Bhai Sarwan Singh Jee, a true Gurmukh, belonged to village Phalewal, Ludhiana. He was an accomplished Gursikh, without being conspicuous, living a householder’s life as the most ordinary person. I was unaware of his high spiritual attainments, even though we lived so near. Here comes destiny. Our meeting was not yet destined. This is how it happened.
I met Babu Mal Singh Jee for the first time at the Panch Khand Samagam. I had not known him earlier. We were resting in the same room at night. From the conversation he started, it appeared that he was familiar with my name. He explained, that there was a highly spiritual Sikh from Phalewal, living un-conspicuously, named Bhai Sarwan Singh, who had told him about me. Bhai Sarwan Singh had been baptised at our Jatha's Samagam and knew about me, though I had not known him. Soon after his Baptism, this Gursikh attained a high spiritual state. Babu Jee said that he had been eagerly looking forward to meeting me after my introduction by Bhai Sarwan Singh. Now after this incidental meeting and mention of Bhai Sarwan Singh, I became interested to avail the earliest opportunity to meet him.
On return to Narangwal, I immediately got ready and started off on foot for Phalewal. I had never been there before and didn’t know anyone in that village. Master Niranjan Singh of our Jatha from Narangwal was employed at Khalsa Primary School, Phalewal. I thought of approaching him to find out about Bhai Sarwan Singh. I recalled Babu Jee telling me, that Bhai Sarwan Singh was a village Head-man (Nambardar) also. When I neared the village, a thought came to my mind that if he was really an evolved soul as described, then let him meet me before entering the village. As I approached the village the eagerness kept mounting and I even forgot about this thought, I had a little while ago. This too was an act of Divine Will. Just outside the village, I saw a mendicant type of person coming from the village. He wore only a Kachhera and a small turban, without a shirt and wearing a Kirpan. He greeted me with Gur-Fateh and passed by driving a buffalo, with a staff in hand. It just did not occur to me to know about him.
On entering the village, I noticed a Dharamsal, place of worship, where some elderly people were sitting in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. I made my obeisance and took seat. All these Sikhs knew me and enquired about the purpose of my visit. I explained that I was looking for a Singh named Bhai Sarwan Singh Nambardar. They replied that he had just left driving a buffalo and in all probability crossed me. I enquired whether he is the same person without a shirt. They confirmed that he is the same person of very ascetic nature. We were still talking about this, when the person returned and sat next to me. As soon as my eyes contacted his eyes, we became one. He immediately took me away from there, saying that we would go to meet Master Niranjan Singh in the school. He led me to the school compound without any further conversation. Master Niranjan Singh was surprised to see me. Regarding the purpose of my visit, I just pointed towards Bhai Sarwan Singh who smiled and asked Master Jee to call it a day. It was late in the afternoon and Bhai Sarwan Singh proposed Kirtan in his cottage. Master Jee let off the students and closed the school.
The three of us marched to the cottage, which was located just outside the village in the fields. This was a beautiful thatched cottage at a lovely spot. The music instruments were already there, Bhai Sarwan Singh handed over harmonium to me and himself took the small drum, Dholki. Master Niranjan Singh got cymbals, ‘Chhenne’, in his hand. The Divine inspired Kirtan started. Bhai Sarwan Singh was an accomplished Kirtaniya, expert in both drum and harmonium. He got spiritually intoxicated with the very first hymn and lost self-awareness. Hours went by. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that Bhai Waryam Singh of the village was also sitting with us, singing melodiously. Only four of us were in the Kirtan and it lasted for many hours. Suddenly, a voice said, that it’s time for Rehras and to start with So-Dar Kirtan. After Rehras, we did Ardas and took the Gurvaak and I remember the last line quoted that; “My love has come to stay in my house.” After the ceremonious closing of Sri Guru Granth Sahib for the night, the harmonium was offered to Vir (Brother) Sarwan Singh, the drum to Master Jee and the cymbals to Bhai Varyam Singh and the Kirtan started again. I remember Bhai Sarwan Singh started with, “My love has come to stay at my house.” It was highly enjoyable resounding session for two hours. Suddenly, I felt a strange pull for Narangwal and left immediately with my three companions.
On the way back, we were attracted by the sight of ravine, Dhab of Gujjarwal and sat there. This is located midway between Narangwal and Gujjarwal as a barren, lovely spot. This ravine is associated with interesting history, where a stream used to flow. Bhai Sarwan Singh, coming out of his deep meditation at times used to narrate that occasionally he heard the sound of the hooves of the ‘Blue Mount’ and beheld Sri Guru Gobind Singh riding the side of the old ravine. The present dry ravine had a fig tree close by. In the times of our elders there were boundary disputes between the two villages for a long time and many young lives were lost. Ultimately the ravine became the accepted boundary, with the ravine in the limits of Gujjarwal. This was known to be a haunted place and nobody ever crossed this way even in daytime. Cries and shouts of old battles could be heard. I have personal experience of this, but my fears vanished after Baptism. I had selected this lovely and peaceful place for meditation. I used to recite the Divine Naam whole night with full voice, while people mistook this as battle cries of the haunted souls! No one ever approached out of fear.
The battle cries had stopped after the first two nights of my visits there, while I enjoyed many sessions of deep meditation and lovely Kirtan programmes. This continued for many days and nights. The fig tree became dead and disappeared. Often I used to be alone there. The adjoining land belonged to one devout Sikh, Baba Jaimal Singh of Gujjarwal. He used to watch me in my meditations. As an act of philanthropy, he got a portion of the ravine dug, so that clean underground water formed a pond. In the rainy season, rain water used to accumulate there. In winter months, this used to be very clear and clean water, forming into a lake of about 5000 Sq. yds. This water was available round the year. The Baba also planted shady trees on the sides of this lake for the benefit of visiting devotees, coming to meditate here. However during my life imprisonment period, these trees dried off, as the Baba passed away and there was no one to take care of this place. These trees were a cross breeding of fig, Banyan and margosa (Neem) trees, known as Tirbeni.
This Baba had very ambitious plans for this place, which remained unfulfilled due to circumstances. At the time of present narration also this place is quite attractive.
Our quartet of four Kirtaniyas reached this spot and did not lose time in starting Kirtan. We had brought along the music instruments. We were so lost in the Kirtan that we passed into deep meditation. My wife, Kartar Kaur, visioned all this and came along late at night with our dinner. She shook us out of our stupor and had brought the steel utensils for serving food to the four persons. After getting our hands washed, the food was served. With half-closed eyes, drenched with Divine Love, while we were eating we watched this lady, a picture of true loving devotion. Bhai Sarwan Singh uttered a cry of pure love at her sight. In humility he had his head on her feet, saying “The holy sight of this Revered Mother has killed my hidden imperceptible ego. This ego had led me to believe, that I alone enjoyed the super-vision, extra-ordinary. I see visions in normal life and was feeling proud. This self-conceit has been destroyed today. I wonder how this Mother envisioned our presence here from a distance of one mile and known our exact number to bring food and utensils for four of us.” She partook of the food left by me. She always remained without food, till such time that I ate first. It was past mid-night. Bhai Sarwan Singh, feeling his tummy, said that, “sitting is no more possible. I am returning to Phalewal for rest and you should also accompany mother back to Narangwal.” After this event, many times it so happened, that Bhai Sarwan Singh would spend whole nights roaming between the villages, intoxicated with Ambrosia of Naam and uttering the cries of God-love in the wilderness of nights, chanting Divine Naam.
He was an amazing Kirtaniya and also sang in high pitch. The echo of his Divine Love in Kirtan was never ending, but ever ascending in spirit. When on the drum, then also he was just super with untiring arms and hands. While singing, he used to get lost in the highest meditation at Dasam Dawar, the Divine Temple in man. This used to be indicated by a typical sound. This led to many hours of motionless body state. His body used to become hard as if it was made of steel. What to talk of motion, even the breathing would stop. It was seen in this state, that his steel like arms could not be bent even with the force of ten men. Those who understood this, never tried to disturb him but left him to enjoy his rapturous spiritual state. When he used to come out of this high stage, his body would be lightened and have a Divine Lustre. I was a witness to this transformation. The ignorant people used to comment, that he was a patient of epilepsy. In his wakefulness or sleep, the automatic chant of Naam was continuous. At times he used to go in trance while travelling alone, and remains on ground for hours. The passers-by took him to be dead and ran away from him. They would call the neighbourhood to announce that there was a dead body of a Sikh. When the sympathetic people reached the spot, they would find the Singh sitting in meditation and chanting Naam.
He was such a renouncer, that he never had a worldly care. The duties of Nambardar were performed with Divine help, collecting the village revenue in his carefree state of Divine drunkenness and depositing the same at Ludhiana Treasury. It would happen that out of the collected revenue, amounts of Rs 500/- would be taken away by bad characters. He would return smilingly to Narangwal instead of Phalewal, where he knew people would be talking about the loss. He would confide to me, “Bai (Brother), someone has stolen the collected revenue.” I would console, “Never mind, Guru shall take care.” Hearing this, he would head back and find the lost money on his way to Phalewal. The bad characters responsible for this loss would be rounded up by the police and being un-vengeful, he would help to set them free. He would even ask them if they needed the money, they could keep it and the Guru would replace this for him. Many such bad characters were so moved by this attitude of Bhai Sarwan Singh, that they left their evil ways and became Baptised Sikhs to live honestly. Bhai Sarwan Singh never used to get angry.
Once I was going to meet the loved ones Sri Babu Mal Singh and Piara Singh Jee, who were in the Army at Ambala Cantt, along with the Jatha, including Bhai Sarwan Singh. They were being transferred to a remote place and we wanted to meet them before their departure at the cantonment. At the railway station all were self-occupied and Bhai Sarwan Singh got lost in his deep meditation while standing. It so happened, that he was standing outside a ticket-issuing window, which was then closed and he stood alone. However, a train arrived and the tickets were to be issued to the passengers from that window. We were all set to march to the cantonment and unaware of this. There was a rush of passengers to buy tickets at the window blocked by Bhai Sarwan Singh. Shortly a police constable on duty arrived at the scene, but Bhai Sahib was unconcerned with the happenings and completely lost in himself. The policeman shook him a few times, but without an effect. In anger, he gave a full slap at the face of Bhai Sarwan Singh, and Bhai Sahib opened his eyes and the constable shouted, “Don’t you know the tickets are issued here. You have been repeatedly told to move away from this place, where standing is not allowed. Now this slap serves you right, as you would not listen otherwise.” Just watch this now:
Bhai Sarwan Singh was not at all disturbed due to the slap, instead he fell flat on the feet of the constable and apologised for his lapse. But as soon as Bhai Sahib touched his feet, the constable fell flat on his back and started wailing loudly, “O people! Help!! Please get me a pardon from this Sikh.” Hearing this plea for help many people gathered there. Writhing painfully on ground was the constable shouting his pleas. When he was asked, what was his problem? He replied, “This Sikh is going to kill me.” He was again asked what had hit him. The constable said, “He has not hit me, he has finished me. He has drawn all my power by falling on my feet. I don’t know what miracle he has performed. My salvation is only in his pardoning me.” The constable explained how, unaware of Bhai Sahib’s meditational state, he had slapped the Sikh for blocking the window and the Sikh instead of remonstrating, had fallen on his feet to apologize for the mistake. On hearing this, one Christian remarked, “This is amazing. Our Lord Jesus has taught if a Christian is slapped, he should offer the other cheek to appease the angered person, yet this Sikh has fallen to the feet of the angered. What can be more amazing?” I addressed this person by telling him of the Gurbani teaching,
“Farida! React not in anger to give a blow for blow,
but instead kiss the feet of the aggressor before going home.”
A Hindu commented contemptuously, that “This Sikh must have held the feet to escape further punishment. He should have taken a revenge on the constable, but being a weakling he submitted cowardly.” Not to prolong the issue, we told him that he was entitled to his views. All of us including Bhai Sarwan Singh started marching towards the cantonment. It so happened that the Hindu Mahasha was also to go to the Sadar Bazaar in cantonment and followed us. Halfway on our journey, it was time for Rehras Patth. We washed ourselves at the nearby well and after Rehras we proceeded onward. There was cluster of trees and I felt the urge for natural call. Bhai Sarwan Singh and myself proceeded towards the trees, while he went far into the trees, I remained nearby. I had just finished washing myself, when I heard the cries for help of a woman. Bhai Sahib was closer to the spot of crying. He reached there immediately alone. He saw four drunken British policemen trying to gang rape a poor girl, who had come to collect firewood. Instinctively Bhai Sarwan Singh snatched away their lances and gave all the four such a thrashing, that they were all lying flat. He tied all of them and put them back in the Tonga in which they had arrived. Meanwhile I also reached there. Seeing this, I called all our friends. The Hindu Mahasha was also with them and saw what had happened. It was explained to him that it was the feat of just one brave Sikh. This Sikh had earlier set the example of extreme tolerance when slapped by a policeman, and a Christian was full of praise for him. But now when it was a rescue mission, he has displayed the bravery of laying flat four burly British policemen single-handed. Hearing this, the Mahasha cried uncontrollably saying, “Khalsa Jee! Pardon me. I never knew the two distinct aspects of a Sikh personality of extreme tolerance and unparalleled bravery, but now I know that Singhs of Guru Gobind Singh are unique, endowed with all virtues." Meanwhile the tied up Britishers were crying with pleas of forgiveness and with a promise never to repeat such an act. They wanted to know their fate after this tying. We replied, “You will be taken to your officers for due punishment.” They said, they have already received enough bodily punishment. Our bodies are swollen and there are bruises due to the injuries. What more punishment can be given? Charge us fine of Rs 50/- and forgive us.” We told them to apologize to the poor girl and give the whole amount to her, with the promise never to repeat such a dastardly act. Finally we started our onward march, reciting Rehras on the way. This example of Bhai Sarwan Singh is just as a sample of the instincts of Divine Virtues in all the practicing Sikhs, devoted to Naam- meditation. These are instilled in them in full measure to execute the Divine Will. Bhai Sarwan Singh's life is a unique role model. He was also a fluent reader of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He could recite the Patth for seven hours continuously in high pitch that could be heard in remote corners of the village. Loudspeaker is no substitute for such clear loud voice and these were not available then. His recitation was special in that while reciting the Patth loudly, he also used to carry on with breath-by-breath meditation of Naam
With this technique, he could control his breath at the navel and recite Patth of two pages at a time in single breath. At such a time his face had a glow of Divine splendour, amazing to watch. In this rapturous state, he used to lose awareness of his body. Seeing this state once, his close relatives thought that he had lost his mind. With this mistaken belief, they tied him with a thick chain and a pillar for 24 hours. There was no knowledgeable Singh around for his help. It was wintertime and he got a fever of 106°F. Even so, he did not lose heart and kept reciting hymns from Gurbani. It was the time of ambrosial hours that while tied up and suffering from high fever, Bhai Sahib was singing the following hymns and thinking of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Jee.
For the sake of a princess, one took up a false garb.
Even such lustful and self-centred one was saved. ||1||
What is thy compassion, O lord, if one is to suffer for past actions?
Why seek the shelter of a lion, if one was to suffer a jackal? ||1|| (Pause)
The rain bird suffers for a single raindrop.
What is the use of finding an ocean after death? ||2||
How to persevere in this tiredness of life?
What use it would be to get a boat after a death by drowning? ||3||
I have no power of my own nor another support,
Save my honour at this occasion, O Lord, Sadna is Thy Slave. ||4||
Reciting the line, “Save my honour at this occasion” again and again he fainted. The villagers heard the sound of the hooves of a galloping horse over the housetops and a few roofs came down and the chain tied to Bhai Sarwan Singh was snapped and the high fever was gone. The glimpse of the Guru banished all afflictions. This real happening was narrated to me by the retired Head-master of Khalsa High School, Ludhiana. Master Dharam Singh of Phalewal and many good souls of village Gujjarwal also heard the sound of hooves of the passing horse from the direction of the Ravine. One Brahman, Harnam Das even claims that he had a momentary glance of the blue mount and the Splendid Rider. God alone knows the truth, yet there is no doubt left that the Guru revealed the miraculous happenings on this occasion.
Bhai Dharam Singh was prominent among the Singhs of the Jatha from Phalewal, with the strong faith. He held Bhai Sarwan Singh in high esteem and had great respect for him. Though outwardly he appeared rough, yet he was the most humble in his thoughts and actions.
Seeing the Divine madness of Bhai Sarwan Singh, Bhai Dharam Singh used to feel angry and in extreme situations even scolded him. Never the less he would shield him out of great personal love. At times he would ignore Bhai Sarwan Singh’s trespasses, yet he had great faith in the words uttered by Bhai Sarwan Singh. While studying for B.A., Bhai Dharam Singh fell seriously sick due to pressure of studies and improper diet. The medical opinion suspected T.B. He brought this to the notice of Bhai Sarwan Singh, who casually said, “You have no T.B., your detractors might have this.” After this Bhai Sarwan Singh came to me at Narangwal and proposed to have Akhand Patth for the well-being of Bhai Dharam Singh, in view of medical suspicion of T.B. in his case. We all agreed, but put the condition that Bhai Dharam Singh has to listen to the entire recitation of Akhand Patth for 48 hours. The Patth started with Bhai Dharam Singh sitting in attendance. As far as possible, he listened to the Patth. Divine Will prevailed and Bhai Dharam Singh became whole and hearty. Such is the power of faith. The faithful, with unshaken faith in Bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib are known to be saved in all situations. This was the first example of miracle of faith among the educated youth. Bhai Dharam Singh had known similar happenings in the Jatha and had a strong belief in the spontaneous words of Bhai Sarwan Singh in his Divine madness.
Close associates of Bhai Sarwan Singh had witnessed many unusual and super-natural happenings in his life. In spite of this exalted spiritual state, there appeared some defects, especially an imperceptible ego. Excessive praise led to this hidden malady gradually to bring about a change in him. I had been warning many of his admirers not to address him as “The Living Emancipated One” in his presence. According to Gurmat it is strictly forbidden to praise on the face and slander in the absence, yet the people did not refrain from praise in spite of the warning. As a result, Bhai Sarwan Singh suffered from suppressed ego, that kept building up and one day it exploded to the surface. Jatha was performing Akhand Kirtan of Asa-Di-Var at Ambala Cantt Gurdwara for many days. One day Bhai Sarwan Singh was missing. He kept lying at the roof where we were housed along with some of his companions. I started missing the loved Kirtaniya. Finally, I requested his special friend, Babu Mal Singh Jee, to go and call Bhai Sarwan Singh. Babu Jee went and shook the lying, Bhai Sarwan Singh saying, “The entire congregation is missing you in Asa-Di-Var Kirtan. The program is on and not finding you, people are restless.” With eyes closed and still lying down, Bhai Sarwan Singh replied, “The Asa-Di Var Kirtan is going on in my mind.” Stunned with this show of arrogance, Babu Mal Singh Jee returned and repeated Bhai Sarwan Singh’s words to me. I again requested Babu Mal Singh and Bhai Piara Singh to try once again. Bhai Sarwan Singh was known to have very high respect for Bhai Piara Singh, yet again the original words were repeated by Bhai Sarwan Singh, that “I am enjoying Asa-Di-Var program in my own mind.” Then Babu Mal Singh Jee remarked, “What is this assembly in your mind without the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib?” Both reminded him, that with Sri Guru Granth Sahib in his cottage, he calls the cottage a Gurdwara and not a mere cottage. This led to further insolent talk under the maddening pride and ego, like “For me a Mandir, Masjid and Gurdwara are all same. I will destroy the cottage at Phalewal and get rid of your Sri Guru Granth Sahib.” Hearing this tasteless talk, both of them returned to the Gurdwara. At the end of the program his words were brought to the notice of the entire assembly. All confirmed that his words amounted to blasphemy. His ego had finished him. The only way to save him through correctional punishment was to boycott him from the Jatha completely. None from Jatha was to have any dealing with him. This was the Gurmata passed unanimously. Bhai Sarwan Singh thus fell down from the pinnacle of spirituality. All boycotted him, except for two Singhs meeting him secretly. Those were his close friends. These two were summoned and warned that any further contacts with the boycotted Sarwan Singh would lead to their own boycott. Both apologised and promised to abide by the ruling.
After this, his ego suffered a severe blow when left all alone. The realization dawned on him and he sought the shelter of the Sangat, holy congregation. He started attending every Samagam, lying among the shoes of the Sangat and suffering in the sun. A month passed by and no one took notice of him. Finally he dropped to his knees and cried for help. He said, “Let the congregation prescribe any punishment to me, but kindly grant me pardon.” It was unanimously decided that he should ride a donkey, with blackened face and a necklace of shoes around his neck, to go around the five villages while stating his act of blasphemy for which he was punished. He gladly accepted this punishment. This was the result of his past good deeds and his good fortune, that he obeyed the Sangat. This is how he proceeded.
He borrowed a donkey from the village pot-maker, mixing oil with black soot he blackened his face, wore a shoe necklace and rode the donkey. He travelled through the five villages: Phalewal, Gujjarwal, Narangwal, Lohgarh, and Mehma Singh Wala. Unmindful of his high family background, he would stop every now and then to own his act, which had invited the punishment. When he came to Narangwal, a program of the Jatha was in progress at my house. My mother came out crying to embrace him, she made him get off from the donkey and brought him before the holy congregation. All were moved by this sight. I was asked to clean his face and seat him in this congregation. It took an hour to clean the face and his cleaned face acquired the glowing cleanliness. The new sight of splendour on his face was difficult to bear. He looked a picture of humility. He spent the rest of his days in a high spiritual state, observing the code of Bibek of Sarab-Loh. He served the congregation with ten-fold more enthusiasm.
Bhai Sarwan Singh was now respected a hundred times more in the Sangat and yet he remained humble, without any show of his super- natural Divine powers. He remained imbued with Divine Love. Meanwhile the Divine took me to a term of life imprisonment. It was in my absence, that my dearest brother, Vir Sarwan Singh passed away. I have no news of how he died. This piece is homage to the sacred memory of Bhai Sarwan Singh.