ਜਨਮ ਮਰਣ ਦੁਹਹੂ ਮਹਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਜਨ ਪਰਉਪਕਾਰੀ ਆਏ ॥
Janam maraṇ ḏuhhu mėh nāhī jan parupkārī āie.
(Those generous, humble beings are above both birth and death)
Capt. Sardar Kanwar Harbhajan Singh ji, founder of The International Institute of Gurmat Studies, passed away on January 30, 2011, while he was visiting his extended family in Mexico City.
Popularly known as “IGS Papa“, he dedicated his entire life to educating Sikh youth about Sikh values and the great Sikh heritage. He was born on September 21st 1936 to Major Jagat Singh, and Sardarni Gurcharan Kaur, a devout couple who raised him with strong Sikh sanskaars. Papa Ji often shared the memory of his visit to Keshgarh Sahib when he was nine years old. A local priest, sensing his curiosity, related several inspiring saakhis from Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s life. Papa Ji felt his whole being drawn to the great Guru Ji; an immense love welled up in his heart. That love of the Guru became the guiding light of Papa’s life which in turn made him a beacon for the Sikh youth across the world.
At the age of nineteen, he founded Young Sikh Missionaries in Lucknow, India. He led and motivated college-going youngsters to take active part in gurpurab seva and formed kirtan groups. He particularly loved to decorate gurdwaras, and take part in “shoe seva”. His peers called him “Singh ji” and followed his example by tying immaculate turbans and turning out as well-dressed, suave, saabat surat Sikhs. In 1972, he renamed his organization Institute of Gurmat Studies and pioneered the co-ed Sikh Youth camping movement. IGS became international when the 12th Sikh Youth Camp was held in Kathmundu, Nepal in 1979.
To date, 85 IIGS camps have been held in India, Nepal, U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and South East Asia. These include 72 Sikh Youth Camps and 13 family and women’s camps. Thousands of campers were inspired to take Amrit at these camps. Many kirtan groups were formed under his guidance and conducted performances in several countries. He worked passionately towards disseminating knowledge of gurbani through the written and oral word. While he moved audiences with his oratory, IIGS, under his guidance, published several nitnem books with translations, kirtan books, kirtan teacher handbooks and produced kirtan CDs. He also supervised the publication of two children’s books, Dear Takuya and the Royal Falcon that have won much acclaim not merely from Sikhs all over the world but also mainstream educators. Papa was a devoted Sikh, and an excellent orator who could hold audiences of all ages spellbound, as he brought the tales of the Gurus, their message and Sikh history alive. Thousands of Sikh youth from all over the world have attended IIGS camps and owe their love of Sikhi and Sikh swaroop to his inspiration. Founders of many Sikh advocacy and civil rights organizations have been IIGS campers and point to “Papa ji” as the mentor who ignited the spark in them.
Papa moved to the U.S. in 1985 and Southern California became the headquarters of IIGS. In 1986 he started celebrating the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh ji on December 25th in a manner so grand and unparalleled in pomp and opulence that the annual event is now widely known as the Darbar-e-Khalsa. A day long festival of kirtan, speeches and awards for exemplary Sikhs and Sikh organizations culminates each year in a grand finale of the Guru Granth Sahib being sent off in a helicopter amidst thunderous jaikaraas. Papa’s sudden death has shocked tens of thousands of Sikhs whose lives have been touched by him. Their comments on social media sites like Facebook and blog sites such as http://.iigs.wordpress.com etc. show that he will be dearly missed. The Sikh community has lost a rare gem in the passing on of Capt. Sardar Kanwar Harbhajan Singh ji. He is survived by his wife three sons, and four grandchildren.