Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha
Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha (1861-1938) was a great scholar who stands out as a noble giant amongst the Sikh's during the late 19th and early 20th century, His writings spanning a period of fifty years from 1884 to his last days reflect his genius as a Punjabi litterateur, exponent of Sikh exegesis, an unmatched lexicographer and a superb editor, who provided direction and guidance to the community, by expounding the Sikh ethos in an analytical contemporary and rational manner. This is reflected in his unparalled Magnum Opus the Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh, the Encyclopaedia of Sikh Literature, and the monumental work of Max Arthur Macaunliffe titled ‘The Sikh Religion’. His contribution as an active reformist is reflected in shaping the mind of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha who was under his tutelage as a young Prince.
Bhai Sahib appeared on the Sikh socio-religious scene at a time when decadence had set in the Sikh ,society, Though the establishment of Khalsa Darbar celebrated Sikh sovereignty, personal weaknesses and frivolities of the monarch left the community's Institutions weakened. Others started challenging the Sikh ethos and its very entity. There arose a dire need for restating and reasserting to uniqueness of Sikh way of life, its ethos and practices, and Bhai Kahn Singh addressed these with meticulous clarity, rationale and unbounded modesty
Brought up in the traditional way of education by tutelage under Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi scholars and Sikh theologians, he want on to acquire a deep and analytical insight into Gurbaani and Sikh history From amongst others, he learnt about his faith from his own father Baba Narain Singh, a saintly man, about Sikh learning, thought and lore.
Amongst his works. Gurshabad Ratanakar Mahan Kosh (1930), an Encyclopaedia of Sikh Literature is a monument to his unmatched industry and erudition and a product of 14 years of labour. It's quality and range of variety of topics covered can only be admired if juxat opposed to the Encyclopaedia of Sikh Religion produced in the late 20th century by quite a few scholars put together.
His maiden work ‘Raj Dharam’ (1884) was followed by 'Natak Bhavarth Dipika (1888), an exegesis of extracts from the Hanuman Natak. In 1898, he published “Ham Hindu Nahin” which set forth and outlined forcefully the community’s standpoint with regard to Sikh identity. The Gurmat Prabhakar, (1898) is a glossary of Sikh terminology, concepts and institutions, and 'Gurmat Sudhakar' (1898), is an anthology of important Sikh texts, scriptural and historical. His 'Guru Chhand Divakar' (1924) and 'Gurshabad Alankar' (1925) deal primarily with rhetoric and prosody employed in the Guru Granth Sahib and other Sikh texts. His' Guru Girra Kasauti' answers some of the questions raised, about the meaning's of certain hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. Among his other works are "tikas" or exegeses of "Jaimani Asvamedh" (1896), "Visnu Purana" (1903), "Sadu""and "Chandi di Var" (1935). From among his works which were published posthumously, "Gurmat Martland" (2 volumes) has larger canvass and foresees the concerns of the questioning mind of the contemporary Sikhs which is valid even today.
"Ham Hindu Nahin" a brief 100 page booklet became a necessity when all aspects of Sikh way of life, worship and theology were being distorted, misrepresented and corrupted. The title was declaratory and consequently drew criticism of many who did not bother to read its contents. Accused of being communally provocative, the Punjab Government directed the Commissioner Ambala Division to study and comment on its contents. Consequently Bhai Sahib submitted an English translation to him, and it was established that their was nothing provocative in it. In fact, it was only a delineation of the Sikh ethos removing all doubts raised about it.
“Gurmat Martand” a distillate of Sikh thought and ethos. Under more than six hundred headings, almost every conceivable element of information, querry or doubt about true & correct exposition of the Guru's intents and directions, are expounded - based exclusively on Sikh history, literature, lore and of course Gurbaani Done with a pragmatic vision of their established validity and applicability to changing and evolving issues of facing the society. The eternity and centrality of Gurbaani and its relevance as much to circumstances of the past centuries as to the ones to came is clearly affirmed. Written in early 20th century it envisions the queries even of the even the present day Sikh Society.
Max Arthur Macauliffe's 'Sikh Religion' was the first comprehensive exposition of this the youngest and most dynamic's religion in English. But for Bhai Kahn Singh's contribution to Macauliffe's study and understanding of Sikh history and scripture, this all time monumental work would not have acquired the authority it command. In gratitude and appreciation, the great Englishman transferred the copyright of this book, first published by Oxford University Press in 1907, to Bhai Sahib.
Bhai Sahibs works were and are as relevant to the polity of his times and represent Sikh thought mo.st chastely. To establish his arguments, he dug deep into Gurbaani, Sikh ethos and history. Credit is rightly given to Maharaj Ripudaman Singh of Nabha, for promoting and pursuing the enactment of Anand Marriage Act and the Sikh Gurdwara management legislation. However it was under the tutelage and guidance of Bhai Sahib that this young prince acquired his vision and commitment to the community's causes, and affirmation of the uniqueness of Sikh practices. This revolutionary prince refused to be crowned Maharaja by the representative of the crown. Instead he asked his family's traditional religious preceptor, The Bhai Sahib of Bagrian, the author's grandfathar, to conduct his coronation according to Gurmaryada.
Bhai Kahn Singh of Nabha stands out as a great Gursikh and a noble literary giant in the tradition of Bhai Gurdas (Bhalla), Bhai Mani Singh, Rattan Singh Bhangoo and Bhai Santokh Singh. Not many scholars have risen to need of the time and looked to modernity without loosing their roots as Bhai Sahib did.
His thoughts and works have a lasting and continuing Influence in Sikh social and in intellectual context. It is even more pertinent in contemporary at times. Made available in English, his works would go a long way in dispelling the misgivings in minds of non-Sikhs and more important help the Sikh community purge itself of apocraphy and distortations and act as a course corrective.
SIKANDAR SINGH BHAYEE