Gurmukh Singh Sevavale, Sant
Renovation and Kar Seva of Important Sikh Shrines (1849-1947)
With titles such as Patialevale, Karsevavale or simply Sevavale commonly added to the name as a suffix, was born in an Arora family in 1849 at the village of Dialgarh Buria, in the princely state of Patiala. His parents, Karam Singh and Gurdel, were a pious couple. From his father, Gurmukh Singh learnt to read the Guru Granth Sahib. He was of a quiet nature and spent most of his time reciting gurbani. As he grew up, he was married and a son was born to him. For a short time, he served in the elephant stable of the Maharaja of Patiala and later in the British Indian army. Taking his discharge from the army, he retired to a forest, five miles outside of Patiala, and practised austerities and meditation for twelve long years. Accompanied by a number of devotees, he undertook a pilgrimage on foot to Nanded, in the South, with the Guru Granth Sahib, on a bullock-cart leading the procession.
In 1903, Sant Gurmukh Singh moved to Amritsar where he took up lodgings in the Malvai Bunga. While in Amritsar, he came under the influence of Sant Sham Singh, celebrated for his piety as well as for his mastery of Sikh music. Besides nam simran, he made seva or manual community service his daily habit. With a broom in one hand and spade in the other, he spent many an hour everyday sweeping the steps and terrace around the sacred tank. When he started his campaign in 1914-15 for cleansing by kar-seva or voluntary service the holy pool, called Santokhsar, in Amritsar, he was launched upon the mission of his life which he pursued with unparalleled devotion and humility. Long-drawn and thorough – going kar-seva was undertaken at several holy shrines and pools. During 1923-28, the sarovar at Tarn Taran was desilted and lined, and the channel bringing canal water into it, since raja Raghbir Singh of Jind (1864-87) had it dug in 1883, was also paved and covered. The old hansli or water channel at Amritsar constructed by Mahant Santokh Das and Mahant Pritam Das during the Sikh times having become choked, work was started on digging a new one. Begun in 1923, it was completed by March 1928.
During the next 20 years, the building of the main shrine at Muktsar was renovated, the pool was enclosed and lined and the parikrama, the circumambulatory passage around it, was paved with marble; a 20-km metalled road was constructed linking Khadur Sahib and Goindval to Tarn Taran; Gurdwara Tapiana Sahib at Khadur Sahib was reconstructed and its sarovar desilted and lined and a covered water channel constructed to feed it; Gurdwara Dera Sahib and the sarovar at Jamarai, the ancestral village of Guru Nanak, were reconstructed; the sarovar at Baba Bakala was lined, the parikrama paved, and a link road to Gurdwara Mata Ganga Ji constructed; and at Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Bal Lila and Gurdwara Kurd Sahib were rebuilt and a water channel to feed the sarovar laid out. Work on reconstructing the principal shrine in Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Janam Asthan, was to begin when the Partition of August 1947 demarcating the new States of Pakistan and India intervened. Sant Gurmukh Singh returned to Amritsar, where besides participating in the task of widening the parikrama around the Darbar Sahib, he opened langars to feed the refugees, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, stranded on either side of the Indo-Pakistan border.
Sant Gurmukh Singh died at the age of ninety-eight at Amritsar on 30 November 1947, and was cremated on the bank of the Upper Bari Doab Canal where he had been living in a hut. His was a life truly spent in the remembrance of God and in seva. Gigantic renovation and construction works were undertaken at his instance and accomplished under his inspiration and guidance, all by voluntary donations. No donations were ever solicited. Yet funds flowed in ceaselessly and effortlessly. Devotees volunteered the labour of their hands to take part in the holy enterprise. Over the vast operations presided the saintly-figure of Sant Gurmukh Singh, on his lips the name of God all the time and his hands plying the broom or the spade. His work continues to this day at several places through his disciples popularly known as sevavale babe or revered old men engaged in seva.