SVAPAN NATAK, lit. dream play, is an allegorical poem in Braj, comprising 133 stanzas, by Giani Ditt Singh, a leading figure in the Lahore Singh Sabha. Published in the supplement to the issue, dated 16 April 1887, of the Khalsa Akhbar, a Punjabi newspaper of which Giani Ditt Singh himself was the editor, the poem led to a defamation suit filed on 14 June 1887 against the author by Bedi Udai Singh, a nephew of the famed Baba Khcm Singh Bedi, leader of the rival Amritsar faction of the Singh Sabha.
Although the author claimed that the poem was produced as a text book with the aim of improving the morals of young men as also of enriching Punjabi literature with the addition of a new category of writing, the composition clearly burlesques several of the men belonging to the Amritsar group. The plot of the Svapan Natak projects the archetypal war between the forces of truth and falsehood culminating in the ultimate triumph of virtue over vice. One of the protagonists of the poem is King Ahankar (i.e. egotism and conceit) symbolizing Raja Bikram Singh, ruler of Faridkot state who was the patron of the Amritsar Khalsa Diwan to which one group of the Singh Sabha was affiliated.
The princely group comprising Baba Kliem Singh Bedi, Mahant Sumer Singh of Patna, Giani Badan Singh of Faridkot, Giani Sant Singh of Kapurthala and others are all referred obliquely and satirically. Giani Jhanda Singh, an employee of Faridkot state, is given the appellation of Mittar Ghat (Slaughterer of Friends) and Bedi Udai Singh who became the complainant in the defamation case, that of Kubudh Mrigesh (Stupid Lion). Khem Singh Bedi himself is referred to in the language of innuendo and given the name of Dambhi Purohit (Hypocritical Priest). The King Ahankar and his friends are pitted against GurmukhJan (i.e. righteous men), allegorically representing Lahore leader, Professor Gurmukh Singh, and his friends.
The campaign is organized in accordance with a scheme hatched by Dambhi, the royal priest, and approved and blessed by King Ahankar. As the battle begins, Badan Manohar (Body Handsome, ironical name for Giani Badan Singh) arrays himself against Sat (truth) and Suhird (sincerity) representing Gurmukh Jan, who are assisted by two women called Bidya (knowledge) and Buddhi (reason). The villainhero fights for the annihilation of the Gurmukh Jan. According to the plan, Manmukh, translated in the court file as a Devil`s disciple, was to murder the believers : Ignorance was to murder Knowledge.
Likewise Folly was to thwart Reason while Kubuddh Mrigesh, the Stupid Lion, was to confound and ensnare the virtuous. The drama has its denouement in the inevitable rout of tlie forces of evil and the victory of the Truth, Knowledge and Reason. A close reading of the poem, however, reveals that it has a complex matrix. It has a polemical end to serve, and here the poet`s powers of caricature and lampoonery come into full play. The poem`s concern with the larger issue of social and religious reform, the central thrust of the Singh Sabha movement, is unmistakable.
In delineating his moral theme, with its personified abstractions, the poet uses a highly allusive diction bristling with puns on the names of the characters, their appearances and their habitual characteristics. The significance of the poem lies in preserving in its line some of the characters of the early days of the Singh Sabha and in the amusement it holds as a literary satire, almost without precedent in Punjabi literature. The defamation case decided by an English judge, W.A. Harris, is also a landmark in the cultural history of the Sikhs. While finding the complaint substantial, the judge decided to award Giani Ditt Singh only a token punishment, obviously impressed by his learning and literary skill.
1. Daljit Singh, Singh Sabha de Modhi Gian Singh Ji. Amritsar, 1951
2. Jagjit Singh, Singh Sabha Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974
3. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983