Experience pin drop silence at Pakistan gurdwaras

Malaysian couple visits Lahore for the first time. The Pakistan trip was a delight. MALKEET KAUR tells us the story

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Author Malkeet Kaur and her husband at Gurdwara Rori Sahib
By Malkeet Kaur | EXPERIENCE |

If you are thinking that the gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib and Sri Kartarpur Sahib are anything like Sri Harmandar Sahib where there are thousands of devotees and tourists, and soothing kirtan playing throughout the day and night, well, put that thought right out of your head. It is pin-drop silent at the gurdwaras here in Pakistan. Some may find it a little too quiet for their liking, but it’s quite ideal for meditation or if you want to contemplate life. The caretakers that you will meet at the gurdwaras here, however, will surprise you. They are all Muslims, and they take their seva very seriously. It’s all for the love of Baba Nanak, they say in quiet reverence, in flawless Punjabi, “Baba Nanak Sārē da sanjha si, Hindu, Musalman te Sikh da si…”

They are happy to show you around and share the history of gurdwaras – all of which they know by heart. It is truly mind-boggling – a Muslim recounting to us about Guru Nanak, sharing with us historical facts that our parents or perhaps a parcharak or even an elder have at one point or another related to us while we were growing up. Of course, seeing the historical sites with the commentary in the background brings home to you the surreality of it all; that you are standing at the spot where Guru Nanak was born, where he once played, studied, taught, the tree under which he slept, where he carried out a truthful and fair deal and, finally, where he left the mortal world.

Let’s start at the beginning. When the plan to visit Pakistan first CAME UP, my husband and I were skeptical. However, we were assured that Lahore was very safe, people were warm and friendly, and, that we would be provided with a guide who would also take us to Nankana Sahib and Sri Kartarpur Sahib, both day trips. Before we knew it, we warmed up to the idea and weeks later found ourselves at the Attari-Wagah border, the land border post, which in itself was an interesting experience. We were charmingly, much to our amusement, offered cha twice by the Pakistani immigration officers. We graciously declined.

Lahoris are very friendly people, especially to Sikhs. Everywhere we went, my husband was cheerfully hailed – Sardarji, welcome to Pakistan. Strangers would come up and chat with us and politely ask for wefies. Many only really wanted to digitally immortalise themselves with the Sardarji on their smartphones. Truly, they made us feel so welcomed and proud to be Sikhs. We were told by our guide at the Lahore Fort, that the reason Sikhs are respected in Lahore is because of the turban. He put it pretty straightforward, “Sardarji…tuhadi paag di izzat haer.” He added in English, “If not for the turban, we wouldn’t know if you are a Hindu or Muslim.”

Planning the day trips, we decided to start with Guru Nanak’s birthplace and conclude at his final resting place in Kartarpur.

Our police escort – Photo: Malkeet Kaur / Asia Samachar
NANKANA SAHIB

Nankana Sahib (formerly known as ‘Rai Bhao di Talwandi’) is some 75 km west of Lahore, and it takes about an hour plus to get there. It was a smooth drive on the motorway, not much traffic; it reminded us of our highways at home. At Nankana Sahib, we visited six gurdwaras, which are all heavily guarded by gun-toting local police. At each, we had to show our passports before we were allowed entry. But the policemen are friendly and keen to have to chat, which we happily obliged. Each gurdwara has signboards in Punjabi and English, making it easy for us to know which historical shrine we are at.

We started at Gurdwara Patti Sahib (also known as Gurdwara Maulawi Patti) where Guru Nanak came to Pandit Gopal Das, Pandit Brij Lal and Maulvi Qutabdin at the age of 6 to study Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian. It was where he, in turn, taught his teachers the deeper truths about Man and God. Located between Gurdwara Janam Asthan and Gurdwara Bal Lila, this sacred shrine is a small square room with a grooved lotus dome above it and ornate masonry work on the exterior.

From there, we headed to Gurdwara Bal Lila, which is about 300 metres from Janam Asthan. This is where Guru Nanak played with his childhood friends. It has a huge langgar hall, and we could see that aside from the dry sarovar, the gurdwara is well-cared for.

Finally, we were taken to the shrine we were really eager to see – Gurdwara Janam Asthan, which is also called Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. The first sight of the large white structure inspires awe. This is where Guru Nanak was born to Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta. It is perhaps there that you’ll fully realise that you are on the very soil that the Guru once was. And in that quiet space where the only sounds you hear are of birds chirping, a sense of serenity and peace seeps into your soul.

Gurdwara Sacha Sauda – Photo: Avtaran Singh / Asia Samachar

We went inside to metha teek; the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Prakash is on the very spot Guru Nanak was born; we saw the well where Bibi Nanaki drew water for their daily use, walked around the vast complex, dipped our fingers in the sarovar and headed to the langgar hall, where they served us a simple yet scrumptious lunch.

Within the complex, there is also another Sri Guru Granth Sahib Prakash on the site of the massacre that took place in 1921. A peaceful assembly of Sikhs who had gone to take possession of the gurdwara were brutally martyred by the mahants. The tree on which leader Lachhman Singh was hung and burnt alive by the mahant thugs has been preserved.

At the Janam Asthan Gurdwara, we were provided with a police escort to the remaining shrines in the area. The escort is to reassure Sikhs who visit Nankana Sahib of their safety and well-being. Whether it is for two or a hundred Sikhs, it doesn’t matter; police escort is provided regardless. It was a little surreal to see the police vehicle careening along the narrow streets, occasionally sounding their sirens to encourage locals to get out of the way, while our driver trailed closely behind. It was all rather exciting.

From there we headed on to Gurdwara Tambu Sahib where Guru Nanak, after spending money on a group of hungry sadhus, comes back empty-handed and apprehensive of his father’s wrath, hid under the tent-like tree.

Then we went to Gurdwara Kiara Sahib. This is the site where while the Guru was meditating, his father’s cattle that he was tending roamed freely causing a peasant to complain to Rai Bular that the cattle had damaged the crop in his field, but upon inspection, there was no damage. A shrine was constructed here in acknowledgement of the miracle.

Our final stop of gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib was Gurdwara Malji Sahib. This is the spot where Rai Bular and his men noticed that while all shadows had lengthened and shifted eastward, the shade of that particular tree stood still over the sleeping Guru. There is another sakhi that says that a cobra was seen spreading its hood over the Guru’s face protecting it from the sun. The Muslim caretaker took us to see the huge tree; we walked down specially built steps to venture underneath the massive snaking branches and walked up the steps to a balcony-like area, rewarding us with a sweeping view of our surroundings. Looking down towards the enormous old tree, we wondered at the tales it could tell!

From Nankana Sahib, we made our way to Gurdwara Sri Sacha Sauda Sahib, a shrine we all know is all about the Guru carrying out a fair deal for the poor and the deserving.

Gurdwara Rori Sahib, Pakistan – Photo: Avtaran Singh / Asia Samachar

After spending the entire day at Guru Nanak’s birthplace, the following day we went to Kartarpur Sahib, the final resting place of the Guru, which is 110 km from Lahore. We decided to make a day trip from Lahore, and it took about two and a half hours by partial motorway and regular roads.

However, before that, we made a quick stop at Rori Sahib Gurdwara, Eminabad in the district of Gujrariwala. The shrine marks the place where Guru Nanak had to stay on a bed of broken stones (Rori), and it was from here he was taken prisoner by the invading armies of Babar in 1521.

Here, we were met by Pakistan Tourism officials. They wanted our feedback on the overall condition of the gurdwaras we had visited, the maintenance standards, as well as the security and our whole experience. We gave some suggestions with a strong emphasis on improving their restroom facilities. On to Kartarpur…

KARTARPUR

Guru Nanak founded Kartarpur in 1504 on the right bank of the River Ravi. After his travels for 20 years, the Guru settled in Kartarpur with his family and at the location where the Guru is believed to have died, the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib was constructed. Guru Nanak started the tradition of Guru Ka Langgar at Kartarpur. It was here that Guru Nanak gave the three principles of Kirat Karo, Naam Japo, Wand Chako, which means work hard for a livelihood, keep remembering the God and share your bounties with the world. And finally, it was also here that the Guru appointed Lehna his spiritual successor.

After 1947, Kartarpur due to the Radcliffe line fell into Pakistan, rendering the holy shrine lost to the Sikhs. However, on 9 November 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the opening of the cross-border Kartarpur Corridor. The Kartarpur Corridor is a border corridor between Pakistan and India, connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Punjab, Pakistan and Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in Punjab, India. It allows Sikhs from India to visit the Gurdwara in Kartarpur, 4.7 kilometres from the Pakistan-India border, without a visa. The corridor is open to Indian Sikhs and Overseas Citizenship of Indian (OCI) holders. Sikhs around the world, including Malaysian Sikhs without the latter, must get a Pakistan visa, which is free for Malaysians.

When you turn into the road leading towards the complex, there are several checkpoints for vehicles, but every time they see a Sardarji seated inside, the car is waved through without questions. Security is tight. Our driver cautioned us of the long queue of Pakistanis waiting to get their entry passes despite having to pay 200 rupees (free for Sikhs), but even we didn’t expect the one-mile long queue that stared us in our face. However, when the security spotted us, much to our surprise, they directed us to the front of the line, and the Pakistanis waiting their turn eagerly invited us to jump the queue. We felt that they would have been deeply offended if we had rebuffed their kind hospitality!

The first sight of the Gurdwara complex in all its white marbled glory is amazing. The complex area is huge and is filled with Pakistani Muslims walking around and enjoying themselves. Basically, it’s an outing for them.  When we entered the langgar hall, it was filled with Pakistani Muslims having a late luncheon with their families. Aside from the sevadars, we were the only Sikhs in the langgar hall.

As we strolled around the complex, we came across the tucked-away sarovar for men and women, separated by a wall. The sarovar is made of rare green Italian mosaic with a three-way filtration system, which also prevents bacteria and fungi from festering. We also came across the 500-year old, 20-foot well (Khue Sahib) made of small red bricks which Guru Nanak used to irrigate his fields.

The white and gold colour scheme of the entire complex is rather striking. The gurdwara itself, which was constructed in 1925 with donations from the Maharaja of Patiala, was repaired and restored by the government in 2004 and, in 2018, it was further expanded. Now it has a huge courtyard, a museum, library, dormitories, locker rooms spread across an area of 42 acres. Some 400 acres of land was acquired by the government to build the complex and the surrounding area.

Like most of the older gurdwaras in Pakistan, the Kartarpur Gurdwara is square with a massive dome at the top with smaller domes on all four sides. Just at the entrance is the Guru’s ‘Muslim grave’ and upon entering the gurdwara lies the ‘Hindu samadhi’. The spiral stairs lead to the Darbar Sahib where we metha teek and later meet the affable Head Granthi Gobind Singh who kindly took time to talk to us about the gurdwara.

The big view at Kartarpur Sahib – Photo: Avtaran Singh / Asia Samachar

Standing at the top-most floor of the Gurdwara sahib, you get a birds-eye view of the enormous khanda and kirpan and the hundreds of Pakistanis thronging around the complex and the corridors. The Pakistanis are very proud of Sri Kartarpur Sahib, which they declared is one of their prime minister’s greatest achievements’.

On our final day in Lahore, we decided to visit the gurdwaras in the city. They included Gurdwara Dera Sahib where Guru Arjan Dev was martyred in 1606. The gurdwara is located just outside the walled city of Lahore nearby the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Lahore Fort, and the Badshahi Mosque.

The Gurdwara Janam Asthan Sri Guru Ram Dass Ji in Chuna Mandi bazaar reminded us of the Sri Harmandar Sahib. It has the same structure and design and is built at the birthplace and childhood home of Guru Ram Das. The shrine was built atop a white marble platform, several steps above street-level.

The Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Singh Singhania (opposite Gurdwara Bahi Taru Singh) is located at the busy Naulakha bazaar, and it marks the site where 250,000 Sikh men and women lost their lives in the 18th century. It is a monument to the struggle of all ordinary people against tyranny.

After four fulfilling days in Lahore, we returned via the Attari-Wagah Border, to Amritsar.

 

RELATED STORY:

UN secretary general visits Kartarpur (Asia Samachar, 18 Feb 2020)

 

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