Surrey man shares rare book collection on Sikh and Punjabi history online in bid to ‘preserve the past’

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Raj Singh Bhandall says he is not an academic and does not claim to be an antique collector. But once he takes you into the lobby where his collection is stored, it’s hard to believe it’s true.

The walls are lined with shelves that hold hundreds of books in different colored leather jackets. An antique chessboard with pieces dressed as Mughal and English soldiers sits in one corner of the room, a workstation with crafting supplies in the other. And in the middle of the room there is a long table containing rare books on the lost Sikh Raj, Sikhism and India during the time of the East India Company of the British Empire.

Now Bhandall, 52, says his collection – which includes items he bid on and some items he received as gifts – is large enough that he wants to share each of these rare books with anyone who wants them. read or study them for free. on his website.

Canadian Sikhs with roots in Punjab can sometimes feel like they don’t belong anywhere, leading them to have an identity crisis, says Bhandall, a resident of Surrey, British Columbia.

By sharing his collection, he wants to help educate those who want to explore their complex roots.

Bhandall holding Military Memoirs of Mr. George Thomas, a rare first edition autobiography of a late 18th century Irish mercenary. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

“The younger generation, they need to understand where they come from. What are their qualities, what are their attributes?” said Bhandall.

He says he doesn’t remember how or when he started looking for rare books and other antiquities like maps, medals, swords, figurines and parliamentary papers, but his desire to understand these unbiased stories pushed him to continue.

Bhandall’s growing collection includes rare books, maps, lithographs, medals, swords and government documents. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

“I needed to understand where I was coming from. But for that, I needed to understand the geopolitical angle. When did the British arrive, when did the [Mughals] come to Punjab, how the [Sikh] kingdom was annexed. And how we were scattered in different countries, in different beautiful corners of the world,” Bhandall said.

His collection now contains some of the rarest books on the subject dating from the mid-eighteenth century.

“We have here a copy autographed by Maharaja Duleep Singh himself,” Bhandall noted, showing a book signed by the last emperor of the Sikh kingdom, dated June 18, 1856.

One of Bhandall’s many prized possessions is a book signed by the last Emperor of the Sikh Kingdom, Maharaja Duleep Singh, dated June 18, 1856. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

Bhandall’s collection includes early editions of the History of Hindostan (1768) and the Annexation of Punjab (1897), the first Punjabi-English dictionary published by Bhai Maya Singh in 1895, a glossary of judicial and fiscal terms of the Indian parliament printed in 1855, and a rare volume of Guru Granth Sahibthe Sikh scripture, which was a personal copy of Dr. Kuldip Gill, a BC-based social anthropologist.

Bhandall asks anyone who has rare books or old heirlooms to save them and keep them as a piece of personal history.

Its goal is to preserve what can be preserved and possibly open a free museum somewhere on the west coast.

Bhandall’s ultimate goal is to share his growing collection with the public by opening a physical museum on the West Coast. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

His reasons are simple: “So that when we leave physically, the people who will come after us, the generation after us, that they look at us as we have brought something to this great land, and that they also know our history, where we come from where.”


CBC British Columbia has launched a bureau in Surrey to help tell your stories with journalist Kiran Singh. Story ideas and tips can be sent to [email protected].

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