BEBAY JI of BASSIAN: The life of a role model Sikh mother

Harminder Kaur passed away in Australia on 25 December 2018. She is the wife and mother of stalwart Sikhs who have contributed immensely to the Sikh community. Her son, Dya Singh, is probably the most famous among them for his unique kirtan and preaching of the Sikh faith



Harminder Kaur: Wife of Giani Harchand Singh Bassian – Photo: Amrik Singh Ahdan

Harminder Kaur, the mother of a number of Malaysian-born stalwart Sikh activists, passed away on Christmas Day in Australia.

She was well over 100 years, writes her son Gurmukh Singh, a retired UK senior civil servant and advisory board chair of the Sikh Missionary Society UK.

Her other sons are renowned kirtani and parcharak Dya Singh and Australia’s first sabat surat Sikh councillor Baldev Singh Dhaliwal. All three have been featured in the Asia Samachar.

Sehaj Paath starts today (26 Dec) at Adelaide Gurdwara and bhog is scheduled on 12 January 2019 (Saturday), according to an email from Dya.

Born on 15 April 1922 in a Grewal family of village Dhandra near Ludhiana in Panjab, she was married at the age of 15 years to S Harchand Singh, son of a Dhaliwal Nambardar (also pronounced as Lambardar, meaning headman) of the historical village of Bassian near Raikot in Ludhiana.

Later to become the renowned Kirtania parcharak, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaya, he had returned to Panjab after staying with his Chacha Ji, Babu Isher Singh, a chief clerk of police at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, according to an account written by the Sikh Times UK editor Dr Gurjeet Kaur Bains.

We share below the article published in a glossy souvenir In Commemoration of Shaheed Ganj Gurdwara Singh Singhania, Lahore.




By Gurjeet Kaur Bains, Editor, The Sikh Times, UK

From Village Dhandra her place of birth in Ludhiana district, via Bassian her family home, through Kutch (Gujarat), Ambala, Kuala Lumpur, London to Riverland (Australia) is the life journey so far of octogenarian “Bebay Ji” of Bassian.

Bebay Ji’s is the story of a Sikh mother from a village in Panjab, who provided a warm and stable but disciplined home environment for her family while it migrated through different cultures and countries. It is a story of hardship, resilience and the will to succeed.

Bebay Ji is the mother three sons, all well known in the Sikh diaspora, the youngest being none other than the world renowned Dya Singh of Australia. Gurmukh Singh is the eldest, a retired UK senior civil servant, a Sikh community mentor and writer, and the middle brother is the first sabat surat Sikh Councillor in Australia, Baldev Singh JP of Riverland, Australia, who won a major national award for community work earlier this year. Says Gurmukh Singh, who is also The Sikh Times columnist, “Our only sister Bibi Sarandeep Kaur in California is about 3 years older than me. We had a brother older than her who died a few months after birth. Either Bebay Ji must be at least 4 years older than her given year of birth (1922), or preferably, I am 4 years younger!” Even at this age and despite weak eyesight, Bebay Ji reads the main UK Sikh papers, any Panjabi literature she can lay her hands on and enjoys listening to Panjabi radio when in the UK. She is a dedicated Gurbani nitnemi and a treasure-house of folklore and Panjabi akhaans (sayings).

Born on 15 April, 1922 in a Grewal family of village Dhandra near Ludhiana in Panjab, she was married at the age of 15 years to S. Harchand Singh, son of a Dhaliwal Nambardar (also pronounced as Lambardar, meaning headman) of the historical village of Bassian near Raikot in Ludhiana. Later to become the renowned Kirtania parcharak, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaya, he had returned to Panjab after staying with his Chacha Ji, Babu Isher Singh, a chief clerk of police at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya.

Bebay Ji is the third child of a family of 4 sisters and 4 brothers. All the sisters are older than the brothers. Her father S. Anokh Singh, a farmer, became popular as “Bha Ji” due to his warm and helpful nature. Bebay Ji remembers her childhood when she used to get up very early in the morning with her mother Bebay Ji Sham Kaur, to help her with the daily chores of a farming family: chakki peehna (grinding grain with a hand mill), milking the cows and churning milk, preparing food for those working in the fields, and charkha katna (spinning wheel). Her father was a Gursikh social reformer and believed in educating his children without any discrimination between his sons and daughters. He did not allow “rasm- o- rivaj” (traditional ceremonies and ritualism) during the marriages of his children.

Bebay Ji was married at the age of 15 years [15 June 1933]. After her marriage she faced great hardship in her new home. Young Nambardar Harchand Singh had a spiritual leaning and was much influenced by the sangat (company) of some famous saintly people in the area, including Baba Nand Singh. He was a charismatic slim and tall Gursikh gifted with a strong spiritually melodious voice. He was popular with village people, singing Gurbani, traditional vaars and parsangs (heroic exploits of Khalsa warriors and martyrs). He moved around the countryside with his jatha (party) when invited to various smagams (functions) and the family burden fell mainly on Bebay Ji with no other close family member around to help. (Harchand Singh’s parents had passed away when he was less than five years old.). “Our neighbours, the family of Baba Ji Kartar Singh Dhaliwal were most helpful during those most difficult times. I myself used to bring the chara (fodder) from the fields and cut it to feed the “majh” (adult female buffalo). Inha dey Bapu Ji tan bahar smagma te hunday see (The children’s father used to be away on functions). Those were very difficult times indeed and my brothers would come and stay with me.” Said Bebay Ji reflectively as she looked askance at her grey bearded youngest Gursikh brother S. Beant Singh Grewal of Slough (UK) who had dropped in to see her at Gurmukh Singh’s place.

“Bapu Ji” joined the military bodyguard of the Maharaja of Kutch Bhuj and took his family – Bebay Ji and their little daughter Sarandeep Kaur – to this small princedom in Gujarat. Gurmukh Singh was born there. The family returned to the village Bassian where Baldev Singh was born. However, soon afterwards, Bapu Ji became seriously ill and remained bed ridden for over one year. Again, with great fortitude and courage, Bebay Ji looked after the family.

Later, when the Second World War started, Bapu Ji joined the army. However, his devotion to Gurbani Kirtan prachar was recognised by the head of the local military training centre at Ambala cantonment and he was retained as a granthi at the local Gurdwara for the duration of the war. Bebay Ji and family stayed there till 1947 when Bapu Ji was invited to run the first government aided Panjabi school in Malaya at a town called Raub in the state of Pahang. He also acted as the granthi and kirtania at the local Gurdwara. Bebay Ji recalled, “That is when we experienced Gurdwara “larraee jhagray” (conflicts and arguments). Enha dey Bapu Ji (the children’s father) wanted to pack up and return to Panjab but I argued strongly against that for the sake of children, whose school education would have been ruined.” Dya Singh was born at Raub on the Vaisakhi day in 1950.

The next few years were the most challenging for the family with Bapu Ji, by then known as Giani Harchand Singh Bassian, moving from one place to another in Malaya while Bebay Ji brought up the family at a town called Taiping. The renowned Baba Sohan Singh of Malacca would always invite Bapu Ji, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian, to do kirtan on important occasions and later young Dya Singh would accompany his father on the harmonium to receive the revered Baba Ji’s blessing.

Bibi Sarandeep Kaur who had been brought up in Panjab at her Nanka home (Bebay Ji’s parents house) was married in 1956; and in 1959 Gurmukh Singh left for UK. Baldev Singh, the middle brother followed to qualify as an engineer and left for Australia in 1985 after 20 years service in a senior position with British Telecoms. Dya Singh joined his brothers in UK in 1971 to qualify as an accountant and left for Australia in 1980, to later follow in his father’s missionary footsteps to become a world renowned Kirtania. With his exceptional musical talent, he pioneered Gurbani translation while presenting kirtan in his unique “world music” style. Sadly, Bapu Ji, passed away in 1975 at the family home at Gurdev Nagar, Ludhiana. Bebay Ji looked after her elderly father who came to stay with her at Ludhiana until his death at the ripe old age of 105 years in 1996. She now lives with her sons moving between Australia and UK and once in a while visiting the family home at Ludhiana.

Bebay Ji believes in the institution of marriage, a balanced family life and the complementary roles of men and women. “It is the woman who is the mother and the first teacher of children. The initial sikhia (advice) given to children by her will remain with them all their lives. Her role is very important and she is the dhura (axle) of her family; she gives it the stability. By all means women can take up jobs and husbands should help out at home doing domestic chores but I do not like it when women forget their central role and place in a family.” says Bebay Ji.

And Bebay Ji of Bassian has lived such a life as a model housewife and mother.



Malaysian Sikhs raise their hand (Asia Samachar, 1 June 2018)

Dya Singh comes across original, practical in his latest work (Asia Samachar, 12 Aug 2018)

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