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Sunder Singh Lyallpuri

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Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri (1878 - March 3, 1969) was a great Sikh personality of twentieth century. A leading soldier of Indian independence struggle, a front-ranking General of Akali Movement, a leading educationist, a formidable journalist, a great patriot and a dedicated Sikh to the core, Master Lyallpuri was the one who had given birth to Akali Movement and Shiromani Akali Dal, reared them up and brought them to adulthood. All through his life, this Dervesh soldier believed in simple living and result-oriented actions. He had played a very crucial role in awakening and organizing the dormant Sikh community into a powerful force which played a leading role in India's struggle for independence as well as for the Sikh Reform Movements of early twenties.

Family history and early life

Sunder Singh was born in 1878 into a farmers' family of Kamboj lineage of village Bohoru in Amritsar. His father's name was Lakhmir Singh Sandha and mother's Ram Kaur. During colonization of Bars, Sandha family with many others moved to Sheikhupura District (now in Pakistan) where they were allotted lands in the new Bar Chenab colony. In memoriam of their ancestral village in Amritsar, the colonists named their new settlement in Sheikhupura also as Bohoru (Chak No 18 Bohoru). Sunder Singh was married in 1901 to Bibi Sant Kaur, daughter of S. Mangal Singh of Nizampur.

Education and early activities

Sunder Singh Lyallpuri had received his basic education in Shahkot (Pakistan) and then obtained B. A (Hon) from Khalsa College Amritsar and B.T. from Government College Lahore. Lyallpuri was invited for personal interview for the position of Tehsildar (revenue officer) but he sat in chair in front of Commissioner without his permission. This caused a verbal scuffle between him and the English officer so that he was sent back without being interviewed. On pressure from his relatives, he later took a position in Indian postal services but here too he was entangled with his English boss. The senior officer called him into his office for inquiry and did not offer him a chair to sit on which again hurt the pride and self respect of Sunder Singh. This chain of events finally forced a self-respecting Lyallpuri to say good-by to Government jobs and causing him to plunge into the selfless service of his own people, his own country and in his own way.

In the service of his country and its people

Khalsa Youngman Association

Chenab colony of Lyallpur was a new colonial settlement and so was Lyallpur itself. Sunder Singh made Lyallpur his land of action and henceforth was nicknamed as Lyallpuri. It was a time when Arya Samaj movement was ruling supreme in Punjab and the Sikh masses were coming to its fold in large numbers. To counter this phenomenon, Sunder Singh Lyallpuri started educating the Sikh masses about Sikhism and its past glory. In association with S. Harchand Singh Ryees and some other well-wishers, Lyallpuri founded the "Khalsa Bhujangi Sabha" (Khalsa Youngman Association), the members of which played a leading role in the Sikh affairs and for the country as a whole. It was this association which had started the Gurdwara Rikabganj Morcha which was later supported by broad Sikh community and won the victory for the Akalis.

Sacha Dhandora and Anand Marriage Act

At that time, there was extreme illiteracy and ignorance in the Sikh community. Lyallpuri realised the urgent need to awaken and educate the community. He therefore started a weekly newspaper Sacha Dhandora and started publishing patriotic songs and Sikh-ideology related nationalistic articles [1]. In those days, Tika Sahib (Wali Ahid) Ripudaman Singh of erstwhile Nabha State was making outstanding contributions towards Sikhism and his views on Sikhism were routinely published in Sacha Dhandora. This had brought Master Lyallpuri and Tika Sahib together. Tika Sahib was also a member of the Imperial Council from 1906 to 1908. Together they worked on the draft for Anand Marriage Act which was later submitted to the Special Committee for review. Since Tika Sahib ceased to be member of the Council after 1908, and in the meanwhile, Sardar Sunder Singh Majithia had become a member of the Imperial Council in his place, therefore, Majithia continued to pursue the matter and the Bill got finally enacted on October 22, 1909[2]. The Sikh marriage called Anand Karaj was introduced from the time of the Sikh Gurus but it got statutory recognition only after the passage of the Anand Marriage Act 1909. According to the centrally approved Sikh Code (Sikh Reht Maryada), persons not professing the Sikh faith cannot be joined in wedlock by the Anand Karaj ceremony.

Morcha for Rakabganj Wall

Along with S Harchand Singh, Teja Singh Samundri, S Sardul Singh and master Mota Singh, Master Lyallpuri played a crucial role in the Rakabganj Gurudwara Morcha through The Akali (Punjabi Daily) and compelled the Government to yield. The write-ups in The Akali published by Lyallpuri played a very important and effective role in electrifying the Sikh community and rousing it into action for Gurdwara Rakabganj Morcha.

Lyallpuri as an educationist

Sardar Harchand Singh was a good friend of Lyallpuri. Both realized the need for education among the Sikh community. So they opened first primary school in the building of Singh Sabha Lyallpura which soon was converted to Lyallpur High School. This noble action also brought several important people like Teja Singh Samundri, Master Tara Singh, S. Harchand Singh, Master Sunder Singh and Prof Niranjan Singh and Jathedar Buta Singh together who had played important roles in Sikh history. Slowly, the High School became the well-known Lyallpur Khalsa College. Other schools founded by Master Lyallpuri or which he helped in founding were: High School Chak No 41 Jhang Branch Khalsa High School Sangla Hill Sheikhupura, Khalsa High School Nwana Pind (Sheikhupura), Khalsa High School Kutia Baba Chetan Das (Sheikhupura), Khalsa High School Jai Chak (Sheikhupura), Kaumi High Schoolh Jhelum, Kaumi College Jhelum etc. Sir Sikander Hyat, the Prime Minister of undivided Punjab, Giani Kartar Singh, Mangal Singh Gill, Gopal Singh Kaumi, Sir Joginder Singh, Qazi Abdul Rehman etc are some of the well known students of Master Lyallpuri. Some of the Kamboj and other Singhs who fell as martyrs in Saka Nankana had been students of Lyallpuri.

Master Lyallpuri was a personification of sacrifice, optimism and encouragement. In several of the schools he had founded and served, he offered his services free in exchange for only two meals and a pair of personal clothes [3].

Martial Law 1919 and Lyallpuri

In view of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of April 13, 1919, almost entire Punjab was placed under martial law including Lyallpur. There were no untoward incidents except destruction of telephone and telegraph wires near Lyallpur Railway Station. But a huge mass of dry husk near the station caught fire and as a result 2-3 people burnt alive. It was a coincidence that Lyallpuri was on the station at the moment. Early morning on April 22, English police fully loaded with Machine-guns laid siege to Lyallpur [4] and arrested 12 people including Lyallpuri [5].

Master Lyallpuri was tried for charges of arson, violence and murder. The charge was not proved, but still Lyallpuri was sentenced to death by hanging. Lyallpuri's case was taken up by famous lawyers like Pt. Moti Lal Nehru, C. R. Das and Pt. Madan Mohan Malayia. Later, under special Government proclamation, the death sentence was commuted to fine and imprisonment. But the nationalist lawyers like Madan Mohan Malayia continued to pursue the case and finally the sentence was reduced to a fine of Rs 1200 and imprisonment of 1.5 years, for which he was deported to Andebar and Nicobar [6]. The fine was paid by Lyallpuri's father by mortgaging/selling his land [7].

Founder of The Akali Daily

After release from jail, Master Lyallpuri held a meeting of his friends which included Sardar S. Harchand Singh, S. Sardul Singh Kaveeshar, Giani Hira Singh Darad, S. Mangal Singh Gill (Tehsildar), S. Pratap Singh Gujjaranwala and S. Teja Singh Samundri in the house of S. Sardul Singh Kaveeshar. Based on the decision of the meeting, Master Lyallpuri founded a Punjabi daily which was named The Akali after Baba Akali Phula Singh. The Akali daily was meant to protect the rights of Sikhs and provide a political voice for their interests. The first issue of the The Akali appeared on May 21, 1920 with Lyallpuri as its Owner, Manager, Publisher and Chief Editor. He was assisted by Giani Hira Singh Darad and S Mangal Singh Gill etc. It was the first Punjabi daily to be published and in its very first issue, it had outlined in its editorial note its programme advocating: (1) Panthic control over the Gurdwaras; (2) Panthic control of Khalsa College, Amritsar; (3) repairing the demolished wall of Gurudwara Rakabganj, Delhi; (4) creation of religious and political awakening among the Sikh masses and to line them up for more effective roles in India's struggle of independence; and (5) creation of a Sikh organisation and choosing its members democratically through elections based on Panchayat rules [8]. The writings in The Akali were so effective and bold compared to the Urdu dailies of the times that some Hindus and even Muslims had especially learnt Gurmukhi in order to read The Akali [9] The paper effectively and forcefully raised the wall issue of Gurdwara Rakabganj Delhi and roused the Sikh community into dynamic action and participation. A big Shaheedi Jatha was organized but before it reached Delhi, the Government yielded to the demands of the Sikh community.

Master Lyallpuri coined the expression Na-Milvartan Lehir, for Asehyog Lehir ('Non-Cooperation Movement') proposed by Mahatama Gandhi which name got the widest acceptance and popularity in Punjab [10]. The coining of the impressive expression like Na-Milvartan and to make it most popular in Punjab could only fall to the share of a daily like The Akali alone. Not only in Punjab, this alternative expression started to be used in whole of India and became an integral part of the vocabulary of the national struggle and history [11].

Father of Akali Movement, Akali Dal

After awakening and organizing the Sikh community and achieving a first phase of success in the domain of religion and education, The Akali started dedicating its columns to India's freedom struggle. The paper became a unifying and organizing instrument for the Akali Tehrik as well as it also became a mouthpiece of the Sikhs. The paper had realistically adopted a nationalistic approach and had also offered a powerful common front against the anti-Indian, anti-communal and pro-imperialist forces. With the untiring efforts of the The Akali under Master Lyallpuri, Shiromani Committee (the religious wing) and Shiromani Akali Dal, (the religio-political wing) of the Sikh Community took birth in November 15-16, 1920 and in December 14, 1920 respectively. "The role of 'The Akali' must be regarded as the milestone in 'Akali Movement'. After the name of newspaper (i.e The Akali), the 'Gurudwara Reform Movement' also became popularly known as the 'Akali Movement'" [12]. Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri is regarded as the founding father of the 'Akali Movement' and the 'Shiromini Akali Dal' (i.e the religio-political wing of the Akali party) [13].

At the national level, the Na Milwartan Lehir (Non-Cooperation Movement) was so effectively projected in the daily The Akali that it caused a great alarm and concern among the English Government and they had to arrest Lyallpuri and later other 10-12 of its editors, one after another, within two years. Security of the The Akali was also forfeited. Under section 124 'O', Master Lyallpuri was charged and sentenced to one year imprisonment in 1922 for writing and publishing provocative material.

Akali Urdu News paper

After release from prison in 1923, Master Lyallpuri started Akali (Urdu) from Amritsar. The daily continued till 1929-30 with minor breaks but after 1930, it was closed due to financial reasons.

Lyallpuri and Hindustan Times

Pt Madan Mohan Malayia was a very good friend of Master Lyallpuri. He had suggested to Master Lyallpuri that Akali should start one of their own English newspaper so that the Akal agenda and voice could reach every nook and corner of India. Accordingly, the 'Managing Board' of The Akali newspaper held a meeting under chairmanship of Lyallpuri and decided to found an English daily. The Board assigned the task to Master Lyallpuri and S Mangal Singh Gill. However, the move received a setback when Lyallpuri was arrested under section 124 'O' for writing what the English Government thought was objectionable material in The Akali. On release from jail, Lyallpuri resumed the efforts and put an advertisement in The Akali asking for donations for five Lakhs from Sikh Sangat. In response, the Punjabi fans of Master Lyallpuri from Stockton (USA) immediately wired Rs 150,000. Another Rs 70,000 was contributed by local Sikh community with the efforts of Lyallpuri. S Mangal Singh Gill and Chanchal Singh (Jandiala, Jullundur) were made in charge of the newspaper. Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya and Master Tara Singh were members of the Managing Committee. K. S. Panikar was its first Editor. Devdas Gandhi was also on the editor's panel. The Managing Chairman and Chief Patron was Master Lyallpuri himself. The opening ceremony was performed by Mahatama Gandhi on September 15, 1924. The first issue was published from Naya Bazar, Delhi (Now: Swami Sharda Nand Marag) [14]. It was very unfortunate for the Sikhs that due to lack of experience, and jealousy and betrayal of the fellows like Master Tara Singh and S. Mangal Singh Gill, as well as due to lack of viable financial resources, the Hindustan Times soon came into severe grip of financial crisis so that its ownership had to be sold to Pt Madan Mohan Malayia. Even Pt Malayia could not keep it running for long and he sold it to G. D. Birla [15]. The sale of the ownership of the Hindustan Times had caused a great mental anguish to Lyallpuri. Master Lylallpuri has personally written that: "S. Mangal Singh and Co. torpedoed my aim of nationalism and of Hindu-Sikh-Muslim-Christian unity. They rather gave it a communal twist, so the Akalis had to part company with Hindustan Times; and this also caused winding up of the Sikh Center at Delhi which I had established with so much fondness and hard labor[16]

Hindustan Times which was founded by Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri and friends and later sold out by Akalis now forms one of the most leading groups of Indian dailies and is published from several places, besides Delhi.

Other weekly Newspapers

Besides the dailies like The Akali and Hindustan Times, Master Lyallpuri had started several weeklies also. The important in the list are: Akali, Azad Akal (Punjabi), Azad Akali (Urdu), Melu, Nawa Yug, Daler Khalsa, Kundan, Inkalab (Urdu), Sanjhiwal, and Guru Khalsa. Each of them ran for a while and then ceased due to political or financial or both reasons.

Lyallpuri, as a national leader

In the wake of Hindu-Muslim riots of 1924, Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders like Maulana Mohammad Ali and Dr M. A. Anusari called a national Ekta Samelan at Delhi in 1924 which continued for several days. It concentrated mainly on national unity, mutual trust, love and brotherhood. At the end a Central National Panchayat was constituted which was authorized to recruit further members and expand it to the grass roots. With Mahatma Gandhi as its Chairman and Convener, the National Panchayat included, among others, Lala Lajpat Rai, G. K. Nariman, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, Dr S. K. Datta and Hakim Ajmal Khan[17]. In the following years, Master Lyallpuri organized or else participated in several seminars or Ekta Samelans for the promotion of mutual love, trust and brotherhood among the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and the Christians[18]. Lyallpuri also remained a member of All India Congress Committee.[19].

Master Lyallpuri had also attended the Lahore Congress Session of 1929. At the proposal of Baba Kharak Singh and Lyallpuri, a resolution was included in the Congress Session asking for Complete Independence of India. Master Lyallpuri was also involved in the preparation of its wording. Some of the conservative Congress members however, had opposed this resolution but it still got passed with majority vote. Another resolution pressed forward by these Akalis was to ensure fair and equitable treatment to the minorities.

Lyallpuri had also participated in Civil Disobedience Movement and underwent three years' imprisonment.[20]

Other Contributions of Lyallpuri

For detailed information on the life and achievements of Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri and his contributions and role in other important Sikh related issues like Guru ke Bagh Da Morcha, Chabian Da Morcha, Jaito Da Morcha, Saka Nankana Sahib, and Gurdwara Act etc., reference may be made to the research book "Akali Lehir Da Sanchalik, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, by S Kirpal Singh".


Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri lived a simple life and from 1897 till death in 1969, he only wore home-made Khaddar (coarse cotton fabric). He was always seen in cotton jacket, pyjama and simple desi shoes. He was teetotaler but took meat often. He was proud, self-respectful person and a true personification of sacrifice and optimism [21]. He was against showing off and false honor. When it came to assignments involving community or national interests, he occupied the vanguard, but when it came to sharing fruits and awards, he was always seen at the rear. He always praised the friends and gave them all the credit and importance. He was the founder-father of the Akali Movement and the Shiromani Akali Dal but still he also co-operated with the National Congress for reasons of broader national interests. It was through his tireless efforts that the Akali Movement came to be recognized at national and then at international level. The glories and successes which the Akalis achieved under the halo of earlier Akali Movement in the heyday of Lyallpuri like in Keys Morcha, Jaito Morcha, Guru Ke Bag Da Morcha and Nankana Sahib Morcha and by making sacrifices but through non-violent means has never been won in later times.

Master Lyallpuri had lost all of his 1.5 Muraba fertile land, a house and other property in the trail of his service for the Sikh community, fight for the Independence of India and the promotion of communal harmony in the country. At partition time, he had not even an inch of land left to support him and his family. When S. Paratap Singh Kairon became Chief Minister of Punjab, he allotted him 12 acres (49,000 m2) of land and a sustenance pension of Rs 100 per month. Baba Gurdit Singh, the hero of the Komagata Maru incident used to address Lyallpuri as Baba Phula Singh Akali and also called him Pita ji (dear father). S. Pratap Singh Kairon addressed him as Chacha Ji and used such a vocabulary for him which put him at par with our Gurus [22]. But Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri always thought himself as a humble servant of our reverend Gurus.

On March 3, 1969, this farsighted national leader, a great freedom fighter, a Dervesh leader of the Panth, a saint-soldier and a gem of the Kamboj community merged with the eternity.


  1. According to the report from the Assistant Director of Criminal Intelligence, dated 11 August 1911, it "printed largely echoes of the violently nationalistic writings which were then appearing in the Punjab Press and which culminated in a series of press persecutions during 1909-10". Sacha Dhandora too fell a victim to prosecution and suppression----Encyclopedia of Sikhism, p 280, Harbans Singh.
  2. Akali Lehir da Sanchalak, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, pp 20-22; Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 285.
  3. Merian Kujh Itihaasak Yaddan, p 124-25, Hira Singh Darad; Kambojs Through the Ages, pp 265-66, S Kirpal Singh.
  4. Punjab Disturbances, 1919-20, Vol I, Indian Perspective, p 149.
  5. This included Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, Sant Singh Lawyer, Dr Dina Nath, Bodh Chand Lawyer, Bhagat Ram Lawyer, Dr Basant Ram, Amir Chand, Sita Ram Dala, Bhagat Singh Ditchkotia, Bajaj Harnam Singh, Hakim Nishan Singh and Hakim Nurdin (See: Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 287, S Kirpal Singh.
  6. See: Baba Visakha Singh (Jiwani) p 24, Dr Jaswant Singh.
  7. Meri Aap Beeti, p 138, (unpublished), Lyallpuri.
  8. See: Editorial Note by Lyallpuri, The Akali, May 21, 1920.
  9. Merian Kujh Itihaasak Yadan, p 136, Hira Singh Darad
  10. Merian Kujh Itihaasak Yaadan, p 166, Giani Hira Singh Darad.
  11. Teja Singh Samundri, p 64, Dr Piar Singh.
  12. Sankhep Sikh Itihaas, (1469-1962), Dr Piara Singh Padam.
  13. See: S. Sohan Singh Josh, Akali Morchian Da Itihaas, Delhi, 1977, 23; Shiromani Committee Da Janam te Isde Pradhan, Qaumi Ekta, June 1975, S. Sohan Singh Josh; Akali Lehir da Sanchalak, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, S Kirpal Singh; These Kamboj People, 1979, pp 247-274; The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, pp 284-294
  14. The Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 291-292, S Kirpal Singh
  15. M. D. Vazirudin, Witness to an Era, (Article), The Tribune, sept 12, 1982
  16. Meri Aap Beeti, (unpublished), pp 91-94, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri.
  17. Autobiography, 1957, p 4, Dr Rajendra Prasad, First President of India
  18. The Akali te Pradesi, 11 October 1924, p 4
  19. Amritsar De Jhujhar Yodhe, 1984, p 188-189, Ram Singh Majitha.
  20. Amritsar De Jhujhar Yodhe, 1984, p 189, Ram Singh Majitha
  21. Merian Kujh Itihaasak Yaadana, p 1960, p 124, Hira Singh Darad
  22. These Kamboj People, 1979, p 368, K. S. Dardi.

Books and Periodicals

  • Akali Lehir Da Sanchalik, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, S Kirpal Singh.
  • Merian Kujh Itihaasak Yaadana, Singh Darad.
  • Akali Morchian Da Itihaas, S Sohan Singh Josh.
  • Meri Aap Beeti, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri (unpublished draft).
  • Witness to an era, The Tribune, Sept 12, 1982, M. D. Vazirudin .
  • Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Vol III, S Harbans Singh.
  • Gurdwara Reform Movement, and The Sikh Awakening, 1984, Teja Singh.
  • Akali, Lahore, October 8, 1920.
  • Akali Morchian Da Itihaas, 1977, Sohan Singh Josh.
  • Meri Aap Beeti, Master Sunder Singh Lyalpuri (unpublished).
  • Kamboj Itihaas, 1972, H. S Thind.
  • These Kamboj People, 1979, K. S. Dardi.
  • Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, S Kirpal Singh.
  • Amritsar De Jhujhar Yodhe, 1984, Ram Singh Majitha.
  • Teja Singh Samundari, by Dr Piar Singh.
  • Autobiography, Dr Rajendra Prasad.
  • Phulwari. Lahore, VI, No 2,3.
  • Phulwari Da Sikh Itihaas No, December 1929-January 1930.
  • Shiromini Committee da Janam te Usde Pradhan, Kaumi Ekta, June 1975, Sohan Singh Josh.

Recommended reading

  • Akali Lehir Da Sanchalik, Master Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, by S Kirpal Singh

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