DAYS GONE BY: The Indian spiritual leader who visited Lake County

By Bruce Micinski

Lake County Historical Society

In 1955, one of India’s great spiritual leaders came to America for the first time to speak words of peace, love and wisdom. On July 18, 1955, his holiness Kirpal Singh, a 61-year-old religious leader left Louisville, Kentucky on a 500 mile journey by car to Baldwin and Idlewild. Singh’s journey started in Washington, D.C. and ended in San Francisco, California.

Singh was a global member of Ruhane Satang, known in ancient India as Para-vidya or the science of realized truth. The venerable bearded master did not preach a new religion. He preached a love and knowledge of one’s inner self would increase a love and understanding of all people of all creeds.

Accompanying him on his trip was Princess Devinder bir Narendra, daughter of the Maharaja of Jindear, Dehli, India. Also in the two-car caravan was Madam Hardevi, a woman who was once blind, but was cured by Singh. Escorting them were T.S. Khanna of the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. and Dr. Donna Kelly and her husband who were the American representatives from California. T. S. Khanna’s wife and their two sons also made the trip.

Singh, a retired British civil servant in India believed that man himself is a temple of God. So he built no churches, collected no fees and never accepted any gifts.

Upon arrival in Idlewild, Master Singh was the guest of Samuel and Esther Benjamin and Helen Thompson, Samuel’s mother-in-law. The Benjamins were well known in Idlewild. Samuel came to the area in the 1930s as a mess cook at the Baldwin CCC camp No. 1691-C. Samuel was born in 1879 in Jamaica. In his later years Samuel and his wife owned the Home Site Realty Company in Idlewild and were one of the largest land developers in the area. For those local people who knew Duane Benjamin from Grand Oaks Nursing Home, Samuel and Esther were his parents. Helen Thompson was also a land developer and later would become the editor of the first Idlewild newspaper,

"The Challenger."

For Master Singh, his stay at the Benjamin home would be a first. To put it in the Master Singh’s words, this was the first time in America he was guest of colored initiates. A large crowd greeted him upon his arrival in Idlewild.

On the morning of July 20, 1955, the master gave meditation. In the evening he gave a talk on the outer aspect of man. Newspaper reporters were on hand and took many photographs. A musical recital took place in the Benjamin drawing room. It was a hot, humid night, but all in attendance admired how softly he spoke. His words seemed as if they were sweeping within, washing away all pain and leaving you refreshed. The recital was attended by admirers from Scottville, Idlewild and Baldwin. Mrs. Robert Leeson sang "Great peace have they which love thy law" by James H. Rogers. Leeson was accompanied by her mother, Ellen Wilkinson, on piano. Madam Hardvesi responded with an Indian religious song and the entire group sang "God bless America."

The next day, Samuel Benjamin took the master for a drive in the countryside showing him the beauty of Lake County. On Friday, the Maharaja filmed Yaiji, Donna Kelley and Khanna. This film was sent to India showing the master under a shade tree talking to those in Idlewild.

On Saturday, July 23, the party left for Chicago to stay at the Parkway Hotel. The Benjamins cried tears of joy when Singh left.

Master Singh would write many books and he came back to America on several others occasions. He passed away Aug. 21, 1974 in New Delhi, India. It is unknown why a man of such importance would spend so much time in Idlewild. With further research the answers may be found.