Harbhajan Singh

(18 August 1920 – 21 October 2002 / Lumding, Assam / India)

Biography of Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh poet

Harbhajan Singh was a Punjabi poet, critic, cultural commentator, and translator. Along with Amrita Pritam, Harbhajan is credited with revolutionising the Punjabi poetry writing style. He published 17 collections of poems, including Registan Vich Lakarhara, 19 works of literary history and translated 14 pieces of literature of others including those of Aristotle, Sophocles, Rabindranath Tagore and selections from the Rig Veda.

Early Life and Education

Harbhajan Singh was born in Lumding, Assam, on August 18, 1920 to Ganga Dei and Ganda Singh, his father, who was suffering from tuberculosis. The family had to move to Lahore where they bought two houses in Gawalmandi. His father died before he was one year old. Then his mother and two sisters died leaving him without a direct family by the time he was 4 years of age. He was brought up by his mother's younger sister who lived in Ichhra, Lahore. He was educated in the local DAV School and was a top student from a very early age. In his educational ventures, he was among the top three in Punjab but had to stop his studies for lack of money. He took up odd jobs as a sales-boy at a Homoepathic Chemist Shop in Lahore, as a lower-division clerk with the Government of India in New Delhi and then as an Assistant Librarian in Khalsa School, New Delhi.

Singh completed his higher education without going to college, he had two degrees in English and Hindi Literature, both from the University of Delhi. His Ph. D. thesis discussed Hindi poetry in the Gurumukhi script.

One of his three sons Madan Gopal Singh is a well-known singer and scholar.

Career

He started his academic career as an English teacher before switching to Hindi and then to Punajbi. He worked at the University of Delhi as Professor Emeritus until he retired in 1984. He visited and gave lectures at many prestigious universities and institutions including the Indian Institute of Technology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjab University, Jammu University and Gauhati University.

He was invited to join the Department of Modern Indian Languages by a Board of anthropologists and linguists, including Professor Pritam Singh, who Singh supported greatly until his death.

Influences

He praised Ustad Reham Din, Lala Suraj Bhan, Dr Mohan Singh Diwana, and Dr Nagendra as his most preferred teachers throughout his education. The poets he most admired and rated highest were Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Arjan Dev, Shah Hussain, Waris Shah, Bulle Shah, Mir Taki Mir, Lorca, Rabindranath Tagore, Noon Meem Rashid, and Puran Singh.

Many prolific poets and scholars did their PhDs under him including Attar Singh, Tirlok Singh Kanwar, Atamjit Singh, Mahinder Kaur Gill and Satinder Singh.

Honours
1970: Sahitya Akademi Award, Sahitya Akademi, India, for Na Dhuppe Na Chaanve
1987: Kabir Samman – one of the highest literary honours in India given by the Madhya Pradesh Government.
1994: Saraswati Samman – award for literary excellence in India, in
1994: Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, New Delhi – a title only one other Punjabi writer received; Sardar Gurbax Singh Preet Lari.
Soviet Land Nehru Award – a now extinct award highly coveted while it existed
2002: Dhaliwal Sanmaan – the highest award presented to him by the Punjabi Sahitya Akademi, Ludhiana.

Harbhajan Singh's Works:

A Light Within: Selected Poems of Harbhajan Singh, tr. by S. C. Narula, Sahitya Akademi, 1998.
The Spirit of Khalsa - Three centuries of Interface, 2000.
Sheikh Farid (Hindi). Hind Pocket Books, 2002.
Bulleshah (Hindi). Hind Pocket Books, 2003.

Works in Translation
Ni Chhiyan Ni Tavaro (Rajasthani), tr. by Chandra Prakash Deval. Sahitya Akademi, 1997.
Punjabni Lokakatha (Gujarati), National Book Trust, 2000.

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