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Prof Pritam Singh, a distinguished scholar, has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards and honours. He received the President of India's Certificate of Honour in 1998 for his excellence in Persian. In the same year, the Punjab Government awarded him the Punjab Sahit Shiromani Award. Additionally, he was honoured with the Doordarshan Panj Pani Sanman, being recognized as the 'Best Teacher of the State'.

Other accolades include the Millenium Award from Punjabi University Patiala in 2000, the Bhai Vir Singh International Award from the National Institute of Panjab Studies in 1993, and the Sarvasresht Sardar Kartar Singh Dhaliwal Puraskar from Punjabi Sahit Akademi, Ludhiana in 1999. Furthermore, he received the Award for Best Children's Literature of the decade by Punjabi Academy Delhi in 1994, and the Bharatiya Sahitya Akademi Delhi Award for Best Translation in Punjabi in the same year.

In 2008, Panjab University Chandigarh honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Literature (D. Litt. honoris causa). He was also awarded the Emeritus Fellowship by the Ministry of Education & Culture, Govt. of India in 1984, and the Emeritus Fellowship for Life by Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in 1993. Moreover, the Panjabi Sahitya Akademi conferred him with a fellowship in 1980. His contributions to Punjabi Literature and Sikh Studies were recognized globally when he was appointed Honorary Professor at San Jose State University, California, USA in 2003. This is just a glimpse of the extensive list of awards and honours bestowed upon this legendary scholar.

Early life 

Born on 11 January 1918, Prof. Pritam Singh came from a humble background and lived a very simple life. He learned the value of living within his means, no matter how limited they were. Despite facing many challenges and difficulties, he remained steadfast in his beliefs and commitment to Sikhism. Prof. Pritam Singh strongly believed in leading by example, always being straightforward and honest in his interactions with others. He was willing to make sacrifices rather than compromise his principles.

These qualities were also evident in his writings. Even at the age of ninety, he displayed remarkable mental agility that impressed everyone around him. He was known for being truthful and frank, never afraid to express his point of view. He confidently picked up his pen to present what he truly believed in, without catering to anyone's preferences. Prof. Pritam Singh deserves much credit for advancing the modern and scientific study of the Punjabi language and literature.

With numerous national and international publications under his belt, every word spoken or written by Prof. Pritam Singh was as precious as the rarest gem. Despite holding Master's degrees in English (1940), Persian (1941), and Oriental Learning (1941) from Panjab University, Lahore, he was also highly proficient in Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi languages.


In 1941, he started his teaching career at Doaba College Jalandhar, where he was in charge of the Panjabi department. He also worked at Kanya Mahavidyala, Jalandhar City. Later, he was invited to Sikh National College, Lahore, by Principal Niranjan Singh to lead the Persian & Panjabi departments, a position he held until 1947.

After India's partition, he spent a year in Delhi as a part-time Punjabi lecturer at Ramjas College, Indraprastha College, and Hindu College. He then worked as the editor of Punjabi Publications at Panjab University in Shimla for about two years. In 1950, he joined Government Mahendra College, Patiala, becoming the first Head of the Post-Graduate Department of Panjabi. Even as he received promotions and became Principal of Government College, Faridkot, Government College, Ludhiana, and later Government College, Mukatsar, he continued to teach Panjabi.

In 1969, the Panjab Government sought his expertise to help create the Acts for the proposed Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and Panjab School Education Board, Mohali. He spent the last eight years of his professional career as a Professor and Head of the Department of Guru Nanak Studies at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, retiring in 1980.

Prominent positions

Prof Pritam Singh held various prominent positions in different organizations throughout his career. He served as the President of Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha (Registered) and the President of Punjabi Sahitya Akademi in Ludhiana. Additionally, he was a Member of the General Council of Bharatiya Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi, Punjab Arts Council in Chandigarh, Core Committee of Anandpur Sahib Foundation in Chandigarh, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in Prayag, and Panjab State University Textbook Board in Chandigarh.

Furthermore, he was associated with Panjab University in Chandigarh for two years as a member of the Syndicate and for eight years as a member of its Senate. He also played a significant role as the Advisory Member for Panjabi at the National Book Trust in New Delhi, the University of Jammu in Jammu & Kashmir State, and the Language Department of the Punjab Government in Patiala.

In his editorial roles, he served as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Sikh Studies at GNDU Amritsar and as the Chief Editor of Alochana (Punjabi Quarterly) at Punjabi Sahitya Akademi in Ludhiana.

A Global Scholar in Panjabi and Sikh Studies 

Prof. Pritam Singh was a guiding figure for countless PhD and M.A. students for over six decades. He was well-respected and had friends among scholars both in India and abroad. He travelled to many countries to lead conferences, give keynote speeches, present research papers, and deliver public lectures on topics related to Panjabi and Sikh Studies. Some of the countries he visited include Moscow (1977), Tashkent (1978), West Germany (1982 & 1985), Belgium and Thailand (1983), Singapore (1990 & 1992), the U.S.A. and Canada (1984, 2000, 2005), and many others.

Despite receiving international awards, honours, and recognition for his writings, Prof. Pritam Singh remained humble and true to his simple lifestyle. He dedicated himself entirely to nurturing the growth of Punjabi and Sikh literature. At home, he would wear a saffron parna on his head, a white vest, loose-fitting white pyjamas, and slippers. If he needed to 'dress up,' he would simply wear a cotton or khaddar shirt with pleated pants, a simple turban, and slip-on shoes (gurgaabi). His diet was also simple and limited. He particularly enjoyed snacks like jaggery and roasted black gram, which he stored in old five-kilogram Dalda ghee containers placed beside the chair he sat on.

Journey towards literary work

During the day, he would sit under a mulberry tree on his front lawn, next to the main gate, on a white cane chair with his special writing board, papers, and pen. The papers he used were one-sided blank newspaper pamphlets, opened envelopes, and waste printouts. On these, the linguistic grandmaster would skillfully arrange words to create vast volumes of heritage manuals. These manuals covered various subjects, such as scholarly studies of ancient Punjabi manuscripts (hath-likhtan), fiction, and biographical and autobiographical sketches. Some of the titles included 'Moortan,' 'Panjab, Panjabi, Panjabiyat,' 'Kachian, Pakkian de Bhaa,' and 'Panjabi Lekhak Kosh,' among others.

One of his significant works was "Ahyapur Vali Pothi," where he separated the authentic Bani of Aad Guru Granth from various spurious writings falsely attributed to the Sikh Gurus. He provided evidence that Guru Arjan never used the Goindwal Pothi (Ahyapur Vali Pothi) in the preparation or as a source for Aad Guru Granth in 1604.

His contributions to Punjabi literature

Prof. Pritam Singh recently wrote a well-researched book called "Sri Guru Granth Sahib Wale Sheikh Farid di Bhal." He dedicated almost three decades to studying this subject. Besides, he also edited the works of Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha and Baba Farid Shakarganj. He made a unique contribution by creating a series of books on Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Guru Gobind Singh, specifically for children. These books serve as a great source of inspiration for young writers. His children's literature has been translated into many languages, including Japanese. One of his popular stories, "Bhai Kanahiya," is among those translated into Japanese.

He was a thoughtful man who had collected around 1000 rare manuscripts written in Punjabi, Hindi, and Sanskrit from various periods. Some of these precious manuscripts he generously donated to different museums. Without his efforts, these valuable manuscripts would have been lost to ignorance and time. In a remarkable act of generosity, he also donated his entire personal library, including the manuscripts, to Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.

His last days

On October 25, 2008, just a few minutes after sending a letter to a publisher about a couple of books ready for publication, Professor Pritam Singh passed away. It was almost as if he had asked the Yumraj (the god of death) to wait until he finished his present task. Interestingly, his passing occurred four days before the death anniversary of his father-in-law, an equally renowned scholar named Professor Sahib Singh.

Prof. Pritam Singh was a highly respected figure known as the "Bhisham Pitama" of the Punjabi language. In 2003, he was honoured with the title of Honorary Professorship at San Jose State University, California, USA, in recognition of his valuable contributions to Punjabi Literature and Sikh Studies. Sh. N.S. Rattan, former Principal Secretary of Higher Education, Punjab, and Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, compared Prof. Pritam Singh to "Baba Borh," acknowledging his significant role in preserving and collecting old manuscripts in Punjabi, which greatly contributed to Punjabi Sikh History and Sikh culture. During the final prayers (antim ardas), Ex-Jathedar Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, S. Joginder Singh Vedanti, addressed Prof. Pritam Singh as the "Proarh-Vidwaan of the Panth," signifying him as the Most Refined Scholar of the Sikhs.

Prof. Pritam Singh's remarkable contributions to the promotion of the Punjabi language, linguistics, and literature have left a lasting impact on the Punjabi language and Sikh history. His legacy will continue to guide and inspire future generations. In honour of his work, Punjabi University, Patiala, has decided to establish a fellowship in his name. This fellowship will recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of Punjabi language, art, and literature.

The sudden and untimely passing of Prof. Pritam Singh has created an irreplaceable void. His knowledge was vast and profound, akin to the vastness of the seven seas, and there were still many undiscovered layers to his wisdom. His scholarly accomplishments will be remembered forever.


*Based on an article written by Suneet Kheterpal, published in Punjab Heritage on 1st December 2008


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