GURMUKH SIṄGH, SANT (1849-1947), with titles such as Paṭiālevāle, Kārsevāvāle or simply Sevāvāle commonly added to the name as a suffix, was born in an Aroṛā family in 1849 at the village of Diālgaṛh Būṛīā, in the princely state of Paṭiālā. His parents, Karam Siṅgh and Gurdeī, were a pious couple. From his father, Gurmukh Siṅgh learnt to read the Gurū Granth Sāhib. He was of a quiet nature and spent most of his time reciting gurbāṇī. As he grew up, he was married and a son was born to him. For a short time, he served in the elephant stable of the Mahārājā of Paṭiālā and later in the British Indian army. Taking his discharge from the army, he retired to a forest, five miles outside of Paṭiālā, and practised austerities and meditation for twelve long years. Accompanied by a number of devotees, he undertook a pilgrimage on foot to Nāndeḍ, in the South, with the Gurū Granth Sāhib, on a bullock-cart leading the procession.
In 1903, Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh moved to Amritsar where he took up lodgings in the Malvaī Buṅgā. While in Amritsar, he came under the influence of Sant Shām Siṅgh, celebrated for his piety as well as for his mastery of Sikh music. Besides nām simran, he made sevā or manual community service his daily habit. With a broom in one hand and spade in the other, he spent many an hour every day sweeping the steps and terrace around the sacred tank. When he started his campaign in 1914-15 for cleansing by kār-sevā or voluntary service the holy pool, called Santokhsar, in Amritsar, he was launched upon the mission of his life which he pursued with unparalleled devotion and humility. Long-drawn and thorough-going kār sevā was undertaken at several holy shrines and pools. During 1923-28, the sarovar at Tarn Tāran was desilted and lined, and the channel bringing canal water into it, since Rājā Raghbīr Siṅgh of Jīnd (1864-87) had it dug in 1883, was also paved and covered. The old haṅslī or water channel at Amritsar constructed by Mahant Santokh Dās and Mahant Prītam Dās during the Sikh times having become choked, work was started on digging a new one. Begun in 1923, it was completed by March 1928.
During the next 20 years, the building of the main shrine at Muktsar was renovated, the pool was enclosed and lined and the parikramā, the circumambulatory passage around it, was paved with marble; a 20-km metalled road was constructed linking Khaḍūr Sāhib and Goindvāl to Tarn Tāran; Gurdwārā Tapiāṇā Sāhib at Khaḍūr Sāhib was reconstructed and its sarovar desilted and lined and a covered water channel constructed to feed it; Gurdwārā Ḍerā Sāhib and the sarovar at Jāmārāi, the ancestral village of Gurū Nānak, were reconstructed; the sarovar at Bābā Bakālā was lined, the parikramā paved, and a link road to Gurdwārā Mātā Gaṅgā Jī constructed; and at Nankāṇā Sāhib, Gurdwārā Bāl Līlā and Gurdwārā Kiārā Sāhib were re-built and a water channel to feed the sarovar laid out. Work on reconstructing the principal shrine in Nankāṇā Sāhib, Gurdwārā Janam Asthān, was to begin when the Partition of August 1947 demarcating the new States of Pakistan and India intervened. Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh returned to Amritsar, where besides participating in the task of widening the parikramā around the Darbār Sāhib, he opened laṅgars to feed the refugees, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, stranded on either side of the Indo-Pakistan border.
Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh died at the age of ninety-eight at Amritsar on 30 November 1947, and was cremated on the bank of the Upper Bārī Doāb Canal where he had been living in a hut. His was a life truly spent in the remembrance of God and in sevā. Gigantic renovation and construction works were undertaken at his instance and accomplished under his inspiration and guidance, all by voluntary donations. No donations were ever solicited. Yet funds flowed in ceaselessly and effortlessly. Devotees volunteered the labour of their hands to take part in the holy enterprise. Over the vast operations presided the saintly-figure of Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh, on his lips the name of God all the time and his hands plying the broom or the spade. His work continues to this day at several places through his disciples popularly known as sevāvāle bābe or revered old men engaged in sevā.
Partāp Siṅgh Giānī