RAṆDHĪR SIṄGH, BHĀĪ (1878-1961), a revolutionary as well as a saintly personage much revered among the Sikhs, was born on 7 July, 1878 at the village of Nāraṅgvāl in Ludhiāṇā district of the Punjab, to Natthā Siṅgh and Pañjāb Kaur. Natthā Siṅgh was at first the district inspector of schools of Ludhiāṇā and then translator of law books in the princely state of Paṭiālā, in which capacity he rendered into Punjabi the Indian Penal Code under the title Hind Ḍaṇḍāvalī. Later, he became a judge of the High Court in Nābhā state. Raṇdhīr Siṅgh passed his high school at Nābhā and was admitted to Government College at Lahore in 1896. In 1898, he transferred himself to Forman Christian College at Lahore, but left in 1900 without completing his course for the Bachelor's degree. At college, he excelled in poetry and athletics. The poet in him flowered into a religious mystic and the sportsman into an intrepid campaigner for the political freedom of the country.
In October 1902, Raṇdhīr Siṅgh was appointed a nāib tahsīldār and personal assistant to the District Plague Medical Officer, Dr R W. Fisher. In 1903, he resigned his government post, declining simultaneously an offer of promotion to the higher rank of tahsīldār. He received the vows of the Khālsā on l4 June 1903 at Bakāpur, near Phillaur, at a special dīvān convened to convert to Sikhism Karīm Bakhsh, a Muslim, and his family. At initiation, he received the name of Raṇdhīr Siṅgh, his previous name being Basant Siṅgh. Briefly in 1904-05, he worked as a head clerk in a goverment office at Abotṭābād, where he spent most of his time in meditation. This was a time of spiritual illumination, as recorded in his autobiography Jelh Chiṭṭhīāṅ (Letters from Jail). In 1907, he took up the job of a hostel superintendent at the Khālsā College at Amritsar, only to quit it like his government appointment.
Raṇdhīr Siṅgh was appointed secretary of the Khālsā Dīwān, Damdamā Sāhib, in 1908. When in 1913 the government demolished the outer wall of Gurdwārā Rikābgañj in Delhi to secure symmetry in the vicinity of the Viceroy's Palace, he took a leading part in organizing protest meetings. By September-October 1914, members of the Ghadr party had started pouring into India from the United States and Canada to make an armed insurrection. Some of them contacted Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh, who readily offered to co-operate and who became one of the leaders of the Ghadr revolution in the Mālvā region. On 19 February 1915, he marched out with a batch of about 60 comrades to help Kartār Siṅgh Sarābhā capture the Fīrozpur cantonment. The plan, however, fell through. Raṇdhīr Siṅgh was detained at Nābhā on 9 May 1915 and on l9 June was put under arrest and taken to Ludhiāṇā. He remained in Ludhiāṇā jail until 27 October 1915 when he was removed to Lahore. He was tried in the Lahore conspiracy case II and, on 30 March 1916, sentenced to transportation for life. For sixteen long years (1915 to 1930), he was shifted from jail to jail — Lahore, Multān, Hazārībāgh, Rājahmundry and Nāgpur. While in Multān jail, he went on a protest fast to secure for the Sikh prisoners their religious rights and won his point after a 40-day trial. Just before his release on 4 October 1930, he was brought to Lahore jail where a Muslim jailer arranged a meeting between him and Bhagat Siṅgh, the martyr, then under death sentence. Bhagat Siṅgh, as says Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh in his Jelh Chiṭṭhīāṅ, confessed that he had been up to that time an atheist but that after meeting Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh a new spiritual awareness had come to him.
After his release from jail in October 1930, Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh turned increasingly inwards and spent most of his time in meditation and in preaching the Gurū's word through kīrtan and through akhaṇḍ pāṭhs. For his standing in Sikh piety and for his qualities of courage and sacrifice, he received siropās or robes of honour at all the Takhts, seats of highest religious authority. In the hukamnāmā issued from the Akāl Takht, Amritsar, on 30 Bhādoṅ 1988/ 15 September 1931, he was eulogized for his "steadfastness, selfless sacrifice and outstanding services to the Panth." Besides the Takhts, he received similar acclaim at other holy places, including Tarn Tāran, Khaḍūr Sāhib, Goindvāl Sāhib and Sultānpur Lodhī. He was chosen to be one of the Pañj Piāre, the Five Beloved, who initiated on 17 September 1931 kār-sevā or voluntary mass labour to clean the holy tank at Tarn Tāran. He was the Jathedār of the Pañj Piāre chosen to lay, on 14 October 1932, the cornerstone of the new building of Gurdwārā Pañjā Sāhib. He was also included among the Pañj Piāre who performed similar ceremonies at Gurdwārā Shahīd Gañj at Nankāṇā Sāhib (21 November 1934), Akāl Buṅgā at Paṭnā Sāhib (8 January 1938) and the Kavī Darbār Asthān at Pāoṇṭā Sāhib (17 March 1938).
Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh wrote more than three dozen books and tracts on Sikh theology, philosophy and mysticism. Especially notable among his works are Jelh Chiṭṭhīāṅ, Anhad Shabad-Dasam Duār, a book on the highest state of spiritual illumination according to Sikhism, Charan Kamal kī Mauj, an essay on mystical experience, Gurmati Nam Abhiās Kamāī, a theological treatise on the discipline of nām, i.e, absorption in the Divine Name, Gurmat Bibek, a book on the Sikh code of conduct, and Gurbāṇī dīāṅ Lagāṅ Mātrāṅ dī Vilakkhaṇatā, dealing with peculiarities of vowel symbols in Gurbāṇī. Joti Vigās and Darshan Jhalkāṅ are books of mystical poetry.
Bhāī Raṇdhīr Siṅgh died on 16 April 1961 at Ludhiāṇā. On his death 200 akhaṇḍ pāṭhs or continuous recitations of the Gurū Granth Sāhib were performed in and outside India. His memory is perpetuated by his followers who, women not excluded, don turbans in a distinctive manner and perform what is called akhaṇḍ (uninterrupted, long continuing) kīrtan he made popular.
Gurdev Siṅgh Deol