The First Gurdwara of Sikhs

The First Gurdwara of Sikhs- The Madina of Sikhs..

Kartarpur, one of the great historical sites in Sikhdom, is where Guru Nanak breathed his last.

Actually, he had founded the settlement earlier in his life, and then in his later years he came back to spend the remaining part of his life there. Once through with his endless journeys, he tilled the land - setting an example of humility and the dignity of working with one’s own hands, reuniting with the common folk, whose suffering and sorrows he was so acutely aware of. Here, he also instituted the langar where all could eat and drink, irrespective of faith, gender and caste.

 

The gurdwara is ideally located on a raised platform overlooking River Ravi, amidst a lush green valley that has the feel of the mountain air. This is the place where, today, the Ravi enters Pakistani territory, actually hitting the plains after rushing through the mountain slopes of the Himalayas. As one looks eastwards and northwards, the thickly forested environment forms a horizon beyond which lies the eastern half of Punjab which currently lies in India.

Like most gurdwaras, this too is multi-storied and as one ascends to the top landing, the panoramic view is very impressive - the plains are as if greeting the mountains. Apparently, it has been flooded quite a few times. One impressive dome constructed on the orders of Ranjit Singh was destroyed in one of the floods and the current structure, built under the patronage of the Maharaja Patiala about 80 years ago, is on a much raised platform so as to withstand the floodwaters of the Ravi, stands beside it majestically.

There are the remnants of a well that the Guru and his family drew water from and the guava orchard adjoining the gurdwara, which still bears fruit. It is said to have been cultivated by Guru Nanak himself.

Guru Nanak led a very active life. He travelled far and wide in spreading his universal message of truth and met many local sages and saints along the way. In those days when travelling was truly an ordeal, a gruelling test of one’s physical and mental endurance, Guru Nanak travelled to Mekkah, Baghdad, Sri Lanka, Kashi (Banares) and then up north to Mount Kailash and wondered in territories in what is now China and the Central Asian Republics. Also he traversed the length and breadth of the subcontinent's land mass.

Some questionable sources, mostly oral, also stress that he travelled to Europe and Africa but these have not been backed by written accounts. His travels, known as udaasiaa(n), hold a great deal of significance in understanding his life work.

Nanak was born in Talwandi Rai Bhoey which is now district Sheikhupura. The town is now known as Nankana Sahib in his sacred  memory.

It is worthy of note that when the Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, was compiled by the later Gurus, it included the poetry of the Muslim Sufi saint, Baba Fareed of Ajodhan (now Pakpattan), the mystic who also widely acclaimed as the first major Punjabi poet known today.

As one goes from Narowal to Shakargarh and passes the decaying railway station of Jassar, after a few kilometres on the east one can see a white dome. There is a railway station that must have been built to facilitate the pilgrims in the past but now it is like the entire railway system - a decrepit sight.

From the main road, about a couple of kilometres away, is a narrow picturesque road that leads to the gurdwara situated all alone amidst a few unobtrusive buildings that house the keepers of the gurdwara and its maintenance staff. 

Guru Nanak wanted to bring the faiths together and he founded a religion that was to do just that. In his death too it is said that the various factions and faiths started to quarrel as to what to do with his body - should he be buried or should he be cremated. As the story goes, when he saw that his time had come to move on, he asked for a wreath to be placed on his body. When the wreath was removed the next morning, to the amazement of the crowd, it was not the body of Guru Nanak but a heap of flowers that they found under it.

The devotees divided the heap flowers amongst themselves and disposed them off in accordance with their respective rites.

Though Sikhism soon grew to become a major world religion, yet it was Nanak who hade laid out its principles - and it was here in Kartarpur that he found time to do it all. 

It is said that Bhai Mardana too died at Kartarpur and that his last rites were also observed there. The musician Bhai Mardana was a lifelong friend and devotee of Guru Nanak; he excelled in playing the rubab. The mystic poetry of Guru Nanak - considered one of the greatest poets in his own right - are said to have been set to music by Mardana.

It is said that, after his death, his son, Bhai Shahzaad, too was asked by Nanak to continue with the tradition of singing the religious texts. The descendents of Bhai Mardana were the minstrels of Sikhs in and outside the gurdwaras and were considered integral to the community.

The boundary of the Punjab on the Shakargarh side and also Jammu is amazingly beautiful but that has been lost to the ordinary citizens due to its inaccessibility, the fencing and heavy fortification because of the military tensions between India and Pakistan. But whenever there is an opportunity, it is a reminder of the beautiful landscape as the hills on the east and north saddle the vast uniform plains of the Punjab, a landscape very different from the rugged hills to the west.

Kartarpur was ravaged by the Ravi many times over, so another settlement called Dera Nanak was also set up across the river. It is difficult to tell since the river has kept changing its course but some say that Kartarpur is the same as Dera Nanak, while for others, it is another site across the river. And, sadly, in another country ... India!