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Last name of a Sikh --Khalsa or Surname

Submitted by:  Dr.  Sarjeet Singh Sandhu, 
Boise, IDAHO, USA E-mail <>

   The Singh Sabha movement took up momentum in the last decades of 19th century. It was fighting political battles with the British Colonial rulers in Panjab for the rights of Sikhs. The second front was the fight with its adversaries who were bent upon declaring Sikhs as a sect of Hindus. The reforms initiated by it included cleansing of the mess in the administration of Gurdwaras and preaching of Sikh way of life in urban and rural areas of Panjab. Some zealots, amongst Sikhs, started interpreting the concept of equality amongst people and castelessness of the society in an unusual way. One of these was that Sikhs should not write family name or surname as a part of their name. In the struggle for liberation of the Gurdwaras from the control of hereditary Mahants [Masands],a vigorous mass movement was initiated under the leadership of Akali Party. The participants in the Morcha were specially and specifically instructed to give their name correctly but name of the father as Guru Gobind Singh and place of residence Anandpur Sahib to the police as and when arrested.This served political purpose of disguising identity for prosecution under Indian Penal code and putting one behind the bars in a jail.

    At some point of history for distinction between two leaders in the Akali Party, having the same name, the name of the village was added for the purpose of identity since use of family name was not in vogue in Indian culture. Moreover, use of anything British in character was considered as a symbol of slavery by classical Indian leadership. The well known example in Akali Party is S.Teja Singh Samundary in whose memory the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee has built a Hall. There were more than one Teja Singh in the leadership of Akali Party and all of them had to add the name of the village for identification. However, some educated Sikhs continued to use the family name as their last name. The best example is furnished by S. Hardit Singh Malik who was an ambassador of India to France after independence. The third category followed this new rule literally by not writing anything after first name and Singh. In the fourth category were people who advocated the use of word Khalsa in place of Surname.

    A lot of books written on Surnames or Family names in various countries of the world stand witness to the fact that writing of a Surname or Family name as the last name was made mandatory by the ruler of the country around 7th century CEC. The reason for this kind of proclaimation can be readily understood from an incident which took place about half a century ago in a village of Punjab[ now in Pakistan]. During the Second World War, the law and order situation was disturbed all over the world which resulted in an increase in crime. Robbery of a horse- driven cart took place around sunset on a road connecting two towns and the passengers lodged a report with a Police Station.One of the passengers happened to recognise the Robber from his voice since the Robber had been his classmate when they were students in a Middle School. The Police investigation found that there were five persons with that first name. It took a few days to identify the Robber rather than catching him in a few hours if his family or surname was known to the classmate.

    In the Aad Guru Granth Sahib, the family names of Gurus have been used by Bhats in the Swaiyas. A few examples are given below.

Blau pRisDu qyjo qnO klH joiV kr DHwieAau ]......5 ]
ArQ (swihb isMG ): Blau pRisDu = B~ilAW dI kul ivc pRis`D [
AGGS P 1393

Blau Buhwlu qyjO qnw inRpiq nwQu nwnk bir ]......1] 21]
ArQ (swihb isMG ): Blau = B`ilAW dI kul [
AGGS P 1396

lhxY pMQ Drm kw kIAw ] Amrdws Bly kau dIAw ]
iqin sRI rwmdwws soFI iQru QpHau ] hir kw nwmu AKy iniD ApHau ]......1]
AGGS P 1401

soFI isRist skl qwrx kau Ab gur rwmdws kau imlI bfweI ]3]
AGGS P 1406

    Let us now examine Sikh literature of 18th and 19th centuries. The "Rehatname" edited by Piara Singh Padam includes valuable information on this subject. First of all Piara Singh himself has added "Padam" for distinguishing himself from numerous Piara Singhs all over the world. It is very likely that his children may continue to write Padam with their name and it becomes the family name in the long run. Now let us reproduce the information mentioned in the Book "Rehatname".

gur pMQ pRkwS rqn isMG BMgU

rihq nwmww caupw isMG iCbr

The next two examples are stanzas from the books in which Surname and Name are mentioned.

Srb loh gRMQ
bydI, qRyhn, Bly, soFI
Bn [ cqur bMs gur bMs iSromix [
hukm hoieAw pRihlwd isMG ibpR jwiq hMsrwey [
inkt bulwieAw gurU jI, lInau kMT lgwie [2[

    The aforementioned information clearly suggests that during the Guru period the writing of Family name or Surname was not prohibited since it, too, could have been construed as Karmkand or ritual. The true transformation of an individual into a Gursikh involves firm belief in Aad Guru Granth Sahib and its understanding. The practice of selfless service of the community without any iota of ego. However, it appears that Zealot amongst us, sometimes, are carried away by emotions rather than clear understanding of Sikhism and an objective approach in finding solution of problems. As world citizens, besides, being Sikhs, we are learners and adaption is our heritage but not at the cost of basic tenets of Sikhism and principles of equality and brotherhood. The diaspora need not follow those who are not aware of the world civilization which have many cultural strains like the rainbow. Our shortcomings are many but to overcome these education is the best tool and deliberation on the problem is the best way to find the solution. Most of the knoty problems, faced by us today, are due to lack of educating our people before tackling the problem itself. One such problem is validity of DASAM GRANTh as a scripture of Sikhs. This, ultimately, is going to be decided by the people who study and analyse its Bani and determine its relevance with the gurbani in AGGS.The use of internet amongst Sikhs is progressing which would encourage dialogue and discussion amongst the younger and older generations. It is expected to yield rich dividends in terms of educationg the Sikhs of diaspora and finding solutions to all the problems of Sikhs by developing the mechanism of consensus with conscience.

Sarjeet Singh Sandhu,Boise,IDAHO,USA
E-mail <>

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