It is as difficult and beyond imagination to express and narrate the spiritual spheres and virtues of a true saint, as if to capture the ocean in a bowl. The latter might be accomplished one day but the spiritual sphere of a saint will never be brought under limitation. Rare are the Divines who descend on this earth duly empowered and equipped with Divine Grace to shower the fragrance of the Holy Name. Invested with the Eternal Glory of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib, Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji arrived on this earth on Friday 5th August 1905, in Alowal, a village near Patiala, in the family of Baba Ram Singh Ji, who was the head of that village. Baba Ram Singh Ji,was always yearning for the company of saints. Incidentally there came a saint to that village who while leaving, gave a rose to Baba Ram Singh Ji and blessed him that he would have a son who would be worshipped by the rulers and kings. After sometime, a son named Sant Isher Singh Ji was born and was taken to the Gurudwara. After seeing Sant Ji’s hand, a pandit had made a horoscope and was aghast by seeing the ‘an eye’ like symbol in the sole of his foot. The symbol was read as a sign of being a great spiritual head or a king. Also, after the birth of Sant Isher Singh Ji, his father Baba Ram Singh Ji, started getting more and more respect and importance in society. Baba Ram Singh Ji was very keen in giving a good education to his son. After finishing primary education, Sant Isher Singh Ji was sent to Model School Patiala, a rare thing back in those days. Sant Isher Singh Ji did exceedingly well in school, and was an outstanding student in every field: games, studies, social work etc. All this made Sant Isher Singh Ji’s personality very outstanding. Sant Isher Singh Ji was always in search of the ‘Truth’. Eventually he started going to the Gurudwara in the mornings and evenings and also started doing ‘Kirtan’. Sant Ji then got the privilege of being in the company of Sant Atter Singh Ji, Mastuana Sahib and Sant Attar Singh Ji, Reru Sahib Wale. Later Sant Isher Singh Ji went to Sant Attar Singh Ji Reru Sahib Wale with S. Hira Singh Ji where he was bestowed with ‘Amrit’ and was blessed that he would go a long way in the search of ‘Truth’. Sant Isher Singh Ji returned back to Patiala with a totally changed personality. In July, 1922, Sant Isher Singh Ji left home and got totally involved in looking after Sant Attar Singh Ji, at Reru Sahib. After a short time, Sant Kishen Singh Ji joined Sant Isher Singh Ji to look after and to serve their ‘Guru’ Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji. Since then, both Sant Isher Singh Ji and Sant Kishen Singh Ji remained together.
The two principles that Sant Attar Singh Ji gave to Sant Isher Singh Ji and to Sant Kishen Singh Ji were:
1.) To be a firm believer of “Atam Marg” (the spiritual path), and to constantly practice and preach ‘Nam’.
2.) To be always upright and never to beg for anything.
Soon Sant Attar Singh Ji, Reru Sahib Wale, demised from this world. His two young students Sant Isher Singh Ji & Sant Kishen Singh Ji moved out of Reru Sahib and came near Rara Sahib in a small jungle. They both started meditating and their ‘samadhi’ would last for hours starting from midnight. Since this was a very tough practice of the long sittings of meditation that Sant Isher Singh Ji’s health started deteriorating and he became very weak. He was then taken to Delhi where Dr. Mukherjee treated him and S. Mohan Singh looked after him. Gradually Sant Isher Singh Ji started recovering and came back to Rara Sahib and started accompanying Sant Kishen Singh Ji.
In Rara Sahib, Sant Isher Singh Ji got immersed in deeper and deeper ‘sadhana’. More and more people joined the building of a Gurudwara for Sant Ji. Then Sant Kishan Singh Ji was responsible for looking after the entire Gurudwara set up: Langar, buffaloes, cows, schools etc. and Sant Isher Singh Ji was responsible for going from place to place in India and abroad doing Kirtan, answering the questions of the ‘Sadhaks’ and preaching Guru Nanak’s teachings. He changed thousands of people’s lives and there are plenty of incidents that seem to prove this. After doing all this, Sant Isher Singh Ji, laid off his body in England on 25th August 1975.
At the age of 16 a student went to Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji, gradually becoming his closest associate. This student has also touched the same pinnacles of spiritual heights like his mentor, Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji. That student is today known to the whole world as Sant Baba Mann Singh Ji Pehowa Wale, whom has dedicated himself in currently preaching Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s message to the world.
Sant Isher Singh Ji’s special qualities started coming to light at a young age. When three years old he used to tell the local kids to sit down cross-legged and recite ” Waheguru, Waheguru “, whilst he gave “parshad”. On another occasion Baba Ram Singh Ji and Mata Rattan Kaur were on their way to visit a local holy man “Vidoshe Wale Sant”, and Maharaj Ji, then four years old, insisted on going along. After bowing both Baba Ram Singh Ji and Mata Rattan Kaur, sat a respectful distance away, however Maharaj Ji went and sat next to the holy man in the same manner. On doing so he asked several times whose son this was, eventually and a little fearfully Baba Ram Singh and Mata Rattan Kaur owned up. The holy man laughed and told them they did not realize their son’s qualities, he told them that he would be a very holy person and people, many very influential, would come to him for advise and to be in his presence. By the inspiration of the latter, he got baptized and was renamed Isher Singh. Thus motivated by the life and teachings of Sant Attar Singh Ji, he adopted the path of devotion and from him received the boon of propagating Sikhism through “Kirtan” (singing of hymns).
Once a year on Sant Baba Karam Singh Ji’s barsi, Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji would go to Sehdu Sahib, there after having bathed in the extremely cold river Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji and Maharaj Ji would sit on the river bank and do path and meditate for many hours. On the first occasion, Maharaj Ji being unfamiliar with the cold fell ill but it was only with the permission of Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji that Maharaj Ji was taken and revived. As time went on Maharaj Ji attained a higher and higher spiritual level and eventually Maharaj Ji was bestowed a “kafni”, these being the outer garments to distinguish Maharaj Ji as a Sant. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji explained that although Maharaj Ji had already attained this state it was important for the Sangat and outside world to know his standing. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji further stated that Maharaj Ji would attain a very high spiritual level and many very important people from far and wide would come to be in his presence and for his advice. Maharaj Ji replied that he had no interest and relationship with these things since they would take him away from God and Maharaj Ji requested for Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji to bless him that he will never forget God. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji explained to Maharaj Ji the pitfalls that lay ahead on Maharaj Ji’s path and how to be very careful of these things. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji also told Maharaj Ji to keep increasing his knowledge and to learn how to do kirtan, so that Maharaj Ji will be able to impart some of that knowledge to the Sangat that would come to be in his presence. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji placed Maharaj Ji’s hand on a harmonium to signify this new phase in Maharaj Ji’s life. In 1926 Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji and Maharaj Ji went to Dumdama Sahib for Vasiakhi, there Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji met Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji Mastuana Wale. When leaving Dumdama Sahib when Maharaj Ji paid his final respects to Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji Mastuana Wale, he looked at Maharaj Ji and held him in his arms. Sant Baba Attar Singh Ji Mastauna Wale put his hand on Maharaj Ji’s head and stated he would attain a very high spiritual level and people would come to him for advice and to ask for Maharaj Ji’s time.
When on 21st January 1927 Sant Attar Singh Ji gave up his corporeal being. Sant Isher Singh Ji became sad and disconsolate. In order to overcome this despondency, he set out on pilgrimage. After visiting Machiwara, Kiratpur Sahib, Sri Anandpur Sahib, Sri Amritsar Sahib, Sri Nankana Sahib and Punja Sahib he came to Rara Sahib and settled here. By virtue of his devotion he turned this deserted place into a sacred place that has become famous the world over. “A saint remembers the God and helps others remembering Him” following this principle he devoted himself to worship and motivated the people to be ‘Gursikhs’ and to follow the path, shown by the Sikh Gurus. It is after they had settled at Rara Sahib did Sant Ji begin their life mission of preaching Sikhi. Maharaj Ji is universally acclaimed as one of the most charming and dynamic personalities of their day. Tall and majestic, sweet and warm hearted his heart over flowed with the milk of human kindness, Pious in thought word and deed he was the very image of Godliness. Blessed with the Divine light, he preached God’s truth and delivered Guru Nanak’s message of love and peace to every home in India and abroad. Continuously for 55 years he recited Gurbani and with his sweet and melodious kirtan put thousands of burning minds to rest. After the final Diwan of each location Amrit Sanchar would take place. By this fashion over 700,000 Sikhs received Amrit and entered the Khalsa Panth. In their duty of preaching Sikhi Maharaj went on a 13 months long mission to Africa in 1949. There he gratified the spiritual needs of the Sikh congregation with lucid explanation of the Gurbani, interspersed with his melodious, captivating and soul lifting recitals Dharnas, taken from Gurbani. The thousands of devotees that attended congregations in His holy presence world wide felt as if they had taken a dip in an Ocean of purity. Minds would be cleansed of all accumulated impurities of past sins and Karmas in His holy presence. From this Ocean of purity which Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji Maharaj was and is, beams out to the whole world all the blessings and bliss of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. There was no trace of ego, worldliness or materialism in His dwelling places. Purity was the keynote, main-stay, life-force in His congregations.After returning to Punjab, he continued his mission by holding annual congregations in towns and cities as far as wide as Meerut, Delhi as well as in Punjab. Maharaj Ji had three main Ashrams in India, firstly at Rara Sahib, secondly at Dabhlan, Patiala and thirdly at Hapur, in Uttar Pradesh. To these day all three location are preserved in Maharaj Ji’s loving memory. On this very mission, to propagate Sikhism he also visited England in 1974 and 1975. As Gurbani tells us, whoever comes onto this earth must eventually leave it. Maharaj Ji had started to give hints about the inevitable. At both his last diwans in Ludhiana and Delhi Maharaj Ji stated that they were going to England and they would again grace this county if their body allowed it. They arrived in England and after holding diwans in London they went to Wolverhampton.
Sadly on 26th August 1975, while sitting in meditation in Wolverhampton, England he left the world for heavenly abode. The necessary arrangements were made and Maharaj Ji’s holy body was brought back to India on the 31st of August where more than 20,000 devotees had gathered to have darshan of their most beloved master. The holy body was then brought back to Rara sahib, Maharaj Ji’s home of the last 55 years. The next day the holy body was taken to Gurdwara Bibhaur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh Ji composed ‘Chaupai’. Here over 50,000 devotees had gathered to bid farewell to their beloved master. After Ardas was performed by Sant Baba Mihan Singh Ji, Maharaj Ji’s holy body was taken out on a boat accompanied by Sant Baba Kishen Singh Ji Maharaj, Sant Baba Mihan Singh Ji, S.Daljit Singh Ji and S.Charanjeet Singh Ji Coca cola wale as well as other members of sangat. Here in the middle of the River Sutlej Maharaji Ji’s Holy Body was laid to eternal rest.
“Always, remember Waheguru to achieve salvation. Let your life be guided by the saying, Whatever God wills, is good. Be contented with the will of God. Remember Him both in pleasure & pain” - Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji.
Diwali – is the festival which Sikhs and Hindus celebrate on the same day but have different reasons.
Sikhs called Diwali – Bandi Chhorh Divas. The Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chhorh Divas i.e., “the day of release of detainees”, because the sixth Nanak(Hargobind Sahib Ji) had agreed to his release on the condition that the other fifty-two detainees would also be released. These other fifty-two detainees were the vassal kings who had done something to annoy the emperor. Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned the sixth Nanak because he was afraid of the Guru’s growing following and power. The Sikhs on this day, which generally falls in october-November, hold a one-day celebrations in the Gurdwaras. So in the evening, illuminations are done with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) or candles and fireworks. The celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes. The story of Diwali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism, popular seasonal or folk festivals like the harvest festival of Vaisakhi, or ancient mythological festivals like Holi and Diwali, or worship rituals like Aarti, began to take on a new significance for the Guru’s students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days e.g. first day of each lunar month, as symbols or pegs for his teaching themes. And so the Sikhs were slowly diverted from darkness of superstitious ritualism based on fear and ignorance to an enlightened ideology based on reason and belief in One Creator. The enlightened ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Diwali and Vaisakhi
Hindus celebrate Diwali – the festival of lights when, according to Indian lore, Lord Rama returned home after destroying the demon god Ravana who had taken away Rama’s wife, Sita? The story, of course, has no significance in the Sikh tradition. However, in the Sikh struggle for freedom from the oppressive Mughal regime, the festival of Diwali did become the second most important day after the Vaisakhi festival in April.
The Sixth Guru Hargobind, was freed from imprisonment in the famous fort of Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir in October, 1619. The reason for the young Guru’s imprisonment was no more than religious bigotry. The Guru’s father, Guru Arjan, had been martyred for the same reason. According to Sikh tradition, the Guru agreed to be freed only if the other Indian chiefs (rajahs) imprisoned with him were freed. Jahangir was under pressure from moderate but influential Muslim religious leaders like Hajrat Mian Mir, a friend of the Guru. So he relented grudgingly and ordained, Let those rajahs be freed who can hold on to the Guru’s coat tails and walk out of prison. He had in mind no more than four or five being freed with the Guru. However, the Guru was not to be outmanoeuvred in this way. He asked for a special coat to be made with 52 coat tails – same number as the rajahs in prison with him! And so the rajahs were freed and the Guru became known popularly as the Bandi Chhor (Deliverer from prison). He arrived at Amritsar on the Divali day and the Har Mandar (now known as the Golden Temple) was lit with hundreds of lamps i.e. he was received in the same way as the Lord Rama and the day came to be known as the Bandi Chhor Divas (the day of freedom). Guru Hargobind reached Amritsar on the eve of Diwali, after his release from Gwalior fort, during the reign of Jahangir.The People illuminated the Golden Temple and the city splendidly to celebrate the return of their Guru to the city. Thereafter, Diwali is being celebrated at Amritsar with great pump and show, and also with a lot of religious fervour.
During the fair, religious congregations are held at Manji Sahib, Akal Takhat and Baba Atal which continue for three days. A large number of poets and singers also participate. Recitation of Granth Sahib is done at Darbar Sahib, Akal Takhat and various gurudwaras in the vicinity of Golden Tample
Early in the morning, pilgrims take a holy dip in the scared tank, while reciting Japji Sahib and thereafter, they go to the Golden Temple for paying their obeisance. They make offerings of various kinds both in cash and kind, such as flowers, candy-drops and parched-rice grains, but mostly the offerings are of karah parshad. which is prepared and sold to the pilgrims by the management. Circumambulation of the tank is considered sacred by the pilgrims.
Illuminations and pyrotechnic display are the unique features of the Diwali celebrations. A mammoth gathering in the parikarma and on the adjoining buildings witness to their great delight the multicolored lights thrown up in the sky and their reflections in the water of the tank. Chain of the electric lights hang along the causeway and on the Darshani Deorhi. Small earthen lamps lighted and fed with sarson oil are arranged in lines all around the tank. All buildings in the compound are bedecked with coloured lights. Candles and small earthen lamps fed with pure ghee are floated in the tank.
This fair is attended by people in the large numbers who come from far and near. A large number of visitors take shelter in the verandahs of the various buildings in the premises. All local inns, rest houses and other common places are packed to capacity. The free mess, called Guru Ram Dass Langar, remains open for all. The whole function is organised by Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee. During the fair, qualified doctors render free medical service to the pilgrims.
Thenceforth, the Sikh struggle for freedom, which intensified in the 18th Century, came to be centred around this day. In addition to the Vaisakhi day (now in April), when Khalsa, the Sikh nation was formally established by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, Divali became the second day in the years when the Khalsa met and planned their freedom strategy.
Celebration Of Bandi Chorrh Divas:
On the occassion of Bandi Chorrh Divas, Sikhs observe a one-day celebrations in the Gurdwaras. In the evening, illuminations are lighted with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) or candles and fireworks are also bursted. Such celebrations are held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes.
Sacrifice of Bhai Mani Singh on the Occasion of Diwali:
Another important Sikh event associated with Divali is the martyrdom in 1734 of the elderly Sikh scholar and strategist Bhai Mani Singh, the Granthi (priest) of Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple). He had refused to pay a special tax on a religious meeting of the Khalsa on the Divali day. This and other Sikh martyrdoms gave further momentum to the Khalsa struggle for freedom and eventually success in establishing the Khalsa rule north of Delhi
Bhai Mani Singh was a great scholar and he transcripted the final version of Guru Granth Sahib upon dictation from Guru Govind Singh ji in 1704. He took charge of Harmandir Sahib’s management on 1708. Diwali was not celebrated in Golden Temple at that time. In 1737, he received permission from Mogul emperor of Punjab, Zakaria Khan for celebrating Diwali at Golden Temple for a massive tax of Rs. 5,000 (some authors say it was Rs10,000). Invitations were sent to the Sikhs all over India to join Bandi Chhorh Diwas celebrations at Harmandir Sahib. Bhai Singh thought he would collect the tax-money from the Sikhs as subscriptions who would assemble for the purpose of Diwali Celebrations. But Bhai Mani Singh Ji later discovered the secret plan of Zakariya Khan to kill the Sikhs during the gathering. Bhai Mani Singh Ji immediately sent message to all the Sikhs not to turn up for celebrations. Bhai Mani Singh could not manage to arrange the money to be paid for tax. Zakariya Khan was not happy about the situation and he ordered Bhai Mani Singh’s assassination at Lahore by ruthlessly cutting him limb-by-limb to death. Ever since, the great sacrifice & devotion of martyr Bhai Mani Singh Ji is remembered on the Bandi Chhorh Diwas (Diwali) celebration.