BAKĀPUR DĪVĀN, a largely attended religious assembly (dīvān) of the Sikhs, held on 13-14 June 1903 at Bakāpur, a small village 3 km from Phillaur railway station in the Punjab, marked a high point in Siṅgh Sabhā resurgence. The occasion was the conversion to Sikhism of Maulawī Karīm Bakhsh, born a Muslim, and his family of four sons and a daughter. Some Hindus of that village as well as Sikhs from among the audience were also initiated on that day. The ceremony was marked by considerable fanfare. The sponsors were the Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā, Bhasauṛ, which under the leadership of Bābū Tejā Siṅgh (1867-1933), then a sub-overseer in the irrigation department of Paṭiālā state, was very active in purifying Sikh ritual and establishing its autonomy. Assertion of self-identity was then the dominating impulse of the Sikh community as a whole. A sweeping religious fervour, a new sense of identity and unity, and a decisive breach with the recent past dominated by customs and practices contrary to the Gurūs' teaching were the characteristics of contemporary Sikhism. These were dramatically highlighted at the Bakāpur dīvān .
A Shuddhī Sabhā had been established by Dr Jai Siṅgh in Lahore on 17 April 1893 with the object of "reclaiming those Sikhs and Hindus who had apostatized themselves by contracting alliances with Muslim men or women. " The Bhasauṛ Siṅgh Sabhā cavilled at the limited objective of the Shuddhī Sabhā and questioned its designation. From its very inception, the Bhasauṛ Siṅgh Sabhā had accepted for conversion Muslims and those from lower Hindu castes. At its first dīvān held in 1894, 13 Jaṭṭs, six Jhīvars (water-carriers), two barbers, one Khatrī and one Musalmān (Mīrāṅ Bakhsh of Tahsīl Gaṛhshaṅkar who became Nihāl Siṅgh) were initiated into the Sikh faith. As reported in the Khālsā Akhbār, 18 September 1896, Bābū Tejā Siṅgh himself published in the press a report of a subsequent year saying : "By the power of the Word revealed by the Ten Masters and in accord with Akālpurkh's wish, Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā Bhasauṛ has administered the gurmantra and holy amrit to a Muslim woman and ushered her into Soḍhbaṅs (the Soḍhī clan or the family of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh). Her Sikh name is Kishan Kaur. A Sikh who had fallen by living with a Muslim woman has been baptized and renamed Ude Siṅgh. "
The news about the Bakāpur family had reached Bhasauṛ through Bhāī Takht Siṅgh of Fīrozpur, a pioneer of women's education among Sikhs. This was corroborated by some other members of the Siṅgh Sabhā who supplied further details of Kārīm Bakhsh's interest in Sikhism. The Sabhā decided to make its own investigations. Bhāī Kāhlā Siṅgh, a Sikh saint who made a secret visit to Bakāpur confirmed the story. This led the Sabhā to offer to convert the Bakāpur family at its annual dīvān of 1901, but it had to give up the plan owing to the outbreak of the plague epidemic. Karīm Bakhsh attended the large annual dīvān of the Sikhs at Bhasauṛ in 1902, but returned empty handed owing to a controversy that had arisen.
The Bhasauṛ Siṅgh Sabhā sent its emissaries - Bhāī Tejā Siṅgh of Maiṅgaṇ, Sardār Bishan Siṅgh and Bhāī Takht Siṅgh - to visit Bakāpur by turns and assure Karīm Bakhsh that his heart's wish must be fulfilled. Finally, Bābū Tejā Siṅgh went himself. At Bakāpur, he learnt that Karīm 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. There was the Gurū Granth Sāhib kept with true reverence in a room in the house and the Sikh kirtan was performed daily.
On return, Bābū Tejā Siṅgh issued a public notice signifying that a dīvān of the Khālsā would be convened in the village of Bakāpur on 13-14 June 1903. The letter was sent on behalf of the Bhasauṛ Siṅgh Sabhā to all leading Sikh societies and individuals inviting them to participate in the proceedings. The letter included a note on the Bakāpur 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 Bakāpur from places such as Lahore, Amritsar, Gujrāṅwālā, Gujjarkhān, Kātaṇī, Nāraṅgvāl and Ludhiāṇā. The elderly uncle of Sardār Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, Bābā Hīrā Siṅgh, led a jathā from the Amritsar Khālsā College. The group included Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, distinguished Sikh theologian and educationist of modern times, who was then a student of the final B. A. class, Tārā Siṅgh, who had just joined college and who later became famous as a political leader of the Sikhs, and Mān Siṅgh who rose to be the president of the judicial committee in the princely state of Farīdkoṭ. The youth were asked by Bābū Tejā Siṅgh to fetch water from the well and scrub the "premises clean of musalmānī. "
On the morning of the first day of the dīvān, Maulawī Karīm Bakhsh rose at 2 in the morning, made his ablutions and came to the site of the dīvān. He sat in a room rapt in meditation. The Āsā kī Vār was sung after which different jathās took turns at kirtan, hymn-singing. They included the Siṅgh Sabhā of Gujjarvāl, Basant Siṅgh and Anūp Siṅgh of Nāraṅgvāl and the Youth League of Ludhiāṇā. For a while, a group of women led the kirtan. Chanting of the sacred śabdas went on until it was time for Gurū kā Laṅgar, or community meal. The afternoon dīvān was addressed by Bābū Tejā Siṅgh, who explained the purpose of the convention and sought from the audience names of those who would wish to be initiated into the way of the Khālsā. The first one to volunteer was Basant Siṅgh, B. A. , of the village of Nāraṅgvāl, in Ludhiāṇā district, who, after initiation, was named Raṇdhīr Siṅgh and who became famous as a revolutionary and, later, as a saintly personage of much sanctity among the Sikhs.
To conduct the initiation ceremonies the following day, the five Piārās (or the Gurū's chosen ones) designated were Bhāī Tejā Siṅgh of Rāwalpiṇḍī, Bhāī Takht Siṅgh, Zindā Shahīd (Living Martyr), of Fīrozpur, Bhāī Basant Siṅgh of Bappiāṇā (Paṭiālā state), Bhāī Sohan Siṅgh of Gujjarkhān and Bhāī Amar Siṅgh of Rājā Ghuman . Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh was named granthī for the ceremonies.
In all, 35 persons received the vows of the Khālsā the following morning (June 14). Maulawī Karīm Bakhsh, 43, was named Lakhbīr Siṅgh after initiation. His four sons Rukan Dīn, 15, Fateh Dīn, 12, Ghulām Muhammad, 6, and Khair Dīn, 4, became Matāb Siṅgh, Kirpāl Siṅgh, Harnām Siṅgh and Gurbakhsh Siṅgh, respectively. His daughter Bībī Nūrāṅ, 9, was given the Sikh name of Varyām Kaur. Lakhbīr Siṅgh won wide esteem in the Sikh community as Sant Lakhbīr Siṅgh. His son, Matāb Siṅgh, founded a society called the Khālsā Barādarī and played a pioneer role in the Akālī movement, or the campaign for the reformation of the Sikh sacred places. Matāb Siṅgh's son, Gurcharan Siṅgh Sākhī, took his Bachelor's degree at the Khālsā College, Amritsar, in 1941, and edited, among others, a Sikh religious journal until he died suddenly in the Golden Temple premises in 1973.
Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā