Hira Singh Ragi, Bhai
Eminent Exponent of Sikh Devotional Music (1879-1926)
Was born in 1879 at Faruka, in Shahpur district, now in Pakistan. His father’s name was Bhai Bhag Singh and mother’s Satbharai. Bhag Singh was well versed in classical music and played string instruments such as sarangi and taus. Hira Singh joined the middle school at Sahival, but soon left it to study the religious texts with Bhai Mahna Singh of Faruka. He learnt music from his father who performed kirtan in the village gurdwara. At the age of 15, he was married to Bibi Bhavan (renamed Prem Kaur). He attended the Nirankari Darbar at Rawalpindi and Namdhari Darbar at Bhaini, and subsequently joined the jatha of Sant Atar Singh in whose company he also went on a pilgrimage to Sri Abchal Nagar Hazur Sahib, Nanded. In 1897, he settled down, with his wife, at Amritsar, working with the Khalsa Tract Society which brought him under the influence of Bhai Vir Singh and deepened his study of the Sikh scriptural writings. He started to learn playing the harmonium from Mahant Takht Singh. His father soon joined him in Amritsar and the two formed a ragi jatha, or choir, which soon became the most famous ensemble reciting kirtan at Sikh gatherings. Hira Singh led the kirtan interspersing it with exposition of the sacred verse, as his father accompanied him on the taus.
He joined the Chief Khalsa Diwan founded in 1902, and worked tirelessly towards promoting its programme of religious and social reform and of education among Sikhs. By his kirtan and discourses, he kept vast audiences spellbound. Many entered the Sikh fold under his influence. The story is told of Haji Muhammad Miskin who was among the audience listening to Bhai Hira Singh’s kirtan in Gwalior in 1925. The Haji had very diligently manufactured a rare piece of art – a whisk made of 145,000 strands of sandalwood fibre-which he desired to present as an offering at an appropriate place of worship. He felt so moved that he accompanied Bhai Hira Singh to Amritsar and, on his advice, offered the precious article at the Golden Temple. The whisk is still preserved in the Golden Temple toshakhana or treasury.
Bhai Hira Singh was one of the principal fund-raisers for the Sikh Educational Conference which set up schools in many parts of the Punjab. He helped to found in 1908 a Khalsa high school at Faruka which after the partition of 1947 was restarted in Ambala Cantonment. In the middle of 1924, Bhai Hira Singh was taken ill with cancer of the stomach. He died at Dehra Dun on 2 September 1926.