Place of Rivers in Humanity

A River not only create conditions for settlement of the people on its banks, it sustains the people living near it. It provides them with all the things of human requirements. Water for washing, irrigation, fish. It had been held in great esteem by many civilizations. Rivers are revered because they nourished the life. Many saints and great men loved to live on its banks.

Rivers are held in great esteem in Sikh religion. The region where the religion flourished is aptly called the land of five Rivers.

First Guru Nanak is said to have experienced enlightenment after a dip in holy river. Legend is that when he emerged out of river Kali Bein which merges into the confluence of Beas and Satluj rivers at a place called Harike in Punjab after three days, he was glowing and a completely transformed. He recited the “mool mantra” .

It seems that Guru Gobind ji, the tenth and last Guru had a great affinity for rivers. His Life revolved along the different riverbanks of India.
He was born in Patna and spent his early days on Ganga river.
Then he came to Anandpur sahib which has Satluj river close by. And during wars with hill royalties he stayed in Paonta sahib on the Yamuna river and wrote prolifically.
And then finally he moved to Maharashtra where he stayed on the banks of godavari river.

Alas , due to the unlimited greed of some people, these rivers are being contaminated by discharging the effluents from factories, city sewage and sand mining.

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Custodian of the Past

One is surprised and awestruck at the single minded passion of the person. His name is Narinderpal Singh Panesar. He is 43 years old businessman and belongs to Ludhiana district in Punjab. He has the mind boggling collection of antiques which include rare coins, antique cameras, international currency notes and other materials. These are mostly related to Sikh history but in addition to all sorts of antiques. He has collected these in 30 years. He wishes to set up Sikh museum which shall have no parallel.

His collection includes 55000 coins which belong to ancient, medieval, British India, Sikh misls of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Patiala, Nabha, Jind and Malerkotla.

He has rare stamps. Oldest stamp is of golden temple which was released in 1935 on the silver jubilee ceremony of George V. Also stamp issued by Pakistan in 2008 on martyrdom day of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev. Many stamps have gold, silver, silk, Khadi, tin, chocolate and Swarovski on them. Some are perfumed and embroidered.

Manuscrpits are from Gurumukhi, Sanskrit, Persian Arabic or Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. There is Adhyatam Prakash Granth  dating back to 1668 AD. Also there are paintings belonging to Mughal, Sikh, Pahari, Kishangarh and East India Company.

There was the news that due to financial problems in setting up the Museum, he has decided to sell the antiques which are non-Sikh category with heavy heart. He is disappointed over the attitude of Government and SGPC.

Here are some of the sample photos taken from the article in Times of India.

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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.

Forgotten Cousins of Punjbai Sikhs

Just like many Marathi families settled in Tanjore during the time of rule of Marathas at this place, many Sikhs opted not to return to their native land but to settle in the Assam itself. These Sikhs trace their genealogies to few hundred Sikh soldiers which arrived in Assam to help the Ahom rulers in the year 1820. These Sikhs were sent by Ranjit Singh as a friendly gesture.

Many of them perished but many among those who survived chose to settle down there. Many of them married the local girls. Most of the descendants are mostly concentrated in Lanka in Nagaon district of Assam living there for Sikhs for approximately two hundred years.

In the earlier times, the year 1505 to be precise, the first prophet of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev had visited Kamrup (Assam). This fact is recorded in the documents concerning the numerous journeys undertaken by  Guru Nanak in various stages of his life.  It is said that, he had Srimanta Shankardeva (the founder of the Mahapuruxiya Dharma) as the Guru traveled from Dhaka to Assam.

After this journey by the first Guru, Ninth Guru or prophet of Sikhs Guru Tegh Bahadur also visited Assam in 1668. This was the time when armies of Aurangzeb tried the best to cross the Brahamputra river and enter the Assam. They were thoroughly routed by the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan. Guru visited the the place called Dhubri. A  famous for the Sikh Gurudwara was constructed to commemorate his visit. Every year Sikhs from all over India and foreign visit this holy place.The grateful Ahom King invited Guruji to the Kamakhya shrine, where he was honoured.

While some died and some came back to Punjab, a few stayed on and made Assam their home, raising families. Their descendants today —mostly concentrated in Nagaon district — are Assamese for all practical purposes, and none speaks Punjabi, but continue to maintain their Sikh identity and observe most tenets and traditions of the religion.

Barely a few days ago, I happened to be watching a TV program called “Mysterious North East”. In fact this a an interesting series on North Eastern states of India made by Bhupen Hazarika and Kalpana Lajmi. In that particular episode, he showed a Gurudwara and a village inhabited almost totally by Sikhs. These descendants of original Sikhs although follows all the Sikh tenets, many of them keep the hair, they resemble the Mongolians. This had happened due to their mingling and marrying into Assamese families. Most of these Sikhs are farmers. In fact, there was scene of extracting sugarcane juice in a machine rotated by Bullocks. It was a familiar scene in the villages of Punjab during my childhood and still now.

During a period two centuries, they have assimilated and integrated the Assamese culture into their own original culture. They speak fluent Assamese and forgotten to speak Punjabi the mother tongue of their forefathers. They call themselves as Assamese Sikhs.

Their are other classes of Sikhs living in Assam which don’t mix up with these Sikhs. In fact, these Sikhs do not marry their girls with the Assamese Sikhs and consider them as inferior class forgetting the very basic tenet of their Gurus teachings which preached the equality of all human beings.

Some research says that the Assamese Sikhs may have their roots in Bihari Sikhs which to some extent seems logical given the vast distance between Punjab and Assam. It is not easily understood, how the Ahom kings has corresponded with Mahraja Ranjit Singh as there were numerous states between these two places. How the soldiers might had reached the Assam after treading the whole distance of thousands of miles without getting into problems along the route. How they had overcome the temptation to enroll themselves into the service of better off intervening kingdoms?

Unlike the Maharashtrians who chose to remain in the Tanjavore, the Sikhs in Assam depended mainly on the agriculture or manual labor. This is due to the fact that Assam was virtually outside the realm of mainstream India due to geography of the area. It was almost inaccessible and so suffered from the lack of education and other amenities. Whereas, the Tamilian Maharashtrians, when they lost their respected position after the decline of Maratha rule, took to educations and excelled in the field and many of them are prominent people in the Government echelons.

Sikhs in Assam have been forgotten by their cousins in Punjab. Unlike the Sikhs which arrived in India after partition settled in many places of the country and by the dint of hard work became prosperous, the Assamese Sikhs live miserable lives. The indolence which must have inherited from their Assamese hosts may be one factor responsible for this. It is this feature of being satisfied with whatever is available and lack of initiative which is the bane of Assamese people.


Kali Bein Flows Again

Kali Bein is one of the important rivulets in Punjab state of India. Emerging from a spring near Hoshiarpur, it flows through Kapurthala and Sultanpur Lodhi, it runs a course of 160 Km to meet the legendary river Sutlej near Harike Pattan.

The first guru of Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev used to take dip in the stream. During all religious occasions, the people of Punjab will dunk in this river for purification. It was believed that Guru Nanak Dev had begun his holy march to deliver the word of God, from the river’s bank and attained enlightenment and went on to found the Sikh religion.In the reign of Akbar the river was brick lined and the Gurdwara at Sultanpur Lodhi stands on its banks.

Yet, by the year 2000, the river became a cesspool. It became stagnant and full of pollution due to mindless discharge of pollutants by industries. Then another Sant, Balbir Singh Seechwal,. It was a daunting task. Government was also to blame for this mess.

Sant Seechwal
Sant Seechwal

“In 2000, Seechawal, a Sikh holy man, set out to clean up the mess in the river. But he volunteers cleared the entire riverbed of water hyacinth and silt, and built riverbanks and roads alongside the river.

Seechawal launched a public-awareness campaign asking the villagers to dispose of their sewage elsewhere and some

people revived traditional methods of waste disposal and treatment. The river has now reborn and pure water flows through it. Treated water is sent to fields and works as organic manure. The water table level has come up again and area has become green again.

Time Magazine has profiled the Sikh sect leader as one of the 30 “Heroes of Environment” selected from across the globe.

In passing, it is to emphasized that Guru was an environmentalist and was aware of the importance of pure air, water and earth free from pollution.

Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak

In his “Bani”, the Guru Ji has equated the air with Guru(teacher), water to the father and earth to the mother.

Confusion

Ideas are marching in his head not in unison but in a haphazard manner; his head has become like a pond in which ideas like fishes and other aquatic animals are roaming; going any which way; colliding with each other and jostling with each other for space. As the brain cannot increase, the garbage of ideas is collecting and plans are filling up fast like the advance booking in a cinema for an expected grand movie.

When will there be a Kar Seva and the excessive muck will be cleaned up? There are thousands of devotees for a Kar Seva of holy tank in a temple or Gurudwara vying with each other; they take away the garbage and put it in their fields as an fertilizer. Who will O-Ram Ji come to clean this head?