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Bhai Ardaman Singh

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A Man For All Seasons

 

A Book Review by ROOPINDER SINGH

 

THOUGHTS OF BHAI ARDAMAN SINGH, compiled by Bhai Ashok Singh. Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1999. ISBN 81-85815-11-9. 250 Pages. Price: Rs. 395.

 

Editor's Note: The following is a short bio on Ardaman Singh from The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism (Editor-in-Chief: Harbans Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala, 2002):

ARDAMAN SINGH, BHAYEE (1899-1976), of pious lineage, was born on 20 September 1899 (father: Bhayee Arjan Singh; mother: Devinder Kaur) at Bagarian, in present-day Sangrur district of the Punjab. The family traces its descent from Bhai Rup Chand, a devout Sikh of the time of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) and has, for the past several generations, been a leading religious family among the Sikhs.

For his schooling, Ardaman Singh was not sent to a Chiefs College, as was then customary for aristocratic families, but to the Khalsa School at Ludhiana. He took his B.A. degree from Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1918. He left off his law studies midway to lend his father a helping hand in his religious work.

Ardaman Singh studied music under famous musicologists of the day, such as Mahant Gajja Singh, Bhai Javala Singh and Bhai Ghasita, and the Sikh texts with his father, Bhayee Arjan Singh himself.

In 1923, he was appointed an honorary magistrate in place of his father. He went on trips to different parts of India to preach Sikh tenets and administer to seekers the vows of the Khalsa. He delivered lectures on different aspects of Sikhism at public meetings, as well as at academic institutions. As it happened, his last lecture of a series, hosted by the Panjab University, Chandigarh, was delivered on 23 December 1976, just two days before he died.

Besides lecturing and administering religious rites and ceremonies on important occasions, Bhayee Ardaman Singh participated in Sikh activity in a variety of ways. He helped start the Sikh Academy of Religion and Culture, Patiala, of which he was invited to be president.  

He was president of Gurmat Academy, as well as of the Singh Sabha, Shimla. He was closely associated with the Singh Sabha centenary celebrations. He was assigned (by the Singh Sabha Centenary Committee and The Shromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee) to update the Rahit Maryada or the Sikh Code of Conduct. He could not complete the draft during his lifetime.

He was a leading participant in the Dasam Granth Gosti organized by Man Singh, editor of the Delhi weekly, Mansarovar. The purpose of the Gosti was to resolve the controversy about the authorship of certain compositions included in the Dasam Granth, or the Book of the Tenth Master (Guru Gobind Singh). Ardaman Singh was strongly of the view that all the compositions in the Dasam Granth were not from the pen of Guru Gobind Singh.   

Bhayee Ardaman Singh died on 25 December 1976 at Chandigarh, due to a cardiac obstruction, and was cremated the next day at his native village, Bagarian. 

[Dharam Singh]

 

Book Review 

Bhai Ardaman Singh of the House of Bagrian is hard to define as a person. A man steeped in tradition, he projected himself through the modern idiom.

Born in 1899, he passed away in 1976, having seen the transition from feudal India, of which he was very much a part, to an independent, socialist India. He was among the towering personalities who dominated the socio-religious canvas of Punjab for a significant part of the twentieth century.

And what a personality he was, as were some of his colleagues and contemporaries! Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Principal Teja Singh, Giani Gian Singh, Bawa Hari Krishan Singh  -  they dominated the intellectual and social ethos of Punjab of the time. They would often get together at Bagrian House to discuss matters and exchange ideas.

This was the time when differences were resolved with civility, when people agreed to disagree with grace.

Bhai Ardaman Singh was a scion of a family that traced its roots to Bhai Rup Chand, who was blessed by Guru Hargobind. Ardaman Singh's father, Bhai Arjan Singh, had a pre-eminent position in the Sikh society of his day and the son managed to adapt to changing circumstances with aplomb.

He expressed himself with clarity and forcefulness, which can be seen in his collection of writings, Thoughts of Bhai Ardaman Singh, compiled by his son, Bhai Ashok Singh. He vehemently opposed the propensity of some scholars of Sikhism to base their works on the research and findings of other scholars. A proponent of an independent Sikh religious identity, Bhai Ardaman Singh was steadfast in opposing "brahminical influences" on Sikhism.

What, then, is his concept of a Sikh?                  

"Sikhs, as a whole, are known as the Panth. The Panth includes all sorts of Sikhs, whether perfect or imperfect, novice or fully responsible, Sehajdhari or Amritdhari. Anyone who believes in the Guru and Gurbani and has faith in no one else, cannot be denied to be a Sikh and, therefore, is a member of the Panth. For every Sikh, there is a bar.

"Once he or she crosses this bar, he (she) is elevated to the selection grade, and after having received Amrit, he (she) becomes a Khalsa, a member of the Akal Purkh's fauj (army of God) ... those who surrender their lives and are tested and consecrated with the sword, a class of God-conscious men, saint-warriors, out to protect the good and spread goodness and punish evil-doers and extirpate evil".

Whether he is exploring historical aspects of the religion or expounding on various concepts central to the faith, the author comes across as a believer well-versed in Gurbani and Sikh lore. He quotes extensively from the scriptures and is an ardent advocate of an independent Sikh identity  -  be it religious or cultural.

It is interesting to note what he has to say on the concept of Maryada.

"There is no special spiritual sanctity attached to Maryada in Sikhism. But it is like the Constitution of a civilized and organized government of a country, to which loyalty is sworn. It has been formed and has evolved from time to time by the Sikhs as a whole, known as the Panth.

"It is the point around which the whole organization revolves and keeps together. Without a Constitution or rules and regulations, no society or individual can properly function. Without this regulation, everything becomes a total chaos. It is a matter of strategy for protection and advancement of the Sikhs, to co-ordinate and integrate and keep them on the Path.

"Maryada has evolved and changed according to the requirements, needs and conditions through which the Panth has passed. It will have to adapt itself and change in future also, when necessity and urgency of the situation calls. A static constitution is always fatal to the cause. Our Maryada, therefore, has to be dynamic and a living, pulsating and functioning Constitution.

"But it has to conform to and be subservient to the spirit and tenets laid down in the Satguru's Shabad, as incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib".

Various topics as diverse as Guru Nanak's way of life, simran, the kirpan, worship, singing the Lord's praises, karam, gratefulness, sant, sadh sangat, the role of women, renunciation, clothes, food and unity, intolerance and culture, are discussed in this compilation. The chapter on Ardas is particularly interesting for readers who are not too familiar with the various aspects alluded to in the prayer.

As a reader peruses the variety of subjects covered in the book, he would see the work of an ardent believer and proponent of Sikhism, who has expressed himself forcefully. The reader would have to keep in mind the time frame which set the tone of the writing, though the thoughts expressed through it transcend temporal limitations.

[Courtesy: The Tribune]

Conversation about this article

1: Satvir Kaur (Boston, U.S.A.), October 12, 2007, 7:34 AM.

This is the first time I'm hearing of Bhai Ardaman Singh. Very interesting!

2: Kanwal Nain Singh (Lindsay, Ontario, Canada), December 08, 2007, 6:25 PM.

It is nice to see a report on the book on Bhai Ardaman Singh of Bhagrian. I had the good fortune of meeting him in the 60's, and was greatly impressed by his humility, wisdom and spirtuality. While doing reasearch on the genealogical history on the Bakhshi family of Kauntrila, I came across some interesting comments on the father of Bhai Sahib, namely, Sardar Bahadar Bhai Arjan Singh, O.B.E., in the book, "Chiefs of Panjab and Families of Note" by Sir Francis Lepel H. Griffin (1865) [updated by the Panjab Govt. in 1939]. Sardar Bahadur was also the recipient of a sword of honour and several other distinctions. In 1919, Sardar Bahadur was paid a personal visit at Bhagrian by the then Lt. Governor of Panjab, followed by a visit by the Viceroy in the same year, and by the Commander-in-Chief of India in 1929. Sardar Bahadur was a spirtual advisor to the Phulkian chiefs, and the general public in the Malwa area. He inducted the Rajas of Jhind, Faridkot, Nabha and Kalsia, by way of amritpaan into the Khalsa. I thought it will be worthwhile to mention this vis-a-vis the distinguished history of the Bagrian family.

3: Jaswinder Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 10, 2008, 5:45 AM.

I am realy impressed by the personality of Bhai Ardhaman Singh and his contribution to Sikhism.

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