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Punjabi Poem by Pashaura Singh Dhillon – A Tribute to the Ghadrites on the Centenary of the Founding of the Ghadar Party

Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 in Gurmukhi Poems, Punjabi Poetry, Romanized Punjabi Poems | 2 comments

Dr. Johanna Ogden presenting a copy of proclamation passed by the Mayor of Astoria, Oregon State in America designating 2013 as a celebration of the Centenary of the Founding of the Ghadar Party in Astoria, in 1913 where it all began to Dr. Jaspal Singh Vice Chancellor Punjabi University Patiala at the Yugantar Ashram San Francisco to day on July 13, 2013Happy Celebration at the Centenary of Founding of the Ghadar Party !

The Ghadar Party was founded in a distant land from India in San Francisco a century ago in 1913. The centenary celebration was held at the ‘Yugantar Ashram’ the original headquarters of the Ghadar Party at 5 Wood Street in San Francisco on July 13, 2013!

I was invited to attend, along with two other community members from the Central Valley of California – Charanjit Singh Batth, affectionately known as the ‘Raisin King’ being the most successful grape grower in America, and Bharpoor Singh Dhaliwal, the former Mayor of the City of San Joaquin.

It was a momentus occasion for all of us and especially for me as I stood in the place where history was being made for a second time. A close relation, I spent my formative years under the guidance of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, one of the founding members of the Ghadar Movement in the village of Bhakna in India. He introduced me to Ghadar Poets and other revolutionary poetry, published in the progressive literary magazine, Preet Lahri.

When we arrived at the tiny hall at the Yugantar Ashram, it was jam packed with approximately 200 men, women and some university students who travelled  far and wide to be a part of history. There were many prominent people in attendance, such as guest of honor, Sita Ram Yechury, a member of the Rajya Sabha, as well as main speakers Dr. Johanna Ogden, a historian from Astoria , Oregon, Dr. Mark Juergens Meyer, Dr. Harish Puri from GND University Amritsar, Dr. Jaspal Singh, Vice Chancellor and Drs. Jaswinder Singh, Dhanwant Kaur of Punjabi University, Patiala, Hardam Singh Azad from Houstan – Texas, Harsev Singh Bains IWA, Great Britain  and Dr. Mohinder Singh Member Bhai Veer Singh Sahit Sadan from Delhi , India. The Indian Consul General’s office was in attendance and a handful of young students from the Universities of Stanford and Berkley also paid their tributes.

The program was well organized and concentrated to highlight and revisit the Ghadrites unique contribution they made towards the Indian freedom struggle. The line I liked best and that said it all, was by Dr. Mark Juergens Meyer. Dr. Meyers looked genuinely excited when he said that he was very proud to be a Californian knowing that the first flag of Indian Independence was flown from this very place, the Yugantar Ashram at 5 Wood Street, San Francisco in California in 1913. I said to myself what a shame! How come the successive Indian governments and people who came in power and ruled India since they got freedom from the British subjugation of 200 years, did not realize this proud fact before Dr. Meyer did? Or were they not genuinely proud as Dr. Meyers was? I found no answer. But that reminded me the age old Punjabi phrase,” ਸ਼ੇਰਾਂ ਦੀਆਂ ਮਾਰਾਂ ਗਿਦੜ ਖਾਂਦੇ ਆਏ |” – Sheran dian maraan Giddarh khande aiey’ meaning the kills made by brave lions are always eaten to the bone by the cowardly jackals.

Printing PressThe aspect I found totally missing however, was the mention of the Ghadrite poetry at the centenary celebration.  The commemoration was only for the Ghadrites as warriors and nothing much about their poetry which equally if not more significantly inspired their countrymen.  The charge of the handful of Ghadrites against the British Empire where the Sun never set was no less an act of patriotism than the well recorded ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ during the battle of Balaclava, when the 700 rode to the valley of death. But very few people know Ghadrites were poets at heart also. After all it was the poetic lines which Shahid Kartar Singh Sarabha kept singing while hand operating that rackety printing press at the Yugantar Ashram to print the Ghadar newspaper:

“ਸੇਵਾ ਦੇਸ ਦੀ ਜਿੰਦੜੀਏ ਬੜੀ ਔਖੀ, ਗੱਲਾਂ ਕਰਨੀਆਂ ਢੇਰ ਸੁੱਖਲੀਆਂ ਨੇ।
ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦੇਸ ਸੇਵਾ ਵਿਚ ਪੈਰ ਪਾਇਆ ਓਹਨਾਂ ਲੱਖ ਮੁਸੀਬਤਾਂ ਝੱਲੀਆਂ ਨੇ।“

Seva Des di Jindrie badi aukhi, gallan  krnian dher Sokhlian ne,
Jinhan Des –Seva vich pair paya, Ohna lakh Musibtan Jhallian ne.

(Meaning it is easy to talk big about it but serving the country is very difficult. That those who served had to bear countless hardships.)

These lines associated with Shaheed Kartar Singh were also said to be the favorites of Shaheed Bhagat Singh that were found in his pocket before he was hanged. The Ghadrites wrote poetry in other languages too but what attracted me most was the  poetry  in  Punjabi in the most prevalent and popular folksy tunes such as: Heer Waris named after the most popular and tragic love story. I paid a tribute by presenting a Punjabi poem in the same metering mode called  behr of baint in which most of these poems were usually written for the Ghadar newspaper. The Ghadrites also sang these poems  in the battlefield, in the trial courts, on the gallows and during hunger strikes in jails. I also sang in the same tune as these are usually sung, which I will upload as a free audio download if you would like (just ask!).

I have transliterated my poem into romanized Punjabi for the benefit of those who can’t read Gurmukhi, and there is a rough English translation below as well at the gracious request of the historian, Dr. Johanna Ogden of Astoria, who listened to me sing my poem in San Francisco and wanted to know what it was about! Here is my Punjabi poem:

Translated Punjabi Poem: Ghadri Babean nu Samarpat.docx


Ghadri Babeo prt ke vekheo je, Waris Tusan de Jehre Mukam pahunche
Ohi Juh te Shehar , Gran Ohi,  Pairhan Napde kadm – nishan Pahunche
Goonj Ghadr di Goonjdi Rhi Jitthon, ohna rahan nu krn salam Pahunche
Va nje Tusan de Os Vipar vichon,  Vekhn apna Nafa – Nuksan Pahunche

Akhnn  tusan Azadi de ghol ander,  Kame Bharti  ‘Kattean kre  keekun
Sohn Singh te Lala Hardyal verge, Heere Chalk-daman ander jareh keekun
Aeya Parrhn Sarabha te Berkley si, Sabk Ghadr Vale Ohne Parrhe Keekun
Barkatullah di Kabr te baitth Roe,  Etthe  Sutean Beet Gai  Vareh   Keekun

Charrhe Des – Azadi lai jnj lai ke, Sehre siran te Kistran dhre ‘ Katthe
Zat-Pat te Dharm nu rkkh pase, Ghdri Babeo Larhe  te  Mre    ‘Katthe
Dhatthe pian di Kistran pai Himmat, Rsse Fansian te Charh ke Fareh ‘Katthe
Chashm-deed Itihas Gwah Sanhven,Kabrin pai ‘Katthe, Sivean Sareh ‘Katthe

Asin ho ke vi nhin Azad Hoe, Lokin Puchhde Firn Swal ohi
Ucha hor ucha nivan hor nivan, Sochi tusan kujh hor di hor hoi
Bdle Ghorh-Swar e Ghorhean de, Chabak Rhi Lugam te Dore Ohi
Daie dosh hunn Dharhvi kehrean nu, jdon Doli Kaharan ne aap Khohi

Babe Akhde Humbla maar Uttho, Supna Suttean Nahin Sakar Hove
Turde Desvasi jdon ho ‘Katthe, Tan eh Karvan na Khalihar Hove
Hook dilan di Ghadr tad Goonj bndi, aam Admi jdon Dushwar Hove
Os Goonj Sanhven Bhora Tthehrdi nhin Nili, Pili jan Lal Sarkar Hove!

Rough English Translation:

Ghadrites come and watch how far they have come. It is the same place, farms and factories you once worked; the paths you treaded. It is the same hilltop whence your call for freedom resonated around the world. As your heir apparent they have come to figure out what to make of the investment you had made!

They ask how you organized ordinary Indian laborers in to the struggle for total Independence. How did you set the jewels like Sohan Singh and Lala Hardyal into your torn down garment? Sarabha came here only to seek higher education; how he received lessons to become a mutineer? They stopped and wept at the grave of Barkatullah; how come you have slept here for so long?

Riding for the wedding of bride freedom from a distant land; how you tied the ceremonial garlands on all heads together? How you kept the cast, creed and religion out and aside and fought against the oppressor as one people? Lying low as underdogs for so long; how you mustered the courage to stand up to the oppressor and fought to the finish? History bears witness; how you all shared the grave and the cremation ground hand in hand?

Having got freedom we are still not free; how come people are asking the same question again? The rich got richer and the poor poorer; you thought of something but something else happened. Only the horse riders changed; the whip, the bridle and the hunting rope stayed the same. How can they blame the outside marauders, when the palanquin is robbed by the palanquin bearers themselves?

Ghadrites say! Rise again for a second Ghadar; the dreams never come alive sleeping. When all countrymen unite as one people to move forward; the caravan fighting injustice and inequality becomes unstoppable. The heart ache stemming from hopelessness brings out a rebellion that turns to an echo resonating louder and louder as common man’s life becomes more difficult. Confronted with such a resonating echo; no oppression of any kind or color stands its ground.


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Kavita Di Kahani: Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit

Posted by on Sep 19, 2012 in Kavita Di Kahani | 0 comments

Original Printing Press at Yugantar Ashram 1913

The hand-cranked printing press used at the Yugantar Ashram by the revolutionary Ghadar Party to print The Ghadar Akhbar, the first Punjabi-language newspaper ever published in the USA from 1913 to 1948.


Imagine yourself standing inside the Yugantar Asharm, now referred to as the Ghadar Memorial or Ghadar Smarak in Hindi. It is a place where the Ghadrites, affectionately known as ‘Ghadri Babas’ once stood. The Yugantar Ashram on 5 Wood street, San Francisco, was their head quarters. Kartar Singh Sarabha, (who incidently came to Berkley for higher studies) and his associates manually operated this old fashioned rickety press shown above to publish the revolutionary newspaper, the Ghadar.

99 years ago in 1913, the ‘Ghadar’ newspaper began to be published, packed in bundles and smuggled out of Yugantar Asharm to its destined readers far and wide. Igniting the spark of patriotism, in a very short span of time, ordinary workers who came abroad to enrich themselves and their families like they do today, became Ghadrites. Ghadrites in turn raised a brigade of extraordinary brave Hindustani men and women with a charge no less than the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ who rode to the valley of death. When called upon in 1914-15, they all converged from as far as America, Canada, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and last but not least from Argentina. If the resources at their disposal were that much meagre, their patriotic ferver was that much higher. They had such a fire in the belly that they gave their all to free the motherland. Approximately 150 of them got killed or sentenced to be hanged, hundreds sentenced for life in Kale-Paani’s draconian jails, Properties confiscated and who could fathom the grief and misery that the powers to be brought to bear upon their immediate families, near and dear ones.

The only difference was that it was not charge of British cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava. This time, it was charge of undivided India’s ‘Cry for Independence’ against the British Empire itself, where the Sun was said to have never set. The rest is a history now….

Ghadrites wrote exciting poetry from the heart. Although the Ghadar Party was comprised largely of Punjabis, they chose a Bengali name for their head quarters, “Yugantar Ashram,” meaning the Beginning of a New Age. Membership was open to all who opposed the foreign occupation of their motherland. Ghadarites came from all regions and walks of life of undivided India. For example Sohan Singh Bhakna was a Punjabi Sikh, Tarak Nath Das was a Bengali Hindu, Maulana Barkatullah a Muslim from Madhya Pradesh to name a few of the numerous stalwarts which includes Kartar Singh Sarabha, Pt. Kanshi Ram Maroli, Vishnu Ganesh Pingley who were hanged. They were one people with one cause: Independence from foreign rule.

Poet and Singer, Pashaura Singh Dhillon singing his poem on the Ghadar Revolutionaries at the Yugantar Ashram (Ghadar Memorial)Coming back to Kavita di Kahani, Although those patriotic poems were written in other languages, I was drawn to the Punjabi poetic behr in which these were usually written. And that behr was of Heer- Waris Shah and of some other popular Punjabi folk songs. I imagined the articles from the Ghadar newspaper were read, re-read and poems hummed and sung as they were being printed at the Yugantar Ashram. Although, the poems were written under pseudonyms, the poets paid a very heavy price for writing them. But they secured those rights for future generations – so that I can write my thoughts without fear. As I stood inside of the Yugantar Ashram, ready to present my poem dedicated to the Ghadarites, I was overwhelmed and teary eyed with the feelings that I owe all of this to them.

As I have said before there is always a Kahani (story) behind each of my Kavita (poem). That Kahani could be about anything I read somewhere, watched, felt, heard or simply imagined, that inspires! When and if put to paper before losing it, why is it usually in a poetry form and not in a prose, is a good question? A question I would have liked to ask to those great souls who preferred to express their feelings in poetry instead of prose ages before me.

I had never imagined, while growing up in village Bhakna, Amritsar in Punjab half a century ago, that I will keep this Kahani for that long within me before it turned into a Kavita. This Kahani of the Ghadrites was told to me by no other than Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (Founder-President of the Ghadar Party) himself, when I was only six or seven and lived with him in Bhakna. Who would have known then that one day I will be standing here in “Yugantar Asharm,” in San Francisco where it all began, singing this Kavita dedicated to him and his comrades, after they had long gone!

The Yugantar Ashram, which is kept locked most of the time was opened by the Indian Consulate to celebrate the August 15, 2012 Indian Independence Day dedicated to the Ghadrites by inviting community organizations and local community leaders at the Yugantar Asharm. “Der Aie Darust Aie”: Better late than never. Here I presented my poem ‘Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit’ inside the Yugantar Ashram main hall packed with men and women who came to pay their homage.

Please check out the text of my poem, “Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit”

And below is the video of me singing my poem, “Ghadri Babean Nu Samarpit.” :

As always I will greatly appreciate to have your thoughts about it!

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Indian Consulate San Francisco dedicates Independence Day 2012 to Gadri Babas

Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 in Discussion | 0 comments

Yesterday August 15 was India’s Independence Day which is celebrated by Indians or people of Indian decent everywhere. It was a great moment in the history of India as it marked the new beginning  for the Indian Nation after 200 years of subjugation by the British. Sadly, it is by and large now reduced to mere Razzmatazz, song and dance show dominated by speeches scoring political points. The so called “Aamm Admi” (common man), every political leader croaks about,  is getting more and more alienated.

But it was different at “Yugantar Ashram” , 5 Wood Street  (headquarters of the Gadar Party in 1913) in San Francisco this time. Inviting a large number of Indian American Organizations and community leaders in California, the Indian Consulate  in San Francisco had dedicated this Independence Day 2012 to the Gadrites. Affectionately  known as “Gadri Babas”, these unsung heroes of Indian Indepandence movement had been marginalized thus far. The Gadar Movement or what the British preferred to call it Gadar for short,  was the movement with a fire in the belly and gave it all fighting for the freedom; Giving a shot in the arm of the National Movement which ultimately snatched the freedom from the clutches of the colonial empire. The Consul General N. Parthasarthi, his Consuls N.P Singh, Anand Jha and the Consulate staff, made excellent arrangements and did a great job of conducting this event. The Consul General shared  his vision about the future of this historic place as indeed had been highlighted by eminent writers and scholars who visited this place such as Prof. Chaman Lal , Gurbachan Singh Bhullar as well as other local community leaders from time to time.

I was invited to sing my new poem dedicated to the Gadrites. I  attended the celebration with my daughter Dr. Navreet Dhillon, who drove me to 5 Wood Street , a place not very easy to find it in the maze of city streets. We had a great time . I will be writing more about it in “ Kavita Di Kahani”. Here is a video recorded of my poem on the iphone for you to take a listen and as usual  let me know what you think! Here is the link for the text of my poem:

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Remembering Ghadari Babas, the Unsung Heroes of 1947 – the Indian Struggle for Independence

Posted by on Aug 30, 2010 in Discussion | 0 comments

The Ghadar Party

The Sikh Temple, Stockton, California (U.S.A.) 1912: One of the Centres of Ghadar Activities

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This week’s topic: Remembering the Ghadari Babas

Every nation has a history and a story of their patriot warriors who at one critical juncture or another of a dire need, had stood up to the tyrant to be counted, fought and had sacrificed their all to protect its freedom and foster its nationhood.  Years later, in national celebrations and thanksgivings however, only those few are remembered who somehow find a place in its history books and thus in peoples’ minds; others remain unknown, ignored or forgotten as the time goes by. Ghadri babas affectionately known as the elderly revolutionaries appear to have met a similar fate in India’s history books and consequently in peoples’ minds.

The Indian Flag

The Indian Flag

These elderly revolutionaries had sacrificed their all, not only fighting for Indias’ freedom alone but equally importantly to reclaim its nationhood as one Indian nation lost under the 200 years of the ‘Divide and Conquer British Rule’. Although it all began here in California, not many Indians, especially the younger generation now living in California as free citizens knew or much cared about them either. This is not to say that left of the center political parties in India, mainly the communist parties did not keep the torch alive; they did but the Ghadri babas were hardly mentioned in the national celebrations by the ruling governments where they deserved their rightful place and where it really mattered.

Interestingly a century later, there are now a number of Indo – U.S. organizations which have been organizing meetings dedicated to the Ghadrites in some of the major Californian cities starting in Fresno followed by Sacramento and San Francisco, where the Ghadrites mostly met and where the story began.
Read my previous article, “Legacy of the Ghadarites” for background on their achievements.

Yogantara Ashram

Yogantara Ashram, San Francisco, California

It is a story where ordinary Indian laborers working in north America in the early 20th century, led by a handful of Punjabi Sikh revolutionaries all became Ghadrites, a name later taken after their newspaper ‘Ghadar’ they had started to publish from their headquarters, Yogantara Ashram in San Francisco. The story of the Ghadri babas is worth knowing for all Indians as a nation, be they from the east, west, north or south of India; for residents and NRIs’ alike.
Ghadri Babas, also known as Ghadrites for short, had sacrificed everything they had, including their lives, not only fighting for India’s freedom from foreign rule, but equally importantly to foster its nationhood as one Indian nation. While the British used the strategy of “divide and conquer,” the Ghadri Babas used it in reverse and unified Indians regardless of their regional, religious, or linguistic ties. In so doing they not only challenged Indians to oust the British by force from India but more importantly fight them under a one Indian banner.

While Indians who were in North America during this time were predominantly Punjabi Sikhs and the movement was propelled by a handful of Punjabi Sikh revolutionaries, all Indians, regardless of their backgrounds joined forces to become one revolutionary entity, the Ghadar Party. It didn’t matter to them that Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna was Sikh, Mahomed Barakatullah was Muslim, Lala Hardyal was Hindu, or that Tarak Nath Das had regional and linguistic ties to Bengal. Having played a crucial role in the Indian Independence movement , the story of these Indian revolutionaries rising above religion, regionalism, ethnicity, language, cast or creed for a common cause to rid India of foreign rule, is worth knowing for all Indians, no matter what subdivision they have created for themselves. The bottom line is that regardless of anything else,  all Indians are Indians and have India’s best intentions at heart.

Indian Independence Day Celebration in Fresno, California

Indian Independence Day Celebration in Fresno, CaliforniaHarry Gill, Linda Haldermann, Mike Villines and Me

It is encouraging to see that this recent phenomenon of remembering and bringing these unsung heroes into focus started in the central valley California is now gaining momemtum.  Just a few days ago, I attended an Indian Independence Celebration in Fresno put on by both Hindu and Sikh organizations. And just before that the Ghadar Memorial Foundation of America held a meeting in Sacramento attended by Californians from all over the state which included half a dozen distinguished intellectuals, who travelled all the way from Punjab. These included Dr. Manjit Singh Kang, Vice Chancellor Punjab Agricultural University Ludhiana and the widely respected journalist and diplomat Kuldip Nayar who presided over the conference and was also the Keynote speaker. He wrote an article, “The Ignored Revolutionaries: How They Contributed to India’s Freedom” was published in the Tribune detailing his experience there.

Also dedicated to the awareness for Ghadrites, the Indo-US Heritage Association Fresno is organizing a ‘Mela’ in the Fresno Fairgrounds on Sunday August 29, 2010. TV Sadda Channel CEO, Sidhu Damdami will be the Keynote speaker.

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