KARAM SIṄGH (1884-1930), pioneer of modern research in Sikh history, was born, on 18 March 1884, the son of Jhaṇḍā Siṅgh, a Ḍhillon Jaṭṭ, and Māī Bishan Kaur at Jhabāl village, 15 km west of Tarn Tāran in Amritsar district of the Punjab. The family which claimed descent from Bhāī Laṅgāh, a prominent Sikh contemporary of Gurū Arjan and Gurū Hargobind, later shifted to Chakk No. 29 Janūbī in Shāhpur (Sargodhā) district where Jhaṇḍā Siṅgh, on his retirement as dafādār (sergeant) from Risālā Awwal (1st Cavalry), was granted 50 acres of land in the newly opened Lower Jehlum canal colony. Having received his primary education at Jhabāl, Karam Siṅgh attended the village school and went on to matriculate from the Khālsā Collegiate School, Amritsar, and joined the Khālsā College, but left before taking a degree, devoting himself to his life's passion --- research in the history of the Punjab. The beginning of the 20th century in the Punjab was marked by frequent visitations of the plague epidemic which were taking a heavy toll of life. Karam Siṅgh, who considered oral history an important tool of research, left off studies in December 1905, only four months before the final examination for graduation, immediately to meet some of the old men still living who had been witness to the happenings in the Punjab under Sikh rule, and record their testimony. In 1907, he made out plans to go to Meccā and Baghdād in order to gather information about Gurū Nānak's visit to those places four centuries earlier and joined a hajj party disguised as a Muslim ( (for no non-Muslim could make that pilgrimage), but had to return from Baghdād.
Karam Siṅgh now started publishing the results of his researches. The traditionalist school opposed his critical and scientific approach with the result that the young historian enjoyed no patronage and found himself in financial straits. In his effort to be economically independent, he put to use his knowledge of the āyurvedic (indigenous Indian) system of medicine and opened an apothecary's shop, Saṅyāsī Āshram, at Sargodhā. In 1910 one of his friends, Paṇḍit Javālā Siṅgh, took him to Paṭiālā where with the help of Sardār (later Sir) Jogendra Siṅgh, then home minister of that state, Karam Siṅgh was appointed State Historian. Here he wrote a biography of Bābā Ālā Siṅgh (16911765), the founder of Paṭiālā state, and also prepared Punjabi readers for school children. In 1921-22, he took on lease a fairly wide tract of land in Nayā Gāoṅ village in Nainītāl district of Uttar Pradesh where he experimented farming with the help of modern mechanical implements, but not at the cost of his research. He continued to visit public libraries at distant places such as Paṭiālā, Budāūṅ, Darbhaṅgā, Alīgaṛh and Calcuttā, and took extensive notes from books and manuscripts bearing on Sikh history. A large number of these notes were published in Phulvāṛī, a Punjabi monthly journal, during 192830. He himself edited the Sikh Itihās Number, January 1930, of the magazine. Earlier, on 22 December 1929, at a meeting held at the Akāl Takht, Amritsar, was established the Sikh Historical Society of which Karam Siṅgh Historian (epithet popularly suffixed to his name) had been appointed secretary. At the same time the management of Khālsā College, Amritsar, planned to set up a department of historical research under Karam Siṅgh. But he was taken ill with tuberculosis. In August 1930 he had a severe attack of malaria. He was removed from Nayā Gāoṅ to Tarn Tāran for treatment, but an attack of pneumonia soon after reaching there hastened the end which came on 10 September 1930.
A work which marked a turning point in Sikh historiography and which is typically illustrative of Karam Siṅgh's method of analysis was his Kattak kī Visākh (n.d., republished, Patiala, 1912) in which he subjects the Janam Sākhī materials to critical scrutiny and arrives at the conclusion that Gurū Nānak was born in the month of Baisākh (April) and not, as traditionally believed, in Kattak (October-November). Among his other published works besides numerous articles in the Phulvāṛī, are Jīvan Britānt Bandā Bahādur (1907), Jīvan Srīmatī Bībī Sadā Kaur Jī (1907), Bībī Harnām Kaur Jī (1907), Jīvan Bīrtānt Mahārājā Ālā Siṅgh (n.d., republished, Tarn Tāran, 1918); Kes ate Sikkhī (n.d.); Gurpurb Nirṇaya (n.d.); Chiṭṭhīāṅ te Prastāv (1923); Bandā Kaun Si (n.d.) and Amar Khālsā (1932). The Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee has brought out a collection of his works under the title Karam Siṅgh Historian dī ltihāsik Khoj.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)