GURMUKH SIṄGH, BHĀĪ (1849-1898), one of the prominent figures of the Siṅgh Sabhā movement, was born at Kapūrthalā on 15 April 1849. His father, Basāvā Siṅgh, a native of Chandhaṛ village, in Gujrāṅwālā district (now in Pakistan), served as a cook in the royal household of Kapūrthalā. Gurmukh Siṅgh was a promising child and caught the fancy of their master, Prince Bikramā Siṅgh, who began taking personal interest in his upbringing and education. After he had finished school at Kapūrthalā, Gurmukh Siṅgh was admitted to Government College, Lahore. He, like his patron Bikramā Siṅgh, felt concerned about the state of Sikh society, and when Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā was set up at Amritsar in 1873, he left off his studies without graduating with a view to propagating reform. He was instrumental in having Punjabi included, in 1877, in the curriculum at Oriental College, Lahore. He himself was appointed the first lecturer to teach the language. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh did not let his academic duties obstruct his Siṅgh Sabhā work. He was secretary of Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā, Lahore, which he had helped to establish in 1879. Likewise, he was the first chief secretary of Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, founded four years later.

         Gurmukh Siṅgh's zeal for radical reform brought him into conflict with the president of the Dīwān, Bābā Khem Siṅgh. During the Baisākhī session of the Dīwān in April 1884, Bābā Khem Siṅgh, being a descendant of Gurū Nānak, sat on a special cushioned seat in the presence of Gurū Granth Sāhib. This was resented by Gurmukh Siṅgh, who said that none could claim such a privilege in a Sikh assembly where all sat together as equals, without any distinctions of class or status. In the same meeting he opposed the proposal sponsored by the Rāwalpiṇḍī Siṅgh Sabhā, which was under the influence of Bābā Khem Siṅgh, that to enable non-initiated Sikhs to enrol as members the name Siṅgh Sabhā be changed to Sikh Siṅgh Sabhā. In May 1885, a book entitled Khurshīd Khālsā was published by the brothers Bavā Nihāl Siṅgh and Sarmukh Siṅgh of Chhichhraulī, followers of Bābā Khem Siṅgh. It contained statements judged to be contrary to Sikh tenets. The book also pleaded for the reinstatement of Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh as the ruler of the Punjab and the appointment of Ṭhākur Siṅgh Sandhāṅvālīā as his prime minister. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh proposed that the Khālsā Dīwān should publicly dissociate itself from the views expressed in the book. The differences came to a head at the Dīvālī session of the Dīwān, when a representative of Rājā Bikram Siṅgh of. Farīdkoṭ surprised Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh by reading out a statement of charges against him. Bhāi Gurmukh Siṅgh resigned from the Dīwān, with representatives of several Siṅgh Sabhās following suit. A schism in the Dīwān was now inevitable. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh and his supporters called a meeting at Lahore on 10-11 April 1886 and formed a separate Khālsā Dīwān, with Sardār Attar Siṅgh of Bhadauṛ as president and Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh as chief secretary. The Amritsar faction retaliated by getting Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh excommunicated through a resolution passed in April 1887 and issued under the seal of the Golden Temple. The Khālsā Dīwān Lahore, which enjoyed the support of the majority of the Siṅgh Sabhās, however, ignored the resolution. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh continued in office. The death, in May 1887, of his patron and benefactor, Kaṅvar Bikramā Siṅgh, meant a great personal loss to him; yet he did not slacken the pace of his activity. By now he had reclaimed two very energetic persons -- Bhāī Jawāhir Siṅgh and Giānī Ditt Siṅgh -- from the influence of Ārya Samāj, and inducted them into the Siṅgh Sabhā. The three of them working as a closely-knit team were henceforth the life and soul of the Khālsā Dīwān, Lahore. They preached assiduously through press and platform the message of reform and awakening among the Sikh masses.

         Education was considered to be the key to modern awakening and this was one of Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh's persistent concerns. As early as June 1882, a proposal had been made to set up a Sikh college. Soon after the establishment of the Khālsā Dīwan Amritsar in April 1883, Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh formally placed the motion before it at its special meeting held in June 1883. It was taken up more vigorously later by the Khālsā Dīwān Lahore. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh enlisted the co-operation of some government officials, and a Khālsā College Establishment Committee was constituted with Colonel W.R.M. Holroyd, Director of Public Instruction, as chairman and Mr William Bell, a professor of Government College, Lahore, as secretary. The efforts of Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh and other leaders of the Siṅgh Sabhā bore fruit and the cornerstone of the college was laid at Amritsar on 5 March 1892 by Sir James B. Lyall, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab.

         To disseminate widely the Siṅgh Sabhā creed, Gurmukh Siṅgh launched, one after another, the Gurmukhī Akhbār (1880), the Vidyārak (1880), the Khālsā (1885), the Sudhārārak (1886) and the Khālsā Gazette (1886). These were among the first newspapers and periodicals in Punjabi, and besides serving the cause of religious reform, they gave birth to a new literary idiom in the language. Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh also published, in 1889, a jantrī or almanac, called Gur Baras, the years of the Lord, the first of its kind in Punjabi in Gurmukhī script. Another work by him is Bhārat dā Itihās, a history of India in Punjabi. He also wrote Gurbāṇī Bhāvārth, a glossary in simple Punjabi to make the gurbāṇī of the Gurū Granth Sāhib intelligible to the common man. The work, however, remained unpublished.

         Bhāī Gurmukh Siṅgh married twice, but had no children. He died of a heart attack on 24 September 1898 at Kaṇḍāghāṭ, in Shimlā Hills, where he had gone to see the Mahārājā of Dhaulpur for a donation for Khālsā College, Amritsar.


  1. Jagjīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974
  2. Lakshman Singh Bhagat, Autobiography. Calcutta, 1965
  3. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983

Gurdarshan Siṅgh