Sant Baba Sohan Singh: A Beacon of Compassion

In a world marked by division and conflict, the legacy of Sant Baba Sohan Singh serves as a beacon of hope and unity. His service to humanity continues to remind generations on the importance of coming together as a community. May we always embody his teachings and emulate his virtues of humility, compassion, community service and unity.

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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)

By Sarjit Kaur | Malaysia |

In the heart of Malacca, amidst the sound of bustling streets, historic landmarks and aroma of spices, stands Gurdwara Sahib Malacca – a sanctuary of spirituality and community. It is here that the legacy of Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji, a revered missionary in the Sikh community, continues to resonate through the ages.
This year’s 52nd Salana Yaadgiri Semagam of Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji will be held from May 23-26, 2024 (Thursday to Sunday) at Gurdwara Sahib Malacca, led by the President, Bibi Dalvinder Kaur and her team of amazing sewadars.

A Life of Service and Humility

Born in the family village of Chathewalla, Punjab in 1902, Sant Baba embarked on a journey to Malaya at the age of 24, unaware of the profound impact he would have on the lives of thousands.

Upon his arrival, he was appointed Granthi at Gurdwara Sahib Malacca – a position he held until his passing in 1972. He became a beacon of light for the people. Guided by the wisdom of learned scholars such as Sant Gulab Singh from Taiping and Giani Gurbax Singh from Tapah, he embarked on a spiritual quest that would shape his destiny.

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Sant Baba remained steadfast in his devotion to his calling, declining a marriage proposal in 1932 to pursue his spiritual studies. His dedication bore fruit when he returned from Gurmat College in Damdama Sahib in 1934, and was recognised as Giani Sohan Singh Ji throughout Malaya.

A Charismatic Leader and a People’s Man

Sant Baba’s legacy extended far beyond his scholarly pursuits. He became a part of the Sikh community’s religious and social fabric, where he conducted naming ceremonies, blessed newly wedded couples, performed last rites, provided guidance and offered solace to those in need. His presence and words of wisdom were cherished by the people.

An excerpt from a speech given by Sant Baba – “The Creator is always with us and never away from us – even when we are in the forest. He resides within us. What we need in order to enjoy His experience and presence is to have true faith and devotion.” And for some of us, that seem to be the hardest thing to do!

A charismatic preacher, Sant Baba mesmeried congregations with his deep understanding of Sikh faith, combined with a great sense of humour! His influence extended to various towns. His linguistic flair in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi poetry added depth to his teachings, while his mastery of Gatka showcased his dedication towards Sikh martial arts.

Despite his spiritual stature, Sant Baba remained humble and unassuming, often listening to the woes of the community from his Punjabi woven bed or menja in the Malacca Gurdwara. Sant Baba was also a noted herbalist, often sharing his knowledge of herbal remedies.

A TRAVELLER IN TIME

Like Guru Nanak Dev Ji before him, Sant Baba was a traveller or musafir on a mission to spread the message of God. The difference is – his odyssey was navigating the length and breadth of Malaya, on a modern time zone. Sant Baba travelled to various parts by foot, rickshaw, bus, taxi and train. By then, modern forms of transport were available. Even in his old age and poor health, he continued to visit Sikhs settled in remote areas.

THE JAPANESE OCCUPATION

His commitment to his calling remained solid, even in the face of adversity. During the Japanese occupation of Malaya from 1942 to 1945, Sant Baba’s faith sustained the Sikh community – providing shelter, sustenance and spiritual support to those in need. Guru Ka Langar kitchen continued 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 provisions and clothing, which were distributed to the needy who came to the Gurdwara.

Baba Sohan Singh in an undated photograph

The Man with the Black Umbrella

Despite his esteemed position, Sant Baba remained humble and grounded. He would often travel to visit families in a rickshaw, accompanied by his faithful black umbrella to spread the message of Sikhi.
It was told that Sant Baba was once caught in a downpour with members of the sangat or devotees, however was miraculously spared from the rain. To avoid undue attention, he embraced a sewadar and allowed his clothes to get wet. From that moment on, he always carried a black umbrella.

I recall the words of my mother who recounted how he would visit our humble home in a rickshaw and share in our joys and sorrows with equal empathy.

A priceless 57-year-old photo of Sant Baba from the wedding album of Harcharan Kaur, taken in front of her family home in Ayer Leleh, Malacca, 6 August 1967 when she got married.

A SYMBOL OF UNITY AND INCLUSIVITY

The annual Salana Yaadgiri Semagam prayers held in honour of Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji are a testament to his enduring legacy. Families make the pilgrimage year after year, congregating here to honour the memory of a man who had touched the lives of their parents and ancestors.
The event transcends geographical boundaries, bringing Sikhs from across the globe, from generations who have since migrated from Malaya.

ATMOSPHERE AT THE GURDWARA

As one enters the sacred space of Guruji’s presence, a peaceful feeling envelopes the soul. People from diverse backgrounds and experiences, humbled by the journey of life, bow reverently at the dust of Guruji’s feet.

In the halls of the Darbar, the sangat share their stories, engaging in heartfelt conversations with the Divine. They speak of pain and challenges, of hopes and aspirations, pouring out their hearts as they tear, reflect and seek guidance and enlightenment on their spiritual journey. Many sought forgiveness while others expressed deep gratitude for all they have been blessed in life.

Offerings of ghee and sweets are placed at the Darbar, as a symbol of gratitude. Baskets with vibrant flowers and fragrant rose garlands are presented too – revealing an atmosphere of reverence and devotion.

Meanwhile, in the bustling kitchen corridors, a symphony of service unfolds. Sewadars move their hands with purpose, meticulously clean, wash and cut the onions, potatoes, vegetables and fruits. The heartbeat of sewa echoes through; a tradition of selfless service that lies at the heart of Sikhism.
The Sikh Naujawan boys orchestrate culinary marvels in oversized woks and petilas or pots. The tantalizing aroma of tadkaed dhall and aromatic tauhu sambal with pandan leaves and lemongrass fills the air – a sensory invitation to partake in the langar!

At the enlarged Langar hall, amidst the high ceilings and gently whirring ceiling fans, the sangat from diverse backgrounds come together in a sacred act of sharing a meal. Each bite is filled with the love and dedication of a thousand cooks, their hands and hearts united in service!

EMBODYING SANT BABA’S LEGACY

Sant Baba passed away in 1972, leaving a big gap in the Sikh community. His final rites were performed in Malacca, where he had been based for 45 years.

In a world marked by division and conflict, the legacy of Sant Baba serves as a beacon of hope and unity. His service to humanity continues to remind generations on the importance of coming together as a community.

As we gather in Malacca to honour his memory, may we renew our commitment to embody his teachings and emulate his virtues of humility, compassion, community service and unity.

References:

  • 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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