Born June 12, 1916; Died: September 22, 2012/
Mata-ji Panjab Kaur Rakhra, who has died aged 96, was a leading figure in the Sikh community in Glasgow and instrumental in setting up the first free-standing spiritual and cultural centre for Sikhs in Scotland.
She left her home village in the state of Panjab in India while it was in the violent throes of the struggle for independence and in later years would recall how she would venture alone into farmlands looking to help injured people. There were times when her family would conceal Muslims evading capture from Hindus and Sikhs hell-bent on retribution.
Her husband, Sardar-ji Kehar Singh Rakhra, had travelled to Britain before Mata-ji and by the time they were reunited, they had not seen each other for 13 years. For Mata-ji, her early days in Glasgow in the 1950s and 60s were solitary and lonely.
There were few familiar faces and her husband was away for many months, forced to try to make a living as a travelling salesman. As the main provider to his household and his extended family in India, Sardar Kehar Singh had left home at 15 to pursue a career as a master tailor. So it was appropriate that he and his wife should establish a factory manufacturing and retailing clothes for women and children.
Together, the couple supported and sponsored more than 200 prospective Panjabi migrants. On arrival in the UK, food, clothing and shelter were provided and sometimes it was necessary for the new migrants to remain in the Rakhra household until suitable employment and lodgings could be found.
During those early days of struggle, Mata-ji balanced her hectic work life with that of being a mother to five demanding youngsters, amongst them a set of twins. She had seven children altogether, two of which predeceased her. She also became a matriarch to the burgeoning Sikh community in Glasgow. She would offer advice, support, and occasionally arbitration would be tentatively provided to newlyweds and new settlers.
The Sikh rituals and practices pertaining to birth, death and marriage were approached with a self-effacing pragmatism and authority. Her constant reply would be "God is the provider and the ultimate arbitrator". Her God, whom she humbly served, was a constant factor in her life.
In the 1960s, Mata-ji and Sardar-ji, together with other members of the community, instituted the first free-standing Sikh Gurdwara in Scotland. For Sikhs, the Gurdwara is viewed as a central hub of their religious and social activity. All who attend tacitly share an equality of status and purpose, praying together and likewise partaking langar, which is a communal meal.
As a natural leader, Mata-ji was calm and decisive, particularly in the face of adversity and although she was a diminutive woman, with limited spoken English, she would, by sheer force of personality and aptitude, manage to transcend barriers and divisions.
She was a consummate hostess and renowned equally for her culinary skills.
She remained charitable to the end and regularly withdrew an amount from her weekly pension to donate to her chosen charities. Her grandchildren also benefited from her thoughtful generosity. Without an academic education and in an alien culture, dominated by males in all strata of societies, she responded to the challenges sent to her with enormous courage, dignity and intelligence.
She is survived by five of her children. Her husband died in 1999.
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