Where Guru Nanak once prayed, rubble heap tells a tragic tale

Pakistan has 345 standing Sikh shrines, over 100 of them directly connected to the first six Gurus. But only 22 are functional, and two collapsed in rains this year, reports Times Special

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Rori Sahib: One of the gurdwaras that crumbled (Source: Norshaba Shezad / Times)

By Times Special | Pakistan |

Not far from the Wagah-Attari border near Amritsar, in a village in Pakistan’s Lahore district, a gurdwara marks the spot Guru Nanak once used for prayer, sitting among pebbles and rocks with his companion Bhai Mardana. It was built in the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But Sri Rori Sahib Gurdwara – ‘rori’ is Punjabi for pebbles – no longer stands at the site as the important symbol of Sikh faith that it is. Visit the place now and all you’d find is the portion of a wall and signs of the decades of neglect that finally led to the structure coming down in torrential rain on July 10 this year.

Sri Rori Sahib is a symbol of the condition in which numerous other gurdwaras find themselves today in Pakistan. For while the gurdwaras at Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib, and Kartarpur Sahib are well-known and thronged by people from around the world, the majority of the gurdwaras in the Pakistani countryside have long cried out for care and attention. Among these are scores of gurdwaras associated with the first six Sikh Gurus.

“At present, there are 345 gurdwaras standing in Pakistan, of which 135 are directly connected to the first six Gurus. But at present, only 22 are functional. The rest have been left to their own fate,” said Lahore-based Noshaba Shehzad, an independent researcher.

Need For Ground Support

Sri Rori Sahib was not the only gurdwara to have crumbled in the monsoons. Gurdwara Daftu Sahib, in Daftu village of Kasur district, caved in on July 23. This was where the revered 17th century Sufi poet Baba Bulleh Shah is said to have taken refuge from Islamic fundamentalists. Bulleh Shah’s compositions and sermons are well-loved and popular among people on both sides of the border.

And it is the people themselves who need to be made a central part of any efforts to save these gurdwaras, feel some experts.

READ ALSO: Amardeep’s burning passion sparks second book on Sikh legacy in Pakistan

“Spreading awareness about the secular narrative of Sikh traditions on which these monuments were built is imperative. A sense of belonging has to be nurtured in ground zero, the sooner the better. I strongly reject the idea of simply relying on the Sikh diaspora to pump in money for the restoration of these buildings without local support,” says Dalvir Pannu, the US-based author of ‘The Sikh Heritage – Beyond Borders’.

“Lahore is the cradle of Sikh history, but we’ve not been able to preserve it. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) lacks teeth and only gets active during festivals. Its rights are also limited, so there is little scope for taking up the task of restoring historically relevant properties, including the gurdwaras lying in a dilapidated condition,” said Dr Kalyan Singh, the first Sikh professor in Pakistan since 1947. He teaches at the Government College University (GCU), Lahore.

A part of the problem has to do with the minuscule population of Pakistani Sikhs. “Minorities in Pakistan are too small numerically to enjoy any kind of influence. The Sikh population here is just about 20,000,” the GCU professor said. Kirpa Singh, an ETPB executive board member, agrees. “It is true that a little over 20 gurdwaras are functional in Pakistan. The reason is that the size of the Sikh population here is not enough to take care of the hundreds of gurdwaras scattered across the rural belt of Pakistan’s Punjab. At present, the community is mainly concentrated around Peshawar, Lahore, and a few other places,” he said.

For the full story, go here.

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