Sundri, a true Khalsa in life and death
By Monica Uppal Popli
Sundri is the epitome of the tenets of Sikh religion and a source of inspiration for all. She embodies altruism, compassion, valor, inner beauty of the soul and an unflagging faith in the Guru. She lived the life of a true Khalsa.
Set in the historical period of Mughal rule in Punjab that is notorious for wanton murders of the Sikhs, Sundri is a symbolic representative of that milieu. The rulers were lustful and tyrannical. Girls faced all kinds of persecution at the hands of the Mughal soldiers and humiliation at the hands of Nawabs.
Surasti was a young, beautiful and recently married Hindu girl. She was carried away forcibly by a Mughal who happened to see her. All the male members of the family went to the officer and entreat him to release the girl. They offered a big ransom. All these appeals fell on dear ears. The Mughal did not agree to release the girl. To save her honor, the girl decided to burn herself alive. As soon as the Mughal went out of his camp, she collected wood, lights a fire and jumped in it. Providentially, her Sikh brother appeared then and saved her life. Then the brother and sister joined the roving band of Sikhs. Surasti got baptized and renamed Sundri. By dint of her noble demeanor she earned respects of the members of the Sikh Jatha who treated her as their own sister.
The Sikhs in the days of Zakaria Khan (1726-1745 AD), the last Mughal Governor of Punjab, generally hid in the thick forests and mountain recesses. They were not allowed to move freely in the plains.
By joining the Jatha, Sundri eschewed the comforts of domestic life and embraced the rough risky life of being a nomadic warrior knowing fully well the privation it entailed. In war or peace, she dedicated her whole life to the service of Khalsa. A paragon of humility and sweetness, Sundri fought like a brave soldier when needed. When not in the battlefield, she looked after wounded soldiers, worked in kitchen and performed all sundry tasks.
Sundri shared the passion of the Khasla who upheld their morals and preferred to give up their life and not their faith. They believed they were children of one god and were like real brothers. When brothers join together, they become a power to reckon with.
Like the Gurus, they did not discriminate on basis of caste or religion. To them the whole world was like one family. Good conduct was self-imposed. Fired by religious zeal, strengthened by a firm conviction in God's grace, they regarded the preservation and protection of their faith as the goal of their life.
Staying in jungles away from their families the spiritual warriors were fearless lions. Their spirits were imbued with love for and devotion to Guru Gobind Singh. The purity and excellence of character, taught to the Sikhs by the Guru, was the reason why the community was ready to sacrifice itself. It was linked with the Guru through devotion and lived on the sustenance of the Holy name.
Gurus' ideals had always inspired them and provided the incentive for their practical resourcefulness that had turned them into warriors. Sundri, like her brethren was also immersed in the spirit of sacrifice for the benefit of the Panth. All of them loved Gurbani and recited it loudly. They had Sardars (leaders) more for guidance than for purposes of rigid discipline.
The Khalsa's objective was to uproot injustice and deal fairly with every one. Their opposition to the Turks and the Pathans was not due to their being Muslims. Their aim in uprooting the Mughal rule was that as rulers Mughals were tyrants causing suffering to their subjects. They were not dispensing justice. They killed the innocent and the helpless. They collected taxes but did not protect the subjects. They interfered in religious matters. They forcibly destroyed other religions. These were serious crimes and in no way the duties of a ruler. The Khalsa were committed to the ideals of the Gurus and vowed to destroy the perpetrators of injustice.
The Khalsa had to gird up their loins to fight the atrocities inflicted by Zakaria Khan and Lakhpatrai. Lakhpatrai was a Diwan(Revenue minister), at Lahore under two successive Mughal viceroys Zakaria Khan and Yahya Khan. Lakhpatrai had vowed to annihilate Sikhs totally. Genocide was the order of the day. Innocent Sikhs were captured and beheaded, sacred places were desecrated and holy books burnt. Lakhpatrai left no stone unturned to destroy the Sikh race. He asked the captured Sikhs to either give up their religion or die. But the Sikhs never cared for their lives and chose to die rather than yield to his abhorrent whim.
Sundri was tormented physically and mentally several times in her life. Innocent as a lamb, she was abducted by Mughals, incarcerated and even abandoned by her parents and husband for no fault of hers. Even her good intentions and selfless service were reciprocated by betrayals and physical assaults. She encountered many snakes in the grass who unleashed bestial impulses on her. The agony tested her mettle but never once did she waver from the path of righteousness and faith.
Sundri was repeatedly abducted by the Nawab who wanted to marry her. The last time while escaping from his confinement she got brutally wounded. Already feeble due her earlier injury given by a treacherous Pathan she had saved, she grew weaker and weaker. On being asked about any unfulfilled desires, she said “I have no desire; neither my mind indulged in worldly relishes nor cravings. I have no attachment except for the Guru and that source of bliss is within me. I am so much absorbed in the love of the lotus-feet of the Guru that I cannot give it up. So when your goal lies within you, where can the mind wander or what desire can disturb it! I enjoy recalling that bliss:
'The mind rides the imaginary horse of-the air; we roam in the sky;
In the sky is a strange garden, where we eat the fruits of immorality, luscious with nectar.
To speak sweetly and to recite the Name is the source of cool breeze;
The reins of the restless mind are in our control; then who needs a rider!”
Her last wish was to sit in the physical presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and listen attentively to the recitation of the Path and offer her obeisance to the Guru with her feeble body. Though it was a very difficult task, her wish was fulfilled. Sri Guru Granth Sahib was brought into the camp in the forest. Some ten or twelve Sikhs took a bath and then ceremoniously installed the Granth Sahib and started the recitation of Akhand Path.
Sundri listened to the Gurbani. Her entire mind and body were imbued with the Holy Name and she felt she was bathing in the ocean of bliss. After forty-eight hours the recitation neared its end. All the Khalsas assembled in the form of a congregation and sang hymns in chorus. The concluding part of Guru Granth Sahib was recited, Anand Sahib and Arti were sung and then Karah-Prasad was distributed. With great devotion, Sundri ate a little Karah-Prasad and thanked God.
She entreated the Sikh men to regard women as equal partners and never ill-treat them. She said: "If you regard them as inferior to you, you will treat them with harshness and cruelty. If you look at other women with evil intentions, your honor and glory will decline." To the ladies Sundri’s advice was to remain pure Sikh ladies and make the Panth strong. Differences between husband and wife weaken the Panth, she explained. Her final words to her brothers were not to regard any Sikh inferior to them. Wealth is not supreme, character or high morality is supreme, she said. She prayed, prostrated before Sri Guru Granth Sahib and leaving footprints on every heart, left for her heavenly abode.
She was a true Khalsa in life and in death.