Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Queens of the Khalsa, Bhai Shia Singh and the quest for the missing Dasam Pothis.

The Queens of the Khalsa, Bhai Shia Singh and the quest for the missing Dasam Pothis.

In the Durbar of the Tenth Guru there were many poets and scribes. However after the accession of the Tenth Guru and during the short rule of Banda Bahadur, Delhi became the command centre of Sikh learning and Granth compilation.[1] I have previously written about a relatively unknown scribe of the Sikh scriptures Bhai Har(i)das. I will now consider the scribe/compiler of Pothis (breviaries) and Granths known as Bhai Shia(n) Singh. In my research on the Granth of Guru Gobind Singh (Sri Dasam Granth Sahib)[2] his name appears several times but in fact little is known about him. Using a few anecdotes I will piece together a short history of Bhai Shia Singh.

In the book Sri Dasam Granth Sahib: Questions and Answers a reference is made to Bhai Shia Singh and his association with Bhai Mani Singh. We learn that Shia Singh was based in Delhi and seemed to have worked under the guidance of Mata Sundri and Mata Sahib Kaur, the consorts of Guru Gobind Singh. The Queens of the Khalsa issued Hukumnamas (Letters of Command) and directed the affairs of the Khalsa from Delhi.  At the Haveli where the Matas stayed they continued the tradition of Langar in the same way as Mata Khivi (Consort of Guru Angad Dev).  The Sikh warrior and leader of the Buddha Dal:  Jassa Singh Ahluwalia was trained in various arts under Mata Sundri. Bhai Nand Lal was also based here for a short period of time.

Historical weapons of Guru Gobind Singh at Gurdwara Mata Sundri.[3]

Bhai Mani Singh was sent to Amritsar by Mata Sundri to look after Harimandir Sahib and Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Whilst in Amritsar, he was instructed by the Queens of the Khalsa to open a school of exposition and learning. As part of this important role, Mani Singh was arranged and recompiled Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib, which resulted in a new recension of the Granth. This is now located near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi.[4] This later Granth was compiled many years after the original recension of Sri Dasam Granth Sahib which was completed in 1698 with the historical Zafarnama later added into certain saroops.

According to the text Bansavlinama, Mata Sundri sent money to Bhai Mani Singh to find these rare Pothis which contained the works of Guru Gobind Singh. A letter[5] which is considered to be written by Bhai Mani Singh and received by Mata Sundri in Delhi sheds light on the role of the scribe, Shia Singh. In this letter Bhai Mani Singh states he is sending Pothis with the messenger, Jhanda Singh. These Pothis are for the attention of the scribe Shia Singh in the Mahal (which is considered to be Matia Mahal in the city of Delhi). In my opinion these Pothis were specific handwritten Pothis bearing Guru Gobind Singh’s Nishans.

Board at Gurdwara Mata Sundri, Delhi showing the role of Bhai Shia Singh and Bhai Mani Singh.

Gurdwara Mata Sundri in Delhi also records that Bhai Shia Singh received the sacred Pothis at this location.[6] According to one scholar one of the recensions created by Shia Singh was a saroop known as the Sangrur Bir.[7] The exegesis of Sri Dasam Granth Sahib was promoted by Mata Sundri at Delhi and Bhai Shia Singh was instrumental in working with Bhai Mani Singh in creating further copies of Sri Dasam Granth Sahib.* At the same time Pothis started appearing with Banis from both Granths.[8] 

The story of Sri Dasam Granth involves all the great personalities of Sikh history and new research has unearthed new unsung heroes of Sikhism. We still need to learn more about Bhai Shia Singh and also other Sikh heroes whose names appear on boards and books. We need to bring them back to life so we can start appreciating the great Toshkhana (treasure house) of history we possess. 

Gurinder Singh Mann, historian and author has been writing about Dasam Patshah Ka Granth (Sri Dasam Granth Sahib) for 15 years. Visit his scholarly blog at His other projects and work can be seen at

[1] At this location there is not only a Gurdwara but a school dedicated to Mata Sundri. Many Sikh scholars have written about the Queens of the Khalsa but the literary centre developed at Delhi is rarely considered.

[2] The original name of the Granth of Guru Gobind Singh is exactly that Dasam Patshah Ka Granth.

[3] Guru Gobind Singh gave his weapons to Mata Sundri and said that whenever she wanted his darshan she should look at the weapons. These weapons were seen as the embodiment of the Guru. The Guru wrote about the importance of Shastars in Sri Dasam Granth Sahib.

[4] For images of the Bhai Mani Singh Granth and a discussion of Sikh manuscripts see my ‘A historical analysis of the combined recensions of the Guru Granth Sahib and the Sri Dasam Granth’.

[5] It is not within the scope of this article to go into the intricacies of this letter: Dr Rattan Jaggi in the 1960’s claimed the letter was a fake. Dr Jaggi’s Dasam Granth thesis was critical only because Dr Dharampal Ashta had written in favour of the Tenth Guru’s Granth. Dr Harbhajan Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala claims the letter is real.

[6] Gurinder Singh Mann and Kamalroop Singh, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Questions and Answers, London: Archimedes Press, 2011, pp.37-38.

[7] Dr Dharampal Ashta States that the Sangrur Bir mirrored the Bhai Mani Singh recension. However the initially angs which covered Guru Granth Sahib had been separated from the Dasam ones.

[8] See Granth of Guru Gobind Singh: Essays, lectures and translations with Dr Kamalroop Singh: Forthcoming.

 There are also traditional sources which state that saroops of Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth Sahib were sent to Afghanistan, the names of Baba Deep Singh, Bhai Mani Singh and Bhai Shia Singh are associated with these recensions. According to Dr Kamalroop Singh Bhai Shia Singh was associated with a Dasam Granth recension which was sent to Afghanistan dated 1712. I am grateful to Dr Singh for sharing this information from his PHD thesis. 


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