Bibi Jasbir Kaur Khalsa, Chairperson of Sri Guru
Gian Parkash Foundation, New Delhi, India, and a
member of the Punjabi University Senate, passed
away on Thursday, February 10, 2011, at her
residence in Ludhiana, Punjab.
The final moment came when she was offering
ardaas after suffering a massive heart attack.
She was born on July 5, 1947 at Palampur,
Himachal Pradesh, where her father, Sardar
Harbans Singh, was serving in the Indian army.
Her mother, Sardarni Narinder Kaur, was a devout
Sikh lady and the President of Bebe Nanaki Istri
Satsang, a Sikh women's group which was
responsible for building a beautiful gurdwara in
Model Town, Ludhiana, to celebrate the memory of
Right from her childhood Jasbir Kaur was
endowed with a spark of spirituality. She was
greatly inspired by the life of a mystic, Sant
Attar Singh (1866-1927) of Mastuana, who was the
most charismatic figure in Sikh circles in the
early twentieth century. It is no wonder that
she had early on learnt the devotional singing
of gurbani kirtan and memorized the five
liturgical prayers by heart.
Jasbir Kaur received the Khalsa initiation at a
ceremony organized by the Akhand Kirtani Jatha
of Bhai Randhir Singh at Delhi when she was
still in high school at Ambala. After earning
her B.Sc. degree in 1969, she joined the newly
established Gurmat College, Patiala, where she
completed her M.A. in Religious Studies in 1971.
She received her first appointment as a Gurmat
Scholar-cum-Missionary at Guru Nanak Foundation,
It was there that I first met her in 1973
when I joined Guru Nanak Foundation as a
research scholar after completing my M.A. degree
in Religious Studies from Gurmat College,
Patiala. I was truly impressed by her exemplary
Sikh way of life. She was respected as a
universal sister (‘Bhain ji') at Guru Nanak
After two months, I was appointed as Head of
the Divinity Department at Guru Harkrishan
Public School in July 1973. Bhain ji was so
influential in my life that she arranged my
marriage with her younger sister, Baljeet, on 25
During our stay at Jangpura Extension in New
Delhi, Bhain Ji encouraged the Sikh youth of the
local area to attend early morning devotions at
the Gurdwara. It was because of her charisma
that more than 500 of them received Khalsa
initiation on April 16, 1976 at the Baisakhi
celebration. Principal Satbir Singh honored both
of us for our role in the transformation of the
Sikh community at Jangpura Extension.
In the beginning of 1977, ‘Bhain ji'
accompanied Bhai Jiwan Singh's group (Ragi Jatha)
to preach the message of the Gurus in England,
Canada and the U.S.A.. Instantly, she became an
international celebrity among the diaspora
Sikhs. She was much sought after in Sikh
During her first tour of North America, she
organized Sikh youth camps, kirtan programs and
delivered lectures in the Sikh congregations.
Thereafter, she returned to India.
Meanwhile, Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh ji Yogi
was quite impressed by Bibi Jasbir Kaur's
sincerity and missionary zeal. He was thinking
of bringing her again to North America to teach
Punjabi language and Gurbani Kirtan to the newly
converted American Sikhs of the 3HO (‘Holy,
Healthy and Happy' Organization). With his
sponsorship, Bibi Jasbir Kaur reached New Mexico
and started teaching her new students from a
completely different cultural background. It was
quite an experience for her.
Not surprisingly, SatSundri Kaur fondly
remembers Bibi Jasbir Kaur's role, when she
learnt about her sudden death, on the facebook
as follows: "She had such a big role of helping
establish Khalsa in the West. In Espanola, many
events to remember her gifts this weekend."
Bibi Jasbir Kaur returned to India from New
Mexico in 1981 with new experience and
excitement. Having seen the ‘world', she was
back ‘home' to search for a new project in the
service of the Sikh Panth. For the next four
years she stayed at home with her parents,
spending most of her time in naam simran and
This was also the time of turmoil for the Sikh
Panth, including the tragic events of 1984.
Meanwhile, she came in contact with a Sikh
ascetic, Sant Sucha Singh, in the hilly areas of
Baru Sahib and brought him to Ludhiana to
establish Gurdwara Gur Gian Parkash at Jawaddi
Kalan. Instantly, it came to be known as Jawaddi
Taksal (‘Mint', i.e., ‘School of Sikh Learning
at Jawaddi'). It became the center of activities
to revive the original and tradition modes of
Sikh spiritual music.
The first Aduti Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan
(‘Unique Event to Promote the Gurus' View of
Music') was organized in 1991 at Jawaddi Taksal,
in which all the classical raags of the Guru
Granth Sahib were performed by various raagis.
Ancient tunes of various raags were discussed
by a panel of judges who tried to identify the
original traditions of singing. There were, of
course, some disagreements - for example, on the
character of Maru raag. Nevertheless, since
then, the performance of the raags of the Guru
Granth Sahib, along with ancient folk tunes, has
been given a new lease of life
After Sant Sucha Singh's death in 2002, Bibi
Jasbir Kaur became the Chairperson of Sri Guru
Gian Parkash Foundation, New Delhi, a
socio-religious organization which signed a
Memorandum of Agreement on March 23, 2003 with
Punjabi University, Patiala, to establish the
world's first Gurmat Sangeet Chair, with a view
to rejuvenating ancient Sikh musical traditions,
particularly the revival of the Kirtan Chaunki
system at the Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.
In the beginning, the Foundation released a
grant of Rs 600,000 out of a total of Rs 9
million, to be mobilized in 15 years for the
purpose. Foundation member and University Music
department representative, Dr Gurnam Singh, said
that "the Chair would start classes in ‘Gurmat
Sangeet Kirtan Tradition' up to the
post-graduate level. It will impart diploma
courses for the kirtan performances in gurdwaras
under various teaching programs and research.
On June 20, 2004, the Vice-Chancellor,
S.Swarn Singh Boparai and Bibi Jasbir Kaur,
jointly laid the foundation stone of the Gurmat
Sangeet Bhavan on the Punjabi University campus.
Prominent among those present were Bhai Ashok
Singh Bagrian, Dr. Dalip Kaur Tiwana and Dr H.K.
Manmohan Singh, ex-Vice-Chancellor.
In 2006 Bibi Jasbir Kaur organized the biggest
Kirtan Darbar at Taran Taran to mark the 400th
anniversary of Guru Arjan's Martyrdom. She
edited a Simiriti Granth in commemoration of
this mega-event. For her selfless service she
was honored jointly by the three wings of power
structure within the Sikh Panth - the Akal Takht,
the S.G.P.C. and the Shiromani Akali Dal. It is
no wonder that this honor itself reflected the
rise of her status from a ‘Dera Bibi' to an
exalted person (‘Bhain ji')
There is a long list of honors she received in
her life. She was widely respected by various
Sikh sants, Nihang orders, and Sikh academics.
At the recommendation of the Vice Chancellor,
Dr. Jaspal Singh, she was appointed a member of
the Punjabi University Senate in 2008. More
recently, the Punjab government honored her on
October 31, 2010 with a state award at the
"Heritage Festival of Daughters" (Virasati Mela
Dheeaan Da) organized jointly by the Punjab
Culture Department and Punjab Arts Council of
Chandigarh at Ludhiana. This was a public
acknowledgement of her unique services to the
No wonder, lofty tributes were paid to her at
her funeral by a long string of the 'high and
mighty' of Punjab politics and Sikhdom, along
with hundreds of grieving friends and family
members. Bhai Nirmal Singh performed the kirtan,
while Singh Sahib Giani Tarlochan Singh,
Jathedar, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Anandpur,
offered the final ardaas.
In life, Bibi Jasbir Kaur was an
inspirational figure to many people across the
globe. Her commitment to teaching the ways of
the Sikh Gurus to many of us in Asia, Europe,
and North America was based on her own endless
devotion. Her interest in propagating the
original devotional music of the Sikhs (Gurmat
Sangeet) inspired the creation of her brain
child, the seminal Aduti Gurmat Sangeet Sammelan
at Jawaddi Taksal already described above.
Throughout her life, she encouraged us with
her wisdom and experience to live with devotion
to an honest and spiritual life, imbibing the
spirit of the Guru Granth Sahib into our lives.
Bhain ji! You may have left us physically; but
your memory lives on forever. We celebrate your
life with the spirit of Chardi Kalaa. May Akal
Purakh Waheguru bless you with the gift of
eternal union and provide comfort to all of us.
dehu dehu sajjan aseesarriaa(n) jiu hovai
sahib siu mel ...
"Give me, O give me blessings, dear friends! So,
I may have union with the Divine Sovereign!" [Guru
The author is Professor and Dr. Jasbir Singh
Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies
at the University of California, Riverside,
Website of Gurmat Sangeet Chair:
Acknowledgment: We thank
Pashaura Singh and sikhChic.com for giving us
permission to use this article.