KĀHN SIṄGH, of Nābhā (1861-1938), celebrated scholar and encyclopaedist, was born on Bhādoṅ vadī 10, 1918 Bk/30 August 1861, in a Ḍhillon Jaṭṭ family at the village of Sabaz Banerā, in what then used to be the territory of the princely ruler of Paṭiālā. His father, Naraiṇ Siṅgh (mother : Har Kaur), was a man of saintly character and he succeeded to the charge of Gurdwārā Ḍerā Bābā Ajāpāl Siṅgh, at Nābhā, upon the death in 1861 of his grandfather, Sarūp Siṅgh. Kāhn Siṅgh, the eldest of three brothers and one sister, did not attend any school or college for formal education, yet he mastered several branches of learning by private effort. By the age of 10, he could recite freely both the Gurū Granth Sāhib and the Dasam Granth. He read Sanskrit classics with Paṇḍits in and around Nābhā and learnt music from a famous musicologist, Mahant Gajjā Siṅgh. He sought Maulawīs in Delhi to teach him Persian. In 1883 he went to Lahore where during his two-year stay he studied Persian texts and assisted Professor Gurmukh Siṅgh, a leading figure in the Siṅgh Sabhā, in the publication of his Sudhārārak. In 1887 he was appointed tutor to Ṭikkā Ripudaman Siṅgh, the heir apparent of Nābhā state. From the Mahārājā's private secretary to judge of the High Court, he held several different appointments in the state, serving for a brief interregnum, 1915-17, in the neighbouring Sikh state of Paṭiālā. In 1885, he had a chance meeting with Max Arthur Macauliffe which led to a life-long friendship. Macauliffe depended a great deal on his advice and guidance in the work he was then doing on Sikh scriptures and on the history of early Sikhism. He took him along to England when his 6-volume The Sikh Religion was in print at the Clarendon Press. Such was his admiration for Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh that he assigned to him the copyright of the book.
From among Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh's works, Gurushabad Ratanākar Mahān Kosh (1930), an encyclopaedia of Sikh literature, will remain a permanent monument to his unmatched industry and erudition. His maiden work Rāj Dharam (1884), written at the instance of Mahārājā Hīrā Siṅgh of Nābhā, was followed by Nāṭak Bhāvārth Dīpikā (1888), an exegesis of extracts from the Hanūmān Nāṭak, based on his notes prepared for the instruction of the young prince under his tutelage. In 1898, he published Ham Hindū Nahīṅ which set forth forcefully the Siṅgh Sabhā standpoint with regard to Sikh identity. The Gurmat Prabhākar, a glossary of Sikh terminology, concepts and institutions, was published in 1898, and Gurmat Sudhākar, an anthology of important Sikh texts, scriptural and historical, in 1899. His Gurū Chhand Divākar (1924) and Gur Śabad Alaṅkār (1925) deal primarily with rhetoric and prosody employed in the Gurū Granth Sāhib and some other Sikh texts. His Guru Girā Kasauṭī answers some of the questions raised by his pupil, Ṭikkā Ripudaman Siṅgh, about the meanings of certain hymns in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, and his Sharāb Nikhedh (1907) is a didactic work stressing the harmful effects of drinking. Among his other works are ṭīkās or exegeses of Jaimanī Aśvamedh (1896), Viṣṇū Purāṇa (1903), Sadu and Chaṇḍī dī Vār (1935). From among his works which were published posthumously, Gurmat Mārtaṇḍ (2 volumes) which essentially follows the format of his earlier Gurmat Prabhākar but includes much more explanatory material was published in 1960. A travelogue was published in 1984.
Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh lived in seclusion, totally immersed in his scholarly pursuit, yet his influence transcended the bounds he had created around himself. From the privacy of his study, he continued to enrich contemporary Sikh life in its diverse aspects. A man of aristocratic bearing, he was extraordinarily handsome, with sharp, chiselled features. He had the interests of an aesthete and loved art, flowers and music. In several spheres, he was the arbiter of taste. Through his writings, he subtly moulded the course of Sikh awakening at the turn of the century. On latter-day Sikh learning, he has left a permanent imprint.
Kāhn Siṅgh died at Nābhā on 24 November 1938.
Satyindra Siṅgh; ASVM(Retd.)