Sunday, December 04, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism

Wathen, Gerard Anstruther
Principal of Khalsa College (1878-1958)

A British educator who came by much applause and friendliness at the hands of his Sikh pupils and their parents during his time as principal of the Khalsa College at Amritsar in the early part of the twentieth century. By, his helpfulness and natural affability and by his spirit of devotion he had won the trust of the entire people. They soon seemed to be eating off his palm. They worshipped him and Mrs Wathen as their friends and benefactors. They are fondly remembered to this day by the Sikh community as the creators of their famous school. Their names still evoke much warmth and appreciation.

Most of the Sikhs of that period consider their success and prosperity in life as their personal gifts to them. In 1916, Mr Wathen took in hand the completion of the main building and the construction of cubicles for the increasing number of boarders. Both, husband and wife, carried on their heads basketfuls of rubble-a scene unforgettably etched on the minds of many a youth of that time. His coats-off exercise proved crucial in bringing to the youth the virtues of manual work. He implanted in the minds of the Sikh people the idea of a Sikh university.

Mr Wathen was born at Bexley, Kent, on 28 December 1878. He was married to Melicent Buxton who bore him three sons and a daughter. His son Roger was killed playing polo at Jhansi in 1935. Mr Wathen was educated at St Paul's school and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and travelled extensively in the Balkans and Anatolia on archaeological research. In 1905, he joined the Indian Education Service, becoming professor of English at Government College, Lahore. He also acted as inspector of schools, Jalandhar division. His association with Khalsa College lasted from 1915 to 1924.

A very unusual student during his time at the Khalsa College whom he had groomed with much attention was a strapping youth, Partab Singh from the village of Narangval, a village which has bequeathed to the Punjab many famous saints as well as soldiers. His father, Col Hira Singh, had retired from the service of Maharaja of Rewa, in Central India, where he held the positicn of commander of the state forces. Col Hira Singh's father Capt Hazura Singh had also served in the princely state of Rewa in the same capacity. Leaving the Khalsa College S. Partab, to give the Sikh youth the anglicized name he was to adopt, joined Oxford University from where he received his B.A. in English literature. He then began his top-brass civilian career. In the Gurdwara Shahidganj agitation started by the Muslims of Lahore he showed extraordinary cool in tackling a highly combustible situation when he was deputy commisioner there.

The young man had earned a very warm and complimentary tribute from the principal, Mr Wathen, who while at Khalsa College had recorded the following testimonial for him "He has had an excellent record both in work and play ; comes of a family with admirable traditions; has a fine appearance, good health and physique. But other things are not equal for he, on the verge of his degree, joined the Army in the University Signal Section. Not only did he alone of the senior classes enlist, but he expressed his intention of enlisting on the very day that the formation of the unit was announced. But in no case have I been able to say that any candidate has deserved so well of a college and the state as he."

Mr Wathen had become the cherished idol for the Sikhs. Since his passing they have often silently wished that he should return to the Punjab to take control of their affairs. Mr Wathen died in a traffic accident knocked down by a London taxi on 9 August 1958.

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Source: TheSikhEncyclopedia.Com

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
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