Lakhbir Singh, Sant
Muslim Convert to Sikhism (1860-1935)
A convert to Sikhism, was born Karim Bakhsh to Muslim parents, Natthu and Basri, at Bakapur, a small village about 3 km from Phillaur, in the Punjab, which became the site of a big Sikh convention at the advent of the twentieth century. Karim Bakhsh had a religious bent of mind from the very beginning. This disturbed his family, who, to detract him from his lonely ways, married him to a girl, named Jindo, when he was barely twelve. At the age of 15, Karim Bakhsh’s quest for spiritual company took him to a Sikh saint, Bhai Kahla Singh of Banga, in Jalandhar district. He spent two years at his feet. After Bhai Kahla Singh’s death, Karim Bakhsh sought solace in the service of his disciple, Bhai Dula Singh of Thakurval, in Hoshiarpur district. For twelve years he presented himself once every week in the holy sangat at Thakurval, about 30 km away from his village.
Karim Bakhsh took up appointment as a Persian teacher in a school at Phillaur. He spent most of his time reciting gurbani from memory. He used to welcome the Sikhs with the Khalsa salutation, Vahiguru ja ki Fateh, and made regular visits to Amritsar to bathe in the sacred pool. Gradually, his wife was also converted to his way of life and it is said that he established conjugal relations with her only after he was convinced of her faith in Sikhism.
The story of Karim Bakhsh’s interest in Sikhism reached the Singh Sabha, Bhasaur, in Patiala state, through Bhai Takht Singh of Firozpur. The Singh Sabha decided to fulfil his wish and convert to Sikhism the Bakapur family at its annual divan of 1901, but it had to give up the plan owing to the outbreak of the plague epidemic. Karim Bakhsh attended the annual divan of the Sikhs at Bhasaur in 1902, but had to return empty-handed owing to a controversy that had arisen.
The Bhasaur Singh Sabha sent its emissaries – Bhai Teja Singh of Maingan, Sardar Bishan Singh and Bhai Takht Singh to visit Bakapur by turn and assure Karim Bakhsh that his heart’s wish must be fulfilled. Finally, Babu Teja Singh, the secretary of the Sabha, went himself. At Bakapur, he learnt that Maulawi Karim Bakhsh’s wife had passed away less than a week earlier and that the last rites had been performed strictly in accordance with the Sikh custom. The Guru Granth Sahib was kept with reverence in a room in the house and the Sikh kirtan was performed daily.
On return, Baba Teja Singh issued a public notice signifying that a divan would be convened in the village of Bakapur on 13-14 June 1903. The letter was sent on behalf of the Bhasaur Singh Sabha to important Sikh societies and individuals inviting them to participate in the proceedings. The letter included a note on the Bakapur family and its zeal for the Sikh faith. The invitation, widely circulated, evoked a warm response. On the appointed day, batches of Sikhs converged on Bakapur from places such as Lahore, Amritsar, Gujranwala, Katani, Narangval and Ludhiana.
To conduct the initiation ceremonies, the five Piaras (or the Guru’s Beloved) designated were Bhai Teja Singh, Bhai Takht Singh, Bhai Basant Singh of Bappiana (Patiala state), Bhai Sohan Singh of Gujjarkhan and Bhai Amar Singh of Raja Ghuman. Bhai Jodh Shigh, then a student at the Khalsa College at Amritsar, was named granthi for the ceremonies.
Maulawi Karim Bakhsh, then 43, was named Lakhbir Singh after initiation. His four sons Rukan Din, 15, Fateh Din, 12, Ghulam Muhammad, 6 and Khair Din, 4, became Matab Singh, Kirpal Singh, Harnam Singh and Gurbakhsh Singh, respectively. His daughter Bibi Nuran, 9, was given the Sikh name of Varyam Kaur. Lakhbir Singh won wide esteem in the Sikh community as Sant Lakhbir Singh. His son, Matab Singh, founded a society called the Khalsa Baradari and played a pioneer role in the Akali campaign for the reformation of the Sikh sacred places.