Giani Nahar Singh

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Giani Nahar Singh Ji (1916-2007), a celebrated figure within the Sikh world, completed his worldly journey on 3 September 2007 in Ludhiana, Punjab. He was 91. He was renowned for leading a life of selfless devotion, overflowing with unparalleled fervor for Sikh precepts and practices, and a perpetual longing for the advancement of the Sikh Panth. To many who continue to be inspired by him, Giani Ji's simple and practical life, represents the quintessence of Sikhi.

Giani Ji's passion for Sikh spirituality had an early start. In his childhood, he used to join his father, Sardar Pakhar Singh, in performing nishkam-kirtan (selfless Glorification of the Divine) all over the Punjabi countryside and beyond, including Kashmir.

As he grew older, Giani Ji complemented his practice of inspiring Sikhi through kirtan with social activism. In particular, he worked tirelessly to improve the plight of the poor as well as victims of natural disasters. When the East Indian state of Bihar was badly affected by a drought, Giani Ji along with Bhai Jivan Singh ji and Giani Meva Singh ji mobilized Panjabi Sikhs to donate large amounts of food. He led efforts in the distribution of langar (free food) and in the discourse of Gurbani through kirtan and katha (elucidation).

The writings of three 20th century eminent Sikhs greatly influenced Giani Nahar Singh Ji. The first was Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), the leading Sikh personality who developed many institutions for the Panjab and the Sikhs, whose writings (spiritual, cultural, linguistic, and historical) had a major impact on his life. The second important figure was Bhai Randhir Singh (1878-1961), a dedicated Gursikh, whose strict adherence to the Khalsa ideals of miri-piri and whose active style of kirtan performed collectively by a congregation, inspired the formation of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha (AKJ). The third was Prof. Puran Singh (1881-1931), scientist, poet and philosopher who captured the original freshness of the Sikhi thru Panjabi culture, the Bushido spirit and the Whitman's inspiration.

When he was 19 years old, Giani Ji met Bhai Randhir Singh Ji in Narangval, near Ludhiana. This meeting had a transformative effect on Giani Ji, fortifying his commitment to the path of holistic activism and service to Sikh causes. He actively collaborated with like-minded peers from the AKJ. Over time, Giani Ji became one of the most pre-eminent kirtanias at rain-sabai samagams, (all-night sessions of devotional singing), a practice popularized by the AKJ.

Though he wasn't formally trained in being a pastor (anomaly to the Sikh doctrine), Giani Nahar Singh Ji performed more Sikh ceremonies and in more diverse settings than those who formally carried the designation. Moreover, he performed all his services voluntarily, never accepting a dime for them. Thus, he epitomized the Sikh principle of nishkam seva. At the gurduara in his hometown in Mullanpur, Ludhiana, he was virtually the parcharak-granthi-kirtania-ardasia and more, for months at a time. In Mullanpur and beyond, Giani Ji was extolled by Sikh laity and leaders, alike, for the ardor with which he practiced and inspired Sikh values: getting up in the ambrosial hours to remember Vahguru, love of humanity, devotional singing, selfless service, political activism, and much, much more.

He performed anand karaj (Sikh marriage ceremony) for hundreds of Sikh couples at no charge, often traveling far and beyond his hometown at his own expense. In addition, Giani Ji initiated thousands of people into the Sikh tradition by performing countless amrit sanchars. He was inimitable in his commitment to Sikh political sovereignty. Hence, emulating precedents of chivalry and courage in Sikh history, Giani Ji willingly went to jail several times to safeguard the civil rights of the Punjabis and the Sikhs. Whether it was the struggle for the Punjabi Suba in the 1960s or the authoritarian excesses of the Emergency in the 1970s, Giani Nahar Singh Ji triumphed in the face of adversity by protesting unjust practices of the state. His steadfast commitment to the Sikh path strengthened his resolve to fight for justice. During the two decades of Kharku movement, when violations of the human rights of Sikhs and extra-judicial killings were the norm in the Punjab, Giani Ji remained a fearless saint-soldier, traveling to the most remote regions to perform last rites for those who were martyred.

Yet, throughout his travails, he never desired nor expected any fame or authority. Rather, he declined all such offers which came his way, such as a nomination to the elite membership of the Shiromani Gurduara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) by the two opposing Akali parties in the 1960s. When the SGPC awarded him with an 'honor letter' for his selfless service to the Sikh Panth, he accepted the kirpan and the shawl that came with this honor but humbly declined the cash as it would be incompatible with the spirit of selfless service for which he was accorded the honor. Giani Ji's absolute commitment to such principles brought extraordinary love and respect for him from the Sikh masses. It wasn't the Sikhs alone who honored his honesty and integrity. While serving as the secretary of the Dakha Cooperative Society, Giani Ji demonstrated the highest work ethic. The auditors cited him as a paragon of principles as no malpractice was ever found during his tenure. Likewise, Giani Ji personified integrity. During the mayhem of the Partition (1947), he made certain that no Muslims in his vicinity were harmed. Furthermore, he personally took the abandoned belongings of his Muslim neighbors to the local authorities to ensure that they were returned to the rightful owners.

A unique practice pioneered by Giani Nahar Singh Ji was "pilgrimage on bicycle." He traveled far and wide, to different historic gurduaras in both India and Pakistan, on his bicycle. His commitment to Sikhi was such that even in old age, he continued to read the Guru Granth Sahib 6-8 hours at a stretch and never failed to participate in all-night kirtan samagams. Since leaving India in 1996, Giani Ji had been very actively involved in kirtan samagams all across North America and Europe. In this role, he mentored hundreds of individuals walking on the Guru's path and left an indelible mark on their lives. No matter how old he was or how frail his health, he always welcomed the sangat of Gursikhs, young and old, to come and meditate with him at amrit vela, sing sabads with him at any time, and do nitnem together. He was a strong proponent of reading Gurbani accurately. He particularly advocated the apt pronunciation of the Sabad (pausing in the right places so as to aid comprehension).

Giani Ji was actively involved in several non-profit organizations, educational and charitable, such as Khalsa Higher Secondary School at Ajitsar-Jangpura. He was a founder-trustee of Guru Nanak Public School and Guru Nanak Charitable Trust popularly known as Gurmat Bhavan at Mullanpur-Dakha, Ludhiana. Whatever kirtan-bheta (gratitude contribution) his admirers gave, he surrendered it to support the community work, including that at Gurmat Bhavan, Ludhiana and Pingalvara, Amritsar.

Giani Nahar Singh Ji is survived by five sons and three daughters, who live in different parts of India and North America. His extended family and admirers are too numerous to count. It is a testament to this great and loving GurSikh that Sikhs from all walks of life are celebrating the life and legacy of Giani Nahar Singh Ji by doing what he loved most: engaging in satsang by Glorifying Vahguru thru kirtan. If he was present today, he would remind us that it is not enough to just sing the kirtan, it is our calling to further the mission of Guru Nanak-Gobind Singh by upholding the doctrine of Granth-Panth, both in letter and spirit.

Guru Gobind Singh Foundation hosted a special kirtam samagam and raain sabayee( all night kirtan) in memory of Giani Nahar Singh on Saturday, October 13, 2007. Many leading kirtan singers of Akhand Kirtan Jatha joined from India, England and from all over North America. Several Kirtan Samagams are being held in his memory in Canada, England, India and in the United States. Jathedar Akal Takhat and many others joined in the bhog ceremony in Punjab to pay tributes to him..