Sohan Singh was no simple granthi. No wonder that the former Malacca gurdwara granthi went on to become one of the most famous Sikhs in Southeast Asia.
Since his death in 1972, Sikhs in Malaysia and Singapore have converged annually for a prayer event in his memory. This year, for the first time since it kicked-off in 1973, the programme could not be held as usual due to the novel coronavirus threat.
So, what has been billed as the largest annual gathering of Sikhs will not be happening, not physically, at least. There are some attempts to do online programmes.
Movie production house Sri Saheb Production has released a 9-minute documentary on the respected granthi which carries interviews of a few people who had met Baba Sohan in person.
Saran Singh Sidhu, who wrote a book on Baba Sohan, said the former granthi and parcharak (preacher) was well grounded in Sikh ethos and Gurbani as well as in ayuvedic and gatka.
Saran said he placed great emphasis on ‘naam japo’. To those who could not do so, he urged them to set aside time to listen to Gurbani.
“Mere reading is not enough. Now, you need to understand it. Understand what are the messages contained in Gurbani. Do good. That was his first lesson,” he said.
His second lesson was to earn an honest living, said the author of the book ‘Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji of Malacca (1902-1972) – His Life and Times‘.
Dr Kulwant Singh Gill, a former Gurdwara Sahib Malacca committee president, noted that Baba Sohan was a unifying factor for Sikhs in Malaysia.
“He has been an instrumental forces in combining the Sikh Sanggat of Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.
Baba Sohan, easily the most respected granthi and parcharak in Southeast Asia, had always placed importance on proper training and education to become an effective granthi. This was clearly illustrated in his life as captured in Saran’s 425-page book.
Sohan, earlier known as Kaka Ooday Singh (Kaka), came to Malaya in 1926 when he was 24 years old.
At that point of time, he was already well versed and proficient in Punjabi folk songs (lok bolian/geet) and kavisheri (a type of traditional poetry). He was also a practicing akhand pathi and a trained in the Sikh martial art of gatka, according to the book.
After a one-year stint at Gurdwara Sahib Seremban, Sohan was then appointed as a granthi at Gurdwara Sahib Malacca.
In 1932, Sohan applied for an open-dated leave from the sangat and the Malacca gurdwara management committee to return to Punjab.
“He informed the sangat that though he was returning to his village Chathewala to visit his family, his main intention was to further his studies on Sikhism. This knowledge would then enable him to do Gurmat parchaar,” according to the book.
Sohan did the Giani (an academic qualification equivalent to B.A. Honours conducted in the Punjabi language) and the Maha Giani (an academics qualification equivalent to M.A. Honours) courses. He had also studied Sanskrit.
On 10 June 1934, Sohan took over the duties of Granthi at the Malacca gurdwara. He passed away in Ipoh on 24 May 1972 after a short illness.
To view the documentary, click here.
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