II / (i)
It was in 1838 that Baba Jaimal Singh was born in the village of Ghuman in the Gurdaspur District of the Punjab, to a family of pious Sikh cultivators. Ghuman was as any other village in the region.
If it was distinguished in any way, it was by its having a shrine known as Dera Baba Namdev, in memory of the Great Sage Namdev Who, many centuries earlier, had spent His last days there. Legend holds that when the Saint arrived and wished to pray inside the local temple, He was refused admission because He was an out-caste. Undeterred He went and sat down behind the back wall and was soon lost in samadhi. The Lord, unhappy at the insult offered to His disciple, turned the face of the temple toward the place where Namdev sat, and all the priests and brahmins fell at His feet asking for forgiveness. It is from that day that the local village is said to have taken the name of 'Ghuman,' a Punjabi word signifying 'to turn around.'
The village folk visited the shrine to offer devotion, and many a wandering sadhu often came there to pay his homage to the Great Sage. Bhai Jodh Singh and Bibi Daya Kaur, the parents of Jaimal, were frequent visitors, and the latter, while there, would often pray for a saintly son. Great souls seldom come unannounced and one night Bibi Daya Kaur was visited by the Great Namdev in a dream Who told her that her prayers were granted; and ten months later Jaimal was born amidst domestic festivity and rejoicing.
The history of a Saint is the history of a soul’s pilgrimage. It is a story which to be spiritually complete covers innumerable years and countless lives. The final enlightenment may seem sudden, but its preparatory stages are long and arduous. Like Buddha and Jesus, Jaimal showed remarkable Spiritual Precocity from a very early age.
When visiting the shrine of Baba Namdev with his parents, unlike other children of his age, he would sit calm and attentive; and even as a child of three he could repeat many of the verses he heard at Spiritual Discourses. The villagers wondered at his prodigiousness. He was soon nicknamed Bal-Sadh or 'child-saint,' and his rural admirers pressed his parents to give him an opportunity for education.
So when Jaimal was five, he was put in the charge of Bhai Khem Das, a learned Vedantist who lived close by. In those times education in India did not concern itself with training for a vocation. It was pre-eminently a mental and Spiritual Discipline based on the study of the scriptures. The young child displayed keen aptitude for it and soon mastered the Gurumukhi script. Within a year he had already read carefully the Punj Granthi or five basic Sikh scriptures, including the Jap Ji, the Sukhmani Sahib, and Raho Ras. In another six months he had the key passages of these Spiritual Treasures by heart, and by the age of seven he had grown into an excellent pathi or one who could recite the scriptures in a melodious way with professional mastery. The next year was spent in studying the Dasam Granth – the scriptures compiled by the last of the Sikh Gurus.
Jaimal showed great respect for his teacher who was delighted with the boy’s application and rapid progress. The two would spend long hours together, and the lad would hear Bhai Khem Das with great attention. His hunger for knowledge was insatiable and the reading of scriptures only fired his imagination still further.
One day, picking up the Jap Ji, he began reciting the twentieth stanza, and after finishing the recitation, turned to his teacher and asked:
Sir, what is the meaning of Naam, of which Nanak has said,
When one’s mind gets defiled by sin, it can be purified only by communion with the Word (Naam),
and of which all the other Great Ones have sung such praises in the rest of the Granth Sahib?
Khem Das was touched by his pupil’s questioning spirit and discrimination, but was unable to enlighten him on the subject as he himself was not conversant with the mystery of Naam.
A day later, Bhai Jodh Singh, seeing that his son, now eight, was old enough to help him, went to his guru with an offering of a silver rupee and jaggery in traditional style. After laying it at his feet, he expressed his desire to have Jaimal released from his studies in order to tend his flock of goats.
Khem Das raised no objection.
He is your son and you may dispose of him as you consider best.
But his young ward could not wish him farewell so easily.
he assured him,
I shall work for my father all day, but in the evening I shall come to you and continue the studies.
Jaimal proved true to his word and kept unbroken his association with his learned teacher. Proud of his perseverance and piety, Khem Das initiated him soon after into the Japa of Sohang, which he himself practised. The boy would get up long before daybreak, have his bath, read the scriptures and sit for meditation. He would then lead his goats into the fields. His young friends soon observed that while the goats grazed over the meadows, he did not hang around, idly looking on, but kept reading and reciting Holy Texts and often sat down cross-legged for meditation.
At sundown he would return with his herd, have some milk and food, and then proceed to his guru. There he would sit attentively, learning how to read and interpret the scriptures. After he had mastered the Granth Sahib, he began, at the age of nine, the study of Hindi and of Hindu texts. Studies over, he would visit the shrine of Namdev and return home late at night. Often, while away in the evening, he would sit down and be lost in meditation, so much so that once he was away for the whole night while his parents searched frantically every part of the village in vain.
This intense application did not go unrewarded, and the boy once told his teacher that he could see stars and moon within and glimpse Inner Light – the first Spiritual Experience of the mystic soul.
Bhai Jodh Singh was far from satisfied with his eldest son’s unworldly ways. However religious-minded a man may be, he is seldom happy to see his son turned a renunciate. Jaimal was growing up, but instead of showing any interest in family affairs, he was moving in the opposite direction. He not only spent a great deal of his time reading scriptures, practising Spiritual Sadhans and visiting his teacher, Bhai Khem Das, but also began passing long hours in the company of the sadhus and holy men who came to the village to pay homage to the shrine of Namdev. Wishing to curb his son’s inordinate religious inclination, his father thought it best to send him away from Ghuman and its visiting sadhus. So at the age of eleven years and eight months, Jaimal was sent off with his flock to the home of one of his two sisters, Bibi Tabo, who lived in the village of Sathyala.
At his sister’s, Jaimal continued his old schedule of religious practices and goat-grazing. Many a month passed away in this uneventful manner. Then one day while following his herd he met a yogi who had just arrived at the village. Happy to find the company of the holy, he bowed in reverence, milked his goats and offered the yogi a drink of milk. The man in saffron was touched by the lad’s piety and began to question him. Jaimal told him of the scriptures he had read and the intense desire for enlightenment they had sparked in him. The yogi was very pleased by the account and offered to train him. He told him frankly that as regards the mystique of Naam he knew little, but whatever he himself practiced he would freely impart. So next morning as instructed, Jaimal proceeded, without having eaten anything, to his newly-discovered guide for initiation. The yogi was an adept in pranayama and instructed his young disciple into its secrets.
Having found a Spiritual Guide, Jaimal was once again lost to the world. His old holy indifference to family ties and worldly affairs returned, if anything with redoubled intensity. He would often sit for three hours at a stretch in meditation. The yogi, pleased by his devotion, stayed on in the village and Jaimal was more often than not, to be found in his company.
These developments caused his sister much concern, and anxiety finally drove her to send word to her father to take the boy away. Bhai Jodh Singh soon arrived on the scene and ordered his son back home. The two set out homeward early next morning, but while they were on the point of leaving the village, Jaimal, his eyes moist with tears, begged his father to permit him to see the yogi for the last time and bid him farewell. His father agreed and the boy, with an offering of fresh milk, hurried to his preceptor. There, he sadly related how his father had arrived and of their intended departure that day. The yogi smiled, blessed him and bade him be of good cheer.
Continue your sadhans at home as before,
and all will be well. I myself shall see you there some day.
At Ghuman, Jaimal revived his association with Bhai Khem Das and continued to greet visiting sadhus as of yore. He was now in his fourteenth year and continued with unmitigated zeal the practice of the sadhans he had learned. But he soon began to hunger for more. The yogic practices he had mastered failed to satisfy him, and on reading the Granth Sahib he became convinced of a higher reality, to be attained by different means.
As he progressed on the Path, he became progressively more detached from the world. He noted all the esoteric hints and references to the five-worded Word, the Panch Shabd, to be found in the Sikh scriptures, and kept pondering over them, asking every new yogi or sadhu he met if he could explain them to him; but all in vain.
At this stage of his search, he and his family suffered a sad bereavement. He was not yet fourteen when his father fell ill and died. The family was grief-stricken but Jaimal’s Spiritual Discipline worked as a protective shield. Quoting from the scriptures, he comforted his mother and his two younger brothers and discouraged any weeping or wailing. If the soul was deathless and if all was according to the Lord’s will, then why any mourning?