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Baba Puran Singh Ji Kerichowale
From interview's with Tarawati Sofat, Nairobi
Yes, this is a photograph of Babaji. That's how we called him, 'Honoured Father'. His proper name was Puran Singh. He lived in Kericho where he had a furniture-making business. How did we meet? My late husband Baburam Sofat, who had come to Kenya when he was fifteen, worked in the Labour Department for 40 years! He would go to Kisumu and Kericho to give out pay. He met Puran Singh in Kericho and by 1942 they were fast friends. No, my husband was not a Sikh like myself, he was a Hindu Punjabi. He was an astrologer and palmist, so he was known as Jyotshiji. He had very many people coming to him. Even many Europeans. They were crazy about him. He'd be busy from morning until 6 pm. He didn't charge when he started. He wrote to his Guru (in India) about this. The Guru, Swami somebody, allowed him to charge 20/-. When my husband first met Babaji, he said to him, 'I want to read your hand.' When he saw Babaji's hand lines he said, 'You are a saint.' But nobody' else knew it.
When my husband first met him, Babaji was living quietly in Kericho. I don't know anything of his background, but here is the "Sikh Sandesh" published in London (11/8/83) after his death which tells all about him. It's written in our language Gurumukhi but I can translate it for you. It says that Babaji was born in the Punjab in 1898, that he left school when he was twelve to work as a carpenter. Then in 1916 he and his elder brother Isher Singh, with whom he'd been working, came to Kenya. He worked in Eldoret for five years and in Kitale for four. In 1930 he started his own business in Kericho, making furniture. He brought his family over (he had two sons and four daughters).
This article says he had been very religious since he was a young boy. Although he worked hard in his business, his main interest was praying. He employed many people in his workshop and he would go around and supervise them, then sit in a corner and meditate. He'd make the rounds again, then go back and meditate. He and my husband had so much in common. My husband could sit three for four hours in prayer.
When Sofatji went to Kericho he'd stay with Babaji and they'd talk about religion and things. But Babaji didn't talk like that with other people, he never tried to attract people to him. At first nobody knew be was a holy man. He looked like other people, wearing a suit for business, although at home he put on white pyjamas and a white shawl. He always kept his beard loose (and encouraged his Sikh followers to do likewise). He had amazing powers.
One time my husband went to Kericho with Babaji. They stopped at Naivasha by a big rock to eat the lunch they had carried with them. Suddenly my husband noticed a lion coming very close. Babaji spoke to the lion. 'Do you want to share our lunch?' He put some food on the ground. The lion came and took it and walked away. Sofatji, he was shaking he was so afraid, couldn't believe it.
They continued their trip. It was during the rainy season. A large tree had fallen across the road, a huge tree. The tree was shaking. Babaji went in to it, amongst the branches. The tree shifted so there was room to drive past. Sofatji said he could hardly believe his eyes.
At that time Babaji still was unknown. When he came to Nairobi, he never stayed with his own relatives because they ate meat and drank. Mainly he stayed with Jaswant Singh in the Railway quarters, but he'd also spent a day or two with us. When we built this house (in South B) Babaji laid the foundation himself. Every time he came he gave us light. You couldn't see the light but you felt it.
In 1941 Babaji came to our house. He didn't know I was expecting, and that I was scared because I thought something was wrong. (No, it wasn't my first pregnancy, it was my third.) He said, is something troubling you? Don't worry.' And he blessed me, saying 'God is great. You must pray all the time. He will look after you.' He explained that God looks after us, just the way we hold a cup that is cracked so it won't fall apart. He always spoke slowly and with just a few words, and then left you to think about what he had said.
My baby girl was born all right. But after sixteen days I became ill, and I was three months in bed. In 1941 there were no clever doctors here, no good medicines. The doctor wanted to put me under anaesthetic. Then Babaji came. 'Don't worry,' he said as he blessed me. And I got better without any operation.
Slowly people came to know he was a holy man. They talked about him and his reputation spread. We started having meetings in the South C gurdwara when he was here, so people could see him, have darshan. When Babaji realised he was known he made a society. Jagjeet Singh was the leader of our sangat. That was about 30 years ago.
We would meet twice a week for prayers. Once every six months or so we would all go up to Kericho for an 'Akand Path', three-day continual prayers. Big crowds would gather at Babaji's. He would clear out his workshop and we would have the meeting there, with prayers and singing. No one asked why you came, you were just made welcome. Everything was ready, food and bedding for everyone. Babaji's wife was helping. Baiji looked after him very well, his clothes and his food. She was a simple woman, very good hearted. She loved people, both grown-ups and children.
Babaji would sit there, talking with the people up until 11 pm. He'd be laughing and chatting. He wasn't a serious man. When you met Babaji you felt very fresh. He'd give you a great look, a great smile. Even one word from him made you feel good. He gave us his light. I think Babaji had a gift from God. God gives different gifts. (He gave me the gift of singing nicely.) Babaji had the gift of healing, of making people feel better.
According to this article he first realised he had some power when he was very young, when he cured his father of a terrible pain in his neck. But he never demonstrated his powers publicly, only when you went to him. Or he would come to you.
Around 1970 Babaji went to live with his son in London. The other son died but his son Billy still lives in Kericho. Yes, that was the one you met, his real name is Ragbeer. Babaji had a huge following in UK.
About ten years ago (May 29th 1983) Babaji had a heart attack. He said that it came from God and he accepted it. His son wanted him to go to hospital. Babaji said, This is my last day. If I go to hospital I don't come back.' His son insisted -and after two or three hours Babaji was gone.
Here we are not so many now. My husband Sofatji passed away in 1989. Jagjeet Singh, the leader of the sangat here, has also died. Babaji's followers have dispersed. We no longer have meetings at the gurdwara. Those of us who believe in him, we pray at home. He still gives us his light.
Baba Puran Singh Ji with Sangat members at the Gurdwara Makindu on Mombasa Road. The Sikhs had built a small place for worship, which was 100 miles from Nairobi and 200 miles from Mombasa (port), during the building of the railways.
Legend has it that an African who took care of the place, used to see a Sikh horseman in beautiful attire, get off the horse and pay obeisance on the steps of the Gurdwara. He saw this horseman quite a few times and told the Sikhs about it. From his description it was deduced that it could be no one other than Guru Gobind Singh. This legend is well known till this day. This Gurdwara, middle of nowhere, is visited by thousands of people of all castes and creed everyday going to and fro Nairobi and Mombasa. Langar is available 24 hours a day and the place looks like a 3 star hotel now-a-days, with rooms to stay the nights. Simply a masterpiece and a feather in the turban of the Sikhs.
Baba Ji was one of the first persons to come to this Gurdwara regularly and perform keertan and paths and eventually it caught on and now this Gurdawara can be classified amongst the top gurdwaras of the World - income and visitation vise.