| Taiping, Malaysia | 1 Oct 2016 | Asia Samachar |
The Sikhs of the Malay States Guides left Taiping in 1915. They had volunteered for service in the First World War and were sent to join the Aden Brigade. The departure of the Malay States Guides created a vaccum in the leadership of the Taiping Sikhs. As long as the Malay States Guides was stationed at Taiping its Sikhs were the trend-setters in all Sikh affairs not only in Perak but also in Malaya.
The Taiping Sikhs felt a great loss caused by the absence of the Malay States Guides, but did not sit back and keep quiet about it.
At the time of the Sabha’s formation in 1916 there were about 250 Sikh families in the vicinity of Taiping. About 20 Sikhs were engaged in the Government Departments. Roughly 110 Sikhs were working in the Police. A few doctors, surveyors, planters, teachers and workers engaged in the railways or the tin-mines. About 30 families were having cattle and selling milk. Most of these also had bullock-carts or horse-carts and used them to earn extra money by providing a means of transport. I think in 1916 Bhai Wariam Singh must be the only one having a motorcar, because he has been listed down with an honorific as “motor-car-walla.” There were more than 50 Watchmen or Jagas in Taiping at this time.
On September 5th. 1916 a meeting of prominent Sikhs was convened and at this meeting the Siri Guru Singh Sabha Larut was born. This meeting was attended by Subedar Pall Singh, Babu Kehar Singh, Bhai Pall Singh, Babu Narain Singh, Babu Harwant Singh, Babu Santa Singh, Babu Harnam Singh, Babu Sampooran Singh, Dr. Daleep Singh, Bhai Sahib Bhai Gulab Singh, Bhai Vasawa Singh and Bhai Sundar Singh. (The honorific Babu before the names indicate they were working in Government departments.)
The aims of the Singh Sabha were listed as follows:
(a) To uplift the religious, social, cultural and professional position of the Sikhs in the Larut District;
(b) To make the Government aware of the rights of the Sikh Community – rights which would be safe guarded by the Sabha.
There was to be no limit on the number of members but only those Sikhs could become its members who were fully Amritdhari and kept all the five K’s — religious symbols that distinguish the Khalsa. They had to make a promise that they would follow the Gurmat only in all their ceremonies, and were willing to sacrifice their Body, Mind and Wealth for the service of the Khalsa Panth. No member could go against the majority decision of the Sabha.
In the by-laws passed at a General meeting held on 9.1.1927, the Sabha recognised three specific fields for its activities. They were the purely Singh Sabha activities, the maintainance of a Gurudwara and its functions and the running of educational institutions. The Sabha also undertook to look after the Sikh cremation grounds. Three sub-committees were to be elected annually to manage their respective sections. The overall control would remain in the hands of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha proper.
It must be recorded here that the rules and regulations of the Sabha were so carefully and meticulously drafted and so impartially implemented that the smooth functioning of the Sabha became a routine work. The silver Jubilee Report of this Sabha proudly claimed in 1940 that this was a novel achievement and one which other Sikh organisations in Malaysia could not achieve. Anyone who is aware of the differences existing within the Sikh Community in Malaysia knows this achievement is indeed a great one. Even at the time of writing in 1969, the Sikhs of Taiping remain an exception to the general atmosphere of disunity and rivalry prevailing elsewhere. The credit must go to the drafters of the rules and regulations of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha and its leaders and other office-bearers who carried on their work responsibily.
The Siri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Taiping
Prior to the building of the Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Taiping, all the Sikhs in the districts of Larut and Matang used to attend the ceremonies held in the Malay States Guides’ Gurdwara which was in the military compound. When the Sikhs of the Malay States Guides left for Aden in 1915 to participate in the First World War, the use of the military Gurdwara became very difficult. Futhermore, the Singh Sabha had decided to open a school and this was almost impossible to achieve in the military Gurdwara.
A meeting was called of all local Sikhs and a Gurmata was passed stating that there must have a separate Gurdwara belonging to the Sangat. Some Sikhs opposed the plan and were in favour of the continued use of the military Gurdwara. However Ugrahi [fund raising] was started and very soon donations began to pour in for the Gurdwara building fund. All the Sikhs living in Taiping and around it contributed their share and a sum of $2786.39 was collected. A letter of appeal was sent to the Sikhs of’ the Malay States Guides in Aden. They were very happy to help and sent a sum of $8037.42 from Aden with a promise of more contributions on their return to Taiping after the war.
Unfortunately, the Malay States Guides never returned to Taiping. When it was disbanded at Aden in 1919, the Government wanted to take over the military Gurdwara at Taiping. The Siri Guru Singh Sabha corresponded with the British Resident and convinced him that the Gurdwara was not built by the Government but by the Sikhs and thus belonged to them. The British Resident of Perak, Sir George Maxwell, agreed with his claim after investigating the matter. As no new Sikh regiments were coming to Taiping the Resident advised the Sikhs to remove the Gurdwara to their own land instead of leaving it in the military compound. The Government gave a sum of $3280.10 as compensation. The Sikhs then decided to dismantle the old Gurdwara and reerect it (almost intact) on new land.
The present site on which the new Gurdwara stands is about an acre in area. It was acquired in 1918 from the British Resident, Mr. J.P. Hume. A notification in the Government Gazette dated 18th. January 1918 reads: “….. the Resident of Perak proclaims that parcel of land situated in the township of Taiping in the District of Larut …… is to be a reserve for the purpose of a Sikh Gurudwara and school, to be maintained by the Trustees of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Larut.”
The foundation stone for the New Gurdwara was laid by Bhai Sahib Bhai Boodh Singh ji on 26th November 1920. It took a few years before the Gurdwara was completed. A sum of $13,205.85 was spent on it. A few additions were later added to the Gurdwara and by 1940 it had many additional buildings attached to the Gurdwara. These included the school, quarters for its teachers, a library and reading room, an open hall, four rooms, bathrooms and toilets. In 1924 a great Jormela (presumably the Annual Conference) was held here by the Guru Kalghidar Diwan Malaya. The money collected from the Jormela was used to extend the hall.
The ceremonies and celebrations held in the Gurdwara are the same as in any other Gurdwara. For more details please refer to the Chapter, “The Sikh Gurdwara in Malaysia.“ Among its early priests was Saint Gulab Singh who was a very respected Sikh priest in Malaya and Punjab. He was the last Sikh Priest in the Malay States Guides Gurdwara at Taiping and the first to serve in the Singh Sabha Gurdwara.
The Khalsa School Taiping
The spread of education was one of the fundamental aims of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha Larut. A practical step was taken on January lst. 1928 when the Khalsa School Taiping was officially opened in its own building in the Gurdwara compound. This has been a co-ed school from the beginning. By 1940 there were about 150 pupils in two sessions. The morning session was mainly attended by pupils who were not schooling elsewhere. The afternoon session was attended by pupils who went to English schools in the morning.
The religious instruction was based on the syllabuses approved by the Chief Khalsa Diwan’s Educational Committee in Punjab. Other subjects such as Punjabi language, Mathematics, Geography, etc., were taught from textbooks published by the Punjab Text-Book society. This school also held Annual Speech Days.
The expenses of the School were borne from the Gurdwara funds. No fees were charged to the pupils. The fact that no money was ever asked from Sikhs in other towns of Malaysia proves that the Sikhs of Taiping were well-to-do and could run their own institutions independently. Perhaps this may be due to the large number of Sikh families resident here.
Gurdwara Taiping Library
The Siri Guru Singh Sabha Larut has been heaped with praise in the preceeding sections. Well, the Taiping Sikhs deserve it. The Taiping Gurdwara is one of the very few in Malaysia which has a library attached to it. The Gurdwara Taiping Library was one of the earliest and is the largest library keeping Punjabi books. I don’t think its large collection of Punjabi books has been surpassed by any one else in Malaysia.
The origins of this library date back to the 19th Century. The Malay States Gurdwara had a library with it since 1896. In 1916 when the management of the military Gurdwara came in the hands of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha Larut it took possession of the library as well. Many more additions were made and in June 1933 the collection was housed in a separate building in the Gurdwara compound. It has its own reading room. In 1940 it had about 100 volumes of books in Urdu; another 460 volumes in Gurmukhi, and about 140 volumes in English. Most of the volumes in the library then are undoubtedly rare books today as many of them are out of print.
The above is a brief review of the early history (1916-1940) of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha Larut. The Singh Sabha ideas were put into practice and the true teachings of the Guru’s followed. Prior to its formation there were many Un-Sikh traditions practised in the area. These were eradicated by the missionary work of the Singh Sabha.
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