Bhai Puran Singh (4 June, 1904 – 5 August, 1992) was born at Rajewal, in district Ludhiana on June 4, 1904 to mother, Mehtab Kaur and father, Chaudhari Chibu Mal, who was from the Hindu faith. During childhood, Bhai ji was a Hindu and his original name was Ramjidas. He started his education at Khanna, Punjab and then later joined Lahore’s Khalsa High School. He used to perform “sewa” in Gurdwara Dera Sahib and Gurdwara Shahid Ganj of Lahore where he would help with cleaning, cooking and serving food; he also tended to the aged, infirm and sick who came to the Gurdwaras to pay their respect to Guru Granth Sahib

Becoming a Sikh

In an interview with Bhai Patwant Singh, Bhagat Puran Singh discloses how he became a Sikh. In his early life he would travel a lot from village to village and would stay overnight at Hindu Temples. One day when he was staying at one such temple, the Brahmins told him to clean the temple and then when he had done that, they sat in front of him and ate food without offering him anything.

The next time, he took shelter at a Gurdwara and the Gurdwara’s Giani ji (“priest”) not only gave him good hot food but also a cot and a glass of milk afterwards and all without asking for any sewa (service) for the Gurdwara. Bahi Sahib ji wrote: “Every night 25-30 travellers would come to the Gurdwara to stay; they were all served food from the common kitchen. This culture of the Gurdwaras deeply affected me”. Following this incident, Ramjidas, the Hindu, decided to take Khanda-da-Amrit and became a Khalsa Sikh in 1923. Bhagat ji is one of the most prominent Sikh heroes of this century.

He gave most of his adult life to the total selfless service to terminal and mentally ill patients, who in most cases had been abandoned by their families and society at large. He gave his life to provide the last hope for these desperate patients. It is recorded that whenever and wherever he saw a deserted dead body (human or animal), he would immediately prepare by his own hand a grave and give the corpse a deserving burial or cremation as a sign of respect for the dead body. He is recorded to have said, “Dignity in death is a birthright of each living thing.”

He was the “Mother Teresa” of India

Against the ugly backdrop of violence and poverty of the 1947 partition, he established a premier care institute in Amritsar, Punjab which was established to cater to the needs of the distitue, sick, disabled and forlorn people of the state of Punjab providing them with housing, food, medical care, love and attention. His life is a story of great personal sacrifice; a dogged determination against a huge problem; a passion for service and seva; complete faith and surrender to the powerful Almighty and unending love for the suffering beings of the world. From an early age, Bhagat ji was involved in helping other beings and doing Nishkam Sewa.

This was something that his mother had promoted and taught him. Bhagat ji wrote: “From my childhood, my mother had asked me to do personal service to all the creations of God. This tender and distinct feelings of virtuous tasks was ingrained in my mind. My mother had taught me to provide water to the animals, plant trees and water newly planted saplings, offer feed to the Sparrows, Crows and Mynahs, pick up thorns from the paths, and remove the stones from cart tracks. This had embedded the Name of the Almighty in my heart.

She had entrusted me to the custody of Gurdwara Dera Sahib and started me on a path of virtuous living. By following this path your mind can never waver.” In 1947, Bhagat ji founded the institute called Pingalwara meaning “the home of the crippled” with a few discarded crippled or sick patients. The word “Pingal” means “Cripple” and “wara” mean “home”. Today, this institute which is run by Bibi Dr Inderjit Kaur cares for over 1000 patients. Bhagat ji was also writer as well as publisher and an environmentalist.

Bhagat Ji’s contribution in spreading awareness about the global dangers of environmental pollution, increasing soil erosion, etc are now well recognised. For his dedication and unreserved service to humanity was awarded with heaps of honours from many quarters. Prestigious among these was the Padamshri award in 1979, which he surrendered in the wake of the army attack on the Golden Temple in 1984. Bhagat ji left for his heavenly abode on August 5, 1992 aged 88 years.

Early Days

He was born on 3 June,1904 in village Rajewal of Ludhiana district of Punjab, (British India). After the death of his father, his mother encouraged him to pass matric level of education and find a Government job. His mother worked as a domestic help in the house of a doctor at Mintgumury to organise money for her son’s education. Later, she went to Lahore and cleaned utensils in households there to earn money.

Puran Singh was sent to a hostel where he was sent Ten rupees every month by his mother. Unfortunately, he failed his Class tenth examination, after which became sad and dejected.His mother told him,”Don’t be sad, even those who fail eat their meal.” Later in his life he wrote about this incident as,” She was the daughter of a farmer. She had seen that her parents would leave for the fields by daybreak and return home in the evening after a whole day of back-breaking hard work.

Even then they weren’t sure if they would get the harvest or will have to suffer starvation. Had she been the daughter of an officer she would have been disheartened by my failure and my inability to sit on an office chair with a pen in my hand.” He was called back to Lahore and admitted in a local school there but he was not interested in studying his course books as they were filled with hypothetical and theoretical knowledge with absolutely no connection or applications in the everyday life. He, however, would spend hours browsing books in the Dyal Singh Library,Lahore and try to gain as much knowledge as he could. Sooner, this boy became a reservoir of the knowledge which some of the greatest scholars could not even dream of possessing.

Service towards humanity

While in Lahore, he would often visit Gurudwara Dehra Sahib and commit himself to the service of the people by attending the visitors to the Gurudwara and providing them water for bathing and also managing the cattle belonging to the Gurudwara. He would also serve in the Langar, the common kitchen, by cleaning the utensils, making chapatis and distributing food to the sangat(people coming to the Gurudwara). He even cleaned the floor of the Gurudwara in the evening.

One day, a visitor fell from the roof of the Gurudwara and got badly injured. Bhagat Puran Singh immediately rushed him to the local ‘Mu Hospital’. Experiencing inner joy after helping the patient, he took a man with badly bleeding leg full of worms to hospital where he expressed his thanks to Bhagat Puran Singh and said,”Son! Now I can die a peaceful death.” With this incident, the service of humanity became the mission of his life. Now he would wander here and there finding the injured, physically handicapped persons and toking them to the Hospital. He also took care of them as his pocket and capability allowed.

Once, he even washed the clothes of an old and poor beggar who was suffering from loosemotions. On a moonless night of the year 1934, someone left a four-year-old leper boy on the door of Gurudwara Dehra Sahib who was handed over to Bhagat Puran Singh by the then Head Granthi of the Gurudwara, Jathedar Acchar Singh after performing prayers for his well being. He named the boy Piara Singh, who was taken care of by Bhagat Puran Singh. This incident completely transformed the face of his life.

After the partition of India in 1947, Bhagat Puran Singh reached a refugee camp in Amritsar which housed over 25,000 refugees with just 5 annas(0.3 rupees) in his pocket. A large number of refugees were critically wounded and incapable of nursing themselves.

The government didn’t make any arrangements to take care of these refugees. Bhagat Puran Singh took the initiative, he took some chloroform and Turpentine oil and started treating the wounds of the wounded. He would often go in the nearby colonies to get food for the hungry and medicine for the ill. Later days From 1947 till 1958, Bhagat Puran Singh did not get a permanent dwelling. He could be seen outside the chief Khalsa Diwan, post offices, railway stations or under the tree outside the office of the Civil Surgeon.

He would wander in the streets, asking for donations to help the needy. Some people offered to help him, but most of the others kept themselves from donating towards the noble cause. At last, he founded ‘The All India Pingalwara Charitable Society’ whose annual budget at that time was 12.5 million rupees and got it registered. Even today, this institution, headquartered at Tehsilpura, Grand Trunk road, Amritsar, works for helping the poor, the diseased and the physically and mentally handicapped. He died in 1992.

Bhagat Puran Singh Ji was undoubtedly the single Sikh hero of our times who worked selflessly all his life to provide the last hope to the mentally and terminally ill patients. He was to Sikhism, what Mother Teresa was to Catholicism. Against the backdrop of violence and poverty in 1947 he established a premier institute – Pingalwara at Amritsar- which takes care of the sick, the disabled and the forlorn. With the passage of time and diverse needs of community, managers at Pingalwara have added to their concern environment and rural education. Pingalwara today is a worldwide organization and has immense support from all communities, particularly the Sikh community. — Editor

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