Reaffirmation of Sikh Values
(1890 A.D - 1940 A.D )

After the decline of Sarkar Khalsa in 1850's, Khalsa population dwindeled very fast. There were over 1.5 million Sikhs when Ranjit Singh was ruling (1830's) but in the first survey conducted by British they found Sikhs to be numbered approximately 780,000 in Punjab. This survey furthers reiterates that Sikh numbers have gone down due to people being assimiliating into Hinduism. Those people who became khalsa during Ranjit Singh's time to take advantage through him, now left Khalsa. Hindu reform movements led by many reformists like Arya Samajis, etc all over India and Punjab were striking hard and zealously working to cut the numbers of Khalsa.

Dayanand, a Baniya Swami from Gujrat launched a movement called ARYA SAMAJ, which shunned Idol Worship but mocked Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind singh. Dayanand's ideals could be summed up in few words.

  • Idol Woship is bad.
  • Hindi is the only language of everyone in India.
  • Muslims can be converted to hindusim after Shuddhi rite.
  • Only way to worship is through old "Aryan" ways of Havan
  • Widows can be married.
  • Marriage between different castes is OK.
Even though many of these ideals are good and are in consistent with Sikhism. Dayanand made a grave mistake when he criticized Guru Nanak by calling him "a Fool". Anyway, Arya Samaj was only successful in Punjab where many Punjabi Hindus converted to Arya Samaj. Thus sowing the seeds of future confrontation.

Movements like Arya Samaj only helped Sikhs to reaffirm their values. Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala on September 7, 1890. In the address presented to the Maharaja, it said:

In peacetime, the Sikhs mostly are land-cultivators and
 artisans— poor men for the most part—and the light of
 western education and civilization has not reached them 
in their remote and ignorant villages. Lethargy has fallen 
upon the people. The beginnings of disintegration threaten. 
The religious faith in the Timeless God, once received 
with enthusiasm from the great Nanak and the sacred Gurus 
who followed him, is no longer the sustaining power it was. 
Even the few Khalsa students who come forth from the recognized
 colleges of the Punjab exhibit a tendency to despise and 
abandon the religious and civil traditions of their fathers, 
instead of becoming patriotic leaders to guide their people 
to higher planes of enlightened usefulness. The great 
educational institutions of the Province provide culture 
for "leisured" and well-to-do subjects of the Crown, and 
show even the less-favoured youth among Hindus and Mohammadans
 the way to emoluments in Government's services, at the 
Bar, and elsewhere. It is owing, however, to no want of 
energy on the part of the Sikhs that they have failed more 
largely to take advantage of these institutions, as may be 
seen from their readiness to join board and indigenous 
schools near their homes; but partly because of their 
traditionary surroundings (mainly agricultural), and 
partly because of their poverty, Sikh boys have hitherto 
found little opportunity for joining the larger schools 
and colleges, thus working their way to intellectual, moral 
and material advancement. The result is that the Sikh 
community is very poorly represented in the learned 
profession; and in posts of honour and responsibility 
in the civil administration. Sikhs now serving in the 
British army see their sons left in their native villages, 
far from the tide of civilization, which is being taken at 
the flood by the rising generation of other communities.
 Besides this the purely secular education imparted in public
 schools is calculated, under existing circumstances, to
 slowly obliterate the distinctive characteristics of 
the Sikhs, to check the development of the qualities which 
enabled them to attain to a proud position, and to merge 
them finally in the general mass of the surrounding population.

Thus, by 1890's Sikh effort was to create institutions which will strengthen Sikhism. Efforts were at last succeeded when decision to create the first Institution of Sikhs, Khalsa college Amritsar was agreed upon by all parties. Sir James Lyall, Governor of Punjab was invited to put the foundation-stone of the Khalsa College on March 5,1892. The teaching started with the opening on October 22, 1893, of middle school classes. This is how the report describes the inaugural ceremonies:

The Khalsa School was opened on the 22nd October at 
Amritsar in the late Pandit Bihari Lal's house near 
the Hall Gate. The religious part of the opening ceremony 
was conducted a day earlier in the spacious Hall of the school
premises, with great enthusiasm.  Asa-diVar and other sacred
hymns were sung by a selected body of trained musicians, 
and karahprasad was freely distributed. There was a very 
large gathering of native gentlemen present on the occasion,
and they all rose to offer prayers to the Timeless God and
to ask Him to grant prosperity to the new institution.
After the ceremony was over, a procession was formed of 
those present, and the whole gathering consisting of about
one thousand gentlemen moved, singing hymns, to the Town
Hall where a public meeting was already arranged for. The 
spacious Hall was full, and many had to remain standing in 
the verandah and on the road. 

The Singh Sabha movement made a deep impact on Sikh psyche. Sikhs understood that need of the hour was to protect their identity. Khalsa now was facing a different kind of threat, earlier Khalsa had faced military and persecution threat against its beliefs by Mughals. Now the threats were at the core beliefs of Khalsa, against Punjabi language, against Guru Nanak, against right to keep hair. Singh Sabha urged the Sikh youth to come back to Sikh ideals. Youth leaders like Kartar Singh Jhabbar used to preach in rural Punjab to stop Sikh youths from Drinking alcohol, and other wrong activities. Stimulated by the Singh Sabha preaching, the Sikh youth began to assemble for religious discussion . In 1891 was formed what came to be called the Khalsa Vidyarthi Sabha or the Sikh Students Club. This association of Sikh young men, the first of its kind, was established at Amritsar on the initiative of Dr Sundar Singh Sodhbans. The Sabha used to congregate every Saturday. The members would thereafter go to the Harimandir and circumambulate the sacred pool chanting hymns from the Guru Granth. They set up special programmes to mark the anniversaries connected with the lives of the Gurus. But Golden Temple management least appreciated their fervour. On the occasion of their annual meeting in September 1893, the students set out from Bunga Mananwalian reciting holy songs. They first went to the Akal Takht to offer ardas, but Bhai Multana Singh Ardasia refused to lead the prayer for them. He rejected the request for the reason that the young men were in sympathy with the Singh Sabha and had written in a local newspaper disparagingly about the Golden Temple priests.

Singh Sabha started a movement to free gurdwaras from the control of hereditory mahants. The Mahants were not only harassing the pilgrims but also going against the basic philosophy of Sikhism. Smoking, Idol Worshipping, drinking, abuse, etc was common at these pilgrims center under the influence of these mahants. Singh Sabha declared to free these gurdwaras through non-violent means. By 1928 almost all the Gurdwaras in Punjab were freed from the control of Mahants, more than 5000 Sikhs were martyred by these mahants, directly or indirectly. At Nankana Sahib Gurdwara , Mahant Narain Das, hired mercenaries to fire indiscriminate at the group of Singh Sabha members who had come to take control of the Gurdwara, about 200 were killed by firing, rest were burned alive by the mahant. Later he was punished by British government.

The affirmation in Sikh values played a great role in this period of 1890's to 1930's when Sikhs turned back to Khalsa and basic philosophy of Sikhism. Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee was established, which elected its officers to administer the gurdwaras all over Punjab and many other parts of country. Akali party later came out of Singh Sabha movement.


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