Tag Archives: Amritsar

Desires unfullfilled due to religious bigotry 

Guru Nanak, the first Guru and founder of Sikh religion, had two constant companions namely Bala and Mardana. Mardana played Rabab while Guru sang. He was a Muslim. Guru preached to the world love, compassion, and communal harmony. He also enlightened the people about the falsehood spread by some religious groups both Muslims and Hindus. It was all based on solid logic and illustrated through simple examples.

Mardana playing Rabab (illustration)

The future generations of Mardana remained attached to the succeeding Gurus of Sikhs. Of them was Bhai Ghulam Mohammad Chand, who lived in Lahore Pakistan and breathed his last on 29th April 2015 after illness.

Although he died with one unfulfilled desire. It was to recite kirtan in the Golden Temple at Amritsar. His request in 2008  was declined by Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) on the grounds that he was not a Sikh who was not baptized a rule that was enacted in 1947.

He has performed Kirtans in many Gurudwaras both in Pakistan and abroad. He was the sixth generation of Bhai Sadha and Bhai Madha, who sang during the lifetimes of ninth and tenth Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

His father Bhai Sunder Giani was one of the last rababis to perform in Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) before 1947. Navtej Kaur Purewal, deputy director, South Asia Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London also sponsored Ghulam Mohammad’s historic visit to the UK in 2011 and also wrote a research paper on the History of the Rababi Tradition of Shabad Kirtan.

Born in Rajasansi village near Amritsar in 1927, Bhai Ghulam Mohammad had migrated to Pakistan.

bhai chand

Bhai Ghulam Mohammad Chand

England-based Punjabi writer Amarjit Chandan, said, “Bhai Ghulam virtually died the day he was not allowed to perform kirtan in Darbar Sahib in 2008 for not being an `Amritdhari’. They didn’t know his forefather Bhai Mardana was not one either. But he was Baba Nanak’s true and first Sikh, his lifelong companion and rababi.“

Such was the pain that he carried after the refusal to perform kirtan in the Darbar Sahib that in an interview with Purewal in 2011, he said, “Who bothered to ask whether we were Gursikh (baptized Sikhs) in those days (in the days of Gurus)? Were my ancestors Gursikhs? Did they wear the `dastaar’ (turban) and show the signs of being a Sikh? No. But that never stopped them from having a passion for music and their work… Those people (the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee that manage gurdwaras in Punjab) have a short vision…“

You can listen to his shabad kirtan from the youtube links below

Bhini Rainarie

 Aawal Alla Noor Upaye


A visit to Wagah Border

Thanks to television and internet reaching out to nooks and corners of India most Indians know about the foot stamping ceremony also called “beating the retreat” conducted by members of Indian and Pakistan armed forces at border post in the Wagah village. Everyone want to visit the place because a picture is formed in their minds about the soldiers in the most aggressive moods.
The village was divided between India and Pakistan during the bloody partition of India with Eastern part of it going to India and western part to the Pakistan. The place is about 22 kilometres from Lahore and about 32 kilometres from Amritsar. The border post is on the Grand Trunk Road constructed at the time of Sher Shah Suri’s regime and many subsequent rulers. It runs from Peshawar to Kolkata covering almost whole of Northern India.
So every visitor to Golden temple makes it a point to visit the border and witness the ceremony. Even as you come out of the temple, cab drivers almost mob you for going there.
I also visited the place sometimes back along with my wife and our friend and his wife. After visiting the golden temple, we made the programme to visit the place. Ceremony takes place in the evening for about an hour. Even on the days when it is not holiday, there is a big crowd.
We hired a taxi which was arranged by the hotel where we were lodged. Amritsar is a city which is very ancient with narrow lanes which are brimming with crowds and vehicles of all kinds. It is miracle of drivers how they navigate through lanes. Much time is wasted in the city.
Drivers are generally very clever type. Although money was paid for air conditioning, he would not switch it on unless you press him. As the vehicle neared Wagah, it was almost traffic jammed. There were trucks which were taking goods from India to Pakistan which were waiting endlessly for clearance blocking one side of the road entirely.
We reached about one and half hour before the gate will open forgoing inside. Already there were crowds in the queues. There were separate lines for men and women. It is an open area with no shelter from sun and rain. There are boys selling water bottles and pouches pestering the crowds no ends. Small kids are a harassed lot from heat and thirst. Wait seems endless. Meanwhile we saw many people coming up to the closed main gate presenting recommendation letters or passes and entering the gate without any time limit.
At last, the gate opened for ladies first and almost 20 minutes later for men after all women had crossed. You have to walk another kilometres to reach the action theatre. People who are shouting patriotic slogans race pushing one another to reach the place so that they get a seat to sit. The seats are like stadium rows with men and women in separated areas. People seems hysterical and hoarse. It is overcrowded. The songs blare from both indian and Pakistan side outdoing each other. School children do the dancing and run with the flag. When the ceremony begins, soldiers from two countries charge at one another, throwing one leg in the air so high that their legs form almost 180 degrees angle. They stare at each other. The gates are slammed mercilessly while opening and closing. As this happens, people sitting away stand up and cheer their soldiers making it impossible for the elderly people to watch by sitting. If all sit again it is possible you will lose your sitting place to someone.
This was so much that I was waiting for it to be over. When it was over, you will find yourself floating with crowds as now everyone is in great hurry to go out and return to the city. People are spilled on every inch of space. There are two three shops including the one run by the army selling tea and water bottles and snacks.
On a summer evening you are exhausted to walk another kilometre to the main gate. The driver was waiting although I suspected that he might have deserted us. But it was not over. Because there was a big traffic snarl and a good half an hour spent to cross the area and come on the main road. There was evening crowds as we neared the hotel. At last, we reached the hotel fully exhausted.

Kallianwala Khooh: Another Example of British Brutality

It is said that sun never set on the British empire once upon a time. They colonised most of the world and plundered all kind of wealth by making the innocent inhabitants their slaves. India was subjected to this treatment for two centuries. In the process to subjugate those who tried to oppose, they perpetrated heinous crimes.
One such famous incidence in firing on the unarmed and peaceful thousands of people in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar Punjab. Another instance of their brutality came to light in the same district at Ajnala. There was a well called Kallianwala Khoo (well) once upon a time. This well was excavation by volunteers. The digging began on 28th of February 2014 and within 3 days, skulls, bones, some coins of East India company and jaws were excavated.
It’s believed that it was here, in this khoo or well, that the bodies of 282 Indian soldiers who rebelled against the British during the 1857.
Covered in the freshly dug earth were skeletal remains — skulls, bones — coins and pieces of jewellery.
Amritsar based historian Mr.Surinder Kochhar who led the excavation did a lot of research before undertaking this task.
By March 2, the excavators — mostly volunteers — had dug about 23 feet and claimed to have exhumed 90 skulls, 170 “intact jaws”, more than 5,000 teeth, 70 one-rupee gold coins belonging to The East India Company, gold beads, three gold amulets, six finger rings, four karas and two medals dated 1835, before they declared the digging complete.


Standing a few feet away from the well, Amritsar-based historian Surinder Kochhar, who led the group of amateur excavators, says the decision to excavate the well was based on historical research. He had based his claims on then Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Frederick Cooper’s book, “The Crisis in the Punjab” , published in 1858, which vividly narrates the incident and on the Amritsar District Gazetteers from 1883 to 1947, all four editions of which mentioned the Kallianwala Khoo killings.
According to popular history, the 282 soldiers buried in the Ajnala well were part of a platoon of 500 soldiers of the 26th Native Infantry who had revolted at the Mian Mir Cantonment in Lahore during the 1857 uprising and had swum across Ravi to reach Ajnala town in Amritsar. Around 218 of their comrades were killed by the British at Dadian Sofian village near Ajnala. Of the remaining 282, many were captured and put in a cage-like room where several died of asphyxiation, while the rest were shot dead. Their bodies were then thrown into the well.
If DNA testing is conducted, it could be another evidence,” he says.
Dr Sukhdev Singh Sohal, professor of history at the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, says there is no unanimous view on how the well got its name. The popular view, he says, is that Kallianwala khoo means the ‘well of the blacks’, referring to “dark-skinned Indians”.
The villagers want a memorial and a museum in Ajnala in memory of the soldiers. There have also been proposals for DNA- and carbon-dating tests on the exhumed remains. The government has decided to set up a committee of historians to examine these demands.
“We are getting suggestions from various quarters, including from INTACH, saying that the skeletons should be studied to ascertain how the soldiers could have been assassinated. Were they beheaded, shot dead or killed using some other means?” says Randhawa. Back at the site, Kochhar says, “A lot of research has gone into this. I didn’t dream of the well.” That the reference was to a seer’s dream that triggered a failed gold rush at Unnao in UP, wasn’t lost on anyone.
“Ten by ten the sepoys were called forth. Their names having been taken down in succession, they were pinioned, linked together, and marched to execution; a firing party being in readiness. About 150 having been thus executed, one of the executioners swooned away (he was the oldest of the firing party), and a little respite was allowed. Then proceeding, the number had arrived at two hundred and thirty seven; when the district officer was informed that the remainder refused to come out of the bastion, where they had been imprisoned temporarily a few hours before. Expecting a rush and resistance, preparations were made against escape; but little expectation was entertained of the real and awful fate which had fallen on the remainder of the mutineers… The doors were opened, and, behold! They were nearly all dead! Unconsciously, the tragedy of Holwell’s Black Hole had been re-enacted. No cries had been heard during the night, in consequence of the hubbub, tumult and shouting of the crowds of the horsemen, police, tehsil guards and excited villagers.
Forty five bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue, heat and partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with all other bodies, into one common pit, by the hands of village sweepers…The execution at Ujnalla (read Ajnala) commenced at day break, and the stern spectacle was over in a few hours. Thus, within forty-eight hours from the date of the crime, there fell by law nearly 500 men.”
— Extracted from The Crisis in the Punjab (1858)

As you might have seen in many documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the extraction of the remains of the bodies requires great patience, delicacy and is time consuming. This is because with time the bodies become very fragile and prone to disintegration. Here, the work was done by volunteers who had no knowledge of such delicate processes. They in their enthusiasm did the work in 3 days and it might have caused deterioration to the quality of the remains.
Now the mortal remains are in the possession of the Punjab Director of Cultural Affairs. A team of two professors from the department of Anthropology from Panjab University for working out the biological profiles and DNA profiles to identify the soldiers. Since there are no records of the names of the soldiers, British government has bee requested to provide the details of the soldiers who were killed in the massacre.


Phulkari: Traditional Dress of Punjab

It started in Patiala state of Punjab in India. Patiala rose to prominence amongst many princely states of Punjab before independence. Phul means flowers and Kar means the work. So Phulkari literally means Flower Work on the rough heavy cotton.  Throughout the Punjab, in the Hindu,Muslim and Sikh communities alike, women embroider Odhanis (veils) or Chaddar (wraps) ornamented with Phulkar, literally “flower work” and Bagh, garden, a variation where the embroidery completely covers the support material. The support fabric is most often an auspicious dark red, or more rarely, an indigo blue or a white reserved for elderly women, on which the embroidery is executed in untwisted floss silk called pat, sourced from Kashmir, Afghanistan and Bengal and dyed yellow,orange,burgundy,bright pink, purple, blue and green in Amritsar and Jammu. Darning stitch is used to embroider from the reverse side of the fabric, with the longer float on the face, thus allowing large surfaces to be densely embroidered with economy. Aside from their everyday use as veils, the Phulkari is integrated into the lives of the women. and is an indispensable element in ceremonies, especially those concerning birth,death and marriage. When a girl child is born, the women of the family organize a great feast, marking the beginning of the task of the child`s grandmother in creating the future bride`s trousseau. The most significant items of the trousseau are the chope, a reversible Phulkari worked double running stitch and wrapped around the bride after the ritual bath two days before the wedding, and the suber phulkari, composed of five eight petaled lotuses, worn by the bride when she walks around the sacred fire during the wedding ceremony. A phulkari is also worn 11 days after the birth of a son, when the mother goes out for the first time after delivery, and when visiting a temple during religious festivals to request prosperity and happiness for loved ones.

Journey to Amritsar

Just as every Muslim desires to go to Haj at Mecca, every Christian to Bethlehem and every Buddhist to Tibet, it is the Golden Temple -Swaran Mandir in Amritsar for a Sikh. It is holiest of all Sikh shrines and one of five Takhats.

Golden temple was built by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of Sikhs. Almost every person must have seen it in pictures. A holy tank in which the Gurudwara called Golden Temple is situated. There is a pathway from one side of the rectangular tank leading to the Sanctum Sanctorum. The building can be approached from 4 gates which are located in the centres of 4 walls. The level of tank and Golden temple is lower than the gates and stairs lead to wide boulevard on the periphery of the tank.

We began our journey at early morning before sunrise in two cars from Chandigarh. After traveling about 20 kilometers we reached Rajpura town in Patiala District and from there on traveled on the fabled Grand Trunk Road popularly known as GT Road which ran once from Kabul in the West to Chittagong in East. It was first said to be constructed during  Mauriyan Empire but owes its present form to Sher Shah Suri. Thus it spans the entire Indian Subcontinent from East to West end. It is under constant expansion these days to handle the burgeoning traffic of trucks and smaller vehicles.

As soon as we were on the road, there was fog so thick that you could see only a few meters ahead. Drivers of the vehicles which normally try to overtake others in normal clear weather were trying to follow the other vehicles particularly bigger ones for the safety. As there is perennial construction work going on, there were diversions adding to the problem of driving. Many drivers could not locate the diversion and rammed their vehicles in the stop boards.

Somehow we reached Ludhiana which is a industrial town famous for ready made garments particularly woolen type. There are other industries. It was the time for workers to go to the work. There were hundreds of them on bicycles. Traffic was in complete chaos. Some of the drivers of the buses it seemed took great pleasure in constant honking and disturbing the vehicles ahead which were moving at slow pace due to the fog.

Somehow we crossed the town, road became good. Other famous towns like Phagwara came along the way. Finally it was Jullundhar town. There was no signs of fog becoming less. We stopped in a roadside eatery called Dhaba in Punjab for having some breakfast. Whole of the tarpaulin roof was dripping with the ice cold water from condensed fog. Fog darted in and out of the Dhaba.

We again pushed on and reached Kartarpur and Beas. There was a signboard indicating Kali Bien river which has been resuscitated by Sant Balbir Singh Sancherwal through community service. This river is associated with Guru Nanak who used to take dip in this river and it is considered as a holy river.

We reached Amritsar by noon after 6 hours. There is a very good parking for vehicles. While you come out of the parking, you are a part of chaos of traffic. The temple is about 1 kilometer from the parking. You can walk, take rickshaws or there is a free service vehicle run by Gurudwara.

We went inside. It was my first visit. Naturally I was awestruck to see the place which is imprinted in our minds. Since it was a working day, the queue was not so long and it took us one hour to go inside and pay our obeisance. There are colored fishes in the tank. The golden building glistens in the sunlight.

We came out and went to see the Jallianwala Bagh which is very nearby. The place is a memorial in the memory of over thousand innocent protesters were fired upon and killed by Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer in 1919. There is only a very narrow passage leading to the Bagh and soldiers were lined up near the gate. So no one could escape the fire. There were so many women and children, some of whom jumped into a water well inside the park. So it is a very emotional place for visiting and reminds us the sacrifices our forefathers made to expel the British from India.

We took to the road again. Traffic began to build up since it was closing time of offices and factories. It was almost horrible traffic in Jullunder and Phagwara. So we took detour from our old path and returned via Ropar and Chandigarh.

One day is not enough to see the place. We missed the evening parade at Wagah border.