Bhagat Puran Singh
This article reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.(June 2008)
Bhagat Puran Singh (7 June 1904 – 9 August 1992) was born in Rajewal (Rohno) Ludhiana district, Punjab. Born into a Hindu family, he was given the name Ramji Das as a child. Later, while still a child, he chose to become a Sikh. Though he never finished his basic schooling, he became a writer, a (self) publisher, an environmentalist, and a philanthropist. He is perhaps best remembered for the home he founded in Amritsar, India, named Pingalwara, a home which long after his death, is still tending to the castaways of society: the sick, disabled and abandoned forlorn people.
As a young man he decided to dedicate his life to the 'selfless service of humanity'. He founded Pingalwara in 1947 with only a few patients, the neglected and rejected of the streets of Amritsar. An early advocate of what we today refer to as the 'Green Revolution', Bhagat Puran Singh was spreading awareness about environmental pollution, and increasing soil erosion long before such ideas became popular. Pamphlets with his writings on various subjects, such as environmental awareness, were printed on re-used paper and freely distributed.
He was honoured in 1981 by the Government of India with the Padma Shri award, given for exceptional and distinguished service in any field. (See List of Padma Shri award recipients (1980–89)) He was among the citizens of India who returned their awards and medals after the Indian army's attack on the Golden Temple in 1984. He died on 5 August 1992 in Amritsar.
After the death of his father, his mother encouraged him to finish the matric level of education, which would allow him to fill a Government job. His mother worked as a domestic help in the house of a doctor at Montgomery (Sahiwal), in part to earn the money for her son's education. Later, she moved to Lahore where she cleaned utensils in households. Puran Singh was sent to a hostel where he was sent ten rupees every month by his mother.
Unfortunately, he failed his class tenth examination. Later, he was called back to Lahore and admitted in a local school, but he was not interested in studying his course books, which he felt were filled with hypothetical and theoretical knowledge with absolutely no connection or applications to everyday life. He, however, would spend hours browsing books in the Dyal Singh Library, trying to gain as much knowledge as he could.
Service to humanity
While in Lahore, he would often visit the Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, where he would provide water for the visitors to the gurdwara to do the necessary cleaning before entry, and help in managing the cattle that provided milk for the Gurudwara's Langar, the common kitchen, in which he helped by cleaning the utensils, making roti or distributing food to the sangat (people coming to the Gurdwara). He even cleaned the floor of the Gurudwara in the evening.
One day, someone fell from the roof of the Gurdwara and was badly injured. Bhagat Puran Singh immediately rushed him to the local 'Mu Hospital'. Experiencing inner joy after helping the patient, he took a man with badly bleeding leg, full of vermin, to a hospital where he expressed his thanks to Ramjidas telling him, "Son! Now I can die a peaceful death." With this incident, the service of humanity became the mission of his life. Now he would wander here and there finding the injured, physically handicapped persons, taking them to the hospital. He also took care of them as his pocket and capability allowed. Once, he even washed the clothes of an old, poor beggar who was suffering from diarrhoea.
On a moonless night in 1934, someone left a four-year-old child, a boy stricken with leprosy at the door of Gurdwara Dehra Sahib. After performing prayers for the child's wellbeing, the then Head Granthi of the Gurudwara, Jathedar Acchar Singh, handed him over to Ramjidas, who named the boy Piara Singh. Rather than handing the child over to a centre for lepers, if any existed, Bhagat Puran Singh decided to care for and raise him himself. This incident was to completely transform the face of his life.
After the partition of India in 1947, Bhagat Puran Singh reached a refugee camp in Amritsar which housed over 25 000 refugees with just 5 annas(0.3 rupees) in his pocket. A large number of refugees were critically wounded and incapable of nursing themselves. The government didn't make any arrangements to take care of these refugees. Bhagat Puran Singh took the initiative, he took some chloroform and turpentine oil and started treating the wounds of these refugees. He would often go in the nearby colonies to get food for the hungry and medicine for the ill.
From 1947 till 1958, Bhagat Puran Singh did not get a permanent dwelling. He could be seen outside the chief Khalsa Diwan, post offices, railway stations or under the tree outside the office of the Civil Surgeon. He would wander in the streets, asking for donations to help the needy. Some people offered to help him, but most of the others kept themselves from donating towards the noble needy. But at that time only one person stand with him to serve humanity whose name was des Raj bindra.
At last, he and des Raj bindra founded 'The All India Pingalwara Charitable Society' whose annual budget at that time was 12.5 million rupees and got it registered. Even today, this institution, headquartered at Tehsilpura, Grand Trunk road, Amritsar, works for helping the poor, the diseased and the physically and mentally handicapped. He died in 1992.
Born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother who named him Ram ji dass, he embraced Sikhism and took up the name Puran Singh. He was greatly inspired by the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Sikh Gurus.
Bhagat Puran Singh, was born a Hindu, though he realised Sikhism via a simple observation. Whilst he was a child his family used to travel, from village to village. They took up residence in Mandirs (Hindu temples) and Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in each village. In the Mandir, the high-caste priest (Brahman) ordered him to clean the temple, whilst the priest ate food in front of him without offering any. Whilst in the Gurdwara, the priest (Giani) gave the boy (Puran Singh) food without asking for anything in return. It is these subtle observations that changed his life.
He was a mature environmentalist and visionary. He initiated tree plantation drives, organised talks and lectures on various issues concerning the environment and social life, and also wrote a large number of books regarding the same. Some of his famous works include "Education of man","Righteousness alone exalts a nation","Plant or Perish", "The Way," "The Increasing Population", and many others. Along with Davinderpal Sandhu, he founded Spring Dale Senior School in 1980.
He distributed free pamphlets and books to make the people aware of the impending dangers to the environment and society through the Pingalwara Society.
Garland Around My Neck: The Story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara, by Patwant Singh & Harinder Kaur Sekhon, DTF Pub. & Distrib., Birmingham, UK (with UBS Pub. Distrib., New Delhi), 2001, ISBN 1-901363-40-6
- "The thoughts of great men are the common heritage of humanity and let our countrymen receive inspiration and guidance from these thoughts."
- "Freedom is not an achievement but an opportunity."
- "Those who die for their country are martyrs and those who live for their country are greater martyrs."
- "Dignity in death is a birthright of each living thing."
- "All Punjabis should sow trees of "Bohar"(Banyan), "Pippal" and "Neem", which are essential to our eco-system."
- "Stop these mockeries and do not talk, but live. Do not be anxious to save Sikhism. Rest assured that Sikhism can take care of itself. Your only anxiety should be to save yourself."
Bhagat Puran Singh chair
Bhagat Puran Singh Chair for Studies in Selfless Service to Humanity was established at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in year 2005. Objective of this chair was to highlight the contribution of Bhagat Puran Singh Ji in the betterment of our society and how his philosophy can be used for a healthy and prosperous future.
Stamp on Bhagat Puran Singh
Commemorative postage stamps on Bhagat Puran Singh, as a mark of paying tribute to a great self-regulated person was released by Ministry of Communications & Information Technology in year 2004. The stamp is in the denomination of Rs five.
Film and Literature
- ਪਿੰਗਲਵਾੜੇ ਦੀ ਵਿਥਿਆ, All India Pingalwara Charitable Society(regd.), Amritsar
- Garland Around My Neck: The Story of Puran Singh of Pingalwara, by Patwant Singh & Harinder Kaur Sekhon, DTF Pub. & Distrib., Birmingham, U.K. (with UBS Pub. Distrib., New Delhi), 2001, ISBN 1-901363-40-6
- "Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe based on the life of Bhagat Puran Singh". Times of India. Retrieved 16 November 2014.