TEJĀ SIṄGH, PROFESSOR (1894-1958), teacher, scholar and translator of the Sikh sacred texts, was born Tej Rām on 2 June 1894 at the village of Aḍiālā in Rāwalpiṇḍī district, now in Pakistan. His father's name was Bhalākar Siṅgh. At the age of three, Tej Rām was sent to the village gurdwārā to learn to read and write Gurmukhī and later to the mosque to learn Urdu and Persian. While still a small boy, he received initiatory rites at the hands of Bābā Sir Khem Siṅgh Bedī and was converted to Sikhism with the name of Tejā Siṅgh. His early life was very hard and full of adventure. Since his father could not afford to send him to a regular school, he absconded from home in search of education. He managed to attend schools in Rāwalpiṇḍī and thereafter in Sargodhā and enter the Khālsā College at Amritsar after passing his matriculation examination.
Tejā Siṅgh had a sensitive nature. The babbling brooks of Poṭhohār and the stories of the Gurūs and heroes he had heard as child shaped his imagination. In his seventh form, he wrote in English a treatise on painting and depicted in drama the noble and heroic martyrdom of the sons of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. He painted pictures and although he had to work to pay his way through college, he had engaged a musician from a neighbouring village to come daily to his hostel to play the sītār for him.
After passing the intermediate examination from Khālsā College, Tejā Siṅgh returned to Rāwalpiṇḍī to join the Gordon College which had afforded him a fee concession. He took his master's degree in English literature in 1916. In March 1919, he got an appointment at the Khālsā College at Amritsar where first he taught history and then for a quarter of a century English literature. Those were the days of much political activity in the Punjab of which Amritsar was an important centre. Tejā Siṅgh was among the 13 Sikh professors of Khālsā College who resigned as a protest against government's control in the management of the institution. This gave rise to a widespread agitation and the government was forced to replace all 11 official members of the Khālsā College Managing Committee by "non-official" Sikhs. Tejā Siṅgh was also connected with the Sikhs' long-drwan struggle in the twenties for the release of their holy places from the control of an effete and corrupt priestly order. In 1923, he was arrested during this campaign and served more than one year in jail. On his release in 1925 for reasons of health, he returned to Khālsā College and his old profession of teaching. But he retained his contact with public causes through his writings and lectures. In 1939, he undertook a lecture tour of Malaya and delivered nearly 300 speeches in two months' time.
A gracious and kindly figure radiating warmth and friendliness, Tejā Siṅgh presided over the cultural and literary activity in the Punjab for three decades. Punjabi letters and Sikh history and philosophy were his special fields of study. In the former he exercised pontifical influence and initiated new values and standards. With his vast background in oriental learning combined with a deep study of Western literature, he was an ideal critic and arbiter of literary excellence. His writings helped to fix the form and structure of Punjabi idiom. He encouraged and introduced to readers many young writers and it was accepted custom for all new practitioners to first show their work to him.
As a scholar of Sikh religion, he wrote copiously and authoritatively on the subject. He was for many years the interpreter and expositor of Sikhism to the outside world through his articles in English. Such writings of his were collected in book form and published under the titles Sikhism : Its Ideals and Institutions (1938) and Essays in Sikhism (1944). He wrote in collaboration with Dr Gaṇḍā Siṅgh A Short History of the Sikhs (1950). Some of his renderings of the holy texts such as japu, Āsā kī Vār and Sukhmanī had established themselves as classics. The Śabadārth, an annotated edition of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, sponsored by the Gur Sevak Sabhā, which was completed in five years (1936-41), was primarily the work of Tejā Siṅgh. Tejā Siṅgh also compiled an English--Punjabi dictionary. One of his ambitions was to render the entire Gurū Granth Sāhib into English. The portion he had completed during his lifetime was published by the Punjabi University in 1985 under the title The Holy Granth (Srī Rāg to Rāg Mājh).
In Punjabi literature Tejā Siṅgh is remembered primarily as an essayist. The first collection of his essays in Punjabi was published in 1941 under the title Navīāṅ Sochāṅ, followed by Sahij Subhā in 1942 and Sāhit Darshan in 1951. His autobiography, Ārsī (Finger-Glass of Memory), a model of chaste and crisp Punjabi prose, was published in 1952. A scholarly work in Punjabi was Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib vich Shabadāṅtik Lagāṅ Mātrāṅ de Gujhe Bhed (Subtle Distinctions of Word-ending Vowel Symbols in the Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib).
In 1945, Tejā Siṅgh took over as Principal at the Khālsā College at Bombay. He stayed at this post for about three years and. then returned to Punjab as Secretary of the Publications Bureau of the Pañjab University. In January 1949 he was appointed Principal of Mohindra College, Paṭiālā. At Paṭiālā, he also held additional charge for a time as Secretary and Director of the newly established Punjabi Department. He retired from the service of the PEPSU government in 1951.
Tejā Siṅgh died after a stroke at Amritsar on 10 January 1958. He is remembered as a great man of letters who combined with deep learning a rare personal charm and kindliness.
Sardār Siṅgh Bhāṭīā