Following Maharaja Ranjit Singh's rule and the annexation of Punjab by the British Empire in 1849, a large number of weak-minded Sikhs (Disciple of Spirituality) started deviating from their faith and the number of Sikhs reduced from 10 millions to a mere one million. The situation was so grim that British Government even went on to prophesy that the Sikhs would become extinct by the year 1900. At this critical juncture for Sikh community, the Almighty sent Sant Attar Singh Ji as His emissary to this material world in 1866 so that Sikh Panth may again be revived. Sant Attar Singh Ji dedicated all his life to austere meditation, Naam-Simran, human welfare, education and guiding the Khalsa Panth and the humanity in distress. In his lifetime, Sant Ji baptized 1.4 million people and brought them back into the fold of Sikhism. As a result, when Sant Ji left this mortal world in 1927, the number of Sikhs had increased from 1 million to 4 millions.
Sant Attar Singh Ji, the most widely known and respected Sant in modern times, was born in village Cheema of the erstwhile Jind State (now in district Sangrur, Punjab, India), on 28 March, 1866 to Baba Karam Singh Ji and Mata Bholi Ji. Baba Karam Singh earned his livelihood by doing farming and rendering service to the visiting saints and sages.
From his very childhood, Sant Ji showed signs of his future greatness as he used to perform quiet mediation on Divine Name. Even at the age of five, he remained engrossed in meditation for long durations. At the age of seven, he was asked to attend the school in the village but he respectfully replied that he would receive the education, which leads to the realization of Truth.
In 1885, he joined the army, where he partook Amrit(Baptized) from the ‘five beloved ones’ headed by Baba Jodh Singh Ji. During this period, he devoted his time in studying the sacred books and meditating on the Divine Name. He was very active in military duties and attained the first place in marksmanship. The news of the death of his father moved him immensely to immerse in the Divine Realm at the earliest.
Meditation at Hazur Sahib, Rishikesh, Haridwar
He resigned from the Army to fulfill his hearty desire of immersing in the Divine Realm. He started his march walking from Dera Ghazi Khan (now in Pakistan) to Hazur Sahib in Maharashtra. In an immensely devotional state and immersed in the Divine Name, he went on marching for hundreds of miles at a stretch. At Hazur Sahib, Sant Ji mediated continuously for two years on the bank of the river Godavari. He was so much engrossed in the meditation on the Divine Name that he spent weeks together without food. He neither longed nor went anyplace for food but used to take it when somebody offered him there. Otherwise, he used to drink pure crystal water of the river Godavari.
From Hazoor Sahib, he walked across the country to Haridwar and Rishikesh (Uttar Pradesh) through the thick forests. In the thick forests of Rishikesh, he remained engrossed in trance (Samadhi) near a fountain, where all wild animals used to come to drink water at night. He remained immersed in a deep meditation for a year at Rishi Kesh.
At Rishi Kesh, he expressed his desire of meditating constantly at a calm, quiet and secluded place to Sant Ram Singh Ji of Thamali, who persuaded him to accompany him to hermitages in Sialkot and Rawalpindi region (now in Pakistan) for this holy pursuit. Both walked to Sialkot through Sirmore State (in Himachal Pradesh). They followed the route of Rishikesh, Dehradun, Poanta Sahib, Baru, Kumharhatti, Anandpur Sahib, Una, Gurdaspur and Sialkot. They paid obeisance at the holy shrines of Poanta Sahib and Anandpur Sahib and meditated at the holy place, Baru.
From Sialkot, he reached Amritsar and meditated constantly for three days on the floor of ‘Baba Atal’. From there, he reached his native village, Cheema and sat in the fields outside the village, where his mother Mata Bholi Ji met him. She affectionately conveyed her consent for his Divine pursuit and asked him to carry on the meditation at that place so that she could see him daily. He started meditation and reciting Japji Sahib daily to his mother at that site, where now stands a grand Gurdwara (religious center), Nanaksar Cheema.
Discharge from the Army
Sant Ji was not yet fully discharged from the Army. So, he desired to complete the formalities and submitted to the Colonel of his Regiment at Abbotabad (now in Pakistan). The Colonel tried to persuade him to remain in the Army by giving assurances that he would be promoted to the higher ranks. Sant Ji told him that he had joined the service of the Divine Lord and was no more willing to serve any master other than Him. The Colonel put him in Army Jail and used to keep a vigil at him throughout the night but always found Sant Ji meditating in a trance, which continued for three days without taking even a drop of water. The Colonel was very much moved by this and discharged him from the Army with honor. The Colonel also gave away the first prize of Rifle Shooting Competition. Sant Ji distributed this prize money of one hundred rupees among the poor. All the soldiers took him in a procession and boarded him in a Chariot for the village Shahan Ki Dheri, on way to Gurdwara Panja Sahib (now in Pakistan). Thus, he became completely free to pursue the Divine Mission of his life.
At Shahan Ki Dheri, Bhai Gurmukh Singh persuaded Sant Ji to stay with him. Here Sant Ji recited Guru Granth Sahib continuously for nine months. After this, Sant Ji reached Panja Sahib and had a dip in the Sarovar (holy water). After paying homage at Panja Sahib, Sant Ji immersed in deep meditation at the bank of Kishan Ganga River near the town of Domel for seven months. Then he decided to meet Sant Bhai Ram Singh at Thamali, who was anxiously waiting for his arrival. On his way to Thamali, Sant Ji meditated on a quiet hillock near Kohmari for three days.
Uninterrupted deep meditation at Kanoha
Sant Ji reached Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) and meditated in Tapovan for some time and after this met Sant Ram Singh Ji in 1894 at Thamali for completing his mission of meditation continuously at a secluded place. On the recommendation of Sant Ram Singh Ji, a thick forested place (Kanohe-Di-Jhangi) was selected, which belonged to Bhai Wazir Singh. During all these years in spiritual pursuit, Sant Ji used to speak the least. After the ‘Akhand Paath’, Sant Ji resorted three times to prolonged meditation; first for 40 days, then for 6 months and later on for one year.
During this period, he used to take a very small quantity of food once a day only, which was served by a devotee couple. As a result of these prolonged meditations, his body was reduced to a mere skeleton.
His mother, Mata Bholi Ji, developed an abscess near the knee joint which caused her a lot of pain and suffering. Sant Ji met her one evening and explained the spirit of tolerance and accepting the Will of God by concentrating on the Divine Name. She thus had realization of spiritual knowledge from her own son. This realization of oneness with God enabled her to overcome physical suffering completely and attain an exalted spiritual stage of Jiwan Mukti (emancipation of the spirit in one's lifetime) during her last days. She died a peaceful and saintly death.
The fame of his first two meditations had already spread among the people, but this third long meditation for one year spread all over the region. People began to flock from all around and the Phulahi grove at Kanoha became a center of continuous rendering of Gurbani Kirtan. Besides this, there started a Langar (community kitchen for all). In a very short time, the fame of Sant Ji spread all over Rawalpindi district, and the number of persons desiring to have a glimpse of Sant Ji kept on increasing. Sant Ji meditated on the Divine Name uninterrupted for several days on the sand of ‘Luni’ of Kashi river bed during the month of June and drenched the sand with his sweat as if the soil was made sacred with the tiny drops of the Divine Name.
Before starting Kar Sewa (construction) of Gurdwara Mastuana Sahib, Sant Ji completely renounced the collection of material wealth. But when the Kar Sewa of Gurdwara Mastuana Sahib and Gurdwara Damdama Sahib was taken up, then the donations offered by devotees were used for the development of the Gurdwaras and other institutions for the welfare of the mankind.
Revelation of Gur Sagar Mastuana
A secluded thick forest near Sangrur, Punjab (in erstwhile Jind State) was called Mastuana, where either cattle used to graze or wandering hermits used to meditate. On his first visit to this place, Sant Attar Singh Ji perceived that this land was blessed by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and other Gurus, and by the meditation of many saints and sages in the past. He developed this place into a spiritual and educational center from 1901-1925 with voluntary service of devoted and blessed souls. In 1906, a school was established in Mastuana for this noble cause.
When Sant Ji came to stay at Mastuana, Sangat used to donate money, which was mostly spent for common kitchen by the devotees. Every day, Karah Parshad (a sweet sacrament) and other eatables were served in plenty in the Langar. Due to the servings of delicious meals, more than 500 wandering hermits gathered at that place. When the construction of Gurdwara building commenced, Sant Ji advised the devotees to spend the whole offerings for the purpose of building. Very simple meals were advised to be served instead of Karah Parshad and other delicious eatables. As a result most of the people, who were fond of delicious meals, left the place except about 50 devotees. Sant Ji remarked that all the gluttons had gone, but the true and faithful devotees are enough for Seva.
Principal Niranjan Singh Mehta of Khalsa College, Amritsar met Sant Sham Singh Ji and prayed for the Divine Name but he directed him to go to Sant Attar Singh Ji at Lahore in 1905. He partook Amrit from Sant Attar Singh Ji's Jatha at Taran Taaran Sahib and changed his name to Teja Singh. He, later on, emerged as a great Saint with the blessings of Sant Attar Singh Ji. In 1906, he dedicated his entire life to Sant Attar Singh Ji at Mastuana for the establishment of an educational institution. Sant Attar Singh Ji sent Principal Teja Singh to Europe and America to propagate the Divine message of spiritual brotherhood of Guru Nanak and also to acquire Western Scientific education so that it could be imparted with the blend of spiritual education for the welfare of humanity. Sant Teja Singh Ji carried out this mission throughout Europe (England, USA, Canada etc.), Japan and Malaya.
Sant Attar Singh Ji’s vision in advocating education of girl-child, and blending worldly education with spirituality shows his foresightedness. Even a century back, he envisioned that mere scientific education would lead to destruction, and an educated girl would result in the whole family being educated. For this purpose, first he set up a school for girls in 1906 prior to a school for boys and the Akal Degree College at Mastuana. He laid foundation stones to establish a chain of schools and colleges. He invariably participated in several educational conferences motivating the establishment of a number of schools and colleges.
Laying Foundation Stone of Banaras Hindu University
In 1904, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya thought of establishing a University and started working whole time for it leaving his lucrative law practice. During the same period, Annie Besant and other leaders were also working for a similar cause and established Central Hindu College at Banaras. In 1911, all joined hands and formed ‘The Hindu University Society’ under the leadership of Pandit Ji with its headquarters at Allahabad. Kashi Naresh Dr Vibhuti Narain Singh donated 1300 acres of land at Banaras for this noble cause.
In the second quarter of 1914, a meeting of the society was held. On the agenda was just one item “Whom should we invite to lay the foundation stone?”
All agreed that the foundation stone should be laid by a ‘pious personality’.
“Who is and where is such a saint?
One of the members suggested that there is one in Punjab but he is a Sikh. Pandit Ji retorted, “Then what? We shall get the foundation stone laid by him.”
In May 1914, caring little for the summer heat, Pandit Ji, with some of his followers, left for Sant Attar Singh’s Ashram at Mastuana, at the border of the then Nabha and Patiala States. He traveled by train up to Sangrur, the capital of Jind State. The Ashram was approximately at a distance of 4 Km. Pandit Ji removed his shoes at Sangrur Railway Station and started walking barefoot on the sandy road. When somebody asked him why he was doing so, he replied that he was going to meet a holy person for a holy cause and hence, he should be humble and respectful.
The news that Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya was coming to Mastuana, spread like a wildfire. One of Sant Attar Singh’s followers, because of the summer heat and poor road condition, sent for a few mares, which the Pandit Ji politely refused.
On his arrival at the Ashram, Pandit Ji found Sant Ji reciting Kabir’s hymns:
Awal Allah Noor Upaya qudrat ke sab bande,
Ek noor te sab jag upjeya, kaun bhale, ko mande (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 1349)
(From the One and the same Light, the entire universe came into existence. How can there be good or bad among them?)
On listening Kabir Baani, Pandit Ji felt and expressed that he had come to the right place.
It was decided to lay the Foundation Stone of the university on 24 December, 1914.
Sant Attar Singh traveled to Banaras in the private royal train of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha along with Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and reached there a few days prior to the fixed date. At the railway station Pandit Ji, in the company of Maharaja Vibhuti Narain Singh, Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner and the Maharajas of Indore, Gwalior, Alwar and Darbhanga received Sant Attar Singh. The railway station was tastefully decorated with buntings and flowers. There was a carpet from the train up to the specially decorated royal gold plated carriage of the Kashi Naresh. As the Sant Ji’s carriage, pulled by the hosts (not by horses), passed through the Bazaars (Downtown), the crowds showered flowers from shops and house-tops. Outside the city, the public climbed up the trees to have a glimpse of Sant Ji. This warm reception continued unto the proposed site of the University, where special tents were put-up for the guests’ stay.
For 10 days there was continuous reciting (Akhand Paths) of Guru Granth Sahib(Holy Sikh Scripture) in a specially decorated tent. The Maharajas and public performed Sewa (selfless service) and Langar (Community Kitchen) was distributed for one and all. Gurbani Kirtan (Sikh Hymns) was recited in the morning and evening. It was attended by all. Thirty-one persons adapted the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib at the end of the 10 day prayers. On the 10th day, Kashi Naresh Vibhuti Narain Singh handed over a trawl made of gold to Sant Attar Singh Ji and 11 bricks of Gold were handed over to Sant Ji by Pandit Ji and other Maharajas one by one, which were laid in the foundation dug for the building of the University.
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya requested Sant Attar Singh Ji to spare his disciple Sant Teja Singh to head the Teachers’ Training College.
At the end of the ceremony, Sant Ji took Pandit Ji aside and said, “When we started Khalsa College at Amritsar in 1893, we admitted one Hindu child, one Muslim, and one Sikh to start with.”
Catching the point, the great patriot replied, “By all means.”
Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was so impressed by the towering spiritual personality of Sant Ji that he, thenceforth, began to propagate that every Hindu family should have at least one member, the eldest son, as a Sikh in order to improve and cleanse Indian society.
Sant Ji disseminated the spiritual knowledge, recited the Divine Name and Gurbani amongst all throughout India especially Pothohar (Peshawar to Lahore) and Sind (now in Pakistan) and Malwa in the Punjab (India). It was at Dehra Khalsa that Master Tara Singh, who was only a school boy at that time, partook Amrit, which brought a great change in his life. Like Master Tara Singh, Bhai Sahib Bhai Teja Singh, who afterwards worked as ‘Head Granthi’ at Nanakana Sahib, came from 'Kahuta' for Sant Ji’s Darshan. He was so enchanted by Sant Ji’s aura that he left the Khalsa School at ‘Kahuta’ and stayed with Sant Ji. Besides these two, many a person, who became noble Sikh missionaries, partook ‘Amrit’ from Sant Ji at this place.
Once Sant Ji pointed to Bhai Teja Singh Ji, "You have passed many worldly examinations with high degrees but the examination of the spiritual science is qualified on the day when somebody criticizes and showers hundreds of abuses on a person and he remains serene, calm and quiet without developing any irritation or hatred."
Progress of the Panth Khalsa and Peace
In his presidential address at the Sikh Educational Conference held at Ferozepur in 1915, Sant Ji pointed out to the congregation, “We all are interested in the progress of the Khalsa Panth. But dear devotees! This progress will occur when all of you start taking bath in the early hours (at least 3 hours before sunrise) of the morning in each house, each village, each town and each city and meditate on the Divine Name. When there is common treasury and everybody contributes one-tenth of his righteous earning monthly or annually, then there will be no need to appeal for money for performing activities for the welfare of humanity. Every one should give priority to the recitation of the Divine Name.
The Last Days
In his last days, when the devotees used to apprehend his demise with tears, Sant Ji used to tell them that his real self is not the body but the Divine Name (Shabad), which is all pervading and those, who meditate on the Divine Name constantly, would realize the same.
He always remained deeply immersed in the Divine Name and showed the path of self-realization to the seekers of Truth. To ameliorate the sufferings of the humanity, he even sacrificed his life by getting himself bitten by a poisonous snake while attending a holy congregation at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi. He shed his body corpse and merged with the all-pervading Almighty on 1 February 1927 at Sangrur and was cremated at Mastuana Sahib at a distance of 3 miles from Sangrur.
Suraj Kiran Miley Jal Ka Jal Hua Ram
Jyoti Jyot Rali Sampurn Thia Ram (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Ang 846)
(Just like a ray becomes one with the sun and water becomes one with the ocean, the Divine soul (Atma) becomes one with the Infinite Divine Reality (Parmatama).
Sant Attar Singh Ji was such a great soul that he was perhaps the first Sikh personality to be affectionately accorded the holy title of ‘Sant’ by the Sikh Panth and Sangat in the 20th century, an honorific, which sadly is freely and frivolously bandied about nowadays and has, as a result, lost much of its original gravitas.