The Many Splendoured -

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha-Page2

Maharaja Hira Singh, Tika Ripudamman Singh & Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha

Hum Hindu Nahin (We are not Hindus) was intended to serve a specific purpose. First is-sued in 1898, this small volume was an early contribution to a current controversy concerning the actual identity of the Sikhs. An earlier legal ruling had declared Sikhs to be Hindus. The title of Bhai Kahn Singh's response makes his own view abundantly clear. It represented the dominant view of the Singh Sabha movement and has ever since retained the fame, which it so quietly acquired. It is worth stressing that the approach adopted in this book is neither hostile nor aggressive. In his presentation he took great care to stress that he sought peace, not discord. To quote:

"Dear Member of Khalsa you may be surprised when you read what I have writ-ten. You will ask why there should be any need of such a work as 'We are not Hin-dus' when it is perfectly obvious that the Khalsa is indeed distinct from Hindu soci-ety. Or you may want to know why, if such a work is to be written, there should not be books, which show that we are not Muslims or Christians or Buddhists. This book has been written for the benefit of those brethren to whom the following historical parable applies. The tale, briefly, is as fol-lows. Guru Gobind Singh once covered a donkey with a lion skin and set it loose in the wasteland. Men as well as cattle thought it was a lion and were so frightened that none dared approach it. Released from the misery of carrying burdens and free to graze fields to its heart's content, the donkey grew plump and strong. It spent its days happily roaming the area around Anandpur. One day, however it was at-tracted by the braying of a mare from its old stable. There it was recognised by the potter who removed the lion skin, replaced its pannier-bags, and once again began whipping it to make it work.

"The Guru used this parable to teach his Sikhs an important lesson. 'My dear sons,' he said, 'I have not involved you in a mere pantomime as in the case of this donkey I have freed you, wholly and completely, from the bondage of caste. You have become my sons and Sahib Kaur has become your mother: Do not follow the foolish example of the donkey and return to your old caste allegiance. If forgetting my words and abandoning the sacred faith of the Khalsa you return to your various castes your fate will be that of the donkey. Your courage will desert you and you will have lived your lives in vain'. "

Many of our brethren are in fact neglecting this aspect of the Guru's teaching. Al-though they regard themselves as Sikhs of the KhaIsa they accept the Hindu tradition. They imagine that it is actually harmful to observe the teachings of Gurbani by ac-knowledging the other. Sikh relgion is dis-tinct from the Hindu religion. The reason for this is that they have neither read their own Scriptures with care nor studied the historical past. Instead they have spent their time browsing through erroneous ma-terial and listening to the deceitful words of the self-seeking. The tragedy is that these brethren are falling away from the Khalsa. They forget the benefits which the Almighty Father has bestowed on them - how he has exalted the lowly raised pau-pers to be kings, turned jackals into lions and sparrows into hawks. Seduced by those who oppose the Gurus' teachings, they are ensnared by deceit and thereby forfeit the chance of deliverance, which this human existence confers.

"Our country will flourish when people of all religions are loya1 to their own traditions, yet willing to accept other Indians as members of the same family when they recognise that harming one means harming the nation, and when religious differences are no longer an occasion for discord. Let us practice our religion in the harmonious spirit of Guru Nanak, for thus we shall ensure that mutual envy and hatred do not spread. At the same time, you will grow in affection for all your fellow countrymen, recognising all who inhabit this country of India as one with yourself"

Dr. J. S. Grewal, in his recently published book, Historical Aspects of Sikh Identity has recorded that Bhai Kahn Singh wrote this book responding to what he perceived as a threat to a tradition which he cherished. He was not alone. He represented the views and feelings of an increasing number of Sikhs who prized the Sikh tradition. In this process, two things from the earlier Sikh tradition were brought to the fore: the Guru Granth as the exclusive Scripture of the Sikhs, and the Singh identity as the preferred Sikh identity. Neither the doc-trine of Guru Granth nor the Singh identity was new. What was new was the emphasis laid on both. Dr. Grewal ends by saying that a serious concern for preserving and promoting the Sikh tradition may now appear to be obvious, but this dimension has been gener-ally overlooked in explanations which harp on the mundane interests of anew middle class. In 1896 Bhai Kahn Singli published his volume Gurmat Prabhakar; This supplied a lengthy glossary of Sikh terminology, concepts and institutions each entry comprising a collection of illustrative texts from the Sikh scriptures or from other sources. In some instances, the entry includes a brief definition or explanation. Others supply only the self- explanatory texts, each clearly identified in terms of source. Then, in 1899, he brought out his work Gurmat Sudhakar which offers an anthology of texts listed according to source. Beginning with works by Guru Gobind Singh it proceeds to Bhai Gurdas and then to the BalaJanam Sakhi. An extensive selection follows, including extracts from the rahit-namas, the Gur-Bilas literature and the works of Bhai Santokh Singh. Guru Kasauti, written in 1899. This was written to help differentiate what should be acceptable to Sikhs and what were influences against the tenets of Sikhsm.

In 1938 Gurmat Martand, a two volume set was brought out, which combined his three works listed above. This compilation essentially follows the format of Gurmat Prabhakar but includes much more material. Its contribution of definition, exegesis and proof text makes it an exceedingly useful vol-ume. It also needs to be emphasised that this volume explains Sikh rituals and traditions -from the 'cradle to the coffin' - with marked research and erudition, and there is a peren-nial need to refer to it to clear doubts and, indeed, self created distortions. It should also be translated into English and other languages for the benefit of Sikhs both at home and abroad. In this context, one has to observe, with considerable anguish, as being currently and repeatedly publicised in the national media, the scrapping and squabbling'jathedars. It is a great fall from our titan of titans, the legendary Jathedar Akali Phula Singh. It is for the Sangat to take charge and restore our hal-lowed traditions and institutions to their pris-tine glory.

In 1907 he wrote Sharab Nishedh which profoundly influenced Sikh society. In 1921 Gurchhand Diwakar and in 1924 Gurshabad- alankar.

The crowning achievement of Bhai Kahn Singh has been published in four magnificent volumes. This was his Gursabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh, first published in 1930 after many years of painstaking research -1912 to 1927. Mahan Kosh as it is generally called is a model encyclopaedia. It modestly claims in it subtitle to be an encyclopaedia of Sikh literature, but it is, in fact, much more. Its remarkable coverage and exemplary accuracy has a mul-titude of entries ranging from brief definitions of difficult words from the scriptures and tra-dition, through descriptive notes on various doc-trines, individuals and institutions to accounts of the Gurus. It gives careful treatment of ter-minology, which has dropped out of usage or changed its meaning. Mahan Kosh is indispens-able for any serious student of Sikh studies, its qualities undimmed by over half a century which has passed since it first appeared in print. Bhai Kahn Singh ranks as one of the modern world's greatest encyclopaedists. The fact that he chose to present all his work in Punjabi has limited his contribution to those who read Punjabi, and although his reputation extends much farther, it is largely confined to the gen-eral area of Sikh studies. This does him less than justice. The range of his coverage, the meticulous care with which he collected and arranged his material, a scrupulous concern for accuracy and the succinct nature of his presentation, distinguishes his work. These are the qualities of a great encyclopaedist and their manifest presence in the works of Bhai Kahn Singh qualifies him as one of the truly great theologians.

There were other works, both published and unpublished Chandi-di-yar (l935) Anekarth Kosh' (1925),Nam MalaKosh(1925) Pahar yatra, Gur-Mahma Ratnavli; Vaidagi Samasya Purati (1899); Sad da Parmarth (1901). With the support of Maharaja Hira Singh and the Singh Sabha, he had all the idols, placed in the parikrama of the Golden Temple, removed, for idolatry has no place in Sikh Religion.

He advocated inter-caste and sub-caste mar-riages (see the matrimonial in national and regional dailies even today, and how they wal-low in flaunting of caste and sub-caste!)and his only son Sardar Bhagwant Singh Hari Ji although a Jat (Dhillon) agriculturist, was mar-ried to an Arora lady, Bibi Harnam Kaur the well known Punjabi poetess and daughter of Bhai Jivan Singh, Editor and publisher of the newspaper Khalsa Sewak. She published two books of her verses: Arshi Kalian or Heavenly blossoms, and Paras chhoh- The Magic Touch, while a third collection remains unpublished. Bhai Kahn Singh advocated widow remarriage. His niece, a widow was accordingly remarried. He was against the giving and taking of dowry and insured that in his family this was firmly observed. As a devout Sikh he did not believe in superstition. He was fond of music and could play the sitar, peshkabaz and dilruba, presiding over music durbars. He was a strong believer in the joint family system. His own family was a living example. 1904 witnessed a durbar presided over by Maharaja Hira Singh and attended by over a lakh of people,to collect funds for Khalsa College, Amritsar, which was in financial straits. With the help of many, Rs. 22 lakhs was collected. He was later invited to preside over the Sikh Educational Conference in 1931.

When the British changed the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, There was a pro-posal to build the Viceroy's Lodge in front of Gurdwara Rakabganj. Then, a wall, which seemed to obstruct the plan, was demolished. This triggered a great agitation amongst the Sikhs. The Great War l9l4- l9l8in the period, postponed the building work. In 1918 Ma-haraja Ripudaman Singh rebuilt the wall at Bhai Kahn Singh's initiative. In 1930 the Muslims as their old graveyard were claiming Gurdwara Mal-Tekri, at Nander. Bhai Kahn Singh was sent there to establish Sikh claims. He did so with irrefutable historical references. The Afghan King Nadir Shah, welcomed him when he visited Afghanistan in 1933 for research in Sikh history. He presented him a gold-hilted sword with the words Khalsa Shamsher Zadan Ast inscribed on the blade, meaning Khalsa's mission is to use sword for justice.

Bhai Kahn Singh's two younger brothers predeceased him in 1936 and 1937. He passed away peacefully - at age 77, on 23 November 1938. By habit he got up at Amrit Vela and went for a long morning walk. After that he would work till noon. A short siesta, and he worked again until late afternoon, then attend-ing to visitors from various walks of life. At the evening prayer, Ardas, we the grandchil-dren of the family, would be asked to be present. That day in November, it was not to be, as he passed away during his afternoon nap. He remains the perennial inspiration for scholars everywhere.