Bhagwan Singh Gyanee Materials

Collection Overview

Date Range: 1913-1970 (bulk 1930s-1950s)
Geographical Coverage: Chandigarh, India;
San Francisco, California;
Yokohama, Japan;
Language(s): English (141), Punjabi (17), Urdu (1), Uncategorized (108)
Number of Items: 267
Item Types: Photograph (99), Correspondence (98), Audio (2), Newspaper Clipping (1), Uncategorized (67)
Collection Creator: Bhagwan Singh Gyanee
Donor(s): S.P. Singh

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About the Collection

Collection Description
This collection contains digitized copies of photographs, correspondence, and other materials documenting the life of Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, a nationalist revolutionary and philosopher who served as president of the Gadar Party from 1914 to 1920. Materials primarily consist of photographs and correspondence. The photographs document Gyanee’s family and acquaintances, as well as his travels from Malaysia to his return to India in 1958 after fifty years in exile. The letters detail his political and philosophical views. Also included: issues of Nava-Yug, a monthly publication edited and published by Gyanee; an excerpt from his diary; and news clippings advertising his lectures on politics, philosophy, and “self-culture.” Gyanee’s philosophical views are also documented in pamphlets and draft documents for organizations that he founded, including the American Institute for Culture and the Humanology Society of America. Of particular note are two audio recordings, one of a public lecture he gave and another of dictated notes for a book Gyanee planned to published.

Biographical History
Bhagwan Singh Gyanee is best known as an Indian nationalist revolutionary who served as president of the Gadar Party from 1914 to 1920. He was born in Punjab on July 24, 1884, in the small village of Wring, Amritsar District. In 1907, Singh became a lecturer on Sikhism at Updeshak College, a position that enabled him to travel extensively throughout northern India. According to his grandson S.P. Singh, it was during this time that Bhagwan Singh became a nationalist, delivering speeches against British rule and aligning with Punjabi revolutionaries1.

Singh’s radical activities made him a wanted man by the British colonial government, forcing him and his family to flee India in 1909 under assumed names2. Singh travelled extensively for the next seven years, giving pro-independence speeches and gaining supporters everywhere from Burma to Vancouver, Canada. He was arrested twice in Hong Kong for preaching sedition and ordered for deportation from Vancouver. Singh escaped to Japan, where he met with Sun Yat Sen, and then escaped again in 1914, in disguise, to San Francisco, California3.

In San Francisco, Singh immediately became formally involved in the Gadar Party4. He was elected president of the Gadar Ashram, and per S.P. Singh, wrote the “Ailan-e-Jung,” the organization’s Declaration of War against British rule in India. S.P. Singh also notes that his grandfather helped manage “Hindustan Gadar,” the organization’s official publication5. Bhagwan Singh spent the next several years helping to coordinate a mutiny of British Indian soldiers stationed everywhere from Punjab to Singapore. These efforts culminated in his arrest in 1916 and subsequent trial in 1917 as part of the famous Hindu-German conspiracy trial6. Singh and seven other Gadarites were indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco of conspiracy against the United Kingdom. He served eighteen months of prison time at the McNeill Island Federal Penitentiary.

Singh was released from prison in 1920, and he spent the rest of his life publishing books and giving lectures on experimental psychology, mysticism, science, Hinduism, and Indian history. He developed a humanistic philosophy called “self-culture,” which he defined as a blending of the “[w]isdom of ancient India, but also scientific knowledge gleaned through contacts with Western minds…[]”7. Singh founded “self-culture institutes” in the US and in India as a means of fostering his personal development philosophy.

In 1948, Singh applied for permission to return to India. He had been banned from the country for decades and sought to end his exile immediately upon India’s gaining independence. It took another ten years, however, before the Indian government formally invited him back to his country. Indian officials received him with pomp and circumstance, and he spent the next several years giving lectures on self-culture and history throughout north India. Gyanee died in Chandigarh in 1962, at the age of eighty.

After his passing, Gyanee’s grandson, S.P. Singh, inherited all of his grandfather’s materials. When Singh moved to the United States in the early 1970s and settled in Atlanta, he brought the materials in SAADA’s collection along with him.
1. “Bhai Bhagwan Singh Gyanee (The Story of My Grandfather).” https://web.archive.org/web/20140416191447/http://www.sikhpioneers.org/P.... Accessed July 8, 2016.
2. Ibid. Accessed July 10, 2016.
3. Ibid. Accessed July 10, 2016.
4. Search results for "Gadar Party." https://www.saada.org/browse/collection/gadar-party. Accessed August 22, 2016.
5. “Bhai Bhagwan Singh Gyanee (The Story of My Grandfather).” https://web.archive.org/web/20140416191447/http://www.sikhpioneers.org/P.... Accessed July 10, 2016.
6. Search results for “Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial.” https://www.saada.org/browse/subject/hindu-german-conspiracy-trial. Accessed August 15, 2016.
7. Photocopy of letter to "The Students of Self-Culture in the the United States of America.” https://www.saada.org/item/20120723-831. Accessed August 15, 2016.


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Related Materials

Collection Themes: Community Media (12), Philosophy & Spirituality (10), Freedom Movement (8), Memory & Remembrance (4), Religion (2), Philanthropy (1), Family (1), Uncategorized (229)

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Administrative Information

Access & Use: Items in this SAADA collection are open for research. Items may not be sold or redistributed, copied or distributed as a photograph, electronic file, or any other media without express written consent from the copyright holder and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). The user is responsible for all issues of copyright.

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