Bakapur Divan

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BAKAPUR DIVAN, a largely attended religious assembly (divan) of the Sikhs, held on 13 and 14 June 1903 at Bakapur, a small village 3 km from Phillaur railway station in the Punjab, marked a high point in Singh Sabha resurgence, The occasion was the conversion to Sikhism of Maulawi Karim Bakhsh, born a Muslim, and his family of four sons and a daughter. Some Hindus of that village as well/as Sikhs from among the audience were also initiated on that day. The ceremony was marked by considerable fanfare.

The sponsors were the Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Bhasaur, which under the leadership of Babu Teja Singh (1867-1933), then a suboverseer in the irrigation department of Patiala state, was very active in purifying Sikh ritual and establishing its autonomy. Assertion of selfidentity was then the dominating impulse of the Sikh community as a whole. A sweeping religious fervour, a new sense of identity and unity, and a decisive breach with the recent past dominated by customs and practices contrary to the Gurus` teaching were the characteristics of contemporary Sikhism. These were dramatically highlighted at the Bakapur divan.

A Shuddhi Sabha had been established by Dr. Jai Singh in Lahore on 17 April 1893 with the object of "reclaiming those Sikhs and Hindus who had apostatized themselves by contracting alliances with Muslim men or women." The Bhasaur Singh Sabha cavilled at the limited objective of the Shuddhi Sabha and questioned its designation. From its very inception, the Bhasaur Singh Sabha had accepted for conversion Muslims and those from lower Hindu castes. At its first divan held in 1894, 13Jatts, sixJhivars (watercarriers), two barbers, one Khatri and one Musalman (Miran Bakhsh of Tahsil Garhshankar who became Nihal Singh) were initiated into the Sikh faith.

As reported in the Kha/saAkhbar, 18 September 1896, Babu Teja Singh himself published in the press a report of a subsequent year saying: "By the power of the Word revealed by the Ten Masters and in accord with Akalpurkh`s wish, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Bhasaur has administered the g`urmantra and holy amrit to a Muslim woman and ushered her into Sodhbans (the Sodhi clan or the family of Guru Gobind Singh). Her Sikh name is Kishan Kaur. A Sikh who had fallen by living with a Muslim woman has been baptized and renamed Ude Singh." The news about the Bakapur family had reached Bhasaur through Bhai Takht Singh ofFirozpur, a pioneer of women`s education among Sikhs.

This was corroborated by some other members of the Singh Sabha who supplied further details of Karim Bakhsh`s interest in Sikhism. The Sabha decided to make its own investigations. Bhai Kahia Singh, a Sikh saint who made a secret visit to Bakapur confirmed the story. This led the Sabha to offer to convert the Bakapur family at its annual divan of 1901, but it had to give up the plan owing to the outbreak of the plague epidemic. Karim Bakhsh attended the large annual divan of the Sikhs at Bhasaur in 1902, but returned emptyhanded owing to a controversy that had arisen. The Bhasaur Singh Sabha sent its emissariesBhai Teja Singh ofMaingan, Sardar Bishan Singh and Bhai Takht Singhto visit Bakapur by turns and assure Karim Bakhsh that his heart`s wish must be fulfilled. Finally, Babu Teja Singh went himself.

At Bakapur, he learnt that Karim Bakhsh`s wife had passed away less than a week earlier and that the last rites had been performed strictly in accordance with the Sikh custom. There was the Guru Granth Sahib kept with true reverence in a room in the house and the Sikh kirtan was performed daily. On return, Babu Teja Singh issued a public notice signifying that a divan of the Khalsa would be convened in the village of Bakapur on 13/14 June 1903. The letter was sent on behalf of the Bhasaur Singh Sabha to all leading Sikh societies and individuals inviting them to participate in the proceedings. The letter included a note on the Bakapur family and its zeal for the Sikh faith.

The invitation, widely circulated, evoked a warm response. On the appointed day, batches of Sikhs converged on Bakapur from places such as Lahore, Amritsar, Gujrariwala, Gujjarkhan, Katani, Narangval and Ludhiana. The elderly uncle of Sardar Sundar Singh Majithia, Baba Hira Singh, led a jatha from the Amritsar Khalsa College. The group included Bhai Jodh Singh, distinguished Sikh theologian and educationist of modern times, who was then a student of the final B.A. class, Tara Singh, who had just joined college and who later became famous as a political leader of the Sikhs, and Man Singh, who rose to be the president of the judicial committee in the princely state of Faridkot. The youth were asked by Babu Teja Singh to fetch water from the well and scrub the "premises clean of musalmani." On the morning of the first day of the divan, Maulawi Karim Bakhsh rose at 2 in the morning, made his ablutions and came to the site of the divan. He sat in a room rapt in meditation.

The Asa ki Var was sung after which different jathas took turns at kirtan, hymn singing. They included the Singh Sabha of Gujjarval, Basant Singh and Anup Singh of Narangval and the Youth League of Ludhiana. For awhile, a group of women led the kirtan. Chanting of the sacred sabdas went on until it was time for Guru ka Larigar, or community meal. The afternoon divan was addressed by Babu Teja Singh, who explained the purpose of the convention and sought from the audience names of those who would wish to be initiated into the way of the Khalsa.

The first one to volunteer was Basant Singh, B.A., of the village of Narangval, in Ludhiana district, who, after initiation, was named Randhir Singh and who became famous as a revolutionary and, later, as a saintly personage of much sanctity among the Sikhs. To conduct the initiation ceremonies the following day, the five Piyaras (or the Guru`s chosen ones) designated were Bhai Teja Singh ofRawalpindi,Bhai Takht Singh, Zinda Shahid (Living Martyr), of Firozpur, Bhai Basant Singh of Bappiana (Patiala state), Bhai Sohan Singh of Gujjarkhan and Bhai Amar Singh of Raja Ghuman. Bhai Jodh Singh was named granthifor the ceremonies.

In all, 35 persons received the vows of the Khalsa the following morning (June 14). Maulawi Karim Bakhsh, 43, was named Lakhbir Singh after initiation. His four sons Rukan Din, 15, Fateh Din, 12, Ghulam Muhammad, 6, and Khair Din, 4, became Matab Singh, Kirpal Singh, Harnam Singh and Gurbakhsh Singh, respectively. His daughter Bibi Nurari, 9, was given the Sikh name of Varyam Kaur. Lakhbir Singh won wide esteem in the Sikh community as Sant Lakhbir Singh. His son, Matab Singh, founded a society called the Khalsa Baradari and played a pioneer role in the Akali movement, or the campaign for the reformation of the Sikh sacred places. Matab Singh *s son, Gurcharan Singh Sakhi, took his Bachelor`s degree at the Khalsa College, Amrtisar, in 1941, and edited, among others, a Sikh religious journal until he died suddenly in the Golden Temple premises in 1973.


1. Lal Sirigh, Itihas Ranch Khalsa Divan Sanbandhi Suchnavan. Ludhiana, 1967

2. Vir Sudhar Pattar : arthat Sri Guru Singh Sabha Bhasaur de athme te naume salane divan da sitta. Bhasaur, 1903

3. Jagjit Singh, Singh Sabha Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974

4. Harbans Singh, The Bakapur Diwan and Babu Teja Singh ofBhasaur," in The Panjab Past and Present. Patiala, October 1975