Documentary in the works on the first Sikh in Singapore, freedom fighter Bhai Maharaj Singh

The 60- to 75-minute-long documentary entitled "Saint Soldier - Uncovering the Story of Singapore's First Sikh" is directed by Ms Upneet Kaur-Nagpal (above).
The 60- to 75-minute-long documentary entitled "Saint Soldier - Uncovering the Story of Singapore's First Sikh" is directed by Ms Upneet Kaur-Nagpal (above).ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Unlike many other communities, the Sikhs in Singapore can trace the exact origin of their presence on the island to one man: freedom fighter Bhai Maharaj Singh.

The saint-soldier is the first Sikh in recorded history to step foot in Singapore, sent by the British in 1850 as a political prisoner.

To mark the nation's Bicentennial celebrations, a documentary detailing Bhai Maharaj Singh's life and influence is in the works, with a trailer released on Sunday (Sept 8) at the Blackbox in Fort Canning.

The 60- to 75-minute-long documentary entitled "Saint Soldier - Uncovering the Story of Singapore's First Sikh" is targetted for release in December. It is directed by Ms Upneet Kaur-Nagpal, 40, and Mr Simranjit Singh, 40, is the executive producer.

Mr Singh, who runs a healthcare company, said he was inspired to create the piece as he felt that not many Sikhs in Singapore knew the story.

Bhai Maharaj Singh led the movement against British occupation in the Indian state of Punjab, but was arrested and then despatched to Singapore's Outram Prison where he died in 1856. There is a memorial to him at the Silat Road Sikh Temple, also known as the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road.

Said Mr Singh: "I have a special connection to the temple because I lived near there, and I spent my childhood at the memorial watching the Sikhs and non-Sikhs visit it."

In the past, many custodians of the memorial who would tell the story of Bhai Maharaj to visitors, he said.

 
 
 
 

"But many of them have passed on, and many of the stories are gone, and I realised that much of the younger generation of Sikhs did not have an understanding of who Bhai Maharaj was. They are not connected to the story any more," he said. He was thus determined to re-tell the story, in a new documentary format.

To recreate the story, Ms Kaur-Nagpal said the team travelled all around the world to trace the life of Bhai Maharaj.

She said she saw his story as a portal to that of the Sikh diaspora in Singapore.

The founding of the Sikh community on the island stemmed from the formation of a small Sikh contingent in the police force in the 1880s, after Bhai Maharaj Singh's death.

Said Ms Kaur Nagpal : "Through him, I can go back in time and space, and understand more about myself and the people around me."

Mr Singh said the freedom fighter's influence continues to be felt by the generations of Sikhs who moved here after him.

"He represents a key tenet of Sikhism called Charhdi Kala, which roughly translates to unwavering resilience," said Mr Singh.

From the first Sikh policemen in the 1880s, to the Sikh contingent that arrived in the 1940s for the Battle of Malaya, Bhai Maharaj's spirit is one that is entrenched in the Sikh community, he said.