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KHALSA UPDESHAK MAHAVIDYALA, GHARJAKH, a training institution for Sikh preachers, was established in 1901 by Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Gujrariwala, now in Pakistan. The Gujrariwala Singh Sabha, formed in 1888 and affiliated to the Khalsa Diwan Lahore, played an important role in the educational and social awakening of Punjabi Sikhs. Already it had opened a Khalsa High School, one of the first of its kind, in 1889, and a girls school, IstrT Palhshala, in 1895.

Its leaders next decided to provide another institution designed to meet the needs of Sikhs for religious education. Although Singh Sabhas attempted to reach the masses with ideals of reform, the paucity of preachers trained in history and religion proved a handicap.The Gujrariwala Singh Sabha, therefore, set up a Khalsa Updcshak School on 5 April 1901. With just five students to start with, Bhai Lal Singh was appointed its manager and Sundar Singh 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, Sadhu Singh, 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 Khalsa Higli School.

But the arrangement did not work, and the Khalsa 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 Singh Sabha of Gharjakh, a large village located close to Gujrariwala, came to the rescue of the students and the faculty. Already running a granihl class, this Sabha merged it with the Updeshak school on 15 January 1904 and appointed Bhai Lal Singh and Giani Lahina Singh asjoint teachers. The local dharamsald and the garden of Sardar Charhat Singh were utilized for other facilities.

The subsequent history of the Gharjakh Updeshak Vidyala 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 proselytixation. Sikhs of Gharjakh responded to an appeal by Sant Suraj Singh made on 30 March 1904, and added an orphanage to the School, renamed Khalsa Updeshak School ate Yatimkhana (orphanage). The Khalsa Dharamsala thus became a home for the destitute children, managed by Jagat Singh, a retired havildar, and his wife.

Students and staff rapidly became involved in a widening range of religious activity. In addition to performing daily kirtan at the Khalsa Dharamsala in the morning and Ramgarhia Dharamsala in the evening, on every puranmdshi (full moon day) they enriched the worship services at Gurdwara Rori Sahib, Eminabad. The school also helped form an Amrit Prachar Jatha or a group to administer the Sikh rites of initiation. Teams toured farflung villages in Lyallpur, Sialkot and Gujrariwala districts impressing upon the Sikh youth the importance of amril. The institution grew and prospered.

The school became the Updeshak Mahavidyala, or college, with classes designed to prepare students for University examinations in Giani and Vidwan. On 23 February 1907, Sant Afar Singh laid the foundation stone of a new building of the Khalsa Updeshak Mahavidyala. Although the buildings and the reputation of the Mahavidyala continued to expand, the institution was handed over to the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, at the first session of the Sikh Educational Conference which took place at Gujrariwala on 1819 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 subcommittee of the Diwan in charge of the Mahavidyala, Karivar Prithipal Singh, served for several years. Other patrons of the school included Marigal Singh Man, Gurmukh Singh, an engineer by profession, Dr Mahari Singh, Tirath Singh, Dharam Singh and Chhahabar Singh. Sant Afar Singh continued his close association and frequently visited the Mahavidyala. After a decade of planning and hard work, a beautiful three storeyed Gurudwara was opened on its premises. The Mahavidyala had three major componcnts. 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 Giani and Vidwan classes as well as for music training for raw. Besides preparing students for University examinations in Punjabi, the academic programme included obligatory courses in gurbam, Sikh theology, and history. The third element, vocational training, included tailoring and weaving. The Gharjakh Updeshak Mahavidyala ale Yatimkhana, 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.

References :

1. Teja Singh, Sant,Jivan Kathd Gurmukh Pidre Sant Atar Singh Ji Mahdrdj. Patiala, 1970
2. Jagjit Singh, Singh Sabhd Lahir. Ludhiana, 1974

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