Professor Sahib Singh
Professor Sahib Singh (16 February, 1892 - 29 October 1977) was a renowned Sikh academic who made a tremendous contribution to Sikh literature. He was an exceptional grammarian, author, scholar and theologian born in a Hindu family in the village of Phattevali in Sialkot district of undivided Punjab. He was named Natthu Ram by his father, Hiranand, who kept a small shop in the village. Soon the family shifted to Tharpal, another nearby village in the same district.
As a youth, Natthu Ram was apprenticed to the village Maulawi (Muslim teacher), Hayat Shah, son of the famous Punjabi poet, Hasham, upon whom his royal patron, Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of the Punjab, had settled a permanent jagir.
Winning a scholarship at his middle standard examination, Natthu Ram joined the high school at Pasrur, where he decided to become a Sikh, receiving the rites of the Khalsa in 1906. Upon joining the Khalsa panth, his took the name Sahib Singh.
The untimely death of his father made the situation hard for him, yet he managed to plough through first Dyal Singh College, Lahore, and then the Government College, Lahore where he obtained his bachelor's degree. In 1917 he joined the faculty at Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala as a lecturer in Sanskrit.
Reformer and Activist
Now known better as Professor Sahib Singh, he took part in the Gurdwara Reform movement in the 1920s. Appointed joint secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 1921 he was jailed during the Guru ka Bagh agitation in 1922 and also in the Jaito morcha in 1924. In 1927 he returned briefly to his college in Gujranwala, before quitting to join the Khalsa College at Amritsar. From 1929 to 1952 he remained at Khalsa College producing a succession of learned works and commentaries on the Sikh sacred texts. Retiring from the Khalsa College, Amritsar, after many years of unbroken and luminous scholarly work, he became principal of the Shahid Sikh missionary College. He also worked as principal at the Gurmat College, Patiala.
Professor Sahib Singh was known for his erudition and assiduous pursuit of scholarship. Nearly 50 of his works were published between 1927 and 1977. These included expositions of several of the Sikh sacred texts and his monumental 10-volume commentary on Sikh Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan, published during 1962-64.
Scholar and Academic
A most original and earlier work was his Gurbani Viakaran, a textual grammar of the Guru Granth Sahib. No exegetical work, since the publication of this book in 1932, has been possible without referencing the fundamental principles enunciated in it, especially those concerning the interpretation of vowel endings in inflexions of nouns and verbs. Sahib Singh made a notable contribution to Punjabi prose through his essays on moral and spiritual themes, religious philosophy and issues in history and biography.
Sahib Singh's contribution to Sikh studies and Punjabi letters received wide recognition in his lifetime. The Punjabi Sahitya Akademi, Ludhiana, honoured him in 1970 with a life fellowship, and Punjabi University, Patiala, conferred upon him, in 1971, the degree of Doctor of Literature (honoris causa).
Earlier, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee made an award to him for his Gurbani Viakaran, and the Government of Patiala and East Punjab States Union honoured him in 1952 noting his services to Punjabi literature.
Professor Sahib Sihgh died of Parkinson's disease at Amritsar on 29 October 1977.
Glimpses from the life of Prof. Sahib Singh
- A tribute by Dalip Singh
Professor Sahib Singh was born on February 16, 1892, at village Fatehvali, Tehsil Pasroor, in district Sialkot (now part of Pakistan State). His father, Hira Nand, and his mother Jumna, alias Nihal Dei, though illiterate, were very sincere, devoted and diligent parents. His father was a petty shop-keeper in the village and throughout his life had to fight hard for livelihood. A few babies were born to them, but none had survived. When Sahib Singh was born, his father was forty-five years of age. They pierced one of his nostrils on their new born son to put a 'magical thread', called a “Nuth”, in order to ward off any danger to his life. Thus the child was named Nathu Ram, His father was running a small shop for general supplies in the village, which did not yield enough profit to make both ends meet. He, therefore, with his family and shop moved to another village in the area, called Therpal.
When the child attained the age of four and a half years, he was admitted in a primary county school, from which he graduated from the 5th grade in 1902. There is an interesting story of when he was tested for promotion from 1st to the 2nd grade. Under the directions of the inspector of the schools, the students of all the primary schools were gathered at a central place. Sahib Singh tells us that his father took him to the place where all students had gathered for being tested. The poor father gave half a penny (dhaila) to his son, to encourage him, which unfortunately got lost. The inspector of schools came, and began asking questions from the students. For some reason, he got very much annoyed with the headmaster, Kazi Jalal-ud-din. The inspector asked the Kazi to stay aside, and in great rage he moved toward the students of 1st grade. Nathu Ram was the youngest boy in class and was sitting in the front row. As he came, in a shrilling voice he asked Nathu Ram to speak out the multiples of three. All the students got greatly scared to see his black face in rage. But Nathu Ram stood up, and stridently spoke out all the multiples of three. On hearing this, the inspector was very pleased.
Nathu Ram was only 8 when he was inflicted with a severe type of typhoid fever. He was running a very high fever and became unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he asked for an orange to eat. His father went in search of oranges, when he came to know of the orchards in certain villages. Since it was not the season for oranges, it was hard to find an orange even in orchards. At last the father saw a branch of an orange tree with two pieces thereon. He brought the oranges for his dearest son. Nathu Ram recovered from the typhoid fever, but next year he got an attack of small pox. Inspite of Nathu Ram’s continued ill heath for a long time, he graduated from the Primary School with distinction. As a result of Kazi Jalal-ud-din’s strong recommendations (his poor father could ill afford to send his son for further education) he was admitted in the middle school, which was located in another village.
Educational Pursuits and Marriage
The middle school was a three year course. After a year’s time, Nathu Ram was promoted to 7th Grade. At that time, there was a change of the teacher. The new teacher named, Pandit Shiv Dayal examined all the students of the class. The teacher asked a question from the text in some different form, which as he worked down the row of students none were able to answerd. Sitting at the end of the class Nathu Ram was able to reveal the mystery. The teacher became extremely happy with him. Nathu Ram, with certain other students, used to go back to his village on every Saturday and then go back to the school every Monday. On the way, he would see Sikh soldiers among other people passing to and fro at certain crossings.
Noting the Hearty appearance of some Sikhs
Nathu Ram knew nothing about Sikhism, but he was greatly attracted by the appearances of the Sikhs, and very much liked to adopt this appearance to feel strong and sturdy. As the time passed, he was more and more attracted by the Sikh appearance. He even began to think, by what name he should be called as a Sikh. He selected his name as “Sahib Singh”. He had a class mate by the name of Tulsi Ram, who belonged to village Fatehwali. Nathu Ram used to exchange his views with Tulsi Ram, who also developed similar views. He selected his new name as “Jagjodh Singh”. Now Nathu Ram was to pass the 8th grade examination, which was to be held at Sialkot, at a distance of about 42 miles from his village. There were 26 boys of the school, accompanied by their teacher, Pandit Shiv Dayal they were to walk the distance of about 22 miles upto Pasroor, carrying their respective load of books and other accessories. Nathu Ram with his history of weak health, was greatly encouraged by the teacher and his class mates to walk the distance with the load of the luggage on his head. From Pasroor, they were to be lifted in a carriage driven by horse to cover the remaining part of the distance. When they reached Sialkot, darkness had set in. In those days electricity was unheard of, and they had to read from their books under the faint light of country lamps. After the examination, Nathu Ram came back to his village, and soon, thereafter, at the age of 13 he was married.
The result of 8th grade examination was declared. In the whole of the Rawalpindi Division, Nathu Ram attained the First position, and was awarded a scholarship of Rupees 6.00 per month. He now joined the Senior Special Class in a school at Pasroor, 22 miles from his village.
Nathu Ram became Sahib Singh
During the summer vacations, he came back to his village Therpal. One early morning, some one knocked at the door of their house. On opening the door, Nathu Ram saw a young and sturdy Sikh standing before him. He recognized that he was the same Maharaj, who had turned a “Sanyasi”, with head tonsured, living in a cottage at some distance from their house. He was the grandson of his grand-mother’s sister. His Name was now Dharam Singh. Nathu Ram was greatly impelled to become a Sikh immediately. He told his cousin Dharam Singh, what he had been thinking since the days he had been a student in the middle school, and also about his friend Tulsi Ram. Dharam Singh immediately took both, Nathu Ram and Tulsi Ram, to a place near Pasroor city, where people were initiated to Sikhism by taking Pahul (Amrit). Both the boys received the Amrit and became Sikhs. When told to receive the changed names, the boys replied, they had already chosen their respective names. The organizers agreed. Nathu Ram said, that his new name would be “Sahib Singh” and his friend Tulsi Ram said, his new name would be “Jagjodh Singh”. Every one came to know that these two boys had become Sikhs. But the boys did not know how to get their names changed in the school records.
Love for study of Sankrit Language
Inter-religious debates on many issues used to be held in Pasroor. Although young Sahib Singh could not follow the frequent Sanskrit quotations of the learned Hindus, he was greatly attracted to the language. He resolved that he would learn this language, and in the high school he would study Sanskrit instead of the traditional Persian Language, He had learnt Gurmukhi alphabets the very next day after he received Amrit, and was soon regularly reciting the Gurus’ Compositions.
He learnt the alphabets of the Devnagari script (Sanskrit/Hindi) in a couple of days. At that time many friends and teachers advised him, not to change his extra language study, as the time left for the examination was very short (3 months only). Sahib Singh insisted that his language subject would be Sanskrit. He went to the Sanskrit teacher, who greatly encouraged him and promised all types of guidance. He began spending all of his time on the study of the Sanskrit language. In three months’ time he attained so much proficiency, more than many could attain in 3 years. In high school he always attained the first position in Sanskrit.
His Father's Demise
Sahib Singh was at the school in Pasroor, when he received the sad news of the death of his father, which took place on July 20, 1907. He came home and was told that it was the last desire of his father that the family members should, at any cost, arrange for his education upto the 10th Grade. “This dedication to my education of a poor and illiterate father, needs to be greatly glorified. No one can dispatch food and other articles to the deceased ancestors. The deceased needs the love or a heart felt prayer to the Lord for him”, said Sahib Singh. At that time Sahib Singh was 15 years and 5 months old. We are told that he often regularly prayed for his father. Sahib Singh had three younger sisters, an aged mother and his own wife. The whole burden of the family’s sustenance, fell on the tender shoulders of his two younger brothers, who were 11 and 13 years old, who during the life time of their father had become Sikhs too. During the period Sahib Singh was studying at the High School at Pasroor, his dutiful younger brothers used to carry wheat flour and other food supplies for him from their village.
When Sahib Singh was studying in the 9th Grade class at Pasroor High School, a new teacher, named Pandit Vitsata Persad, was posted there to teach 9th and 10th Grade classes. He was an exceptionally kind hearted person. This teacher set the Question Paper on Geography in the quarterly test for the 10th Grade class. He was greatly impressed to examine Sahib Singh’s answer paper and wanted to see him. On the answer paper the name of the student written was “Nathu Ram”, while he was a Sikh boy. To solve the mystery, he took all the answer papers with him and appeared before the 10th Grade class. He asked Nathu Ram to stand up. On hearing this, Sahib Singh stood up. On his inquiry, Sahib Singh explained that on his becoming a Sikh, his name had not been changed in school records. On hearing the whole story, Pandit Ji developed great affection and regard for Sahib Singh.
After the summer vacation of 1908, the schools were closed twice for more than a month and a half, as at that time the whole of Punjab was severely affected with the scourge of a severe malarial epidemic. Sahib Singh also greatly suffered from this pestilence. Now the month of December had set in, and he was continuously suffering. The fees for final 10th Grade examination were due to be remitted by the students during this month. His teacher Pandit Vitsata Persad arranged for the move of Sahib Singh from his village to Pasroor, made special arrangements for his stay in the hostel and put him under the treatment of a physician of the local hospital. Sahib Singh soon recovered from the disease and his examination fee was also remitted in time. As long as he remained under treatment, all food supplies were provided from Pandit Ji’s own house. The money for examination fee was arranged by his widowed aunt, who borrowed money from a money lender by keeping her ornaments as surety deposit with him. As there was two months’ time left at his disposal to prepare for the final examination, after about four months’ absence from the school, Sahib Singh made preparation for the examination in four subjects, instead of five subjects. Out of 33 students, only 10 students passed the examination with Sahib Singh topping the list of the successful candidates.
He was temporarily employed at the Sangla Middle School for a few months. Thereafter he wandered in the streets of Lahore and Amritsar in search of job, but with no success. Sahib Singh states, “At Amritsar, when I lost all hope of securing any employment, then in Ram Bagh I sat down under a tree, wept bitterly - I made lamentations to the Creator - telling Him, I return Your rosary, I cannot meditate on You in this state of hunger and distress.” He thus returned to his village empty handed.
Employment in a Post Office
It was now July 1910. Sahib Singh applied for a post in a post office. He was called for an interview in Sialkot, located more than 40 miles from his village. Pasroor city is located just in the middle, where he had studied for four years. He had no money to go to Sialkot and spend few days for training there without any remunerations. He thought that he would anyhow try to walk the distance, but what would he do for his sustenance! There was no money available in the shop run by his younger brothers. His mother approached a few people for the loan of a petty amount for her son to enable him to secure some employment. But none would oblige her, as they too were penniless people! At last his mother requested a sweeptress to take pity on them and give the loan. That God fearing noble lady, with tears in her eyes, gave the loan of Rupees two to his mother for the purpose!!!
Sahib Singh’s shoes were completely torn, a new pair was bought. He left the house to reach Sialkot. The new shoes hurt his feet and it became difficult to walk. He then put on the old ones. The sole and heel of the shoes had already been worn out. Now the heels got completely detached. His heels were then severely hurt. He then began walking bare footed. With great difficulty he reached Pasroor about 20 miles from his village. Sahib Singh writes, “I now realized, that we are poor people! I then realized how the poor people are the lifeless persons, fly about like a straw and are trodden down under the feet.”
He went to the school hostel, where he had lived a year before. He saw a number of teachers and students. Pandit Vitsta Persad was not there, as he had got a job in Lahore. Sahib Singh was in a state of utter frustration. To spend the night, he lay himself on the road-side in front of the school hostel. It so happened that the school drill master, Sardar Pargat Singh passed from that side. He was the only Sikh teacher in the school. He saw Sahib Singh, and stopped there with utter surprise, and said, “Sahib Singh! Do you think that, just after lapse of one year, there is no one here, who knows you?” There were tears in Pargat Singh’s eyes. Sahib Singh told him his whole story. He took Sahib Singh with him to his house, where he spent the night. In the morning, he inquired, “How will you go to Sialkot?” Sahib Singh said, “On foot, sir”. The teacher then said, “No, you will not walk the distance any more.” The teacher gave Rupees two to Sahib Singh, and got him seated in a horse cart (tonga).
There was one vacancy in a post office and there were a number of candidates for the post. All were examined. The Superintendent of Post Offices asked Sahib Singh, which of the language scripts were known to him. He replied that he knew Persian, Gurmukhi, Dev Nagri, Landai and English. The Superintendent was very pleased with the answer and asked for his credentials. Here, again the same problem arose. On the certificates his name indicated was “Nathu Ram”. Sahib Singh told his whole story, and the Superintendent selected him for the post. The Superintendent was kind enough to post Sahib Singh to work at Raeiya Post Office.
It was now May 1911, and Sahib Singh was working at Raeiya Post Office. There he met Mohammed Ashraf, who was his class mate at Pasroor. Ashraf had returned to village Matai Ki, from Lahore after appearing in 12th Grade examination. He had joined a college at Lahore after graduating from Pasroor. Village Mati Ki is located a couple of miles from Raeiya. He used to meet with Sahib Singh every day. Ashraf used to tell Sahib Singh his experiences of higher education and college life. This would create great urge in Sahib Singh for attaining a higher education. He would, however, calm himself that higher education was not possible for the circumstances he found himself in. He came to know that Pandit Vitsta Parsad, his great beneficent teacher was then a teacher in Dayal Singh High School, Lahore. He, therefore, wrote to him a detailed letter about his desire for attaining higher education. On the fourth day, he received a reply from Pandit Ji, advising him to report to him soon, so that he would help him to get admission in Dayal Singh College.
He seriously pondered over the family circumstances, particularly the heavy debt they were in. Whatever Sahib Singh was earning, practically all of it was being sent to his brothers in the village for clearance of the heavy debt. But this debt, though it did not increase, yet it stood where it was, as his remittances were only sufficient to off set the heavy interest they were paying for the principal amount. Sahib Singh seriously pondered over the situation, decided to take the chance of going for a higher education. He would thus earn more to clear the entire debt, also in this way, he would fulfill his heart’s desire for acquisition of higher knowledge.
Sahib Singh states. “ I started writing the letter of resignation from the post. I had to write only about 4 lines letter to the authorities to relieve me of the duties. My heart began to tremble, hands too, extreme sense of fear as to what shape it would take, from where to get money for college expenses, what would people say, and all sorts of fears. God so willed, that I wrote down the letter and gave it to the Post Master for onward transmission. I requested him not to leak out this information to any one, till my request is accepted by the authorities. All my colleagues in the post office were extremely surprised by my action. They positively thought that this was an insane act. However, the letter was forwarded to the Superintendent. I wrote a private letter to him also, thanking him for his previous kind considerations. I requested him to relieve me of the duties at the earliest, as I might miss the opportunity of admission in the college.” The resignation was accepted.
Sahib Singh went to his village. After 2 days he disclosed the news to his family members that he had resigned the job in the post office and was thinking of going to Lahore for joining college there. No one believed in him, as all thought that he was going to leave the domestic life and would become a hermit or recluse. Sahib Singh also states, “ This presumption of the family members was to a considerable extent correct. My inner voice was telling me, if the plans failed, then there will be no place for me in this house. I will be lost for them for ever. At my request, my mother cooked food for me. The food was before me to eat. But, who could eat? My sisters were weeping bitterly, so was my wife, mother, and I too loudly like a child. Who could eat the food. Who knows, whether I would meet with all again or not. Not relishing anything, I hurriedly swallowed some food. On September 6, 1911, at 10 A.M., I left the house for my journey to Lahore. On September 8, accompanied by my friend Ram Rakha Mal, I reached Lahore.”
Ram Rakha Mal took Sahib Singh to Pandit Vitsta Parsad in Dayal Singh School. Pandit Ji’s residence was in the school itself. He was much pleased to see Sahib Singh, and said to him, “Today, keep your luggage with Ram Rakha Mal. Tomorrow, arrangements will be made for your admission in the college.” Sahib Singh then replied, “Sir, What luggage? I do not have any luggage”. (Sahib Singh had only few coins with him). Pandit Ji was greatly surprised to know all this. He told Sahib Singh, to come to him next day, when he would get some clothes made for him. Next day Pandit Ji took Sahib Singh to a cloth merchant’s shop, bought the cloth for three shirts and three pairs of trousers and gave it to a tailor for stitching. On September 11, 1911 Pandit Ji wrote a letter to the Head Clerk of Dayal Singh College, and also gave the needed amount of fees for admission. The head clerk gave 50 per cent concession in the fees, and Sahib Singh was admitted in 11th Grade class of the College.
Sahib Singh received financial support from a number of sources and was well settled there in the college. His name was also changed in the University records and everything went well. In May 1913 he appeared in the University Examination of 12th Grade. Among Arts students, he attained 4th position in the University. Among both Arts and Science students, he attained the 7th position. He was to receive the stipend of Rupees 10.00 per month and total fee concession for B.A. classes. Since there was total fee concession, he decided to seek admission in the Government College, Lahore, the most prestigious educational institution in whole of Punjab. In September 1913 he was admitted in Government College, Lahore. He took the following elective subject for his studies - (1) Englsih (2) Mathematics (A) (3) Sanskrit. He also received promises of sufficient amount of financial support from a number of sources.
Professor Gulbahar Singh was the Professor of Sanskrit in Government College, Lahore. Sanskrit was taught by him to the 3rd and 4th year students jointly. After 3 months’ teaching, the Professor was to examine the students during the month of December 1913. Both the Professor and the students had come to know of Sahib Singh’s aptitude toward Sanskrit. The 4th year students requested the Professor, that the students of each of the two classes, be tested separately. The Professor did not agree as the same topics had been taught to both the classes. Moreover, if there can be any objection, it should be from the 3rd year class, and not 4th year class. The 4th year students then told the Professor that they were only afraid of Sahib Singh, and that he would secure more marks, thus would cause humiliation to them. The Professor did not agree. Students of both the classes were examined together to answer the same question paper. Sahib Singh did secure the highest marks; the Professor was greatly impressed. He told Sahib Singh that after passing his B.A examination, he should spend one year more in this college and do his M.A. in Sanskrit, He will then arrange for his appointment as Lecturer in the same college with him. Sahib Singh explained to the Professor his family circumstances in detail. The Professor insisted that he should do his M.A. from this college and that he would support him by paying Rupees 25.00 each month. Sahib Singh now felt that his future would be bright.
A Strange Hurdle
After passing the 3rd year examination, Sahib Singh was now in the 4th year. It was now year 1914. He went to his village Therpal to spend the summer vacations. One morning, all the three brothers were sitting together on the threshold of their shop. With them was also the elder brother of their brother-in-law (sister’s husband). A retired Railway Station Master, named Pandit Ram Kishen, a resident of the same village sent his servant to the shop for purchase of certain articles, on credit basis, money was to be paid or adjusted later. Sahib Singh’s family (father) had borrowed money from Ram Kishen and they were still paying heavy interest on that loan. Out of superstition shopkeepers generally avoid selling their merchandise on a loan basis to start with in the morning. So Sahib Singh’s brother refused to sell the articles on a loan basis. After some time Pandit Ram Kishen himself, bursting with rage, arrived at the store. He hurled the dirtiest abuses on the family. He then said that the shopkeeper should have subtracted the price of the articles from the money the family owed him.
Sahib Singh writes, “Pandit ji went back to his home after insulting us to his hearts content. But this event totally wrecked my dream of doing M.A. from Government College, Lahore and becoming a Professor there. One who is heavily indebted, has no reason to cherish any hope for the future. After doing my B.A., I felt that all my efforts should be to throw the heavy load of loan on me. When the college re-opened after the summer vacations, I narrated the incident to Professor Gulbahar Singh. I told him that after passing the B.A. exam, my only concern would be to repay the loan and get rid of the worry.”
In May 1915 Sahib Singh appeared in the final B.A. examination. Although he had been unwisely entangled in meaningless political movements, neglecting his studies for a period of four months, yet he secured 3rd position in his college and 13th position in the University. He stood first in Sanskrit and was awarded a Silver Medal by the University.
Soon after his graduation from Government College, Lahore, he got a job of a senior teacher in Khalsa School, Farooka, in Sargodha district of Rawalpindi Division. He was given handsome pay there and also additional allowances for extracurricular activities. The family debt began to clear up rapidly.
Sikh and Hindu unite to defeat an age old superstition
It was April 1916, when he received a letter from his younger brother, Diwan Singh. It seemed that In Raeiya village, a bullock belonging to our common friend Hari Singh, had died. Even worse the bullock had died with the rope around its neck. Brahmins consider this as an ill omen. The owner has to go to Hardwar, for a bath in river Ganga and to give donations to Brahmins, to propitiate the gods to undo the ill omen. Pandit Devki Nandan, who was the priest there and wielded great influence in village Therpal also, raised his powerful voice that Hari Singh must go to Hardwar for propitiation of gods, failing which there would a social boycott against him. This put Hari Singh in great worry. He came to Therpal village for consultation with Diwan Singh, younger brother of Sahib Singh. Diwan Singh, who was a very enthusiastic worker, gave necessary courage to Hari Singh to resist this unreasonable demand. He suggested to him to approach his Jat brothers to take water from his hands from the community well, and that he (Diwan Singh) would receive water from him, first of all. Hari Singh did accordingly. The Pandit could not do any harm to Hari Singh, but created chaotic condition in Therpal village against Diwan Singh. The water carrier stopped water supplies for Diwan Singh’s house.
Sahib Singh on receipt of the letter advised Diwan Singh to handle the situation calmly, but firmly, seeking the Divine Support. It so happened that in village Therpal, a bullock of a Hindu jat died in the similar way. That owner also became greatly worried about the inconvenience of a visit to Hardwar. He came running to Diwan Singh’s shop, and began shouting, “O Diwan Singha, who is there to get your water supplies stopped? Come with me, draw as much water from the well as you can. We shall deal with him, who dare stop you.” The Hindu jat was holding a big staff in his hand. Thus ended the boycott in village Therpal. In consequence of this event, a number of people in the neighboring villages became Sikhs and stopped cutting their hair.
There was an advertisement in June 1916 papers regarding opening of a Khalsa College in Gujranwala. Sahib Singh thought of joining the new college as Lecturer in Sanskrit. He wrote to his teacher, Professor Gulbahar Singh in Government College, Lahore to favor him with credentials to support his application for the post. In no time came forth the following certificate:
COPY Govt. College Lahore 13. VI. XVI. I have great pleasure in certifying that Sardar Sahib Singh read with me for two years in the B.A. classes and that I had many opportunities of knowing him as a very diligent any intelligent student. He has a special aptitude for Sanskrit and his knowledge of the language is undoubtedly much above the average. Certain reasons kept him from taking up the Honours Course, otherwise I am sure he would have stood first in Sanskrit in the province.
I have a very high opinion of Sardar Sahib Singh’s attainments and feel no hesitation in stating that he would make an excellent teacher of Sanskrit in any school or college, which is fortunate to secure his services.
As a matter of fact, I really think that Sahib Singh was the best student that I have ever had during my tenure of office in the college.
He is a quiet, modest and unassuming young man and bears an excellent character.
Sd:- Gulbahar Singh M.A., LL.B., M.R.A.S. Professor of Sanskrit
Sahib Singh was selected as Lecturer in Sanskrit and Divinity in Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala. He reported for duty on May 4, 1917. He had served for about 20 months in Khalsa School, Farooka. There he was making about Rupees One hundred per month, and thus was able to completely wipe out the debt of the family. In addition he was able to invest more capital money in the village shop, run by his brothers, who had done so much for him. He led a simple life, observed austerities in the matter of spending money, in order to clear the family debt.
The College offered him the salary of Rupees 70.00 per month, while he had been making Rupees 100.00 in Farooka School. Never the less he accepted the offer for his love of knowledge, notwithstanding the hardship of less salary.
The college re-opened in September 1917, after the summer vacations. Hardly a month had passed, when he received the news of the death of his dear mother. Sahib Singh writes, “ Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught - kavan na mooa? kavan na marsi? - Who did not die? Who shall not die? Ten years before, when our revered father died, we were all children only. Our dear mother worked hard and looked after our comforts in extreme state of poverty. My earnest prayers at the lotus Feet of Sat Guru Ji shall ever be, keep them under Your protection. The children cannot repay the debt of their parents.”
During 1918 there was the severest onset of influenza (Called the Spanish Flu, it killed millions around the world) in epidemic form. No place in Punjab remained unaffected by this virulent disease. Sahib Singh at that time was in Gujranwala. Earlier he had survived typhoid fever, small pox and malaria. This time too he survived a severe attack of this deadliest influenza. The college was closed for the summer vacations. Sahib Singh was all alone in his room, no one to help him in such a state of high fever, unconsciousness, severe body aches, and body discharges. Sahib Singh said, he firmly believed that his end was near. It so happened that a student, named Darshan Singh, who happened to visit the college, on his return thought of meeting with Prof Sahib Singh.
The student was surprised to find Prof Sahib Singh in that shape, and inquired, who was attending him. Hearing no answer, Darshan singh decided to serve his teacher, not withstanding that his own five brothers and sisters were similarly laid on bed. Darshan Singh would bring medicines and other essentials for his brothers and sisters, and at the same would do the same service for his teacher and also would spend most of the day time attending him. Inspite of Sahib Singh’s repeatedly telling him to leave him to his fate and to attend to his brothers and sisters, he paid no attention to his entreaties. “He would day and night press and massage his body and would clean his gelatinous, viscid, gluey mucus discharges.” For fifteen long days Darshan Singh served his teacher, who was brought back to life from the clutches of death. Sahib Singh writes: “O my Lord! It was You, Who gave me life again. O Gracious Lord! Be Merciful to dear Darshan Singh, Your Beneficent Hand of Blessings may ever and ever remain on his head.”
Discovery of Gurbani Grammar
On the anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s Martyrdom (who was martyred on Nov. 11), which was to be celebrated in December 1920, a non-stop reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, was arranged in Khalsa High School, Gujranwala. Professor Sahib Singh was one of the readers, who was to participate in the reading of the Holy Book. It was in the evening, that he started reading the Holy Book. While reading he noted a word, which appeared three times in a verse, each time with a different spelling. He was greatly amazed to note this. He went back home, forgot to take his meals, having been deeply involved in this mystery. At last, before going to sleep he found out one principle of grammar.
Thus, the foundation of discovery of the canons of Guru Granth Sahib's Grammar, was laid on the auspicious day of Martyrdom of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, which was celebrated in December 1920. Sahib Singh says: “I used to write down the Shabads to memorize them; in so doing I totally used to ignore the spellings of the words. To-day, I woke up from deep slumber. From then onward I began to copy down the Shabads with great care in regard to their spellings.” The Shromani Gurdwara Parbhandik Committee (SGPC) was established in 1920, and its first secretary was Master Tara Singh. Before joining SGPC, Master Tara Singh was the headmaster of Khalsa School, Layalpur. Sahib Singh had met Tara Singh, when the latter was the teacher at Layalpur.
Punjab University withdrew its affiliation from Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala, due to its anti government activities. The teachers of the College had, therefore, to seek employment elsewhere. Sahib Singh wrote a letter to Master Tara Singh, for a job in SGPC. This was arranged, and he was posted as the Assistant Secretary from July 20, 1921. He served there upto September 1927, when he was recalled to Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala, when it re-opened duly affiliated to the Punjab University. Those were the formative years of SGPC, and Sahib Singh as Assistant Secretary played an active role in the momentous events that took place. He courted arrest for a number of times, while taking part in the movement. He was drawing a salary of Rupees 250.00 per month in SGPC, whereas he preferred to be a teacher in the college at the salary of Rupees 150.00 per month. He had the growing family, with wife, 4 sons and one daughter. He did feel the pinch of the loss of money, which in fact, on his account, affected the family members, the most.
Sahib Singh and eight other learned men of the town of Gujranwala, formed an association for study of Gurbani. They would meet at a place for an hour and a half in the afternoon every day, for this purpose. The text of Gurbani used to be translated with due regard to the rules of grammar. In two years time 1927 -28, the whole of the Holy Book was translated (verbally), and they started to translate Gurbani from the beginning over again.
On the recommendations of Professor Jodh Singh, Khalsa College, Amritsar, the Amritsar College authorities decided in May 1929 to appoint Professor Sahib Singh to teach Punjabi and Divinity in their College. Consequently Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Gujranwala, relieved him before the ensuing summer vacations to save payment of his salary for the period of vacations. A few days latter, the Principal of Gujranwala College received a letter from the Principal of Amritsar College informing that Sahib Singh would not be taken as teacher in Amritsar College. Sahib Singh was thus rendered as an unemployed person with heavy responsibility of sustenance of his family. It was later found that it was due to his employment in SGPC and anti -government activities, that the Punjab government had directed the college authorities not to take him. The College was receiving a substantial amount of government subsidy. Many influential people intervened and the matter was sorted out and Sahib Singh was appointed as the Professor of Divinity and Punjabi in Khalsa College, Amritsar. He reported for duty on November 4, 1929.
Professor Sahib Singh wrote his historic book on “Gurbani Grammar”, which was completed in 1932. By this time he had also wrote a number of books on the Compositions of the Gurus, which were translated according to the rules of grammar and were published.
His younger brother Diwan Singh, at the age of 36, met with an accident and expired in September 1932. His wife, Agya Kaur, also met with an accident in September, and died on December 28, 1932, when she delivered a daughter. The daughter also later died on February 28, 1933. His wife was then 38 years old.
With the death of his wife great calamity had fallen on him. It became very difficult for him to look after five sons and one daughter. His sympathizers advised him to go for re-marriage in the interest of his children.
2nd Marriage to a a childless widow
He married a childless widow, named Rattan Kaur on December 31, 1933. She belonged to Dehra Ismail Khan. She was blessed with a son on October 11, 1934. The boy was named Daljeet Singh, with whom Sahib Singh and his wife spent the rest of their lives.
She gave birth to a daughter, on September 5, 1939. She is his 2nd daughter, the other one being from his first marriage.
The historic book on ‘Gurbani Grammar’, which Professor Sahib Singh had completed in 1932, was published in 1939. Sri Darbar Sahib Gurdwara Parbhandik Committee, Amritsar, selected his book as the authentic Book of Gurbani Grammar, and awarded him a prize of Rupees 1,000, at Sri Akal Takhat Sahib on September 13, 1939.
Professor Sahib Singh retired from Khalsa College, Amritsar on October 12, 1952 and was appointed Principal, Shaid Sikh Missionary College when was 60 years old.
That year he completed writing of the life history of Sikh Gurus after extensive investigations strictly in accordance with their Teachings as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Translation of the complete Sri Guru Granth Sahib
It was the month of June 1956. S. Dalip Singh of New Delhi (this translator) with his family members went on pilgrimage of Sri Harimandir Sahib. He had read some of Prof Sahib Singh’s translations of the Gurus’ Comopositions, and was greatly impressed. Dalip Singh met him in the Shaid Sikh Missionary College, and stayed with him for about an hour. He greatly stressed on him the necessity of translating of whole of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in accordance with rules of ‘Gurbani Grammar’ discovered by him. Sahib Singh hesitated to undertake this gigantic task, mainly for the reason, who would publish it. And if it were published, and if there were not adequate number of readers to buy the books, who would bear the cost! He had the example before him, of publishing a number of books by himself, and they were lying with him unsold, packed in big boxes with him, while the clothes were lying in the open. He expressed his inability to Dalip Singh to undertake this work. The visitor paid his respects to him and left the place. Prof Sahib Singh re-considered the proposal made by Dalip Singh to him. He thought that the time at his disposal should not be wasted on useless things, but usefully utilized for writing translation of the Holy Book and should not worry whether it would be published or not. He wrote a letter to Dalip Singh that he would start writing the translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
HE STARTED WRITING OF TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY BOOK FROM JANUARY 1, 1957. He first of all began translating Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Compositions - Shabads, Astpadis, Chhants and then his other Compositions. Out of all the Compositions, Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Compositions were most difficult to understand. After translation of Compositions of Guru Nanak Dev, his daily speed of translation began to increase. Two years passed well, but in 1959 he had the severest attack of haemorrhoids with blood discharges. This greatly weakened him. He had to stop the translation work for one and a half years. When he regained his strength, he re-started the translation work. BY JUNE 1961, HE COMPLETED THE TRANSLATION WORK.
He requested M/S Singh Brothers, Amritsar, who used to publish his other works, to publish the Translation, but they refused. Then he applied to Shromoni Gurdwara Parbhandik Committee (SGPC). Master Tara Singh, who was President of SGPC also, called him and politely refused, and suggested that he could get the loan from the Committee. They had decided to publish another man’s translation of the Holy Book, which was both in English and Punjabi. These events greatly discouraged him and also depressed him.
Sahib Singh had a friend, named S. Waryam Singh, who was then the Principal of Khalsa College, Amritsar. Sahib Singh, off and on, used to see him. After the above mentioned event, next day he went to see Principal Waryam Singh. He told Waryam Singh all what expired the previous day. Waryam Singh warned him that for this purpose he should never borrow any money for himself publishing the translation, as it was beyond him to handle the things and sell the books. If, he did that, the fear of clearing the loan would kill him. He, however, promised to search for some other source to help him.
Waryam Singh was himself a writer. He used to write text books for the college students. His works were published by M/S Raj Publishers, Jullundur City. It so happened that the Publisher Sohan Lal Khanna came to see Waryam Singh. Waryam Singh mentioned about the publishing of translation work to the publisher, who agreed to undertake this gigantic work. Waryam Singh, immediately called for Sahib Singh and got the deed finalized between the parties. Printing of the translation in Ten Volumes started immediately. The Volumes of the Translation were titled, “Sri Guru Granth Darpan”. The first volume was published on June 26, 1962, and the Tenth Volume on November 20, 1964.
Sahib Singh writes: “When the people read the eighth volume of “Darpan”, many wrote to me the letters full of love. Certain letters were so emotional that by reading them I felt oneness with every one, with tears of love and affection for them. Among those letters were especially from S. Dalip Singh Ji, New Delhi; S. Ranjit Singh Ji, Secretary, Singh Sabha, Bangkok and Dr Hari Singh Ji, Calcutta. The Sikh Sangat of Bangkok (Thailand), sent an invitation through S Ranjit Singh for a visit to Thailand.
The tri-centenary birthday celebration of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji was to be celebrated during 1966. Professor Sahib Singh wrote the life of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in Punjabi. English and Hindi translations were also published. SGPC awarded him a prize of Rupees two hundred and fifty only.
An English version of the translation of life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji was published by M/S Raj Publishers, Jullunur City. The book was translated by S. Dalip Singh Ji of New Delhi. The life was also serialized in the Spokesman Weekly, New Delhi.
An Hindi translation of the life of the Guru was made by S. Amar Singh Ji, Chakar, and published by Sri Harimandir Sahib, Patna.
Books on life history of the remaining Gurus were also published by M/S Singh Brothers, Amritsar.
On January 6, 1971 Vice Chancellor Kirpal Singh Narang, Punjabi University, Patiala, awarded Professor Sahib Singh, an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature.
Professor Sahib Singh had an attack of Parkinson’s Disease in 1967. On September 14, 1977 he went into unconscious state, as he could neither eat or drink any thing. He began to be fed through nose. Such a condition continued for about one and a half months, and at last on October 29, 1977, at 9 O’clock in the morning, he breathed his last. He thus lived for 84 years, 8 months and 13 days.
Translator’s respectful homage to Most Revered Professor Sahib Singh Jio. Professor Sahib Singh’s works cover many aspects of Sikhism, and there is hardly any part of that vast field which does not illuminate. He was initially devoted to the study of Gurbani (Gurus’ Compositions) and gathered a deeper knowledge in this field. He was the first writer, who discovered Gurbani Grammar, the guiding principles on which the Gurus’ Compositions were based. This was an epoch making discovery in the light of which single and correct interpretation of the Gurus’ Compositions is now possible. His translation and commentary on Guru Granth Sahib published in ten volumes during 1962 - 64, contain such a wealth of thought and investigation that no summary could do it justice - it is Professor Sahib Singh’s weightiest contribution to Sikhism.
The other singular service he rendered to the cause of Truth is, his monumental work on “Adi Birh Bare” (About Compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji). It is a shame that credence was given to baseless, senseless, childish, fabulous and hilarious stories written by some Sikh historians on compilation of the Divine Word by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji. How surprising it is that when the authenticity of Sri Guru Granth Sahib was challenged by Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike on world-wide basis, no attention was paid to the call to reason as revealed by Professor Sahib Singh Ji. The existing controversy on Compilation of Gurus’ Compositions is only the creation of Sikhs themselves.
Professor Sahib Singh wrote most valuable papers on the life of the revered Gurus, segregating corn from the chaff. These papers are extremely rich and suggestive and constitute the basis of scientific reading of both the Gurus’ Compositions and their life history.
If we summarize in a few words the essential characteristics of Professor Sahib Singh’s written work, we observe the high general average of excellences he maintained in his writings. Hardly anything he wrote was of merely ephemeral value, and his work throughout was marked by the valuable qualities of sobriety, cautious skepticism, thorough investigation and good judgment. In fact, his writings have given a scientific approach to the understanding of Sikhism.
One can safely conclude that one person, who has contributed to the Cause of Sikhism after Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was Professor Sahib Singh Ji. May he ever live, and his writings be the beacon for the future generations of Sikhs to understand Sikhism in proper perspective. MY RESPECTFUL HOMAGE TO THIS GREAT MAN, WHOSE COMING WAS MEANINGFUL AND FRUITFUL. I EARNESTLY PRAY THAT GURU-AKALPURKH’S BENEDICTIONS BE EVER ON HIM. MAY HIS NEAR AND DEAR ONES BE ALSO BLESSED DUE TO HIS UNPARALLELED SERVICES.
WITH ALL HUMILITY - DALIP SINGH.
- Assa Di War Steek(smet Shhakke Shhanta De) Read Online Asa-Di-Vaar-Sateek-Prof-Sahib-Singh
- See Wikipedia article on Professor Sahib Singh for more information
- "Adi Birh Barai - The Compilation of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib." Appendix I: Glimpses from the life of Prof.Sahib Singh. Accessed on April 11th, 2005.