BISHAN SIṄGH, GIĀNĪ (1875-1966), cleric and exegete, was a granthī or priest at the Khālsā College at Amritsar for 30 years. The Khālsā College was then a premier Sikh college excelling in research and publication in the field of Sikh studies. Four of the foremost Sikh scholars of this period, namely Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, Professor Tejā Siṅgh, Bhāī Sāhib Siṅgh and Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh, were members of the college faculty and between them they brought about a major enlightenment in Sikh letters. Bhāī Bishan Siṅgh imbibed much of their passion for learning. He took turns with them at expounding the holy text at the daily morning service at the College Gurdwārā. He also put his hand to preparing a full scale commentary of the Holy Granth which was completed in 1945.
Bishan Siṅgh was born around 1875, the son of Bhāī Bulākā Siṅgh of the village of Lakkhūvāl in Amritsar district of the Punjab. After learning barely to read and write Punjabi he left home to go to Lahore to study the Sikh classic Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth with Bhāī Hirā Siṅgh, a noted scholar of the Sikh texts in those days. Apprenticeship with him earned Bishan Siṅgh proficiency in Braj Bhāshā as well as in Sikh history. He then shifted to Amritsar, where he remained under the tutelage of Giānī Jodh Siṅgh and Giānī Bakhshīsh Siṅgh. In one of his books Giānī Bishan Siṅgh has mentioned Giānī Sant Siṅgh of Kapūrthalā also as his vidyādātā (teacher). Under these scholars, he mastered the subtleties of Sikh philosophical thought.
At Amritsar, he obtained employment as granthī at the Khālsā College in 1909, retiring from the position in 1939-40, as he attained the age of sixty five. As the College granthī, Bishan Siṅgh made very good use of his time making the most of the library facilities available and of his contacts with the learned faculty. He found himself in full agreement with the new exegetical trends, breaking away from the traditional pedantic, Vedāntic style. He started working on his own ṭīkā or annotation of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, the first volume of which was published in 1918 and the eighth and the final in 1945. He also produced a full-length ṭīkā of the voluminous Dasam Granth. Among his other textual commentaries are Ṭīkā Bāī Vārāṅ, Ṭīkā Bhagat Bānī, Ṭīkā Sahaskritī Salok, Tīkā Vārāṅ Bhāī Gurdās and Ṭīkā Kabitt Savaiyye Bhāī Gurdās. Before launching upon his exegetical works, Giānī Bishan Siṅgh had written small books with titles such as Twārīkh Gurū kā Bāgh, Bandā Bahādur, Shahīd Khālsā, Sher Khālsā, Sūrbīr Khālsā and Mahārāj Khālsā. Noted among his other works are Sāruktāvālī Saṭik, Sākhī Pramāṇ and Vichārmālā Saṭīk.
Giānī Bishan Siṅgh's exposition of the sacred texts is marked by a simple and direct style of writing, unencumbered by loaded jargon or verbiage. He was always concise, even though at places his explanations lacked literary elegance and finish.
After his retirement from the Khālsā College, Giānī Bishan Siṅgh returned to his native village Lakkhūvāl, where he carried on with his scholarly pursuits with unabated zeal. He also taught beginners who came to seek his advice.
Giānī Bishan Siṅgh died in his village in 1966.
Sarmukh Siṅgh Amole