Kant Maheli - The Fragrance of Bhai Vir Singh

The poem Kant Maheli of Bhai Vir Singh has been sitting on my desk for over two years.

For some strange reason, I was fearful of it.

I ignored the whispers that I kept hearing: “You need to read Kant Maheli.”

But when the poem spoke in a loud and clear voice, “You have to read me. Now.”

I had no choice.

With great trepidation, I picked up the poem with a mindset that I was only going to read it, and not trans-create it.

 

Well, all that changed when I reached the fourth verse.

Heart tightened.

Eyes moistened.

Breath whimpered.

At that moment, I knew why I had been ordered to read this poem.

I also knew that I had to trans-create it.

For this is a story about a century’s old love.

How could I not tell this story? This is my story.

 

Weeks of reading, absorbing, crying and much more followed.

Every pain, every emotion—I felt deeply.

I went back in time. It was painful as well as therapeutic.

Kant Maheli and I became one. The words resounded within.

The tears dried. I felt comfortable.

And only then…

I ventured into trans-creating it, knowing fully well that my words will never do it justice. This is the burden we translators carry. My trans-creation will never have the depth, the beauty and the nuance of the original.

 

And yet, I chose to recreate it or did the poem chose me?

 

I am sharing my reflections, knowing fully well that they will change as I continue to delve deeper into this poem. Yet, I chose to share them.

 

Kant Maheli flows from a lived experience of the one who is drenched with love. Nature and its seasons become a mere reflection of that love. The yearning, the anguish, the abandonment, the devotion, the surrender, the ego-annihilation and the union are all unveiled in this exquisite piece.

 

The voice in this poem is that of a maheli. A maheli who is drenched in love.

 

How does one translate maheli? But more importantly, who is a maheli?

 

I search.

I ask.

I plead.

 

I came up with a few possible meanings of maheli: woman (istri), true friend; life partner (sakhi); wife (vahuti). In Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptural cannon) the word maheli appears as such: maheli-a or maheli-ho. Guru Nanaks label themselves Mahal or Mahala; and when at love’s epitome, they are Kant’s Maheli. I am tempted to use the word lover for maheli, but I chose not to, for it does not feel right.

 

How then do I translate Kant? Husband is way too limiting. It also does not capture the symbolism and the depth the word evokes. The word Beloved comes to mind, but I feel something is missing there too. To me the word Kant is uttered, when the physical element in a relationship transcends to a relationship of aligned consciousness. This is the ultimate intimate union. Rare, yet possible.

 

I could translate the title Kant Maheli as Beloved Lover; Lover of Beloved; Beloved’s Lover. However, none of these convey the depth, the beauty or the essence, therefore, I stay with the original for the title.

 

Kant Maheli unveils the love-feelings of a maheli. Multiple words expressing the degrees of intensity, amplification and subtle elevations of love flow throughout this piece. Mahi evokes the feeling of an impending separation. I sense an element of waiting in this word usage. I am choosing to translate mahi as Lover. However, when Sai is evoked, I am unable to find the right word. Because, Sai is uttered only when one willingly and reverently surrenders oneself. I could use the word Owner, but it does not feel right for there is no reverence in the word Owner. So, I keep the original. I have translated piare as Beloved and pia as Husband.

 

Symbolism and romance woos me to keep the native words that describe the twelve months of the year. In Guru Granth Sahib, the Barah Maha (Twelve Months) revealed by Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Arjan Sahib invoke human-divine separation-union in musical measures capturing the weather’s interplay with the weather within.

 

Bhai Vir Singh follows the Guru’s genre. Through the five words (Kant; Mahi; Sai, Piare; Pia) emotions of separation of a being are being presented in this sensitive poem.

 

In Cet (March 14), her Lover leaves.

She weeps through Vaisakh (April 14).

In Jeth (May 15), she tosses and turns on the bed.

Her pain intensifies in Har (June 15).

In Savan (July 16), she is lying withering on a rope-woven cot.

She yearns for Lover’s return in Bhadao (August 16).

In Asu (September 15), she surrenders her all.

She admits that her love is strange in Kattak (October 15).

In Maghar (November 14), she wails incessantly.

Her home becomes foreign in Poh (December 14).

In Magh (January 13), she becomes a dried twig.

Laying on a floor of straw, we find her in Phagan (February 12).

And then at the end of Phagan, she gets a glimpse of her Lover.

Life enters her.

And she lives…

This verse has touched my inner core.

May you too be touched by its beauty and sensitivity as I have been.

Read it with open heart, savor each verse, allow it to permeate you.

May the pangs of separation enter us as we enter into the month of Cet.

 


 

 

 

 

Cet (March 14)

Delightful Cet is here.

Sweet breeze is blowing,

Garden is blooming,

Joy is gushing.

 

Kant enters saying,

Preparing to march somewhere.

Immediately, heart sinks.

Heart’s longings remain within the heart.

 

Oh! Month of Cet,

Kant begins preparing.

I plead endlessly.

Nothing was heeded.

 

Lover mounts on the horse     

Like a cherished warrior

Rides far away on a mission.

I begin drowning within.  



Vaisakh (April 14)

 

Weeping, Vaisakhi has come.

I have no desire.             

Sweet delicacies in every home,

No fire is lit on my stove.                       



Jeth (May 15)

 

O’ Kant! Jeth is here.

Earth and ether are heating,                    

Separation is smoldering within,  

I am squirming, wrenching on a bed.

        

O’ Jeth! I beg you,

Send me the scorching heat.

O’ Sai! Let the gust of hot air

Touch not Lover’s body.



Har (June 15)

 

The month of Har is here.

Buckets are smelting, scorching.

Crows and birds are crying.

My simmering is increasing.

 

One pain is my separation,

The second is anxiety for Lover.

Drinking sips of patience,

I am lying in misery.

 

Your brothers have umbrellas,

When they go out in the sun.

When you were leaving,

Why would I not give you one?

        

O’ Sun! Scorch not there,

Where my Husband has gone.

O’ Scorching air! Blow only after cooling

Where my Life has gone.

 

My beautiful Creator!

Bestow shadows of blessings.

If ‘Lover’s-region’ is hot,

May hot air strike not.



Savan (July 16)

 

The month of Savan is here.

Friends are on the swings,                  

Thorns are piercing my heart,

I am lying withering on a cot.            

 

Friends taunt: “O’ Come! Come,

Get up, monsoon season is here.”

O’ Ignorant ones! Without Lover,

Sorrows are killing me.

 

He’s gone to a foreign land…

Oh! He’s left me all alone.

I have become insane weeping and wailing…

Why am I even alive?



Bhadao (August 16)

 

The month of Bhadao is here.

Nights are getting darker,

Clouds are getting darker,

Thunder and lightening have begun.

 

O’ Kant! Wherever you are,

May Sai protect you.

But now, turn and return,

This pain is killing me.



Asu (September 15)

 

The month of Asu is here.

Nights are becoming colder,

Days blazing sunlight,

I continue worrying about you.

 

Whichever region is my Lover,

Divine Willing! Sun not scorch there.

O’ Lover! Turn your reins,

I am offering my all to you.

 

O’ Kant! Come, come!

Come see your beloved.

Wrung in your sorrow,

Not a drop of blood remains.



Kattak (October 15)

 

The month of Kattak is here.

Candles light every home.

Weeping, wailing, my shirt is soaked.

Friends mockingly say:

 

“Is your Kant unique?

“Who’s gone to a foreignland.

“Others have also gone,

“They all are playing.”

 

Whom should I tell?

My love is strange.

I cannot live with this separation,

Why do I even look alive?

 

Beautiful blushing season,

Eating, drinking, donning.

Although everything is pleasing,

All friends are enjoying the season.

 

Nothing pleases my core,                        

Without my beloved Kant.

Limitless pangs within me,

Devouring and terrifying me.     



Maghar (November 14)

 

Crying, Maghar has come.

Cold season is here.

Cotton-filled are the quilts and mattresses,

Friends are with their kants.

 

Like a konj1 separated from its flock,

I am separated from my Kant.

I writhe, wriggle, squirm,

Wailing, wailing in anguish.



Poh (December 14)

 

The month of Poh is here.

Weeping, wailing, my shroud is soaked.       

Cold is now bone-chilling.

My being becoming listless.

 

Which land have you gone to?

Oh! Left me all alone!

What are you doing there?

I have no clue.

 

The nights of Poh are endless,

As lenghty mountain paths.

Moon and stars cannot be seen.

Fear, fright keeps waking me.

 

Friends come calling:

“Let’s show you the Lohri2.”

“Let’s see the sugarcane fields.”

“Bang! Bang! Shots of celebrations.”

 

“Let’s end the cold.”

“Seize Poh, make it run away.”

“Burn all the spinning wheels.”

“Bring back the warmth.”

 

O’ Kant! Without you,

The courtyard is bare—there is no joy.

This land is now foreign,

I’m lying here, mourning in separation.

 

Oh! Beloved Kant!

O’ My Sai! Without me,

At times, are you sad, lonely?

O’ Tell me! Tell me!




Magh (January 13)

 

The month of Magh is here.

My eyes have not dried.

As the filled clouds,

My eyes remain filled.

 

Cold has shed its wings.

The season of renewal is coming.

The eyes of vines and flora,

Are now filling and seeping.

 

But Separation cried out,

“Our eyes are not full.”

But my eyes refuse to dry,

I am crying and weeping…  

 

I have shriveled into a thin stick.

O’ Kant! Come, see.

Without you, O’ Beloved!

I am now lying finished.

 

Come, see this plant.

You left it as a rose.

Now all there’s left is a dried twig.

I am completely thrashed.



Phagan (February 12)

 

The season has become delightful.

O’ Spring has arrived!

The month of Phagan is here.

Pale yellow, I have become.

 

Friends are making merry,

They come calling me,

Teasing and tauting

But also pampering me.

 

“O’ Sister! Get up, come.”

“Walk, look around.”

“The heart may get distracted.”

“Focus may get diverted.”

 

Oh! Beloved Kant!

Oh! Life of my life!

Oh! Where have you gone?

No one can tell me.

 

Phagan is about to end.

Still no news of Sai.

O’ Sai! I’m lying on straw,

I am lying on straw.

 

O’ Sai! I lost all senses

Trailing, searching for you.

O’ Sai! I’m lying on straw,

I am lying on straw.



End of Phagan (February 12)

 

Who is sitting by my pillow

With a hand on my forhead,

Pulsating life into me?

O’ Creator! Life, life is entering!

O’ Sai! The straw is dispersing.


Who is bending down, looking at me?

These are my Beloved’s eyes.

These are glimpses of Lover.

Lover’s glimpse falls on me.


O’ Friends! Come, come!

My Lover has come.

O’ My Lover! Without you,

I am no longer me.



  1. Demoiselle crane. This bird figures prominently in the literature and poetry of Panjab. Beautiful women are often compared to the kunj because its long and thin shape is considered graceful. Symbolically, it is used for when people who venture far from home or undertake hazardous journeys.

  2. Popular winter time Panjabi folk festival.

 

 



The translator Inni Kaur is the CEO of the Sikh Research Institute. She is also the author of ‘Journey with the Gurus’ series, ‘Sakhi-Time with Nani ji’, and ‘Thank You, Vahiguru.

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