duggal,’A History of Punjabi literature’,Sahitya Akademi,
, 1992 New Delhi
- Ramchander Shukla, ‘Hindi sahitya ka Itihas(History of Hindi literature), Nagri pracharini sabha, Benars.
Paper presented in international workshop on “Vietnam Epic” at Buon Me Thout city,
** Professor Chaman Lal is Chairperson ofCentre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi (
Professor and Chairperson
Centre of Indian Languages (SLL&CS)