Memorials erected, historical heritage erased

As the world prepares to celebrate Guru Gobind Singh's Gurpurab, BHUPINDER SINGH looks at memorials built destroying historical evidence and perspective

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Vibhaur, located about 18Km from Anandpur Sahib – Photo: Bhupinder Singh
By Bhupinder ‘Bo’ Singh | OPINION |

Many a times while reading Gurbani, I wonder about the situation, circumstances and place the very words I am reading now were uttered by Guru Sahib. Even the search for historical evidence becomes futile as those evidences have not been preserved. Many of these historical locations have been left behind during partition; now have a limited functionality cum accessibility, as they are now “Evacuee Property” in Pakistan. But when I heard about the place where Guru Gobind Singh Ji composed the Bani of Chaupai Sahib, I always wanted to visit this place known as Vibhaur Sahib. I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the auspicious place on 25 October 2016. Guru Ji’s “Charan choh” made this place auspicious and his reciting the bani of Chaupai Sahib has immortalized it. Chaupai Sahib was composed by Guru Ji during his stay here about a year before Amrit Sanchar in 1699 CE.

This bani is truly significant as it is part of our daily prayer and also part of banis recited during preparation of Amrit. This bani is a supplication to Almighty, yet one can feel that Guru Ji is having heart to heart conversation with God. The words coming out of Guru Ji’s mouth are a word portrait of state of his mind. The title of the composition can be translated as:

Kabiyo = Poet

Bach = Words

Benti = Prayer

Chaupai = Four line verse (Quartet)

The poetic composition starts as a supplication that asks for blessings and protection from God. Then Guru Ji prays that may all my desires be fulfilled, and obtain God’s Love and Mediation. The heart’s desire is that my heart may be at your feet, and request nurture me as your own. Now, if we can visualize the natural environment and the surrounding ambience that spawned that state of mind. Fortunately for us we can go there and touch the rocks, hills, trees that have the privilege of being the environment that created this unique composition, a conversation with God. Additionally by going there we can also breathe that same fresh mountain air that gave birth to Chaupai Sahib. That place is Vibhaur, about 18 kilometers from Anandpur Sahib in Nangal, Punjab.

The natural beauty, the mountain air, the undulating hills and valleys makes one’s jaw drop in awe and wonder. The spell binding natural beauty calms the mind, sooths the nerves. Only one question kept popping in my head, where is the spot where Guru wrote this magnificent composition? Imagine the meditative pose of Guru Ji, the leaves quivering in the blowing cool breeze and with a pen in hand Guru Ji having the conversation with God. The curiosity and inquisitiveness to witness the serenity of the spot turned into disappointment, when I discovered that the special spot has been replaced with a marble edifice in the name of a befitting memorial. So, in the name of creation of a memorial the serenity, auspiciousness, natural beauty, historical marker has been destroyed only to be replaced with brick, concrete and marble structure.

The most Gurudwaras buildings are look-alike in terms of architectural concept, facade and appearance. While the efforts of organizations and individuals spearheading the efforts to build a fitting memorial in the midst of mountains are really appreciated, but it saddens my heart to say that we have robbed history, from our future generation. Whereas this visit could turn back the time machine taking us to experience the times of Guru Sahib, now has become a visit to another look alike Gurudwara, but with a historical association. The pain was deeply felt in the heart as to why are robbing ourselves of our own history? Just the thought of us robbing our own future generation brought the tears down my cheek. We cannot blame anybody else for the perpetual loss that we are creating in name of marble and gold edifice. We as a community have a collective failure in preserving and nurturing our history. We have failed our future generations. The piece of history that could inspire generations, fire the flames of faith has become just another Gurudwara building. Sometimes the structural integrity of the original may be in jeopardy or the structure may be in a severely dilapidated condition that the original cannot be salvaged. In such a situation an exact replica using suitable construction material of the original can be created, thus history preserved.

If we look at the deeds of Gurus we can see they not only preserved their own bani, but also compiled it in a fashion that it is preserved for posterity unaltered. Yet we as the followers of the Gurus cannot even preserve the spot where the history was created. Our Gurus were builders of cities, townships, communities, and we cannot even preserve the spots associated with our Gurus. Are we really followers of our Gurus? What a pathetic state? Our Gurus have uttered bani in different situations, different places and addressed varied issues/subjects. Yet, we hardly have any historical evidence of the place and the context in which the particular bani was uttered.

The saddest part is wherever we have a solid historical legacy of the place where the bani was uttered; we have erased it in the name of preservation. Our history is young only 550 years old, yet we have failed preserve it. We cannot claim that historical setting of single place has been preserved. Every place associated with a confirmed historical setting has been decimated and replaced with a Gurudwara building of marble and gold. It is undoubtedly a reflection of reverence, faith and desire to preserve the legacy. Yet when we visit these places, we feel the vacuum created by the loss of historical evidence and context. Most of these buildings have an architectural consistency, but these are lacking the touch of geographical landscape blending, and use of local construction material of the times to make them authentic. Today as we visit these historical places we will notice that the memorials are relatively a new construction and they do not project the historical relevance or let the history talk to us. The marble and gold structure is gagging the historical surroundings from speaking to us directly. The plants, trees, soil, rocks and the topography that witnessed the history have been erased to make room for memorial. The memorials may not be able to talk, yet they can convey a lot to the visitors and pilgrims, which has been deprived. As the experience that they absorbed then, if preserved would have talked to our hearts. That transfer of experience would have enriched our experience there, and would have nurtured our commitment and growth. Alas, we have inflicted enough damage upon ourselves in terms of lost historical legacy and destroyed relics which can’t be replaced.

It is truly a sad commentary on the psyche of the Sikhs, who have failed to preserve the history associated with their Gurus. We can start from the birth place of our first Guru in Nanakana Sahib, to the resting place of tenth Guru in Nanded and we cannot find any original historical buildings left. We can extend the sad story to include the legacy of four Sahibzades of Guru Gobind Singh.

If the others have tried to rob us of our legacy we could blame them, but when we have spearheaded, contributed towards the lost legacy, who should be blamed? We do not have anybody else to blame. It is time for us the wake up and change our psyche and approach on modernization and preservation of historical relics. Let us refrain from destroying the historical evidence and geographical flavor in the name of a befitting memorial. There is room for both to co-exist, where the preservation and modernization can complement each other. The befitting memorial is welcome addition but it should not be over the ruined historical evidence.

Moving forward we should change our approach and create a befitting memorial where the central piece and main attraction is historical evidence and relics. There are many museums around the world where the settings are modern yet the history has been preserved or recreated as an exact replica of the times. The flavor of the times has been recaptured for enriching our experience of the visit the place. We cannot enhance the beauty of the original structure by deploying modern architectural techniques, and in the process deprive ourselves of historical relevance. Let us make a change our approach and become preserver of history and not those who over saw the destruction of historical evidence.

 

Bhupinder ‘Bo’ Singh, Houston. Born in Bhamo, Myanmar, he now lives in Houston, US, where he runs a manufacturing company formed with his son. A mechanical engineer by training, he has authored a number of books, including Connecting with the Master – A collection of essays on topics related to Sikhism (2006) and In Bully’s Eyes – An Illustrated Children’s book on Bullying (2019).

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I agree. Veer Jees have very beautifully articulated the importance of preserving the landscape where these precious historical events have occurred.

    I am happy that at least at Sun Sahib gurdwara the oval hole is still preserved and though marble adorned. I could pass through the hole and may have felt a deep sense gratitude that the Guru Ji’s followers had felt at the time.

    We may have very little history left that has not been adorned by marble. We somehow need to escalate this to the organizations and bodies and then build the gurdwaras at such locations to do build a gurdwara at some distance but preserve the landscape of the original locations of history. Let the original fragrance of the air be still there.

    Waheguru Ang Sung.

  2. Bhupinder: great article written with full emotion. You write so well that We felt your pain like telling us a story face to face. Also the ideology described is outside the box.

  3. I can’t agree more. I remember visiting the Sun Sahib Gurdwara in Basarkay in the ’60s. The original hut the Guru sat in was no more and in its place, a huge Gurdwara erected. The original opening in the wall was replaced by a marble covered oval hole. At the time, one saving grace was that the forest surrounding the Gurdwara was still intact. Now, alas, even that is gone, replaced by a flower garden and lawn. What a shame. What kind of people are these who have absolutely no desire to preserve our historical sites? Could the Gurdwara not have been made by the side of the historical site?

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