Sikh pilgrimage sites
combine the best of both the spiritual and the human worldprayers
with a sense of brotherhood and fellowship.
Brave, strong and
extremely warm-heartedthese are the traits of a typical Sikh.
However, there are other aspects to them which are equally
attractivetheir strong sense of community and their adherence
to their faith. The symbols such as the five Kskesha (the ban
on cutting hair), kada (an iron bangle), kanga (a small comb), kirpan
(a small dagger) and kachha (underwear) serve to accentuate their
distinct identity. The Sikh religion is remarkable for the absence of
complicated rituals and for its emphasis on simple living and
practicality. Not for the Sikhs, the excessive austerity of those
who renounce life, rather a celebration of life in keeping with the
Gurus teachings of service and social integration. Guru Nanak,
the founder of Sikhism advocated the following :
Make continence thy
furnace, resignation thy goldsmith,
anvil, divine knowledge thy tools
The fear of God thy
bellows, austerities thy fire,
Divine love thy crucible,
and melt Gods name therein.
In such a true mint, the
Word shall be coined.
This is the practise of
those on whom God looked with an eye of favour.
After Nanak, a succession
of Sikh gurus further established the presence of Sikhism in Punjab.
Though the early Gurus stayed away from politics, Guru Arjun Dev, the
fifth Guru who compiled the Adi Granth, became involved in the
politics of the day and supported the rebel Mughal Prince Khusrao.
Emperor Jahangir, resentful of the Gurus growing influence,
imprisoned him and tortured him to death. This was the beginning of
Sikh hostility to the Mughal empire, a hostility that culminated in
several battles and led to the gradual transformation of the Sikhs
into a warrior community. Worship for Sikhs became and still is a way
of life, expressed best in the adherence to their Gurus teachings and
to the five Ks. As a natural corollary, the pilgrimage site for the
Sikhs are places associated with the various Gurus.
A pilgrimage to the
Golden Temple is a must for any Sikh. This is the most sacred shrine
of the Sikhs and is in the town of Amritsar founded by Guru Ram Das,
the fourth Sikh Guru. The temple was built by Guru Arjan Dev and the
great Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh embellished the shrine and covered the
domes with gold. The temple is in the middle of the holy tank called
the Pool of Immortality dug up by Guru Ram Das. The temple is a
pleasing square building in marble with inlaid walls and a domed
roof. The holy book of the Sikhs the Guru Granth Sahib is kept under
a sikh canopy and pilgrims file past it. A few yards away from the
temple is the Akal Takht (The Immortal Throne) from where the Gurus
held court. This is a building of immense historical significance
for Sikhs and is the place where decisions concerning the religious
and social life of the community are taken. At any given day, the
Golden Temple is full of devotees yet there is a great air of
tranquility and peacefulness.
pilgrimage site is Anandpur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth
Guru created the Khalsa or the pure ones by baptizing
them. Anandpur Sahib (in Ropar District) is one of the five Sikh
takhts or thrones. Sikhs from all over India visit this holy
site especially on the occasion of Holla Mohalla which coincides with
the last day of Holi and marks the festivals finale. On this
day, the Gurudwara Keshgarh is filled with people and colour as men
in bright turbans and women in gaily coloured salwar kameezs try to
live up to Guru Gobind Singh Jis vision of Holi. During the
Gurus time, Holi had become an occasion to settle scores and
harass people by force. Guru Gobindji who was a great reformer
transformed the degenerate Holi celebrations into a meaningful
festival by asking his followers to remember the spirit of
brotherhood and fraternity Holi stood for. Today, at Anandpur Sahib,
Sikh pilgrims come to Anandpur Sahib on Holla Mohalla to practise the
gurus edicts. Rich or poor, they serve in the langars, perform
seva by cleaning the gurudwara, its surroundings and the shoes of the
pilgrims and above all, reaffirm their faith in their religion.
Damdama Sahib or Talwandi
Sabo in Bhatinda district holds great significance for Sikh for it is
the place where the guru sought rest and refuge during his battles
with the Mughals. During the Baisakhi festival (from 13th
to 15th of April), a major fair is held at Damdama Sahib
and Sikh pilgrims from all over the world congregate here to pay
homage to Guru Gobind Singhji. The fair at Damdama Sahib dates back
to about 250 years and coincides with the Rabi, harvesting festival.
Thus, it is a time for great joy and celebration and also a time to
remember allegiance to the Sikh faith. Guru Gobind Singhji stayed in
Damdama Sahib for nine months and it was here that he worked on the
Adi Granth. He made Damdama the centre for propagating the Sikh
faith and called it Khalsa De Takht or Throne of the
Khalsa. He had a special stamp issued bearing the inscription Amal
Sahai, Guru Gobind Singh ji Ki Jagha takhat Damdama ji clearly
demonstrating the importance of the place. This stamp was used on
all important documents issued by the Guru from Damdama Sahib.
There are ten Gurudwaras
in Damdama Sahib and pilgrims pay obeisance at all these shrines.
During Baisakhi, most pilgrims begin the day by taking a dip in the
Gur Sar Sarovar. Then they visit all the gurudwaras where they can
listen to recitations of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib. At Takhat
Shri Guru Kashi, Karah Prasad is offered to the devotees. The
Prasad is sanctified when the attendant pierces it with a
kirpan. The fair ground is usually crowded with pilgrims attending
the ten different diwans (religious congregations) to listen to the
discourses of the holy and wise men.
Sahib Gurudwara is yet another important destination for Sikh
pilgrims. This gurudwara has been built on the site where 300 years
ago, Guru Gobind Singhjis two young sons were entombed alive by
the Mughals. Sikhs congregate here to remember their martyrdom and
to pay homage to them and to their Guru. In December, during the
annual Jor Mela, thousands of people gather here in remembrance and
the Gurudwara resounds with celebration and devotion. Recitations of
hymns mingle with the beats of the lilting folk songs and there are
performances of Punjabs boisterous dance like the Bhangra and
the Gidda. In the Guru Ke Langar, sevaks help to feed the
devotees with free food. Stalls selling handicrafts, jewellery,
traditional weapons, costumes and regional fare are set up.
Not all pilgrim sites for
Sikhs are in Punjab. In Uttar Pradeshs mountainous Garhwal
region is the Gurudwara hemkund Sahib. There is an interesting story
behind this pilgrim siteit is believed that before his birth,
Guru Gobind Singhji was performing tapasya (meditation) here.
Thereafter, he was born on earth in order to rescue people from the
tyranny of Aurangzeb, especially from his overzealous attempts to
convert people it Islam. In one of his writings, Guru Gobind Singh
described the locale around Hemkund Sahib. An army havildar who had
read this description undertook the arduous journey to locate the
place and was successful in his endeavour. A small Gurudwara was
built at the spot and over the years, a large Gurudwara has been
established here. A pilgrimage to Hemkund Sahib is dependent on the
season as the route is closed due to heavy snowfall during the
winter. The route is usually open between June and October and
despite the danger of landslides, it is not unusual to find bus-loads
of Sikhs from all over the country heading for Hemkund Sahib.
Pilgrims usually take the
motorable road upto Govindghat from where a 14 km climb takes one to
Govinddham. From Govinddham, the pilgrim has no make the steep high
altitude climb to the hemkund Sahib Gurudwara. Once they reach
there, pilgrims take a dip in the ice-cold waters of the lake and
offer prayers at the Gurudwara. After partaking of prasad and other
refreshments, the pilgrims have to go back as the lack of oxygen in
the air is not conducive to a longer stay. For those who cannot
climb, arrangements have been made to go on ponies, chair slings and
In Patna, Bihar is the
Gurudwara Patna Sahib or the har Mandir where Guru Gobind Singhji was
In Delhi, the
Sisganj Gurdwara, the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara and the Rakabganj Gurudwara
are popular pilgrimage sites. Gurudwara Sisganj marks the spot
where guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded. It is said that during
aurangzebs rule, the priests held special ceremonies to find
ways to combat his forced conversions to Islam. It was prophesied
that these conversions would stop only when a great man sacrificed
himself. The priests then approached Guru Tegh Bahadur who asked
about the identity of this great man. His son Guru Gobind Singhji
then retorted Who can be greater than you, Father? So
then Guru Tegh Bahadur went to meet Aurangzeb. Offered a choice
between death and conversion by Aurangzeb, the Guru chose death.
Thus he gave up his head but did not give up his faith.
At all the Sikh
pilgrimage sites, the most palpable feelings are the strong sense of
community and service. In fact, one of the biggest features of this
religion is the community building of the gurudwara wherein each sikh
offers his labour, skill or any other contribution he can make in
terms of finance or material.