ANJUMANIPANJAB, founded in Lahore on 21 January 1865 by the distinguished linguist, Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, who became successively the first principal of the Government College at Lahore and the first registrar of the University of the Panjab, was a voluntary society which aimed at the development of “vernacular literature” and dissemination of popular knowledge through this medium. Its actual activities spanned a wide range of educational forums and social issues, including encouragement of Vedic and Unani medicine, a mushaira or poetical symposium, newspaper journalism, a free public library, a system of private primary schools, lecture series and publication of literary works in Indian languages.

The Anjuman held meetings for the discussion of questions of literary, scientific and social interests, sent memorials to the government, established a public library and compiled a number of treatises and translations in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. It also started an Oriental school and was instrumental in the establishment of the Panjab University College, which was assigned to “promoting the diffusion of European science, as far as possible, through the medium of the vernacular languages of the Punjab, improving and extending vernacular literature generally, affording encouragement to the enlightened study of the Eastern classical languages and literature, and associating the learned and influential classes of the province with the officers of government in the promotion and supervision of popular education.”

On 14 October 1882, this college was converted into Panjab University which was the outcome primarily of the labours of the Anjuman. The Anjuman had a membership of 244 in 1865the year of its birth. Among its charter members were several Sikh “wards of the court,” the surviving heirs of decimated Sikh nobility. Among the leading Sikh members of the Anjuman were Raja Harbans Singh and his steward adviser, Rai Mul Singh. In papers read before the Anjuman they defended the right of Sikhs to study the Punjabi language written in Gurmukhi script. They later represented Sikh interests in the Senate of Panjab University College.

They, however, encountered the hostility of the British officers of the Punjab Education Department who viewed Punjabi as little more than a rude dialect, without a redeeming literary tradition, and hence unworthy of admittance into the formal curriculum of Panjab University College. At this key juncture, it was the well organized personal library of a Sikh scholar, Sardar Attar Singh of Bhadaur, which turned the tide of argument on the floor of Panjab University College Senate in favour of those advocating Punjabi. Attar Singh submitted a list of 389 works, written in Gurmukhi script, which he had been able to collect in his library.

This proved that Punjabi possessed a written literature, although not one widely read or, in 1877, recently attended to by Sikh scholars. Sardar (later Sir) Attar Singh`s impressive library won Punjabi studies admission at the Panjab University. Significantly, the first Gurmukhi instructor appointed to teach classes at the College was Bhai Gurmukh Singh, renowned in Sikh history as a vital figure in Singh Sabha renaissance.

Supporting what he called “semisecular” education, meaning the admission of religious training into government schools, G.W. Leitner actively sponsored the appointment of Bhai Gurmukh Singh to teach Gurmukhi and mathematics at the Panjab University College. Encouraging Sikh religionists, Leitner launched a Sikh “Bhai Class” at Oriental College, Lahore, where Gurmukh Singh taught the sons of traditional Sikh literati. This amalgam of Orientalist and Sikh studies led to the institution at the Panjab University College of Budhiman examination in Gurmukhi. Attar Singh became the first examiner. By 1883 a system of Gurmukhi examinations became standarized at Panjab University.

Supported by Anjuman orientalists, the Singh Sabha delivered in 1880 a petition to the Senate of Panjab University College signed by prominent Sikhs, seeking that new schools they hoped to found be patronized by the Panjab University College and the college entrance examinations be held in Punjabi, as was then being done for Urdu and Hindi speakers. The same year the Singh Sabha joined hands with the Anjuman representing to Viceroy Ripon to raise the Panjab University College to University status.

Just as a major portion of the Anjuman activities had shifted to the floor of the Panjab University College Senate after the creation of that Orientalist inspired institution in 1870, Ripon`s sanction in 1882 of a fully empowered Panjab University witnessed the final decline of the Anjuman. Its principal objective, i.e. the creation of a university, had been realized. Moreover, increased competition between communities, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim, had made the cross communally populated Anjuman an anachronism by the mid1880`s.

References :

1. Leitner, Gottlieb Wilhelm, History of Indigenous Education in the Panjab since Annexation and in 1882 [Reprint]. Patiala, 1971
2. Harbans Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1983
3. Perrill, Jeffrey, Anjuman-i-Panjab (unpublished Ph.D. thesis)