Saturday, December 29, 2001

Sikh shrines in Pakistan in a state of neglect

Varinder Walia

LIKE the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Nankana Sahib and other Sikh shrines in Pakistan have been a source of inspiration to the Sikh community ever since they were build.

The gurdwaras in Pakistan, however, are in a state of neglect. After the formation of the controversial Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (PSGPC) on April 11, 1999, the government of Pakistan made some efforts to save and rebuild the holy shrines by spending over Rs 10 crore (as claimed by the PSGPC). Sikhs all over the world made liberal donations for renovation of the Sikh shrines in Pakistan.

Guru Nanak was born in in 1469 A.D in the town that now falls in Sheikhupura district near Lahore. He travelled extensively for about 15 years. In the later days of his life, he settled down at Kartarpur in Sialkot district and left for his heavenly abode at the age of 70.


The area between the Ravi and the Chenab is known as Sandal Bar in which lies the famous city of Nankana Sahib where the founder of the Sikh religion was born. In the south of Nankana Sahib lies a mound named Dhaular, also mentioned in the
Guru Granth Sahib.

Iqbal Qaiser writes in Historical Sikh Shrines in Pakistan: Many of the stones recovered from the mound have carvings of religious objects of worship. Probably here was a place (or a fort) of some Raja. In the 15th century the modest settlement at this area was known as Talwandi Rai Bhoey. The Rais were Bhatti Rajputs and Rai Bular was the ruler of the area. A well-read person, Mehta Kalyan Das (Kalu) of Bedi caste, was an employee of Rai Bular. Mehta Kalu’s wife was Mata Tripta to whom Nanak was born on April 15, 1469. The place has now emerged as a big city.

Qaiser has given a detail of 175 Sikh shrines in Pakistan. Notwithstanding the claims of the PSGPC, most of the gurdwaras are in a dilapidated condition and only a few — which are visited by Sikh devotees during their visits to Pakistan every year — have been given a facelift. With a view to discredit the SGPC, the newly formed PSGPC has brought out a brochure, Sikh Gurdwaras in Pakistan Past & Present State. In the foreword of this booklet, the PSGPC has published the pictures of about 30 gurdwaras and claimed that these gurdwaras were renovated as per the desire of Sikh devotees while the SGPC had "failed" to do so in the past about 50 years. However, the fact is that the renovation of most of the gurdwaras has not been done as per the Sikh architecture. Despite repeated requests made by the SGPC, the government of Pakistan did not allow Baba Harbans Singh to carry out kar sewa in the gurdwaras.

The details of some of the gurdwaras in Pakistan:

The newly built Diwan Hall in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib
The newly built Diwan Hall in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib

Gurdwara Janam Asthan (Nankana Sahib): This is the place where Guru Nanak Dev was born. The present building was constructed at the behest of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1819-20 AD. The holy tank was also repaired during the reign of the legendary Maharaja. The total area of Nankana Sahib estate is more than 17,000 acres. Shockingly, the Pakistan’s Board for Evacuee Trust Properties has given most of the fertile land belonging to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib on meagre annual rent. Though the SGPC had taken up the case of increasing the annual rent of the land, yet all requests have fallen on deaf ears. Earlier, the control of this gurdwara was with Udasis then it was passed on to Mahantas. The Sikh Panth had to give a heavy price for bringing these sacred shrines under ‘panthic’ control. There is a jand tree about 12 metres to the right of Gurdwara Janam Asthan. This was the tree where Bhai Lachman Singh was hanged by Mahant Narayan on February 20, 1921. The names of other Sikhs who were gunned downed by Mahant are engraved on the marble at the entrance of the gurdwara. Nankana Sahib also has a well —known as Bibi Nanki Ji Da Khu (the well belonged to Bibi Nanki, elder sister of Guru Nanak). This was earlier the family well of Kalu Mehta (father of Guru Nanak). About 45 Sikh families from Peshawar and other places of Pakistan have migrated to Nankana Sahib permanently. There are some more gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib, including Gurdwara Kiara Sahib (here Guru Nanak used to graze cattle), Gurdwara Tambu Sahib (Guru Nanak rested here for a while after the Sachcha Sauda), Gurdwara Nihang Singhan, Gurdwara Guru Hargobind Sahib, Gurdwara Jand Sahib and Gurdwara Bal-Lila (where Guru Nanak used to play as a child). This gurdwara is located about 225 metres southeast of Gurdwara Janam Asthan (Sheikhupura). Another sacred gurdwara, Patti Sahib, at Nankana Sahib is close to Gurdwara Bal-Lila. This is the place where Guru Nanak was sent to learn Hindi from Pandit Gopal Das and then to learn Sanskrit from Pandit Brij Lal. His wordly tutors had to bow their heads before his spiritual knowledge. Other gurdwaras in Sheikhupura district include Kiara Sahib and Mal Ji Sahib.

Gurdwara Sachcha Sauda
Gurdwara Sachcha Sauda

Gurdwara Sacha Sauda (Chuhrkana): This historical gurdwara remained locked after 1947 but was reopened in 1993, on Baisakhi. It is believed that Guru Nanak was asked by his father, Mehta Kalu, to start some business. Outside Mandi Chuhrkana, Guru Nanak spent the money given to him by his father on buying food for some starving sadhus. When his father came to know about it he got angry but Guru Nanak told him that he had entered into sacha sauda (true deal).

Gurdwara Panja Sahib (Hasan Abdal): Located in a hilly area, Hasan Abdal is an ancient town which is about 45 kilometres from Rawalpindi. Wali Qandhari had established a dera at Hasan Abdal near a natural fountain. Guru Nanak along with Bhai Mardana reached Hasan Abdal in Baisakh samvat 1521 AD. Wali Qandhari used harsh words for Bhai Mardana who went to him for water to quench his thirst. It is said that Guru Nanak put aside a boulder lying nearby and from there a fountain of water sprang out and began to flow endlessly. Bhai Mardana quenched his thirst and felt greatful to the creator. It is said that the fountain of Wali Qandhari dried up, so he threw a boulder towards the Guru from the top of the hill. Guru Nanak stopped it with his panja (hand) and left an imprint of his hand on the boulder. Seeing this miraculous act, Wali Qandhari became a devotee of Nanak. The great Sikh warrior, Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, after conquering Sindh province during the Sikh rule, got a huge gurdwara and sarovar constructed there. Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal is a famous pilgrimage centre where Sikh devotees from all over the world flock every year in the month of April for celebrating Baisakhi festival.

Gurdwara Rori Sahib in Eminabad
Gurdwara Rori Sahib in Eminabad

Gurdwara Rori Sahib, Eminabad (Gujranwala): It is located near Eminabad town (Gujranwala). Guru Nanak Dev during his stay at this place had made his bed on a platform of rori (pebbles). Later, this became a place of veneration and a gurdwara was built here. Due to prolonged neglect the structure of this famous Sikh shrine had collapsed. However, the gurdwara has been rebuilt recently.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur): This is the historical place where Guru Nanak Dev departed from the world on September 22, 1529. The shrine is located on the western bank of the Ravi. The building was built by Sardar Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala. This gurdwara has not been opened to devotees because to reach it one has to cross one and a half kilometres of kutcha track, which normally remains water-logged.

There are many gurdwaras in the city of Lahore too. They are Gurdwara Pehli Patshahi (here Guru Nanak, reached the house of Duni Chand, an ardent follower of the Guru), Gurdwara Dehra Sahib Sri Guru Arjan Dev. This gurdwara is situated opposite the Shahi Masjid, where the fifth Guru, after being tortured, was drowned into the Ravi in 1619.

When the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, visited this historical place, he got a rostrum built here to commemorate the martyrdom of his father. Then the legendry Maharaja Ranjit Singh got a beautiful gurdwara built there.

Another historical gurdwara in Lahore is called Shahid Ganj Singhnian. According to a brochure published by the SGPC, about two and a half lakh Sikhs were killed here. In March 1764, Mir Manu, the Governor of Punjab, ordered the killings. Sikhs were imprisoned and brought here to be killed. The kar sewa of this gurdwara was given to Sikhs of England, including activists of Babbar Khalsa International. However, the kar sewa was stopped in between without any reason being assigned.

Other gurdwaras in Lahore are Baoli Sahib (Roofed Well), Sri Guru Amar Das, Gurdwara Sri Nanak Garh, Parkash Asthan Sri Guru Ram Das (Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru was born on September 24, 1534 AD), Gurdwara Diwan Khana, Dharamshala Sri Guru Ram Das, Gurdwara Baoli Sahib Guru Arjan Dev, Gurdwara Bhai Budhu Da Awa, Gurdwara Lal Khooh and Gurdwara Patshahi Chhevin Muzang etc.

Many gurdwaras are also situated in Kasur, Okara, Pak Pattan city, Multan, Sukhar, Karachi, Quetta, Larkana, Sialkot, Peshawar, Jhang, Rawalpindi and Shikarpur.