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Capt. "Papa" Harbhajan Singh: A Life Well Lived

by BIR ISHWAR SINGH

 

 

Capt. Sardar Kanwar Harbhajan Singh ji, founder of The International Institute of Gurmat Studies, passed away on January 30, 2011 while he was visiting his extended family in Mexico City.

Popularly known as "IIGS Papa", he dedicated his entire life to educating Sikh youth about Sikh values and the great Sikh heritage.

At the age of nineteen, he founded Young Sikh Missionaries in Lucknow, India. He led and motivated college-going youngsters to take active part in gurpurab seva, formed kirtan groups and engaged in hands-on seva. He particularly loved to decorate gurdwaras, and take part in "shoe seva". His peers called him "Singh ji" and followed his example by tying immaculate turbans and turning out as well-dressed, suave, sabat surat Sikhs.

In 1972, he renamed his organization Institute of Gurmat Studies and pioneered the co-ed  Sikh Youth camping movement. IGS became international when he held the 12th  Sikh Youth Camp in Kathmundu, Nepal in 1979.

To date, IIGS camps have been held in India, Nepal, U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and South East Asia. These include 72 Sikh Youth Camps and 13 family and women's camps. Thousands of campers were inspired to take Amrit. Many kirtan groups were formed under his guidance and conducted performances in several countries.

He worked passionately towards disseminating knowledge of gurbani through the written and oral word. While he moved audiences with his oratory, he published several nitnem books with transliteration and translations, kirtan books, kirtan teacher handbooks and produced kirtan CDs. He oversaw the publication of two children's books, Dear Takuya and The Royal Falcon that have won much acclaim not merely from the Sikhs all over the world but also mainstream educators.

Papa was a devoted Sikh, an excellent orator who could hold an audience of ages 7 to 70  spellbound as he brought the tales of the Gurus, their message and Sikh history alive. Thousands of Sikh youth from all over the world have attended IIGS camps and owe their love of Sikhi and Sikh saroop to his inspiration.  Founders of many Sikh advocacy and civil rights organizations have been IIGS campers and point to "Papa ji" as the mentor who ignited the spark in them.

Papa moved to the U.S. in 1985 and Southern California became the headquarter of IIGS. In 1986 he started celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh on December 25th in a manner so grand and unparalleled in pomp and opulence that the annual event is now widely known as the Darbar-e-Khalsa. A day long festival of kirtan, awards for exemplary Sikhs and Sikh organizations culminates each year in a grand finale of the Guru Granth Sahib being sent off in a helicopter amidst thunderous jaikaras.

Papa's sudden death has shocked tens of thousands of Sikhs whose lives have been touched by him. Their comments on social media sites like Facebook show that he will be dearly missed. The Sikh community has lost a rare gem in the passing on of Capt. Sardar Kanwar Harbhajan Singh ji.

A personal note: I have been honored to be part of Papa's family. He was "Phupar ji" (uncle through marrriage to her father's sister) to my wife, Sardarni Manjeet Kaur (who usually takes the Vaak at IIGS functions).

 

Program and Details of Antim Ardaas

For worldwide sangat, we are making arrangements to Stream Live (California, U.S.A. time) at www.IIGS.com and we will try to archive it too, for later viewing. 

For local attendees
Funeral services: Sat., Feb. 5, 2011: 10 am to 12 Noon
at: Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary
1702 Fairhaven Avenue
Santa Ana, California 92705, U.S.A.

Phone # 1.714.633.1442


Bhog and Ardaas: Sat., Feb. 5, 2011: 2 pm to 6 pm

at: The Guru Nanak Gurdwara (Buena Park), 7122 Orangethorpe Ave
Buena Park, California 90621, U.S.A.

Phone # 1.714.670.8843

 

 

February 1, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Jaskiran (Orange, California, U.S.A.), February 03, 2011, 11:37 PM.

Words do not do justice in explaining how much we will miss Papa. You will remain very alive in our memories and admiration. You've touched the lives of thousands around the world. An awesome teacher, mentor, father, and friend who put the Guru above everything else. We are so fortunate to have known you. We will MISS you!

2: Harleen Kaur (New Delhi, India), February 05, 2011, 8:27 AM.

Can't believe Papa ji's not among us anymore. This has come as an absolute shock. But he continues to stay in our hearts and will remain an evergreen part of our lives. Every time we act as a gursikh, we'll do justice to Papa ji's guidance and lessons. May God give us the ability to follow his footsteps and become good, true Sikhs in every aspect of life.

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