Jathedar Kartar Singh Jhabbar was born in 1874 in a Virk family in the village of Jhabbar, district Sheikhupur, Pakistan. He was the grandson of Sardar Mangal Singh, whom Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed Kumedan in his forces after compromise with the Jhabbars.1 Jhabbar’s early life was like that of any other spirited young man of rural agricultural family, whose passion was to look after their buffalo herds, take plenty of milk and butter, build muscles and take courageous and a firm stand for righteous causes.
Since early life, his demeanour and behaviour and his social environment were of superior nature. Bodily, he looked noble, was well built and appeared destined to play some great role in the future. Fear was foreign to his nature. All through his youth, he wore rural dress with a turban on his head and a Dang with iron knob, in his hand. He would neither indulge in light talk, nor let anyone do it in his presence. He would not bow before anybody.
During this period, his first meeting with Bhai Mool Singh Gurmula took place in 1904, when, along with his young companions, he listened to his speech at a conference in village Varan. He was so captivated with it, that wherever Bhai Gurmula delivered his lectures, Jhabbar would attend with his party. This was the period when the campaign for shudhi (i.e., conversion of Muslims and scheduled castes to Sikhism) had been launched. In such meetings, often there was commotion and strong opposition to the campaign for shudhi. At such moments, Jhabbar and his party proved useful. The more faith Jhabbar reposed in Bhai Gurmula, the more he began to be appreciated by the latter. Earlier, at an amrit ceremony at Nankana Sahib, Bhai Gurmula had declined to initiate Jhabbar for his undeserving appearance, but on his insistence, which Bhai Gurmula appreciated, Jhabbar was initiated. By and by Jhabbar had become Bhai Gurmula’s companion. Sometimes fighting seemed imminent just for Jhabbar’s over enthusiasm in such meetings. Therefore, Bhai Gurmula forbade him to speak anywhere when there could be a chance of a quarrel.
In the late autumn of 1904, a huge Shudhi conference was held in the village Kotli Dasu Singh, district Sialkot, Pakistan, with the efforts of missionary Sant Sarup Singh, in which Gurmat preacher Bhai Lall Singh Gujranwala, Sardar Tirath Singh Gharjakh, Bhai Takht Singh Ferozepur and Bhai Ganga Singh participated. This conference was held to convert and initiate the progeny of Sardar Ganda Singh from his Muslim wife. Bhai Mool Singh was speaking at the stage when a group of 50 to 60 Muslims attacked the audience. Two prominent Sikhs were seriously injured. The Muslims advanced towards Bhai Mool Singh shouting “Get that long bearded man”. Jhabbar was standing close by, but he was under vow not to speak whatever might happen. However, Jhabbar spoke out, “Bhai Sahib, now it is your turn to be assaulted”. Bhai Sahib observed, “what are you then waiting for?”. At this signal, Jhabbar snatched a lathi from one of this companions and hurriedly struck down several of the attackers. Frightened, they fled and the danger was averted. Sardar Tirath Singh Gharjakh witnessed this scene and began to cherish regard for Jhabbar.
The same year at the time of annual fair at Nankana Sahib, Sardar Tirath Singh summoned Jhabbar to Gujranwala through the would-be martyr Bhai Lachhman Singh and persuaded Jhabbar to join the Gharjakhar Vidyala and acquire Gurmat knowledge. Jhabbar joined this seminary in 1906 and learned Gurmat with faith and vigour until 1909. Thereafter, he adopted the life of a Gurmat missionary. On the suggestion of Sardar Lall Singh of Lahore, he shifted his residence there and began his missionary career.
One day he reached village Mudhoke Sham in the evening after getting down at Railway station Kahana. A group of about twenty young men were sitting at a central place. Jhabbar began his Gurmat lecture there. Soon a person came and announced that a prostitute’s party had arrived and their performance was about to start in the Dharamsal. All the young men left for the place at once. Jhabbar also followed and reached the Dharamsal. The party was getting ready for their performance. Jhabbar warned them that the place was a Gurdwara and that they must not perform there. There was silence for a while. Soon a villager asked Jhabbar who he was. Jhabbar replied that he was a Gurmat preacher and had come from Lahore for that purpose. The villager retorted that they were not interested in his preaching. The place belonged to them and they could do anything there, adding that he better leave the place or face the consequences. Jhabbar asked them to be sensible. They were Sikhs, and were having song and dance performed by prostitutes in the Gurdwara. Also, he warned the performers to leave the place. Another young man got up and said, “Let us get him … he is unnecessarily interfering”. Thereupon a few young men pushed Jhabbar out of the Dharamsal.
Jhabbar reached the nearby village Haloke where some Gursikhs resided. After publicity in the morning, there was an appreciable congregation which Jhabbar addressed. After preaching for about a week in the neighbouring villages, Jhabbar returned to Lahore. At village Bhojian, Jhabbar met a 15 year old Mohabat Singh, who after listening to Jhabbar, got interested, acquired Gurmat knowledge and became a Sikh preacher. For a long period, he remained in the services of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as a preacher. After initiation, he was named Ganga Singh, who later became known as Professor Ganga Singh. At that time there were only 19 members of the Lahore Singh Sabha. Neither there was any scheduled programme of the Sabha nor any weekly congregations. Except for the local meetings of the Kaniya Pathshala, there was no other Sikh religious institution in the whole of Lahore city.
Jhabbar began enrollment and in two months he listed 500 members of the Singh Sabha. Also he started weekly congregations in the Baoli Sahib Gurdwara. The Singh Sabha had already hired a room for a store there. Publicity for weekly meetings was made through newspapers and pamphlets, and Jhabbar used to address the audience in thousands.
Baldev Singh, son of Giani Dit Singh, whom Tika Sahib Ripudaman Singh of Nabha had sent to England to acquire higher education with a stipend, had returned to Lahore after completing his studies. The Lahore Singh Sabha decided to honour him, being the son of the legendary Sikh theologian, and appointed him Chairman of the Sabha. He decided that instead of sitting on the ground, the congregation should sit on benches and chairs, and some furniture was purchased. Jhabbar noted some benches in the hall. Jhabbar asked the audience not to sit on them as it involved disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib. But Dr. Baldev Singh informed Jhabbar that a resolution to this effect had already been passed by the Singh Sabha. Jhabbar retorted “President Sahib, you have completed your education in UK and the Singh Sabha members are mostly clerks in Government offices. You hardly understand what Gurmat is.” The President replied, “We had committed no act of apostasy, as according to tradition, Sangat was considered equivalent to the Guru”. Jhabbar replied, “Such traditions were concocted under Western influences for selfish purposes. Otherwise, some Singh Sabha may pass resolution against observances of the 5Ks and even amrit initiation. What would be the end result? Nobody has the authority to undo the moral code prescribed by the holy Gurus.” In this manner, the exchange of views continued for an hour, and eventually it was decided that the benches be removed from the hall.
Jhabbar remained at Lahore for seven years, doing the Gurmat missionary work honorarily. In fact, he did Panthic sewa all through his life as such. Although he resided at Lahore, he travelled throughout Punjab for preaching Gurmat on invitation. He constituted the “Khalsa Diwan Khara Sauda Bar” in 1912 and remained associated with it all his life. Although this organization was linked to Gurdwara Khara Sauda and most of its members were from the local Virk families, yet under the leadership of Jathedar Jhabbar, the monumental Panthic services which this organization performed throughout Punjab, would be described in the following pages.
This period was devoted for the spread of education among the Sikhs. Under the guidance of the Education Committee of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, new schools were being opened. In 1913, Bhai Mool Singh Gurmula purchased 13 kanals of land in village Bhanaur close to Gurdwara Khara Sauda, and constructed a school building. In 1917, Jhabbar opened a Middle School in this building. The school functioned there for one year. Close to this site was sanctioned and established the Mandi Chuhar Kana. Residents of the Mandi persuaded Jhabbar to take the school there and promised to provide funds. Accordingly, Jhabbar started the school there in 1918 which functioned smoothly under the management of Jhabbar and a committee constituted by the Mandi administration.
In April 1919, Jhabbar with a school teacher Bhai Arjan Singh, came to Lahore to purchase text books for the new classes. During those days, his passion of life was to spread Gurmat knowledge among young students through Khalsa schools. But hardly could anyone imagine, how vast his sphere of activity would spread, and what trials he would soon go through when he would perform the noblest deeds of his life.
The movement which made Jhabbar prominent and which catapulted him from preacher to Sikh leadership, rather to the position of Panthic Generalship, needs to be explained, so that his life story is succinctly brought home to the masses. Before it is recorded, it is necessary to relate some details of that movement.