KESAR SINGH (d. 1935), a Sikh virtuoso of the Qur\’an. How Arabic sat upon Sikh lips will be a fascinating question to ask. Arabic when she came to India made good friends with the languages of India. They took note of its sonorous periods and resonant style of recitation. There were Indians at that lime who had gained remarkable proficiency in cross cultural expression. Raja Rammohun Roy (1772-1833) was one of them.
He had mastered both Sanskrit and Arabic. A Sikh scholar who had established unquestioned authority in Arabic letters was Sardar Sir Attar Singh of Bhadaur (1833-1896). He carried the dual distinction of formal certification in both areas in Arabic as well as in Sanskrit. In the former he was honoured with a Shamas ul Ulcma and in the latter with a Mahamahopadhyaya. He commuted between these two worlds of learning with sovereign ease and distinction.
There had likewise been scholars before and after them claiming master}` of both. At least two of them were venerable Sanskrit and Arabic scholars. They were Sardar Thakur Singh Sandharivalia (1837-1887) and Kanvar Bikrama Singh of Kapurthala (1835-1887). To return to Kesar Singh, the life of the Sikh who knew total Quran by heart was as unusual as was his original name, Akbar Singh. He was the youngest of three sons of Thaman Singh, who owned 20 acres of land, partly irrigated by canal, in Darigri village, in Patiala stale. He had three sisters. In those days every additional hand, boy or girl, was needed for cultivation and farmers as a rule did not send their children to school.
Akbar Singh tended his father`s cattle until he was 12. He wanted to go to school. Being sick of a cowherd`s life, he ran away from home and reached his maternal uncle, who welcomed his nephew and had him admitted to Government Middle School, Deheru, five miles away. Akbar Singh went to school on foot, like boys of oilier neighbouring villages. In those days the middle school examination was also conducted by the university. Mr Trump, the chief inspector of schools, who came to hold the examination was surprised at the queer name, Akbar Singh. The inspector ordered his name to be changed to Kesar Singh.
His certificate of University of the Panjab, Lahore, dated 11 June 1885, certified Kesar Singh as having passed the Vernacular Middle School examination held in April 1885. At the left hand top of the certificate, his original name, Akbar Singh Deheru, is written in Persian. Kesar Singh joined class 9 in Government Model School, Paliala, which was located in one wing of Mohindra College. After Matriculation he joined Mohindra College. Kesar Singh topped the university in BA and won the Viceroy`s (Northbrook) Gold Medal and university scholarship for postgraduate studies.
As Mohindra College had no M.A. classes, his M.A. was from Lahore Oriental College run by Parijab University. Of all the subjects, he chose Arabic, which normally Muslims opted for. He stood first, in the first class, in the final examination. Those who believe in rebirth would perhaps interpret the phenomenon in these terms. Kesar Singh must have been a Muslim in his previous birth, and an Arabic scholar to boot. There being only one college in the state of Patiala in which the post of Arabic teacher had already been filled up, Kesar Singh joined service as science master in Government Middle School, Bhavanigarh.
Some years later, he was transferred to Mohindra College as Lccturercum Librarian. After 15 years as Lecturcrcum Librarian, he was transferred to Foreign Office or Munshi Khana as it was commonly called. He wrote English, Persian/Urdu and Sanskrit in a beautiful hand. Kesar Singh`s last assignment was that of a vakil at Tooravati in Jaipur state. Patiala state appointed vakils in the states and in angreu ilaqd (British Indian territory) which had a common border with the state. The vakils acted as the state`s representatives and watched its interests.
Kesar Singh quoted from the holy Quran, Hadith, renowned Persian poets like Shaikh Sa\’di and Hafix and from Sanskrit classics as fluently as he quoted Gurbam in his letters to his only son, Partap Singh, to educate him and advise him. Eventually, Partap Singh became a doctor and joined state service. In one of his letters, quoting from the Holy Quran, Kesar Singh wrote to his son thus: “Dear Paitap Singh, always keep in mind what moral comes from the sacred verse it says that when the near and dear ones of a dying man lose all hope, they lay him on the floor. That scene you must always keep before your eyes while serving ailing humanity and preparing medico legal reports at your place of posting.
Never give a false report. This is very important.” In another letter Kesar Singh quoted the Prophet as having said that the ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr. Kesar Singh had a close relationship with Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, the founder of The Tribune, Dyal Singh College and Dyal Singh Library at Lahore. Kesar Singh`s first cousin, Bhagvan Kaur, was married to Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia. She could read and write Punjabi (GurmukhT) and was well versed in Sikh scriptures and was matchless in beauty. She had great influence upon her husband.
While the exact date of birth of Kesar Singh was not known, he was said to liave been born 12 years after the Mutiny, i.e. in 1869. He died in 1935, of pneumonia, after a short illness. He was 65. His son, Dr Partap Singh, has made his home in Patiala. On a stipend given by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, he entered King Edwards Medical College, Lahore, where he received his M.B.B.S. in 1924-25. Today, at 96, he sounds as truly as a bell. He regularly goes out for his morning walk. He travels, attends his professional meetings and scarcely ever misses a conference or symposium of his interest at the Punjabi University. R.S.D.