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A visit to the abode of Guru Nanak: Shiraz Hassan

January 19, 2013

Guest post by SHIRAZ HASSAN

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Photographs by Shiraz Hassan

You can divide a piece of land but you cannot divide a belief. This was my first impression when I reached Kartarpur, a historic and sacred place, located just three kilometres away from the Indian border in the north-eastern city of Narowal, in Pakistani Punjab.

My journey started from Lahore and it was one of the most exciting journeys of my life. As I travelled, I saw  lush green rice fields on either side,and wondered why I had undertaken this journey. It was only when I reached Kartarpur that I got the answer.

Kartarpur is the city of Baba Guru Nanank Ji, the founder of Sikh religion. He is equally respected by Muslims and Hindus. Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartapur is about 100-km from Lahore and 180 Km, from Nanakana Sahib via Lahore. Before the Partition of 1947 it was part of district Gurdaspur but later became part of District Sialkot. The gurudwara is located next to a small village called Kothay Pind on the west bank of the Ravi River. The original abode established by Guru Nanak was washed away in floods.

I reached Narowal in some two and half hours. The road from Narowal to Shakargarh sub-district, where Darbar Kartarpur Sahib is located, is a newly-built double road so I reached there in half an hour.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is also called Dera Nanak Baba. There is a nearby railway connection which is named ‘Darbar Sahib Kartarpur’ on the Lahore-Chak Amru line. On the Indian side it is opposite to: Village & Post Office, Police Station Dera Baba Nanak, Tehsil Batala, Distt. Gurdaspur Dera Baba Nanak is 54 Km from Amritsar, 35 km from Batala and 39 Km from Gurdaspur

The gurudwara is located next to a small village called Kothay Pind on the west bank of the Ravi River. The original abode established by Guru Nanak was washed in floods. The present gurdwara was originally built at a cost of Rs.1, 35, 600, from funds donated by Sardar Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala. It was repaired by the government of Pakistan in 1995 incurring expenditure in millions of rupees. It has a spacious and beautiful building.

The gurudwara at Kartarpur can be seen from another gurudwara located across the border in the historical town of Dehra Baba Nanak in India

From the main road to the village where this gurdwara is located, upon turning towards Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, one is welcomes by beautiful green fields, children milling about, and slow-moving bullock carts, mud houses, tube-wells drawing water to irrigate fields… and then the white structure of the gurudwara standing silently amid green fields under the blue sky. This was the sight I may never forget. It felt like a dove sitting amidst the green, or a father standing tall, looking out forlost sons.

Unlike other Sikh shrines in Pakistan, this gurdwara is of its kind, especially because of its scenic location. According to Sikh history, Kartarpur is the historical place where Baba Guru Nanak Ji departed from this world on 23rd Assu, Samvat 1596 (22nd Sept. 1529 AD).

The history of Kartarpur is fascinating. According to Sikh historians in the year 1520, Mughal king Babar attacked India. His troops slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians. Women and children were taken captive and all their property looted at Amiabad. Guru Nanak Sahib challenged this act of barbarity with strong words. He was arrested and released, shortly after Babar realised his high-handedness. All the prisoners were released, too.

After the release, Guru Nanak Sahib settled down at Kartarpur city which was founded by him in 1522 and spent the rest of his life there (1522-1539). There started daily kirtan and langar (free food for the poor) was introduced. Knowing that the end was drawing near, Guru Nanak Sahib, after testing his two sons and some followers, installed Bhai Lehna Ji (Guru Angad Sahib) as the second Nanak in 1539, and after a few days passed on to Sachkhand on 22nd September, 1539.

A samadhi in the Hindu tradition lies in the gurudwara and a grave according to Muslim traditions lies on the premises. His Hindu followers wanted to cremate the remains as per Hindu tradition, while his Muslim followers wanted to bury the body as per Islamic traditions. Nanak brokered a compromise by suggesting that each group should place a garland of flowers beside his body, and those whose garland remained fresh after three days could dispose of his body according to their tradition. It is said that the next morning, upon raising the cloth under which the Guru’s body lay, only the flowers were found. The Hindus cremated their flowers whereas the Muslims buried theirs.

There are historical references that Guru was against division of society on the lines of Muslims and Hindus (and Sikhs). He insisted that both Muslims and Hindus should observe the values of the respective faiths and that leading truthful life was important. Muslims treated him like a ‘murshad’ and the Hindus called him guru.

Sikhs believe that since Guru Nanak never tolerated divisions on the lines of religions, Kartarpur can’t be divided. In 1947 Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew the boundary-line between India and Pakistan. According to June 3, 1947 division plan the whole of Gurdaspur had gone to Pakistan. That meant Kartarpur going deep in the Pakistani territory. But the plan didn’t work and had to be amended. Now the District of Gurdaspur was itself divided near Kartarpur, with two temples on the Pakistani side and one in the Indian.

The plan worked but Kartarpur remained abandoned for 56 years and wild shrubs grew around its building, much like the political animosity between the two countries.

Later, the Indian and Pakistani governments reached an agreement to build a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib, about 4 kilometer distance, sometime in 1998, in order to enable the Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan without visa or passport. But there has been no progress in that regard and both sides are to be blamed.

Sikh devotees often gather near the border fence and offer prayers while looking at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. The Border Security Force has specially constructed a ‘Darshan Sthal’ by providing binoculars to the visiting devotees for a clear view of the gurdwara.

A visa free corridor for pilgrims on both sides could be a corridor leading to peace between India and Pakistan.

As a Punjabi poet Surjit Patar has said:

“Kal Waris Shah nu wandea si Ajj Shiv Kumar di waari hai

Oh zakham tuhanu bhull vi gaye Je navean di hore tiari hai”

(Yesterday we divided Waris Shah, today it is the turn of Shiv Kumar Batalvi, have you forgotten the old wounds that you are looking for more, anew?)

(Shiraz Hassan is a journalist in Islamabad.)

Previously by Shiraz Hassan in Kafila:

Also by Shiraz Hassan:

Related posts from Kafila archives:

7 Comments leave one →
  1. asad mufty permalink
    January 19, 2013 7:23 AM

    Absence from the country (Punjab) of my birth,I felt out of place every where and at home no wwere.I am a punjab’s sun as son and there is only one Punjab,there were naver two…..Masjid Dhaa De,Mandir Dhaa De,Dhaa De Jo Kuch Dhenda…Par Kissi Da Dil Na Daveen Rab Dilla Wich Rehanda. asad mufty (amsterdam)

  2. Rachna permalink
    January 19, 2013 11:46 AM

    A corridor of peace suggestion and three stories woven into it. This is an engaging, meaningful narrative which sends out a strong message. We need more such articles to be written. Beautiful slideshow of pics–it was a great idea to use a slideshow.

  3. Pritam Singh permalink
    January 19, 2013 6:30 PM

    A simple and sensitive piece. Lovely pictures- seeing them made me feel that the gurdwara looks lonely.

  4. Eka Bilvam permalink
    January 20, 2013 7:05 AM

    Truths like this make one realise that the power of politics always separates, never unites: —

    “The Border Security Force has specially constructed a ‘Darshan Sthal’ by providing binoculars to the visiting devotees for a clear view of the gurdwara.”

    …and spirituality unites always, never divides!

    The work of the BSF is the old bonds of love that was always there between the people (not the politics) of the 2 lands.

  5. January 22, 2013 4:10 PM

    Guru Nanak’s message is for all. When he traveled to Mecca, the holiest place for Muslims, he was asked, “Of the two religions, Hinduism and Islam, which is greater?” Guru Nanak replied, “God makes no distinction between Hindus and Muslims. In his court, labels do not matter, only actions matter. All will be judged according to their deeds. Without good deeds both will suffer.”

  6. Farhan Wilayat permalink
    June 29, 2013 7:01 AM

    An excellent article with almost complete details about Gurdwara Darbar Sahib… but Sir Sheraz Hassan… you forgot to write the details about Shiri Khu Sahib (The Sacred Well) which is outside the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

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