Singh, Sadhu Sundar

views updated


SINGH, SADHU SUNDAR (1889–c. 1929), Christian mystic known for his attempt to "Indianize" Christianity. Sundar Singh was born to a wealthy Sikh family on 3 September 1889. After converting to Christianity, he devoted his life to mystic preaching, trying as a saffron-robed sadhu (Hindu holy man) to present Christianity in a uniquely Indian form.

He studied at a Presbyterian Mission School, and there he first encountered the Christian faith, appealing to God to show him the "way of salvation." He said that the room was flooded with light, "and I saw the form of the Lord Jesus Christ." It was the turning point of his life. Though his family made every effort to dissuade him, he was baptized in Simla on 3 September 1905. Thirty days later, he decided to take up the saffron robes and mendicant life of a sadhu, preaching wherever he went.

In 1909 Sadhu Sundar Singh was admitted to St. John's Divinity College, Lahore; because he considered religion a matter of the heart, not the head, he left after eight months. Sadhu Sundar Singh has been described as a Christocentric mystic. By adopting the lifestyle of a sadhu, he was attempting to "Indianize" Christianity. He told the story of a Brahman passenger on a train over-come by heat and dehydration. At the station he was offered water in a white cup. He refused, saying, "I will not break my caste." When the water was brought to him in his own brass vessel, he drank it willingly. It is the same with the "Water of Life," said Sundar Singh. "Indians do need the Water of Life, but not in a European cup" (Streeter and Appasamy, p. 228).

For several years he traveled across North India, from village to village, preaching. His fame spread far and wide. In 1918 he visited South India and subsequently went on several trips around the world. After his second trip to Europe, however, his health deteriorated, and he was last seen on 18 April 1929, setting off on a journey across the Himalayas and Tibet.

Many of Sadhu Sundar Singh's sermons and other writings have been published and translated into Indian languages. These include Reality and Religion; The Search after Reality; Meditations; and Soul-Stirring Messages. He spoke in colorful and descriptive language, coupled with appealing anecdotes. His name is still a household word in thousands of Christian Indian homes.

Graham Houghton

See alsoChristian Impact on India, History of


Davey, Cyril J. The Yellow Robe: The Story of Sadhu Sundar Singh. London: SCM Press, 1957.

Heiler, Friedrich. The Gospel of Sadhu Sundar Singh. 1927. Reprint, Delhi: ISCPK, 1989.

Parker, Mrs. E. Sadhu Sundar Singh. London: Christian Literature Society, 1948.

Streeter, B. H., and A. J. Appasamy. The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion. Delhi: Mittal Publications, 1987.