CHIEF KHĀLSĀ DĪWĀN, Until the emergence of more radical platforms such as the Sikh League (1919), Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee (1920) and Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal (1920), the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, established on 30 October 1902, was the main council of the Sikhs, controlling their religious and educational affairs and raising its voice in behalf of their political rights. It has proved to be a durable setup and it still retains its initiative in education, though its role in the other spheres has progressively shrunken over the years. It was originally conceived as a central organization of the Sikhs to replace Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, and Khālsā Dīwān, Lahore, then torn by a conflict which was hampering the work of Siṅgh Sabhās affiliated to them.

         A large public assembly held in the Malvaī Buṅgā, in the vicinity of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, on the Baisākhī day of 1901, constituted a committee to draw up the constitution of such a unitary body. The draft prepared was finally adopted on 21 September 1902. The opening session of the new society, designated Chief Khālsā Dīwān, was held in the Malvaī Buṅgā on the Dīvālī day, 30 October 1902, Bābū Tejā Siṅgh, of Bhasauṛ saying the inaugural ardās or prayer. Bhāī Arjan Siṅgh, of Bagaṛīāṅ, was elected president, Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā secretary and Soḍhī Sujān Siṅgh additional secretary. A total of twenty-nine Siṅgh Sabhās including those of Amritsar, Rāwalpiṇḍī, Āgrā, Bhasauṛ, Baḍbar, Multān, Dākhā and Kairoṅ affiliated themselves to the Dīwān, the number rising to 53 in an year's time. Enrichment of the cultural, educational, spiritual and intellectual life of the Sikhs, preaching the tenets of the Gurū Granth Sāhib, propagating Sikh history, and protecting the rights of the Sikhs by putting up memoranda and memorials to the government were among its main concerns. It especially aimed at opening schools and institutions for the spread of education among men and women, publishing books on Sikh history, sacred texts and doctrine, translating into Punjabi works from other languages and opening institutions of community welfare. Membership of the Dīwān was open to all amritdhārī Sikhs, i. e. those who had received the rites of Khālsā initiation and who could read and write Gurmukhī. Members were also expected to contribute for the common needs of the community the obligatory dasvandh, or one-tenth of their annual income. Any Siṅgh Sabhā or any other Sikh society sharing its ideology could have itself affiliated to the Dīwān.

         The Chief Khālsā Dīwān theoretically incorporated the perspectives and decisions of five major committees. A general committee consisted of representatives from member institutions, members delegated by the takhts and the Sikh princely states and individuals who met fiscal and service criteria. That committee elected an executive committee that met monthly and conducted most of the regular business, referring critical matters to the broader body. The other three committees dealt with finances, advice (legal, administrative, religious) and life-members. In general, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān solicited public input on issues and spent considerable time discussing letters and differing opinions. It frequently circulated documents to Siṅgh Sabhās or published them in journals for public comment. For example, the Dīwān sent out a questionnaire about opening the Gurū Granth Sāhib in public meetings and decided on the basis of the replies received (over 1, 600) that the correct thing to do was to open the Gurū Granth Sāhib in a room connected to the assembly but not in the public meeting hall.

         To propagate the message of the Gurūs, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān recruited a cadre of preachers. The Delhi darbār of 1903 when the Duke of Connaught was visiting India as a representative of the British Crown was considered an appropriate occasion to initiate the programme and several religious dīvāns or congregations were convened in the city by the Dīwān to acquaint the people with the beliefs and practices of the Sikhs. An English translation of Gurū Nānak's Japu was distributed. Besides towns and cities in the Punjab, the Dīwān preachers made regular visits to adjacent provinces, notably North-West Frontier Province and Sindh. To train rāgīs (musicians who recited the sacred hymns), granthis (Scripture readers) and preachers, the Dīwān opened in 1906 a Khālsā Prachārak Vidyālayā at Tarn Tāran, near Amritsar. In 1903, it launched its weekly newspaper, the Khalsa Advocate.

         Religious reform was one of the main objects of the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, and in pursuit of this aim it undertook to codify the Sikh ritual and rules of conduct. To this end, a committee was set up on 20 October 1910, consisting of Bhāī Tejā Siṅgh of Bhasauṛ, Sant Gurbakhsh Siṅgh, of Paṭiālā, Bhāī Vīr Siṅgh, Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, M. A. , Bhāī Takht Siṅgh, Trilochan Siṅgh, M. A. , and the Secretary of the Dīwān. The draft the committee prepared was circulated widely among the Siṅgh Sabhās and other Sikh societies as well as among prominent individuals. The process was repeated twice, and the code as finalized after prolonged deliberations was published in March 1915 under the title Gurmat Prakāsh: Bhāg Saṅskār. Historically, this was an important document, standing midway between the traditional Rahitnāmās and the Sikh Rahit Maryādā issued by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee in 1950.

         Linked with religious reform was the Chief Khālsā Dīwān's programme for the promotion of Punjabi language and literature. For this purpose it established a Punjabi Prachārak sub-committee and assiduously sought to have Punjabi, in Gurmukhī script, accepted in government offices, especially in the postal and railways departments, for certain preliminary work. The Dīwān also opened libraries and Gurmukhī schools as well as night classes for adults. It established in 1908 a Khālsā Handbill Society to prepare lithographed posters in Punjabi for free distribution. Advancement of Punjabi was one of the main planks of the Sikh Educational Conference formed in 1908 at the instance of the Dīwān dignitaries such as Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā and Harbaṅs Siṅgh Aṭārī who, travelling through Sindh preaching Gurū Nānak's word, had attended in December 1907 a session of the Muhammadan Educational Conference at Karāchī and returned with the idea of having a similar institution set up for Sikhs. Besides channelizing the Dīwān's work in behalf of Punjabi, the Sikh Educational Conference did much to promote Western-style education among Sikhs. Its annual sessions rotating from town to town were always occasions for considerable public fervour. They were largely attended and, besides discussion of the problems of Sikh education, they comprised religious sessions as well as competitions of Sikh kīrtan and poetry. The Conference still continues to be an active wing of the Chief Khālsā Dīwān.

         To ensure for Sikhs their due share in government employment and in power then available to the Indian people, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān kept up pressure on the British authority through representations and memoranda. In 1913, one of its leaders, Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, presented Sikh demands and claims before the Royal Commission. Sundar Siṅgh had been nominated a member of the Imperial Council in 1909 replacing Ṭikkā Ripudaman Siṅgh, heir apparent of Nābhā state. There in the Council he piloted the Anand Marriage Bill introduced by his predecessor in 1908. This was a major step towards reforming Sikh ritual.

         The Dīwān put up on 31 March 1911 a memorandum to the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, then visiting the Punjab, seeking just representation for the Sikhs in the services and in Imperial and Provincial councils. In 1916 and 1917 the Dīwān's resolutions and public demonstrations gradually moved from requests to demands. A series of documents was sent to the government concerning Punjabi language, jobs, and commissions in the army.

         As secretary of the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā sent a letter to the Punjab Government on 26 December 1916 reiterating the claims of the Sikh community for representation in government jobs and legislative bodies, which should be "adequate and effective and consistent with their position and importance. " On 18 September 1918, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān called a representative conclave of the Sikhs to consider the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme of reform. In the memorandum prepared on behalf of the community, government was urged to carry out the assurances given the Sikhs. The publication of the Montagu-Chelmsford report was followed by the appointment of Franchise Committee to go into the question of the composition of the new legislatures in India. It had three Indian members, but none of them was a Sikh. When the Sikhs protested, Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā was taken as a co-opted member for the Punjab, but their demand for one-third of the total number of non-official seats held by Indians in the Punjab, 7 out of 67 non-official seats in the Assembly of India and 4 seats in the Council of States for the Sikh community remained largely unfulfilled.

         The political awakening among Indians in the early years of the twentieth century gave rise to certain mass movements. In the Punjab, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān came to be looked upon as moderate, pro-government and elitist over against the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal which were more dynamic, anti-government and mass-based. They soon wrested from the Dīwān initiative in religious and political spheres. The Shiromaṇī Committee after the adoption of the Gurdwārās Act 1925 took over management of all the major historical Sikh shrines. The Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal has been over the years the premier political party of the Sikhs. The Chief Khālsā Dīwān thus had its area of influence and activity severely curtailed. It now restricts itself to expressing its opinion through resolutions and memoranda on religious and political issues facing the Sikh community.

         In retrospect, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān may be seen to have made three key contributions to Sikh life. The first was institutionalizing the Siṅgh Sabhā view of Sikhism as a separate religion with distinct rituals and a tradition devoid of Hindu influence. The resulting consciousness affected the way Sikhs looked at each other and the world around them. Without that consciousness, the mobilization of Sikhs spread across the world would have been impossible. There would have been no drive for protecting Sikh rights nor assertion of community control over the gurdwārā.

         Secondly, the Dīwān took existing but often disparate Sikh organizations and linked them together in an effective communication system. Efforts were focussed and information and ideas disseminated over time and distance. This enhanced the sense of Sikh identity and mission and opened up new paths of collaborative action and also conflict. The religious gatherings, conferences, district and provincial meetings, tracts and, most importantly, the journals and newspapers all were critical legacies from the Siṅgh Sabhā and Chief Khālsā Dīwān era. Without them, there would have been no dissemination of Sikh rituals, no sustained communication and exchange of ideas, no network that could be activated for legislation over anand marriage and no Akālī challenge to the community.

         The final element was a strategy for dealing with internal division and survival as a minority community. Accommodation, negotiation and compromise were hallmarks of the Dīwān's policy. Sikhs could not be totally self-reliant. Some of the Chief Khālsā Dīwān leaders, such as Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, pursued collaborative arrangements in the widened legislature and attempted to help Sikh interests through alliances with other political groups and the British. The Chief Khālsā Dīwān, as an institution, however, resumed its familiar task of trying to buttress Sikhism through education, toleration and institution-building. The new representatives of the Sikhs, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee and the Akālī Dal, now had to face the problems of disunity, political alternatives as a minority, and maintaining the contours of Sikh identity.


  1. Jagjīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974
  2. Pratāp Siṅgh, Giānī, Gurdwārā Sudhār arthāt Akālī Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
  3. Teja Singh, Gurdwara Reform Movement and the Sikh Awakening. Jalandhar, 1922
  4. Sahni, Ruchi Ram, Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines. Amritsar, 1965
  5. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, vol. 2. Princeton, 1966
  6. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983

Dharam Siṅgh