Historical Gurdwaras of Delhi by M.K. Pal, a noted Art Historian and a distinguished Scholars in Arts, Crafts and Socio- cultural Studies, is the result of an in- depth research study that brings to the fore the importance of these shrines and their compelling historical and socio- cultural background. These Gurdwaras, many of which according to Sikh chronicles are consecrated by the Gurus’ visits, are located in different parts of the city of Delhi. This book attempts to thread together the relevant information considered necessary to rightly understand the importance of these shrines for the followers of a great religion, Sikhism. The book reveals many intriguing legends and stories associated with the making of each of these Gurdwaras which stand as reminders of the struggles and hardships faced by the Gurus in upholding their faith, and helps in keeping the spirit of Sikhism alive in the minds and psyche of the Sikh population even today.
M.K. Pal has been an ardent researcher in the field of arts and crafts and socio- cultural studies for more than four decades.
As a Museum professional especially during his tenture in the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, New Delhi, M.K. Pal has conducted several projects, and he has actively participated in the Festivals of India Exhibitions held in U.K. and U.S.A in 1982 and 1985 respectively. As a Consultant of the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan (1980-1995), he has also designed and got made a 35- feet replica of the old wooden Ratha (Temple Car) now preserved in the Parthasarathi Temple, Chennai. The replica made in 1990- 1991 is now displayed as a permanent exhibit in the museum under reference.
As a connoisseur of Indian art and culture, M.K. Pal has also organized some folk cultural programmes in Japan, France and Switzerland during the years 1991 and 1997.
As an author of a number of publications in the form of illustrated books, monographs, papers and articles on Indian art and culture and craft heritage, M.K. Pal is credited to have analysed in depth the basic data obtained through archaeological, historical and literary sources as well as field investigations and Museum collections. His present work is the result of his painstaking research and field investigations.
Dr. M.K. Pal is a noted scholar, having previously dealt with several projects re;lated to art and culture. His present book, entitled Historical Gurdwaras of Delhi is an honest and descriptive itinerary of visits to the historical Gurdwaras of Delhi.
The dominant idea permeating his work is the focus on how the historical Gurdwaras revive and revitalize the perennial spirit of Sikhism in the minds and psyche of the Sikhs!
Dr. Pal has interwoven his document with befitting anecdotes and legends associated with these centres of worship. The grandeur and splendour of these majestic centres of Sikh pilgrimages has been depicted by him in a succinct and coherent manner. A significant aspect of his writing is the emphasis on how the Gurus pronounced the ideal of a new social order, free from ritualistic boundaries embracing one and all!
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, followed his mission of vehemently denouncing and disparaging the prevailing social evils of all kind, especially those associated with various religions and denominations of the time, in a most compassionate and Judicious manner. His mission was carried forward by the succeeding Gurus, who laid the foundation of various institutions and enunciated a code of ethics to be adhered to by the Sikhs. I hope, all these aspects which are nicely covered in this well- researched work, should have a deep impact on the minds of the reader.
The book titled Historical Gurdwaras of Delhi is intended to provide historical and socio- cultural information considered necessary to rightly understand the importance of the historical shrines of Delhi for the followers of a great religion- Sikhism. Sikhism as a religion has made significant contribution in promoting the concepts of peace, love, unity, national integration and universal brotherhood. The book is also intended to provide necessary information on the subject to the English- speaking/ English-reading non- Punjabi public, and prospective pilgrims and visitors to these Gurdwaras. These Gurdwaras, many of which according to Sikh chronicles are consecrated by the Gurus’ visits, are located in different parts of the city. A list of the historical Gurdwaras of Delhi in order of their period of construction is mentioned below:
1. Gurdwara Nanak Piau Sahib
2. Gurdwara Majnu Tilla Sahib
3. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib
4. Gurdwara Bala Sahib
5. Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib
6. Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib
7. Gurdwara Moti Bagh Sahib
8. Gurdwara Damdama Sahib
9. Gurdwara Mata Sundari
10. Gurdwara Baba Banda Singh Bahadur
It deserves mention here that the Gurdwaras listed at serial numbers 1-8 are not only historical Gurdwaras but also known as historical shrines sanctified by the Guru’s visits, while the last two Gurdwaras listed at serial numbers 9 and 10 are historical Gurdwaras and not historical Shrines as these two Gurdwaras were not consecrated by any Guru’s visit.
Before we go for an in- depth study of the historical Gurdwaras of Delhi, it is perhaps pertinent to get an understanding of the circumstances under which the religion itself was born, and how Guru Nanak gave: “Practical effect to the doctrine that the lowest is equal to the highest, in race as in creed, in political rights as in religious hopes”
State of affairs in the fifteenth century
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was born in 1469 C.E., in the second half of the fifteenth century C.E. It was an era of great social and religious ferment in the country and of great political instability. Before Guru Nanak, some religious reformers and saints namely, Vallabhacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir, Namdev and Mira Bai, had done commendable works to rid religion of ritualism and had enriched literature in many ways, but most of them considered life as futile and did not give much thought to building up a new social order. It was Guru Nanak who perceived the true principles of social reform, and laid the foundations of a broad- based religion based on the spirit of equality amo0ng all sections of people. Guru Nanak’s new religion was not only for the good of a particular community but also for the good of a particular community but also for the good of undivided humanity.
In fifteenth century India, there was a great decline in the religious sphere. Over- emphasis on ritualism and ceremonialism had become the bane of Hinduism, and had led to corruption, hypocrisy and delusion. It had also led to concentration of power in the hands of the priests who had grown selfish and covetous, and did not at all hesitate to exploit the illiterate and credulous masses. The Hindu society was divided into four castes namely, the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Sudras. The only section of the society which stood to gain was the class of Brahmins. The Sudras did not enjoy any respect in society. The caste system had degenerated itself and instances are not wanting when the people belonging to the lowest class helped the Muslim invaders against their rulers.
In fifteenth century Punjab, the Muslims too suffered from caste hierarchy. They were divided into Shias and Sunnies. Externalism and ceremonialism were rampant among them, and the Mullahs and the kazis grew fat at the expense of the common believer in Prophet Mohammad. Though the Muslims did not suffer so much from the evils of caste rigidity as did the Hindus, their religion needed as much reform.
In the social sphere, the Hindus were divided into various castes and sub- castes and it was difficult for them to present a united front to the foreign invaders (specially the Arabs, the Turks and the Pathans on their way to Delhi via Punjab). The Muslim rulers imposed Jazia, a pilgrimage tax on all non- Muslims, and subjected them to great indignities. On the other hand, the Muslim Fakirs were extended favours and privileges that were denied to the Hindu Sadhus. There was thus complete social segregation between the non- Muslims and the Muslims, and the masses were greatly demoralized. The time was now ripe for the emergence of a great leader who could infuse a spirit of equality and freedom among the non- Muslims.
In the political sphere, the conditions were no better. The empire of the Lodis was fast dwindling and Babur was busy laying the foundations of the Mughal empire in the country. Enraged by the opposition offered to him by some Hindu Zamindars, Babur ordered a general massacre of the people and made a large number of women slaves. According to one source, “Guru Nanak who happened to be present in the town, was also subjected to cruel treatment and made to carry heavy loads of looted property”.
Though these facts portray a rather dark side of the fifteenth century, it is important to remember that events of great significance took place during the same century not only in India but also elsewhere in the world. There was a spiritual renaissance in India spearheaded by saints like Ravidas and Kabir (1440-1518 C.E.) in Uttar Pradesh, namdeva and Eknath (1528-1603 C.E.) in Maharashtra and Narsi Mehta in Gujarat. Among the contemporaries of Guru Nanak, the following deserve a special mention: Vallabhacharya (1479-1503 C.E.) who had a large number of followers in Gujarat and Rajasthan; roused the people of the province to great religious fervour; Mirabai (1499-1570 C.E.) – born in a royal household in Rajputana, and the great poet saint Tulsidas (1533-1624 C.E.) who was born in Uttar Pradesh and wrought a great spiritual revolution in the lives of the people by his immortal Ramcharita Manas.
Though these saint poets had influence in their local areas, none of them travelled to other lands to spread their philosophy. The first saint to have travelled more than 40,000 kilometres and spread his message to the people of several countries, was Guru Nanakl (Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer: Sikh Twarikh).
Events of great significance also took place in Europe in the fifteenth century. There was a great intellectual and spiritual revolution. The discoveries and inventions such as the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492 C.E., Vasco- da- Gama’s voyage by sea route to India in 1497 C.E., the theory of Copernicus (famous Astronomer: 1473-1543 C.E.) that the earth moves around the sun, and the invention of the printing press in 1450 C.E. brought about the great movement known as the Renaissance. At a later date, Martin Luther (1483-1546 C.E.), raised the banner of revolt against the degenerate Roman Catholicism and started the great reform movement within Christianity which is known as the famous religious revolution of the sixteenth century C.E. Historians believe that there is some sort of a parallel drawn between the reforms sought to be introduced by Guru Nanak in South Asia and those proposed by Luther in Christianity.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century C.E., when Guru Nanak was in the prime of his youth, Punjab was part and parcel of the vast empire of Delhi which was ruled by the Lodis (1451 C.E.- 1526 C.E.). The scenario was one of chaos and confusion. There were uninterrupted scenes of tyranny and bloodshed. The country was utterly weak and disunited. The rulers had lost all sense of justice and fair play. The political, cultural and religious situations were disturbing. Guru Nanak, who was alive to the exigencies of the times, bitterly criticized the rulers.
He said: The Kal age is a drawn sword,
Kings are butchers,
Justice has taken wings and fled.
In this dark night of falsity,
the moon of truth is not visible.
I am bewildered and in this darkness no path is visible.
The masses were ignorant, backward and steeped in superstitions. They believed in prejudices. “The spirit of both Hinduism and Islam was hidden beneath a mass of formalities and extraneous observances. Tyranny reigned supreme, the tyranny of might, the tyranny of forms and the tyranny of names”.
The Muhammedan King was considered as “Zil-e-Ilahi” meaning “Shadow of God on earth”. The Muslim subjects were the favourite children of the state. They alone were entitled to occupy high offices. Besides, they were given many other concessions. The non- Muslims, on the other hand, were considered infidels. They had to pay additional taxes like Jazia (the pilgrimage tax). Though the Muslims in general enjoyed some privileges, it was only the upper class amongst them who led a luxurious life at the cost of the poor and the lowly. The Muslims regarded the non- Muslims as their slaves and treated them with great disdain.
The people as a whole lost their moorings. They were poor, illiterate and fed on superstitions. The inhuman treatment they received at the hands of the rulers deprived them of self- respect. Religion had lost its sanctity and moral standards were completely forsaken. Political lawlessness, social confusion, and spiritual slavery were the order of the day. The rich tradition of religious tolerance was powerless against the tyranny and extreme bigotism of the epoch. Dissent was carried to a point of intolerance. The invaders had trampled on the rich civilization of the country without the slightest remorse. “There is no one who receiveth or given not bribes. The king administers justice only when his palm has been greased (filled)”.
From tenth century onwards, successive hordes of invaders had poured in from Central Asia. As the highway to Delhi lay through Punjab, the greatest suffering had been caused to the people of this province. Guru Nanak was sent to earth by the almighty under such circumstances to bring peace and to present to mankind the image only of undivided humanity. In his passion to fulfil the divine mission entrusted to him, Guru Nanak who laid the foundation of universal brotherhood, tolerance, amity and mutual affection. He emphasized the virtues of hard work, honest living, simple and quiet life, sympathy for the needy and the poor, and contentment. He condemned greed, avarice and high- handedness.
Guru Nanak’s travels and his visit to Delhi
During his travel, Guru Nanak’s message was to seek the core of each faith, and he led men to the path of goodness and virtue, and kindled the flame of love and goodwill in the hearts of millions of countrymen.
Guru Nanak, having attained enlightenment started his journey to redeem the world with God’s name, when he was in his twenties. “I left my home in search of the righteous and followed this course to evolve a new philosophy of life. Being a pedlar of truth, I am out of trade in truth. It is through the righteous that I shall ferry my followings across the ocean of existence”.
He sought God’s service through the service of mankind, becoming the Lord’s bard. His travels are called Udasis and said to be four in number:
• First Udasi 1507 C.E. – 1515 C.E.
• Second Udasi 1516 C.E. – 1517 C.E.
• Third Udasi 1518 C.E. – 1521 C.E.
• Fourth Udasi 1521 C.E. – 1522 C.E.
It appears that Guru Nanak completed his Udasis during the period of about 15 years from 1507 C.E. to 1522 C.E. It deserves special mention in this context that Guru Nanak’s Udasis were undertaken in a n epoch- making period. “The period of adventure, discovery, inquiry and renaissance. The adventures and discoveries not only led to physical achievements, but also to colonization, domination, oppression and invasion, while the inquiry and renaissance led to the search into human existence and reformation in the oppressive systems”. Thus, the purpose of Guru Nanak’s Udasis was also to draw the attention of erring humanity from the unreal, and from external ceremonies to inner purification.
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