When the Saint go marching in Malaya

Baba Sohan Singh took the road less travelled when he came to Malaya in his prime youth at 24. Little did he realise he would leave an indelible mark on the Sikh community in this land. It was to be - his time and space, for a profound reason. Everyone who comes into our lives; they come for a reason. To have the company of a Saint gracing our lives in our lifetime, is indeed a fortune. Read on his life story.

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Malacca, Malaysia | 19 May 2016 | Asia Samachar |

By Sarjit Kaur

I have always wanted to know his life story. This great man who would visit our humble home in Malacca in a rickshaw…

Two authors – Meherwan Singh and Saran Singh – had each authored a biography on Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji. Their research and hard work made this revelation possible.

The Journey into Malaya

Baba Sohan Singh Ji was born in the farming village of Chatewalla, Punjab in 1902. He started a new chapter in his life, in his prime youth at 24, when he came to Malaya. Little did he realise, he would leave an indelible mark on the Sikh community in this land.

He was made a Granthi at Gurdwara Sahib Malacca in 1927, a position he held until his demise in 1972. He associated himself with various learned persons namely Sant Gulab Singh from Taiping, Giani Gurbax Singh from Tapah and Giani Chanan Singh from Bentong.

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This eligible young man received a marriage proposal in 1932. He declined.

He developed himself spiritually by devoting a great deal of time in Jaap. In the same year, he pursued his degree in scriptural studies in Gurmat College in Damdama Sahib, managed by a Sikh scholar. Following his completion and return from India in 1934, he was recognised as Giani Sohan Singh Ji throughout Malaya; where Singapore was part of this union. By then, the three senior persons whose guidance he sought from 1927 to 1932 were no longer in Malaya. He filled the vacuum left by them, for the community in the region.

Integral part of Community

Over time, he became part and parcel of the religious and social activities of the Sikh community. He performed naming ceremonies of children and blessed newly wedded couples. He also performed the last rites. His presence at Sikh gatherings was especially cherished by the people. They would look to him for guidance. And he always made time for everyone.

Baba Ji would sit on the menja or the Punjabi woven bed in the Malacca Gurdwara and people would come and relate their pains and challenges. Everyone had a story to tell. He would be their shoulder to cry on. He would listen and pray for them.

A charismatic preacher with a great sense of humour; he would mesmerise his congregations with his lectures on the Sikh faith. A linguist in Hindi and Urdu, he was skilled in Punjabi poetry and folk songs. He also practised Gatka or the Sikh martial arts. Further, he was a noted herbalist and recommended numerous natural remedies to the community.

Standing at six feet tall, this fine man would move about in his white turban, long kurta shirt and pants with a black scarf wrapped around his neck. He travelled extensively to promote the message of Sikhi and was well-versed with the sacred scriptures of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

A Musafir

Like Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Baba Ji was a musafir or traveller with a profound calling. He travelled widely to spread the message of God and had a similar passion and conviction. The difference is – he covered a different time zone and location, as destiny would have it. It was akin to him travelling in the footsteps of Guru Nanak.

Guru Nanak travelled by foot and made four major journeys spanning thousands of kilometres over 30 years to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Arab countries. He taught the message of one God who dwells in every one of His Creation – which represents the eternal Truth.

Baba Ji travelled to various parts of Malaya unassumingly, either by foot, rickshaw, bus, taxi or train. By then, modern forms of transport were available. In 1952, a donor wanted to present a car to him for his travels. He showed his dusty shoes and said that even they – are not cleaned. He said that we must not show disrespect to dust, as it is next to none. “While living, we keep the dust under our feet, however after death this same dust covers our body. Once I accept the car, I will cease to be all I am!”  Such was the calibre of this noble man.

When the Japanese bombed Malayan towns, many people evacuated to the country side. Baba Ji stayed put in the Gurdwara premise and continued his recital of the Guru Granth Sahib. During their occupation between the years 1942 to 1945, the Guru Ka Langgar kitchen continue to operate, serving tapioca and porridge. Widows and orphans of all races were accommodated in the Gurdwara until the war ended in 1945. The Indian Independence League branch supplied the gurdwara with food material and clothings, which were distributed to the needy who came to the Gurdwara.

All things Saintly

The title ‘Saint’ is essentially given by the community with no particular ceremony. It is a recognition by the community of traits expected of a Saint in a person, starting with acknowledgement from individuals and gradually spreading to the whole community.

The Sikh Gurus included their own writings as well as writings of other contemporary Saints from the Hindu and Islam faith, in the Guru Granth Sahib, reflecting the prominence and reverence given to the teachings of sages and learned ones.

Baba Sohan Singh of Malacca , Baba Sham Singh of Police Gurdwara High Street, Kuala Lumpur and Giani Harchand Singh Bassian performing an Ardas before laying the foundation stone of the Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur on 23 August 1963 (Photo – Collection of Dya Singh, Australia, taken from OurGurdwara.com)
Baba Sohan Singh of Malacca , Baba Sham Singh of Police Gurdwara High Street, Kuala Lumpur and Giani Harchand Singh Bassian performing an Ardas before laying the foundation stone of the Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Kampung Pandan, Kuala Lumpur on 23 August 1963 (Photo – Collection of Dya Singh, Australia, taken from OurGurdwara.com)
Laying of the foundation stones ceremony of the Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya by Baba Sohan Singh on 11 May 1968 - PHOTO / GSPJ.NET
Laying of the foundation stones ceremony of the Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya by Baba Sohan Singh on 11 May 1968 – PHOTO / GSPJ.NET

Sant Baba associated himself with various learned persons and scholars like Sant Teja Singh, Dr Gopal Singh, Dr Ganda Singh, some of whom were accepted as Saints by the community. Hence through his journey, he was following the path laid down by the Gurus.

Despite his Saint conferment, he maintained simplicity. He would encourage the people to look up to the Highest and live like the lotus with roots in the mud i.e. always have their feet on the ground.

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Baba Ji’s selfless service and exemplary life inspired and created spiritual awakening amongst Sikhs. His outstanding contribution to Sikhs in Malaya through his religious discourse and service to the community became his legacy.

His Home calling

In May 1972, he was on a religious tour when he was taken seriously ill and admitted to the Ipoh General Hospital. He passed on, after a brief period. The date was 24th May. He was 70. The same age that Guru Nanak Dev Ji was called home to be with the Lord. The community decided that his cremation will take place in Malacca, his headquarters of 45 years.

People came in large numbers to pay homage to the man who had been once with them on their various life passages, many of whom he knew by name. Baba Ji reached out to many and was a trusted friend. His connectedness to the people became his heritage. His final video footings show a sea of people clad in white turban and veil walking and following his hearse to pay their last respects.

WATCH VIDEO OF BABA SOHAN SINGH SASKAAR, BHOG MAY 1972

His Mission

The Sant Sohan Singh Ji Vidyala was constructed in 1972 after his demise, to train Sikh youth in the spiritual and social pillars of Sikhism. They would take up duties to perform missionary work in spreading the Sikh religion to other parts of the country. A local Granthi for the local people would be more relevant, as he would be accustomed to the domestic issues, challenges and opportunities. This journey to support Baba Ji’s mission, has been a challenging but ongoing one.

Just like Guru Nanak and Baba Sohan, we are all travellers. Each with our own journey and calling. The irony is – we must travel the world first, only to find that the greatest journey of all, is the one that lies within us. Our very divine soul.

Lessons learned

What are the lessons learned from Baba Ji’s great story, I ask my spiritual teacher…

“To live a life of virtuousness, as it all begins with us. To help thy family and neighbours, the same way we seek to be assisted in times of need. To do sewa or service for mankind, because what we do for others; we really do for ourselves. To mix with people of all walks of life, as everyone has a lesson to teach us, good or bad.”

“To pursue spiritual knowledge, for it will take us to magical routes and divine paths we never imagined possible before. To have mentors as our teachers, as they take us on the emancipated journey. To remove our ego, as only then can we become the dust of everybody’s feet and behold everyone as our well-wisher. And finally, to leave an intangible legacy for our future generations.”

This year marks Baba Sohan Singh’s 44th anniversary prayers. Tens of thousands of Sikhs from Asia would gather for prayers in Malacca, his base camp, from 20th to 22nd May. They will pay tribute to this great Saint who had touched their lives, the lives of their parents and grandparents.

To many, Baba Ji was a gift from God for Malaya! It was to be – his time and space. For a profound purpose.

Everyone who comes into our lives, they come for a reason. To have the company of a Saint gracing our lives in our lifetime; is indeed a fortune. We are blessed to have our paths cross.

His story lives on. It lives in us. May his soul rest in peace.

 

Extracts taken with note of thanks from:

  • Biography of Sant Sohan Singh Malacca by Mehervan Singh
  • Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji of Malacca (1902-1972) – His Life and Times by Saran Singh Sidhu

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. You strike us to reflect our purpose in our life journey – what an inspiration.
    The timing of the article is apt, to reflect Sant Baba Sohan Singh’s journey and paying humble homage if visiting if the Barsi this year.

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