Personal artefacts of revered Sikh saint and soldier who died in a S'pore prison, on display

Visitors to the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road in Bukit Merah on Saturday and Sunday can see personal artefacts belonging to the late Sikh Saint-Soldier Bhai Maharaj Singh.
Visitors to the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road in Bukit Merah on Saturday and Sunday can see personal artefacts belonging to the late Sikh Saint-Soldier Bhai Maharaj Singh.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
The items on display are on loan until July 5 from his descendents in India.
The items on display are on loan until July 5 from his descendents in India.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

SINGAPORE - History buffs will get the rare chance to see artefacts belonging to Sikh Saint-Soldier Bhai Maharaj Singh at a two-day exhibition at the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple) in Bukit Merah on Saturday and Sunday.

The exhibition, put up by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board as part of a month-long festival to honour Bhai Maharaj Singh, features some of his personal items such as a salottar (wooden stick used as a support and weapon), dastaar chakkar (turban steel quoits used to retain the shape of a turban) and a mala (rosary) belonging to the late spiritual leader and freedom fighter.

Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Guests are also encouraged to don scarves over their heads as a mark of respect.

The items on display are on loan until July 5 from his descendents in India, but those interested can also view new information panels on the history of the Gurdwara (which means Sikh temple) and Bhai Maharaj Singh outside the temple.

Bhai Maharaj is believed to be the first Sikh in Singapore. He arrived in 1850 in chains, after he was arrested by the British in India - which was then a colony - out of fear that his being detained in India may cause unrest there.

At that time, during the 19th century, Bhai Maharaj was revered by the Sikh community in India for his spirituality, patriotic fervour and for standing up against British dominion. He also led the movement against the British occupation of the Indian state of Punjab.

But he was arrested when a tip-off led the British to a meeting he had organised with his compatriots. Due to his popularity in India, the British decided to detain him in Singapore - far from his loyal followers.

Bhai Maharaj was thrown in Outram Prison, in a bricked up cell where no light or fresh air could enter. Six years later, after he lost his eyesight and developed throat cancer, Bhai Maharaj passed away on July 5, 1856.

This year marks the 159th year of his death.

To mark the occasion, DPM Tharman and three of Bhai Maharaj Singh's descendants visited the Saint-Soldier's memorial at the Silat Road Sikh Temple on Saturday afternoon.

Temple chairman Baljit Singh said: "We are very privileged to be able to exhibit some of Bhai Maharaj Singh's personal artifacts this year, so that people can learn even more about this great Saint-Soldier. Having served the community and having endeavoured to be a good human being through the attainment of high spirituality, Bhai Maharaj Singh is an embodiment of the concept of Miri Piri (spirituality and community service). As part of the celebrations and to commemorate Bhai Majarah Singh's values, the Sikh community continues to serve the Singapore community and donates rations and other essential items to the Mei Ling Street Home every year."

Other than the exhibition, there will be other activities held during the month of July to celebrate the spirit of Bhai Maharaj's generosity and humility such as an inter-Gurdwara football tournament, a children's party, a health screening and a visit to an aged home.