The Life of Bhagat Puran Singh

March 3, 2024
Reading Time
8 Minutes

The Life of Bhagat Puran Singh

We all have those role models who we try hard to be like. For some, those people are athletes or celebrities. For others, they’re people in their community. For me, one of those many outstanding people is Bhagat Puran Singh Ji, the founder of the Pingalwara Charitable Society in Amritsar, Punjab.

Bhagat Puran Singh (right), Pingalwara, Amritsar Branch (left)

The Beginning

Bhagat Puran Singh’s life began on June 4th, 1904 in Rajewal. His parents, Chibu Mal, a rich and religious Hindu, and Mehtab Kaur, a Hindu who was deeply in love with Sikhi, chose the birthname Ramji Lal for Bhagat Puran Singh. His mother was very special because she deeply cared for all living things around her. She was greatly inspired by Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, who traveled to Assam (in north-east India) to plant many trees and also built huts for travelers to take shelter. Mehtab Kaur taught her son to pick up harmful objects on a path such as rocks, glass, thorns, nails, bricks and anything else that could harm a person or animal. It was through his mother that Bhagat Ji learned to love the environment and everything else around him.

Puran Singh was brought up in the village of Rajewal in the Ludhiana district. When he was 12 years old, in 1916, his mother sent him to a boarding school located in Khanna. He stayed there for 7 years, only visiting his mother on weekends and holidays.

From 1913 to around 1919, many monsoons hit Rajewal and became disastrous for Rajewal’s agricultural community. This hardship greatly affected Chibu Mal. Though he was very rich, his wealth couldn’t financially save him. These losses severely affected both Chibu Mal and Mehtab Kaur. Through this hardship, Mehtab Kaur worked hard to earn a few rupees each month so that Puran Singh would be able to continue school in Khanna without any disruptions. In 1919, Mehtab Kaur accepted a job offer in Sahiwal, Pakistan, also known as Montgomery prior to Partition in 1947, to work for a doctor’s family. She would have to move almost 300 miles from Khanna and she wouldn’t be with Puran Singh for 5 years. But she would be getting a set salary of 10 rupees a month, which she could send to Puran Singh every month for his schooling. In 1923, Puran Singh had failed his matriculation exam, which meant that he couldn’t continue his schooling, so he had to return home. While traveling back to his village, he came across a Hindu temple, where he stayed for one night. Puran Singh voluntarily cleaned, swept and washed, but when it was time to eat, the priests who ate in his presence would not share their excess food with him. He decided this was not who he wanted his Sangat to be so he traveled to Gurdwara Rehru Sahib, and stayed there for a night. Puran Singh was a complete stranger, yet he was still given an impressive meal along with the rest of the Sangat. Puran Singh says that this experience “planted in my young mind the seeds of the Sikh faith from which I learnt the lessons of social service, self-sacrifice and the dignity of human life.” Later that year, Puran Singh moved to live with his mother in Lahore. Mehtab Kaur asked him to take the matriculation exam again and he joined Lahore’s Khalsa High School. But once again, Puran Singh had failed his exam. He came upon Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore, which was built in memory of Guru Arjun Sahib Ji. At this Gurdwara, he met Sardar Harnam Singh, who would walk past Puran Singh’s new school everyday to visit the Gurdwara. Puran Singh and Harnam Singh became very close, and Mehtab Kaur began working in Harnam Singh’s household kitchen. After Puran Singh failed to pass his exam for the second time, Mehtab Kaur asked Harnam Singh to give her son a job but Harman Singh believed that Waheguru had given Puran Singh the job to become a selfless servant of the Guru. So Puran Singh spent hours every day at Gurdwara Dera Sahib, not only cooking, cleaning and serving, but tending to the old and sick who came to the Gurdwara for medical attention.

Shabad revealed to us by Guru Arjan Sahib Ji in Raag Gauree (Ang 286):

ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਇ ਨਿਹਕਾਮੀ ॥ ਤਿਸ ਕਉ ਹੋਤ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਸੁਆਮੀ ॥

sevaa karat hoi nihakaamee || tis kau hot paraapat suaamee ||

One who performs selfless service, without thought of reward, shall attain the Master.

Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Lahore

The Turning Point

Bhagat Ji stayed at this Gurdwara for the next 23 years of his life. During this time, he discovered his newfound love for libraries. He learned about philosophy, serving humanity and the environment, and he developed many questions surrounding these topics. In 1929, Mehtab Kaur became very ill and she passed away in Puran Singh’s arms on June 30th,1930. This point is when he officially decided that he would always help those who were worse off than he was.

It was in 1934, when Puran Singh had found a boy, about 4 years old, who was mentally impaired and physically deformed. During this day and age, people looked down on those who were handicapped, and they were seen as unworthy of being a part of society. He chose to take care of this boy, naming him Piara Singh. Puran Singh would carry young Piara Singh on his back everywhere he went. He started describing Piara Singh as a “garland around his neck.” After meeting Piara Singh, Bhagat Ji vowed to take care of any handicapped people he saw. He started taking in more people, and his numbers largely grew. Puran Singh’s goal was to shift his workplace to Amritsar because it was accessible and it was close to many Gurdware. He moved from place to place, including staying beneath a large pipal tree, under an arch for the railway post office and an abandoned house.

Bhagat Ji with Piara Singh

Pingalwara in the Making

By 1950, Puran Singh was taking care of around 60 people. He had finally decided that he needed his own place to grow his community of ill and mentally challenged people. He had found an abandoned cinema and mosque, both near each other, and he started to construct Pingalwara. With the help of many people Puran Singh had met over the years, he managed to finish Pingalwara. As the people in his care increased, he became more recognized and received more money to keep building. On March 6th, 1957, the All India Pingalwara Society was registered with the government. The word Pingalwara has many similar meanings such as home of the crippled, lepers or handicaped, but, its literal meaning aside, it is a place where anyone, no matter your religion, gender, age or ethnicity, could be fed, treated and cared for by people who were willing to help you.

Shabad revealed to us by Guru Arjan Sahib Ji in Raag Gauree (Ang 274):

ਉਰਿ ਧਾਰੈ ਜੋ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਸਰਬ ਮੈ ਪੇਖੈ ਭਗਵਾਨੁ ॥

aur dhaarai jo a(n)tar naam || sarab mai pekhai bhagavaan ||

One who enshrines Naam within their heart, who sees the Master in all,

ਨਿਮਖ ਨਿਮਖ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਨਮਸਕਾਰੈ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਓਹੁ ਅਪਰਸੁ ਸਗਲ ਨਿਸਤਾਰੈ ॥੧॥

nimakh nimakh Thaakur namasakaarai || naanak oh aparas sagal nisataarai ||1||

Who, each and every moment, bows in reverence to the Master. O Nanak, such a one is the true Saint, who emancipates everyone. ||1||

In 1981, the Government of India had given Puran Singh the Padma Shri Award in honor of all the Seva he had done for his community. However, after the attacks on Sri Darbar Sahib in 1984, he was among the few people who returned their awards. He wrote a letter to the Government stating why he was returning his award. I believe that this is an extraordinary move by Bhagat Ji because this shows how brave he was to stand up to a government that was oppressing Sikhs.

The Legacy

Bhagat Puran Singh passed away on August 5th, 1992 at the age of 88. He lived a long life where he spent most of his time doing Seva and Simran, but also advocating and doing a lot of work for the environment. It was rare that you would find Puran Singh not peddling his bike or walking while travelling, and if you did, he would travel in a car full of people or a bus to save gas. He also strongly encouraged others to ride their bikes and walk everywhere they went. Bhagat Ji never cared about his appearance or what people said to judge him; he only cared about what Waheguru thought of him, and to me, that is the thinking of a true Gursikh. He didn’t do well in school and he was very poor, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he did. He did more with his life than most people ever try to do, and that, to me, is truly amazing.

Pingalwara, Amritsar branch

Pingalwara is still growing and has largely expanded. There are branches all over the world in countries such as Canada, America, Australia and India. In 1975, Bhagat Ji took in a woman named Inderjit Kaur. Her father had recently passed away and she was in need of help. In 1986, Bhagat Ji nominated Inderjit Kaur as his successor, so when Bhagat Ji passed away, she was in charge of Pingalwara. To learn more about Pingalwara or to donate, visit

There are a few organizations that were created to commemorate Bhagat Puran Singh’s life and the legacy he left behind. BPSHI, or the Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative is an example of an organization. It started with a few university students who were passionate about the health of their community, and so they decided to organize a free health screening at a local Gurdwara. They started to grow in numbers, and they now have 12 chapters in the United States. To learn more about BPSHI, visit

My Dad has always told me this story of Bhagat Ji, and I thought I’d share it. Wherever he went, Bhagat Puran Singh would pick up any garbage he could find and put it in his small metal bowl, which was one of his few belongings. One day someone asked him, “Why are you doing this? Do you really think you’re going to clean up all of Punjab by picking up little pieces of garbage here and there?” Bhagat Ji said, “When I die, Waheguru isn’t going to ask me why I didn’t clean up all of Punjab, instead I’ll be asked why I didn’t clean up wherever I walked?” The point of this is you can’t save the world, but you can make changes in the places you go and the things you do because in the end, that is what Waheguru is going to look at.

I take great inspiration from this story and Bhagat Puran Singh’s life overall, and I hope that my writing this piece has inspired many others who are wanting to make a positive change in this world to make it.

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕਾ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜੀ ਕਿ ਫਤਿਹ ||


About the Author


Baynti Kaur

Baynti Kaur is a grade 7 student from Ontario. She enjoys reading and writing along with learning about Sikh history and the world around her. She enjoys playing soccer and volleyball with her friends as well as doing Keertan and Paat with her Sangat. Baynti Kaur hopes to create some change in the world by advocating for those who are silenced by others and she hopes to become a human rights activist in the future.

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