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Zafarnama Written in exquisite Persian verse, theZafarnamaor Epistle of Victory was a defiant message composed by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, and addressed to the Mughal emperor AurangzebIn this brilliant new translation, Navtej Sarna brings to life the valiant voice of Guru Gobind Singh and the power of his poetic genius in a passionate disavowal of tyranny that remains ever relevant The translation of the Zafarnama from Persian to English is hard to find and this one by Navtej Sarna is probably the most comprehensive It s a powerful poetic letter addressed by the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh to the then Mughal Emperor of India, Aurangzeb A tyrannical and oppressive ruler, Aurangzeb and his generals broke their oaths in order to wrongly defeat Guru Gobind Singh s army and kill his family I read both the Persian verse as well as the English translation and The translation of the Zafarnama from Persian to English is hard to find and this one by Navtej Sarna is probably the most comprehensive It s a powerful poetic letter addressed by the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh to the then Mughal Emperor of India, Aurangzeb A tyrannical and oppressive ruler, Aurangzeb and his generals broke their oaths in order to wrongly defeat Guru Gobind Singh s army and kill his family I read both the Persian verse as well as the English translation and wished I knew Persian The poetry is beautiful and I feel that even though the translator did a wonderful job, there is some essence lost in translation Nevertheless, this is an important piece of history, penned by the Sikh Guru himself who is known to us not only as a great man of valor, vision wisdom and sacrifice but also as a scholar and connoisseur of arts The introduction to the book itself holds great value in my eyes, especially for those who are not familiar with Sikh history and need context surrounding the circumstances under which this letter was written When all has been tried, yetJustice is not in sight,It is then right to pick up the sword,It is then right to fight THE MILIEUThe Sikh community led by Guru Gobind Singh 1666 1708 was faced with a double whammy On one hand they braced denunciations of Hindu leaders for their program that challenged caste based social order and rejected blind ritualism and idolatry as it was practiced at that time This conflict often turned violent as Sikhs When all has been tried, yetJustice is not in sight,It is then right to pick up the sword,It is then right to fight THE MILIEUThe Sikh community led by Guru Gobind Singh 1666 1708 was faced with a double whammy On one hand they braced denunciations of Hindu leaders for their program that challenged caste based social order and rejected blind ritualism and idolatry as it was practiced at that time This conflict often turned violent as Sikhs became organised as a distinct socio religious group with a fighting capacity to defend their stronghold of Anandpur against sporadic attacks from the neigbouring hill rajahs On the other hand, although it seems that Sikhs did not challenge the security of the state, the reigning Emperor Aurangzeb nevertheless felt threatened by their martial prowess, egged on by rajahs and maharajas that saw the Sikhs as enemies of their religion The Mughal Sikh relations had been poisoned before when Aurangzeb, then new to the throne, beheaded Guru Tegh Bahadur, the father of Guru Gobind, for, inter alia, siding with Prince Dara Shikoh in the wars of succession.Things came to a head with the siege of Sikh stronghold Anandpur in 1704 When supplies bled out Guru Gobind Singh received a message from the Emperor in the form of an oath sworn on the Quran promising him safe passage along with his family if he surrendered peacefully The Guru, faced with the impending starvation of his community, agreed But the promise was broken they were attacked as they left the precincts of the residential complex, and in the pitched battles over a few days four of Guru s sons were killed, his mother died of shock, and many relatives and devotees were put to sword The Guru, however, escaped to safety A year later he received a conciliatory message from Aurangzeb inviting him to put an end to hostilities in return for security and friendship The Guru replied with a poem that was to stand testament to his unbending will and indomitable spirit.THE POEM Under the shower of bullets and arrowsSo numerous were the deadThat like the poppy flowerThe earth itself turned red For a man who suffered a great personal tragedy to show such equanimity and phlegm as evinced in the poem is as remarkable as it is moving There is a strong sense of a person who s been wronged, deceived, and oppressed, yet there is not a scintilla of self pity in his lines or bitterness towards his enemy From the poem emerges an image of a man of high values who is willing to sacrifice everything to protect his people and principles But The Guru does not mince words he indicts the Emperor for his atrocities and declares his complete mistrust of everything that comes out of the Emperor s mouthI have no faith at all In the oath that you swear, That the God Who is One Your witness does bear , and later,In your false oath on the Quran Had I not believed, My brave army wouldn t be crippled, Nor in such manner deceived The poem begins with twelve verses in praise of God that serve as a customary preface to long narrative poems in the Persian poetry tradition From verse 13 onwards it proceeds to give a brief account of the battle in which, despite being outnumbered, the Sikhs led by him displayed great valour and destroyed the enemy lines before being eventually subdued He sees victory of spirit and sacrifice in the defeat and affirms that the real victory is to stand true to one s principles Then in the later part of the poem Guru Gobind Singh turns the tables when, instead of asking for clemency, as the Emperor, being the centre of power, might have expected, offers to forgive the Emperor if he repentsCome so that we can meet And talk face to face, I can show you forgiveness And grant you my grace , preceded by an ironical verse which should shame the Emperor for what his men had done to the Guru in the siege of AnandpurThere is no danger to you here, No one will raise a hand This community of Bairars Is under my command This brilliant ironical vein continues in the subsequent couplets After criticising Aurangzeb s subterfuge, his oppressive policies, his claims to piety and justice, Guru Gobind begins praising the talents and virtues of Aurangzeb This is to achieve two purposes One, to make Aurangzeb realise how far he has strayed from the ideal he professes and second, in Persian poetic tradition, if high praise follows severe criticism it is done to shame the addressed, to show him the proverbial mirror The Guru says to AurangzebYou are handsome and clever And steeped in wisdom, Chief among the chiefs, Lord of this kingdomAnd two couplets later,Blessed by looks and beauty, Good conscience and high mind, And of land and wealth A giver, merciful and kindIn between there is a prescient message that condemns Aurangzeb forever But if you still disregardYour falsehood and your lies,You too will be forgotten by God,Be ever guilty in His eyes.Aurangzeb was so moved by the brave and beautiful Zafarnama that he instructed his governors to send a word of respect to the Guru Aurangzeb till he died did not bother him again.The poem is a gem of Persian poetry and stands witness to Guru Gobind s literary genius At the same time it showcases his fearless spirit and lays down his philosophy of self belief and spiritual strength with which to fight tyranny and oppression even when odds are stacked against you A thousand plots of the enemy,Full of treachery and fraud,They cannot harm a single hairOf the one protected by God NOTE ON TRANSLATION Zafarnama, or Epistle of Victory, is written in the form of masnavi and comprises 111 couplets in short metre The Persian poem employs high vocabulary and beautiful compound phrases brought to perfection with the musicality of the rhymed endings A translation should aim to convey the style and diction of the original but in this instance the translator has opted to replicate the rhyming scheme in alternating lines in four line stanzas which has watered down, to a great extent, the effect of the original I d have preferred a freer translation that conveyed the diction of the original instead of getting jammed into simple English rhymes that often read like the work of a novice rhymester There is a translation by Christopher Shackle but I have yet to read it There are other prose translations if the purpose is just to understand the text.Since most readers of this book will understand only English, I am rating the translation It gets 2.5 stars which I have rounded to three However, I give additional star for the actual Persian text Thanks Waheguru it s a dual language edition, I could understand quite a bit despite my fledgling Persian reading skills Bairars refers to the Brars Jats of Malwa who were under Guru Gobind s allegiance The Guru quips that his men are in his control unlike Aurangzeb s, whose generals and governors are out of the emperor s control.April 2015 One of the best books I read on spirituality This book exhibits valor and spirituality of the Tenth Guru Guru Gobind Singh I really liked the following couplets 16thHuma ra kase saaye aayad bazerBar o dast darad na zaag e dalerThe one touched by Huma s sacred bird shadow and taken under its wingsIs beyond harm from clever crows, their designs mean nothing 22nd probably the most famous Chun kar az hameh beelate dar guzashthalal ast budanbi shamsher dastWhen all has been tried, yet justice i One of the best books I read on spirituality This book exhibits valor and spirituality of the Tenth Guru Guru Gobind Singh I really liked the following couplets 16thHuma ra kase saaye aayad bazerBar o dast darad na zaag e dalerThe one touched by Huma s sacred bird shadow and taken under its wingsIs beyond harm from clever crows, their designs mean nothing 22nd probably the most famous Chun kar az hameh beelate dar guzashthalal ast budanbi shamsher dastWhen all has been tried, yet justice is not in sight,It is then right to pick up the sword, it is then right to fight 108thBebin gardish e bewafai ye zamanKi biguzast bar har makin o makanBeware the unrelenting turn of time s faithless wheel It turns for each and everyone it harbours no appeal 111thKhasm dushmani gar bazaar aawardNa yak mu ye o ra aazar aawardA thousand plots of the enemy, full of treachery and fraud,They cannot harm a single hair of the one protected by God satisfying read overall A multiplicity of factors make this book precious to me yes, precious The store it in a lock and key kind of precious So let s start this review withwhy I will not lend you this book even if you are my soul mateIt s a first day first edition I was the first person to buy it minutes after its release from a book store in Chandigarh It sthan just a book, it s an important source of history and helps to understand in depth the aftermath of the Battle of Chamkaur and the History of A multiplicity of factors make this book precious to me yes, precious The store it in a lock and key kind of precious So let s start this review withwhy I will not lend you this book even if you are my soul mateIt s a first day first edition I was the first person to buy it minutes after its release from a book store in Chandigarh It sthan just a book, it s an important source of history and helps to understand in depth the aftermath of the Battle of Chamkaur and the History of Sikhs as we know it today It was one of the last books my grandfather read before he died, and being well versed in as well as an avid reader of both Persian and English, he was in a true position to comment on it I think that mentioning that he died a fan of Navtej Sarna is a testimonial in itself on how brilliantly successful Mr Sarna has been in his endeavour to translate this historic letter by Guru Gobind Singh to Aurangzeb It s a signed copy Yes Signed by the man himself with the inscriptionFor Shriya,In the memory of your beloved grandfather However, even if this book hadn t been so priceless for me, even if Mr Sarna hadn t been one of my most favourite authors and a truly wonderful person at heart, and even if I hadn t been so blessed as to meet him by the most serendipitous twist of fate in a book shop, this book would still have been my, favourite Like I said with my other review in the morning, you cannot translate Persian poetry into English very easily you have to make sure that your words capture the depth, the essence and the very soul of the poet to be able to do this I think I just have to thank my stars that Mr Sarna chose to translate this particular piece One thing I can say without even thinking twice is Navtej Sarna has a natural flare for poetry He s effortless with his words, his rhymes come out perfectly formed, and even in a translation, his knack for poetry is incomparable In the words of my grandfather, who left us last year, If you can read and understand both Persian and English, you ll be able to see that in case of this particular translation, Navtej Sarna is not merely the translator but also a poet in his own regard Well, I couldn t test that theory because I know nothing about Persian but as a student of history, who had already read Zafarnama in a non poetic translation, I would say this is the best one ever

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