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The Sikhs of Kerala

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Admin Singh, Mar 31, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

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    Jun 1, 2004
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    The Sikhs of Kerala

    by Dr. J. JAYAN

    In the early twentieth century, the so-called lower caste people in Kerala, India, raised their voice against the caste discrimination and untouchability imposed by the Hindus Brahmins and their religion. They tried to establish their identity in the community through the anti-Hindu agitations.

    In this circumstance, many so-called Sudras had converted to Christianity and Islam. The Christian and Muslim missionary activities led to a tremendous socio-political and economic change in the lives of the subaltern classes. Meanwhile, some socio-political leaders of the so-called lower caste people called the people not to get converted into the religions like Christianity and Islam and asked the people to embrace Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism.

    In the year 1936, a group of people from Kerala, impressed with the philosophy of Sikhism, decided to convert to Sikhism.

    This paper is an attempt to study the Sikh conversions in Kerala.

    In the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called lower castes vehemently opposed the caste system and unapproachability in the so-called Hindu religion. But, they failed to overcome the stigma of untouchability. In this circumstance, the socio-political reformers of the so-called oppressed communities studied the ideologies of other religions and called for the need of conversion.

    In general, the term conversion is related with the Jews and Christians that "points to a phenomena that are associated with personal and communal metamorphosis. Sociologists examine the social and institutional aspects of traditions in which conversion takes place. They consider social conditions at the time of conversion, important relationships and institutions of potential converts, and characteristics and processes of the religious group to which people convert. Sociologists also focus upon the interaction between individuals and their environmental matrix and on relations between the individuals and the expectations of the group in which they are involved."

    Again they argued, "Some kind of crisis precedes conversion. The crisis may be religious, political, psychological, or cultural or it may be a life situation that opens people to new options. During the crisis, myths, rituals, symbols, goals and standards cease to function well for the individual or culture, thus creating great disturbance in the individual's life."

    The issues related with conversion point out the fact that faith is not the core factor on conversion but it is related with identity construction. In the socio-political realm, conversion strengthens the suppressed class and organizes them to fight against discrimination and oppression.

    So far as Kerala was concerned, Buddhism and Jainism had a very strong influence in the Kerala society even in the end of 6th century A.D. These religions advocated the principles of equality. The society was almost free from socio-political discriminations. After the migration of Vedic Brahmins, the concept of class and caste entered into the Kerala society.

    The higher caste maintains certain distance from the Avarnas. An Ezhava must keep a distance of sixteen feet from the Brahmins. Violation of the rules led to severe punishment. The higher caste people in Kerala did not allow the so-called lower castes even to walk on the roads near by the temples. In the first half of the 20th century, Christian missionaries and social reformers like Sri Narayana Guru and Sahotharan Ayyapan intensified their socio-religious activities in Kerala. They called for a new model of socio-political system in which all the individuals are free from caste discrimination and unapproachability. They also gave importance to western education, and asked the government to open all the roads near by the temples to the Avarnas.

    In this regard, the people of Vaikom started an agitation for the right to walk through the roads near the Siva temple in Vaikom. Vaikom is a small town in the district of Kottayam, Kerala. The lower caste people such as Thiyas, Pulayas, Ezhavas and Nadars were prohibited to use the roads near the temple. In the year 1924 the so-called lower caste people started an agitation near the Vaikom Temple. T. K. Madhavan, George Joseph, Govindan Channar, Mannathu Pathmanaba Pillai, Chittedathu Sanku Pillai, E. V. Ramaswamy Naiyakkar and Ayyamuthu Gounder are some of main leaders of the Vaikom Movement.

    It received nation-wide attention. Sardar K. M. Panikar the minister of the Sikh Maharaja of Patiala discussed the Vaikom Movement with Sardar Mangal Singh and also with the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabanthak Committee. Due to the request of the SGPC, twelve Akalis from Punjab came to Vaikom and provided free food to the agitators of the Vaikom Movement. The Akalis called the people to overcome the nexus of casteism.

    Meanwhile, Gandhi asked the Akalis not to participate in the Vaikom Movement and called the Hindus to do the job. Due to the political pressure the Akalis left the Vaikom movement. The people of Kerala, inspired by the Sikh philosophy, continued their strike in Vaikom. After the departure of Akalis, the Sikhs continued their contacts with the People of Kerala. The leader of Akalis in Vaikom Movement, Sardar Lal Singh, also continued the relationship with the Keralites.

    Meanwhile, the Brahmins allowed the Christians and Muslims, who got converted from Hinduism, to walk freely in the roads near by the Hindu temples. While addressing the public in connection with the Vaikom Movement in Nagercoil, E. V. Ramaswamy Naiker said that "Mohomedans and Christians are allowed to pass through the public roads near Vaikom Temple, but the Ezhavas, Pulayas and Parayas who are Hindus are prohibited from going through those roads. If those men become Christians and Mohomedans, the Travancore Government is prepared to allow them to go along such roads."

    The Ezhava leaders in the Vaikom Movement like K. Aiyappan and C. Kesevan argued that it was better to leave Hinduism rather than to fight for the temple entry. "Madhavan, one of the leaders of the Vaikom Movement came under increasing fire from the more militant fellow Ezhavas like K. Aiyappan and C. Kesevan, who considered temple entry to be an irrelevant issue and wanted instead to break away from the Hindu fold."

    Thus they realized that, unless the problem of casteism was eliminated, there could be no major change in the life-style of common person.

    The year 1936 is one of the crucial periods in the history of India. It is in this year many anti-Vedic and anti-Brahmanic organizations decided to change their religious beliefs and practices from the so-called Hindu religion. Thus, "in June 1936 separate conferences of Mangs in Maharashtra and Thiyas in Cochin resolved to leave Hinduism."

    In the same year, Master Tara Singh came to Kerala and addressed the public about the significance of Sikh religion. He said "... You have decided to leave from Hindu religion. This has attracted the people of Punjab like us. I was appointed (by SGPC) for studying the needs of the people in this area. .... I did not have any vested interest to introduce my religion to you. It is the duty of each and every Sikh to serve the helpless and broken people. The Sikhs are offering their service to you. If you have converted into Sikh religion, it is a great pleasure to us. If so, the flag of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh shall be reached to another extent of India and none other than that. Politically, we did not have any similarities. The victory of the Sikhs in Malabar is also your victory. Their failure is also your failure. The people of Punjab like us became proud of your victory and your failure led to pain ... So, in this circumstance, our aim is to help in this crisis situation. If you have converted into Sikh religion, we will do all the help to get free from this slavery. Suppose if you have not converted to Sikhism, even though we will do all the help as we did in the Vaikom Movement. Sikhism is not a religion as instructed by other religions. It is a movement full of service."

    The debate on Sikhism got wide publicity. Some people came forward to convert into Sikh religion. The Malayalam weekly Mathurboomi reported the news as follows. "Sardar Kartar Singh, who was staying in Travancore to preach Sikh religion and also to establish Sikh Gurdwaras, was the head of this group. Mr. K.C. Kuttan and some other people are also in this group. In Cochin, Dr. Thaiyel hosted the guests. They will convert to Sikh religion on 12th April 1936."

    Thus, K. C Kuttan, father of the former Chairman, Municipality of Chertala - the late K. P. Kuttan - E. Ragavan, Krishan, Kannathu Kesavan Madhavan, along with All India Sikh Missionary Volunteers went to Amritsar and embraced Sikh religion.

    Thus K. C. Kuttan became Jaya Singh, E. Ragavan as Harnam Singh, Krishnan as Renjith Singh, Ragavan as Kripal Singh, Madhavan as Uday Singh and Baskaran as Bhupender Singh.

    They are the first converted Sikhs in the Kerala community. The Travancore government used the term ‘Ezhava Sikhs' to refer to the newly converted Sikhs. The socio-political and religious practices of the higher caste have disturbed the physical and emotional life of the lower castes. Through conversion, the Ezhavas overcame the psychological crises and enjoy the socio-religious equality, personal dignity and freedom.

    Again on 15th June 1936, "25 people got converted into Sikh Religion in the residence of Sardar Jaya Singh (formerly K.C.Kuttan), Chertala. The function was started at midnight. Professor Gurdas Singh was specially appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee for the Sikh missionary activities in Kerala, the ex-secretaries of SGPC Professor Hari Singh, Sardar Jay Singh, Sardar Uday Singh arranged the function. Five persons were needed to perform the religious conversion ceremony. Even though, the programme was conducted after 11 P.M., a good number of people gathered in the function hall. The girl who converted to Sikh religion will be called Narendra Kaur. She is nearly 12 years old. She is the first Sikh lady in Kerala."

    The Sikh Mission has started an office at Ernakulam. Due to their efforts a good number of people near Vaikom such as Maravanthuruthu, Karappuram, Muhamma and Ranee converted into Sikh religion. Some newspapers reported that around 300 people, and again some papers reported that around 800 people got converted into Sikh religion.

    The conversion to Sikh religion made a radical change and possible implications in socio-political realm along with other developments such as Vaikom Movement and Temple Entry Movements. Thus, on 12th November 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore, Sri Chitra Tirunal issued a proclamation that all the roads, tanks, wells, and schools of Travancore state were opened to all classes irrespective of caste. This declaration is called as ‘Temple Entry Proclamation'.

    The Malayala Manorama newspaper reported that immediately after the Temple Entry Proclamation, the Malayalees who converted to Sikh religion lost their interest in the new religion and reconverted into Hindu religious fold. However, only five or six families in Kerala vehemently stood for the new faith. Thus, people like Bhubender Singh, Karthar Singh, Kripal Singh, Renjith Singh and Bhagawan Singh stood firmly in the Sikh fold. They lived and dressed like Sikhs in the society. They followed the rules and regulations of the Sikh Panth.

    In an interview with the reporter of Malayalam Daily, Mangalam, on 26th November 2000, Bhubender Singh enunciated about his tremendous life as a Sikh. In his younger age, he was fascinated with Akalis. They came to Kerala to participate in the Vaikom Movement. Through the Akalis, he and his friends came to know that in Sikh religion there is no caste and class discrimination. This new philosophy attracted the Malayalee youths.

    At this time, Ambedkar's son felt ill due to paralysis. Ambedkar came to Paanavalli (near Vaikom) along with his son to meet Ayurvedic Doctor Krishan for treatment. Ambedkar frequently came to the Ayurvedic centre to know his son's health. Meantime, he spent some time with the Volunteers of the Vaikom Movement and the Akalis. Similarly, the Akalis also kept touch with Ambedkar. The Malayalee youths observed this cordial relationship. In this same period, Ambedkar openly declared that if you don't get self respect and dignity in your own religion you should get out of it. The announcement to embrace any other religions, made a big change in the society of Kerala. The so-called lower caste people in Kerala also desired to get free from the clutches of untouchability and caste discriminations.

    In this circumstance, some youths in Kerala decided to join in Sikhism. They have contacted the Akalis and explained to them their willingness to embrace Sikhism. The Akalis contacted the Sikhs in Punjab. Due to their influence, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabanthak Committee sent Missionaries to Kerala. Through the teachings of the Sikh Missionaries the so-called lower caste people found new hope and future in their life. Thus on 14th April 1936 they went to Amritsar and converted into Sikh fold. After the religious conversion, they were admitted to Shaheed Sikh Missionary College where they learnt Gurmukhi. After that, they were admitted to Gujranwala Khalsa College (now in Pakistan) for a Sikh Missionary Course. After completing the course they came back to Kerala. Meanwhile, the entire situation changed in Kerala. The government of Travancore permitted all the so-called lower castes to enter into the Hindu Temples. This declaration changed the mentality of the community. Thus, the people have lost their interest to join into other religions.

    At this juncture, the contact between the Sikhs in Punjab and converted Sikhs in Kerala also became very feeble. In this circumstance, the converted Sikhs decided to organize a meeting. In it, they have collected some money and decided to send a representative to Punjab. Thus, once again Bhuvender Singh has got the chance to visit Amritsar. He went to Amritsar with great expectations. But, unfortunately nobody came to meet him. He went to Gujranwala and contacted the Principal of Khalsa College in which he studied. But he did not get any help as he expected. As per the advice of the principal he decided to find a job in Punjab. The financial crisis is also one of the reasons to seek a job in Punjab. Thus, he joined in the military service. This decision affected his contacts with Sikh friends in Kerala. After that, the converted Sikhs in Kerala did not organize any meetings. Slowly, some people returned to the Hindu fold. The people who have visited Punjab decided to stand in the Sikh religion.

    It is possible to say that caste discrimination and untouchability is the main reason for this conversion. The daughter of Bhuvender Singh explained the horrific incidents faced by her father in the childhood. When Bhaskaran (after conversion he came to be known as Bhuvender Singh) was a school boy, his parents brought an umbrella to him. One rainy day, he went to the school by holding the umbrella. On the way to the school, the elite class saw Bhaskaran holding an umbrella. They immediately fetched the umbrella from him and warned him not to use it. Even though, the caste Hindus returned the umbrella in the evening; the boy was disappointed by this pitiful action. Similarly, he and his sisters were not allowed to enjoy the prayers and songs played in the Hindu temples. They were forced to sit far away from the temple ground.

    Bhuvender Singh married a Malayalee Sikh girl Mahender Kaur (santha) from Cherai. They had six children. Their first child was named as Indra Kaur. She is working as a primary school teacher. Second daughter Prema Kumari is running a Government retail Shop. Their son Rajendran is working as a Doctor. Jethender Singh is working in the PWD. Ajitha Kumari is working in the Department of Health. And Sohan is working as a teacher in the Nattakam Polytechnic. Bhuvender Singh's daughters and sons married under Hindu Ezhava married customs. When the community shrank he found very difficult to find matches. Again, while Bhupender Singh was working in Army, his relatives in the native village were entrusted the duty of taking care of the education of the children in Kerala. Often it happened that the relatives changed the names of the children when they were admitted in the school. Bhupender Singh gave to his children the names like Rajender Singh, Ajith Kaur and Sohan Singh, but their relatives registered their name in the school as Rajendran, Ajitha Kumari and Sohan respectively.

    Bhuvendeer Singh died in the year 3rd July 2004 at the age of 92.

    With the help of the Sikh Mission, Bhuvender Singh, Kirpal Singh and Renjeet Singh actively worked for the spread of Sikh religion. According to Ranjeet Singh, after embracing Sikhism, they have returned to Travancore. There they started Kerala Sikh Mission and started missionary work in Kerala. "Many persons embraced the Sikh Dharma, but the mission failed mainly because the true spirit of the religion and the Sikh way of life were not imbibed into the people embracing the religion. The language being the main hurdle, the people were not able to understand and appreciate the fundamentals of Sikhism, history of Gurus and their teachings and the Gurbani."

    After coming back to Kerala, S. Ranjeet Singh started Guru Nanak Hindi Vidyalaya at the Ranee Village, Pathanamthitta District and also continued the missionary work for some time. But "he was forced to relinquish and had to start some other work for his livelihood due to lack of interest on the part of organizers."

    Due to his influence, his niece S. P. Kesavan and his family converted into Sikh religion. He changed his name as Bhagawan Singh. It is believed that he was the author of the book "Karapurathinde Yatharthiangal".

    Renjith Singh married a Keralite girl Surender Kaur who also had Amrit Pan. They had five children, His eldest son is Major Ajith Singh and his younger son is Capt. Lakhmir Singh. They are working in the military and one daughter is a lecturer in Guru Nanak College, Madras. Ranjeet Singh has a clear vision on Sikh Philosophy. He says "so far as I see, no person can be called a ‘Sikh' in the true sense unless he can read Gurmukhi, he can understand Gurbani and he follows Gurbani. It will not be an exaggeration if I say that Sikhs are not made and no person can remain a Sikh unless his inner voice commands him to remain Sikh. It has been rightly put that the Sikh way of life is sharper than the sword's edge and narrower than breadth of the hair and only those can walk on the Sikh path who have toughness of steel, courage, perseverance and faith in the Gurus."

    Guru Granth Sahib says, "In holy company is the seeker's whole tribe saved. In holy company are one's companions, friends and family liberated" [GGS:271]. So it is possible to say that the basic idea behind the Sikh institution is to unite the scattered and broken society on the principles of courage and faith.

    Similarly, another converted Sikh, Karthar Singh (Achuthan Andi) - he was the father of Mahender Kaur (wife of Bhuvender Singh), in his younger age actively participated in World War II. Due to his sincere service to the nation, the Dewan of Cochin honored him with an award and gifted 12 acres of land in Malipuram in Pudu Vypin Inland in Ernakulam. But unfortunately, the major portion of the land submerged into the Arabian Sea. The family of Karthar Singh contacted the state government of Kerala for compensation. But, they did not get any help from the government. Finally, they understood that the government would not help them. So they have totally withdrawn from the case.

    After retirement from the military service, he joined as a Clerk in the Municipal Office at Ernakulam District. During this period, with the help of A. C. Karthikeyan, Karthar Singh published a 12 pages Malayalam booklet called Sikh Matha Prathana Manjari in the year 1941, which was distributed freely to the admirers of Sikhism.

    S. Kirpal Singh (Alias Sanku Ragavan) married a Brahmin girl Indrani Ammal from Madras. At that time he worked in the Military. For a long period he lived in Madras. In 1940's he started a company called "Kirpal Singh & Co., dealers of Pearl Barley, Dry Fruits, Country Drugs, etc." in Pedariar Koil Street, G. T, Madras. After retirement, Kirpal Singh spent his last days in Maravanthuruthu, near Vaikom. While in Kerala, he acted as a Block President of the Congress party and also worked as a wholesale agent of Kasthuri which was supplied by Bhalla Brothers, Ludhiyana, Punjab. He has one son and one daughter.

    His son Jayadev Singh practised the Sikh faith in the younger age. At that time, he joined in the military service but later he quit from the job and joined in a company run by Sikhs called (anonymous) Construction Company in Madras. There he questioned the malpractices of a Sikh worker. One day the corrupt staff pushed down the Jayadev Singh from the sun shade of a building. Fortunately, he fell on the top of a lorry which is full of lime stone powder. He escaped from the attempt of murder with burn injuries in the eyes and body. This horrific incident occurred in his life during the young age.

    He also experienced the problems faced by the Sikhs after the assassination of Indra Gandhi. His father Kirpal Singh was captured by a group of college students of the CMS College, Kottayam when he was in Kottayan District. Immediately, the Kerala State Police rescued him from the mob and sent him to his home in Maravanthuruthu nearly 20 K.M. away from Kottayam, with full police protection. These incidences diverted his mind from Sikh religion. Today, Jayadev Singh is a member of SNDP and he was earning money through hiring an auto rickshaw.

    Even though, he was living as non-Sikh, he gave the name "Kirpal Singh" to his grandson.

    The so-called lower caste people in Kerala realized that Sikh identity helped them to enter into any road in the state. The Mathurboomi Weekly recorded that the newly converted Sikhs walked through the roads near by the temple in Ernakulam District. "The Ezhava Sikhs leader Sardar Jaya Singh with the support of the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh and Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee President Sardar Udam Singh walked the roads near by the Hindu temple in Ernakulam. The police who guarded the roads near the temple did not take any legal action against the Sikhs. They walked freely through the prohibited areas. The so-called lower castes welcomed the move because for the first time they thought that they were no more untouchables in the society. A very wide publicity was given to the converted Sikhs. But in some places, the police interrogated and physically tortured the Sikhs because they carried sword (kirpan) in their hands.

    "The Reserve Police of Alappuzha captured Jagat Singh and Theja Singh, when they were on the way to Kalavoor. The police physically tortured them and took them to Alappuzha and there they seized their kirpan. At the time of this incident, Theja Singh tried to rescue Jagat Singh. But, Theja Singh also faced the same painful experience. Later, the police returned the kirpan to its owners."

    This shows that even in the new socio-religious backdrop, the so-called oppressed community faced several adversities and oppressions in the society.

    The government of Travancore discussed whether the Sikhs can be permitted to walk through the roads near by the temples. The Travancore state confidential records reveal that Maharaja of Travancore himself carefully studied this issue and asked the secretaries to permit the Sikhs to walk through the roads near by the temples. The Private Secretary of the Maharaja of Travancore wrote a letter to the Secretary on 21st May 1936. "With reference to your telegram 20th (there) are not more than 40 roads mentioned therein covered by government order abolishing unapproachability and (the) opening roads etc. (to) all classes stop Please declare (those roads) open immediately to non caste Hindus (of the) places already open to (them) and used by Mohammedans and Christians stop Give wide publicity to this (order) nothing new order and thereby nullify the meaning and purpose of contemplated entry of Ezhava Sikhs."

    One of the major problems faced by the converted Sikhs in Kerala is that the government of Kerala did not categorize them into any reservation group. Some Sikh parents admitted their children in the school by filling the column of Religion and community in the application form as Sikhs.

    The family members of the Sikh community are respected by their neighbours. They call them to their homes in all the auspicious occasions. Similarly the Sikh families are also maintaining a good relation with the society. Today, it is very easy to identify the Malayalee Sikh's residence because the neighbours can easily guide us to their homes if we say that I want to meet the Sikh Chettan or Sikh brother.

    Kerala society not only witnessed the conversion of Malayalies into Sikh Religion but also the conversion of Punjabi Sikhs into Ezhava Community. One of the basic reasons to change the religion is that the Sikh parents found it difficult to get a spouse to their children from the Sikh community. In this circumstance, the youngsters from the Sikh families married from Hindu Ezhava families. Again in the early period, only one or two families from an Ezhava community converted into Sikh religion. The relatives who belong to the mother's side or from the father's side practised Hinduism. In this circumstance, Sikh parents themselves faced some problems.

    Indra Kaur daughter of Bhuveeder Singh told that in her childhood days, she sang Hindu devotional songs in her uncle's house. When she is in her own home, she sang Sikh devotional song, "Wahe Guruji.." Again, nowadays the children of the converted Sikh families are not wearing the Five Sikh symbols but they are ready to say that their parents belong to Sikh religion.

    Meanwhile, the converted Sikhs who have settled in North India are still in the Sikh Panth. Even now, the neighbours identified them as Sikhs and they are proud of it. Some of the families still giving importance to Sikh religious festivals and they exchange sweets and gifts to the neighbours. In the socio-cultural realm, the neighbours invite them to their homes to participate in the parties and ceremonies.

    In Kerala, there are also anecdotes of the Sikhs who were migrated from Punjab and now their children registered their names in Sree Narayana Guru Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP). (Nowadays SNDP is concentrating for the welfare of Ezhava community). During 1936, so many Sikhs came to Kerala to propagate their religion and also to see the natural beauty of Kerala. Rajender Singh who belongs to Sialkot (Now Pakistan) came to Kerala along with his friends to visit Kerala during 1936's. When he was in Kerala, he was attracted by a 20 years old Malayalie Sikh girl Jana Kaur from Mannar. The uncle of Jana Kaur was also very much fascinated in this relation. They have married in Ernakulam on the principles of Sikh Religion.

    For a small period, Rajender Singh worked in a company in Ernakulam. Meanwhile, he got a job in the military service. So, the couple went back to Sialkot. While, they were in Sialkot, four children were born to the couple. During the India-Pakistan partition period (1947), they have decided to settle in their own village in Pakistan. But unfortunately, their own friends and neighbours became their enemy. They have attacked the residence of Rajender Singh. He tried to defend their family. But he was injured in the attack. They asked him to quit from Pakistan. Thus the entire family became refugees and migrated to Amritsar. For the survival of the family, Rajender Singh found a job in Amritsar. Then they migrated to Delhi and from there to Chennai. Finally he decided to settle in Ranee, Kerala.

    He loved the culture of Punjabis. Rajender Singh and his family celebrated all the Sikh festivals in Kerala with pomp and pleasure. Even though, Ranee is nearly120 km away from Ernakulam, he used to visit Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Ernakulam in the free times. Rajender Singh has seven children. Gurmukh Singh is in military service and now settled in Oothimudu, Pathanamthitta District. Jeeth Singh died in an accident, Gurbachan Kaur married a Punjabi boy and settled in Bhatendra, Punjab, Gurdeep Singh is living in Pathanamthitta. He loves the teachings of Sikh Gurus. Still, he never goes out of his home without turban and the five K's as instructed by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

    Dharampal Singh settled in New Delhi. Kuldeep Singh and Nirmal Kaur settled in Puvanmala, Ranee. Nirmal Kaur is living as a house wife. She married an Ezhava man. Similarly, Kuleep Singh also found his spouse from the Ezhava community. When Indra Gandhi was assassinated, the Sikhs in Kerala faced threats from the Hindu extremists. In this circumstance, Kuldeep Singh removed his turban and also cut his beard. Similarly at the time of Indra Gandhi's death, other Sikh families also came under police protection. Even though the Kerala State police and also the friends and relatives of the Malayalee Sikhs gave full moral support to them, they were scared due to death threats by the Hindu fanatics.

    At present, there is around twenty to twenty five Sikh families (Punjabis) settled in Kerala. Most of them are doing various businesses in Kerala. There is only one gurdwara in Kerala and it is situated in Perumanoor, Ernakulam and it is known as Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. The foundation stone of the first gurdwara was laid by Ms. Raj Karni Devi, mother of Mr. K. L. Johar (proprietor of Sealord Hotel, Ernakulam) on 29th November 1955. This building was later acquired by the government as it fell into the area acquired for the construction of Cochin Ship Yard.

    A new land at Perumanoor was purchased and the foundation stone of new gurdwara building was laid on 17th January 1965 by Ms. Raj Karni Devi. Ernakulam is one of the fastest growing metropolitan in India and it is the headquarters of the Southern Naval command. So, it is possible to see good number Sikh service personals in Ernakulam. They are the floating Sikh community in the society. When the Sikh population grew, it was felt that the building of the gurdwara was not large enough to accommodate the ever increasing sangat of Ernakulam.

    At this juncture, the Sikh Naval personnel stationed at the Naval Base planned to reconstruct the gurdwara. Thus, the foundation stone of this building was laid by K.L. Johar on 18th November 1975, the auspicious day of the birth of Guru Nanak. The approved plan was to construct two halls of 61' X 53' on ground and first floors. The ground floor was utilized for community hall (Langar Hall), and also for homeopathic dispensary. The Darbar Hall is located at the first floor of the building.

    Immediately, the demolishing work of the old building was taken up. After the demolishing of the existing building, the construction of the new building was started on war footing in spite of the fact that finance was the main handicap. Members of the Management committee toured all the metropolitan cities in the country to collect donations for the building, as it was very difficult to mobilize such huge sum locally. In this regard, S. Ujjagar Singh of Bombay Auto Stores Pvt. Ltd, S. Kesar Singh of Bombay Automobiles, Vice President of the Shri Guru Singh Sabha, Lt. A.S. Minhas and Chief Advisor of the Gurdwara, LCdr. Avtar Singh has taken care of collecting funds locally and from all over the country. Due to their hard work and also with the support and contribution of the migrated Sikhs, the construction of the building was completed in April 1976 and the first Dewan on the Baisakhi day was celebrated in the new building on 13th April 1976."

    Nowadays, the Sikhs gather in the gurdwara every Sunday and also provide langar for the devotees.

    In general, it is possible to say that, through the missionary work of the SGPC, the people of Kerala came to know the spiritual and temporal aspects of Sikhism. The Sikh institution, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee created awareness of freedom and bravery among the subaltern classes and worked for a casteless and classless society.

    [Dr. J. Jayan is Research Associate at the Department of Guru Nanak Studies, Madurai Kamaraj Universty.]

    March 29, 2010

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  3. Arvind

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    Jul 13, 2004
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    I like the use of words 'Sikhism is a movement full of service' by Master Tara Singh... wah ji wah
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