Performing Kirtan

Meeting with Bhai Shiv Charan Singh

The following story is about my (author) chance meeting with Bhai Shiv Charan Singh (Anglo-British) Sikh in 2012, who had stayed at our house in Dudley for 6 months. I remember he would do kirtan, teach us yoga and about Sikhi. I had asked my cousin to locate his contact details, as we knew he had moved to Portugal. In November 2012,I called the number believing that he was in Portugal, he answered and told me he was in Melbourne teaching level 2 Kundalini Yoga, and I just happened to be travelling to Melbourne the same day he was flying back to Portugal. So we were able to meet for dinner before his flight. It was amazing, I feel that Guru ji and my fathers spirit helped in allowing that opportunity to meet! I had not seen him in over 20 years.

Babbar Akali - Sardar Mukand Singh Nagra

Tracing our family ancestors

As part of writing Bhai Sahib's biography I learnt that his nana ji Sardar Mukand Singh Nagra from the village Behbalpur (Hoshiarpur district) was part of the Babbar Akali movement during the 1920s and had participated in the Jaito Morcha in 1925 (top picture) in defiance to the British government (1858-1947) as part of the 'Free India independence' movement. Sardar Makhand Singh was, devout Gursikh and upheld righteous lifestyle. he joined the Babbar Akali movement and became a freedom fighter. The Babbar Akali movement was a reform movement of Sikh gurdwaras during the early 1920s. The British government declared them an unlawful association and started to persecute this group, where my great grandfather spent 6 years in the following jails: Rawalpindi, Mintgumri, Jullandhur and Hoshiarpur. Sardar Makhand Singh was from the same village as one of the key leaders: Sardar Dhanna Singh (Behbalpur) and provided him with food, shelter and money when the police were searching for him. After 1947 india independence, he was offered 25 acres of Land in Rajistan for his role in Indian independence movement, however he declined this offer as "he did not want to put price on his sacrifice", however he accepted the 'Tamar Patra' medal. He passed away in 1984.

Planting the seed of Sikhism in Europe

Bhai Rajinder Singh was a pioneer preacher of Sikhism in many ways. In 1977, Bhai Sahib was invited by some Sikhs in Amsterdam to do kirtan program, so he took jatha (Bhai Prithvipal Singh, Bhai kuldeep Singh, Bibi Kirpal Kaur & Bhai Surjit Singh) and did a kirtan diwan held at Yogi Ashram by American/Dutch Sikhs. Bhai sahib did not take the money from the sangat & guided the local sangat to start collecting funds to establish their own Gurdwara in Amsterdam. Through this process the sangat established the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in 1980 (this is the first gurdwara in Europe) & UK singhs of Akhand Kirtani Jatha (Bhai Rama Singh, Bhai Prithvipal Singh, Bhai Jarnail Singh, Bhai Manjit Singh, Bhai Joginder Singh & Bhai Ajaib Singh) attended opening ceremony. Bhai Sahib organised and brought the first Sri Guru Granth Sahib saroop from UK to Amsterdam. From 1980-1982, he started a business (clothes shop) & lived in Amsterdam, during this period he was appointed as the president & granthi (unpaid) of the gurdwara & organised the first Amrit sanchar. Prior to this there were no Amrit-dhari (baptised) singhs living in Amsterdam (Holland). The photo of bhai sahib doing kirtan Includes Bhai Wadhawa Singh (Jathedar of Babbar Khalsa International) who is playing the tabla. The photo of Amrit sanchar includes: Bhai Shiv Charan Singh (UK Anglo-Sikh), Bhai Gurnam Singh (Bradford), Bhai Manohar Singh & Bhai Jarnail Singh (Hamburg-Germany) & Bhai Hardiyal Singh (UK).  

The Devoted Gursikh

Bhai Sahib has been described as Gursikh, being like a lotus flower and being absorbed in meditation. He has been described as a 'Sehaj-awastha Gursikh', the concept of 'sehaj' is to be in equipoise or state of equilibrium and calmness.
Bhai Sahib was a devoted Gursikh, who was 'Naam Abiyassi', he would rise early and spendtmany hours doing Naam simran. Through this process he was able to focus his surti (consciousness) to the Guru Shabad.

ਸੁਰਤਿ ਸਬਦਿ ਭਵ ਸਾਗਰੁ ਤਰੀਐ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਖਾਣੇ ॥
with one's consciousness focused on the Word of the Shabad, one crosses over the terrifying world-ocean. O Nanak, chant the Naam, the Name of The Lord.
 
When Bhai Sahib would do Kirtan, he would become so engrossed in the Shabad, it was 'vairag mayee' (melancholy) kirtan. Bhai sahib could do kirtan for hours and not get tired, it was simple style kirtan but the focus was on the Shabad and connecting with God (WAHEGURU). Bhai sahib spoke very little, he remained calm, never showed any anger or pain. He showed compassion to all, even those who would do his 'nindia' (slander/gossip). He remained detached from family and worldly affairs, whilst still fulfilling his householder responsibilities. He was educated but not arrogant and always remained humble and never sought the limelight. He was charitable (dhani) and performed Nishkam sewa (selfless service) to the Sikh Nation (e.g. he took out 10,000 pound bank loan to fund the first world tour).
When the Sikh nation was seeking 'Khalistan' after 1984 attack, Bhai Sahib focused on creating the Khalsa outside of Punjab, in one interview he said: "if we are seeking Khalistan, we must all become Khalsay first". Bhai Sahib travelled to over 40 countries across the world and performed countless Amrit sanchars (baptism ceremony). Not only did he help establish the 'Khalsa', he also nurtured the future generation of Sikh youth by organising Gurmat camps for children and youth across Europe and many other countries. In an interview with UK newspaper Awaaz Quam (1999) he stated that "we need to continue our efforts towards keeping the Sikhi Dharmic Parchaar Mission ongoing in the future".

 

Bibi Balbir Kaur

'Behind a great man there's a great woman'.

The inspiring story of Bibi Balbir Kaur, who was the wife of Bhai Sahib Rajinder Singh. Bibi Balbir Kaur was not from a Gursikh family and took Amrit in 1974 before her Anand Karaj to Bhai sahib in London (UK) She adopted the rehat of wearing Keski at that time. From the period 1974 to 1980, Bhai Sahib was actively involved with Akhand Kirtani Jatha (UK) through organising kirtan programs, Rehnsbahi and Amrit sanchars. As many programs were held at Bhai Sahib house at Dudley and Bibi Ji would be involved in preparing langar sewa (even with very young children). Bibi Ji never hindered or stopped Bhai Sahib from his desire to do Sikhi parchaar and accompanied him on some trips. In those early days, Bibi Ji also even assisted in the Amrit sanchar sewa as paredar or granthi (when there was not enough singhs for Panj Piyaray). This photo is taken from the second world trip in 1987, in New Zealand. There are so many stories, Bibi Balbir Kaur faced many struggles and challenges, she was the 'engine' that ran the household, she was the sole provider, she cared for 3 children and her elderly mother. She played an active role in the sewa, taught children punjabi, basics of Sikhi during Gurmat camps. After Bhai Sahib passed away in 2000, she has maintained the Gurmat Camps sewa in Europe under 'Chalda Vaheer Jatha' banner and has tried to keep the Sikhi parchaar ongoing.

 

Old is Gold

Image from a private collection in Delhi, from a Kirtan Rehnsbahi in 1978 (UK)

This photo is from Bhai Mehar Singh Ji's private collection in Delhi, from a Kirtan Rehnsbahi in 1978 (UK). I have never seen this photo before and it is amazing to have a photo from the early days of Akhand Kirtani Jatha UK, as my father Bhai Rajinder Singh was Jathedar at that time. In this photo, you can see Bhai Mehar Singh doing kirtan, sitting next to him is Bhai Rajinder Singh, Bhai Pritam Singh 'Channi Ji' on tabla, Bhai Surat Singh 'Pooran Dar Ji' playing kartala, Bhai Banta Singh on the side of waja. 

Read more: Old is Gold