KHĀLSĀ UPDESHAK MAHĀVIDYĀLĀ, GHARJĀKH, a training institution for Sikh preachers, was established in 1901 by Srī Gurū Siṅgh Sabhā, Gujrāṅwālā, now in Pakistan. The Gujrāṅwālā Siṅgh Sabhā, formed in 1888 and affiliated to the Khālsā Dīwān Lahore, played an important role in the educational and social awakening of Punjabi Sikhs. Already it had opened a Khālsā High School, one of the first of its kind, in 1889, and a girls school, Istrī Pāṭhshālā, in 1895. Its leaders next decided to provide another institution designed to meet the needs of Sikhs for religious education. Although Siṅgh Sabhās attempted to reach the masses with ideals of reform, the paucity of preachers trained in history and religion proved a handicap. The Gujrāṅwālā Siṅgh Sabhā, therefore, set up a Khālsā Updeshak School on 5 April 1901. With just five students to start with, Bhāī Lāl Siṅgh was appointed its manager and Sundar Siṅgh its headmaster. The school rapidly grew in popularity. However, as it often happens when two or more schools rely on the same constituency for finances, the High school and the Updeshak school soon became caught up in competition. In an attempt to minimize party bickering, Sādhū Siṅgh, extra assistant commissioner and a prominent Sikh leader, intervened in August 1902 and worked out a compromise whereby the administration of both institutions was transferred to the committee originally in charge of the Khālsā High School. But the arrangement did not work, and the Khālsā High School committee decided on 15 December 1903 to neglect the interests of the younger institution.

         The necessity for training Sikhs in preaching and missionary work nevertheless remained, and fortunately the Siṅgh Sabhā of Gharjākh, a large village located close to Gujrāṅwālā, came to the rescue of the students and the faculty. Already running a granthī class, this Sabhā merged it with the Updeshak school on 15 January 1904 and appointed Bhāī Lāl Siṅgh and Giānī Lahiṇā Siṅgh as joint teachers. The local dharamsālā and the garden of Sardār Chaṛhat Siṅgh were utilized for other facilities.

         The subsequent history of the Gharjākh Updeshak Vidyālā reflects the manner in which Sikhs developed an institution and then broadened it, as necessary, to meet a variety of needs. Outbreaks of famine and plague had left Hindu and Sikh children orphans vulnerable to Muslim and Christian proselytization. Sikhs of Gharjākh responded to an appeal by Sant Sūraj Siṅgh made on 30 March 1904, and added an orphanage to the School, renamed Khālsā Updeshak School ate Yatīmkhānā (orphanage). The Khālsā Dharamsālā thus became a home for the destitute children, managed by Jagat Siṅgh, a retired havildār, and his wife.

         Students and staff rapidly became involved in a widening range of religious activity. In addition to performing daily kīrtan at the Khālsā Dharamsālā in the morning and Rāmgaṛhīā Dharamsālā in the evening, on every pūranmāshī (full-moon day) they enriched the worship services at Gurdwārā Roṛī Sāhib, Eminābād. The school also helped form an Amrit Prachār Jathā or a group to administer the Sikh rites of initiation. Teams toured far-flung villages in Lyallpur, Siālkoṭ and Gujrāṅwālā districts impressing upon the Sikh youth the importance of amrit.

         The institution grew and prospered. The school became the Updeshak Mahāvidyālā, or college, with classes designed to prepare students for University examinations in Giānī and Vidwān. On 23 February 1907, Sant Atar Siṅgh laid the foundation-stone of a new building of the Khālsā Updeshak Mahāvidyālā. Although the buildings and the reputation of the Mahāvidyālā continued to expand, the institution was handed over to the Chief Khālsā Dīwān, Amritsar, at the first session of the Sikh Educational Conference which took place at Gujrāṅwālā on 18-19 April 1908. The move was intended to set an example for centralizing all Sikh educational ventures and thereby ensuring Panthic unity. The first president of the sub-committee of the Dīwān in charge of the Mahāvidyālā, Kaṅvar Prithīpāl Siṅgh, served for several years. Other patrons of the school included Maṅgal Siṅgh Mān, Gurmukh Siṅgh, an engineer by profession, Dr Mahāṅ Siṅgh, Tīrath Siṅgh, Dharam Siṅgh and Chhahabar Siṅgh. Sant Atar Siṅgh continued his close association and frequently visited the Mahāvidyālā. After a decade of planning and hard work, a beautiful three-storeyed gurdwārā was opened on its premises.

         The Māhāvidyālā had three major components. The School held classes up to the fifth standard with Punjabi as the medium of instruction. After the fifth class, students could either pursue further academic studies or enroll in vocational training. There were arrangements for Giānī and Vidwān classes as well as for music training for rāgīs. Besides preparing students for University examinations in Punjabi, the academic programme included obligatory courses in gurbāṇī, Sikh theology, and history. The third element, vocational training, included tailoring and weaving.

         The Gharjākh Updeshak Mahāvidyālā ate Yatīmkhānā, a singular institution providing service to the Sikh community in particular and to orphans in general, continued until 1947 when partition of the country uprooted it. It was not revived in independent India.


  1. Tejā Siṅgh, Sant, Jīvan Kathā Gurmukh Piāre Sant Atar Siṅgh Jī Mahārāj. Patiala, 1970
  2. Jagjīt Siṅgh, Siṅgh Sabhā Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974

Jagjīt Siṅgh