Kids Corner

Image, second from bottom: The Children. From left to right - Baldev Singh Dhaliwal, Sarandeep Kaur Gill, Dya Singh and Gurmukh Singh.

People

Man With a Mission

by GURMUKH SINGH

 

Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaysia (1909 - 1975)



Amongst the Gursikh Kirtania Parcharaks (the"Singing Missionaries") of Malaysia, Giani Harchand Singh ji Bassian is remembered with great affection by many elderly members of sangats in Raub, Kuala Lumpur, Klang, Seremban, Malacca, Taiping, Ipoh, Tapah, Penang and many other Malaysian towns.

He was appointed the first government funded Panjabi school teacher in Malaysia (at Raub, Pahang in 1948). He was also a gifted kirtania. He sang shabads with expositions in traditional kirtan modes, with relevant quotations from gurbani, in a most meditative manner.

In his younger days, he was a dhadi, singer of epics from Sikh history called parsangs and vaars in traditional style, and was renowned for his powerful inspiring renditions (now inherited by his youngest son, the world renowned Dya Singh of Australia). He was a robust parcharak of the Sikhi tradition.

Slim and tall, Giani ji had a charismatic personality and a spiritual presence. It was due to his strong spiritual leaning from childhood that he became a gurbani teacher and a kirtania parcharak, despite his family background as a village headman (lambardar) from a farming family.

He was born on 25 September 1909 at his mother's village Mitthewal in District Sangrur, the only son of Modan Singh, a lambardar of village Bassian near Raikot in Ludhiana. His father passed away when young Harchand was only four years old and he also lost his mother within 6 months. He was taken to his mother's village Mitthewal to be brought up by his maternal grandparents.

His maternal uncle, Nand Singh of the Indian National Army, recalled when Giani ji passed away in 1975 at Ludhiana in Punjab: "He was agile and played village games but remained aloof. Even from a very young age, his interest was in education. He would go to the local dera of an old holy man (sant). He would do small chores for him and would learn Gurmukhi and listen to Vedic folklore and about sakhis of the Gurus. He even learnt how to blow the conch shell which the sant kept. We would joke about his interest in learning, not realizing his Gurbani mission in life."

Giani ji was invited to Malaya by his paternal uncle, Munshi Isher Singh Bassian in 1929. He was in Malaya for four years from 1929 to 1932. During this period he was a student of Giani Chanan Singh at Kuala Lumpur.

On returning to Punjab, he was married to Harminder Kaur, daughter of a farmer of Village Dhandra in District Ludhiana, on 15 June 1933. He settled down in his village Bassian after marriage. He took possession of his land and lambardari and built a house to raise his family. However, his quest for learning took him to Khalsa Updeshak College at Damdama Sahib, Sabo ki Talwandi, where he studied gurmat from April 1934 to 1936. He was 27 years on leaving this institution.

He joined the mounted guards of the Maharaja of Kutch and lived at the town of Bhuj from 1 May 1937 to 1 September 1939. On his return to Punjab, he became popular in the area as a Sikh missionary and stayed in the company of saintly gursikhs like Baba Nand of Kleran. He also picked up kirtan sung in the popular dhunis of the sant tradition during this period. This was the kirtan which later so endeared him to the older generation in Malaysia.

When World War II broke out, Giani ji enlisted at the military workshop at Ambala Cantonment ("Cantt.") in 1942, where he met S. Lakhmi Singh who headed the military technical college. Lakhmi Singh, who later worked as Headmaster, Government Technical School, Ferozepur City after the war, was a meditative listener of gurbani kirtan and was very much impressed by Giani ji's kirtan. He ensured that the latter was not sent to the front but remained behind to do kirtan and granthi seva at the historical Gurdwara Badshahi Baag, Ambala, first built by Sikh military cadets of Ambala Cantt. Giani ji did seva there from 5 July 1942 to 1 August 1947.

Soon after the war, he was invited to Malaysia by the sangat of Raub, Pahang to teach Punjabi at the school attached to the gurdwara. The sizeable sangat of Raub at the time not only included first migrant elderly gursikhs but also educated the next generation of gursikhs like Babu Santa Singh, his brother Gurbachan Singh, Master Gurmukh Singh, some police officers and others, who had managed to get Government recognition and funding for Punjabi teaching at the Punjabi school.

Giani ji left with his family for Malaya by train from Ludhiana on 31 December 1947 and reached Penang on 20 January 1948. The family reached Raub on 24 January 1948 and he took over as Punjabi teacher at the school and as kirtania granthi at the gurdwara. He began to be invited to do kirtan and to sing traditional epics on the great Sikh martyrs and heroes at gurdwaras in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Klang and Kuala quite regularly.

He visited India from 10 April 1953 to 24 August 1953, and soon afterwards, driven away by gurdwara politics, left Raub after 6 years seva, to move to Klang. It is a sad reflection on Sikh affairs that from about mid- fifties, gurdwara politics and infighting amongst factions continue to deprive future Sikh generations of gurbani kirtanias and interpreters of gurbani of the highest calibre. Disappointed with the lack of respect for religious personnel, Giani ji tried to bring up his growing family by first working as a bus conductor at Klang (1954), then as a shopkeeper at Taiping (1955).

However, despite mismanagement within gurdwaras, his demand amongst sangats continued to grow. Baba Sohan Singh Ji of Malacca gave great encouragement and leading scholars and gianis would drop in at home to see how he was getting on.

Once a group of prominent personalities came to see the family when he was working as a bus conductor at Klang and living in a derelict wooden hut with mud floor surrounded by tall grass. Nevertheless, in the true Sikh spirit of chardi kala, despite his poor health, he remained cheerful and witty as usual and sangats came in large numbers to hear his kirtan at the weekends.

He realized that his was destined to be the life of a Sikh missionary and no other. He left the family at Taiping so that his children's education could continue uninterrupted, and, despite failing health, worked as Punjabi teacher and granthi at various gurdwaras including Dharmak Jatha and the main gurdwara at Penang, Tapah and finally at one or two gurdwaras at Kuala Lumpur.

Having seen his children through school education, Giani ji left for India in frail health towards the end of 1970 to live at Gurdev Nagar in Ludhiana. He passed away peacefully on Guru Nanak Sahib's Gurpurab day on 18 November, 1975 due to an enlarged heart condition.

In his married life, Giani ji was supported by his dedicated wife, Harminder Kaur, through some very difficult times at their village Bassian and in Malaysia. She was honoured with a special article, "Bebay Ji of Bassian" in a U.K. Eastern Media Group publication, "Shaheed Ganj" in 2005.

Of Giani ji's four surviving children - one daughter and three sons - the eldest, Sarandeep Kaur, lives in California with her family; Gurmukh Singh, the eldest son retired as a First Division U.K. Civil Servant; Councillor Baldev Singh, J.P., the middle brother, has been honoured for his community services in Australia; and the youngest is the gurbani sangeetkar of global fame, Dya Singh of Australia.

 

[Note: We feel very humbled and honoured that Giani Harchand Singh Bassian ji has left the Sikh Nation with so many memories, but above all his doctrines have allowed all his children to continue in his footsteps as admirable and respectable panthic citizens.]

 

[Courtesy: The Sikh Times. The author is the eldest son of Giani ji.]

September 16, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Tejinder Singh Hansra (Sydney, Australia), September 16, 2009, 8:31 AM.

A noble soul in the true traditions of Gursikhi. Coming from roots in a neighbouring village in India and having lived in Gurdev Nagar in Ludhiana, still being neighbours ... my father probably was friends with him ... having moved to Sydney, Australia ... still being neighbours to his son, Dya Singh in Melbourne (though not so close, distance wise) ... our daughters being friends ... I just think there is some connection here to Giani ji although I never met him in person or perhaps I may have in Gurdev Nagar but my memory fails me, I was young then. May Waheguru bless all his children and grand-children and great-grand-children.

2: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), September 16, 2009, 11:24 AM.

In the final analysis, a man is known by what foot prints he leaves in the sands of time. Judging by the progeny, Giani Harchand Singh and Harminder Kaur did a splendid job. I say this by my sporadic but personally very rewarding contacts with two of their children - Dya Singh whose company and rendering of kirtan I thoroughly enjoy, and Gurmukh Singh whom I have not yet met but we share a commonality of interest and a mutually satisfactory lively dialogue. Enjoyed the posting.

3: Ravnder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, Canada ), September 17, 2009, 5:09 PM.

Now we know where Dya Singh gets his musical talent from. Giani ji lives on through the singing of his son.

4: Amrik Singh Ahdan (Heston, U.K.), September 20, 2009, 5:29 AM.

Although I never met Giani Harchand Singh ji Bassian, I have had the pleasure of knowing and meeting almost all the family members. I meet his eldest son, Sardar Gurmukh Singh, quite often and always have very constructive dialogues and have gained a lot of knowledge on Sikh history from him.

5: Prof. Gurcharan Singh Sandhu (Bromyard, United Kingdom), September 15, 2010, 12:19 PM.

I briefly met Giani ji in Bassian in 1959/60 and was impressed by his personality, which was rooted in dignity, dedication and hard work. You would never have guessed what he had been through. His son, Gurmukh Singh, with whom I have now lost contact, helped me to the hilt without question at a time of my life when I needed it the most. I salute Giani ji and his family. I have been searching for their contact info - address/ phone/ email - for eight years without success. Please help.

Comment on "Man With a Mission"









To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.