Preservation of Sikh Heritage Outside India - Need to Preserve the Gurdwaras in Bangladesh
Takht Sri Harmandir ji Patna Sahib is one of the five holy seats of Sikhism. While tracing its history and tradition, it came to light that the Gurdwaras in Bangladesh are being managed by the Takht Patna Sahib. I had an opportunity to travel to Bangladesh in the month of February, 2019 to get more information. Some important facts appeared regarding Gurdwaras in Bangladesh which demand the urgent attention of the Sikh Sangat.
In Dhaka, it was an opportunity to visit four Gurdwaras there - Gurdwara Nanakshahi, Ramna; Gurdwara Bangla Bazar; Gurdwara Rare Bazar, Gurdwara Mohan Singh. Among these, Gurdwaras Nanakshahi is situated in the vicinity of the Dhaka University. It is said that Dhaka University is situated on a portion of the Gurdwara's land. The Gurdwara was built originally by Bhai Natha, a Sikh missionary who had come here during the time of sixth Guru Hargobind Sahib ji. The present, building of the Gurdwara was built in 1830 but remained neglected during 1947 to 1972 when the western Pakistan ruled over its eastern counterpart as its colony. It was repaired and renovated after Bangladesh came into being in 1972. The devotees from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Sikh communities assemble here on every Friday and partake Langar. However, a few rooms are available for Sangat where only 50-60 pilgrims can be accommodated for stay. The two old manuscripts of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Kharavan (wooden sandals) of the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, are the focus of attraction for the pilgrims. Efforts were made to preserve the manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib in original form, but now the process has been abandoned. It needs special attention.
Baba Swarn Singh and Mohammad Ul-Malik had contributed a lot to save this Gurdwara. When the rulers of East Pakistan took possession of the Gurdwara's land and expanded the Dhaka University during the 1960s, Baba Swarn Singh filed a petition in the Munsif court and got a verdict in his favour. The government and the university had challenged this decision in the High Court but before the verdict came, Bangladesh came into being on December 16, 1971. Swarn Singh and his Muslim friend Muhammad Ul-Malik were shot dead on December 14, 1971, just two days before country's liberation. Both had sacrificed their lives to save the Gurdwara but there is no sign in the shrine to commemorate their sacrifice. Efforts should be made to to raise a monument in their memory.
To left side of the main entrance adjoining the Gurdwara, there is a building with a compact hall and two rooms at ground level and four rooms on the first floor. The building is named as the Sikh Research Centre but no research activity is carried on. Kazi Nurul Islam, now a retired Professor of Dhaka University, had been associated with this centre and he was the spirit behind establishing it. To re-activate this centre, it is significant to get help of Dhaka University and the scholars of Sikhism. There is a Department of World Religions in Dhaka University and students of the department want to get authoritative information regarding Sikhism. If the centre becomes functional, it can play a vital role in fulfilling their academic needs. It was indeed a pleasure for me to see the professors and students of Dhaka University in the Gurdwara on Friday assembly. Some of them were surprised to see the unique Sikh practice of Langar and Sangat in the Gurdwara. They wanted to know about Sikhism but most of them are comfortable in understanding Sikhism in Bengali language. There is a need to prepare books for the students in Bengali language by the scholars having knowledge of Sikhism and Bangla language.
Gurdwara Sangat Tola, commemorating the visit of Guru Tegh Bahadur, is situated in Dhaka's Bangla Bazar. The old building of the Gurdwara is in very bad shape and it may collapse anytime. No Granthi or Sevadar is there to manage the affairs of daily maryada. The Granthi or a Sevadar, from Gurdwara Nanakshahi, goes there to attend to the pilgrims. There are no regular visitors and the Jathas from India visit Bangladesh twice a year to attend the Baisakhi fair in April and Prakash Purab of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the month of November. The land of the Gurdwara was illegally occupied by some people. In a successful other effort, it has been got vacated from the five families but about six families are still in illegal possession of some part of Gurdwara land. The need is to get the land vacated from them also. A new multi-purpose building should be constructed in place of the present crumbling structure.
Gurdwara Mohan Singh was said to be located behind the Chitra Mahal Cinema. Earlier it was named Nagar Mahal Cinema. Parash Lal Beghi, president of Gurdwara Management Committee, Bangladesh, told us us that S. Mohan Singh was his grandfather. Giving more information regarding the Gurdwara, he disclosed that in 1971 the Pakistan army had set the Gurdwara on fire and S. Mohan Singh was martyred inside this shrine. But this Gurdwara does not exist now, its site must be located and the Gurdwara need to be built here.
The Gurdwara in Rare Bazar was situated at a distance of about one kilometre from the Bazar and now the area is known as new Dhan Mandi. Subhash Chandra Pal, born in 1946, said that one of his relatives used to serve at this place. He had become the follower of Guru Nanak and kept his hair unshorn. There was a well, known as Guru Nanak's well, at this place and it was believed that it had miraculous curative properties. Pal said that he had also drunk water from this well several times. Shri Subhash Chandra took us to that place but when we reached there, we found a six-storied building at the place in place of the Gurdwara.
One Gurdwara is located at Mymansingh, the town situated about 110 km from Dhaka. The Gurdwara, situated at 75 Guha Road, Shiv Bari, near railway station, is said to be built by Sikh employees of the railways who remained there during British period. Some families have occupied the land of the Gurdwara which need to be got vacated. The Granthi serving there is sent by the Gurdwara Managing Committee, Bangladesh.
There are two Gurdwaras in Chittagong, about 250 km from Dhaka. The historic Gurdwara Sikh Temple Estate is situated at Chowk Bazaar and the other old Gurdwara Sikh Temple is located in Punjabi Lane, Pahartali area. The Granthi Singh who serves at Chowk Bazar Gurdwara also looks after the place in addition to performing his duties at the former place. His wife, who belongs to Bengal, is also a baptized Sikh and can perform all the duties of the Gurdwara. Some families have occupied the land of Gurdwara by constructing a temple. This Gurdwara is being managed by a local committee of Chittagong. There is no arrangement for pilgrims' stay or Langar in the Gurdwara. Granthi Singh's wife serves Langar to the pilgrims but she can do so only for a few people. A very small number of pilgrims come to visit this place. Their number may be increased if there is a suitable arrangement for Sarai and Langar. The Sikh Jathas who visit Bangladesh and wish to have a glimpse of their holy shrines face the problem of inadequate arrangements. Those who visit the shrines in Chittagong, either return to Dhaka in the evening or stay in hotels. But without arrangement of stay, it is very difficult for the pilgrims to remain there at night. There is an open land available around the shrine in Gurdwara's boundary. Adequate arrangements should be made there for Langar and stay.
The other Gurdwara Sikh Temple is situated, about 10 kilometers from Gurdwara Chowk Bazar, at Punjabi lane, Pahartali area. I was told that a Muslim family has been serving here for a long time. Ali Hussein, the head of the family, saved the shrine from an illegal occupant. He appealed against him in the court and succeeded but faced threats from the opponent. However, Ali has since passed away after serving the shrine for more than 60 years and now his eight sons and one daughter reside at the back side of the shrine. They take care of the shrine with the help of the Granthi Singh of Gurdwara Chowk Bazar, who perform the required religious duties including the daily Prakash of Guru Granth Sahib. There is an open land available around the shrine which can be used for providing some facilities for the Sangat. The two shrines and the land situated in the name of the Gurdwara Chowk Bazar is under the supervision of District Judge of Chittagong.
In 1972, after the liberation of Bangladesh, Captain Bhag Singh and S. Joginder Singh Jogi worked day and night to save and revive the glory of Gurdwaras in Bangladesh. With the help of their friends, religious leaders and Gurdwara committees, they did a commendable work to save the shrines. Although the Sikhs migrated to India after the partition in 1947 but the devotees of Guru Nanak are still present there who perform various duties in the shrines and try to maintain them.
Takht Sri Harmandir ji Patna Sahib has entrusted the Kar-seva of shrines in Bangladesh to the Sampardai of Sant Baba Tara Singh ji of Sarhali in Taran Taran district of Punjab. They provide assistance in sending the Granthi Singhs and making other arrangements for the pilgrims but, presently, no Kar-seva is being done in any Gurdwara.
Now it is the time to remove illegal encroachments at Gurdwara Sangat Tola, Dhaka; Gurdwara Guru Nanak Temple, Mymansingh; Gurdwara Sikh Temple, Chittagong etc., and to increase the facilities for the pilgrims. The present secular government of Bangladesh, which respects all religions and treats them alike, can play a vital role in removing the illegal encroachments from the Gurdwara grant lands. There is a need to work immediately in this direction by getting support from Sikh organizations and the devotees. The Gurdwara Managing Committee, Bangladesh is also keen to work for the welfare of the shrines, but because of lack of sangat and proper funds for langar etc. they can hardly move in this direction. They need necessary support and help to get the Gurdwara lands vacated and making other arrangements.
Guru Nanak Dev's 550th Parkash Purab is being celebrated globally and government of India has announced to organize special programs in every country through its high commissions. However, there is no Sikh population in Bangladesh. The Sikh community in India and abroad should come forward to celebrate this event with the help of Indian high commission. A request should be made to the Bangladesh government to adopt a simple visa system for the pilgrims seeking to visit the Gurudwaras in Bangladesh and to set up a Visa Centre in Punjab in order to facilitate the devotees visits. Granthi Singhs who visit there to perform routine services get a tourist visa for three months. Long-term visas should be granted to them. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sri Amritsar, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Takht Sri Harmandir Ji Patna Sahib Management Committee should come forward and join hands to provide basic amenities and facilities to the visiting pilgrims in Bangladesh.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All