Sikh Scholar: Professor Sahib Singh

Sikh Scholar: Professor Sahib Singh

Professor Sahib Singh has been one of the foremost proponents of the study of Sikh scriptures and traditions. He was a scholar par excellence and spread the universal message of Sikhism with great clarity. Although deeply religious but condemned ritualistic practices. His interpretation of the Sikh religion in a logical manner is reflected in more than 40 of his books, greatly contributing to Sikh studies and was thus awarded D.Litt(Hons) by Punjab University, Patiala.

Sahib Singh was born on 16th Feb 1892 in Fatehvali Village in the district of Sialkot (in present day Pakistan) to Heeranand and Nihal Dei. His parents were sincere, devoted, and diligent persons, who struggled to make ends meet. Out of the many children born to them, none survived  so when Sahib Singh was born, they put a magical thread on one side of his nasal wing and named him Nathu Ram.

Nathu Ram (Sahib Singh) was academically bright and performed brilliantly in primary and middle school but faced multiple challenges during higher studies due to conditions of extreme poverty. These financial constraints were known to his high school teacher Pandit Shiv Dayal who was impressed by young Sahib and pleaded with his father to let him study further.

Due to his school being far, Nathu Ram and his close friend Tulsi Ram traveled on foot. On these journeys they used to come across Sikh soldiers whose appearance and attire impressed the duo. One fine day, Nathu Ram’s cousin who had earlier turned into a sanyasi with his head tonsured, came to meet him. This sanyasi had now turned into a sturdy Sikh man. This further added to the resolve of Nathu Ram and he decided  to become Sikh immediately. They renamed themselves as Sahib Singh and Jagjodh Singh. They were initiated into Sikhism upon taking Pahul(Amrit) in the nearby village where they used to meet the Sikh soldiers. Singh’s village played host to many religious debates and upon attendance was fascinated by the Sanskrit espoused by the Arya Samajist Hindus. He resolved to learn this language instead of Persian during high school and attained proficiency in the language.

After completing his 10th grade, Sahib Singh applied for a job vacancy at the post office where he was preferred over the other candidates due to his proficiency in languages such as Persian, Gurumukhi, Devanagari, Lande and English. Working at the post office, he met one of his school friends, Md. Ashraf who had graduated from Pansoor and joined a college in Lahore, Pakistan. Ashraf used to narrate his experiences of college life which filled Singh with a burning desire to pursue higher education as well. When he came to know that one of his beneficent teachers, Pandit Vitsta Prasad was in Dayal College(Lahore) he contacted him to get admission in the college. Being his favorite student, Pandit Ji felt that this boy was capable of achieving great heights. Thus, he offered him complete support from clothes to books to admission fees.

After graduating from college in June 1916, Singh joined Khalsa College, Gujranwala as a lecturer in Sanskrit. His special aptitude for Sanskrit and knowledge of the language proved to be superior than the others. 

Professor’s interest in Sikh linguistics was sparked on the occasion of the Martyrdom Day of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib on 20th December 1920 during an Akhand Path (non stop reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib) in the college.He was one of the readers, and came across a word that appeared three times in a verse in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, but was spelt differently each time. He was befuddled and deeply intrigued, so as soon as he got home he began to explore the principles of grammar employed in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Hereafter, he started analysing different shabads with respect to their spellings, to realize their deeper meanings represented by the variation in spelling. 

Professor developed an acquaintance with Master Tara Singh (Headmaster at Khalsa School, Laylapur, also the first Secretary of the SGPC established in 1920). Upon the shuttering of Khalsa College, Professor found himself working with the SGPC as Assistant Secretary on the recommendation of Master Tara Singh.

Subsequently Professor  and 8 other learned men of the town of Gujranwala, formed an association for the study of Gurbani. In the years 1927-28, they verbally translated and understood the entire text of Guru Granth Sahib. In 1929, a little while after re-opening Sahib Singh was appointed Professor in Khalsa College, Amritsar and was respectfully referred to as Professor. Over the course of time he wrote his seminal book on the rules of grammar in Gurbani which was published in 1939. Shri Darbar Sahib Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee awarded this book as the most authentic book on Gurbani grammar for which he was presented Rs 1000 at Shri Akal Takht Sahib on 13th September 1939.

It is generally said – to be perplexed is the beginning to being wise. To the merit of our high degree of literacy we dismiss the gift of being perplexed as a sign of intellectual inferiority. Not much effort is made to go deeper into any subject which aids in hiding our ignorance. Hence we tend to discard the knowledge we are unable to comprehend as unscientific and unworthy of consideration. 

This characteristic of Professor Sahib Singh gave to the Sikh society another treasure in the form of his research which resulted in the Compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. For many years during the early 20th century there had been building traditional beliefs based on the fanciful stories propagated by the Sikh historians on the compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib by the 5th Nanak, Guru Arjan Dev. In his book Professor Sahib brought to light various facets as to how Guru Nanak himself had collected the Bhagat Banis, which along with his own compositions were passed to his successor. Professor intricately discusses the common words in Shabads used by each of the following Gurus. He theorizes this phenomena could have taken place if they had the writings of the previous Guru in their possession. His book also speaks about the logic behind the use of Punjabi as the language used by various Bhagats. It further sheds light upon the several myths masquerading one of which was around the copies of the Guru Granth Sahib and how, where it was taken for binding and when it was installed at the Harmandir Sahib . We must acknowledge the monumental benefit to Sikh society Professor Singh’s work has brought and we all make it a point to go through the research done for the Panth. In Gurmukhi this book is ‘ Adi Birh Bare’ and translated into english ‘About Compilation Of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’  by Dalip Singh a Sikh scholar.

Even post-retirement he continued to make valuable contributions to the Sikh Panth. In 1953, he completed an anthology on the life history of the Sikh Gurus which required extensive research keeping in strict accordance with the principles of the Guru Granth Sahib.

He started the gargantuan task of word to word explanation of SGGS into an even simpler current day Gurmukhi language  from 1st January 1957 and completed it in 1961. After quite a few health and publishing hurdles, he could print the first volume of Sri Guru Granth Darpan on 26th June 1962 and the remaining 9 volumes were printed by November 1964. Till today his explanations are considered to be the most authentic for deeper research work as well as for the daily reader of the Guru Granth Sahib. Most scholars and preachers always mention this as their source of information.

In 1966 on the Tri-centenary birth celebrations of  Guru Gobind Singh, he published the life of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. 

Prof. Sahib Singh’s work covers a range of topics in Sikhism leaving no stone unturned in his research. The wealth in the form of his works will always be a treasure and be a beacon for the future generations of the Sikhs to understand Sikhism in a proper perspective.

A few of his popular publications are listed as under:

Babaaniya Kahaniya

Sarbat Da Bhalla

Sikh Panth De Mahan Jarnail Banda Singh Bahadur

Simran Di Barkata

Sikh Sidko Na Hare

Sooraj Prakash

Sadacharak Lekh Bhagats

Japji Sahib |Sukhmani Sahib | Asa Di Var | Sidhgost steeks.

On 29th October 1977, Professor Singh passed away leaving the Sikh Panth with contributions that would allow generations to better engage with Sikhi.

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