Saturday, August 9, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E


Nehru called Kanshi Ram ‘Pahari Gandhi’
Ramesh K. Dhiman

Baba Kanshi Ram
Baba Kanshi Ram

HIMACHAL Pradesh has made a significant contribution in the country's struggle for freedom. Amongst the galaxy of glittering stars of the freedom struggle, stands out the name of Baba Kanshi Ram, who was affectionately known as ‘Pahari Gandhi’ — an endearing epithet accorded to him by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Succumbing to the prevailing custom of child marriage, Baba Kanshi Ram entered wedlock at the age of seven. The bride, Saraswati Devi, was barely five. A quirk of fate brought Kanshi Ram to Lahore, where he got an opportunity to meet great men like Lala Hardyal, Sardar Ajit Singh and Maulvi Barquet Ali. He also met poet celebrities like Sufi Amba Parsad and Lal Chand 'Phalak', who composed the patriotic number "Pagri sambhal jatta...."

As he was settling down in Lahore, a number of tragedies struck him one after the other. He lost his father in 1893, and then his mother in 1894. He was barely 13 years when the responsibility of running the household fell upon his shoulders. He had barely got over the grief of losing his parents, when his wife Sarawati Devi passed away, leaving behind two sons, Gian Chand and Suaya Ram.


In 1905, a powerful earthquake rocked the Kangra valley. Lala Lajpat Rai led a team of Congress workers from Lahore to the valley and extended a helping hand to the quake-hit. Baba Kanshi Ram joined hands with Lalaji in the relief work.

When the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in 1919, Baba Kanshi Ram was in Amritsar. He resolved to take revenge on the rulers by forcing them to quit India. For raising a voice against the Britishers, he was sentenced to two years of rigorous imprisonment on January 26, 1920. Once out from jail, he went to Kangra along with another compatriot Lala Kanshi Ram to disseminate the message of azadi. He recited his poems to spread the message.

Baba Kanshi Ram was again arrested when he was reciting his self-composed poem to a gathering in Palampur. He went to jail 11 times, spending nine years of his life there. While smarting in various jails, he continued his relentless battle against the British by writing sensitive poetry.

It was a sizzling day of April 1931 when news about the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru seized the entire country with shock. On that fateful day, Baba Kanshi Ram took a solemn vow to wear black till the shackles of slavery were broken. This peculiar dress code earned him the affectionate soubriquet of "Shiaposh General" (General in black). He maintained the sanctity of the vow till he passed away on October 15, 1943.

At yet another public meeting held at Una (HP), which was graced by Sarojini Naidu, Baba Kanshi Ram recited some of his Pahari compositions. Greatly impressed by this poet gifted with a mellifluous and well-modulated voice, Naidu conferred on him the title Bulbul-e-Pahar. He came out with an anthology comprising 500 poems, eight short stories and a novelette, covering a number of subjects like metaphysics, mysticism, romance and hardships of farmers of this hilly land.

The poems that he composed during imprisonment became very popular among the hill folk. Some of them are Smaj nee roya, Nikke, nikke mahnua jo dukh bara bhari, Ujari kangre des jana, Mera suneha bhukhyan nangiyan yo, Na kar gallan munuan kanne jaane diyan, and Kanshi ra suneha. The eight short stories that Baba Kanshi Ram wrote speak volumes about his uncanny knack of handling a subtle theme.

Some of these works are Kunali di kahani, Kanshi di jawani, Nana di kahani, Kanshi di jawani, Charu kanne Resho, and Pahariya kanne chughaliya. Most of his poetry and prose is a autobiographical.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a great admirer of this short-statured crusader in black. He looked like a scholar in his snow-white flowing beard, large, dark oval eyes, and a glowing face. In 1937, a political conclave was held at Garhdiwala (Hoshiarpur) which was presided over by Pandit Nehru, who was greatly impressed by the amazing sense of his mobilisation, motivation and, of course, a formidable spirit to organise. He affectionately addressed him as "Pahari Gandhi". Later he came to be known and addressed by the new name.

For his signal contribution in the freedom struggle, especially from the Kangra segment, a special commemorative postage stamp was released on April 23, 1984, by the then PM Indira Gandhi at Jawalamukhi (Kangra). A colourful folder, brought out by the Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, declaring Baba Kanshi Ram as an undisputed luminary of Pahari language was also distributed on the occasion. The department also instituted an award in his name for upcoming poets and writers of the state.

But, it is a matter of concern that the ancestral home of this freedom fighter and writer is lying in neglect. "It is a matter of pity that not even a road, roundabout or building (except for a school here — courtesy, the then CM Partap Singh Kairon) is named after this martyr, who led an austere life and sacrificed everything for his beloved motherland," laments Vinod Sharma, the youngest of his three grandchildren.