Singh Sabha

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The Singh Sabhaa Movement During the Renaissance

After great struggles with the Mughals and the invasions of the Durranis, and through other countless sacrifices, and infighting among the Sikh Misls the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh came to rule much of Punjab. Soon the new Maharaja also took control of Amritsar from the Bhangi Misl. With his many brilliant generals, such as Hari Singh Nalwa he expanded the Sikh Raj to the Khyber pass in the West and also gained control of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladak to the East. After years of oppression the people of the Sikh Raj, whether Sikh, Muslim or Hindu, all had the freedom to live and worship in their own way. In the nineteenth century, however, the British conquered India, but made a treaty with the Maharaja. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh the Shere-e-Punjab (Lion of the Punjab), none of his heirs could keep the Kingdom from petty infighting, thus the English were soon able to conquer the divided Sikh nation. With the last heir of the Khalsa Raj, Maharaja Duleep Singh spirited off to England and his mother, Maharani Jind Kaur moved from the Punjab, degradation and the fading of Khalsa values soon ensued. Soon the Sikh Rehit Maryada was becoming diluted and compromised by the influence of Hinduism. And in England the young Maharaja, even joined the Church of England.

In 1873, the Singh Sabha Movement was established with the aim of achieving a moral, spiritual and educational reawakening of the Sikh people. The basic aim of the founders of the Singh Sabha Movement was to impart the knowledge of the glorious heritage of the Sikh faith and its traditions to the younger generations. The movement sought to inspire the young with high moral standards of conduct so that they could become the best models of the community. The leaders were determined to alert the Sikh people to the corruption of Sikh values and practices, and they set about correcting detrimental deviations that had crept into social customs and religious practices. Because the Hindus held such an overwhelming majority, and such an ancient tradition, it had become difficult for the Sikhs to remain above Hindu superstitious beliefs and practices.

Primary Objectives of the Singh Sabha Movement

The Singh Sabhaa Movement concerned itself with four main areas:

  1. Establishment of Sikh schools and colleges
  2. Organization and management of Sikh Gurdwaras by the congregation
  3. Re-establishment of the Khalsa codes of conduct and lifestyle, as taught by the Sikh Gurus
  4. Promotion of the political rights of the individual

Through publications and newspapers in Punjabi and by going into the villages, the Singh Sabhaa Movement altered and inspired the Sikh people to the urgency of re-kindling the true Khalsa spirit before it was extinguished forever. The Singh Sabha Movement's accomplishments were many, but they did not come without the sacrifice of many lives along the way. Sikh schools were set up in villages and cities. Adults were taught Gurmukhi, to enable them to read the Siri Guru Granth Sahib and other Panjabi literature. The Chief Khalsa Diwan, made up of representatives of various Singh Sabha and Diwans (congregations) in the Panjab, was set up in 1883. The Khalsa College was built in Amritsar in 1892 and a Sikh established the Khalsa Tract Society to publish books, poems, newspapers and magazines. These publications inspired adherence to religious principles, mutual help and infinite capacity to bear unbearable suffering at the hands of adversaries, self-discipline and the desire to serve, help and guide others.

In order to educate and inspire the Sikh people to live according to the practices and heritage of the Khalsa, the Singh Sabha members devotedly went into the cities and villages and spoke to the masses of the people there. They openly preached against the Brahmanical practices of idol worship, caste prejudice and exclusive food and cooking practices. They condemned the use of liquor, intoxicating substances and tobacco, but by this time, different sects of Sikhs had formed, some setting up their own leaders as gurus. Before His death, Guru Gobind Singh had passed the Guruship to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, and placed his authority into the Panj Pyare in every gathering of Sikhs. He declared that after him, there would be no person as Guru. This fundamental principle was preached by the Singh Sabha on the platform and in the press. Bhai Vir Singh established the Khalsa Samachar, a reformist paper which exposed the pretenders of the various sects which had formed.

The Gurdwaras of Amritsar, Nankana Sahib and of many other places were controlled by corrupt hereditary mahants (priests), who allowed and even fostered sordid practices within the temples. They were supported and protected by the British Government. These priests would not accept Karah Prasaad offered by the 'untouchable' castes or by the Sikhs who mingled with them. The mahants allowed idol worship and other Hindu practices forbidden by the Gurus to occur in the Gurdwaras. The Singh Sabha leaders brought these practices to the public's awareness, and insisted upon a democratic management of the Sikh shrines and Gurdwaras by the Sikh congregation.

Thousands of devoted Sikhs were slaughtered as they demonstrated peacefully demanding change. Finally, however, mounting public pressure compelled the British administrators to give up protecting the corrupt managers. After much deliberation, the Gurdwara Act of 1925 was passed, giving control of the Sikh Gurdwaras and community funds to the Sangat along with the lands that had been granted to the individual gurdwaras for their support. Also, popular control of the Khalsa College in Amritsar was acquired. In 1950, it was written into the Indian constitution that a religious minority has a right to manage its own institutions. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee or SGPC was given authority to oversee proper management and protocol in keeping the Gurdwaras pure as the House of the Guru.

Sikhs gained political rights after much struggle and sacrifice. The Sikh press exposed the British Government's discrimination against Sikhs in employment, in government and public offices. The Singh Sabha Movement fought for the right of Sikhs to use their mother tongue of Panjabi, written in the Gurmukhi script, in all aspects of their daily life. They fought for the right to live the Sikh Rehit Maryada which had been established by the Sikh Gurus. Long and difficult agitations finally brought the Sikhs their religious right to wear the Kirpan (sword) of any length.

From the SGPC have come specific definitions of a Sikh:

  • "Amritdhari Sikh" is one who has been baptized by the double-edged sword, who keeps the form and lives the life of Khalsa, as dictated by Guru Gobind Singh.
  • "Sehjdhari Sikh" is one who is preparing to become an Amritdhari Sikh.
  • "Patit" (lit. fallen) refers to a Sikh baptized by the double-edged sword, but one who has failed to live by one or more of the tenants of the Sikh Rehit Maryada.

Thus the Singh Sabha Movement kept Sikh Dharma from corruption and ignorance and from being absorbed into Hinduism.

Further Studies

Literature published on/ during Singh Sabha period:-

Amritsar Singh Sabha (1873): Baba Khem Singh Bedi, Maharaja of Faridkot

Lahore Singh Sabha (1879): Prof. Gurmukh Singh (b. 1849), Giani Dit Singh (b. 1853), Jawahar Singh Kapur (b. 1859)

* dayanand tey mera samvad - Giani Ditt Singh

* Durga Prabodh - Giani Ditt Singh

* Giani Ditt Singh - Jeevan tey Rachna

* Bhai Ditt Singh Giani - Jeevan, Rachna tey Shakhsiat - Dr. Karnail Singh Somal

* Singh Sabha Shatabdi

* Khalsa Akhbar Index