• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

Heritage KARTARPUR: Where It All Began


Sep 24, 2004
KARTARPUR: Where It All Began
by I.J. Singh (New York) & Amarjit Singh Buttar (Connecticut)

Ever since India was divided into Bharat and Pakistan in 1947, Sikhs from all over the world have been travelling to Nankana Sahib (now in Pakistan) to honor Guru Nanak at his birth place.

The Sikh congregational prayer, too, pleads for the opportunity to freely visit and manage the many Sikh historical places that now lie in Pakistan, such as Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib, Dera Sahib, and Kartarpur, as well as the many other lesser known historical gurduaras.

It seems to us that in this list of Sikh religious markers and sites, particularly in Pakistan, when we pay homage Nankana Sahib invokes the most reverence while Kartarpur remains the least known.

Come November it will be time again for the extravaganza that Guru Nanak’s birth day evokes every year in November. (This date seems to have come to us through the vagaries of the Indian calendar system. How and why this erroneous date came to be is a very different matter altogether and it is not at all the issue of this column today)

It would be instructive to briefly revisit the prevailing country and conditions when Guru Nanak trod the earth. Until the Europeans and the British who reached India by sea in large numbers all migrants, invaders, traders and visitors came by a long precarious land route – be they Caucasians from Asia Minor, Greeks with Alexander the Great, Turks, Mongols, Mughals, even Marco Polo and his ilk – entered India through the historic and dicey Khyber Pass. This was almost a rite of passage for budding conquistadores to perish, stay or plunder and return, and their forays were like annual pilgrimages.

The Indian society then was internally divided and seriously weakened by a rigidly enforced caste system. What was the response of the Indians of the area to the perennial invasions? They threw down their arms and prayed that the enemies be struck blind by divine intervention. It was a fond hope that remained unfulfilled.

What the people needed was a change of mind set – not so much a revolution but a meaningful evolution. Such matters are not resolved in a day or a sermon. Ideas of integrity, transparency, accountability and participatory self-governance cannot be taught and practiced quickly; these are life lessons and they demand what is often more than a lifetime to become enduring character traits. These matters have to be institutionalized so that they can transcend generations

How and when did Guru Nanak formulate the vision and the formula that was taught over the next ten generations until Guru Gobind Singh?

History and folklore suggest that Guru Nanak spent his early years in Nankana Sahib and in his teens moved to Sultanpur. It is here that he saw a vision of his ministry and embarked on his mission around age 30.

The details are not always precisely spelled out but history also tells us that Guru Nanak traveled for about 20 years across much of the known world of that time. He went on four long odysseys (Udasees) in all four directions as far as Tibet to the North, Mecca and Iraq in the West, Sri Lanka to the South and through the lengthy extent of the subcontinent in the East. From each epic trip he returned to Punjab.

During his travels, Guru Nanak debated the intricacies of God and human reality with the religious scholars of the day from every belief system and taught the common folk on how to live a productive and ethical life in awareness of the Infinite within each one of us.

And finally he returned around 1521 to settle in Kartarpur, a sleepy little village in Punjab now at the border between India and Pakistan. It is here that when Guru Nanak shed his mortal coil his followers who had come from Hindu tradition wanted to cremate him while those who came from Islam wanted to bury him. We do not know who prevailed but I consider this a wonderful tribute and compliment to Guru Nanak as we know him. Two memorials now stand at that site: one built by the Muslims, the other by the Hindus.

True that Guru Nanak was born and spent his childhood in Nankana Sahib that is remembered as his birthplace but he spent the last 18 years – perhaps the most meaningful, significant and impactful years -- of his life at Kartarpur which hardly evokes many memories or attracts hordes of pilgrims.

But it was in Kartarpur that Guru Nanak put to the test Sikhi and its new way of life; he built up this township as the Utopia of the day. The institutional development of Sikhi, (for instance, sangat and pangat) started at Kartarpur. By the time of the tenth Guru many such townships in Punjab had taken root from Kartarpur, Khadur Sahib, Goindwal, Taran Taaran, Amritsar finally on to Anandpur, among others; thus was the infrastructure of Punjab built by the Gurus, one Guru at a time. This is how the foundation of a new faith, independent of Hindu and Islamic practices, was firmly established.

Kartarpur is where it all started. It is where and how Sikhi as a belief system took birth and developed roots. And the process took a good two centuries. It was in Kartarpur on June 13, 1539 that Guru Nanak anointed Guru Angad as his successor but Guru Nanak lived another three months until September 7th. For the time and the culture this was a critically needed object lesson in the orderly and peaceful transfer of power. This developmental history of Sikhi is such that we would dub it also as the art of nation building.

Through the generations of Gurus from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, Guru Nanak’s message transformed a people. Sikhs learned to live and die for a cause. They learned the meaning of moral courage, dignity and how to tell truth to power. From random hordes of frustrated, defeated and divided people a forward looking community of Sikhs had emerged.

Kartarpur dating from the 1520’s was the logical antecedent of Anandpur Sahib where the institution of the Khalsa was unveiled in 1699. There is a direct and unbroken trail connecting the two.

By creation of Sikhi and Sikhs is how the porous and risky passage through the Khyber Pass was finally sealed after centuries of being the pathway for every two-bit conqueror and despot of the time. This is how, early in post-Guru period, Banda Singh Bahadur and later Ranjit Singh was able to establish the Khalsa as rulers and a free people.

But while we celebrate the Sikh success story we forget that it all started in Kartarpur. It is time to put our historical priorities in order.

August 25, 2013


  • kartarpur-sahib.jpg
    34.1 KB · Reads: 279
Last edited by a moderator: