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Singh Sabha Movement


Jun 1, 2004
After the Nirankari and Namdhari movements of 19th Century. Fresh century was about to be started with a new movement called Singh Sabha. Nirankari and Namdhari movements had failed to stir Sikh people because of their restricted scope and schismatic character they acquired. To quote Sardar Harbans Singh in The heritage of the Sikhs "The Singh Sabha which followed them had a much deeper impact. It influenced the entire Sikh Community and reoriented its outlook and spirit. Since the days of the Gurus nothing so vital had transpired to fertilize the consciousness of the Sikhs. The Singh Sabha by leavening the intellectual and cultural processes brought a new dimension to the inner life of the community and enlarged its heritage. Starting in the seventies of the last century, it marked a turning-point in Sikh history . It touched Sikhism to its very roots, and made it a living force once again. The stimulus it provided has shaped the Sikhs' attitude and aspiration over the past one hundred years."
The reason behind the success of the Singh sabha was the motivation to search for Sikh identity and Self-assertion that we are not just another sect of Hinduism. Earlier, Hindu philosophers had declared Sikhs as "another sect of Hinduism". 2500 years ago, same thing was done to Budhism, when Budha was made "another reincarnation of Vishnu" by Brahmins, thus ending Budhism in India. Singh Sabha recognized this and started their campaign of awakenings for rural Khalsa, which was under the direct threat of Christian Missionaries, Muslim Maulalivis and Arya Samajis. Khalsa's moral force and dynamic vitality was rediscovered and Singh Sabha started to look upon its history and tradition with clear and self-discerning eye.
Everything that was against Gurus teaching was rejected. Rites and customs considered consistent with Sikh doctrine and tradition were established. For some, legal sanction was secured through government legislation. With this came the reorganization of Sikh Shrines. Later in 1920's Sikh Historic Shrines like Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib, Golden Temple, TarnTaran Sahib, etc were freed from the hold of hereditary Mahants. These mahants were practicing rites and ritual inconsistent with Sikhism, Including not letting people of "lower caste" into Gurdwaras, publicly smoking, Idol worshipping of various Gods and Goddesses, and holding Shraddhs and other rituals not followed by the Sikh Gurus.
This period also witnessed the modern development and emergence of new cultural and political aspirations. Higher level of literacy were achieved by Sikhs. Famous Khalsa college at Amritsar and hundreds of Khalsa Schools were opened through out punjab. Many Sikhs ventured outside India at this period and settled at Malaysia, Canada, U.K, Africa and USA. In Punjab, the Sikhs sought to secure recognition for themselves:
"An English newspaper writes that the Christian faith is making
rapid progress and makes the prophecy that within the next
twenty-five years, one-third of the Majha area will be Christian.
The Malwa will follow suit. Just as we do not see any Buddhists
in the country except in images, in the same fashion the Sikhs,
who are now, here and there, visible in turbans and their
other religious forms like wrist bangles and swords, will be
seen only in pictures in museums. Their own sons and grandsons
turning Christians and clad in coats and trousers and sporting
toadstool-like caps will go to see them in the museums and
say in their pidgin Punjabi: Look, that is the picture of a
Sikh-the tribe that inhabited this country once upon a time.'
Efforts of those who wish to resist the onslaught of Christianity
are feeble and will prove abortive like a leper without hands and
feet trying to save a boy falling off a rooftop.
This was a note which appeared in a Sikh newspaper, the Khalsa Akhbar (Punjabi) of Lahore, May 25,1894, from the pen of its editor, Giani Ditt Singh (1853-1901). Reporting the observance of the first anniversary of the Lahore Singh Sabha in its issue for April 22, 1905, the Khalsa Advocate (English) referred to the occupant of a banga in the precincts of the Tarn Taran Gurdwara who had embraced Christianity and hung a cross on one of its walls to convert it into a Christian chapel. The Khalsa Akhbar, July 13, 1894, carried this letter in its correspondence columns: "In the village of Natta, Nabha state, a Sikh married off his daughter according to Sikh custom Most of the population in the village, including Brahmanical Hindus and some Sikhs, became hostile. They did not let the marriage party stay in the dharamsala. The host, firm in his faith, had to put up the wedding guests in his own house." A student by the name of Bir Singh contributed a letter to the Khalsa Akhbar, February 12, 1897, saying: "Near the Dukhbhanjani beri tree in the Golden Temple precincts] there is a room on the front wall of which is painted a picture. The picture depicts a goddess and Guru Gobind Singh. The goddess stands on golden sandals and she has many hands-ten or, perhaps, twenty. One of the hands is stretched out and in this she holds a khanda. Guru Gobind Singh stands barefoot in front of it with his hands folded." A letter in the Khalsa Akhbar, October 8, 1897, reported: "On Tuesday, Bhadon 31, the pujaris of the Tarn Taran Gurdwara held the shradha ceremony in honour of Guru Arjan. Those feasted were from outside the faith and they smoked." A correspondent' s letter in the Khalsa Samachar of Amritsar, edited by Bhai Vir Singh, June 25, 1902, said: "Around the village of Singhpur, Christians and Muhammadans are becoming very influential. The former have two churches here and the latter two mosques. In this area there is no dharamsala and the rural Khalsa is rather neglectful of its religious duty." " (These newspaper quotations were taken from Herigate of the Sikhs, by Sardar Harbans Singh ji.)
These quotations reveal the identity crisis that Sikhism faced at the dawn of new century.
An editorial in the Khalsa Advocate (English), December 15, 1904, summed up the situation which existed before the emergence of the Singh Sabha thus:
". . . false gurus grew up in great abundance whose
only business was to fleece their flock and pamper their
own self-aggrandizement. Properly speaking, there was no
Sikhism. Belief in the Gurus was gone. The idea of brotherhood
in the Panth was discarded. The title of 'Bhai' so much
honoured by Sikhs of old, fell into disuse and contempt.
Sikhs grovelled in superstition and idolatry... It [Sikhism]
had thus lost all that was good and life-giving in the faith."
Singh Sabha movement not only reform the Sikh institutions of the rituals and rites like casteism but also made sure that in future, these rituals would not creep back in. Before Singh Sabha, situation was so bad that even Giani Ditt Singh, a very much honored literary giant of Singh Sabha movement had to withdraw from gurdwara when Karah Prashad was to be served, reason being that he was from "low caste", and many priests as well well educated devotees were followers of this anti-Sikhism casteism ritual.
As Sardar Harbans Singh ji say " The decline had started in the very heyday of Sikh power. In the courtly splendor of the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikh practice had been utterly subverted. The faith was weakened by the influx of large numbers of those who had adopted the Sikh form to gain material advantage, but whose allegiance to its principles and traditions was only tentative. In the words of a character in one of Sir Jogendra Singh's English novels, Rasili: "We failed because we did not obey the Guru. People established kingdoms and principalities and neglected their poor brethren. The result is what you see-the Khalsa has fallen." But the protagonist is aware of the massive reformation that was taking place. He says, "Sikhism is now casting off external influences and returning to the solid rock of its own pure faith and divine teachings." In a general way, the Singh Sabha was an expression of the impulse of the Sikh community to rid itself of the base adulterations and accretions which were draining away its energy and to rediscover the sources of its original inspiration. Unlike other Indian reform movements of the period which were the creation of the elite, the Singh Sabha was a mass upsurge. Besides the awareness that Sikhism as commonly practiced was a corruption of what it originally was, two other motivating factors were at work: a reaction to what was happening in the neighborly religious traditions and defensiveness generated by Christian missionaries activities."
The Christian missionary activity had started in the Punjab with the influx of the English. Even while Ranjit Singh, the Sikh sovereign, reigned in Lahore, an American Presbyterian mission had been set up at Ludhiana, the north-western British outpost near the Sikh frontier. The factors for the choice of this area as "the best field of labour" were its "numerous and hardy population....a better climate than the lower provinces and....a ready access to the lower ranges of the Himalaya mountains in case of the failure of health." Another reason was the Sikh population "to whom our attention at first was specially directed," as says John C. Lowrie in his book Travels in North India. With the end of Sikh rule in 1849, the Ludhiana Mission extended its work to Lahore. Two of its members, C.W. Forman and John Newton, were set apart for this duty and sent to the Punjab capital immediately. English and vernacular schools as well as welfare institutions like hospitals and orphanages followed. C.W. Forman turned out regularly for bazaar preaching.
John Lawrence, who was one of the triumvirate which ruled the Punjab after it was annexed to Britain, was a zealous patron of Christian proselytization. He contributed towards the Mission funds a sum of Rs. 500 annually out of his own pocket. Other English of fixers followed his example. It was his ambition to see the conquest of the Sikh dominions followed by large-scale conversions to Christianity.
Amritsar, headquarters of the Sikh faith, became another important seat of Church enterprise. In 1852, T.H. Fitzpatrick and Robert Clark, the first missionaries of the Church of England appointed to the Punjab, arrived in station. In the valedictory instruction given them, they had been told: "Though the Brahman religion still sways the minds of a large portion of the population of the Punjab, and the Mohammedan of another, the dominant religion and power for the last century has been the Sikh religion, a species of pure theism, formed in the first instance by a dissenting sect from Hinduism. A few helpful instances lead us to believe that the Sikhs may prove more accessible to scriptural truth than the Hindus and Mohammedans...."
The English missionaries were joined by Daud Singh recorded to be the first Sikh ever to have embraced Christianity. He had been baptized in Kanpur by the Rev. W.H. Perkins, and was transferred to Amritsar as pastor in 1852. The Mission houses were built in the city by the Deputy Commissioner. Construction of the station church was started. In the wake of the Mission came a vernacular school, a high school, a school for girls and midwifery hospital. The evangelizing work was rewarded with the conversion of men like Shamaun, i.e. Simeon, a Sikh granthi (reader of the Holy Book or priest), formerly Kesar Singh of Sultanwind, Imad-ud-Din, a Muslim maulavi and Rulia Ram, a Hindu Khatri from Amritsar, who had attended the Mission School and passed the Calcutta entrance examination. Sub-stations of the Mission were opened in important towns of the Sikh tract of Majha such as Tarn Taran, Ajnala and Jandiala.

Singh Sabha movement was helped by the missionaries activities of Mohammadens and Christians. It grew out of nowhere to become a founding father of current SGPC and Akali party. Singh Sabha Movement brought back the old ways of Khalsa and restored the pride and dignity of common urban and rural Sikhs.


1. Copyright © Harbans Singh "Heritage of the Sikhs"

Source : Singh Sabha Movement
May 24, 2008
Dear Aman Veer ji ,
First of all I must congratulate u on selecting such a wonderful topic for thread . Singh Sabha Movement really rekindled the dying spirit in Sikh Masses . If we look at the history of Sikhism starting with 1708 after the departure of the Tenth Master , 18 th Century was the Pinnacle of Sikh Spirit , with Matchless History & spirit of sacrifice amongst the Sikhs . The so called Khalsa rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 19th century actually conributed a lot to the ultimate downfall of Sikh Raj , riches , ideology & ultimately numbers . Singh sabha Movement actually restored that spirit , clarity in principles which led Sikhs to do do deeds unparralleled by way of sacrifice be it Kamagata Maru , jallianwala Bagh , Gurudwara Movements , Azad Hind fauj , Bhagat Singh , Udham Singh & the overall contribution in Freedom Struggle Of India 85 % sacrifices by a Community consisting just over 1 % ( One Percent ) of the Indian Population . The Holocaust of 1947 , the wars of 1948 , 1965 , 1971 furthur bear the marks of Sikh Bravery & sacrifice . But as in days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh , the Power & Money has always been the bane of Sikh Spirit . The power & Money post 1966 & Green Revolution has corrupted Sikhs , Sikh Leaders that it is in Doldrums in its home sate ie . Punjab today . The events of 1984 no doubt created that Spirit but it was soon consumed by Anti - Sikh forces , who divided it with all means . Post 1993 what we r seeing is a rapid decline in Sikh Values , Sikh Ideals which can be clearly seen in the no of Sikh Boys who r Patit in villages . Not only they have cut hair , the r entrenched in consumerist culture ie EAT , DRINK & MAKE MERRY . About 95 % of the young generation can not spell the name of Ten Gurus in Sequence , Same 95 % does not know the contents of Sikh Rehat Maryada which is accepted by whole Sikh Community , the very baisis of Sikh unity & indentity. The Sikh visiting Anandpur sahib also makes it a point to visit Naina Devi Mandir to pray before MATA JI & visits to Vaishno Devi , Chintpurni , Jwala Ji r annual affairs . Recently I came accross about 5, 00, 000 SIKH DEVOTEES visiting Sankat Mochan near Jagadhari in Haryana for ANNUAL BATHING to gain cleansing . The climax of that ritual is held on Guru Nanak Jayanti each year & I doubt any of these Sikhs visiting Gurudwaras to celebrate Gurupurab . Sikhs now visit astologers for auspicious dates , janam patri during marriages , abstaing from meat on Tuesdays , abstaining from buying any iron goods on Saturdays , visit PEERS ( PIRS ) on Thurdays , observe Fasts during Navratras , Karva Cahuths . Not only ordinary Sikhs but Amritdari Sikhs r participating in these RITUALS whole heartedly . Deras , Babas , Sants , Deras r all time high , aggregating more than 9000 in Punjab alone excluding Radha Soamis , Sacha Sauda , Ashutosh , Nirankaris , Kirpal sagar , Namdharis . Gurudwaras r empty bereft of any Sangat except for a few known Gurdwaras . The PROFITABLE GURUDWARAS r a place for politics where during annual elections money & intoxicants r freely used . The Sikh leaders r reaping rewards from their masters like PS BADAL from RSS/ BJP . Sikh boys & girls in cities r unable to speak Punjabi , conversing in Hindi instead .Sikh money is being wasted on Gurudwara buildings , Nagar Kirtan ,Kirtan darbars , langars , Chabeels , Gurudwara Elections while the basic Tenents r unknown to almost 99 % of Sikh Population in Punjab . There could be no more opportune time to launch a Singh Sabha Movement - 2 whereby Sikh sangat could be made aware of basic Sikh tenents , Philosophy , Ideals so that the future of Sikhism is secured & this Slide could be arrested . As in 19th Century , in 21st Century it will do wonders because due to media , internet explosion , this effort is not going to go waste , it shall have a multiplier effect , the rewards will be for everybody in future . The globalisation will have quite an unexpected windfall for Sikhism & persons involved as a whole because Sikh Philosophy is perhaps the best to counter the ill-effects of Consumerism & Hatred both . Being most modern religion , we r blessed with this opportunity , let us do our best to contribute to this starting from Punjab . My apologies for any words which may look like an exagaration ( I certainly tried to explain it in realistic terms )

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