Amir Mateen

AMRITSAR: A visit to Golden Temple is always a spiritual experience. The Pakistani contingent of parliamentarians on a visit to Amritsar was lucky to have arrived at the solemn occasion of Guru Granth Sahib’s birthday.

The Golden Temple looked like a diamond temple because of lights and fireworks. Thousands of devotees had come from all over (East) Punjab, perhaps the world, to pay their respects. People stood in the queue, prashad of halwa on leaves in hands, for hours. Pakistani contingent was extended special privilege to be given darshan inside the Harminder Sahib on such an auspicious occasion.

Men, women, old and young, stood in a very long queue amidst suffocating humid weather with a sartorial calm — something that MNA Rasheed Godel also acknowledged. Everybody gave way breaking the line when our hosts whispered, “Pakistani guests;” and always with a smile as if they knew us.

We were also allowed to stay for some time inside the temple right in the middle of the holy pond. A mellow recitation of Granth Sahib in the background had a mesmerising effect. A devotee informed me that the recitation was from Baba Farid Shakarganj’s verses, which are part of Granth Sahib.

Senator Saif Magsi asked me if I understood the recitation. I told him Baba Farid is considered as the first acknowledged Punjabi sufi poet from the 12th century, which is 300 years before Elizbethan English, but I could generally understand its spirit.

“Do you know Baba Farid’s shrine is in Pakpattan,” the devotee asked. I told him we have with us Member of our National Assembly from Pakpattan, Mansab Dogar. He looked at Dogar reverently as if he was the avatar of the great Sufi.

The devotee, who introduced himself as Kharak Singh, was trying to make us comfortable and in the process building a bridge between Muslims and Sikhs. He went on to educate us that Guru Nanak had performed a Hajj and that he is buried in Kartarpur Sahib.

Guru Nanak’s teachings are all from Kartarpur where he spent the last 20 years of his life. When he passed away on the banks of River Ravi, Muslims and Hindus argued over his faith. Hindus said he was one of them because he was born as such whereas Muslims argued he was closer to Islamic beliefs and that he had also performed Haj. The legend goes that while they were fighting a storm broke out and they found only flowers under the Chaddar instead of Guru’s body. He is half buried, half cremated in Kartarpur.

Kharak Singh asked me if I knew where Kartarpur in Pakistan was. I told him I knew it very well because of my closest friend Chaudhary Anwer Aziz. Kartarpur is in Shakargarh from where Chaudhary Sahib and his son Danial have been elected many times. In fact, I was part of his initiative to donate a few peacocks for Kartarpur. “You know Guru Nanak liked peacocks around his farm in Kartarpur,” this was my turn to educate Kharak Singh.

Why does not Pakistan allow us to visit Kartarpur Sahib,” he shot back. “You see, it is like Madina to us, the holiest of holy places; how would you feel if Muslims are not allowed to visit Madina or Christians stopped to visit Jerusalem or the Vatican?” I had no answer to that.

Not many people in Pakistan know about Kartarpur. Sikhs all over the world yearn to see it – at least once in their life. The problem is that it is right on the banks of Ravi where the meandering river is the border, a mere stone’s throwaway from India. Hence a restricted ‘security area.’

For decades Kartarpur was a locked away ‘evacuee’ property. Indian Parliamentarian Manhor Singh Gill protested over it when he was taken there by Chaudhary Aziz. “How can you call it an evacuee property; it gives the impression as if it has no heirs,” he said. “True, but it is better than the ‘enemy property’ that you call Muslim places in India,” I recall Chaudhary Aziz responding to that. Kartarpur, a very humble structure, perhaps in keeping with Guru Nanak’s humility, went into disrepair. Chaudhary Anwer Aziz was one of the biggest champions who helped opening it up at least for a very restricted community. I was also part of the initiative for legislation while Chaudhary Shujaat was the Prime Minister that gave the Pakistani Sikhs some autonomy to run their holy places.

Incidentally, the legislation for the Shiromny Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), which oversees gurdwaras in India, was drafted by none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But we have so far failed to allow at least a corridor across Ravi so that the Indian devotees could visit their Madina.

Meanwhile, thousands of devotees go to Dera Baba Nanak across the river in India, bow in the mud facing Kartarpur, shed a few tears and go back home in misery. One can actually see the longing in their eyes from the rooftop of Kartarpur – so near and yet so far away.

Manohar Gill lamented that Sikhs are the only people in the world, who are denied free and liberal access to their Makkah-Madina. “The indifference on both sides has given this punishment to the Sikhs after Partition,” he wrote in a blog recently.

It is here in Amritsar that one can feel the pain of Sikhs. Kartarpur is just a modest speck of the grandeur of the Golden Temple. Darbar Sahib has its importance but Kartarpur as the seat from where Guru Nanak preached his thoughts should be more important. Perhaps Sikhs have reconciled to what is available and approachable. Only a few thousands can visit Guru Nanak’s birthplace and just a few privileged his preaching and burial place in Kartarpar. In the words of Baba Farid from Granth Sahib: ‘My promise to my love, a long way to go and a muddy lane ahead’.

The News

October 1, 2012