16th April marks the Barsee (death anniversary) of Gurmukh Pyaare, Bhai Sahib Randheer Singh jee, who passed away in 1961. Bhai Randheer Singh jee was a great Gursikh, keertani, freedom fighter, reformer, theologian, hero of the Lahore Conspiracy Case, and the first prisoner of Gurdwara Reform Movement. Dhan Guru, Dhan Guru Ke Pyaare.
A SHORT GLIMPSE AT THE LIFE OF BHAI RANDHEER SINGH JEE
Bhai Randheer Singh jee was born on 7th July 1878 in village Narangwal (Ludhiana district). At birth his parents named him 'Basant Singh'. His father, Bhai Natha Singh, was a learned scholar of Panjabi, Urdu, Persian and English, who initially worked as a District Inspector of Schools but later rose to the rank of a Judge in the High Court of the State of Nabha. As a Judge, he became well known for combining justice with mercy, compassion and humanity. His mother, Mata Panjab Kaur, was a very pious and devoted Sikh. Bhai Sahib was successful in his studies and was not only an intelligent and committed student but also a good sportsman. He had a great memory, which later served him in reproducing details of his experiences during his prison life.
Since the day his father gave him a Gutka of Japji Sahib to read during his college studies, Bhai Randheer Singh jee developed a spiritual thirst and yearning for Waheguru. On 14th June 1903, Bhai Sahib along with his Muslim friend, Maulvi Kareem Baksh, took Amrit. As a result of him taking Amrit with a Muslim he was despised of by the Sikhs of his own village and some of his relatives; the Brahmanical influenced 'Pujari' (custodian) of Sri Akaal Takht Sahib refused to accept Karaah Parshaad offered by Bhai Sahib and he was denied the right to do Keertan. Despite this Bhai Sahib remained steadfast and practising Guru's ordained Rehat (discipline) became the passion of his life, even at the risk of losing his health and life.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Jee Revealing Gurmantar
Bhai Randheer Singhjee firmly believed that receiving Amrit was a spiritual rebirth and not a mere ritual, provided that the Amrit Sanchaar is conducted strictly in accordance to the rules and procedures laid down by Guru Sahib. At the time of his own Amrit Sanchaar, Bhai Sahib was left disturbed and confused about the true Gurmantar because an intruding outsider told him the Gurmantar rather than the Panj Pyaare. He felt that there was a Mystic Word prescribed as Gurumantar for the Sikhs which also formed the central theme of Gurbani - a particular 'Naam' - and it was possible to repeat it with every breath. He firmly believed that only through constant repetition of, and meditation on, this Mystic Word could complete self realization and oneness with Waheguru be attained. Believing Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee to be the embodiment of the Ten Gurus, Bhai Sahib did an Ardaas for the Great Guru to reveal the true Gurmantar and give him Naam. In a miraculous incident the Hukamnama from Sri Guru Granth Sahib jee indicated correctly that "Waheguru" was the Gurmantar and he was blessed with the technique of its constant repetition. Receiving Naam, Bhai Sahib was yearned to now attain Waheguru through devotion and practice of Naam and devotional service of Guru Sahib.
The Gurdwara Reform Movement
After his Divine-experience Bhai Sahib resigned his Government job and dedicated his life in the service of the Panth (nation). He took the initiative in fearlessly clearing the malpractices in the various historical Gurdwaras. Once, at Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib on Gurpurb, he fearlessly protested and stopped a Patit Raagi (who was known for committing adultery) to do Keertan. It was for such deeds of Gurdwara reform that he has been referred to as the pioneer of the Gurdwara Reform Movement. In 1914, when the British demolished the wall of the historical Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in New Delhi to beautify the surroundings of the then newly built Parliament House, Bhai Sahib was the first to protest publicly against this desecration of the Holy Shrine, and announce his specific plans to spearhead the agitation until the razed wall was restored. He was also instrumental in organizing two large Panthic Conferences in this connection, at Patti in District Amritsar, and at Lahore, to pass the Resolutions condemning the British action, and demanding the restoration of the razed wall. These conferences were the first of their kind after the British occupation of Panjab.
The Freedom Movement
Being a Gursikh Bhai Randheer Singh jee could not tolerate the oppression and slavery imposed by the British rulers. He joined the Ghadar ("Revolution") Movement that had active members in the USA and Canada. Bhai Sahib was the only leader of note from Panjab who, along with his companions, participated in that revolt. The Ghadar movement was betrayed and their British came to know of their plans. On 9th May 1915 Bhai Randheer Singh jee and his companions were arrested and tried in what is commonly known as the Second Lahore Conspiracy case. In 1916, at the age of 38, with a wife and three young children to provide for, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and his property was confiscated. His eldest daughter (10 at the time), who could not bear being separated from her dear father, died within a month of his imprisonment. His son Balbir Singh was only 6 years old and his daughter Daler Kaur was just 2.
Steadfast in Jail
During his 15 years in prison Bhai Sahib faced many sufferings, not for any political or personal reasons, but only because of his determination to live strictly in accordance with the Khalsa Code of Conduct. In Multan jail, one of the hottest places in India (now in Pakistan) with temperatures going up to 122°F in May and June, he remained without food and water continuously for 40 days. This was because he was not allowed to prepare his food himself according to the Gurmat principles and he would not take food prepared by non-Amritdharis. He was chained to iron gates in the open for many days to face the scorching heat of the sun and bear the brunt of hot winds. At night he was put into a 6' x 4' cell without ventilation. This is only one instance of the many tortures inflicted upon him. On two occasions Bhai Sahib's family gave him up as dead. Even after suffering such inhuman tortures, he remained steadfast in his beliefs and never once wavered from following strictly the Khalsa Code of Conduct. Due to Bhai Sahib's sacrifices the Jail Manual was amended to allow Sikh prisoners to wear a small turban (Keski), Kachhehra, and Karra. When the Khalsa Panth came to know of his tortuous sufferings, the whole Panth observed a special Ardaas for Bhai Randheer Singh jee and the other Gursikhs on 1st February 1923.
Meeting with Shaheed Bhagat Singh
Prior to his release from prison in Lahore, the well-known Shaheed Bhagat Singh, who was waiting execution in the same prison, expressed a desire to meet Bhai Sahib before his death. On being approached, Bhai Sahib refused to see him saying "...he has violated the basic tenets of Sikhi by shaving off his hair and hence I do not want to see him." Bhagat Singh was quick to express his repentance and also confessed that he, in fact, was an atheist at heart. He further told Bhai Sahib that even then, perhaps, he would have kept the Sikh appearance, but if he had done that he would have lost the friendship and sympathy of his Hindu comrades and would not have received so much publicity in the press. After a 2 hour meeting with Bhai Sahib, he became a true Sikh at heart and accepted to keep his hair unshorn, and went to the gallows as a true believer in Waheguru.
Release from Prison & Honour from the Panth
Soon after his release in 1930, Bhai Sahib was honoured by Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib with a Hukumnama (edict) and a robe of honour, recognizing his steadfastness in faith and selfless sacrifices. He is the second person to have been honoured by Sri Akaal Takht Sahib during the 19th century, the other person being Baba Kharak Singh jee, the renowned Panthic leader of the late 1920s. Afterwards, the other (then) three Takhts also honoured him in the same way, thus making him the only single person to have been honoured from all the (then) Takhts in the last 100 years of Sikh history. Robes of honour and a gold medallion were also sent to him by the Sikhs of U.S.A. and Canada. He was selected as one of the Panj Pyaare to inaugurate the Kaar Sevaa of the sarovar of Gurdwara Tarn Taaran Sahib, and to lay the foundation stones of the new buildings of the Gurdwaras at Panja Sahib and Shaheedganj Nankana Sahib, besides those of the Bungas at Patna Sahib and Kavi Darbaar Asthaan at Paonta Sahib.
After his release from prison, Bhai Sahib lived for over 30 years during which time he travelled throughout the country and propagated the true Gursikh way of life through Gurbani Keertan and Paatth. A large number of Sikhs were drawn to him magnetically, and he directed them to and brought them in direct touch with the infinite wealth of Gurbani. In this way, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha came to be formed. According to him, the principles of life pointed out in Gurbani and prescribed in the Khalsa Code of Conduct are not merely ideals but completely practical. He himself conformed to and lived in accordance with these principles in letter and spirit, even in the midst of the most unfavourable and tortuous circumstances of jail life. Bhai Sahib wrote about two dozen books on Sikh spirituality and different themes and topics from Gurbani that inspired and continue to inspire countless people.
The Final Moments
In 1961 Bhai Sahib's leg veins became weak due to having spent so much time in the dark dungeons during his imprisoned life, though the rest of his body was healthy. He only had trouble walking about. On 13th April 1961, all the Jatha came to see Bhai Sahib for Vaisakhi. On 14th April he wished good bye to everyone and sent them off. On 16th April Bhai Sahib seemed restless as though the time had arrived for the great soul to leave. At 7.30am Bhai Sahib breathed his last with "Waheguru" on his lips.
"...He was a God-intoxicated man, consumed with religious enthusiasm in the literal sense of the word and 'holding God within' as one would say; yet he was a practical leader capable of dedicated service to humanity and his country. His faith and virtues were near allied and mutually indispensable...With astounding faith and stoicism he suffered all his life for the ideals which form the cornerstone of Sikhism such as Freedom, Justice, Equality and Truth."(Dr. Tarlochan Singh)