AVTĀR SIṄGH VAHĪRĪĀ, polemicist and scholar of Sikh texts, was born on 12 June 1848 at Thohā Khālsā, a village in Rāwalpiṇḍī district, now in Pakistan. As a small boy, he learnt to recite the Sikh psalms from his mother and maternal uncle, Prem Siṅgh. After he had learnt Gurmukhī in his own village, he went to school in Rāwalpiṇḍī. At the age of eight years, he took pāhul at the hands of Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī. Bābā Khem Siṅgh was to become the focus of his adult life and, in 1869, he took him as his mentor and dedicated his career to him. He shifted his business to Rāwalpiṇḍī to be close to his spiritual guide. When a Siṅgh Sabhā was formed at Rāwalpiṇḍī in the early 1880's, Avtār Siṅgh was among the first to join it. In 1883, there was a proposal sponsored by Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī in the Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, that Siṅgh Sabhās be called Sikh Siṅgh Sabhās so that Sahajdhārī Sikhs could also be enlisted as members. The proposal met with opposition in the Dīwān, but was readily accepted by the Rāwalpiṇḍī Siṅgh Sabhā. Avtār Siṅgh became assistant secretary, and later secretary of this Sabhā. Serious dissensions had cropped up in the Khālsā Dīwān over the question of giving a special pontifical status to Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī. A monthly magazine, Srī Gurmat Prakāshak, was launched from Rāwalpiṇḍī in Baisākh 1942 Bk/April-May 1885 by the partisans of Bābā Khem Siṅgh. Avtār Siṅgh was its manager-cum-editor. The opponents led by Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh, chief secretary of the Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, set up a separate Khālsā Dīwān at Lahore on 10-11 April 1886. At Amritsar Bhāī Gaṇeshā Siṅgh became the chief secretary in place of Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh. He was assisted by Avtār Siṅgh, who along with his journalSrī Gurmat Prakāshakshifted to Amritsar. The magazine was made a fortnightly in April 1887. Avtār Siṅgh drafted the new constitution for the Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, which was approved on the Dīvālī day of 1887. His views on Sikh rites and ceremonies were too conservative even for the traditionalist Khālsā Dīwān of Amritsar, and he had serious differences with its new chief secretary, Giānī Sardūl Siṅgh. Avtār Siṅgh and his supporters formed a separate association called Anin Sikhī dī Saṅgat Bhāīchārā, parallel to Sardūl Siṅgh's Khālsā Sat Saṅgat Sabhā. In 1894, Avtār Siṅgh Vahīrīā brought out Khālsā Dharam Śāstra: Saṅskār Bhāg. To secure the approval of the takhts, gurdwārās and of the leaders of the Panth, the work was subsequently enlarged and published in 1914 under the patronage of Ṭikkā Sāhib Soḍhī Rām Narāin Siṅgh Jī, as Khālsā Dharam Śāstra, with a sub-title in English, Sikhs' Religious National Law.

        In 1898, Avtār Siṅgh formed Chaldā Vahīr, a moving band of preachers, to tour villages and towns exhorting Sikhs to preserve the prevalent religious ceremonial and not to be 'misled' by the 'new-fangled' ideas of the Siṅgh Sabhā. The Vahīr which earned him the epithet Vahīrīā, leader of the marching column, lasted for two years. Thereafter Avtār Siṅgh returned to preaching his ideas through the printed word and produced his 8 volume Khālsā Sudhār Tarū (the Tree of Sikh Reformation) and a series of other books and pamphlets. The death of Bābā Khem Siṅgh Bedī, on 10 April 1905, deprived him of his principal patron. It was a personal calamity for him as well as a loss to the Sikh Panth, which he lamented in the Shok Pattar, or statement of grief, published in 1905. He shifted his residence back to Rāwalpiṇḍī and spent the rest of his days in comparative oblivion. But he kept up with his writing. His Gur Darshan Śāstra, a work interpreting the teachings of the Gurū Granth Sāhib according to his own conservative views, was published in 1916.


  1. Jagjīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā Lahir 1873-1902. Lahore, 1974
  2. Dhillon, Gurdarshan Siṅgh, "Character and Impact of the Siṅgh Sabha Movement on the History of the Punjab, " unpublished Ph. D. thesis.
  3. Nripinder Siṅgh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

Jagjīt Siṅgh