Ilford's Sikh community pen tribute to 'inspirational' leader Baba Ji

Baba Ji

Sevadars from the Ilford Gurdwara have penned a poignant tribute to their inspirational leader and figurehead Baba Ji, to whom they bid farewell on January 29. - Credit: Ilford Gurdwara

The Sikh community of Ilford have penned a poignant tribute to Baba Ji, an "inspirational" leader who brought the area its first Gurdwara.

On Friday January 29, the Sikh Community bid farewell to Sri Maan Baba Sant Partap Singh Ji (Rara Sahib Wale), also known as Baba Ji.

Sevadars - volunteers - from the Gurdwara tell the story of "a great, kind and gentle soul", whose religious leadership over the past 30 years saw him garner recognition, not only in Western Europe but all over the World.

Baba Ji's greatest local legacy can be seen in Ilford's High Road. The Gurdwara which stands proudly would not be there but for the leader's efforts. 

To learn more about the man who brought this new dawn to Ilford's Sikh community, it's important to understand what brought him here. 

Baba Ji arrived in England in 1991 after spending 22 years in Rara Sahib, India. There, he devoted his life to serving the congregation under the guidance and teachings of the true saints, Sri Maan Sant Baba Isher Singh Ji and Sri Maan Sant Baba Kishan Singh Ji (Rara Sahib Wale). 

In that period, Baba Ji strengthened his devotion to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings of Nishkam Seva, which implore the importance of serving others without any personal agenda or benefit. 

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It was the dedication to this tenet that went on to define Baba Ji's religious leadership, which began to take shape when he - together with the local community - acquired the old vacant Labour Hall in High Road. 

The building was converted to become the first Sikh Gurdwara of Ilford, which, in the words of the Sevadars, "stands as a great institution for promoting the importance of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s mission of equality and selfless service". 

Five years after his arrival in England, under Baba Ji’s leadership the Gurdwara opened on April 11 1996 to celebrate Vaisakhi, which marks the Sikh new year. 

The listed building - admired for its beautiful architecture - continued to grow in stature under the stewardship of the "inspirational" figurehead. A growing congregation at the Gurdwara meant an expansion become necessary, with Baba Ji leading the effort.

An expanded Gurdwara building reopened in 2005, giving the Sikh community of Ilford a larger space in which to congregate.

The Gurdwara is a reflection of Baba Ji's teachings, the strength of which ensures his legacy will forever live on within its walls. 

He attached particular importance to offering Guru Ka Langar (free food) to all, without discrimination. The Gurdwara reflects this: it's open to all and offers Guru Ka Langar to all - seven days a week.

Baba Ji was also known to take part, as per the words of the Sevadars: "He also participated in serving langar and was well known for making his 'special' tea for the congregation on Saturday mornings.

"The Gurdwara has been a lifeline to many facing difficult times and Baba Ji offered his support and guidance with open arms. He was a truly humble role model for many."

Education was also key for Baba Ji, a priority which drove the Gurdwara to acquire the Ilford County Court building in 2013.

The Buckingham Road building, now known as Karamsar Centre, is used by Karamsar Punjabi School for Sikh religious education.

Teaching more than 400 students across different levels - from beginners to GCSE and A-Level - the site embodies Baba Ji, say the Sevadars: "Baba Ji used to emphasise the importance of Gurmukhi (Punjabi) for our young generation so that they can be fully versed in reciting the holy scriptures."

The leader's belief in the importance of Guru Ka Langar was seen in his work during the Covid pandemic, where he was involved in giving food to those most impacted, including NHS keyworkers.

He helped charities, hospitals and individuals (locally and globally), but true to his faith, he did so quietly: "Baba Ji practiced what he preached, doing seva without promoting it (Nishkam Seva), as he believed this would not be in the true spirit of selfless seva."

The Sevadars concluded: "Sri Maan Baba Sant Partap Singh Ji made a huge difference to everyone’s lives he touched. Promoting the three Sikh principles; reciting God's name, earning an honest living and lastly sharing and caring.

"Encouraging everyone to self-reflect and better themselves in every which way. Baba Ji was a true global leader who had many qualities and anyone who met Baba Ji once would have an urge to return time and again.  

"Baba Ji departed for the heavenly abode but the love he showered on many will be forever admired. He will be missed but his message and mission lives on."