Khalsa Diwan Majha
Singh Sabha Reform Organisation 1904
An association of reformist Sikhs representing the districts of Lahore, Amritsar and Gurdaspur, was set up in 1904. The Singh Sabha movement had created among the Sikhs a new consciousness for the need to reform their religious and social practices. Early in 1904. Risaldar Basant Singh of Naushahra Pannuan, in Tarn Taran sub-division of Amritsar district, celebrated the marriage of his daughter. Although the actual marriage ceremony was performed in accordance with the Sikh rites of Anand sanctioned and popularized by the Singh Sabha, it was marked by much extravagance and ostentation. This was disliked by his reformist friend, Zaildar Sham Singh of Kairon. Their mutual discussions led to a representative meeting being called in February of 1904 in the precincts of Sri Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran.
The meeting decided to establish a society by the name of Khalsa Diwan Majha. Basant Singh prepared the draft of a constitution which he circulated to different Singh Sabhas. A specially designated religious sub-committee was charged with scrutinizing it. Risaldar Basant Singh was elected president and Zaildar Sham Singh secretary. Kairon served as the headquarters, but monthly meetings were to be held by rotation in neighbouring villages so as to maximize local participation.
In its earlier years, the Diwan focussed attention primarily on two-fold activity. First, a group of preachers and singers toured villages urging Sikh farmers to simplify marriages, to avoid large dowries, and to give up drugs and alcohol. Secondly, the Diwan attempted to reform the style of religious fairs at Sri Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran. While supposedly religious in nature, the monthly Amavas fair at Tarn Taran had become notorious for immorality and general misconduct.
The Khalsa Diwan Majha made a transformation of the fair a primary goal. Monthly gatherings and daylong preaching sessions, appealed to visitors to worship rather than indulge in frivolity, a campaign that soon led to a marked improvement in the tone of the fair. Similarly, the Diwan led a campaign to remove idols from Sri Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran, and generally to reform the management. Pressure on the priests almost precipitated armed clashes and bloodshed on several occasions, but because of mediation by prominent Sikhs, notably Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid, the atmosphere surrounding the shrine improved.
The first annual conference of the Diwan was held on 17-19 February 1905, at Tarn Taran. In addition to preaching, the gathering passed resolutions on a wide range of social issues. Twelve of the fifteen resolutions adopted dealt with details of marriage ceremonial. Large dowries were to be shunned, simplified ceremonies adopted and expenses minimized. Another resolution called on the government to introduce Punjabi as a medium of instruction in schools. Yet another resolution contained an appeal for Sikhs to replace the fun and levity surrounding the Holi festival with a day of worship and manly sports as introduced by Guru Gobind Singh in the form of Hold Mahalla. A final resolution emphasized the need for abstinence from alcohol and drugs in general.
During 1905, the Diwan held meetings and implemented the resolutions. The second annual conference, in April 1906, focussed primarily on fratricidal cleavage between two clans of jatts, Dhillon and Bal. Through misunderstandings, the two clans had no dealings or relationships since the fifteenth century. Joint deliberations and prayer helped alleviate the tension, with the result that the clans gave up their traditional antipathy and rescinded the ban on mutual relationships, and resolved to be brothers of the Khalsa fraternity. The conference also decided to set up missionary centres, each covering villages within a radius of 8 kin, to provide a sustained and institutionalized form of prachar that would reach the largest number of Sikhs. But death of suitable preachers was a handicap. A special committee studied the problem and a training institution, the Khalsa Pracharak Vidyala of Tarn Taran, was established on 6 November 1906. With this the headquarters of the Diwan were also shifted from Kairon to Tarn Taran. The secretary, Nihal Singh of Kairon, and Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid of Tarn Taran, worked strenuously for the success of the enterprise.
The third annual session of the Diwan was held on 9-10 April 1907, during a period of political unrest in the Punjab). The conference adopted strong resolutions calling upon the government to reduce enhanced land revenue and water rates and to modify the new colonization measure that adversely affected agriculture mainly in the hands of the Sikhs in central Punjab. The conference also discussed the deteriorating management of Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, and urged government intervention to improve the administration. Another resolution urged the government to transfer the landed property of Gurdwara at Nankana Sahib from the name of the mahant to the Gurdwara itself.
At this time, deliberate attempts were being made by vested interests to create a rift and mistrust among the Sikhs of different regions such as Majha, Malva and Doaba, leading to misunderstandings among the respective Khalsa Diwans. The Chief Khalsa Diwan finally made an effort to resolve such difficulties by suggesting that all organizations associate themselves more completely with the central body. Sardar Harbans Singh of Atari and Professor Jodh Singh specifically called on the Majha Diwan to merge with the Chief Khalsa Diwan in order to set a precedent and heal split within the community. Members of the Khalsa Diwan Majha debated the issue for almost a year and eventually decided in early 1908 to sink mutual differences for the common good of the Panth.
On 8 February 1908, the executive committee of the Chief Khalsa Diwan approved merging of the groups together and redesignating the Khalsa Diwan Majha as the Majha Prachar Sub-committee, Chief Khalsa Diwan. Sardar Sant Singh of Rasulpur was appointed its chairman. The new body met for the first time at Kairon in March 1908 to plan and to prepare for a fourth conference at Raja Jang in Lahore district, a site chosen primarily because of the prevalence of sharp divisions among local Sikhs into high and low castes.
The following year, a new school was opened at Kairon that helped spread women’s education, but the transfer of authority for the Khalsa Pracharak Vidyala to the Chief Khalsa Diwan undermined the unity as well as the importance of the Ma’jlia Prachar Subcommittee, and by 1910 it became inoperative.
During its short existence, the Khalsa Diwan Majha contributed to reform programmes and prepared the ground for future work by the Chief Khalsa Diwan in both urban and rural areas. The organization was one of the first to draw the attention of Sikhs to conditions within holy shrines and thereby contributed to an awareness that ultimately led to the gurdwdra reforms of the 1920’s. Like many of its sister associations, the Diwan responded to regional problems and then in a spirit of magnanimity ended its own separate activities for the larger good of the community.