Teja Singh (1878-1965)

Teja Singh or Naranjan Singh Mehta was an influential figure in the pioneering Sikh communities of British Columbia and California. He was a Khatri Sikh, the son of Dr. Ralia, a surgeon in Gujranwala city in west Punjab. He passed his MA and intermediate LLB. exams at Government College, Lahore, in 1901 and was licensed as an advocate, but attended court in Lahore for only seven days before deciding that this profession was not what he wanted. He worked as an assistant superintendent in the Northern India Salt Revenue Service at Sambhar Lake in Rajputhana (Rajasthan) and then at Dera Gazi Khan in west Punjab before becoming vice principal of Khalsa College, Amritsar. His experience in enforcing collection of the salt tax made him a critic of the British regime. Teja Singh had not had a religious upbringing and until his early twenties was not a practising Sikh, but while he was at Khalsa College he became profoundly religious, and a disciple of Sant Atar Singh who initiated him as a Khalsa Sikh. In 1906, the year he became a Khalsa and following his father’s death, Teja Singh went to Britain to study. He had completed five terms at Cambridge when, in the summer of 1908, he decided to attend summer school at Columbia University, New York. At Columbia he was asked to give a lecture on India and a report in the papers about this lecture came to the attention of Taraknath Das and Balwant Singh in Vancouver. Balwant Singh wrote to ask him to visit. So began an association with the Sikhs in British Columbia that continued until March 1913, when he left Vancouver for India. In March 1911 he completed an A.M. degree at Harvard. In his later life he was known as Sant Teja Singh (a sant is a person who has advanced along the path of spiritual attainment). In 1956 or 1957 he visited Canada again and spoke at the Victoria and Vancouver gurdwaras, sharply criticizing the practice of Sikhs in Canada of going into the gurdwara bareheaded.

Sources: Harban Singh ed., The Encyclopedia of Sikhism (Patiala: Panjabi University, 4th edition, 2002); Hugh Johnston, “The Surveillance of Indian Nationalists in North America,” BC Studies, no. 78, Summer, 1988, pp. 3-26; Struggle for Free Hindustan: Ghadr Directory, Punjab Section, 1915 (published Mehrauli, New Delhi: Gobind Sadan Institute for Advanced Studies in Comparative Religion, 1996); Teja Singh, Jeevan Katha: Sant Attar Singh Ji Maharaj (Patiala: Bhasha Vibhag, 1981).