Bishan Singh, Giani
Cleric and Exegete (1875-1966)
Was a granthi or priest at the Khalsa College at Amritsar for 30 years. The Khalsa College was then a premier Sikh college excelling in research and publication in the field of Sikh studies. Four of the foremost Sikh scholars of this period, namely Bhai Jodh Singh, Professor Teja Singh, Bhai Sahib Singh and Dr Ganda Singh, were members of the college faculty and between them they brought about a major enlightenment in Sikh letters. Bhai Bishan Singh imbibed much of their passion for learning. He took turns with them at expounding the holy text at the daily morning service at the College Gurdwara. He also put his hand to preparing a full-scale commentary of the Holy Granth which was completed in 1945.
Bishan Singh was born around 1875, the son of Bhai Bulaka Singh of the village of Lakkhuval in Amritsar district of the Punjab. After learning barely to read and write Punjabi he left home to go to Lahore to study the Sikh classic Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth with Bhai Hira Singh, a noted scholar of the Sikh texts in those days. Apprenticeship with him earned Bishan Singh proficiency in Braj Bhasha as well as in Sikh history. He then shifted to Amritsar, where he remained under the tutelage of Giani Jodh Singh and Giani Bakhshish Singh.
In one of his books Giani Bishan Singh has mentioned Giani Sant Singh of Kapurthala also as his vidyadata (teacher). Under these scholars, he mastered the subtleties of Sikh philosophical thought. At Amritsar, he obtained employment as granthi at the Khalsa College in 1909, retiring from the position in 1939-40, as he attained the age of sixty-five.
As the College granthi, Bishan Singh made very good use of his time making the most of the library facilities available and of his contacts with the learned faculty. He found himself in full agreement with the new exegetical trends, breaking away from the traditional pedantic, Vedantic style.
He started working on his own tika or annotation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the first volume of which was published in 1918 and the eighth and the final in 1945. He also produced a full-length tika of the voluminous Dasam Granth. Among his other textual commentaries are tika Bai Varan, Tika Bhagat Bani, Tika Sahaskriti Salok, ,Tika Varah Bhai Gurdas and Tika Kabitt Savaiyye Bhai Gurdas. Before launching upon his exegetical works, Giani Bishan Singh had written small books with titles such as Twarikh Guru ka Bagh, Banda bahadur, Shahid Khalsa, Sher Khalsa, Surbir Khalsa and Maharaj Khalsa.
Noted among his other works are Saruktavali Satik, Sakhi Praman and Vicharmala Satik.
Giani Bishan Singh’s exposition of the sacred texts is marked by a simple and direct style of writing, unencumbered by loaded jargon or verbiage. He was always concise, even though at places his explanations lacked literary elegance and finish.
After his retirement from the Khalsa College, Giani Bishan Singh returned to his native village Lakkhuval, where he carried on with his scholarly pursuits with unabated zeal. He also taught beginners who came to seek his advice. Giani Bishan Singh died in his village in 1966.