PIṄGALVĀṚĀ, a unique institution of its kind in the Punjab enlisting a wide variety of humanitarian work is the creation of a single, dedicated individual, Bhagat Pūran Siṅgh. Born into a Hindu family of modest means in 1904, Pūran Siṅgh walled in his early youth for self-discovery by a vision of the Holy Grail. Attending a religious dīvān, as a small boy, he had witnessed scenes of a fabulous Charisma at the Fatehgaṛh Sāhib annual festival. He had been enthralled to see the bejewelled and resplendent Sikh Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh, ruler of the princely state of Paṭiālā, and his team of equally tall, stalwart and upstanding A.D.Cs. The young boy, then shaven, could not take away his eyes from that bewitching scene. Reaching home he told his aged mother that he must become a Sikh sporting a big colourful turban and long uncut hair.
Piṅgalvāṛā, literally, an abode or asylum for cripples (pingale, in Punjabi), houses several hundred inmates suffering from all kinds of diseases. There are among them deserted women and abandoned children, admitted without consideration of caste or creed. Another building close by accommodates about 100 patients including some mentally sick or retarded youth. Next are the premises reserved for patients of tuberculosis and other infectious and contagious diseases. Officially run by a registered body, All India Piṅgalvāṛā Society, the Piṅgalvāṛā owes its existence to a highly compassionate and philanthropic genius. All inmates, whatever the condition or stage of their disease or disability, were tended personally by Bhagat Pūran Siṅgh with extraordinary loving care. He truly lived for his patients. They were his family. He was willing to do the humblest chores for them. Without flinching he would suck into his open mouth their bleeding wounds and will be willing to receive their secretions on his palm. He thought nothing of changing or washing their soiled clothes. A more self-abnegating individual did not live in this world.
Bhagat Pūran Siṅgh was born in the village of Rājevāl in Ludhiāṇā district of the Punjab. He took a vow of celibacy and went to Lahore where he engaged himself in sevā at Gurdwārā ḍerā Sāhib, sacred to the fifth Gurū of the Sikhs, Gurū Arjan (1563-1606), who too had established a lepers' home during his time. Following the partition of India in August 1947, Pūran Siṅgh came to Amritsar, and established a social service camp. In July 1952, he shifted to a building allotted by the Rehabilitation Department of the Punjab Government. By this time Pūran Siṅgh and his Piṅgalvāṛā had become widely known and public donations started flowing in. On 6 March 1967, Piṅgalvāṛā received formal recognition as the All-India Piṅgalvāṛā Society was registered with the Registrar, Cooperative Societies, Punjab.
The state government and the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee also started giving financial assistance. Voluntary donations from private individuals as well as from civic bodies and charitable institutions multiplied. Paid fund collectors began to be employed to collect donations in small coins from sundry sources such as rail and bus passengers.
Piṅgalvāṛā set up its own printing press which churned out materials for use by its workers. All these measures helped to muster funds to meet the ever increasing expenditure as a result of rising costs and expanding activities of the institution. From an expenditure of barely l00,000 rupees a year, it rose to over 21,00,000 rupees for the year 1976-77. There were more than 400 patients, permanently disabled persons and destitute women and children, staying at the Piṅgalvāṛā in 1978. They were given free meals and clothing by the institution and free medical aid through local hospitals.
Bhagat Pūran Siṅgh died on 5 August 1992, mourned by a vast multitude of admirers and inmates of the Piṅgalvāṛā which he had reared so lovingly and with such single-minded zeal.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)