SUNDARI : A Historical Novel by Bhai Vir Singh

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The original book is written in Punjabi. The text that this review is based on is the 2006 New Edition published by Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, of an English translation by Dr Gobind Singh Mansukhani, first published in 1983. The book has a Foreword written by S Harbans Singh and Introduction by Lt. Col. J S Guleria.

Sundari is the first historical novel written by Bhai Vir Singh. The setting is the times of Mir Mannu during the 18th century when the Sikhs were subject to untold persecution at the hands of the ruling elite as they waged their struggle for survival. The story is based on a popular folk song that tells of the travails of a Hindu girl forcibly abducted by Mughals and rescued by her Sikh brother just as the girl was about to immolate herself, after the attempts of family at buying her release had ended in failure.

The reason for this risk of life and property was that the power of Delhi Mughal had declined; petty local governors became aggressive and daring; the country was subject to subversion and confusion, and arrogant rulers committed atrocities as they liked. – p. 2

After hearing the account of the ladies regarding the abduction of Surasti and some of them having seen this misdeed happen before their eyes, they were flabbergasted and felt utterly demoralized. P. 3

Surasti’s mother — recognized the rider as her own son who had earlier joined the Sikh brotherhhod as Balwant Singh – —— Balwant Singh dismounted his hotse and pushed away the pile of sticks and pulled his sister – p. 6

No my brother! To die for one’s religion is not a sin. – p. 7 she used to recite regularly and secretly the sikh prayers [gurbani]. Her devotion was deep – p. 9 [seeing Sikhs wounded on the ground] she was fired by a religious zeal —- nothing better for her to do than serving the sikh soldiers who had risked their lives for their faith —- she began to reflect on the role of women – why shuld not women participate in the struggle for the defence of morality and religion? P.9/10

Turk [mughal] used interchangeably for the muslim ruling elite/chieftains – p. 7

[A little before dawn, all Sikhs took bath] and assembled forming a congregation —- started the recitation of asa di var.

The nawab cast his eye full glance at the girl — but even so at this moment she was still an infidel. P. 16

How unfortunate that the muslims who had actually supplied the food to Sikhs were regarded as innocents and hindus who had only obeyed their muslim neighbors in the village were caught in the net – p. 22 these lion hearted Sikhs had forgotten about their parents and their families. Their spirits were imbued with love and devotion for Guru Gobing Singh. They regarded the preservation and protection of their faith as the goal of their lives. P.22

Surasti: my husband whose duty it was to protect me has renounced me – I do not want to return to domestic kind of life —- want to dedicate my life to service of Khalsa —- I shall work in the langar [in peace] and look after the wounded and disabled brothers – p. 23

Truly you are the Guru’s daughter. Your courage is that of a lioness – Balwant Singh, p. 24

It was the season of spring —- early in the morning Guru Granth Sahib was ceremoniously installed and congregation was held. Surasti was baptized and named Sundar Kaur – Sundari. —- it was a period of sat yug when seeing a young maiden among them the entire group looked upon her as a holy goddess, as their foster sister —- this was the purity and excellence of character which the Guru had taught to the Sikhs – p. 27

There are scenes showing an abducted Hindu woman, wife of one Khatri, in the harem of the Muslim chief – wine being served, delicacies spread out and the woman surrounded by his six other wives and slave girls, chatting that she will get used to as they had. The Hindu girl lamenting why Shiva would not destroy the evil abductors and a similar desolate exchange between Khatri and Sundari – the latter trying to sell her diamond ring to buy grains for the langar as she runs into him and ends up bringing him to the Sikhs who give him shelter, food and go rescue his wife. [p.27-36]

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