Professor Teja Singh

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Prof. Teja Singh

Professor Teja Singh

Teacher, scholar and translator of the Sikh sacred texts, Professor Teja singh (1894 - 1958) (NOT To Be Confused with Teja Singh Bhasuria) was born Tej Ram on 2 june 1894 at the village of Adiala in Rawalpindi]] district, now in Pakistan. His mother's name was Srusti and his father's name was Bhalakar Singh. At the age of three, Tej ram was sent to Gurdwara to learn and to read and write Gurmukhi and later to the Mosque to learn Urdu and Persian. While still a small boy, he received the initiatory rites of the Khalsa at the hands of Baba Khem Singh Bedi, taking the name, Teja Singh.

His early life was very hard and full of adventure. Since his father could not afford to send him to a regular school, one day he ran away from home in search of an education. He managed to attend schools in Rawalpindi and later in Sargodha, but after passing his matriculation examination, he was enrolled at the Khalsa College, Amritsar.

Teja Singh had a sensitive nature. The babbling brooks of Pothohar and the stories of the Gurus and heroes, he had heard as a child, shaped his imagination. In his seventh form, he wrote a treatise on painting, in English, and depicted in drama the noble and heroic martyrdom of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh. He painted pictures and although he had to work to pay his way through college, he had engaged a musician from a neighbouring village to come daily to his hostel to play the sitar for him.

After passing the intermediate examination from Khalsa College, Teja Singh returned to Rawalpindi to join the Gordon College which had afforded him a fee concession. He took his master's degree in English literature in 1916. In March 1919, he got an appointment back at the Khalsa college at Amritsar. He first taught history and then for a quarter of a century he taught English literature.

Political activity and arrest

Those were the days of much political activity in the Punjab and Amritsar was one of its important centers. Teja Singh was among the 13 Sikh professors of Khalsa College who resigned as a protest against government's control in the management of the institution. This gave rise to a widespread agitation and the government was forced to replace all 11 official members of the Khalsa College Managing Committee by "non-official" Sikhs. Teja Singh was also connected with the Sikhs long-drawn struggle, in the twenties, for the release of their Gurdwaras from the control of an 'effete and corrupt priestly order'. In 1923, he was arrested during this campaign and served more than one year in jail. He was released in 1925, for reasons of health, and returned to Khalsa College and his old profession of teaching, but he retained his contact with public causes through his writings and lectures. In 1939, he undertook a lecture tour of Malaya and delivered neatly 300 speeches in two months time.

Lion of Punjabi cultural and literary activity

A gracious and kindly figure radiating warmth and friendliness, Teja Singh presided over the cultural and literary activity in the Punjab for three decades. Punjabi letters and Sikh history and philosophy were his special fields of study. In the former he exercised an almost 'pontifical' influence, initiating new values and standards. With his vast background in 'oriental learning', combined with his in depth study of Western Literature, he was an ideal critic and an 'arbiter' of literary excellence. His writings helped in setting (fixing) the form and structure of Punjabi idiom. He encouraged and introduced to readers many young writers and it became an accepted custom for all new practitioners of the literary arts to first show their work to him.

As a scholar of the Sikh religion, he wrote copiously and authoritatively on the subject, for many years he was the interpreter and expositor of Sikhism to the outside world through his articles in English. Such writings of his were collected in book form and published under the titles; Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions (1938) and Essays in Sikhism (1944). In collaboration with Dr. Ganda Singh, he wrote, A Short history of the Sikhs ( 1950). Some of his renderings of the holy texts such as japu, Asa ki Var and Sukhmani had established themselves as classics, during his lifetime. The Sabadarth, an annotated edition of the Guru Granth Sahib (sponsored by the Gur Sevak Sabha), which was completed in five years ( 1936-41), was primarily the work of Teja Singh. Teja Singh also compiled an English-Punjabi dictionary. One of his ambitions was to render the entire Guru Granth Sahib into English. The portion he had completed during his lifetime was published by the Punjabi University in 1985 under the title The Holy Granth (Sri Rag to Rag Majh).

In Punjabi literature Teja Singh is remembered primarily as an essayist. The first collection of his essays in Punjabi was published in 1941 under the title Navian Sochan, followed by Sahib Subha in 1942 and Sahit Darshan in 1951. His autobiography, Arsi (Finger-glass of Memory), a model of chaste and crisp Punjabi prose, was published in 1952. A scholarly work in Punjabi was Sri Guru Granth Sahib vich Shabadantik Lagan Matran de Gujhe Bhed (Subtle distinctions of word ending vowel symbols in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib).

In 1945, Teja Singh took over as Principal at the Khalsa college at Bombay. He stayed at this post for about three years and then returned to Punjab as secretary of the Publications Bureau of the Panjab University. In January 1949, he was appointed principal of Mohindra college, Patiala. At Patiala, he also held additional charge for a time as Secretary and Director of the newly established Punjabi department. He retired from the service of the PEPSU (the Patiala and East Punjab States Union) in 1951.

"Next to Bhai Vir Singh, perhaps, the substantial contribution to the progress of the Punjabi language is that of Prof Teja Singh," wrote the celebrated Punjabi historian, Sita Ram Kohli. His works included a translation of Japji Sahib (1919) and of Sukhmani Sahib, which he called The Psalm of Peace (1938), it was published by Oxford University Press. Reviewing a reprint of this book, The Sunday Tribune, Ambala, dated 7.1.1951, said: "The English speaking world owes Prof Teja Singh a debt of gratitude for his translation."

Other famous books by this scholar in English include:

  • Growth of Responsibility in Sikhism (1919)
  • The Asa-di-Var (1926)
  • Highroads of Sikh History, in three volumes (1935), published by Orient Longman
  • Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions, published by Orient Longman
  • Punjabi-English Dictionary, revised and edited for Lahore University
  • English-Punjabi Dictionary, Vol.1 (Punjabi University Solan).

He also wrote a number of books in collaboration with other scholars, including, The Short History of the Sikhs. Besides these, he also penned 18 books in Punjabi, including his famous autobiography Arsi.


Teja singh died after a stroke at Amritsar on 10 January 1958. He is remembered as a great man of letters who combined with his deep love of learning, a rare personal charm and kindliness.

Principal Teja Singh

A personal tribute

Principal Teja Singh
Teacher, scholar & an institution
Written by Roopinder Singh

“A thick-set a grave face which often broke into a smile. He was always dressed in simple homespun clothes. And he seemed so preoccupied that we called him, behind his back, philosopher, though he really taught us history,” This is what author Mulk Raj Anand writes about Principal Teja Singh, whom he describes as a “teacher, educationist, scholar, publicist, and critic.”

There are few people who have done so much that they are practically venerated by one and all. Teja Singh dominated the pre and post-independence educational, cultural and religious scene of Punjab.

The son of Bhai Bhalakar Singh and Srusti, in Adiala village, district Rawalpindi, Punjab, as a young child he grazed livestock and studied within the village till 1908, when he shifted to Rawalpindi to avail himself of proper educational facilities.

Teja Singh had to support himself by working as a domestic servant, a massage boy, till he passed his middle examination, after which he shifted to Amritsar. He came back to Rawalpindi in 1912, and it was here that he earned his M.A. in history in 1919. During this period, Teja Singh also participated in various (things) along with Giani Sher Singh, joining Gordon College, Rawalpindi as a lecturer.

He joined Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1919 where he became a Professor of History, Divinity and English, playing tennis whenever he could. He and his colleague Bawa Harikishan Singh were so vehemently anti-British, that when the British authorities asked the college Principal, Mr. G.A. Wathen, to suggest two Sikh for nomination to Panjab University, but warned him not to mention “those anti-British professors Teja Singh and Harikishan Singh.” To this Wathen replied: “They are the only two pro-British professors on my staff, because they love Shakespeare and Wordsworth and so lovingly teach them.”

He also took part, along with his colleagues in the Gurdwara Reform Movements which culminated, in the Guru-ka-Bagh Morcha, the Morcha for the keys of the Golden Temple and in the formation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee. He was commended by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. He was to go to prison in 1923 go these activities, a sentence he accepted as an inevitable conclusion of his convictions.

Teja Singh was imprisoned for a year or so in the Amritsar and Lahore jails. While in jail, he began his work on the Guru Granth Sahbdarth, which was published by the Guru Sewak Sabha, the royalty of which he donated.

“Next to Bhai Vir Singh, perhaps, the most substantial contribution to the progress of the Punjabi language is that of Prof Teja Singh”, wrote the celebrated Punjabi historian Sita Ram Kohli. His works included a translation of the Japji Sahib (1919) and one of the Sukhmani Sahib, which he called The Psalm of Peace (1938), which was published by Oxford University Press. Reviewing a reprint of this book, The Sunday Tribune, Ambala, dated 7.1.1951, said: “The English speaking world owes Prof Teja Singh a debt of gratitude for his translation.”

Other famous books by this scholar in English include: Growth of Responsibility in Sikhism (1919): The Asa-di-Var (1926): Highroads of Sikh History in three volumes (1935): Sikhism: it’s Ideals and Institutions (both published by Orient Longman); Punjabi-English Dictionary) revised and edited for Lahore University, and English-Punjabi Dictionary, Vol.1 (Punjabi University, Solan).

He also wrote a number of books in collaboration with other scholars, including The Short History of the Sikhs. Besides this, he also penned 18 books in Punjabi, including his famous autobiography Arsi.

Teja Singh was released in 1923 because of ill-health and the very next year he rejoined Khalsa College, Amritsar, and resumed his role as an educationist. He always encouraged students and others who came in his contact, and the warm hospitality which he and his wife, Dhan, provided was legendary.

He was involved in some way or the other with practically every important book published (at the time), including Bhai Khan Singh’s Mahan Kosh, by writing introductions, editing the books and interacting with the authors.

The authors whom he helped include Nanak Singh, the novelist; Dr. Ganda Singh, the historian; Prof Mohan Singh Mahir, the poet and Sant Singh Sekhon, the critic. The famous theatre person, Balwant Gargi, was also a part of this group.

Teja Singh was also instrumental in organising the first course of M.A., Punjabi, which he taught himself.

His students did well for themselves. They include the late Dr. Gopal Singh, Lt. Governor of Goa; two former Vice-Chancellors of Punjabi University, Patiala, Mrs Inderjit Kaur Sandhu and Dr. Amrik Singh: eminent people like the late Surjit Singh Talib, Prof Harbans Singh, Editor-in-Chief, The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Prof Pritam Singh and Prof Darshan Singh Maini.

Mulk Raj Anand, who was also a student, reminisces of how when he was in exile in London, he (Anand) was, as a result of disillusionment from his European studies, “involved in a deep spiritual crisis of hopelessness and lack of belief,” after the end of this research studentship when he found a copy of Teja Singh’s translation of Japji. Anand read it and he says: “My heart and mind opened to receive other echoes from the tradition of India, through the return of which has lain my somewhat tortured course of self-education and development.”

Prof Teja Singh was a man who loved good life. The late Kapur Singh, ICS, described his first encounter with this famous professor of Divinity in Amritsar. Kapur Singh had just come back after studying as Cambridge and had developed a dislike to all that was “within the province of eschatology, dogma and homiletics.” He says he was quite ready to burst out on the first Sikh theologian who crossed his path when a friend brought him and Teja Singh together at a restaurant.

“The mutual friend, in the meantime, had ordered fish and chips, which was duly served at the table before serious conversation start, and Professor Teja Singh started consuming his fried fish with such relish, punctuated by delightful remarks about the gastronomically value of various varieties of fish and their cooking methods that the half my prejudice against theology and divinity had vanished.”

Teja Singh went to Bombay in 1945 to take over as Principal, Khalsa College, an institution he was to serve till 1948 when he became Secretary, Publication Bureau, Panjab University, Shimla.

In 1949 he was appointed Principal, Mahendra College, Patiala, and Director, Punjabi Department, Punjab.

It was in 1956 that he was presented an Abhinandan Granth by the Pepsu government, in which a veritable galaxy of prominent Indians, who had been in contact with this many-faceted man contributed.

The Abhinandan Granth includes messages from S. Radhakrishnan, then Vice-President of India: Yadavindra Singh, H.H. the Rajpramukh of Pepsu; Bhai Vir Singh; Baba Kharak Singh; Master Tara Singh; Bawa Harkishan Singh; Baldev Singh; Gurmukh Nihal Singh and others.

In his tribute, Kapur Singh said: “It is his essential humanity and his this-earthiness which strikes me as his most endearing characteristic and it is this essential humanity and simplicity of his which marks the great work he had done during the last quarter of a century” by interpreting Sikh dogma and religious theory and by evolving standards for Punjabi prose which shall endure long after he quits this earth.”

The man who had contributed so much to the life of Punjab and Punjabis died on January 10, 1958. He left behind a rich corpus of work on Sikhism and the Punjabi language, as well as beautiful memories in the minds of those who came in contact with him—recollections which are still fresh in their minds even as they mark the 100th birth anniversary of this teacher, scholar and as institution.

Principal Teja Singh, Teacher, scholar & an institution by Roopinder Singh, journalist, author & photographer, has been reprinted, with thanks from the site,

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