Singh Sabha Movement

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The Singh Sabha Movement was a Sikh movement that began in Punjab in the 1870s in reaction to the proselytising activities of Christians, Brahmo Samajis, Arya Samaj, Muslim Aligarh movement and Ahmadiyah.[1] The movement was founded in an era when Sikh Empire had been dissolved and annexed by the colonial British, Khalsa had lost its prestige, and mainstream Sikhs were rapidly converting to other religions,[1] the movement's aims were, according to Barrier and Singh, to "propagate the true Sikh religion and restore Sikhism to its pristine glory; to write and distribute historical and religious books of Sikhs; to propagate Gurmukhi Punjabi through magazines and media". The movement sought to reform Sikhism and bring back into the Sikh fold the apostates who had converted to other religions; as well as to interest the influential British officials in furthering the Sikh community. At the time of its founding, the Singh Sabha policy was to avoid criticism of other religions and political matters.[1][2]

The British East India Company annexed the Sikh Empire in 1849 after the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Thereafter, Christian missionaries increased proselytising activities in central Punjab; in 1853, Maharajah Dalip Singh, the last Sikh ruler, was controversially converted to Christianity. In parallel, Brahmo Samaji and Arya Samaji reform movements of Hinduism began active pursuit of Sikhs into their suddhi ceremonies. Muslim proselytizers formed the Anjuman-i-Islamia midst the Sikhs in Lahore, while the Ahmadiyah movement sought converts to their faith.[1][2]

Sikhs initiated the Singh Sabha movement, which sought to revive Sikhism, its first meeting was in the Golden Temple, Amritsar in 1873, and it was largely launched by the Sanatan Sikhs, Gianis, priests, and granthis.[3] Shortly thereafter, Nihang Sikhs began influencing the movement, followed by a sustained campaign by Tat Khalsa, the movement became a struggle between Sanatan Sikhs and Tat Khalsa in defining and interpreting Sikhism.[4][5][6]

Sanatan Sikhs led by Khem Singh Bedi – a direct descendant of Guru Nanak, Avtar Singh Vahiria and others supported a more inclusive approach, while Tat Khalsa campaigned for an exclusive approach to the Sikh identity stressing that Sikhs were neither Hindus nor Muslims, the movement expanded in north and northwest Indian subcontinent.[6][4] According to Pashaura Singh, the Singh Sabha movement had three groups and viewpoints on Sikhism:

  1. Khem Singh Bedi led Amritsar Singh Sabha campaigned for recognizing the significance of Khalsa initiation and Sikh identity, they also supported the need for living guru, the concept of divine incarnations and that the Hindu and Sikh society were indivisible;[7]
  2. Teja Singh led Bhasaur Singh Sabha campaigned for the radical approach where anyone not baptized as Khalsa should not be considered a Sikh, and any discussion of Hindu-Sikh relationship was an insult to the Sikhs;[7]
  3. Gurmukh Singh led Lahore Singh Sabha, later to morph into Tat Khalsa, campaigned for considering only the ten Sikh Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib as the source of Sikh beliefs and practice, and while Khalsa initiation was ideal but those who had not gone through initiation were indivisible part of the Sikh community if they accepted the Sikh scripture as their Guru. To Gurmukh Singh, the question of Hindu-Sikh relationship was an irrelevant question.[7]

By the start of the 20th century, there were about 100 Singh Sabhas, the dispute between Sanatan Sikhs and Tat Khalsa within the Singh Sabha movement intensified over the decades. By the early decades of the 20th century, the influence of Tat Khalsa increased in interpreting the nature of Sikhism and their control over the Sikh Gurdwaras.[6][4][8] Tat Khalsa actions and views ultimately prevailed, its agents removed the historic idols and the images of Sikh gurus from the Golden Temple in 1905, calling it anti-Sikh and their action as a means to purify the Sikh identity.[9] According to Oberoi, the Singh Sabha movement had a lasting impact on Sikhism by "eradicating all forms of religious diversity within Sikhism" and "establishing uniform norms of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy"; in contrast, Singh states that while Sikhs did embrace Hindu practices in its history, the premise that Sikh identity was always fluid is questionable; the Singh Sabha movement's impact was more complex.[7]

Chief Khalsa Diwan[edit]

The rapidly increasing number of Singh sabhas in the 1870s and 1880s led to the formation of a central committee called Khalsa Diwan to coordinate the activities of member sabhas.The tussle between different groups resulted in the Khalsa diwan splitting into Amritsar and Lahore factions.Over the next decade more Khalsa diwans and Singh sabhas came in to being.In 1902, there were over 150 Singh Sabhas and Khalsa diwans in existence, at that time, another attempt was made to bring the various organizations together with the formation of Chief Khalsa Diwan. The new body was financially supported by the affiliated Singh sabhas, and Sikh aristocrats, it also attracted dedicated Sikh preachers or Updadeshak. In addition,the colonial government recognized it as the representative body of the entire Sikh community.The organization remained influential for the first two decades of the 20th century.At that time the pro-British attitude of the leaders of the Diwan alienated ordinary Sikhs.The rise of the Sikh league and Shiromani Gurudwara parbandhak committee led to the decline in influence of the Khalsa diwan [10]



  1. ^ a b c d NG Barrier and Nazar Singh (2015), Singh Sabha Movement, Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Harbans Singh (Editor in Chief), Punjab University
  2. ^ a b Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2010). "Singh Sabha (Sikhism)". Encyclopædia Britannica. 
  3. ^ Dr Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, SIKH HISTORY IN 10 VOLUMES, Sikh University Press, Belgium, published in 2012; vol 4, pp 49-69
  4. ^ a b c Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 28–29, 73–76. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8. 
  5. ^ Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair (2013). Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Bloomsburg Academic. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-1-4411-0231-7. 
  6. ^ a b c Louis E. Fenech; W. H. McLeod (2014). Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 273. ISBN 978-1-4422-3601-1. 
  7. ^ a b c d Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8. 
  8. ^ Harjot Oberoi (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 382–383. ISBN 978-0-226-61593-6. 
  9. ^ Pashaura Singh; Louis E. Fenech (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 329–330, 351–353. ISBN 978-0-19-969930-8. 
  10. ^ Singh, Mohinder (Editor); Singh, Gurdarshan (Author) (1988). History and Culture of Panjab. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distri. pp. 101–104,108–112. ISBN 9788171560783. Retrieved 27 October 2017.