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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Gurdwara

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha

Gurdwara: the temple of the Sikhs; a place established by one of the Gurus, where Guru Granth Sahib ji is installed. During the time of the first five Gurus, Gurdwara was called a Dharamsal. In the time of Guru Arjan Dev ji, the Dharmsala at Amritsar started being called ‘Harimandar’ and in the time of the sixth Guru, it came to be known as Gurdwara.

A gurdwara performs multifarious functions. It is a school for the students, a spiritual guide for the seekers on the spiritual path, a dispensary for the sick, a grainstore and a kitchen for the hungry and a strong fort for the protection of women and additionally an inn and a resting place for the travelers.

A gurdwara forms the nucleus of the Sikh way of community life. Right from the very start of the Sikh movement , care was taken to keep the gurdwaras under the charge of the best people of the community, who were great scholars, of impeccable character and role models for other members of the community. But the circumstances took a turn. During the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when Dogras enjoyed prominent positions, slowly the management of some prominent Gurdwaras fell into the hands of unscruplous people. Slowly management of all the gurdwaras degenerated. A time came when there was nothing worthy of calling gurdwaras by this name. These all became the dens of corruption. The persons in charge of these revered places of worship, started using the resources as their personal property and all sorts of unethical practices came to be practiced there.

As freedom consciousness dawned on Indians, all communities including the members of the Sikh community, started thinking of their academic and moral uplift. They realized that it was important to be forward looking if they wanted to move with the times. To be forward looking in the matters of religion too was equally important for the all round progress of the community. So the Sikhs started thinking the ways by which they could put a stop to the rot that had set in their religious practices. They started a movement for social reform based on the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. They organized themselves in different groups like Khalsa Dewans and Singh Sabhas. They also started publishing literature propagating Sikh Gurus’ message on social reforms. Good quality articles were also published regularly in the tracts of Khalsa Tract Society, Khalsa Akhbar and Khalsa Samachar etc.

Shiromini Committee, as it exists today, was the culmination of such activities. It won’t be out of place to give here the circumstances under which the committee was formed.

As the common man became aware of the true import of the message of the gurus, he realized that the message of the Gurus was not being properly propagated in the places of worship. The Sikhs tried to reason with the persons in charge of these places, but to no avail. They realized they were not being listened to because there was no strong central organization which could voice the popular Sikh opinion.

On 12th October, 1920, some so called low caste members of Khalsa Biradari(brotherhood) went to offer ‘Karah Prasad’ at Harmandir Sahib, after the annual congregation of Khalsa Dewan was over. The priests at Harmandar Sahib accepted the offerings after some hesitation. But when these so called low caste people went to the Akal Takhat, the priests in charge there, who were strong believers in the caste system, ran away from there, leaving the Akal Takhat unattended. The members of the congregation there, nominated a group of 25 people to look after the affairs of Akal Takhat. The priests who had deserted the Akal Takhat, did not report back for duty even when the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar insisted on their doing so. At this, the Deputy Commissioner nominated a committee of nine prominent Sikhs to manage the affairs at Akal Takhat. All these nine members were in favor of bringing reforms in Gurdwara services.

Realizing the need to form a representative committee which was acceptable to all, the new committee issued a Hukamnama from Akal Takhat inviting all Sikhs to assemble at Akal Takhat on 15th November 1920. The congregation assembled at Akal Takhat on 15-16 November, 1920, selected 175 representative members to look after the Sikh shrines. The committee was named Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The committee held its first meeting on 12th December, 1920. All the members underwent a rigorous screening and were told to declare they were leading their lives as per Sikh principles. Those who admitted that they have digressed somewhere were told to apologize to the Guru and perform the sewa as decided ( Tankhah in Sikh parlance). After this the members were unanimously selected and a sub committee was formed to prepare a draft of the rules by which the committee was to work. The committee was registered on 30th April, 1921 and a new election as per rules was held in July 1921. 1/5th of the total members were nominated and all the members of the new committee met on 27th Aug, 1921.

The committee started its work with great enthusiasm and devotion. Many hurdles came in its way, and countless sacrifices had to be made. A brief account of all that happened is given here:

On 25th January 1921, when a meeting was being held between the reformers and the pujaris (priests) of Gurdwara Taran Taran, Suddenly the priests attacked the reformers {who now were called Akalis as they had been robbed of the fear of death (kal)}with axes and other sharp weapons. In this attack, Bhai Hazara Singh and Bhai Hukam Singh breathed their last, while seventeen reformers were injured.

Narayan Das, the Mahant of Nankana Sahib was indulging in many malpractices. On noticing this, the general house of Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee passed a resolution on 24th Jan. 1921, that a huge congregation should be organized at Nankana Sahib on 4th, 5th and 6th March 1921 and tell the Mahant to mend his ways. On learning about this, the Mahant started collecting weapons so as to resist all attempts by the committee to bring reforms in the likes of him. On 20th Feb. 1921, a group of fifty reformers who had gone to Nankana Sahib to apprise themselves of the situation, were mercilessly murdered by the Mahamt and his associates. Some were killed with sharp edged weapons, while some were burnt alive. On getting to know of this terrible incident, the Government lost no time and handed over the keys of the shrine to the committee the very next day on 21st Feb, 1921.

Because of some misgivings, the keys of the Toshakhana of Harmandir Sahib, were taken away by the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar on 7th November, 1921. The matter escalated. Many volunteers had to court arrest to get the keys back. Finally the keys were handed over to S. Kharak Singh , President Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee on 19th Jan. 1922.

The matter relating to the gathering of wood for the Langar for Gurdwara Guru ka Bagh (Ghukewali) escalated to such an extent that the Sikhs started courting arrests on 12th August 1922. The arrested persons were mercilessly beaten by the police. Finally devout Sir Ganga Ram mediated to settle the issue. A total of 5605 Sikhs courted arrest out of which thirty five were the members of Shiromini Committee. Many more Sikhs made sacrifices in the reform movement. All those details are being avoided here for want of space.

Another good thing that came out at this time was that the Kar Sewa of the Sarovar at Harmandir Sahib was organized which started on 17th June, 1923. Lakhs of the devotees from all faiths came to take out the silt collected at the base of the Sarovar. The devotion with which the whole work was done was worth the notice of all who felt inspired.

By this time the Government had realized that the Sikhs were prepared to make any sacrifice they had to make in order to wrest the control of Gurdwaras from the hands of the Government backed Mahants. So it announced the formation of an enquiry committee under the Chairmanship of Sheikh Asghar Ali. The committee was to hold talks between the Mahants and the representatives of Shiromini committee. But the plan could not get through. On 14th March, 1921 a resolution was presented in the Punjab Legislative Council that a bill for the management of religious shrines must be presented. Till that time a three member Gurdwara commission should be formed. But the Government decided to present the Gurdwara bill on 5th April. Even the bill could not get through. Finally after many parleys and debates, Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 (Punjab Act No. viii of 1925) was passed, which was signed by the Governor General on 28th July, 1925. The act came into force on 1st November, 1925.

The first meeting of the elected members of the Central Board was held on 4th Sept. 1926 at Townhall in Amritsar. Fourteen members were elected. The whole Board held its first meeting on 2nd October, 1926 at Townhall. After the election of the office bearers and the members of the interim committee, it was decided that the new committee be called Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. The Government too approved the name by a notification on 17th Jan. 1927. The old committee started giving the charge to the new committee on 27th Nov. 1926. The new committee got the complete charge on 4th Dec. 1926. The old committee was merged in the new committee. All the members of Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, all the intellectuals and the well wishers of the Panth sincerely want that the Gurdwaras should be run in an exemplary manner. But this is not possible unless:

1. The members of the Gurdwara management are fully conversant with the sikh principles and live their everyday life according to these principles. They must be of strong moral character too,

2. All the Udasis, Nihags, Nirmalas, and Namdharis etc. decide to leave their individual paths and consider the whole Pnth as the children of the same father,

3. The members of the committees must free themselves from the ensnares of Maya,and start living a selfless life, otherwise all the talk of reform will merely remain an empty talk and nothing will practically change.

All the members of management committees involved in running the Gurdwaras should make it a practice to recite the following Kabit composed by Bhai Gurdas along with their regular Nitnem:

An external conflagration may be doused with a water cannon,
How can one douse the fire in the inside of a boat?
Escaping the brigands one may seek shelter in a fort,
Where else should one go if robbed off inside the fort?
Being scared of thieves one may seek protection with a king,
How should one protect oneself if the protector turns a killer?
Being harassed by material entanglements, One finds a solace in Gurdwara,
Where should one find peace if mercenary concerns prevail there as well?

The author of the above lines earnestly prays to God that the time should come soon when we have amongst us the Mahants and Granthis of the status of Baba Budha ji, Bhai Gurdas ji, Sant Almast ji, Bhai Kanhaiya ji, Bhai Mani Singh ji and Bhai Gurbax ji. Only then the message of Guru Nanak will reach the four corners of the world.

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