His sacred burden

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Any visitor to the city of Amritsar who keeps his eyes open, cannot fail to notice black wooden boxes, bearing crude writings in white in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English, placed in crossings and public thoroughfares, reminding him of the duty he owes to his brethren, the sick and suffering, the aged and the infirm. At some places he may come across large wooden black-boards bearing extensive writings of a similar type seeking to strike a sympathetic chord in him or containing a homily on civics and morality, religion and philosophy. If he were to pause and read, he would surely find that these are the insignia of Pingalwara (literally a home of the cripple) ā€“ a unique institution founded by an equally unique person.

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He is a tall, shabbily dressed man, who may be found tramping with his wooden sandals or riding a rickshaw, along with an invalid. He always carries a brass bell hanging by his side and announcing his rrival. This man, you may call him a superman, even an angel, goes by the name of Bhagat Puran Singh. He was born and brought up in a Hindu family of village Rajewal (Rahnon) in Ludhiana district but he found greater solace and inspiration in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, when, in spite of his intense passion for learning, poverty forced him to discontinue his studies in the tenth class of a high school. So he adapted his erstwhile worldly dreams, for their fulfillment, to a nobler atmosphere of spirit that the Gurdwara Dehra Sahib of Guru Arjan Dev and Shahid Ganj of Bhai Mani Singh, the princes among the martyrs, provided him at Lahore. He, therefore, lost no time in taking a vow of celibacy dedicating his life to the service of suffering humanity. He started at Lahore his career of social and humanitarian activities.

This was in the year 1924 when Puran Singh was hardly a youth of 19. Since then he has been indefatigably carrying on his altruistic activities, day and night in scorching heat and biting cold, in rains and under dust storms, undeterred by adversities, undaunted by criticism, and unruffled by the obstacles that crop up on the path of social service. His enthusiasm knows no bounds and his determination remains unshaken. Friend of the forlorn, helper of the helpless, a ready nurse for a patient of any disease however loathsome, infectious, unmindful of his personal health; safety or convenience, making not the slightest distinction on the basis of caste, creed or community regarding the person in need of his service; this single man has, by his example and precept, inspired many and with their co-operation has, in a short space of nine years, built from a scratch what may justly claim to be an institution.

You may not know Bhagat Ji, but if he were to come to sense you as a man who can assist him in furtherance of his noble cause, even to a small extent, he is sure to find you out, and may even urge you to help and contribute to his cause. To the writer he became known in about the year 1940 when he walked barefooted and half naked on the roads of Lahore, usually with a cripple boy as his sacred load on his back and picking up all things like the stone, metal pieces, banana peels, nails, horse-shoes and brick bats that my interfere with the convenience and safety of vehicles and public. His humanitarian activities justified the renewal of his acquaintance and casual visits of the writer to the place of his activities.

Though unable to have academic education within the four walls of a regular educational institution, Bhagat Puran Singh, on account of his inborn zeal, has by constant personal effort, acquired a vast amount of knowledge on various topics and in the words of Principal TejaSingh “has reached the highest level of thought through practically associating himself with the realities of life”. This passion of learning he manifested very early and is associated with an equally great enthusiasm to spread light of knowledge among others. He has, therefore, accumulated a large collection of books and old copies of several journals. The number of books and journals is evidently sufficient for running a small library and a reading room.

In the main ward is housed another section of the publications, and printing press which has to its credit not less than sixty books, booklets, pamphlets, posters and placards. Looking at the wide range of the subject of his publication, it can be said without exaggeration that his printing department is verily a transmitting station of valuable information for the guidance and reconstruction of man and society.

Original in its concept, the institution represent a natural outcome of an irresistible urge of Bhagatji to do his best for the poor and helpless patients, who cannot gain admission into the hospitals. Such an idea could, as a matter of fact, take its birth in the mind of a poor man only and not a rich man, because the approach of each, to such a social problem, is radically different. A rich person always thinks in terms of endowing money and running his Own independent hospital, self contained in every respect. He thinks of providing his own doctors, his own equipment with medical or surgical apparatus, an aspect of the hospital, which is very costly as it eats a lion’s share of the hospital’s maintenance funds. This is all very well in a place, where there is no hospital. But in a central city like Amritsar, where a highly equipped hospital exists, what is needed by the common man, is not another equally self contained hospital, but greater boarding facilities, so that he may be able to avail himself of the outdoor treatment provided by the central (standard) hospital. The question of opening another hospital at one place arises only when the existing facilities for outdoor treatment are exhausted, since extension of outdoor facilities in a well-equipped hospital costs only a fraction of the outlay necessary for an additional hospital. This, according to Bhagatji, is the raison-de-etre of Pingalwara and a suggestion for the consideration of rich persons, interested in founding hospitals for public good.

Another contention of Bhagatji is that howsoever rich a man may be and howsoever great his endowment, in the matter of establishing or running a hospital, he cannot compete with or equal the collective effort of society. Puran Singh’s resourcelessness had led him to the finding of a solution that has surpassed that of the wealthiest man with his big endowment. In his resourcelessness he could not think of any big endowment of money but the aforesaid two ideas, which are greater than big endowments.

The problem of sickness in our country is awfully large. The helpless and the homeless patient dying on the roadside is a very common sight with us. In the city of Amritsar, by no means wealthier than other cities of India, rather smaller in size than many of them, not even the seat of government, the problem of the helpless patients continued to persist for a long time before the partition of the country. Though very rich and noted for their philanthropy, the people of this city could not dream of the miserable plight of such persons as are now looked after in the Pingalwara. With our people, so poor is the notion of human dignity that the spectacle of a helpless patient dying on the road-side, unattended and uncared for, is taken as the inevitable fate of a human being.

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As a man of deep religious feelings and convictions Bhagat Puran Singh has solved this question by invoking and canalising the religious sentiments field hitherto neglected even by notable men of all religions. He has thus thrown a challenge to the religious people, to take up earnestly this great neglected cause. This negligence goes to mar the dignity of man and degrades our nation in the eyes of other advanced people. Here is a call not only to the normal ritual, charity to divert its flow but also to the daily charity in petty sums of an anna or two. (five paise coin or ten paise coin).

Shree Acharya Vinoba Bhave said the other day that the Indian temples played a very significant part in the social and cultural life of India. This Pingalwara is a temple of God without any idol or a representative religious symbol of God installed in it. The only symbol of God in the Pingalwara is the destitute bodily helpless man. The aim and chief function of the Pingalwara is the care of the physically helpless people, whether in the grip of infirmity or old age or afflicted with sickness. But in view of its educational activity, the institution is also a social laboratory wherein the solution of many a social problem is not only discovered but from where it is also broadcast with an effective and original method of publicity. As such, this kind of temple represents a great effort of intelligent humanitarianism and is destined to play its own role in the cultural history of the country.

It is unfortunate that the word Pingalwara coined by Bhagat Ji, does not fully convey the scope of its various activities and, for some people, creates a queer impression, such as that of a leper asylum’ but the word is gaining a household currency in Northern India. The appalling shortage of beds in the hospitals is resulting in pushing a constantly increasing number of patients to the Pingalwara which in Northern India, is now shouldering a central burden and as such is entitled to obtain help from all persons in the region. However, further to enlist the sympathy of the public a good deal of publicity work has to be done in the territory. For this, more funds are required since the income, though apparently large, is not keeping pace even with basic expense of Pingalwara and the inevitable gap not only keeps the standard of service in the institution too low but also leaves little margin for further developmental work, including publicity, for which Bhagat Ji has to make special efforts to secure funds from persons interested in this sort of work.

Puran Singh’s Pingalwara is truly a nucleus of a great humanitarian movement. In the words of Principal Teja Singh it is “an island of Gandhism in the midst of clamorous politics and show.”

Dignity in death is a birthright of each living thing.
– Bhagat Puran Singh

www.pingalwara.ca

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20 Comments

  1. harps said,

    June 30, 2006 at 1:52 am

    Fateh Jio!
    I was wondering if you have any Khazan Singh Namdhari recordings. I know he was recorded in Kenya extensively? Thanks

  2. Sarabjit Singh said,

    June 30, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    waheguruji ka khalsa waheguruji ki fateh veerji.

  3. teji Kaur said,

    July 12, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    Guru Fateh
    wow his story is so inspiring.When i get older iu wanna follow his footsteps.
    Guru Rakha

  4. pammi said,

    July 13, 2006 at 6:27 am

    Great story…hope everyone can think like him….and do things like him…..jelkhara to him …JO BOLEH SO NEHAL SAT SRI AKAL

  5. d p singh said,

    July 13, 2006 at 7:53 am

    Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh!

    Bhagat Ji has done in modern times what Bhai Khania ji did under the tutelage of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. Every sikh knows the meaning of sewa, however when it comes viewing what our forefathers did and also left behind a proud legacy treading the path shown by Guru Sahibs. May we all learn from such examples, those super human beings who did all for us and never dwelt in self glory. That’s sewa. May we all do this karam and never feel high about it.

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

  6. Hardeep Singh Hans said,

    July 13, 2006 at 10:15 am

    A true reflection of all religious ideologies.His services above self in serving humanity in an era which has lost all human values need to be highly commended and appreciated.We all should pray to the almighty to shower their blessings and give him strength to serve the needy and also accomplish his mission.

    Deepa Hans
    P.O.Box 146
    ARUSHA
    TANZANIA.

  7. Balbir Singh said,

    July 13, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Bhagat Ji just did what others will not. A man of high inspiration and with the Guru’s teachings. A man of good example to help the needy. Where everyone only knows about sewa but does not do enough and I will say that this is a sewa where you get indulge in when ever you are able to.

    Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

  8. Nirmal Jeet Singh said,

    July 13, 2006 at 10:24 am

    Sat Siri Akal,
    I had known about Bhagat Puran Ji from my father. But after readig
    ‘His Sacred Burden”, I came to know fully about his selflessness, sacrifice,
    and many other noble qualities. Let’s learn from his ideals, donate
    generously for Pingalwara and similar institutions.

  9. Me said,

    July 13, 2006 at 11:26 am

    Very well written & nicely depicted the neglected life of a kind man.Many thanks.He deserves much more.

  10. sbsbajwa said,

    July 13, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    bhagatji was a great social worker.i have seen his work continue in pingalwarw in amritsarin care for the destitute
    we can contribute to his efforts by nsupporting pingalwara in asr they have a website

  11. Anupreet Khanna said,

    July 13, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    How do I go about making a contribution to this cause. The last time I saw a pingalwara post at bangla sahib manned by a guy who seemed to be only interested in extracting money from me and would not provide me with any info about cause, head office whether & what type of donation in kind is acceptable

  12. niyarakhalsa said,

    July 13, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    also visit : http://simransewa.blogspot.com/ for more pictures of Bhagat ji.

  13. lakhvir said,

    July 13, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you all for pouring out your feedback and longing to help further in the cause of Bhagat Puran Singh Ji. If you would like to contribute to the cause, you could make contact through this link:

    http://www.pingalwara.ca/contactus.cfm

    Thank you and may WaheguruJi bless you all.

  14. sethi satinderpal singh said,

    July 13, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Waheguru ji ka khalsa waheguru ji ki fateh,

    If I mistake not Bhagat Puran Singh Ji have passed away, but Pingalwara created by him still exists. I am sure my Pita JI had made a fixed donation going to Pingalwara on the yearly basis while he was alive, which still does. Hence I appeal to you all who are reading this comment to please donate to this worthy cause and spread this to rest of the sangat.

    Satinderpal Singh Sethi

  15. pimmi said,

    July 15, 2006 at 8:13 am

    WE HAVE FULL FAITH IN SIKHI, BUT WHEN WE READ OR WATCH
    TV, ALL THE TIME, THE INDIAN TV TARNISH THE SIKH IMAGE
    AS AND WHEN A SIKH OR MUSLIM IS ARRESTED FOR ANY MINOR OR
    HEINOUS CRIME, TV CAMERAMAN HIGHLIGHTS THAT MUCH, AND
    THE POLICMEN IN UNIFORM SEEN STAND BY READY FOR SET CAMERA
    PHOTO, OR OTHERWISE IF ANY SKIH/MUSLIM CARRY AK 47 NEVER
    SEE OR ANY OF THE IG/SSP/DSP CONTABLE NEARBY…..
    FALSE ENCOUNTERS STORIES 100 FALSE AND FABRICATED..
    FALSE AND FAKE RECOVERY OF RDX/PISTOLS/CARTRIGES AMMUNITION OF
    ANY KIND, A SET UP FOR CAMERAMEN…TO GET BRAVERY AWARDS…

  16. SURINDER SINGH said,

    July 17, 2006 at 2:23 am

    July 16th., 2006

    Life of Bhagat Puran Singh Ji was full of dedication and respect for humanity. He gave home and treatment to ill, old and metally retarded people thrown away from their homes. His service to humanity was not less than Mother Terresa who had the financial and moral support of whole West. It is pitty that our own Government did not recongised him at national level.

    May WAHEGURU bless his soul and encourage others to do something to this cause.

    from Houston, TX USA

  17. Gurvinder Kanda said,

    July 18, 2006 at 8:35 am

    It is very hard even inpossible to find a person like Bhagat Puran Singh Ji.

  18. MPS Mann said,

    July 27, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    Even though Bhagat ji was a selfless person and attained Nihaal Awasthaa, higher than the highest, may be the Govt. of India afoord him Bharta ratan as a small tribute to his noble values for the downtrodden, sick and homeless.

  19. Manpreet Dhiilon said,

    March 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    singh sab nice please visit at my site punjabiwallpaper.wordpress.com

  20. June 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm

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