Honorably referred to as both Professor and Principal, Sardar Teja Singh is one of the shining stars in the Sikh literary world. He dominated the Sikh English writing scene for well over half of the earlier twentieth century. He was a distinguished teacher, a Sikh scholar of history and theology, and a commanding translator of the Sikh canon, Guru Granth Sahib.
Teja Singh was born to Bhalakar Singh and Mata Sarusti, as Tej Ram in the village of Adiala, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on 2nd June 1894. His early education was informal as his parents could not afford to send him to a regular school. He acquired language skills in Gurmukhi, Urdu and Persian from his local gurduara and mosque, while grazing livestock and doing household work. He was initiated into the Khalsa fold, at an early age, through Baba Khem Singh Bedi.
His zeal to acquire formal education took him to Rawalpindi (1908), where he managed to attend school. To support his education, he worked as a domestic servant. During his school days, he painted and wrote articles in English. The most notable one was on the martyrdom of the sahibzade (Guru Gobind Singh Sahib’s sons).
After passing the intermediate examination, he was admitted into the Gordon College, Rawalpindi, where he received Master’s degrees in English literature (1916) and history (1919). He later joined Khalsa College, Amritsar as a professor and taught English, history, and divinity for many years.
The political scene of the time in Panjab was intense, because of the increased Sikh activism that was taking the shape of the Akali Movement. Professor Teja Singh was known for his political activism and did not fear the repercussions that would affect his career and employment. He took an active part in the Gurduara Reform Movement along with his colleagues.
He was recognized in public as an anti-British activist. This fact is clear from a letter received by the then Principal of the college, Mr. G.A. Wathen, from his superiors. The letter was asking for two Sikh names to be suggested for the nomination to Panjab University, with a note of caution to keep Prof. Teja Singh’s and Bawa Harkrishan Singh’s name out of any suggested list.
Prof. Teja Singh later resigned from his post along with twelve other Sikh colleagues to protest the government’s control of the educational institute. He became active in the Akali movement, because of which he was arrested in 1923, and kept in Amritsar and Lahore jails for well over a year. He started working on Guru Granth Shabdarth, an annotated edition of Guru Granth Sahib while in jail, which was sponsored, and later published by Gur Sevak Sabha. He was released from the jail on the grounds of ill-health.
In 1925, he re-joined Khalsa College, Amritsar, and reigned over cultural, religious and literary activity in Panjab for close to three decades. Other than Sikh literature, Panjabi letters were his forte, in which he is believed to have set pioneering standards of writings in Panjabi idiom.
After Prof. Puran Singh, he was perhaps the chief interpreter of Sikh thought in English during the time. He extensively wrote articles, some of which were published as Sikhism: It’s Ideals and Institutions (1938), and Essays in Sikhism (1944).
His exposition of Gurbani include, Asa-ki-Var (1926) and Psalm of Peace (1938) on Sukhmani Sahib. One of his dreams was to write a commentary on the entire Guru Granth Sahib; unfortunately, he was able to complete it only till Rag Majh, which was posthumously published by the Punjabi University as The Holy Granth: Sri Rag to Rag Majh (1985). He also wrote the much acclaimed Sri Guru Granth Sahib Vich Shabadantik Lagan Matran De Gujhe Bhed, a piece on the word ending vowel symbols in the Guru Granth Sahib.
He wrote A Short History of the Sikhs (1950), in collaboration with Dr. Ganda Singh. His other works of note include Growth of Responsibility in Sikhism (1919), and Highroads of Sikh History (1935).
He also has a corpus of Panjabi writings to his credit, primarily essays. His first collection of essays was titled Navian Socan (1941), followed by Sahib Subha (1942) and Sahit Darshan (1951). He also wrote his famed autobiography, Arsi (1952). He put together English-Panjabi and Panjabi-English Dictionaries. Not only that, he helped to establish an M.A. course in Panjabi, which he taught himself.
In 1945, he became the Principal of Khalsa College, Bombay, where he served for three years, before returning to Panjab as Secretary of Publications Bureau, Panjab University. In 1949 he was appointed Principal of Mohindra College, Patiala, while he also held the position of Secretary and Director, Punjabi Department. He retired in 1951.
At the age of sixty-three, he suffered a stroke and passed away on 10th January 1958.
Prof. Teja Singh was a man of great learning and a versatile personality. He was a known tennis enthusiast. He took a lecture tour of Malaya in 1939, where he delivered 300 speeches in a two months’ span.
He left a deep and lasting impression on whoever he came in contact with. He taught many eminent Sikh scholars of the later times. His students include: Dr. Gopal Singh, Surjit Singh Talib, Prof. Harbans Singh, Prof. Pritam Singh, Prof. Darshan Singh Maini and two Vice-Chancellors of Punjabi University, Patiala, Mrs. Inderjit Kaur Sandhu and Dr. Amrik Singh.
Some famous personalities that he worked with include Dr. Ganda Singh (historian), Prof. Mohan Singh Mahir (poet), Sant Singh Sekhon (critic), Nanak Singh (novelist), and Balwant Gargi (theatre artist).
He left a lasting legacy behind him, in the form of a large body of works in English and Panjabi, pertaining to religion, history and culture.
Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Harbans Singh (Editor-in-Chief), Punjabi University, Patiala.
Principal Teja Singh: Teacher, Scholar and an Institution, Roopinder Singh
The Sikh Encyclopedia. https://www.thesikhencyclopedia.com/
Principal Teja Singh is at times mistaken for Sant Teja Singh.