Javala Singh, Bhai Sahib
A Renowned Exponent of the Sikh Devotional Music (1872-1952)
Was born in 1872 at the village of Saidpur in Kapurthala district of the Punjab. His father, Bhai Deva Singh and grandfather, Panjab Singh were in their day celebrated ragis or musicians who recited Sikh kirtan to the accompaniment of saranda, a stringed instrument. Javala Singh excelled at taus, another stringed instrument, and at harmonium. He had at his command such an abundance of traditional and classical tunes, composition of some of which was traced back to the times of the Gurus themselves, that he did not have to repeat a tune even when singing for weeks on end. He possessed a vast treasure of dhunis or tunes, partals, ritis or musical styles and traditional compositions.
Bhai Javala Singh learnt to read Punjabi from Baba Pala Singh, a granthi, or scripturereader, in his own village. Then he was sent to the Nirmala dera or monastery at the village of Sekhvati, in Firozpur district, and put under the charge of Baba Sardha Singh, who taught him music. At the dera, he also studied the religious texts. For further training in music, Baba Sardha Singh sent him to Amritsar to be under the tutelage of another maestro, Baba Vasava Singh, popularly known as Baba Rangi Ram Singh. After completing his course at Amritsar, Javala Singh returned to his village, Saidpur.
Gradually he made his mark as a leading Sikh musician who was much in demand for performing kirtan at congregations at far-flung places. He subscribed to the Singh Sabha ideology which he zealously preached and, when the Akali movement for the reformation of Gurdwara management got underway, he jumped into it with equal enthusiasm. He courted arrest in the agitation for recovering the keys of the Golden Temple treasury taken away by the British deputy commissioner of Amritsar and in the Jaito morcha as a member of the first jatha or band of protesting volunteers as well as of the last.
He was present at the cremation of the Nankana Sahib martyrs (1921) and, with the holy precincts reeking of blood, he most movingly recited, sitting by the side of the heap of corpses, Guru Nanak's hymn: "khun ke sohile gaviahi Nanak ratu ka kungu pai ve lalo - Paens to blood are being sung, says Nanak (such are the times), and the saffron of blood is now the adornment, O Lalo!"
Javala Singh presided over the first all India Ragis Conference held at Amritsar in 1942. He died on 29 May 1952 at his village Saidpur.