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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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.