New Delhi: In just over a fortnight from now, Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab province will be opened for Indian devotees, meeting a long-standing demand of the Sikh community. Here’s a look at some of the frequently asked questions.
Where is the shrine?
The shrine, situated about 4.2kms from the Indian border in Narowal district, will be accessible to Indian pilgrims throughout the year via a corridor. Every day, up to 5,000 pilgrims can visit the gurdwara and return home the same day.
The Indian devotees, especially the Sikhs, have been demanding a visa-free “khule darshan” (free obeisance facility) at the gurdwara for all faiths, from India and overseas, all seven days a week by crossing the international border from Dera Baba Nanak town in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Why is the shrine so significant that the Indian devotees have been demanding pilgrimage facility for the last 70 years?
The shrine, originally known as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, is believed to be the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, founder of Sikhism, and is among the holiest pilgrimage sites for the community.
Located on the banks of Ravi river, the gurdwara was built to commemorate the site, where Guru Nanak settled after his missionary work and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.
After a lifetime of travel and converting the masses, Guru Nanak settled down in Kartarpur on his farm on the banks of the Ravi river, according to a post on the official website of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), the body governing the affairs of the Sikh community.
Here Guru Nanak discarded the dress of a pilgrim and adopted the clothes of a householder. Days would be spent in farming while mornings and evenings would be dedicated to prayers and singing praises of the Almighty.
Over the centuries, Ravi shifted course and now the part of the farm where Guru Nanak passed away, lies the other side of the river in Pakistan, while Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak, where Guru Nanak used to meditate daily, is on the Indian side of the border.
What is preserved in the gurdwara?
In the gurdwara is preserved a chola (robe) that Guru Nanak received as a gift while visiting Makkah, the SGPC added.
The founder of Sikhism was born on April 15, 1469, at Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi in Pakistan’s Sheikhupura district, now Nankana Sahib.
The original structure of the Kartarpur Sahib shrine was once destroyed by floods. It was reconstructed by Bhupinder Singh, former Patiala royal and grandfather of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
After Partition in 1947, the shrine was closed to people coming from the India side of the border.
The gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh jathas have been visiting it regularly ever since.
A 500-year-old well, believed to have been built during the lifetime of Guru Nanak Dev, was discovered near the gurdwara while digging the enclosure of the shrine in April.
How often do Sikhs travel to Pakistan?
Sikh ‘jathas’ from India travel to Pakistan on four occasions every year — Baisakhi, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev.
Pakistani authorities normally clear the tall grass from time to time, enabling the devotees from India to view the shrine with the help of a telescope.
Keeping mind the huge sentiment of people of Punjab, India first proposed the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, which is under construction now, in 1999 when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore.
However, it did not make much progress before last year when the proposal was renewed and given a push by India.
Pakistan agreed to the proposal and foundation stones were laid for the corridor on both sides of the border in November last year.
The construction of the corridor is targeted to be completed by October 31, ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.