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Memorial to honour Siva Singh

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September 14, 2017

Siva Singh performing Australia's first Akhand Path in 1920.

A memorial proposed for the Botanical Gardens could help transform Benalla into a hub for Sikh people across Australia to make a pilgrimage.

The memorial, which honours past long-term Benalla resident Siva Singh, has been approved in principal by Benalla Rural city Council.

In December 1920 Siva conducted the first Akhand Path — the continuous cover-to-cover reading of the Sikh holy book Siri Guru Granth Sahib — in Australia at his property on Baddaginnie Rd.

The ceremony, which has enormous significance for all Sikhs, was held to honour Benalla man Herman Singh, who had died that year.

It was conducted in December to coincide with an influx of Indian hawkers who would come to Benalla each year to renew their licences.

Australian Indian Historical Society historian Len Keller said the ceremony was important for many reasons, but one significant fact was that it marked the first time the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was brought to Australia.

‘‘The Sri Guru Granth was brought to Benalla from India especially for the ceremony by a man named Baba Ran,’’ Mr Keller said.

‘‘Sikhs believe the knowledge of all the gurus have gone into that book and it’s a living part of their life.’’

Bringing the book to Australia was an achievement in itself as Sikh beliefs dictate that it must be carried above the head, be accompanied by at least three people who must remain barefoot, and it requires its own bed at night.

Erecting a monument to the first man to conduct an Akhand Path in Australia will see Sikhs from across the world visit Benalla to pay their respects.

The proposed memorial will consist of two brass plaques attached to a rock from the local area designed to fit naturally into its surroundings.

The first plaque will have an image of the ceremony conducted in 1920, and the second will feature a brief description of Siva Singh, his significance to the area, and some information on the Akhand Path.

Siva Singh moved to Benalla in the 1890s and owned several properties in the area; he lived here until his death in 1955 aged 84.

He was considered the holy man for all Sikh people in the area and was held in high regard by the entire community.

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