In every society, there are outstanding individuals whose life work is dedicated to the greater good. In Sikhism, we honor those people with title of Panth Rattan. Meaning “The Jewel of the Nation”, this honorific denotes great appreciation for service given to the Sikh panth. It is a title seldom granted, and then only after serious consideration.
For the first time in our history, this meritorious honor has been give to both the husband and the wife of a dedicated Gursikh family. Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhjan Singh Khalsa Yogiji (Yogi Bhajan) received the title from the Jathadar of Takhat Sri Keshghar Sahib in April 1999, and his wife, Bhai Sahiba Bibiji Inderjit Kaur received this title in September, 2005 from Jathadar Iqbal Singh, of Takhat Sri Patna Sahib. Together, they have dedicated their lives to spreading of Sikhism throughout the world, changing the face of Sikhism in modern times. With grace and dedication, they have helped people from all races and creeds to understand the Sikh philosophy, and join together in love for the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
Yogi Bhajan was born Harbhajan Singh Puri on August 26, 1929. He founded the organization known as Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere more than 30 years ago that has had a remarkable impact on the face of Sikhism. For the first time in history, the Sikh philosophy and lifestyle has spread in unprecedented numbers to people outside the boundaries of the Punjab, India. In the heavy pressure and hectic pace of life in the western world, the simple peace of Sikhism has found fertile ground to grow and emerged as a religion for the modern world.
Yogi Bhajan left a successful civil service career in India in September 1968 to take a position teaching yoga at Toronto University. Within a few months, Yogi Bhajan took a trip to visit Los Angeles – a trip that affected the rest of his life. In 1969, California was the heartland of America’s cultural revolution and Yogi Bhajan found himself right in the middle of it. Yogi Bhajan saw through the confusion and chaos of the prevailing hippie movement into the hearts and souls of beautiful young people. He was deeply touched by their sincerity and genuine yearning for spirituality. He threw himself headlong into a life of serving and teaching these young people.
Yogi Bhajan delivered his first lecture in Los Angeles on January 5th, 1969, the fifth centenary anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith. His words dramatically awakened the young people who heard him. He brought them an inspiring message of hope and truth. He said, “Each person must deeply understand why he is a human being and what it means to be human being. Once you have seen the joy of being a human being and have enjoyed the beauty of it, this is an experience of wisdom. You have a right to be Healthy. You have a right to be Happy. You have a right to be Holy. It is your birthright!” With that premise, he started the 3HO Foundation (Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization) and taught daily classes in Kundalini Yoga.
The vision that brought Yogi Bhajan to teach in the West was a deep faith that Sikhism was a vital key to the future of humanity. For the most part, people were not looking for a new religion when they came to his yoga classes. But as their lives began to change and their hearts were opened, they yearned to experience the spiritual nature of life. It wasn’t long before these hippies and yoga students wanted to know about Sikhism. They had listened to the stories Yogi Bhajan told about the brave and glorious Sikh saints and heroes, and they too longed to belong to that glorious heritage. In 1970, two young men wanted to officially become Sikhs and they pledged themselves before the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This was the beginning of an avalanche of young men and women who made the life changing decision to become Sikhs and walk the path of Nanak.
After being away from India for two years, In 1971 Yogi Bhajan returned to India with a group of 84 western students, many of which had taken the vow to live as Sikhs. When these new western Sikhs came to the Golden Temple, it was transformational experience locking the destiny of Sikhism in the west. The Sikh leadership in Amritsar was stunned to see the flower of Sikhism blooming afresh in the west, far from the borders of the Punjab. In acknowledgment of his service to humanity, the Akal Takhat honored Yogi Bhajan. In front of thousands, he was presented with a saropa and the title “Bhai Sahib” for his missionary work in the west. Sant Fateh Singh, President of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Sant Chanan Singh, president of the SGPC said to him, “Since this one Harbhajan Singh will create many Singh Sahibs. We will call him Siri Singh Sahib!” And so he was known from that day onwards.
The western Sikh communities have grown in peace and grace to more than four hundred centers on five continents. After thirty years of weaving in and through the fabric of Sikhism, Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere has earned a place in history. Classes in Sikhism are taught all throughout the Americas and Europe, continuing to instill in hundreds of people the simple and graceful technology of Sikh Dharma. Westerners who have become Sikhs and their generations are seen everywhere in their white turbans and are accepted as part of the continually changing panorama of the Khalsa.
In acknowledgment of a lifetime of seva, Yogi Bhajan was honored with a beautiful silver plate declaring bestowal of the title Panth Rattan during the tercentenary of the Khalsa in Anandpur Sahib, 1999. Singh Sahib Manjit Singh, Jathadar of Takhat Sri Keshghar Sahib, presented this honor in front of a million people during the main shatabdi program. Shortly after the glorious centenary of the Khalsa, on October 6, 2004, the man known as the Siri Singh Sahib quietly dropped his body and left this earth.
Yogi Bhajan’s wife, Bibi Inderjit Kaur was born on January 22, 1935, in the town of Wazirabad in the district of Gujranwala which is now part of Pakistan. She was born into a devout Sikh family with a powerful lineage. Her great-grandfather was Bhai Sahib Abnasha Singh, a known and respected saint and healer of his time. When Maharaja Ranjit Singh was stricken with small pox as a child, he was brought to Bhai Abnasha Singh for treatment. Ranjit Singh came in royal splendor with great pomp and show, and Bhai Sahib admonished him saying, “You should not have come with all this nonsense. You have disturbed my meditation!” But ultimately he did bless Ranjit Singh and assured him that even though he had already lost one eye to the disease, he would heal and his other eye would be preserved. Later in life when Maharaja Ranjit Singh held rule over the Punjab, he bestowed the title of Bhai Sahib to Abnasha Singh in acknowledgement of his deep spirituality. He told Abnasha Singh to circle as many villages as he could on horseback in one day, and these he gave to him as a jagir, or land grant, in gratitude for healing him as a child.
Bibiji came to the United States in 1973, following her husband on the mission of the Guru’s Path. She spent long days in the kitchen, cooking endless pranteh for the hungry young people that were always coming to see the Siri Singh Sahib. She taught these young people the love of Gurbani, correct pronunciation, proper protocol and Sikh maryada. Her teaching formed the basis of Sikh instruction which grew into a nation. After settling in the United States, Bibiji went back to school and earned her PhD in counseling, serving the sangat with endless hours of compassionate listening and words of guidance. With a relentless devotion, she has feed, taught, counseled, consoled, and cared for three generations of sangat in the West.
Col Jagjit Singh Guleria wrote about her, “As a wife, she is neither the “better half”, nor “the other half” of Yogi Bhajan. Rather, she is a perfect profile of him – a harmonious blend of two souls.” Those words now ring with the melody of truth as she serves the panth in the years since the passing of the Siri Singh Sahib. Traveling tirelessly as an ambassador of Sikh Dharma, Bibiji has taken up the missionary work of her husband. The Akal Takhat Jathadar Singh Sahib Joginder Singh Vedante honored her work in the west with the title Bhai Sahiba – the chief minister of Sikh Dharma International, and deputed her to continue the mission.
In 2005, Bibiji received the honorific “Panth Rattan”, from Singh Sahib Iqbal Singh of Takhat Sri Patna Sahib. Her role as a missionary in the west, and as a women Sikh leader in the greater panth, is unparalleled in modern time. Bibiji is known all over the world for her religious work, for her wisdom, for her philanthropy and for her dignity. Upon receiving this loving award, she was overcome with the feeling that the circle of her family had been completed. A family dedicated to serving the panth.
Yet even with all the accomplishments of the past three decades, neither Bibiji nor the Siri Singh Sahib take any personal credit. As Bibiji explains, “This extraordinary spread of Sikhism is not to be credited to anyone, but is a beautiful illustration of the nature of Sikhism as a universal religion. This beauty is reflected in the remarkable artwork, music and organizations that have sprung from people of Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere.” Her sentiments echo the words of her late husband when he said, “This Dharma is established in the West by the Will of God, and by the Grace of the Guru. Neither you nor I have played any part whatsoever. It is the destiny of the planet earth for which interrogatively, questioningly, and demonstrably the penetrating energy will prevail into the psyche, and the birth of the Khalsa shall be celebrated. There is nothing a human has to say or do.”