Jagraj Singh was the founder of Sikh educational charity Basics of Sikhi, and its parent organisation Everything’s 13. He studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and served in the British Army before taking it upon himself to begin producing educational videos on Sikhi, in English, via the Basics of Sikhi YouTube channel, and travelling the world spreading the message of the Sikh Gurus.
Before Jagraj Singh began this work, I had no concept of just how much I lacked in my Sikhi education. I had little understanding of the sheer depth of Sikhi, the knowledge and nature of our Gurus, and quite frankly, I had no idea of who I am.
Jagraj Singh’s videos sparked something in me, igniting my interest in the philosophy that I had subscribed to by identifying as a Sikh, yet knew very little about.
Jagraj Singh was the first person I encountered who explained that “Ik Ongkaar” is not a simple statement meaning “there is only one God”, as opposed to many Demi-Gods. Instead, it is a statement of great depth explaining the oneness of all life, the creation of the Universe and the meaning of our experience here in this world.
I did not know basic facts about my faith. I did not appreciate the scale of what I did not know. The depth and clarity of Jagraj Singh’s videos drew me in.
He was a relatable guy who spoke in English, carried the visible appearance of a Sikh, clearly well-educated, smart, witty, dedicated and teaching us about our faith via the medium we use the most; social media.
He used easily understandable analogies to illustrate his points. He created a huge volume of educational videos, not only in English but other foreign languages too. He helped many people turn their lives around, all over the world.
Before Basics of Sikhi, I did not even know that Sikhs are encouraged to meditate, or what Simran is all about. I did not know about the Dasam Granth Sahib Ji and Sarbloh Granth Sahib Ji, or of concepts such as Hukam, Shastardhari, Nitnem and Bhagauti.
I did not know much about Sikh history; what had happened to the Sikh Empire, what had happened during the 1947 partition of India or the 1984 genocide of Sikhs. I did not know because nobody I knew had independently researched the meaning of Gurbani and these events from Sikh history in any meaningful depth, spoke English and spent their time spreading this knowledge.
I began a journey, watching these videos and discovering other English-language videos and articles on Sikhi. At the time, there was very little content out there, particularly in English, or geared towards Sikh diaspora.
Jagraj Singh came across as somebody who is very strong-willed. I had seen no one else in our community who had showed such conviction in helping English-speaking Sikhs learn about their faith. No one else who had the courage to begin preaching about Sikhi to the British public in high streets up and down the country. His military background was apparent in how he carried himself. He always remained composed and in control, even during tense debates with people holding opposing views.
As the number of videos that Jagraj Singh produced increased, so too did my interest in Sikhi.
I discovered that he had managed to secure a regular weekly speaking slot at Park Avenue Gurdwara in Southall, West London. This wasn’t far from me and I took lofty expectations with me on the train one Sunday evening.
However, it was announced that Jagraj Singh would not be holding the Katha (sermon) that day, but Baljit Singh would be filling in for him instead. I didn’t know much about Baljit Singh, but for the next hour, I experienced the most impactful hour I had ever spent in a Gurdwara. Listening to a lecture that I actually understood, boasting with detailed information about the Sikh faith and tales from our history, delivered with heartfelt passion, inspiring me to go on and learn more. And this wasn’t even the guy I had come to see.
It was at this point I realised that Basics of Sikhi was not about Jagraj Singh, rather who Jagraj Singh was trying to introduce us all to: Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
After attending a few of Jagraj Singh’s Kathas, watching his videos and subscribing to Basics of Sikhi on social media, I learned of an opportunity to volunteer for the organisation at a Sikh social event in Northolt, West London.
This event, or Smagam, was a turning point in my life. It was the first time I had done any seva (volunteer work) for a Sikh charity, and is where I first met a number of people who have since become my close companions. I remember this Smagam vividly, and one reason is because it was the first time I ever considered taking Amrit, and becoming initiated into the Khalsa Panth; the Sikh brotherhood, or army.
I had begun to turn my back on the material world, and realised that being part of any rat race is not how I wanted to continue living my life. But I had yet to take any real step towards my Guru.
I was then given the opportunity by Basics of Sikhi to do street parchar, and found myself having deep and profound conversations with members of the public about the merits of equality and compassion, the concepts of langar and seva, and how we can liberate ourselves from material attachment.
All of a sudden, my life had meaning. I was no longer using my energy to help businesses control more wealth. I was part of a movement that was helping people take back control in their own lives. I wasn’t promoting new technologies or new products, I was promoting compassion, kindness, righteousness and justice.
I discovered that Basics of Sikhi was running a 14-week course on Sikhi, the Why Guru Course, in West London. This course would be delivered by Jagraj Singh, in English. I signed up straight away and was blown away by what I learned. The course is available to view on YouTube.
Towards the end of the course, I was told that an Amrit Sanchar (ceremony) event would soon be taking place at Park Avenue Gurdwara, the very same Gurdwara that Basics of Sikhi had its weekly slot. I turned up, surrendered my head to my Guru and became initiated as a Singh; a soldier of the Khalsa Panth.
I then began to get involved with related charities, such as the Sikh Press Association, and I began to get to know Jagraj Singh.
The Why Guru Course concluded, but it was then run again and this time in my home town of Slough. Old friends and new, neighbours and family members of mine all attended the course. A few projects were created following that course; selfless service projects, discussion groups and further education and meditation sessions in Slough. The Sikh community in Slough, and indeed worldwide, has been strengthened as a direct result of Basics of Sikhi and the Why Guru Course.
I won’t pretend that Jagraj Singh and I became best friends, spending lots of time together, but we did develop friendship and respect. Jagraj Singh was quite reserved, he did not court unnecessary controversy and he worked tirelessly. I have a lot to be thankful to him for, and I hope that he knows that I appreciate everything he has done for me personally, as well as for our community.
When he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I refused to believe it would take his life. I genuinely thought that he would overcome the slim odds he was given, because if there was anybody who, in my mind, was capable of, and deserved, such a miracle, it was Jagraj Singh.
One thing that Jagraj Singh enlightened me about was the concept of a Hukamnama; how one can actually directly converse with God, or Akaal Purakh, via our Guru.
As it would turn out, there are many concepts that I was sceptical about when Jagraj Singh first mentioned them, that through my own experience, I came to wholeheartedly agree with him on.
When explaining the concept of a Hukamnama, Jagraj Singh would mention examples that he had witnessed, first-hand. A Hukamnama is when someone looking for guidance goes to Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and after an Ardaas (prayer), opens a random Ang (page, lit. limb) and reads the first passage.
Jagraj Singh described times he had accompanied people asking for a Hukamnama and the passage that was randomly selected was far too direct and specific to the problem that was being asked about for it to be dismissed as sheer coincidence.
I watched further testimonies on the Basics of Sikhi channel about people literally having their prayers answered by a Hukamnama. In time, I began to experience it for myself. Those who doubt the power of the Hukamnama are encouraged to read the Hukamnama from Darbar Sahib, Amritsar; which is considered the official order of the day for Sikhs, that was randomly selected on the morning of Jagraj Singh’s passing:
I mentioned earlier how I did not know anybody who spoke English, had researched Sikh history and spent their time spreading their knowledge. Today, I know quite a few people who fit that criteria, and that is in no small part thanks to Jagraj Singh.
Many of us have lost a teacher, a leader, a friend and a brother. I am writing this article in the hope that we as a community, can collectively pick up from where Jagraj Singh left off. We must now take the responsibility upon ourselves, just like Jagraj Singh did, to spread the message of Sikhi, not only in our words and our minds, but also in our actions.
Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Vaheguru Ji ki Fateh
Illustration by Inkquisitive