The Singh Sabha Movement
The Singh Sabha Movement
This was the origin of the Singh Sabha movement. The society described itself as Singh Sabha, founded in Amritsar 1872, it set out to protect the Sikhism from invading interests. The Singh Sabha held meeting and led protest marches against the Hindu ‘anti-Sikh’ orators. The group organised meeting to educate Sikhs of the values of Sikhism which had been dented and neglected , to reveal the teachings of the Guru’s. The Singh Sabha also started the production of religious literature and laid the foundations of a campaign against illiteracy.
Bhai Ditt Singh
A few years later in 1879 a branch of Singh Sabha was founded in Lahore. The leaders were educated, energetic, middle class and politically aware. Bhai Gurmukh Singh, a professor at the Oriental College of Lahore was its secretary. He brought into the movement two veteran preachers , Bhai Ditt Singh Giani and Bhai Jawara Singh. Both of these preachers became extremely popular due to their sincerity of belief in the true doctrine of the Guru’s and their sense of mission and zeal to serve their faith. Inspired by Gurmukh Singh , Bhai Dit Singh devoted his whole time to propagate the Sikh faith, writing over 25 books to dispel ignorance about the religion and its history. During this time Bhai Kanh Singh of Nabha, a notable scholar was contacted . Bhai Kanh Singh wrote various books on Sikhism, his most notable work being Mahan Kosh (encyclopaedia of Sikhism) and Ham Hindu Nahi (We are not Hindus). Bhai Vir Singh founded the Khalsa Tract Society , he contributed to the purity of Sikh thought and instilled faith the the Khalsa traditions by writing various books, his most famous being Kalghidar Chamatkaar.
The governor of Punjab Sir Robert Egerton became the patron of the Singh Sabha. The Singh Sabha began to open in towns and villages and started to send out missionaries to remoter parts of the region. They also formed alliances with Sikh regiments and increased the production of the religious literature.
It was at this time that the Sikhs felt an urgent need to have a translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in English. After a hectic search Bhai Gurmukh Singh persuaded Mr Max Arthur Macauliffe of the Indian civil service working as a divisional judge to undertake the task on behalf of the Sikh community. Both moral and financial support was given. Under the guidance of Bhai Kanh Singh, Mr Macauliffe spent the next 15 years translating Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. By 1909 the great work was complete and published by the Oxford University press.
In 1883 the Amritsar and Lahore Singh Sabhas tried to merge but were unsuccessful. The reason of the failure was the stark contrast between the two groups. On one hand there was the Amritsar group led by Baba Khem Singh, who did little to help the lower castes and suffered from having strong ideals in elitism. On the other hand the Lahore group was more radical and pro-lower caste. They were more democratic and believed in equality and representation. The contrast between the two was obvious and the Amritsar Singh Sabha refused links with the Lahore group.
This dispute turned nasty and open hostility broke out between the two groups, this resulted with Baba Khem Singh taking Giani Dit Singh to court over a play he had written called Swapan Natak (The Dream Play) which was thought to be a veiled attack on Baba Khem Singh. In due course most of the Singh Sabhas and devout Sikhs came to realise the righteous stand taken by the Lahore group and Gurmukh Singh and Bhai Dit Singh for the Singh cause.
Bhai Santokh Singh
The original founders of the Singh Sabha Movement were sanatan or ‘Traditional’ Sikhs believing that the paanth certainly consisted of the followers of the Gurus, but had no problem with the Hindu traditions that were creeping in. There were the Sabha of Amritsar of 1873.
The radical Sikhs were the Tat Khalsa centred at Lahore. For the Tat Khalsa it was impossible to be a Hindu and A Sikh, as those of the Sanatan persuasion maintained. The only correct style for a Sikh was that of a Khalsa and although they did not cast out the non-Khalsa variety, they explicitly adopted the view that those non-Khalsa Sikhs were on there way to becoming fully fledged Sikh. In other words they were said to be aspiring to become members of the Khalsa, that is they were Sehaj-dhari ‘s or slow learners.
Ultimately the victory went to the Tat Khalsa and since the early years of the twentieth century Sikhs have been progressively learning three things. First, Sikhs are no Hindus, secondly Khalsa membership should be the objective of all Sikhs and thirdly, the Khalsa membership requires obedience to the Rehat.
Founders of the Sanatan movement were predominantly conservative Sikhs, concerned to sustain and protect the society in which they had been nurtured, this was a society which permitted a variety of Sikh identities and different modes of worship. The Tat Khalsa strongly disagreed with the actions of the Amritsar Singh Sabha. Those with radical opinion drew strength from the educational developments in Lahore. For the Tat Khalsa Sikhism could not possibly be as broad as Sanatan Sikhs believed. Emphatically Sikhs were not Hindus, and Hindu tradition was not what Sikhs should follow.
This dispute simply helped the Arya Samajists, with their leader venting out anti-sikh rhetoric. The threat was real and realising this the two groups merged. Through the Khalsa Diwan it was desired to set up a Sikh college. Cleverly the Singh Sabha aligned themselves with the British in order to gain funds for their educational programme. Some British well wishers even raised money through committees in England. In 1892 enough money was raised to lay the foundation stone of the Khalsa College. The collage made the teaching of Gurmukhi and Sikh scripture compulsory. The college was founded with the notion to challenge the ‘anti-Sikh’ wave that Punjab was harbouring.
Sikh values were propagated through Punjabi newspapers, the Khalsa Tract Society and the Khalsa Diwan. In 1899 the weekly journal Khalsa Akbar was started. The main goal of this publication was to educate Sikhs about politics and Sikh history. Over the course of time more and more Sikhs saw the merits of the view point of the Lahore Singh Sabha and threw their lot with it. With pressure applied by the Sikh masses, idols that had been placed in the precincts of the Golden Temple in the days of the Hindu onslaught were removed. Later, in 1920 the practice of caste discrimination in the Golden Temple was stopped, due to pressure from the masses the priests has no option but to accept all offerings from all people.