Attar Singh, Sardar Sir
Scholar and Translator (1833-1896)
Scholar nobleman, was a collateral of the rulers of Patiala, and belonged to the village of Bhadaur, in present-day Sangrur district of the Punjab. He was born in 1833, the son of Kharak Singh.
From the very beginning, he had a bent for learning and gained proficiency in Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and English. For study of Sanskrit, he went to Varanasi. For his mastery in Sanskrit learning he was honoured by the British with the title of "Mahamahopadhyaya".
He was equally at ease in the world of Arabic-Persian learning for which he earned the title of Shamas ul-Ulema Succeeding to the family estates in 1858, Attar Singh set up a library for himself and a school for the children at Badhaur. In 1878, he moved to Ludhiana, shifting his library from Bhadaur to that city as well. In pursuance of his will, this library was after his death transferred to the Panjab Public Library at Lahore.
For his scholarly tastes and for his work in the cause of education, he was appointed a member of the senate of the Panjab University College, Lahore, in 1870. Already in 1869 he had been elected a member of Anjuman-i-Punjab, an educational and literary society started under the president ship of Dr G.W. Leitner. Of the Anjuman, he was vice-president in 1880. He was elected a member of Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1869.
The British authorities often consulted him on matters relating to Sikh affairs, faith and literature. A strong loyalist in sympathy, Attar Singh helped the British especially at the time of the uprising of the Kukas or Namdharis and maintained voluntary surveillance in keeping. the government informed about their activities. For the benefit of the British government, he also translated into English in 1873 Sau Sakhi (lit. A Hundred Stories), an apocryphal text ascribed by some to Guru Gobind Singh, which was popularised towards the end of the nineteenth century by Kukas who read some of its verses as predictory of their own triumph and prosperity and of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the deposed king of the Punjab.
When in 1873 Trumpp expressed his inability to translate the Dasam Granth, Attar Singh at the request of the government prepared abstracts of certain texts from it, such as Jap Sahib, Akal Ustati, Bachitra Natak, Zafarnamah and the Hakayat section in Persian and Punjabi which he supplied to the Government of India and to Dr Trumpp in March 1874. He also translated into English Rahitnamas of Prahlad Singh and Bhai Nand Lal for the benefit of the government.
In January 1876, he published his English translation of Malva Des Ratan di Sakhi Pothi, popularly known as Sakhi Pothi, under the title The Travels of Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. He was a member of the Bengal Philharmonical Society and also served on the Committee of Management of the Aitchison Chiefs’ College, Lahore. In recognition of his literary and political services he was awarded by the British the title of Fazil ul-Fuzala (lit. excelling the excellent learned men) in 1877, and C.I.E. (Companion of the Indian Empire) in 1880.
In 1887, on the occasion of the Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebrations, the newly-instituted title of Mahdmahopadhyaya was conferred on him in recognition of his eminent services in the promotion of Oriental learning. In 1888, he was admitted to Knighthood. Attar Singh was consulted on the question of official permission to Maharaja Duleep Singh to visit India. He opposed the proposal and his advice was one of the factors which led to the refusal for the deposed Maharaja to visit the Punjab.
Sardar Attar Singh’s services in the cause of Singh Sabha movement are as noteworthy as his loyalty to the British. He was founder president of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Ludhiana, established in 1884. He also took a leading part in the establishment of the Khalsa Diwan at Lahore of which he became patron-in-chief. In 1886 he had been nominated a member of the General Committee of the Darbdr Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar. In 1890, he was made vice-president and trustee of the Khalsa College Establishment Committee and later vice-president of the Khalsa College Council. Attar Singh made a signal contribution to the history of the development of Punjabi when he had the language included in the academic programme at the Oriental College at Lahore. To counteract the argument of the opponents that there was no mentionable literature in Punjabi, he produced a formidable list of books and manuscripts in Punjabi from his personal collection which clinched the issue. He brought to the notice of scholars, especially Dr Leitner, an old inscription at Hathur, a village in Ludhiana district. This inscription proved how far back the roots of Punjabi language and its script went.
Sardar Sir Attar Singh died at Ludhiana on 10 June 1896.