Giani Sant Singh Maskeen (1934-18 February 2005) was born in 1934 at a place called Lak Marwat in District Bannu today part of Pakistan. The only son of his parents, Giani ji lived in Alwar, Rajasthan for the last 57 years of his life.
He was honoured by the Sikh community with the rare title of “Panth Rattan” for his services to mankind through the message of Gurbani. Sadly “Panth Rattan” Giani Sant Singh Maskeen passed away on 18th February 2005 at approximately 8.00 AM I.S.T. due to a massive heart attack while attending a marriage function in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh, India.
It is beyond doubt that Giani Sant Singh Maskeen was the most venerated and best known religious scholar among the Sikhs. This was due to the fact that he had an in-depth, broad knowledge of Gurmat and Gurbani, as well as, a deep knowledge and understanding of comparative religions. His excellent art of delivery allowed him to make use of his vast database to make the most difficult relations and concepts to be easily understood.
Giani Sant Singh ji spread the message of the holy Guru Granth Sahib in different countries around the world, including the USA, UK, Canada, the Middle East, Thailand and Singapore. His followers include not only Sikhs, but many persons who are not Sikh.
He was very fluent in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Persian and also had a basic knowledge of English. Maskeen ji was secular to the core, once he even agreed to perform katha in a Muslim mosque in Rajasthan but some of the organisers didn’t want a non-Muslim to enter the mosque.
Giani Maskeen ji was a very well read person who frequently quoted Ghalib, UStaad Zauk, Bulle Shah and other noted poets.
Having once promised a Sikh high priest to come to Amritsar to do katha every year during the month of Diwali, Giani ji kept his word for 25 years, until his sudden and unexpected death.
During the 300 year celebration of the Khalsa Panth, Maskeen ji was invited to the Harmandar Sahib by the Jathedar of the Akal Takht to perform katha. Despite the fact that he was then recovering from a heart problem in the USA, Maskeen ji, against the advise of his doctors, travelled to Amritsar to perform the katha.
Giani Sant Singh Maskeen was well known for exposing scams and other wrong doings in Sikh Temples. He was also known to publish books detailing how many temple’s kept a majority of the donations for themselves. His efforts to expose such behavior created shockwaves throughout Sikhism, for this he won the admiration of many and the hatred of others.
During the early part of his life with resources short, Maskeen ji would walk long distances to reach remote places to spread the message of Sikhism. Always being careful to stay away from politics he dedicated his life to spreading the message of Guru Nanak.
Dedicated lecturer and promoter of Sikhi (Giani Sant Singh Maskeen)
He always fixed his annual programmes in advance and would stick to his schedules come what may. He had made a profound study of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and acquired an in-depth knowledge of the Vedas and Bhagat Banis as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Apart from Gurmukhi and Hindi he had a command over Farsi and often quoted Bhai Nand Lal Ji. During discourses he also used to quote from the religious texts of Hindu, Muslim and other world religions with all the useful relevant references.
Giani ji was a colossal figure, striding across contemporary Sikh society for nearly five decades. He was a dedicated Sikh missionary of great knowledge, zeal and repute who was renowned worldwide. A fearless preacher, he was very outspoken and with his rational outlook, he preached according to the concepts of Gurmat and Gurbani. He was one of the few towering personalities that the Sikhs looked up to. Not only did he have a thorough knowledge of Gurbani, his mastery of the holy scriptures of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and others allowed him to quote from them at will.
He successfully disseminated the message of the Gurus’ teaching in America, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. He was extremely popular abroad and his discourses were always well attended. He also established a meditation center at his home town Alwar in Rajasthan, India where a Samagam (function) is held every year on the eve of Hollah Mohallah and which is attended by the scholars, preachers and learned people of the Sikh community. The Khalsa School he established at Alwar has been a great success.
He authored more than a dozen books and innumerable audio cassettes and CDs, which have impacted the thinking and way of life of the Sikh community. His daily discourses of Guru Granth Sahib on National TV network were beamed worldwide and were keenly followed by many thousands of Sikhs and others. His words provided solace and guidance to many a wavering mind.
His demise in 2005 has created a vacuum, which will be very difficult to fill. Today when western influences are making inroads into Sikh culture he will be sorely missed by the Sikh community. The loss of Giani Sant Singh Maskeen is indeed, a great loss to not only the Sikh Community, but to the whole world.
Family Background and Personal Life of Sant Singh Ji Maskeen
Giani ji’s parents were S. Kartar Singh and Mata Ram Kaur. He received his primary education from the Khalsa School but the turmoil of Partition interrupted his completion of his higher education from Government High School. Like many Sikh families his was fortunate enough to escape the pogroms of Muslim mobs who wanted their new “Land of the Pure’ free of anyone not Muslim (contrary to the father of the country, Mohaammad Ali Jinnah) who dreamed of a non-sectarian Pakistan for those of all religions and sects. Untold numbers of Sikhs and their Hindu neighbours died before reaching safety in India (and to be fair many Muslims died on their way to Pakistan, a move many of them would have preferred not to make as well, but Giani ji’s family finally made a new home in Alwar in Rajasthan.
However the demise of his father in 1952 had an adverse impact on him and he started feeling sad and isolated from worldly issues. Therefore he left home and started learning the basic tenets of Gurbani from various places and from different scholars. He became so engrossed in Gurbani that he soon became a learned narrator.
Marriage Of Giani Sant Singh Maskeen
He was married to Bibi Sunder Kaur in 1958 and thereafter made Alwar his permanent home.
Early Years (Giani Sant Singh Maskeen)
During Giani ji’s initial years of Gurmat Parchar he had to struggle hard to sustain his mission because of his weak financial position. However, he was not a man to give up easily. He used to walk miles to attend religious congregations and to make discourses on gurmat in villages and towns. Whatever the sangat used to offer out of love and affection was his only source of income and he boldly faced all the challenges that came his way and remained firm in his goal of spreading the message of holy Guru Granth Sahib for the benefits of all mankind. Throughout his life he preferred to stay miles away from politics and extremism.
Wherever he went in India and abroad for Gurmat Parchar he never shied away from asking Sikhs to adopt the proper system of management, as per the tenets of Gurmat, to maintain the gurdwaras and other panthic institutions. Recently, he authored a book on the subject of Gurdwara management. He was very much concerned about the election procedure to constitute the committees for the management of Gurdwaras, a subject which has now become the root cause of the infighting among Sikhs around the world.
During 2005, the Sikh masses praised the SGPC for making excellent arrangements for his last rites. Though Maskeen Ji had already been the recipient of the highest honour “Panth Ratan” during his lifetime, on the day of his Bhog ceremony he was honoured by SGPC with the “Gurmat Vidya Marthand” posthumous award. Bibi Jagir Kaur, the then president of SGPC also announced “Bhai Gurdas Gold posthumous Award”, worth rupees one lakh, for Maskeen Ji and also presented a cheque for rupees ten lakh to the wife of Maskeen Ji for his outstanding contribution in the cause of Sikhism and gurmat way of life, but unfortunately, for those of us who had come to know her, now even she too has cast away her mortal coil and joined the Holy spirit.
Lifestyle of Panth Ratan Giani Sant Singh Maskeen
Maskeen Ji was a very simple person who advocated simplicity. Wearing simple white clothes with a black turban, he looked very distinguished. His associates and other people accompanying him also followed the same simplicity of dress. He was very down to earth and had a simple and frugal lifestyle. Where ever he went he always preferred to stay at the Gurdwara Sahib and partook his meals from the Langar.
We would not do justice to this great personality if we fail to mention Maskeen ji’s complete fearlessness. In 1984 when the Indian Army attacked and placed a siege around Sri Darbar Sahib and many other gurdwaras, Giani ji endured great mental agony due to this act of sacrilege. When the curfew was lifted he made an emotional electrifying speech (on the first diwans held at Gurdwara Shahidan) to rejuvenate the mentally demoralized Sikhs due to the army attack on their holiest shrine. Professor Darshan Singh Ji, another outstanding personality of Sikh Panth, recited Gurbani kirtan to provide the healing touch to the broken hearts of the Sikhs. It was these two personalities who helped the Sikh Panth, through the healing message of Gurbani, to successfully counter and to emerge triumphant from the most difficult period in recent history.
Born in Lak Makwat tehsil of Ban district in North West Frontier province in 1931, Giani Sant Singh Maskeen had to skip his matriculation examination because of partition. His parents moved to Alwar in Rajasthan where he joined the sacred company of various religious heads, preachers and saints. His interest in religious studies did not wane even after he got married to Bibi Sundar Kaur in 1958.
Though his family got into motor parts business, Giani Sant Singh Maskeen dedicated his life to religion. He leaves behind besides his widow, three sons and two daughters.
Interestingly, Giani Sant Singh Maskeen had immaculate familiarisation with the works of some of greatest Urdu poets, including Ghalib and Iqbal. His knowledge of Bhagwad Geeta, Quran and holy scriptures of other religions made it easier for him to interpret Guru Granth Sahib and recitations of various other saints, including Sufi saints. Bhai Gurdas, Guru Ravi Das, Bhagat Kabir and Sheikh Farid often used to get mention in his discourses. He also used to refer to work done by various religious scholars. For example, he had gone through all 23 interpretations of Japji Sahib, including by Bhai Nand Lal, Acharya Rajnish, Giani Gurdit Singh and Bhai Veer Singh.
He was a globe-trotter and delivered discourses on various aspects of Gurbani at gurdwaras and religious congregations on important occasions. Known for his candid comments, Giani Sant Singh Maskeen was bestowed with the tile of “Panth Rattan” by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. In fact it went to his credit that coming from a Hindi belt, he turned out to be an undisputed number one interpreter-cum-preacher of Gurbani.
Though just a matriculate, he authored a number of books on various religious scriptures. His Gurbani interpretation programmes were regularly serialised on various channels. One of the channels used to telecast his discourses every morning.
Some of his famous books included Guru Chintan, Ras Dhara, Shabad Guru, Ratnagar and Amrit Manthan. Giani Sant Singh Maskeen also frequented Chandigarh and other areas in Punjab and Haryana every year.
Gianiji said:“That a Lion is considered more beautiful than a Lioness and a peacock more beautiful than a peahen is true, but a Lion never goes to a barber to have his beard shaved or his hair cut and a peacock never goes to a barber to pluck its feathers, but Men who also have this distinguishing quality go to barbers and cut their hair and shave their body and beard. Which is exactly similiar to a woman, so indirectly men want to look like women and loose the beautiful and distinguishing qualities God has given them.”