Remembering Daljeet Singh
by Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon
[Reproduced from Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Jan-Mar 2000]
Sardar Daljeet Singh was born on November 3, 1911, at village Kang in the Tarn Taran tehsil of Amritsar district of Punjab. His father, Sardar Gurbakhsh Singh joined the state army of the Maharaja of Bikaner in the 1880s as a sepoy and rose to the rank of Lt Colonel. He was awarded the title of Sardar Bahadur by the Viceroy of India and the medal of OBI (Order of British India) by the British Government. After a highly distinguished military career, he decided to settle at Tarn Taran in 1918, along with his wife, two sons and a daughter.
Daljeet Singh, youngest in the family, completed his matriculation in 1926, from SGAD Khalsa High School, Tarn Taran. He did his B Sc (Hons) in Botany from Khalsa College, Amritsar, in 1930. After obtaining the LLB degree from Law College, Lahore, in 1935, he successfully competed in the Punjab Civil Services (Executive) Examination. In spite of his very busy daily schedule as a bureaucrat, he found enough time for the wide range of his interests. He made an in-depth study of the Vedas and spent a number of years distilling the wisdom of the East and the West and making a comparative study of the Indian and the Western religions. He was particularly impressed by Judaism and Islam. He labelled these two religions, along with Sikhism, as activist religions. Christianity and chief Indian religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Vaishnavism were classified as pacifist religions.
The last few years of his service career, after his promotion to Indian Administrative Service, were the busiest. As Education Secretary with the Punjab Government, he played a vital role in framing the Charter of Punjabi University, Patiala. Later, he was actively associated with the establishment of the Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar. Unlike most bureaucrats, he lived a simple and austere life and was a teetotaller.
Daljeet Singh’s personality came into its own when he whole-heartedly entered the field of Sikh Studies after his retirement from service in November 1969. He devoted most of his time to the comparative study of religions with special reference to Sikhism. His magnum opus, Sikhism : A Comparative Study of Its Theology and Mysticism, is a landmark in the world of scholarship. After the work of M A Macauliffe, who introduced Sikhism to the western world, Daljeet Singh’s book is the most comprehensive one on the subject. It is not only an intense study of the gospel of the Sikh Gurus, but also compares and contrasts the doctrines and principles of Sikhism with those of the other higher religions of the world. It is a brilliant attempt to explain the identity, unity and integrity of the Sikh gospel in its true perspective.
The debate regarding the authenticity of the Kartarpuri Bir motivated Daljeet Singh to visit Kartarpur and make an in-depth study of the original manuscript. His well-known work, Essays on the Authenticity of Kartarpuri Bir, settled the controversy on the subject once and for all. He succeeded in dispelling many erroneous notions and misconceptions about the Bir. Another pioneering work, Essentials of Sikhism, published a few months before his death, breaks new ground in clarifying the doctrinal position of Sikhism vis-a-vis other religions. He brought to bear on the subject an unbiased mind and his unmatched knowledge of various streams of Eastern and Western theology and philosophy. He was able to convincingly show that the message of the Gurus had an eternal relevance, especially in the turbulent times through which mankind is passing today.
Daljeet Singh’s latest work, Sikhism and Civilisation, was found lying in his room in the manuscript form after his death. He brought clear perspectives on several pertinent themes like the Sikh worldview, God in Sikhism, the Miri-Piri concept and the unity and integrity of the Sikh doctrine from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. He challenged the western scholars who, advertently or inadvertently, tried to misrepresent and denigrate Sikhism through their writings. His critiques of works of scholars like W H McLeod, M Juergensmeyer, Harjot Oberoi, N G Barrier, etc. till date remain unchallenged by them.
The Council of Sikh Affairs, Chandigarh, and the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, two institutions founded by him, acquired worldwide renown on account of a spate of literature produced by them on Sikh theology and history. The Abstracts of Sikh Studies, a journal produced by the Institute, has a reach in all corners of the world.
Daljeet Singh reflected a great concern with the current Punjab crisis. His masterly analysis of the water problem served to enhance understanding of the roots of the crisis. It is a tribute to his sense of veracity that he has not been faulted, challenged or contradicted on this subject till today. He exposed the subtle machinations of the framers of the Punjab Reorganisation Act (1966), which virtually reduced Punjab to a crippled sub-State and drove it from one disaster to another. This act was patently violative of the Indian constitution, as under sections 78-80 of this Act, the powers of control, administration, maintenance, distribution and development of the waters and hydel power of Punjab rivers were vested in the Central Government. The Act opened a Pandora’s box and proved highly detrimental to the economic and political interests and future of the state and its people. This shook Daljeet Singh’s faith in the bonafides of the Indian Government. Indian polity, he believed, had failed the Sikhs. The tragedy and trauma of Punjab made him sad. But with a mind saturated with the wisdom, inspiration, and optimism of the Gurus, he never lost faith in the divine justice which, he believed, was bound to prevail in the end. In fact, it is this faith which sustains all those who bear the trauma and share the agony of Punjab.
Daljeet Singh worked for nearly eighteen hours a day writing, discussing and studying. He continued this routine till he breathed his last at the age of 83, on October 8, 1994. He was a humble, self-effacing man, who sought no honours, no publicity, no reward or position. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Kharak Singh (Ed.), Current Thoughts on Sikhism, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1996
Sardar Daljeet Singh : A Tribute, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, 1994
Kharak Singh (Ed.), Abstracts of Sikh Studies – Sardar Daljeet Singh Memorial Issue, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, Oct-Dec 1995
Daljeet Singh, Essentials of Sikhism, Singh Brothers, Amritsar, 1994
Jasbir Singh Mann and Harbans Singh Sarao (Eds), Advanced Studies in Sikhism, Chandigarh, 1990
Daljeet Singh, Essays on the Authenticity of Kartarpuri Bir, Punjabi University Patiala, 1987
Daljeet Singh, Sikhism: A Comparative Study of Its Theology and Mysticism, Sterling, New Delhi, 1970