CENTRAL MAJHA KHALSA DiWAN, also known as the Shiromani Panth Milauni Jatha, was one of the several regional organizations that came into being on the eve of the Gurdwara reform movement of the 1920\’s. A Khalsa Diwan in the Majha area had in fact been established as early as 1904, but it had merged with the Chief Khalsa Diwan three years later. Upon its revival in 1918 as Central Majha Khalsa Diwan, it concerned itself mainly with reforming the ceremonial in Sikh holy places, especially at Tarn Taran and Amritsar.

With its headquarters at Kiratangarh, near Amritsar, the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan claimed a membership of over 1200 amrit-dhari Sikhs from the central Majha districts of Lahore, Amritsar and Gurdaspur.The Diwan had a collegiate executive of five persons, called Panj Piare, elected at a plenary meeting held during March every year. Leaders from outside central Majha such as Kartar Singh Jhabbar from Sheikhupura bar area and Master Mota Singh from the Doaba also lent their support and participated in the meetings of the Diwan. Prominent among its own leaders were Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchchar and the Jhabal brothers, Amar Singh, Sarmukh Singh andJaswant Singh.

The modus operandi of the Diwan was to hold religious congregations at different places on important Sikh anniversaries and other festivals and to provide services of granthis, ragis and pracharaks for functions such as Akhand Paths, initiation ceremonies and marriages, etc.A regular feature was the monthly divan on amavasya, the last day of the dark half of the lunar month, within the precincts of the Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran. The refrain of the Diwan speeches used to be criticism of the superstitious rites and ceremonies which had taken hold of the Sikh masses and of the malpractices in the administration of the shrines.

The clerics in charge of the gurdwaras resented this reformist propaganda. Their per5i5tent opposition forced the Central Majha Diwan to change the venue of their monthly meeting in Tarn Taran from the Darbar Sahib to one of the nearby bungas.At the annual meeting of the Diwan held at the village of Bhuchchar in March 1919, Teja Singh Bhuchchar was elected Jathedar, with four others to assist him. A few days later, on 13 April 1919, occurred the Jallianvala Bagh tragedy in the holy city of Amritsar which sent a wave of shock and anger across the entire country.

The Sikhs had a further cause for offence when they learnt that Brigadier General Dyer who had ordered the Amritsar shooting had been received and honoured by the Sarbarah, or manager and the priests of the Darbar Sahib and that an address of welcome had been presented to the Lieut Governor of the Punjab, Sir Michael O\’Dwyer. A public agitation started against the Sarbarah.The Central Majha Khalsa Diwan took an active part in it and proposed social boycott of all those Sikhs who had been a party to the honour bestowed on General Dyer or to the address presented to the Lieut Governor.

As the Gurdwara reform movement got under way, the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan was the first to swing into action.Its leaders, Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchchar and Amar Singh Jhabal with a jatha of 25 reached Sialkot and liberated Gurdwara Babe di Ber on 56 October 1920. When Sri Akal Takht was occupied by the reformists on 12 October the same year, the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan offered to administer it, Teja Singh Bhuchchar becoming its first Jathedar.Amar Singh Jhabal accompanied Kartar Singh Jhabbar in November 1920 to liberate Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal.

Towards the end of November 1920, Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh at Peshawar was taken over through the initiative of Teja Singh Bhuchchar. The Central Majha Khalsa Diwan lent full support to the Gurdwara Rikabganj agitation revived after the end of World War I. Sardul Singh Caveeshar asked, through the columns of the Akali, for 100 volunteers for a shahidijatha, i.e. band of martyrs, to march to Delhi and reconstruct on 1 December 1920 the demolished wall of Gurdwara Rikabganj if the government failed to restore it by that date.The Jhabal brothers endorsed the proposal, repeated the call at conventions held by the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan and enrolled volunteers for the jatha.

The government, however, had the wall rebuilt before the J\’atha intervened. When the Shiromani Akali Dal was formed, on 14 December 1920, to coordinate the work of regional Akali groups, Sarmukh Singh Jhabal of the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan was elected its first president. The reform of the administration of Sri Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran had since the days of the Khalsa Diwan Majha (1904-07) been a live issue. On 26 January 1921, Jathedar Teja Singh Bhuchchar led a J\’atha of 40 volunteers to Tarn Taran.

Through the mediation of Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid negotiations began between the reformist Akalis and the clerics in control of the shrine, but they remained inconclusive. The latter resorted to force and suddenly fell upon Bhuchchar\’S J\’ataa in the evening with lethal weapons. Nineteen Akalis were injured two of whom later died. Of these first two martyrs who died in the cause of Gurdwara reform, Bhai Hukam Singh of Vasaukot, in Gurdaspur district, was a member of the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan. The Darbar Sahib at Tarn Taran passed under Akali management.

Then followed the massacre at Nankana Sahib (20 February 1921) and the transfer of the control of the gurdwaras there into the hands of the reformists.The Central Majha Khalsa Diwan deputed its volunteers to assist the gurdwara administration at Nankana Sahib for several months. It was there that in a meeting held in March 1921, the Majha Diwan approved a motion affiliating itself to the Shiromani Akali Dal. It also passed a resolution of noncooperation and called upon its members to withdraw their children from government schools. In spite of its affiliation to the Shiromani.

Akali Dal, the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan maintained its autonomous entity. At its annual elections held in April 1921, Sarmukh Singh Jhabal, with four others, was chosen Jathedar.The members of the Diwan continued to participate in the Akali campaign for the release of Sikh shrines from the control of a corrupt priestly order. During the Guru ka Bagh Morcha, the Diwan sent a batch of 110 volunteers to face, under a vow of nonviolent passive resistance, the police beating on 1 September 1922.

With the emergence of the Shiromani Akali Dal as a viable political party, the Central Majha Khalsa Diwan, like other regional bodies, lost much of its relevance. Some members left it altogether, while others were absorbed in the district Akali jathas which now formed constituent branches of the Shiromani Akali Dal. There are still some carrying on under the old banner, holding fast to their old schedule of monthly congregations at Tarn Taran on the day of amavasya.

References :

1. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Movement. Delhi, 1978
2. Sahni, Ruchi Ram, Struggle for Reform in Sikh Shrines. Ed. Ganda Singh. Amritsar, n.d.
3. Pratap Singh, Giani, Gurdwara Sudhar arthat Akali Lahir. Amritsar, 1975
4. Josh, Sohan Singh, Akali Morchian da Itihas. Delhi, 1972