CHAUBIS AVTAR, a collection of twenty-four legendary tales of twenty-four incarnations of the god Visnu, forms a part of Bachitra Natak, in Guru Gobind Singh`s Dasam Granth. The complete work contains a total of 4,371 verseunits of which 3,356 are accounted for by Ramavtar and Krishnavtar. The shortest is Baudh Avatar comprising three quatrains, and the longest is Krishnavtar, with 2,492 verseunits, mostly quatrains. The introductory thirty-eight chaupais or quatrains refer to the Supreme Being as unborn, invisible but certainly immanent in all objects.
Whenever evil predominates, saviours of the humanity or avatars emerge by His hukam, i.e. order, to reestablish righteousness. They fulfil His will and purpose. Kal Purash who creates them ultimately subsumes them all in himself. The poet asserts his monotheistic belief here and while enumerating the avatars discountenances any possibility of their being accepted as the Supreme Being, i.e. Akal Purakh. In the epilogue to one of the episodes in Krishnavtar occurs a statement repudiating the worship of popular deities like Ganesa, Krsna and Visnu (verses 43440).
The Supreme Being, called in the Guru`s authentic idiom, Mahakal (the Supreme Lord of Time) is acknowledged as the Succourer to whom prayer is made to keep operative the defensive might (tegh) and dispensing of charity (deg). Thus is set forth the basic principle of the Sikh faith amid a long literary exercise. The poet asserts that he, having descended from the martial Ksatriyas, cannot think of adopting the attitude of a recluse towards the disturbed conditions of his time. The greater part of the tales of Ramavtar and Kn`sAnavtar are taken up with battle scenes evoked through many alliterative devices with the clash and clang of arms constantly reproduced.
At the close of Krishnavtar, in a kind of postscript, is proclaimed the crusader`s creed, which is ever “to remember God, to contemplate holy war; and, unmindful of the destruction of the perishable body, to embark the boat of noble repute.” The poet has thus extracted the element of heroism from the prevalent stories without projecting the attitude of a worshipper, with the sole purpose of inspiring his followers with the resolve to fight for Dharma, i.e. to uphold righteousness. Chaubis Autar does not appear to be the work of one period. It was a long project which was in execution for a decade or more.
While Krishnavtar is stated in verse 2,49091 to have been composed in Samvat 1745/AD 1688 at Paonta when Guru Gobind Singh was residing there, Ramavtar, according to verses 86061 was composed at Anandpur in Samvat 1755/AD 1698 near the temple of Nainadevi, close to the bank of the River Sutlej. Another component of the Chaubis Autar is Nihkalankavtar which is a sustained expression of appearance of Nihkalank who would destroy evil and establish righteousness. An interesting phenomenon observable in Krishnavtar is the sliding of the poet from Krsna`s mythical career into his own contemporary scene.Among the heroes mentioned some bear medieval Rajput names (Gaj Singh, Dhan Singh, Surat Singh); some Muslim like Nahar Khan, Tahir Khan, and Sher Khan.
In verse 1602 malechh which was the pejorative term used for Muslims is used. The name of the city of Delhi appears, which is an anachronism. Such anachronisms indicate how the poet`s consciousness was touched by the turmoil in contemporary Mughal times. The texture of the language is neoclassical Braj. The poet has employed a variety of metres, and made them responsive to the passing moods or emotions and changing situations.
The metres are alternately short and long in consonance with the increasing and lessening of the fury of battle. Blank verse in Punjabi has been inserted for the first time by the poet in the SirkhandT metre (Ramavtar, verses 46770). Punjabi words keep cropping up as in the heading of a Krishnavtar episode lukmichan (hide and seek) and in referring to a king condemned to be incarnated as a lizard (kiria, in Punjabi). At one place in Ramavtar (verse 65768) Persian words are blended with Hindi to make rekhta: the language that was the precursor of modern Urdu. The range of vocabulary thus becomes vast and varied.
1. Loehlin, C.H., The Granth of Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa Brotherhood. Lucknow, 1971
2. Ashta, Dharam Pal, The Poetry of the Dasam Granth. Delhi, 1959
3. Jaggi, Ratan Singh, Dasam Granth Parichaya. Delhi, 1990