Bhai Mardana (1459-1534): Born in 1459 into a Muslim family, Bhai Mardana was a loyal companion and follower of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru. Though ten years older than the first Sikh Guru, Bhai Mardana proved to be a great friend as his beautiful hymns provided the Guru with great joy and solace. When he went to check up on the Guru as instructed by the Guru’s father, Bhai Mardana was so impressed by the Guru’s generosity that he decided to join the Guru throughout his journeys. And thus, despite being married and with children, Bhai Mardana’s devotion to Sikhism pervaded all other sentiments. Throughout their journeys and spiritual travels, where Guru Nanak Ji spoke and preached his thoughts, Bhai Mardana was right by his side, often playing the rabab or rebeck. Even the Janam Sakhis, the life stories of the first Sikh Guru, discuss the important role of Bhai Mardana, and his life-long devotion to Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Bibi Nanaki (1464-1518): Bibi Nanaki, older sister of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, was very special not only to Sikhism, but to the Guru as she was so loved by him. Born in 1464, in the Village of Chahal, which is present day Lahore, Pakistan, Bibi Nanaki’s role in the Janam Sakhis ie. the life stories of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, are proof of the great love the Guru had for his older sister. The Guru and his sister had such an amazing emotional bond and connection, that Bibi Nanaki was the first to see the great light of wisdom, kindness, and spirituality which emanated from her younger brother. And as such, knowing full well the greatness that Guru Nanak was destined for, Bibi Nanaki supported her brother, even when faced with the wrath of their father, who never quite understood Guru Nanak’s spiritual tendencies, as opposed to his work duties and obligations. After having arranged Guru Nanak’s marriage as well, Bibi Nanaki, who did not have children, loved and adored Guru Nanak’s two sons just as they were her own. Even when Guru Nanak was engaged in his spiritual journeys and quests throughout Asia, preaching the ideologies which would become Sikhism, he always made sure to visit his sister and her family. During one of these visits in the year 1518, knowing that her end was nearing, Bibi Nanaki requested that the Guru stay by her side, so she could pass away in peace amidst his presence.
Bhai Bala (1466-1544): Born in 1466 CE, in the village Talvandi, the same birth village of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Bhai Bala was a long-time friend and companion to the first Sikh Guru. Though he was three years senior to the Guru, Bhai Bala and Guru Nanak were constantly by each other’s side throughout their childhood. Even into adulthood, Bhai Bala continued to accompany Guru Nanak throughout his travels and to Sultanpur, where he stayed with the Guru for some time. When he was called on by Guru Angad Dev Ji following Guru Nanak’s death, Bhai Bala recited in great detail the journeys of Guru Nanak. Eventually, these great stories would culminate into the Bhai Bale Vali Janam Sakhi, which are a part of the larger compilation titled Janam Sakhi, the biographical life stories of the first Sikh Guru.
Baba Budha Ji (1506-1631): Born on October 6, 1506 CE in the village of Katthu Nangal, Baba Budha Ji’s service to the Sikh Gurus lasted throughout six generations of Sikh Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, to Guru Hargobind Singh Ji. In addition to leading a life of servitude for six of the Sikh Gurus, Baba Budha Ji was also the first Sikh priest of the Harimandir Sahib. Baba Budha Ji spent much of his time with Guru Nanak Dev Ji at Kartarpur, and when Guru Angad Dev ji was to be initiated as the second Sikh Guru, it was Baba Budha Ji who applied the ceremonial tilak on his forehead, just as he did with the next four Sikh Gurus. With Guru Ram Das Ji and Guru Ram Das Ji, Baba Budha Ji applied himself to such tasks including digging the baoli at Goindwal, and working during the excavation of the sacred tank at Amritsar. As Baba Budha Ji grew older, Guru Arjan Dev Ji placed his young son, Hargobind under the care of Baba Budha Ji, so that the young future Guru would learn the skills of spirituality. And although Baba Budha Ji had never adorned a sword, it was through him, that the concept of miri piri (spiritual and temporal authority) came about under Guru Hargobind Singh Ji. Indeed, when the young Guru Hargobind had asked Baba Budha Ji to place the sword on him, Baba Budha Ji placed it on the wrong side. And when Baba Budha Ji moved to rectify his error, Guru Hargobind stopped him from undoing something he perceived to be a holy act, and instead requested that another sword be placed on him-thus culminating in the spiritual/martial concept of miri piri. After spending his entire life under the love and servitude of six Sikh Gurus, Baba Budha Ji spent the last years of his life in meditation.
Mata Gujri Ji (1624-1705): Born in 1624, Mata Gujri’s role within Sikhism and Sikh history is manifold, for she was not only the wife of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, she was also the mother of the final Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, and the grandmother of two who would become martyrs. She was also a martyr herself. When Mata Gurji was fifty-one, and her husband had attained martyrdom, it was during this crucial period within Sikh history that this great woman guided the Sikh panth, and taught the young Guru Gobind Singh Ji the many skills a Sikh required. After arranging Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s marriage, Mata Gujri still remained a key figure in the Guru’s life, providing support and guidance to both him, and his wife. And during the tumultuous times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s later life, when there were constant confrontations with the Mughals, it was Mata Gujri who provided strength and guidance to all Sikhs. Because Mata Gujri also instilled such qualities as strength, courage, generosity, and spirituality into her grandsons, they were also able to resist Mughal forces to conversion. And it was also tragically as such, that on December 8, 1705, Mata Gujri, along with her two younger grandsons, was arrested by the Mughals and confined to the Sirhind fort. It would be here that all three would attain martyrdom. When the two young Sikh boys refused to convert to Islam, they were ordered to be bricked alive, and were executed on December 12th. On hearing that her two grandsons had refused to desert their Sikh values and beliefs, and had instead chosen martyrdom, Mata Gujri also died instantly, knowing that she had succeeded in keeping the Sikh faith and courage alive through her grandsons.
Bhai Kanhaiya (1648-1718): Born in 1648, and brought up during the time of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, Bhai Kanhaiya is a symbol of the generosity that should be given to all, regardless of their caste, creed, sex, or religion. During the battle of Anandpur Sahib in 1704, Bhai Kanhaiya took it upon himself to walk across the battlefields and serve water to any who were thirsty. One of the more famous images in the Sikh tradition is of Bhai Kanhaiya serving water which is carried in a mashak, ie., a brown coloured pouch made from goat’s skin. But what amazed, shocked, and even angered some Sikhs was that Bhai Kanhaiya not only served water to Sikhs, but to the Mughal enemies whom the Sikhs were fighting. When many Sikhs complained and brought the situation to the attention of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, it was Bhai Kanhaiya’s reply to the Guru which was most impressive. After Guru Gobind Singh asked whether it is true he is serving the enemy, Bhai Kanhaiya responded, “Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But Maharaj, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I only saw human beings. And, Guru Ji, do they not all have the same spirit of God? – Guru Ji, have you not taught us to treat all God’s people as the same?” Such was the answer, and the Guru was so pleased by the reply that he blessed Bhai Kanhaiya, explaining to all those who complained that Bhai Kanhaiya understood othe deeper message of Sikhism, and the Guru’s teachings.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839): Born in 1780 in what is present day Pakistan, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, otherwise famously known as the “Lion of Punjab,” took over his father Maha Singh’s role as the Sukerchakia misl leader at the young age of twelve. And under his leadership, Ranjit Singh was able to unite the separated Sikh states into one large Sikh empire. After he assumed the title of Maharaja on Baisakhi day, April 12, 1801, Ranjit Singh declared that the city of Lahore would serve as his capital. Throughout his reign, Ranjit Singh dealt with a number of conflicting forces such as the Afghans, and even the British. And although he was illiterate in the traditional sense, his brilliance could not be ignored as he controlled every aspect of his court, from the most miniscule details. Indeed, Ranjit Singh’s Sikh kingdom was comprised of great intelligence systems which would challenge the European’s own systems of intelligence and knowledge. Just as he was renowned for his intelligence and thirst for knowledge, so was Ranjit Singh known for his extravagance and lavish lifestyle. Public darbars were regular displays in the Sikh kingdom, which provided the Maharaja a chance to display his wealth, power, and knack for all the arts. The forging of the Sikh military under Ranjit Singh was yet another attribute to the success of the Sikh kingdom during the late 18th and early 19th century. Indeed, Ranjit Singh was able to challenge any world military forces as he utilized French and other European officers as his own generals. Because Ranjit Singh’s role was crucial to the unifying of the Sikh kingdom, once he died in 1839, so did the Sikh kingdom fall apart in disunity, thus providing the British ample opportunity to annex Punjab in 1849.
Rani Jindan Kaur (1817-1863): Rani Jindan Kaur (the youngest wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and mother of the last Sikh ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh), was one of the last fighting forces against British power usurping the Sikh kingdom. Though British authorities disliked her immensely because of her rebellious and courageous spirits, nothing could stop Rani Jindan from organizing an uprising against the British presence in Punjab between 1848-49. Knowing full well the fighting nature of the Rani, the British even banned her presence during the signing of the Treaty of Bharowal, which was essential to the British rule over Punjab. And still at the height of British power in Punjab, the Rani did not dissuade from her endeavours, as she even developed elaborate plots and schemes to murder British officials such as the British Resident as well as members of the Regency Council. Despite her efforts to hinder British power in Punjab, without greater leadership such as there was earlier with Ranjit Singh, there was very little that could be done to thwart British dominance. Once the British had learned of her incessant plots and scheming, she was forced to reside at the Chunar Fort on April 6, 1849. And yet, even such efforts at imprisoning her were unsuccessful as the Rani escaped under the disguise and fled to Nepal on April 27th of the same year where she was granted permission to stay (after agreeing to pay a monthly allowance of RS 1000). Amazingly enough, the Rani’s enthusiasm would still not lessen as she still continued to send letters from Nepal to key figures in Punjab, encouraging them to rise up and fight the British. Ultimately however, despite her best efforts, her zeal, enthusiasm, and courage, none of the Rani’s efforts came to fruition. And thus, as she had become weaker in her older age, the Rani was granted permission to enter England and stay with her son Duleep Singh (where he was now residing following his conversion to Christianity) until her death in 1863.
Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838-1893): Prior to the British annexation of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Duleep Singh, the son of former Maharaja Ranjit Singh, served as the last Sikh ruler over the sovereign state of Punjab. After the death of Ranjit Singh, the entire Sikh empire was sent into turmoil trying to come to terms with who would succeed him. After his half-brother, Maharaja Sher Singh’s succession to the throne, Duleep Singh was thrown into the forefront. When the British annexed Punjab, Duleep Singh was separated from his mother Rani Jindan Kaur, and forced to live in the care of Dr. John Login. Subsequently, the British wanted to present Duleep Singh as anglicized as possible, thus, he was converted to Christianity. When in 1854, Duleep Singh decided to return to India, and converted back to Sikhism as he had rediscovered its history and religious texts, the British tried to stop him. Indeed, in one attempt, Duleep Singh was stopped in Aden and forced to return. Tragically, he would not be able to set foot in Punjab again with the exception of two occasions, to visit his mother in order to return her to London, and then to spread the ashes of Rani Jindan Kaur in 1863.
Mata Tripta Ji: As the mother of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Mata Tripta Ji holds a very special place within Sikhism. Most of what is known about Mata Tripta Ji is based on the Janam Sakhis, the life stories of the first Sikh Guru. According to these traditions, Mata Tripta Ji was a very kind woman, and loved her son dearly. And despite the fact that Guru Nanak Dev Ji questioned Brahmin ways, which was always a source of tension between himself, his mother, and his father, Mata Tripta Ji still endowed her son with great love, always treating him to home made sweets, etc. One interesting story as seen in the Janam Sakhis describes when Guru Nanak had returned home from his spiritual journeys, and upon seeing his mother, embraced her because he was overcome with emotion as he wept.
Banda Singh Bahadur (1670-1716): Born on October 16, 1670 in the village Rajouri in Kashmir, Banda Singh Bahadur was a great Sikh warrior during the time of the last living Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Even Banda Singh’s early life consisted of intense sports that exhibited his physical strength and endurance. Banda Singh Bahadur is a great figure within Sikhism, not only because of his skills as a warrior, but for the spiritual life and experience he also lived. Sports such as wrestling, horseback riding, and hunting were some of the major hobbies he engaged in at a young age. One such hunting experience however, altered Banda Singh Bahadur’s views quite drastically. After watching a mother deer and her aborted child writhe in pain after he had shot them, Banda Singh decided to live his life as a sadhu, a nomadic and spiritual meditator who lived only on charity. In September of 1708, in a meeting with Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Banda Singh attempted to persuade the Guru through his occult powers and was shocked to find no such powers affected the Guru. And thus, Banda Singh fell to his feet and declared himself in servitude to the Guru and Sikhism only. Eventually, Guru Gobind Singh Ji would accord Banda Singh with the title of military lieutenant, and under such a title, Banda Singh’s impact would indeed be great. Although Banda Singh would eventually be captured and tortured until death by the Mughals in 1716, through the course of his military life under the Khalsa and Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Banda Singh Bahadur would still succeed in handicapping the Mughal administration and military forces.
Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718-1783): Born in 1718 in the village Ahluwal near Lahore, a village which was originally established by his ancestor, Sadda Singh, Jassa Singh was the son of Badar Singh. When Badar Singh died in 1723 when Jassa was only five years old, his mother entrusted him to the care of Mata Sundri, the widow of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Under the care of Mata Sundri, Jassa Singh gained many skills including combat, the reading and reciting of Sikh scriptures, and reciting Hari-Kirtan. When Nawab Kapur Singh appointed Jassa Singh as his successor, the Khalsa, in delight, honoured the occasion by giving Jassa Singh the title of “Sultan-ul-Qaum,” meaning “King of the whole people.” With the title of King of Lahore under his belt, Jassa Singh engaged in many significant battles, though not every battle was a success. One such tragic battle, the battle “Wadda Ghalughara,” (“big attack”) occurred on February 5, 1762 when Ahmad Shah Abdali launched a surprise attack on Jassa Singh and the Sikhs. In this battle, Jassa Singh sustained over sixty four wounds as Ahmad Shah was able to defeat the Sikhs, and in the end, continued on a rampage by ordering all Indians to be killed on site. By the end of the day, there lay 20,000 Sikhs slaughtered on the field. But Jassa Singh and his army of Sikhs were able to recover from the tragedy and subdue Ahmad Shah during his eighth invasion into India. After Jassa Singh and his army forced Ahmad Shah and his troops to retreat, the Sikhs then launched an offensive attack into the Afghan camp, thereby rendering Ahmad Shah helpless once and for all.
Jassa Singh Ramgharia (1723-1803): Jassa Singh, born in 1723 in the village of Ichogil, near Lahore, came from a family line of men and women who were not only great Gursikhs, but also did great service through sewa. Like his father Giani Bhagwan Singh, Jassa Singh also was well trained in the martial arts, and thus, both father and son even fought along side each other against Afghan invaders such as Nadir Shah. When Mir Manu became the governor of Punjab in 1745, he was worried about the increasing power of the Sikhs, and thus, used many tactics, often violent, to subdue the Sikhs power. In his attempts to hinder Sikh power, Manu attacked the Ramgarh fort many times, and although the fort was destroyed, it was through the leadership of Jassa Singh, that the Sikhs were able to hold back Manu’s forces. During the crux of his power and influence, Jassa Singh controlled a vast amount of land including: the area north of Amritsar between the Ravi and Beas rivers, the Jallandhar and Kangra hill regions, and the capital of Sri Hargobindpur. Ultimately, Jassa Singh’s vast influence and ownership of land would result in the formation of the great Ramgharia Misl.
Akali Phula Singh (1761-1823): Born on January 14, 1761 in the Village Shinh in Amritsar, Punjab, Phula Singh was a key player within Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s military force. At an early age, Phula Singh joined an order of Nihangs (literally meaning “crocodile” in Persian, a separate Sikh military sect), and began his intense martial training. When he was eighteen years old, Phula Singh took on a leadership role when he became the leader of a band of fighters whose headquarters were in Gobindgarh. But it was when he became a member of Ranjit Singh’s court, and now as the leader of the Nihang sect, that Akali Phula Singh’s military prowess came to the forefront. In the military campaigns of Kasur, Multan, Afghanistan, Kabul, Kashmir and others throughout Punjab, it was Akali Phula Singh and his Nihangs who provided much of Ranjit Singh’s military strength. Akali Phula Singh’s opinions were so respected within the Sikh court, that even Ranjit Singh was susceptible to the warrior’s many criticisms and harsh judgments on acts which he did not believe to be adhering to Sikhism. Akali Phula Singh finally met his end during the Battle of Naushehra in 1823 CE, when while fighting the Afghani forces, his horse was shot beneath him. And it was during this epic battle where Phula Singh’s skills shined as he got up immediately as instead of giving up, Phula Singh chose an elephant to ride on, knowing full well that he would now become an easy target to the Afghans. Thus, Akali Phula Singh was bombarded with gunshots, leading to his death. Because Phula Singh’s presence within the court and Sikhism was so influential, his death was seen as a great tragedy, as even Ranjit Singh was said to have shed many tears at his loss.
Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837): Born in 1791 at Gujranwala, Hari Singh Nalwa’s reputation as a warrior was legendary in its own right. The title Nalwa, meaning tiger, in Hari Singh’s name is significant in itself as it was given after Hari Singh had successfully fended off a tiger attack and managed to kill the tiger in the process. Serving in the Sikh military was a family trait as not only did Hari Singh’s father work in Maharaha Ranjit Singh’s army, but so did Hari Singh himself. And it was as his role as commander-in-chief of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army where Hari Singh proved himself to be invaluable. As commander-in-chief, Hari Singh was the key figures in a number of battles and expeditions for Ranjit Singh including: the releasing of Shah Shuja, the annexation of Multan, the freedom for Kashmiris, the retaking of Peshawar, of which Nalwa became the eventual governor. Ultimately, Hari Singh was killed as a result of betrayal, where during the Battle of Jamrud in 1837, two members of Ranjit Singh’s court who were actually spies for the British and Afghans, sabotaged Hari Singh from behind and killed him.
Mai Bhago: The female Sikh warrior, Mata Bhag Kaur, otherwise known as Mai Bhago, was born in the village of Jhabal in Amritsar, Punjab. She lived during the tumultuous times of the final Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji when tensions with the Mughals had reached its climax. Mai Bhago was brought up from birth with the values of Sikhism, and thus throughout her life, she adhered to, and promoted such values. Thus, in 1705, she was distraught to hear that her fellow villagers had deserted Guru Gobind Singh Ji in Anandpur when forced to confront certain difficulties. Using her persuasive and passionate nature to her advantage, Mai Bhago demanded that the deserters join her, under her lead, and find Guru Ji in order to seek forgiveness. The band of Sikhs under Mai Bhago’s leadership had travelled across the Malwa region and were descending upon the doab region, or the pool of khidrana, where they were attacked by Mughal forces which were in search of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Mai Bhago fought valiantly, showing great strength under adversity, and with the help of the Guru, whose skills with the arrows were infamous, both sides together forced the Mughals to retreat. Following the battle, Guru Gobind Singh Ji kept Mai Bhago in his presence as his personal body guard, and Mai Bhago accepted such an honour with full veracity, even choosing to dress in male attire. Upon the death of the final Guru, Mai Bhago dedicated herself to a life of meditation, relocating further south to Jinvara.
Saraghari Heroes: A battle of epic proportions which was fought on September 12, 1897 in the North West frontier of Punjab, the battle of Saraghari was demonstrative of the impressive military skills which the Sikhs were known for. Indeed, 21 Sikhs fought to their deaths against an Afghan force consisting of some 10,000 skilled soldiers. Led by Havildar Ishar Singh, the Battle of Saraghari was part of a larger scheme in which Afghans and the British Indian Army each tried to gain of the key forts Gulistan and Lockhart, of which Saraghari was the central identifying construction. Some outstanding figures during the battle included Bhagwan Singh, Lal Singh, Jiwa Singh, and Gurmukh Singh, who in addition to recording minute by minute accounts of the battles, was the last standing Sikh left in battle and was said to have defeated 20 Afghans before his own death. After destroying Saraghari, and killing all 20 brave Sikh soldiers, the Afghans decided to turn their attention to Fort Gulistan, but by that time, Indian army reinforcements had arrived and were able to fend off the Afghans successively. Although those initial 20 Sikhs were killed, their bravery did not go unnoticed in Britain’s Parliament and by the Queen as well.
Sikh Literatis and Scholars
Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957): Born on December 5, 1872 in Amritsar, Bhai Vir Singh’s contributions to Sikh literature, scholarly discourse and theology are so great that his efforts were recognized with him being given the title “Bhai,” ie. the Brother of the Sikh order. Bhai Vir Singh came from a family of scholars as his grandfather, Baba Kahn Singh, spent his youth engaging in traditional Sikh studies at Haridwar and Amritsar. Likewise, Bhai Vir Singh’s father, Dr. Charan Singh, was also a Braj poet, Punjabi prose-writer, musicologist and lexicographer. In terms of his own education, Bhai Vir Singh was fortunate enough to study through both systems of traditional indigenous learning of the vernacular, as well as studying within the British English system as he attended the Church Mission School in Amritsar. After passing his matriculation exam, Bhai Vir Singh bought his first lithograph press and began writing some of his earliest essays. Ultimately, throughout his career, Bhai Vir Singh stressed the goal of providing education to Sikhs in terms of their own unique identity and culture and theology. Some of Bhai Vir Singh’s more famous works include both fictional, and non fictional works. In terms of non-fiction, Bhai Vir Singh’s work to promote Singh Sabha Movement is particularly famous, called under the title of “Nirguniara.” Through the launching of the Khalsa Tract Society in 1894, Bhai Vir Singh was able to connect to the Sikh masses through his writings on Sikh history, philosophy, theology, as well as crucial Sikh movements. Other famous fictional works, although they were written in reflection of the heroic 18th century period in Sikh history, includes works such as: Sundari (1898), Bijay Singh (1899), and Satwant Kaur (1900). Bhai Vir Singh’s poetry includes: Dil Tarang (1920), Earel Tupke (1921), Lahiran de Har (1921), Matak Hulare (1922), Bijlian de Har (1927), Mere Salan Jio (1953). In addition to writing novels and poetry, Bhai Vir Singh is also credited with writing the first ever Punjabi play, Raja Lakhdata Singh in 1910, as well as starting the publishing of a Punjabi weekly newspaper in 1899 titled the Khalsa Samachar. Bhai Vir Singh’s final, completed work was an annotation of the Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth, which encompassed a massive fourteen volumes and was published over the course of eight years from 1927 to 1935. In his final years of life, Bhai Vir Singh began a project of enormous proportions in choosing to write a detailed commentary on the Sikh holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. And although Bhai Vir Singh died on June 10, 1957 in Amritsar due to the fever, the half of the holy book which he did manage to complete, was published posthumously in seven volumes.
Professor Puran Singh (1881-1931): Born in 1881, Professor Puran Singh was accomplished in both the fields of science and literature. After passing his high school examination in 1897 from Rawalpindi as well as his intermediate examination from the D.A.V College in Lahore in 1899, Puran Singh received a scholarship to go study abroad (while still studying for his Bachelor of Arts subsequently). As such, Puran Singh continued his studies in Japan while specializing in industrial chemistry. Because of his experiences and studies abroad, Puran Singh learned both the Japanese and German languages. In terms of his skill in the literary field, Puran Singh was the author of a novel which critiqued the British rule in India, as well as publishing a monthly English newspaper called the “Thundering Dawn.” Throughout his life, Puran Singh was influenced by many literary geniuses and methods including the romantic aesthetic works of Okakura Kazuko, the American poet Walt Whitman, and even Bhai Vir Singh. In terms of the scientific field, Puran Singh was greatly involved in several experiments, including one which attempted to distill essential oils in Lahore. Puran Singh died on March 31, 1931 from tuberculosis.
Khushwant Singh (1915-2014): Khushwant Singh is certainly many things: a lawyer, an author, a historian, and a columnist. Born in 1915 in the village Hadali, which is located in present day Pakistan, Khushwant Singh’s earliest inclinations was as an author, because although he failed in subjects such as mathematics, he excelled in others such as Urdu. After attending Cambridge and the inner Temple in London, and having taken law, Khushwant Singh returned to India and opened his own practice in Lahore. However, following the tragic incidents during the Pakistan/Punjab partition of 1947, Khushwant Singh, along with his family, were forced to uproot their entire life, and head south to Punjab. Following some jobs he held such as working for the Ministry of External Affairs in London, as well as working in Paris with UNESCO, Khushwant then joined the all India Radio in 1951 as a journalist. It was during, and following this stint at India Radio, that Khushwant Singh’s interest in the literary field expanded. To begin with, Khushwant became the founder and editor of the magazine Yojana. Following this, Khushwant became the editor of the very prestigious “National Herald,” as well as “The Illustrated Weekly of India,” and the “Hindustan Times.” As a historian, Khushwant’s most famous writings has been his two volume book “A History of Sikhs,” which to this day, is still utilized by Sikh students, historians, and scholars around the world. Khushwant has also published a detailed book on Maharaja Ranjit Singh, as well as translations of the “Japji Sahib,” and the hymns of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. In terms of his fictional work, the most famous was the novel “Train to Pakistan,” of which was awarded the Grove Press Award in 1954. Because of his numerous accomplishments, Khushwant Singh has been awarded with the “Order of Khalsa,” by the Sikh community, as well as the Padam Bhushan award in 1974. However, in demonstrating his great character, Khushwant returned this very prestigious award to the President of India, following the heinous attack on the Harimandir Sahib in 1984. Most recently, in 2000, Khushwant was awarded the Sulabh Award, which was given to him by the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu.
Amrita Pritam (1919-2005): Born August 31, 1919, Amrita Pritam’s works as a novelist, poet, and essayist has branded her as the first female Punjabi writer of her kind. When her mother died when Amrita was only a young child, and as she was left with many adult responsibilities, writing became her passion and artistic outlet of expression. Amrita’s talents in writing were so merited, that her first works were published when she was only sixteen years old. Some of Amrita’s more known poetry came as a result of the extreme violence and death she witnessed during India’s partition of 1947. In 1982, after years of poetry, novels, and essays, Amrita was endowed with one of the most prestigious Indian literary honours, the Bhartiya Jnanpith. In addition to literary awards, Amrita was also honoured with Honorary Literary degrees from the Universities of Delhi, Jabalpur and Vishva Bharti.
Patwant Singh (1925-): Born in Delhi in 1925, initially Patwant’s career revolved building and engineering, of which most of his family was also part of. If anything, it has been Patwant Singh’s interdisciplinary approach which has given him the most recognition in terms of his scholarly contributions to the world. As Patwant’s interests grew, so did his career, as his life in literature began with his role as publisher of the periodical The Indian Builder. Although the Indian Builder provided him with his first taste of the field of literature, Patwant’s more famous journal was the Design. Unlike many of the journals of this time, the Design was unique in that Patwant tackled many varying fields including: architecture, urban planning, visual arts, graphics, as well as industrial design. As he lived through more politically turbulent times with the onset of the Sino-Indian war in 1962, as well as the second Kashmir war in 1965, Patwant was propelled to write his first book India and the Future of Asia in 1967. In addition to the many literary endeavours he embarked on, including other such works on Punjab, the Golden Temple, the story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara (the famous “Garland Around my Neck”), as well as writing his own memoir, Patwant also addressed his humanitarian concerns as he built a much needed hospital in Haryana. Throughout his scholarly writings, Patwant Singh’s ultimate goal has been to turn away from Western concepts and ideologies on the East, and rather to promote the concept of Asians discussing their own current situations, history, past, etc.
Narinder Singh Kapany (1926-): The physicist Narinder Singh Kapany’s commonly referred to title as the “father of optical fibre” certainly helps to describe just what his accomplishments entail. Narinder Singh was born and India, raised through much of his childhood in England, and for the past forty five years, has lived in the United States. Narinder Singh’s work in fibre optics superseded the work done by his predecessor, John Tyndall, who had initially demonstrated to the world that light could travel inside a curve through water. As a result of this initial discovery, Narinder Singh’s further experimentation and works led has been led through the use of fibre-optics communications, lasers, biomedical instrumentation, solar energy, and pollution monitoring. In combining his passion and desire for both science and business, Narinder Singh founded the company Optics Technology Inc. in 1960, where he was the Chairman of the Board, President, and Director of Research for twelve years. After his first initial company went public, Narinder Singh founded Kaptron Inc. in 1973 where he once again served as both President and CEO until he sold his company to AMP incorporated in 1990. Because of his great accomplishments in the field of science, Narinder Singh had also taught and supervised the works of post graduate students, as well as having had published over 100 scientific papers and four books. Narinder Singh has also maintained a constant presence in universities such as the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz as a Regents Professor. In Stanford University, Narinder Singh was the Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development for seven years.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Born in Budapest in 1913, Amrita Sher-gil was the daughter of Sardar Umrao Singh Sher-gil Majithia, and her Hungarian mother Marie Antoinette Gottesmann. Because Marie Antoinette recognized her daughter’s interest and skills in the arts at a young age, Amrita was thus sent to the famous art school, the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. During her stay and study of the arts in Europe, Amrita studied and explored the arts of still-life, nude studies and portraits. Amrita’s artistic interests changed however, as soon as she entered India and saw the lower classes, the poor, and the desolate. Upon seeing such painful conditions, Amrita dedicated her paintings solely on the poverty-stricken peoples of India. And because she had been schooled in the western form of arts, Amrita’s lifework in India was much more unique in that she combined her Indian background and heritage, with that of her western training.
Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh: A great Sikh scholar who has published countless amounts of books and articles relating to Sikhism, Nikki-Guninder Kaur was born in India and then attended Stuart Hall, a Girl’s Prepatory School in the United States. After earning her BA from Wellesley College with a major in Philosophy and Religion, Nikki-Guninder moved on to earn an MA from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982, and then her PhD from the Temple University in 1987. In terms of her areas of expertise, there are a wide range of subjects in which Nikki-Guninder specializes in, from Sikhism, Eastern sexuality, and Indian women’s issues, to religion in the Western culture. When Nikki-Guninder launched her first book on Sikh aesthetics, she was accompanied by her father and the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, in order to celebrate. Currently, Nikki-Guninder is a Professor in the East Asian Studies Department at Colby College. In addition to her book on Sikh aesthetics, Nikki-Guninder has also written some amazing books on Sikhism including: “The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent,” her English translations on passages from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, as well as Dasam Granth in “The Name of my Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus,” “The Guru Granth Sahib: Its Physics and Metaphysics,” and the “Birth of the Khalsa.”
Sobha Singh (1901-1986): Born on November 29, 1901 in Gurdaspur, Sobha Singh began sketching and drawing at a very early age. Often argued to be one of the greatest painters that Punjab has produced, Sobha Singh’s reputation as a “divine painter” is certainly merited. After serving for the British Indian Army as a draughtsman, where he served in locations such as Iraq until 1923, Sobha Singh returned with a renewed zest for the arts. Upon his return, Sobha Singh opened up two of his own arts studios, one in Amritsar (1926), and the other in Delhi (1931). While in Delhi, Sobha Singh took part in a number of competitions and exhibitions, of which he received great recognition through the winning of several awards and medals. Some of Sobha Singh’s more famous works include those of the great Punjabi romances, “Sohni Mahiwal,” “Heer/Ranjha,” and “Sassi/Pannu,” as well as his works in dedication to the Sikh Gurus. As such, towards the end of his life, Sobha Singh relocated to a village at the top of the Himalayas called Andretta whereby he focused solely on the portraits and lives of the ten Sikh Gurus.
Manjit Bawa (1941-2008): Born in the village Dhuri, Punjab in 1941, Manjit always had a desire to work in the artistic field, and although he did not have the full support of his mother and father, he did have the support of his two brothers. Thus, he pursued his desires in choosing to study the fine arts in attending Delhi’s School of Art from 1958-1963. One of Manjit’s greatest mentors, and critics, was Abani Sen. Sen challenged Manjit produce sketches of the utmost qualities, no matter how long the process took. From 1964 to 1971, Manjit worked as a silkscreen printer in England; however, throughout his newfound job, Manjit continued to produce and study artwork. One of Manjit’s greatest dilemmas was the kind of art work he would produce, as he wanted to avoid the typical European styles of paintings. Thus, his Indian background came to his great advantage through his childhood influences with works such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, the Puranas, the poetry of Waris Shah, as well as the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Using such rich Indian texts as his muse, Manjit has created some beautiful canvasses including portraits of Ranjha, Krishna, the Hindu goddess Kali and the Hindu god Shiva. In addition to these influences, Manjit has also been heavily influenced by the poetic works of the Sufi philosophers. Manjit has also had the opportunity to displays his art through his own shows and exhibitions. For example, Manjit participated in the “Contemporary Indian Art” show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1982, as well as the “Modern Indian Painting” show at the Hirschom Museum in Washington, D.C. As of today, Manji works out of his two studios, the first in Dalhousie, India, and the other in Delhi, India.
The Singh Twins: Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, the British born, identical female twins, have certainly established themselves through their amazing artistic abilities. Although originally born and raised in London, the twins currently reside in northwestern England. After having attended the Liverpool University Art College, both Amrit and Rabindra were instructed by their mentor to not conform to traditional panting techniques, but rather to adopt their own culture and values in their paintings. The twins have certainly attained celebrity status through their famous artwork, and have thus, become a common name throughout the U.K. In addition to having published their first book “Twin Perspectives,” in 1999, the twins have also exhibited their paintings in Germany, Switzerland and France, as well as touring throughout North America and India. Some of their more famous works include a portrait of Princess Diana as well as a series of satirical paintings which mimic the style of advertising boards. The Twins are also known for their incorporating elements of South Asian traditions, as they aim to represent their own identities, as British, Sikhs, and artists.
Sikh Freedom Fighters
Shaheed Mewa Singh (1881-1915): Unlike Shaheed Bhagat and Uddham Singh, Mewa Singh was not necessarily a freedom fighter for India’s independence from Britain; but rather, a freedom fighter for equality and justice in his home of Canada. The early twentieth century in Canada were very tumultuous times in terms of the existence of racism in Canada. For many, the idea of keeping Canada “White Canada Forever,” were the predominant ideologies. And thus, in seeing all the travesties and injustices around him, Mewa Singh felt it necessary to take action. This simple Sikh temple member and Sri Guru Granth Sahib Narrator bared witness to the tragic Komagata Maru incident, and was a part of the large group of Sikhs who attempted to speak out against the injustices. Another incident Mewa Singh witnessed, and the one incident which affected him the most, was when Bela Singh Jain, an informer and worker for Inspector Hopkinson, began to shoot at the Khalsa Diwan Society Sikh Temple in Vancouver on September 6, 1914. As a result of this brutal incident, the President of the temple, Bhai Bhag Singh was killed. And while on trial, it was Inspector Hopkinson who came to the stand in defense of Bela Singh Jain, lying in order to protect his informant. As a result of these recurring, and horrible incidents led by racist ideologies, Mewa Singh shot and killed Inspector Hopkinson. Eventually, following his own trial, Mewa Singh was the first Sikh to be executed in Canada as he also became a Shaheed on January 11, 1915.
Shaheed Uddham Singh (1899-1940): Like Bhagat Singh, Uddham Singh also earned the title of “Shaheed” upon his trial, execution, and hanging at the hands of the British. But even before his most synonymous actions, Uddham Singh lived a very rich life. Born on December 26, 1899 in the state of Patiala, Punjab, Uddham Singh and his brother became orphans at a very young age and thus lived in the Central Khalsa Orphanage in Amritsar. However, upon passing his matriculation exams in 1918, Uddham Singh left the orphanage in order to pursue his career. Uddham Singh’s path as a revolutionary fighter began the day he witnessed the Jallianwala Bhag massacre on April 13, 1919, when a large group of Sikhs who had gathered to celebrate were Vaisakhi were brutally shot and killed under the leadership of the British General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. It was following this fateful day that Uddham Singh became a fighter for the cause of India’s freedom against Britain. Uddham Singh had also been influenced by the efforts of Bhagat Singh, to whom he often referred to as his “guru” or teacher. Because Uddham Singh was often harassed by the local police due to his connections with the freedom movement, Uddham Singh asserted a new identity and name as Ram Muhammad Singh Azad; thus recognizing and respecting all religious communities throughout India as one. The culmination of all of Uddham Singh’s efforts occurred on March 13, 1940, when he entered Caxton Hall in London and shot and killed Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who had been the governor of Punjab on the day of the Jallianwala Bhag massacre. For Uddham Singh, the shooting of Michael O’Dwyer symbolized all the efforts he had embarked on throughout his life; and as such, once those shots had been fired, he neither attempted to flee or defend his actions in anyway. As a result of the shooting, Uddham Singh was sentenced, put on trial, and eventually hung on July 31, 1940 at the Pentonville Prison in London, thus, like Bhagat Singh, earning him the title of “Shaheed.”
Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1907-1931): Born on September 27, 1907 in Lyallpur, Punjab, Bhagat Singh (the title “Shaheed” refers to his status as a martyr) was a prominent figure in the fight for Indian independence from Britain. Some of Bhagat Singh’s earliest efforts for independence began with him joining the Hindustan Republican Association. Eventually, he would become one of the leaders of this group and subsequently rename it to the HSRA, or Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. One of his more famous protests occurred while in prison, as he engaged in a 63 day fast in order to encourage equal rights for both British and Indian political prisoners like himself. The status of “Shaheed” was given to Bhagat Singh after he was hung by the British on March 31, 1931. The events leading up to his “shaheedi” began when veteran social activist Lala Lajpat Rai was brutally killed by the police chief during a non-violent silent protest he organized against the British. In turn, Bhagat Singh and a few of his colleagues organized a plot to have the police chief killed; unfortunately, an error was made, and the deputy superintendent of police, J.P Saunders was killed accidentally. Following this shooting, Bhagat Singh and his colleagues exploded a minor bomb in the British parliament, of which no one was hurt or injured purposely. Once Bhagat Singh’s connection to the shooting and death of Saunders was established, his fate was sealed as he was sentenced to be hung, thus becoming a “Shaheed.”.
Fauja Singh (1911-): At the age of ninety three, Fauja Singh became the oldest person to run in the London marathon. During the first part of his life, Fauja Singh used to jog around his farm in the Punjab area. And before fighting in the Second World War, Fauja competed in local sports competitions, of which he always came out as the victor. However, while raising his family, the domestic obligations took over as his hobby of running stopped. It wasn’t until Fauja Singh moved to London, where he once again regained his passion for running, and at the age of 90, he set a new record as the fastest runner in the Flora London Marathon. And rather than slowing with time, Fauja Singh has only become faster as he continues to break his own records. Because of the recognition he received, the Adidas company launched a campaign called “Impossible is Nothing,” of which Fauja Singh was used along the likes of David Beckham, Laila Aliand (daughter of Muhammad Ali), and rugby player Johnny Wilkinson. As a result of this campaign, not were billboards adorned with Fauja Singh’s picture seen across the United Kingdom, but his picture was also seen on television advertisements.
Milkha Singh (1929 or 1935): Milkha Singh represented India in the 1960 and 1964 Summer Olympics held in Rome and Tokyo. During the Olympics in Rome, Milkha Singh broke records in the 400 metre dash. Indeed, the nickname “Flying Sikh” is certainly merited as Milka also was the gold medal champion during the 1958 Commonwealth Games, as well as winning the gold medal during the Asian Games in 1962. Born in Lyallpur on October 8, 1935, Milkha Singh’s popularity was at its peak during the summer Olympics in Rome, not just because of his athletic appearance, but because of his physical appearance. The world had never seen an athlete with a beard and long hair, and those in Rome certainly had no concept of what Sikhism was. Thus, when Milkha Singh entered the stadium, audiences cheered enthusiastically, fascinated by this unique looking figure.
Captain Manmohan Singh Kohli (1931-): Distinguished Mountaineer, Leader of the First record making Expedition to Mount Everest Captain Manmohan Singh Kohli was born on 11 December 1931 at Haripur in the North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan ). A member of fourteen major mountaineering expeditions, he led the historic Everest expedition in 1965. Captain Kohli was Vice-President and president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for fourteen years. He spent forty-two years in the Indian Navy, ITBP and Air India , and promoted adventure tourism in the Himalayas, Lakshadweep and Andamans. He was instrumental in introducing white water rafting by collaborating with Sir Edmund Hillary in organizing the ‘From Ocean to Sky’ Ganges expedition in 1977. Among the numerous honours he has received are the Padma Bhushan, the Arjuna Award, the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Gold Medal of the Indian Mountaining Foundation. He was made an Honorary Commissioner of Boy Scouts by Dr. Zakir Hussain, the then Vice President of India. He has written twenty books, among which are Nine Atop Everest, The Himalayas : Playground of the Gods and Miracles of Ardaas.
Maj. HPS Ahluwalia (1936-): Distinguished Mountaineer, first Sikh to Scale Mount Everest Born in Simla, Maj. HPS Ahluwalia, his two sisters, and his younger brother grew up in Simla. His father was employed as a Civil Engineer in the Central Public Works Department. Harry attended St. Joseph’s Academy and St. George’s College, Mussorie. There, he discovered his interest in photography and rock climbing too. Side by side of the Graduation course Harry’s interest in Climbing rocks get increased. Some of the places where Harry did his rock climbing are Garhwal, Sikkim, Nepal and Ladakh Himalayas MOUNT EVEREST, Conquered Mount Everest on 29th May, 1965.
Bishen Singh Bedi (1946-): Born on September 25, 1946 in Amritsar, Punjab, Bishan Singh Bedi is one of the more famous contemporary athletes, not just in Punjab, but as representative of India as a whole. As the former captain of the Indian cricket team, Bishan Singh was involved in some 22 international test matches. Following his many successes as the Indian captain, Bishan Singh also briefly coached the Indian national team in 1990. If anything, Bishan Singh is most synonymous with his bluntness when discussing modern day cricket, often critiquing modern day cricketers and players.
Monty Panesar (1982-): Yet another rising young star in the field of cricket, is Monty Panesar. Born on April 25, 1982, Monty currently plays on the England cricket team. As a player on the England cricket team, what attracts most to Monty is his traditional dress in terms of him wearing a patka, the smaller version of the Sikh turban. Although at first, Monty’s skills in cricket were less than adequate, thus earning him the title of “monty python,” today, Monty is often recognized for is great skills by British commentators, as well as coaches. After some of his best performances during the Ashes and Commonwealth Bank series, Monty was selected to play during World Cup in 2007. In overcoming his initial nerves in such a great match, Monty proved himself as a great up and comer in a game against Bangladesh. In addition to his professional career in cricket, Monty also holds a degree in computer science.
Hockey Heroes: Though many would believe otherwise, the sport of hockey has a predominant role in the lives of Indians. Thus, it is not surprising that Indians, and especially Sikhs, have had such great success when playing hockey in the Olympics. For example, during the Mexico Olympic Games of 1968, out of a team of 20 players from team India, 15 of those consisted of turbaned Sikhs. During the games in Mexico, under the captainship of Balbir Singh Kular, India won a gold medal. During the final game where India won 2-0, they were pitted against the country of Belgium. And with the exception of the goal keeper, all ten players representing Indian were Sikhs. Some other Indian successes in hockey occurred during the Asian Games held in 1966, where India won the gold once again, by defeating its arch rival, Pakistan.
Ravindar Singh Somi: Distinguished Scout of India, Ravindar Singh Somi was born on September 25, 1944 at Landaur, Mussoorie in Uttarakhand, a Himalayan State in the north of India. Somi has a rare career in the Boy Scout Movement ascending from a Cub Scout to the highest levels of training in scoutcraft. He was admitted into the scout fraternity as a cub scout and later as a boy scout. Somi ran independently open groups namely Doon Valley Cub Pack, Adersh Scout Troop and the Doon Hills Rover Crew and rose to become Assistant District Scout Commissioner for Dehradun. He received Scout Wood Badge and Cub Wood Badge under the training scheme of Gilwell Park , London at a very young age. He was given the hon’ble charge of the Deputy Camp Chief attached to the General Headquarters of the All India Boy Scouts Association. He has been the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Association throughout and contributed richly to its publications. He was awarded Long Service Medal, Medal of Merit and the Silver Star of India in the Indian Scouting. Somi has also actively been involved in Camping Movement in India and was the Hony Secretary of the Indian Camping Association. He was founder- member of the Climbers & Explores Club of India and edited its journal Abhiyatri for many years. His latest edited book is The Incredible Himalayas. He is the Director of Himalayan Environment Trust, and worked closely with Sir Edmund Hillary. He also is the honorary editor of the ‘Himalayan Online’, an e-journal of the Himalayan Environment Trust.
Baldev Singh (1902-1961): When India finally achieved independence from Britain, and the partition of Pakistan and Punjab occurred in 1947, it was Baldev Singh who was chosen as a representative of the Sikh and Punjabi interests. Born on July 11, 1902 in the Rupar district of Punjab, Baldev’s career began following his education at the Khalsa College in Amritsar. Following his education, Baldev Singh worked in his father’s firm in the steel industry, of which he became the eventual director of. Baldev Singh’s political career began when he won an election to the Punjab provincial assembly in 1937 as a candidate of the Panthic party. Following the independence of India, Baldev Singh was elected as the first Defence Minister of India. During his role as India’s Defence Minister, Baldev Singh also served in the first Kashmir war between Pakistan and India. In addition to his role in the Kashmir/India wars, Baldev Singh was also in charge of leading the India Army in ending the communal violence in Punjab and West Bengal. Later in his life, and in 1952, Baldev Singh became a member of the Parliament of India under the Congress Party. During his stint in politics, Baldev Singh was not only greatly respected by the Akali Dal, but he also continued to represent the needs and concerns of the Sikh community in India; and as such, he was re-elected in 1957.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (1932-): When Dr. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister of India on May 22, 2004, India embarked on a new history as he became the first non-Hindu Prime Minister of India, of which there is an 80% majority versus the 2% population of Sikhs. Born on September 26, 1932 in Gah, Punjab, Dr. Manmohan Singh began his career in academics upon earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Panjab University in 1952 and 1954. Indeed, even prior to his political career, Dr. Manmohan Singh was very accomplished in the academic fields of the arts and sciences. Indeed, Dr. Manmohan Singh was the recipient of honorary degrees in Literature from Panjab University, Chandigarh University, Guru Nanak University, Delhi University, as well as many others. In the field of law, Dr. Manmohan Singh received honorary degrees from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and Canada. In his younger years, Dr. Manmohan Singh received awards such as: the Uttar Chand Kapur Medal from the Panjab University for his standing in the MA program in 1954, the Wright’s prize for his distinguished performance at St. John’s College in Cambridge in 1956 and 1957; the Adam Smith Prize from the University of Cambridge in 1956, and the Padma Vibhushan Prize in 1987. In terms of his recognition during his political career, Dr. Manmohan Singh has been awarded with the Euromoney award for Finance Minister of the Year in 1993; the Asiamoney Award for Finance Minister of the year for Asia both in 1993 and 1994; and the Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award of the Indian Science Congress Association in 1994-95. In terms of his career thus far as the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh has already set his reputation for being one of the most positively influential Prime Minister’s that India has bared witness to in a long time.
Bhagat Puran Singh (1904-1992): Born in the village of Rajewal in the District of Ludhiana on June 4, 1904, Bhagat Puran Singh came from a Brahmin family, but on seeing the generosities contained within Sikhism, he converted to the Khalsa. Many who know of Bhagat Puran Singh and his selfless contributions to the Sikh community in India would agree whole heartedly with the statement that “Bhagat Puran Singh was to Sikhism what Mother Theresa was to Catholicism.” Although Bhagat Puran Singh’s greatest, and certainly most known accomplishment was the establishment of the Pingalwara in 1947, there were many other causes he advocated for. For example, because of his background in writing, publishing, and the environment, Bhagat Puran Singh was a great advocate on the global dangers of environmental pollution and soil erosion. In recognition of his contributions to society, Bhagat Puran Singh was awarded with the Padamshri Award in 1979. In terms of his greatest contribution, Bhagat Puran Singh created Pingalwara, a place of refuge and hospice for the mentally and terminally ill. In India, such peoples are considered outcastes, and it is these people who need the most help. As such, Bhagat Puran Singh’s contributions continue to this day as Pingalwara continues to function for the betterment of society, and to help those less fortunate.
Sant Teja Singh Ji (1927-2014): Born on January 17, 1927 in the district of Ludhiana, Sant Teja Singh Ji was educated in Sikhism at a very young age. After completing his primary education, Sant Teja Singh Ji learned to recite kirtan under the supervision of Ghani Gyan Singh. After his schooling, Sant Teja Singh Ji settled in Rara Sahib under the patronage of another great Sant, Isher Singh Ji. Seeing the great devotion which Teja Singh exhibited, Sant Isher Singh put Teja Singh in charge of the Guru Ka Langar (the community kitchen). Sant Teja Singh Ji was in charge of the langar at Rara Sahib for six years. In addition to devoting himself to the Sikh “Bani’s,” the “Nitnem,” and “Panj Granthi,” Sant Teja Singh Ji also learned most of the tenth Guru’s “Dasam Granth” by heart. Following his mentor, Sant Isher Singh’s death, Sant Teja Singh Ji was put in charge of the services at the Bhora Sahib Sikh temple. And in recognition of his great dedication to Sikhism, all the religious organizations in the area, as well as the chiefs of the various neighbouring Sikh communities gave Sant Teja Singh Ji the authority to take care of every aspect of the Gurdwara Karamsar Rara Sahib.
Spoony Singh (1922-2006): Born Sapuran Singh Sundher on October 20, 1922 in Jalandhar, Punjab, Spoony was only two years old when he and his family first migrated to Vancouver, B.C. After living in Victoria where his father worked in the lumber mill industry, Spoony Singh also began to attend college; however, once his father developed asthma, Spoony was also forced to work in the sawmills and timber camps at the young age of seventeen. Spoony’s business and entrepreneurial skills shone through as he would eventually own his own sawmill and logging company, and also own, and put together his own amusement park. Eventually, Spoony was approached by a fellow businessman in Victoria who suggested he should open a wax museum in the Victoria area. Rather than in Victoria however, Spoony attempted twice to open wax museums, one in Solvang, California, and the other in San Diego. After these initial attempts, Spoony opened the Hollywood Guinness World of Records Museum. Spoony’s museum had built up so much excitement up to its official opening, that it was mentioned on television by the likes of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope. And following his death at the age of 83 on October 18th, there was great news coverage across the U.S as the coverage was written in the New York Times, as well as other media outlets.