Guru Granth Sahib in Australia
This stunning image (above) taken in Benalla, Victoria on 16 December 1920 is potentially the first Darbar (Royal Court) of the Guru Granth Sahib in Australia captured on camera.
Below, we have compiled articles which mention the above "bush Divaan (session/sitting)" or any other references to the Guru Granth Sahib in early Australia. One of these articles suggest that the first Guru Granth Sahib may have arrived on the shores of Australia much earlier than 1920 (in 1895) and anecdotal evidence suggests that it may have been even earlier than that. These photos and articles provide an extraordinary insight into the lives of the early Australian Sikhs and their intention to make Australia their home by ensuring they had the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh spiritual guide) close to them at all times.
AN UNIQUE CEREMONY
A ceremony which, it was stated, was performed for the first time in Australia took place yesterday at the residence of Siva Singh, situated at the Reef Hills, about four miles from Benalla. In January last a Sikh named Hernam Singh died at Wangaratta, and the usual custom is for the friends of a deceased Sikh to hold a ceremony seventeen days afterwards, when prayers arc offered up for him. In this case, owing (o) its being necessary to procure a Sikh Bible from India, the condition as to time could not be complied with. It was therefore decided to postpone it until this time of the year, when the annual hawk(e)rs' licensing courts are held, and the Sikhs from all around the district would be gathered together. Yesterday all the Sikhs from Albury, Wodonga. Chiltern, towns on the Yarrawonga line, and some even from Melbourne, were assembled at the residence of Siva Singh, the number totalling about 30.
Yesterday Iser Singh, the son of the deceased, and Gooram Singh, the brother, offered up prayers on heir deceased relative's b(e)half, the former discharging ihc priest's duties. A rough bush shrine was erected in front of the door of the building, consisting of four posts decorated with gum boughs and on top was suspended a canopy, in the foiefront of which were the Union Jack and the Australian flag, one of the visitors observing 'That flag is good enough for us.' Suspended from the roof of the canopy were several red paper bells and red and white rosettes. Underneath was an improvised reading desk covered with white linen, and on which was placed the Bible, a very handsome gilt-edged morocco bound volume printed in the characters of the Sikh language. Sitting at the desk, with his hands on the open book, was Iser Singh, leading a mournful chant, in which the others, who were assembled in a row on either side, joined. Another stood a little to one side immediately behind Iser Singh, waving a wand. In the front of the desk was spread a white cloth, on to which offerings were thrown, each man giving according to his means. The sum of £31 10/9 was deposited here, and this will be sent to India shortly as a contribution to the funds of the 'Holy Church' there. At the conclusion of the ceremony photos of the group were taken by Mr. Howship. and copies will be forwarded to relatives of the deceased in India. The simplicity of the scene was very striking.
Text from article contained in the newspaper 'Benalla Standard' in Victoria on Friday 17 December 1920
Photo (men standing)
Newspaper articles mentioning the Guru Granth Sahib in Australia
What is the importance of the Guru Granth Sahib in a Sikh's life?
Original images (for download and use)
Please note that these images have been provided by the University of Melbourne Archives from the W.J. Howship collection. Permission should be sought directly from the University of Melbourne should you wish to publish or use for any other purpose. All use of these images should be appropriately referenced such as:
"A group of Indian men, possibly Sikhs, outside a timber cottage at Reef Hills near Benalla," W. J. Howship collection, University of Melbourne Archives, 1988.0137.00704