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Gurus Guru Nanak's Travels in Gujarat (from World Sikh News)

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by spnadmin, Jan 17, 2010.

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    Guru Nanak’s Travels in Gujarat
    Balwant Singh


    Guru Nanak Sahib established ‘Sangats’ wherever he went. Historians say that there were Nanak Baris or Dharamsals in the places visited by Guruji in Gujarat but it will require deep probing to locate these Nanak Baris or Dharamsals now. At that time, the local people might have been impressed by the teachings but with the flux of time, most of these sangats disappeared. It seems that the sangats established by Guruji remained active upto the time of Guru Gobind Singhji and perhaps sometime thereafter. Bhai Mohkam Chand travelled all the way from Dwarka (Gujarat) to Anandpur Sahib to become one of the Panj Piara –the beloved one. He must have travelled with a Jatha. In Dwarka Beyt (Island) there was a small piece of land of about 600 metres described as Nanak Shahi in the revenue records but as there was no claimant, it was made gauchar (i.e. common grazing Government land). Now about 300 meters of this land has been purchased from Government and with the efforts of Baba Lakha Singh Kotawale, a magnificient Gurdwara has been constructed in the memory of Guru Nanak Dev and Panj Piara Mohkam Singh. The adjoining lands have also been purchased and eighteen rooms with modem facilities have been constructed for yatris. Dwarka Beyt is a small island in the Arabian Sea near Dwarka town in Jamnagar district, which can be visited by motor boat. There is not even one Sikh in the island. Granthis and Sevadars are provided by Baba Lakha Singh. The Gurdwara is now attracting a good number of Sikhs and Sehajdhari Sindhis from all over Gujarat on Gurpurab days.

    If we follow the chronological details of the first missionary journey worked by Prof. Sahib Singh, Guru Nanak paid visit to Gujarat in 1514-15 said Dr. Fauja Singh in his article "Religious Cultural Heritage of the Punjab" contained in "Sikhism in Punjab's Heritage" (Page 14) edited by Dr. Wazir Singh. S. Surinder Singh Kohli in his book "Travels of Guru Nanak" published by Punjab University mentions large number of places visited by Guru Nanak in Gujarat like Patan, Idar, Surat, Bharuch, Rajpipla, Baroda, Cambay, Ahmedabad, Dakor, Kheda, Wadhwan, Palitana, Junagadh, Veraval, Somnath, Porbandar, Dwarka, Dwarka Beyt, Anjar, Mandvi, Bhuj, Lakhpat, etc. It is also mentioned that opinion is divided as to the port from where he embarked a ship for Aden. Some say that the Guru boarded from Dwarka and others think it was Surat. There are at least three Gurdwaras namely Gurdwara Nanak Wadi in the centre of Vadodara (Baroda), Gurdwara Chadar Sahib, Bharuch and Gurdwara Sahib, Lakhpat in the remote arid area of Kutch District which are historical Gurdwaras. All these Gurdwaras are in the memory of the visit of Guru Nanak Dev.

    Gurdwara Lakhpat Sahib: Lakhpat is a village and the name of Tehsil (sub-division) of District Kutch situated at the shore of creek of sea on the border of Sind, Pakistan. It is a remote desolated village at a distance of 140 kilometres from Bhuj, the district headquarter of Kutch. The village is situated within an old fort having massive thick walls. The majority population of the area is of Muslims. It is said that Lakhpat was a flourishing port in olden times. Guru Nanak Sahib stayed in this village and is said to have boarded the ship from here for going to Mecca. He stayed in a Haveli type house. The present building of the Gurdwara is said to be more than 200 (some say 400) years old. A pair of wooden sandals which is said to be of the Guru is kept here. Due to its heritage importance, the building was taken over by Archaeological Department of the Government of Gujarat in 1992. This old haveli type building was badly damaged during the earthquake of 2001.

    Mrs. Gurmeet Rai, the conservation expert moved the Archaeological Survey of India to sanction Rs. 22.00 lacs and with the permission of the Government of Gujarat, the building was repaired with great care under her supervision in 2003 and restored to its original status. Mrs. Gurmeet Rai and the Government of Gujarat were awarded in 2005 the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for maintaining this heritage building. Consider it in the context of what has been done in Punjab where all the vestiges of the Guru period historical buildings/signs have been cruelly demolished to make way for almost identical marble edifices.

    The small village house in Sultanpur Lodhi where Guru Nanak once lived was destroyed to make way for a marble Gurdwara with shops on the front side. I had seen this house in early 1970, it was completely in tact at that time. The sevadar pointed to the room where Sri Chandji was born. What a soul satisfying experience it would have been to see the house of Guru Nanak again and again. The latest to fall prey to this cruelty is the architecturally beautiful heritage house of Bebe Nanki at Sultanpur Lodhi. It appears that the concept of archeological preservation is alien to those who manage the holy Guru period historical places and sites, thereby making the Sikhs not to take pride in their heritage. Unlike in Gujarat where the ancient sites, heritage holy Hindu, Jain and Muslim religious places, including Gurdwara at Lakhpat are assiduously protected and preserved, the SGPC offered every site of deep sentimental value to the Sikhs to the "Kar Sevaks" and they quickly accomplished the job with the Punjab Government remaining a mute spectator.

    Reverting to Lakhpat Gurdwara Sahib, to maintain its heritage importance, no change can be made in the building nor can any structure be erected near this building. The Gurdwara was being looked after by a local Udasi Sehajdhari. Baba Lakha Singh Kotawale persuaded the Udasi to handover the possession. With the dedicated service of S. Ujagar Singh of Rajkot and the Sikhs of Gandhidham (Kutch) a bare facility for langar and convenience of Yatris has been created and a vast walled compound has been provided. Land has also been purchased nearby for future needs. Though the building of the Gurdwara is under the control of Gujarat Archeological Department, the actual possession is with the Sikhs through the Granthi and Sevadars and there is no restriction on the visit of devotees. There is regular recitation of Gurbani morning and evening. One can find old books in Sindhi on Gurbani in the Gurdwara. Guru Nanak’s son, Baba Sri Chand is also said to have visited this place. Surprisingly the water of the well in the compound of the Gurdwara is sweet unlike in the rest of the desert where the underground aquifers have salty water which is also why it is believed to be a sacred place. The well is as old as the haveli. The pilgrimage to Gurdwara Lakhpat Sahib in the desert part of Kutch district and Gurdwara in the island of Dwarka Beyt in Jamnagar district with poor transport connections will be arduous but will be at the same time spiritually satisfying.

    As no effort was made to preach in Gujarati or Hindi language, the Sangats disappeared with the lapse of time. It seems that sometime later some Udasis visited some of the places earlier visited by Guru Nanak and prepared hand written "Birs" in Gujarat. A set of two manuscripts -"BIRS" is kept at village Vanod. I visited village Vanod, about 150 km from Ahmedabad on April 26, 2009 along with my friends. Vanod is an interior village in Taluka (Tehsil) Dasada, District Surendernagar. The two "BIRS" are in the possession of Shri Jagdishbhai Mohandas Kababat. One "BIR" seems to be the copy of the other, each having more than 600 pages. Though these appear to be complete copies of Guru Granth Sahib with Ragmala, however it will require a detailed study in this respect. These are stated to have been written by Udasi Brahmdasji about 200-250 years ago in the village itself. The name of the writer or the date has not been mentioned. The whole house of Shri Jagdishbhai seems to be a temple complex having Hindu idols and is stated to have been constructed by the Udasi who died there itself and his samadh is also is the house. Shri Jagdishbhai, himself an elderly person, who with his family is the present occupant of the house, says that at the time of his grandfather also these 'birs' were there and possibly even earlier to that. These are written with a "kalam" (ebw) in continuous letters. The method of preparing the ink is also mentioned. The thick paper of the 'birs' have become quite brittle so that it is difficult to turn the pages, Unless these are microfilmed or digitized, this treasure may be lost for ever. These are kept in a small room. On the wooden door of the room, the name 'Udasi Prem Das' is carved in Gujarati. It might have remained an Udasi dera for long. Shri Jagdishbhai and the villagers who do not know to speak Punjabi or read Gurmukhi, show deep respect to the 'birs' and are not willing to part with these. S. Surinder Singh Kohli in his book mentioned above has stated that Guru Nanak visited Wadhwan and Patan among many other places. If we see geographically as per present day connections, both these towns are located in opposite directions (about 90 km and 70 km respectively) of village Vanod and this shows the possibility of Guru Nanak having visited this village and started Sangat. The Udasi Saints might have come to this village because of this. It can also be surmised that the Udasis who prepared hand written copy from another 'bir' might be writing 'birs' and leaving one behind. In this case, the Udasi is said to have left his body in the village itself and thus both the 'birs' might have remained here. It is also possible that hand written 'birs' may be lying in some other unknown places also.

    When I first came to Gujarat (carved out of old Bombay State in 1960 and four times bigger than present Punjab) in 1965, I was rather surprised to see Sindhi Gurdwaras or Mandirs named, "Guru Nanak Darbar" even in small towns. A large number of Sindhis migrated to Gujarat from the adjoining Sind province after Partition. They were devotees of Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Granth Sahib. During the last 45 years, I find that many of these Guru Nanak Darbars have disappeared. The new generation has titled towards mainstream Hinduism. They cannot read Guru Granth Sahib as they do not know Punjabi. However, still there are some devout Sindhis who maintain their Gurdwaras, Guru Nanak Darbars, or Mandir where regular reading of Guru Granth Sahib and Kirtan is done. A few of the Sindhis are Kesadharis. During the last few years about 60 Sehajdhari Sindhis have become kesadhari in Bhavnagar, a district headquarter, about 200 km from Ahmedabad.

    Balwant Singh is a former IAS officer living in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
    Photos courtesy: Gurpreet Singh Anand
     

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