The Torch Bearer of Sikhism

January 5, 1979 |

Categories: 3HO HistoryOur Stories

Page 34-41 of the book, The Man Called the Siri Singh Sahib, which was published in 1979.

S.S. Gurcharn Singh Khalsa  (Journalist) London, U.K shares his experience of and relationship with Yogi Bhajan:

The late Master Tara Singh was the supreme leader of the Sikhs during the British Raj and a fearless spokesman for the Sikh cause.  He was president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.) and Shiromani Akali Dal for many years.  After August 15, 1947, the political circumstances in India changed and the Congress Party became the supreme political power in India following the exit of the British regime.  In order to eclipse his leadership, the Congress representatives won over some of  Master Tara Singh’s followers and put up Jathedar Udham Singh Nagoke as a political  opponent against him in the election campaign for the S.G.P.C. President.  With the opposition from the Congress Party of the central government, as well as of the Punjab, Master Tara Singh ‘was defeated by three votes on June 26, 1948, and for the first time since 1927, the control of S.G.P.C. went out of the hands of the Akali Dal.  It was a big shock to the whole uprooted Sikh Community.  Delhi Gurdwaras were also under the control of Congress-supporting Sikhs.  There was no platform from which to voice the real Sikh sentiments. 

I, along with other Sikh youths of Delhi, went to Amritsar and met Master Tara Singh, and persuaded him to come to Delhi, and address the Sikh sangat in Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and to place Sikh grievances before the International Press.  During those preparations, I first met Harbhajan Singh.  We were organizing a team of Sikh youths, who should protect Master Tara Singh in case the management created disturbances.  Harbhajan Singh took upon his own shoulders, the entire security arrangements, and along with four other young Sikhs, he stood with unsheathed Siri Sahib (sword) behind Master Tara Singh all throughout the meeting.  The meeting was a unique success, and the Delhi Sikhs demonstrated their complete support of his leadership.  We also held a press conference and garden party in Chelmsford Club and Harbhajan Singh was one of the enthusiastic organizers. 

During those stormy years of organizing the Sikhs of Delhi, he was a great inspiration and helped and worked tirelessly and enthusiastically, and fought bravely and courageously, for the cause of the Sikh community in the capital of India, against heavy odds of pressure and power from the Central Government and the Sikh stooges during 1948-50. 

I remember another occasion, when one of the members of the Delhi Gurdwara Committee was speaking against Shiromani Akali Dal in a huge celebration congregation in the Mata Sundari Gurdwara.  Harbhajan Singh stood up, and opposing him in his thundering voice said, “Utter another word, and I shall snatch away your ugly tongue”.  The entire sangat supported his sentiments and that man could not utter another word.  Such was the courage, conviction, and fearlessness of Harbhajan Singh as a Sikh youth. 

Since I have come in his intimate contact, I have very closely followed his career in and out of government service, and during the course of my long friendship with him, I have had abundant opportunities of observing and testing the sterling qualities of this man.  I have always found him a good, useful, helpful, and humble friend. 

When he was a student of Camp College, he became the President of the Student Union.  Playing hockey was a passion with him, and he was a player of distinction. For a year or two, he remained captain of the college team.  Being a star player, he was lovingly called “King of Hockey”.  He was also a champion debater.  During his college days, he organized the Sikh Student Federation in Delhi, and injected a new feeling into the hearts and souls of Sikh young men. 

He was born on August 26, 1929, in a well-to-do, and highly respected family of Khatri Sikh.  His father, S. Kartar Singh Puri, was a medical doctor, and working in the Government Hospital.  His grandfather, Bhai Fateh Singh, was a highly respected person in his town.  He was a man of deep spiritual vision and a great Sikh theologian.  He was of a saintly disposition, pure in body and mind.  He was a compassionate soul and helper of all. 

From his infancy, Harbhajan Singh was inspired and guided by his saintly grandfather.  He grew up in the lap of such a holy man.  He learned early and well and grew in spiritual awareness.  His grandfather lighted a wonderful quest in his infant heart for Sikhism.  The saintly impression of his grandfather’s diving personality was deeply stamped on his heart, the effect of which is visible up to this day. 

When he was studying in School at Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), he was deeply attracted by Sant Hazara Singh, a great mystic and Tantric of his time.  He was also a renowned equestrian and a perfect master of ancient Indian martial arts. Harbhajan Singh became his devoted follower and secretly learned the basic knowledge of that old science, and became master of Kundalini Yoga at the age of sixteen. 

There is no liberation without labor and there is no freedom which is free.” ~Yogi Bhajan

After the partition of India, his family came to Delhi as refugees, and he joined Camp College, and graduated in Economics from the Punjab University.  He joined the Government of India as a security officer in the Income Tax Department and later on transferred to the Revenue Department as an income tax officer.  He resigned from government service when he was working as a customs officer at Palim Airport, New Delhi. 

During the eighteen years of his government service, he was posted at various places.  When he was stationed at Amritsar, he was an early riser, and a regular visitor to Sri Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple).  He used to clean the parkarma and cleanse the utensils of Guru Ram Das Langar (kitchen) with deep devotion and sincere longing.  He felt inspired and received  spiritual awakening through that sevaa (selfless service) in the House of Guru Ram Das. 

Throughout his service career, he remained an intensely active and ardent supporter of the Sikh cause.  Many a time he was misunderstood by some fanatic Sikhs, but his feelings always remained with the Sikh masses.  During the Punjabi Sabha agitation, he used to visit the Golden Temple every day and attended meetings regularly. 

In early 1968, I paid a visit to India, and met him in the ashram of Swami Dhirindra Brahamachariwith whom he had been studying the yogic science due to his longing to learn Hatha Yoga and to gain insight into a yoga institution.  The Swami was the chief founder/organizer of Vishwayatan Yoga Ashram, which was patronized, by the late Prime Minister, Jawahar Lall Nehru, and Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I was amazed to learn his practical knowledge about yoga and its literature.  I was startled, when he told me that he was planning to leave his job and go to foreign countries as a yoga teacher. When I enquired the reason for that, he told me that some mysterious call from within was compelling him to go out and serve the mission of his Gurus.  If others could preach the gospels of Vedas and Geetaa, through yoga, would he not be able to propagate the precious and peerless wealth of Guru’s teachings?  When I looked into his eyes, I saw a glow of brightness in them.  I also noticed that it was his motivating passion to become the messenger of his Guru’s mission.   

With the love of Guru, and knowledge of yoga, he first went to Canada in the month of Septemberand from there he went to the United States in December 1968 and started a new and most distinguished career as a yoga teacher.   

As he possessed a God-given gift of organization, in a short period, he obtained outstanding success in his pursuit.  He won the love and respect of those young men and women who came to him to learn yoga and soon he became a yogi of repute, and affectionately he was called Yogi Bhajan by his students.  Along with the techniques of breathing, exercises and meditation, he used to speak the inspired words of the Gurus and tell their life stories and the teachings and dignity of the Sikh way of life.  It was the first time the American youth had ever heard the names of the Sikh Gurus and their teachings.   

He continued delivering the message of his Guru for two and one-half years continuously and tirelessly.  Neither hunger nor fatigue seemed to affect him.  Through love, humility and service, he inspired hundreds of young men and women to lead the Sikh way of life.   Then, at the end of 1970, he paid a return visit to India, with a group of eightyfour Americans. 

He visited the Golden Temple and paid his homage to Guru Ram Das and many of his students who had come with him were baptized into the Khalsa Brotherhood at Akal Takhat.  Since the creation of the Khalsa in 1699, it was the first occasion when Western people were initiated into the fold of Khalsa at the holiest of holy places.  The Sikh masses acknowledged and appreciated the success and dedicated work he had accomplished in such a short period in the West. He was warmly received wherever he went.  All the Sikh leaders were united in appreciating the great deeds performed by him.  For his unique services rendered to the Khalsa Panth, he was presented with a saropa by Akal Takhat, and the late Sant Fateh Singh and Sant Chanan Singh called him by the title SIRI SINGH SAHIB.  By letter of the S.G.P.C., he was empowered to instruct and initiate new members into the Sikh Dharma, and to instruct and ordain ministers of the Sikh Dharma and to perform marriage ceremonies and administer funeral rites. 

Again in 1974, he was honored with the most exalted title of Bhai Sahib at Akal Takhat, for his dedication to spread the message of the Gurus in the West.  Very few great Sikhs have been honored with this title before.  At Anandpur Sahib, he was given two magnificent shastars (weapons) of Guru Gobind Singh and at Damdama Sahib, he was given two historic handwritten copies of Siri Guru Granth Sahib for the Western Sikhs. 

Ten years ago there was hardly one American Sikh, but today there is hardly a city in the USA where you do not come across an American Sikh, with a flowing beard and/or a white turban, greeting you with folded hands. 

This curious phenomenon is the result of the hard efforts of Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji, who set his foot on the soil of America in 1968.  All these years, in summer’s heat, and winter’s snow, he has been moving from place to place for the propagation of his Guru’s mission.  During this period, he has established more than one hundred ashrams in the name of Guru Ram Das or one of the other ten Gurus, not only in the United States and Canada, but in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, France, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, where young Western people live in peace and tranquility, as Sikhs of the Guru.   

For a very longtime, the depth and virtues of the Sikh faith had remained unknown to the Western world and the Sikh religion was considered a sect of Hinduism.  No efforts were ever made by those Indian born Sikhs who are settled in the Western countries to preach the gospel of their Guru among the native populace. Rather, it is a shocking tragedy, that the majority of them have turned their backs to their Gurus and have shaved off their beards and cut their hair, and adopted the western way of life.  Though they had built many Gurdwaras, yet no one had ever ventured to propagate the Sikh tenants outside the Indian Sikh community. 

Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji is the first glorious son of Guru Gobind Singh who approached those Western youth, who were themselves burning with the fire of ignoble passions and groaning under the heavy load of spiritual ignorance and were in utter forgetfulness of the higher needs of their souls. 

He gave them the message of hope, peace, and deliverance, which the Gurus had bestowed upon him.  He preached to them a life of love, goodness and moral endeavor and excellence.  He met them, picked them up, cared for them, loved them and brought them to the feet of his Guru. 

He instructed them in the fundamentals of the Sikh faith, and bade them to earn their living by honest labor, to meditate on God’s name, and to share their earnings with the needy and the poor. Through his soul-stirring lectures, they were awakened to a new life.  And it is Guru’s wonder that he transformed them from hippies to yoga students, and from yoga students to Sikhs and from Sikhs to Khalsa. 

Today, thousands of Western young men and women are following the footsteps of the Gurus and are leading the life of Khalsa as ordained by Guru Gobind Singh.  They live in perfect Sikh discipline and follow the Sikh tenets with most profound conviction and sincerity.  Their devotion and adherence to Sikh principles and sacred symbols are outstanding.  They are men and women of resolution and courage.  They are graceful and dignified and one finds utmost tenderness and gentleness in them.  They behave with dignity whatever comes their way, whether blessings or afflictions.  In chastity, virtue, and temperance, they are much higher than Indian-born Sikhs, living in the West, who have compromised with the condition existing there, have parted with the sacred symbols and do not conform to the Sikh discipline.  The Sikh community owes much to the courage and conviction of these Sikhs, who are displaying through their silent examples, the true spirit of the Khalsa and appearing in the full form with turbans, beards, and the five K’s in public and propagating the teachings of the Gurus with all their might. 

The seeds of Nam, which Yogi Ji planted a decade ago, are now sprouting and the Khalsa is growing rapidly, and their strength increasing daily, and it appears that they will fulfill the prophecy of Guru Gobind Singh, that 960,000,000 Khalsa shall rise in the West and shall guide the world. 

Since the arrival of Siri Singh Sahib Ji in the West, and the formation of Sikh Dharma, the Sikh faith has been recognized by the United States Government, and the Sikhs form and its sacred symbols have been accepted by the United States Army. 

As one cannot imagine, the height of a hill standing at its base, similarly, as we are too close to the Siri Singh Sahib’s time, we are therefore unable to measure the great and sublime success he has achieved in the spread of the Sikh mission in less than an decade.  It is my belief, that it is a divine preordinationthat he could perform this miracle and has brought thousands of people to the feet of his Guru.  Since the birth of Sikhism, it is the first time that it has been accepted by Western people, and today there are American, Canadian, Hawaiian, New Zealander, Japanese, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Mexican, and English Sikhs. 

There is something majestic about his personality in which there is a blend of a prince and a yogi.  He has a red glowing face, with apostolic flowing beard, a vast forehead, burning eyes, which spark with compassion, and at other times are lost in ecstasy.  The grace of his wisdom and fire of his meditative eyes, the splendid music of his voice, enthrall everyone.  The matchless, classical charm of his dress adds to an historic appearance. 

The most impressive thing in him is his inexhaustible fertility and brilliancy of mind, which are revealed through his sparkling humor, wisdom, and conversation.  In his lectures, one discovers the glow of his experiences, his intellectual certainty, and the metaphysical clarity of his theology.  Penetrating, passionate, and imaginative, he is always profound and clear in his thinking, and determined and powerful in his action.  He is a man of steadfast integrity, a noble and masculine character, with a comprehensive mind. 

In the most severe trials and against the heaviest odds, he walks erect and upright, shored up by his own courage.  He behaves with moderation under both good and bad fortune.  He has the heart of a cavalier, the soul of a believer and the temperament of a martyr.  He is an impetuous, courageous, dogmatic, decisive, inspiring, dominating, and creative man.  Proud before princes and politicians, but humble before noble and godly men.  He is a defender of the faith, champion of the Truth, revealer of the Guru’s teachings, a terror to imposters, a relentless fighter against falsehood and a banner carrier of the Guru’s mission.  He is a unique herdsman of the Guru’s cattle. 

He is outspoken in expressing his feelings and true to his beliefs and convictions.  Although he is somewhat soft of speech when he talks in Punjabi, yet he speaks his mind openly and boldly when the occasion calls for it.  Du to his outspoken and uncompromising attitude, many Sikhs who occupy high positions in Sikh politics are ill-pleased with him.  But, he is not the kind of man to stoop and bend himself in every direction to catch the popular applause. 

He has taken an uncompromising stand against “shave-ism”, the practice of shaving and trimming beards by some Sikhs, and he has had the boldness to speak the truth and not to care for the hue and cry of his opponents.  He perceives that if the Sikhs do not adhere to the shape and form ordained by Guru Gobind Singh and instead accept “shave-ism” in the near future, they will be re-absorbed by the powerful Hinduism as it has swallowed Buddhism in the past.  Therefore, wherever he goes, he injects the Sikhs with a new and forceful inspiration to live to the teachings of their Gurus. 

Although, due to his outspoken championing of unpopular sentiments, he is a thorn in the side of certain intellectuals, historians, newspapermen, and leaders, yet through his unique service and devotion to the Khalsa Panth, he has secured a remarkable place in the hearts of the Sikh masses, and his name has become one of the most glorious legends of the Sikh Renaissasance, and his work will occupy many a glorious page in the Sikh history.  His life and work will be remembered and appreciated, and his thoughts and spirit, his courage and valor, will continue to inspire the succeeding generations. 

His life story contains painful tales of opposition, criticism, abuses, and physical attacks.  He has been betrayed many times, and the wounds of betrayal are visible on his fiber, yet he has never given an inch.  He has the courage to brave the tyranny of his accusers.  He is a valiant fighter and knows not to bow. 

 Whatever may be said about him, about his works or about the American Sikhs, ultimately his life and career will be known by the works he has done, and the time is not far off when his achievements will be admired and respected and his portrait will adorn every Sikh home. 

 May God bless him and keep him always in His love and care. 

“Faith moves the mountains, otherwise stones are heavy.”


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  1. Wahe Guru!

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