A Tribute to Bhagat Puran Singh of Amritsar, the humanitarian Sikh social servant, who died on 5 August 1992, serving the poor and helpless.
Bhagat Puran Singh was born to Mata Mehtab Kaur on 4th June 1904 in a Sanatani Family in village Rajewal, in district Ludhiana. His father, Lala Shibu Mal, was a moneylender. Puran Singh’s childhood name was Ramji Das. His mother inculcated deep feelings of love, compassion, and sympathy for all mankind, animals, birds, trees and various species of flora and fauna. She loved Ramji Das intensely and taught him to respect the womenfolk.
During the plague of 1905, his parents used to go house-to-house to meet people and look after their welfare. At the time of the drought of 1913, a lot of money was given by them as help to the needy. During 1916-1923, he was put in the hostel of a school at Khanna. He took Matriculation Examination in 1923 at Ludhiana. While returning, he entered a temple to pay obeisance, but he was turned out. This hurt Ramji Das deeply who left with a heavy heart and reached Gurdwara Reru Sahib, where volunteers were fondly serving langar. Ramji Das got stunned and also satiated. There he heard the discourses by Sant Attar Singh ji, which had a profound effect on his mind.
They then shifted to Lahore. Ramji Das started going to the Gurdwara Dehra Sahib daily and there he got his new name, Puran Singh. The prefix, Bhagat, was later on added by the noted Sikh scholar Giani Kartar Singh. Seeing him serving others, people gave him a lot of affection and encouragement. In his free time, he would go to libraries to read newspapers, magazines, and books. Also, he started collecting money from the affluent to help the poor, diseased and helpless children. Seeing the sad plight of the destitute patients, he started thinking of establishing an organization to look after them and get them treated.
In 1934, a four-year-old spastic child was left at the entrance of Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, Lahore. The Caretaker of the Gurdwara handed over the child to him and said, “Puran Singh, only you can look after this child”. Bhagat Ji gave so much love to the child that he even named him ‘Piara’ (the loved one). At the time of the partition of the country, Bhagat Ji came from Lahore to Amritsar’s refugee camp in the Khalsa College, in August 1947, with the sick 17-year-old Piara on his back. The camp served people till December 1947. After the camp was disbanded, Bhagat Ji left with some more orphans under his care whom he took to shelters in Amritsar city. After a lot of struggle, he got a temporary shelter called “Pingalwara”, which means a Shelter (for the differently enabled). For their treatment, he started taking them to various hospitals in an old rickshaw, which became his first ‘ambulance’! Gradually, as the number of inmates grew to hundreds, many philanthropists started helping him in his noble and selfless work.
With the help of donations collected by him, Bhagat Ji purchased the present site from District Rent and Managing Officer, Amritsar in 1958, and The All-India Pingalwara Charitable Society was registered. He returned the Padam Shri Award after the ‘Blue Star’ operation on the Golden Temple and the Akal Takhat in June 1984. He was given many awards, such as Harmony Award, Rog Rattan, and Bhai Ghanaiyya Award. But he believed service to the poor is one’s greatest award. The money he received was used to give fatherly support to numerous homeless old people, and diseased children, without any consideration of caste, community, region or religion.
He had made a promise to his mother to remain a bachelor and stuck to it till the end. He stopped wearing leather shoes as a sign of affection for animals and wore wooden sandals only. To help employment, he resolved to wear khaddar (hand-made coarse cloth) made by handlooms only. His diet was very simple and frugal. He was concerned about the population explosion, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, ruthless cutting of forests, and soil erosion, and wrote pamphlets to make people aware and help in finding out solutions. Bhagat Ji had become a living legend during his lifetime. He breathed his last on 5th August 1992. His ever-lasting memorial in the shape of Pingalwara is a home for the homeless and forlorn, and a hospital and a cradle for the orphaned or abandoned children. It is also a safe haven for exploited and mentally deranged women. Thus, this institution has immortalized its founder. Bhagat ji had nominated Dr Inderjit Kaur as his successor, who had volunteered earlier to serve the hundreds of patients in Pingalwara.
In addition to the main campus, Pingalwara has three branches in the Amritsar district. Now there are branches in Sangrur, Jalandhar, and Chandigarh. Pingalwara also runs free schools for poor and needy, mentally retarded, paralysed, blind and deaf and dumb children. Poor persons afflicted with AIDS, diabetes and cancer are also being given free treatment. Pingalwara has a free Prosthetic Centre, Physiotherapy Centre, Dental Centre, ENT Centre, Operation Theatre, Ultrasound Centre, and fully equipped free Dispensaries. A 2017 April report says they had to spend more than Rs 2 crores yearly on medical treatment, shelter, and education. With more than 1800 inmates, this amount has risen above three times. The entire expenditure is met from public donations from all over the world.
Bhagat Puran Singh has done many more selfless services to the needy, diseased, disabled, abandoned and handicapped children and old men and women in distress than any other person in human history. Obviously, he deserved the Nobel Prize.
India should have awarded at least the Bharat Rattan to him. It is not too late even now to recognize his services and also help the organization financially.