A harbinger of harmony

December 15, 2019

A memorable journey to the recently inaugurated Kartarpur corridor

Kartarpur is a village near the Pakistan-India border in the Narowal district. It is revered by the Sikhs as it is here that Guru Nanak Dev gee, the founder of the Sikh faith, spent the later part of his life. Not many in Pakistan had heard of Kartarpur until the day former Indian cricketer, Navjot Singh Sidhu requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to open the Gurdwara for Sikh pilgrims from India to coincide with Guru Nanak’s 550th death anniversary.

Ahead of the Gurdwara’s official opening to the Sikhs from across the border, the government arranged for a complete reconstruction of the gurdwara and rehabilitation of the surrounding areas. The government also allowed Sikh visitors from India visa-free access to the site through a five-kilometre long corridor, specially built for this purpose. This move has been welcomed by Sikhs and people of other religious denominations all over the world, as this opens up the place to Sikhs after a lapse of around seventy years.

Once the Kartarpur corridor was formally inaugurated on November 9, tour operators in Pakistan began arranging tours to Karatarpur, partly due to the rising public interest in the place. It was on one such tour that I, in a group of around forty people, boarded a bus in Lahore. After an occasionally bumpy three-hour ride, we finally reached the place.

As one reaches Kartarpur, it becomes clear that the place is still under construction. There are strict security measures in place, which is good essentially but can get a bit intimidating for the general public. The check-in area is brimming with people but a lot needs to be done as far as administrative procedures are concerned.

The visitors can avail a shuttle service from the check post area or walk to the Gurdwara which is roughly 1.5 km away. All visitors are required to carry a photo identity (CNIC/passport, parents of minors should carry their B-Forms). Entry passes that are given to the locals are different in colour and size from the ones that are given to the Sikhs at the Indian Terminal.

Once I was through the rigorous security checks, I stepped outside to see a white minaret, standing tall against the clear blue sky and people walking all around in colourful dastaars (turbans). It was a sight that just took my breath away.

Respect for Gurdwaras is an integral part of the Sikh faith. Visitors must follow the tradition, irrespective of their belief. Sikh tradition requires covering one’s head, being barefoot (preferably without socks). There should be no intoxicants on your person and no tobacco.

Upon entering the premises of the Gurdwara, the first thing I came across was Darshan Deori (the courtyard for viewing). It was here that I was expected to take off my shoes and cover my head. The head can be covered with handkerchiefs, a cap, or a dupatta.

Traversing the white marble floor of the huge courtyard, I could see the magnificent white Gurdawara standing in the middle. There is a Persian wheel, the Khoo Saab close to the courtyard. It is said that Guru Nanak used to draw water from this well to water the fields around it. Sikhs consider this water holy. I could not help but notice a similarity to Zam-Zam the holy water for Muslims.

Before heading to the Gurdwara I had to wash my feet in the Sarovar, a large pool in the Gurdwara. Some Sikhs also perform a spiritual ablution known as ashnaan. There are separate areas for males and females for this purpose. Sarovars were originally built for the public to store water for cooking and bathing. Today, these are used only for ashnaan. Sikhs believe that Sarovars in some Gurdwaras have water with healing properties.

Respect for Gurdwaras is an essential requirement of the Sikh faith. Visitors must follow the tradition, irrespective of their belief. Other Sikh traditions include covering one’s head, being barefoot (preferably without socks).

This is the only place where people from both sides of the border can mingle and communicate with one on other without any obstacles. It was a pleasure as Sikh pilgrims of all ages and from all over the world including India, seemed like smiling at me or stopping for chit chat. For people who grew up listening to horrific tales of partition, it was an emotional moment. Despite meeting Sikhs in other parts of the world, the feeling at Kartarpur was plain different. Sikhs from Nankana Sahib were also visiting the Gurdwara, but they generally stayed at a distance, as there was a rumour of some locals behaving rudely with Indian Sikhs earlier over the Kashmir issue.

The main hall of the Gurdwara is not open to the locals; only pilgrims from India are allowed to go inside. This piece of information left us a little disappointed as we wanted to see the Gurdwara from the inside, however, we had to abide by the rules.

Just outside the Gurdwara, Guru Nanak’s cape and flowers are buried. According to the legend, when Guru Nanak Dev died, Hindus and Muslims had an argument about whether to bury or cremate his body. Since they never came to a decision, it was decided that flowers would be placed by both groups on his body and whichever groups’ flowers were found withered the next morning would lose the claim to the body. It is said that the next morning when the sheet was removed, Guru Nanak’s body was missing and both offerings of flowers were still fresh.

The sheet was then cut into two. Muslims buried their part whereas Hindus burnt theirs on the Samadhi located in the Gurdwara. Outside the Gurdwara, the 150 feet tall Nishan Sahib, a triangular flag made of cloth, with a tassel at its end stands tall.

Close to the Gurdwara is a glass-encased bomb on display. This bomb was dropped by the Indian Airforce during the 1971 war but it never exploded. This incident is considered to be a miracle by the Sikhs. A big replica of a kirpan, the dagger carried by the Sikhs as ordered by Guru Gobind Singh is placed in the courtyard as well, which attracts a number of visitors. Sikhism requires its adherents to keep five articles of faith at all times Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (iron bangle), Kangha (comb), Kacha (undergarment) and Kirpan (dagger).

An integral part of a Gurdwara is the langar khana (mess) where visitors get free food. An art exhibition was going on with paintings and pictures of Sikh history when I visited. It was a treat to watch as Sikh males were tying turbans on the general public using an 8.5-metre cotton voile from a stall nearby and people just seemed generally very happy to be there.

On my way back from the Gurdwara, I couldn’t help but wonder how much expense and effort have gone into giving a message of peace to the world and particularly to the Indian Sikh community. Regardless of controversy, let’s just give peace and love a chance. 

The writer is a staff   member

Kartarpur Corridor: A harbinger of harmony