Sacred Literature & Sikh Studies

What is Charitropakhyan?

ਜੋਰਾ ਦਾ ਆਖਿਆ ਪੁਰਖ ਕਮਾਵਦੇ ਸੇ ਅਪਵਿਤ ਅਮੇਧ ਖਲਾ ॥
ਕਾਮਿ ਵਿਆਪੇ ਕੁਸੁਧ ਨਰ ਸੇ ਜੋਰਾ ਪੁਛਿ ਚਲਾ ॥ “Manmukhs (self-willed people), under the spell of Kaam (lust), do what women tell them to do and for this reason they are impure and stupid. Such persons who are under the spell of Kaam are impure persons and they do as women tell them to do.” (Ang 304)

Charitropakhyan also called Triya Charitar, is a long composition of tales in verse, which forms over one third of the Dasam Granth, having 404 distinct chapters.

The work is generally ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh. Charitaropakhyan means those tales which were already told by someone, which means the tales consisting in this composition were already told in history. The composition contains many moral messages for those who wish to seek it, others remain confused in scholarly matters.

Except Charitar 1, the Charitars are a conversation between a wise adviser (minister ਮੰਤ੍ਰੀ) to Raja (king) Chitar Singh; each charitar or trick is mainly in connection with the wiles of women (plus a few connected with men) and other worldly tales of life, in order to save his handsome son Hanuvant from the false accusations of one of the younger ranis (queens). The minister tries to explain to the Raja that there can be trickery in human behaviour and that one needs to analyse the situation carefully before drawing any quick conclusions.

It begins by elucidating the extreme bravery and courage of Devi Bhagwati and highlights her various deeds of glory. This is followed by the various positive ways in which women contribute to the welfare of their families in particular and society in general. The examples are drawn from the Mahabharata, Puranas, Brihat Katha, Katha Sahitya Saagar, Alif Laila, Ayaarey Dayish and other contemporary literature. On reading about the various characters included in this composition one also gets an insight into the culture, tradition and values of the society and region of which they are a part.

A school of opinion exists which asserts that Chritropakhyan and some other compositions included in the Dasam Granth are not by the Guru but by some of the poets of the Guru’s Court. Some others argue that the Charitars are too explicit and cannot understand the necessity for the tales to go into such sexual detail and support the view that Charitarpakhyan like other literary works of the Guru have over time being adulterated and changed. This school of opinion argues that the Panth needs to address these concerns and establish if any adulteration has taken place over history. What is clear is that most of 404 tales give a moral message rather than being intended as a piece of actual history.

The composition Chritropakhyan ends with the Amrit-Bani of Benti Chaupai Sahib, which is one of the five banis used in Amrit Sanchaars when preparing Khande-Di-Pahul and also forms part of the Nitnem (daily prayers). Without this bani neither Amrit can be prepared nor Nitnem be completed.