GAṆḌĀ SIṄGH (1900-1987), celebrated Punjab historian who by his sustained and pioneer work in the field of historical research initiated new trends in Sikh historiography and who by his critically important work became a vital and pervasive influence in historical learning in northern India, was born on 15 November 1900, the son of Javālā Siṅgh of Hariāṇā, an old town close to the city of Hoshiārpur in the Punjab. He began his education in the village mosque, later translating himself to the primary school. He passed the middle standard examination from D.A.V. (Dayānand Anglo-Vernacular) Middle School, Hoshiārpur, and his matriculation from Government High School in the same town. He joined the Forman Christian College at Lahore, but soon left it to enlist in the army (1919). He served at the Supply and Transport Corps Base Depot, Rāwalpiṇḍī, and at the divisional office at Peshāwar before he was attached to the Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force, Basrā, in 1920 and later to the British Royal Army Pay Corps, also at Basrā, in 1921. There he had his thigh torn by a bullet shot and he was hospitalized. After recovery he was repatriated to India, but had been mistakenly reported dead to his family. This led to a dramatic situation. When he suddenly appeared at the door of his home in the village late one evening, he was taken to be a spirit and was refused admittance. As he was recognized the following morning at the doorstep of his house, the family's horror turned into jubilation.
Gaṇḍā Siṅgh did not stay at home for long. He went back to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and then to Iran, there to join the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at Abādān as accounts officer. At Abādān, he came under the influence of the British scholar, Sir Arnold Wilson, who besides his official duties as general manager of the company was working on his Bibliography of Persia. Young Gaṇḍā Siṅgh now aspired to prepare a Bibliography of his native Punjab. On his return to Punjab towards the end of 1930, he first worked on the editorial board of the Phulvāṛī, a Punjabi monthly published from Lahore. One long-lasting friendship he picked up there was with Bhagat Lakshman Siṅgh, a Sikh reformer and educationist. He however missed meeting with Karam Siṅgh, the historian, then very enthusiastic in promoting the cause of Sikh history. Karam Siṅgh died before Gaṇḍā Siṅgh could meet him.
In October 1931 began Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh's long and fruitful career as a researcher and historian. The Khālsā College at Amritsar placed him in charge of its newly created Sikh History Research Department, which position he kept till 1949. During this period he travelled extensively, rummaging various public libraries, archives and private collections throughout India in quest of materials on Sikh history, enriching the library of his department and also brought out several books and tracts based on these.
In 1949, he came to Paṭiālā where he was appointed Director of Archives and Curator of Museum under the Government of PEPSU (Paṭiālā and East Punjab States Union). In 1950 he received the additional charge of Director of the Punjabi Department. His thesis on Ahmad Shāh Durrānī earned him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the Pañjab University, Chaṇḍīgaṛh, in 1954, as well as much applause from scholars and historians. Among them he counted Maulānā Abul Kalām Āzād, a leading Indian savant of the day.
Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh was principal of the Khālsā College, Paṭiālā, when he was invited by the Punjabi University, Paṭiālā, to organize its Department of Punjab Historical Studies. He set up Punjab History Conference in 1965 which became a very active forum for the discussion of matters relating to Punjab history. In 1967, he launched the University's journal, the bi-annual The Panjab Past and Present, of which he himself was the editor and which gathered high repute and much prestige over the years.
In 1938, he had been appointed a corresponding member of Indian Historical Records Commission of Government of India, and was a full member of the Commission from 1950 to 1956. He was nominated member of Punjab Regional Committee for the Survey of Historical Records, Government of Punjab, Lahore, and of Indian Historical Records Commission, Government of India. He was secretary of the Committee for the History of Freedom Movement in PEPSU, Paṭiālā, and chairman of the Regional Records Survey Committee for History of Freedom Movement, Shimlā/Paṭiālā, from November 1957 to December 1962. He held membership of Asiatic Society, Calcutta, Indian Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, and Bhārat Itihās Saṅshodhak Maṇḍal, Poonā. He presided over the medieval section of Punjab History Conference session of the Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta, held at Shillong in 1974 as well as over its 13th session held at Paṇajī (Goā) in 1975. In 1974, he presided the 35th session of Indian History Congress at Jādavpur.
Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh was a prolific writer. In addition to scores of research papers, booklets and pamphlets, he published over two dozen full-length volumes of high historical value. Chronologically they are: Inkishāf-i-Haqīqat (Urdu/Persian), 1926; Baisākhī Kā Khālsā Sandesh (Hindi), 1930; Life of Banda Singh Bahadur (English), 1935; History of Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Lahore (English), 1935; Maharaja Ranjit Singh (English), 1939; Maharaja Ranjit Singh : First Death Centenary Memorial Volume (English), 1939; Qazi Nur Muhammad Jangnama (English), 1939; Mahārājā Kauṛā Mall Bahādur (Punjabi), 1942; Sardār Shām Siṅgh Aṭārīvālā (Punjabi), 1942; Kūkiāṅ dī Vithiā (Punjabi), 1944; M'ākhaz-i-Twārīkh-i-Sikhāṅ (ed. Persian), 1949; Mukhtsar Nānak Shāhī Jantarī (Urdu), 1949; A Short History of the Sikhs (English --- in collaboration with Tejā Siṅgh), 1950; Shāhnāmā Raṇjīt Siṅgh by Maulawī Ahmad Yār (ed. Persian/Urdu), 1951; The Panjab in 1839-40 (English), 1952; The First Anglo-Sikh War (MS., English), 1955; Private Correspondence Relating to Anglo-Sikh Wars (ed. English), 1955; Punjab Utte Aṅgrezāṅ dā Qabzā (Punjabi), 1957; Ahmad Shāh Durrani (English), 1959; Sikhoṅ Kā-Saṅkshipt Itihās (Hindi), 1963; Bandā Siṅgh Bahādur (Punjabi), 1965; Some Confidential Papers of the Akali Movement (English), 1965;Bibliography of the Panjab (English), 1966; Srī Gur Sobhā (ed. Punjabi), 1967; Hukamnāme (Punjabi), 1967; Sardār Jassā Siṅgh Āhlūvālīā (Punjabi), 1969; Maharaja Duleep Singh Correspondence (English), 1977; Deportation of Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh (English), 1978; and Seditious Literature of the Panjab (English), 1987.
Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh's magnificent work was widely acknowledged and lauded in his life-time, and he received honours from a number of professional institutions and associations. The Punjab Government invested him with the Award for Literature on 31 March 1963 and the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, paid its tribute on 28 March 1964. On 19 December 1964, Muslim University, 'Alīgaṛh, conferred on him the degree of D. Litt. honoris causa. Sikh Educational Conference honoured him during its 52nd annual session held at Kānpur on 25-27 October 1974, and Punjabi University, Paṭiālā, at the annual session of the Punjab History Conference held during November 1976. The University also brought out during the same year an anthology, Essays in Honour of Dr Ganda Singh, lovingly edited by his old pupil Professor Harbaṅs Siṅgh. The University also awarded him the degree of Doctor of Literature at its 15th convocation held on 25 February 1978. The Indian History Congress during its Silver Jubilee session held at Paṇajī (Goā) on 5-7 November 1987 honoured him as one of the five distinguished historians of India. The Government of India honoured him with the award of Padma Bhūshan in 1983.
In the course of his long career as a researcher and scholar, Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh had acquired a vast personal collection of rare books, maps, documents and manuscripts which occupied several rooms of his modest residence on the Lower Mall at Paṭiālā. This precious treasure is now the property of Punjabi University, Paṭiālā, to which institution he donated the entire collection.
Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh died at Paṭiālā on 27 December 1987.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)