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One of the most revered festivals of Sikhs, Guru Nanak Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak ji, the founder of Sikhism, will be celebrated on November 12, 2019. As the country gears up to see the grand festivities unfold, we take a look at some of the holy sites in the religion associated with the Guru's life.
It is said that the foundation of Sikhism was laid on a fateful day when Guru Nanak Dev ji went to take a bath in Bein, a rivulet in Punjab. Legend has it that on his return he was in communion with the divine, and eventually introduced the world to the faith of Sikhism. Guru Nanak's words impacted thousands from all walks of life - farmers, politicians, common men, soldiers etc. The Guru carried his divine message all over the country, where Gurudwaras have been set up in his honour. The journeys that Guru Nanak undertook are called Odysseys or Udaisis. Today, devotees from all over the world follow in his footsteps to take a taste of the divine and be overwhelmed by the same spiritual powers that once inspired the Guru.
First Odyssey/ Udaisi (1500-1506 AD)
It lasted about seven years and covered the areas of Kurukshetra, Delhi, Haridwar, Varanasi, Patna, Gaya, Assam, Cuttack and others.
Gurudwara Baoli Sahib, Kurukshetra
During a solar eclipse, Guru Nanak made a stopover at Kurukshetra to have a discourse with the spiritual leaders of that time. Today, Gurudwara Baoli Sahib in Pehowa is dedicated to the memory of his visit to the town.
After brief visits to Haridwar and Varanasi, Guru Nanak Dev ji visited Patna, where he preached his message. Today, a popular Sikh pilgrimage site here is Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib or Patna Sahib, which marks the birth site of Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the highly venerated 10 Sikh gurus. Situated in the bustling Harmandir Gali in Patna's old quarters in the Chowk area, this sacred spot is now known as one of the five takhts (Sikh seats of authority) of Sikhism. It was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a well-known ruler of Punjab.
The Gurudwara houses several personal belongings of Guru Gobind Singh, which include four iron arrows, a pair of sandals and a pangura (cradle) with four stands covered with golden plates, which was the Guru's cradle during his childhood. The "Hukamnamas" of Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Tegh Bahadur are written in a book, which is kept here. The Gurudwara sees significant footfalls during the festivities of Guru Nanak Jayanti.
Gurudwara Datan Sahib, Cuttack
Sprawled along the banks of the pristine Mahanadi river, this Gurudwara was built to mark Guru Nanak Dev's visit to Cuttack. The Gurudwara holds mass prayers and kirtans every day when the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, is put in the meditation room. On Guru Nanak Jayanti, devotees gather and listen to the recitation of the holy book.
Guru Nanak Dev ji visited Delhi briefly. Today, it holds one of the dearests of Sikh ethos to its heart - Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which is a major pilgrimage centre. A quiet and serene spot amid the bustling marketplace, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is possibly the most popular attraction of Delhi. You can spot it from a while away as its high golden dome glistens in the sun. As you enter the premises you will be enveloped in a sense of peace. After paying homage at the sanctum, where the holy book is kept, you can stroll along the tranquil pond in the Gurudwara. Other prominent features are a cooking area, a big art gallery and a school. A langar (holy food) is offered to devotees who come to visit. This food is prepared by GuruSikhs who work here.
Legend has it that the Gurudwara area was once Jaisinghpura Palace, the residence of Raja Jai Singh, the ruler of Amber. It is said that in 1664, the eighth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Har Krishan Sahib, stayed in this palace.
Second Odyssey/ Udaisi (1506-1513 AD), Age 37-44
This journey spanned seven years and took Guru Nanak Dev ji to places like Dhanasri Valley and Sangladip (Ceylon), and areas of South India.
Gurudwara Bidar is one of the holiest places for the Sikh community and consequently attracts a large number of believers, especially during November and March. According to local legend, the land was under the grip of an excruciating famine when Guru Nanak visited it and miraculously made water spring forth from a laterite rock mountain. The thirst of the people was alleviated and this gave rise to the belief that the water that burst forth at the command of the Guru is capable of healing many ailments. The serenity of the Gurudwara Nanak Jhira is amplified by its natural surroundings that include a sarovar (lake) and an Amrut Kunda (sweet water pond). A langar (community kitchen) serves hot and nutritious food to all who come to the Gurudwara and there are clean rooms for pilgrims who flock to the Gurudwara from all corners of the country.
Though it is unclear whether Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited Maharashtra or not, Nanded remains one of the holiest cities of Sikhism. This Gurudwara holds relics of Guru Gobind Singh including a golden dagger, a matchlock gun, a studded steel shield and five golden swords.
Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh empire, at the place where the last guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh ji breathed his last. According to a religious belief, this is where the guru-ship was passed on from Guru Gobind Singh to the Guru Granth Sahib. It is said that Guru Gobind Singh ji realised that men are perishable, but ideas, which the Guru Granth Sahib represents, are not. While conferring the guru-ship on the holy book, Guru Gobind Singh ji called Nanded the Abchalnagar, or the steadfast city. The name 'Sachkhand' literally means the region of truth.
Laid out in majestic white marble, the dome of the main shrine is capped in gold. The complex houses two more shrines - the Bunga Mai Bhago Ji, which houses the Guru Granth Sahib, and the other is of Angitha Bhai Daya Singh and Dharam Singh, two of the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones). The complex has two storeys and the decoration is similar to Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The inner room is called the Angitha Saheb. Its walls are covered with golden plates. The sanctum is decorated with marble that is inlaid with floral patterns. The walls and the ceiling are decorated with stucco and tukari work. During the day, the Guru Granth Sahib is brought out and placed in a room in front of the sanctum. At nights, it is placed back in the sanctum.
Third Odyssey/ Udaisi (1514-1518 AD)
About five years long, Guru Nanak Dev covered the areas of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and Tibet in this journey.
A prominent Sikh pilgrimage site, Nanakmatta lies on the banks of Deoha river. It is said that when Guru Nanak Dev ji visited here, its name was changed from Gorakhmatta to Nanakmatta. This Gurudwara is among the three major Gurudwaras in the region, the other two being Gurdwara Reetha Sahib and Gurdwara Hemkunt Sahib.
A popular Sikh pilgrimage in Badrinath, Uttarakhand, is Hemkund Sahib, formally known as Gurudwara Sri Hemkund Sahib. It is believed that Guru Gobind Singh ji, the tenth guru of the Sikhs, spent 10 years in meditation here. What adds to the popularity of the religious site is its stunning location surrounded by the Garhwal Himalayas. Hemkund Sahib is nestled between the peaks of the Hemkund Parvat. The name 'Hemkund' means lake of snow and the waters are ice cold. The Gurudwara is visited by a large number of devotees from all corners of the country before it closes down for the winter season between October and April. Sikh pilgrims arrive at the gurudwara to help repair the trail which is often left damaged after the winter season. The Gurudwara also houses a scenic lake where devotees take a holy dip.
Dedicated to the memory of Shri Guru Gobind Singh, Paonta Sahib is a quaint town that echoes with spirituality. The main attraction is a majestic Gurudwara that draws a large number of Sikh pilgrims throughout the year. It is said that its shrine houses a number of the Guru's relics.
A beautiful gold palanquin has been kept on display in the Gurudwara and it is believed that it was donated by devotees. Inside the Gurudwara, Shri Talab Sahib and Shri Dastar Asthan are important places and the latter is famous for the turban tying competitions held in it. Another popular venue inside the Gurudwara is the Kavi Darbar, where poetry competitions are held. As in all Gurudwaras, the langar (communal kitchen food) served here is also open to all.
Located in the periphery of Leh, on the Leh-Kargil road, is Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, which was constructed in memory and honour of Guru Nanak Dev ji. This place of worship is associated with a very important event in the history of the Sikh religion. It is popularly believed that during 1515-18 when Guru Nanak was returning to Punjab via Srinagar, after travelling to Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet, he rested at this place. When he reached Leh, he sat here to meditate. The Indian Army, along with local people, constructed this Gurudwara to pay homage to the Guru and all cars passing this route make sure to stop to say a prayer and seek blessings. Every Sunday, personnel from the Indian Army volunteer here for public service.
Fourth Odyssey/ Udaisi (1519-1521 AD)
Guru Nanak Ji visited some Middle-East countries during this journey that lasted for three years.
Fifth Odyssey/ Udaisi (1523-1524 AD)
This odyssey lasted for two years and the Guru visited places around Punjab during this time, after which he settled in Kartarpur. Some of the popular Sikh pilgrimage sites in Punjab are in Amritsar.
Amritsar is world-famous for the beautiful and highly revered Golden Temple or Sri Harmandir Sahib, which is one of the most prominent spiritual sites in the country. The temple is a two-storeyed structure with its top half covered in almost 400 kg of pure gold leaf, which is what earned it its English moniker. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh empire, is believed to have initiated the construction in the 19th century. The rest of the temple complex is built in white marble, inlaid with precious and semi-precious colourful stones. To create motifs, the pietra dura technique has been used. The grand temple complex is awe-inspiring in its size.
One must cover one’s head and remove his/her footwear before entering the Golden Temple and other Gurudwaras, as a mark of respect. As one listens to the beautiful notes of gurbani (spiritual songs), the serene spirituality of the temple soothes the soul. One can also partake of the free meal that is offered here to around 20,000 people every day at the Guru Ka Langar (community meal), regardless of caste, creed or gender. The entire process is managed by volunteers and is one of the most humbling experiences you can have.
The glistening temple is surrounded by Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar), whose waters are said to have healing powers. One can also watch colourful fish swim in the lake’s clear blue waters as devotees take a dip in it. The temple has been designed keeping in mind the basic tenets of Sikhism that advocate universal brotherhood and all-inclusive ethos. Thus, it is accessible from all directions.
The main entrance boasts an imposing clock tower, which also has a Central Sikh Museum. From here, one can sight spectacular views of the shrine and its elegant silhouette in the Amrit Sarovar. A second entry is through the silver doors of the gorgeously embellished Darshani Deori, which leads onto the causeway that links the sanctum sanctorum with the Parikrama, the marbled surface surrounding the sarovar.
In the north-west corner of the complex is the Jubi tree, which is believed to possess special powers. It is said to have been planted 450 years ago by the Golden Temple’s first high priest, Baba Buddha.
During the day, the holy book of the Sikhs – the Granth Sahib – is kept inside the temple. At night, it is taken to the Akal Takth or Eternal Throne.
Akal Takht is one of the five seats of the Sikh religious authority. The word 'akal' translates into a timeless one and 'takht' means throne. Thus, Akal Takht literally means the throne of the immortal. It was built by the sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Ji, who laid the foundation stone in 1605. The takht was a symbol against the tyranny of the rulers and represented justice in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is the highest seat of the Khalsa, which is a military and civil authority of the Sikhs. The weaponry that was used by Sikh warriors in those times is also housed here. The takht is situated within the Golden Temple complex.
Baba Atal Rai tower is situated to the south of the Golden Temple. At a height of 40 m, it is a nine-storey tower and one of the tallest buildings in Amritsar. Legend has it that Atal Rai, the son of the sixth Guru Hargobind, revived a dead friend, Mohan. Guru Hargobind rebuked the nine-year-old child for displaying his spiritual powers. In order to compensate for breaking the law, Atal Rai took samadhi. Each floor of this octagonal tower represents a year of Atal’s life. Initially, the structure was built as a tower, but eventually, it was transformed into a gurudwara. The first floor of the tower houses a number of miniature works depicting scenes from Guru Nanak's life. One can also get a sweeping and panoramic view of the city of Amritsar from the top of the tower.
Believed to be among the oldest in the region, the Gurudwara Sri Tarn Taran Sahib was established by the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev. It is also said to have the largest sarovar (pond) among all the Gurudwaras in Punjab. Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundation of this beautiful Gurudwara in 1590. Another noteworthy feature of the Gurudwara is that it is the only Gurudwara that is the replica of the Golden Temple. The Gurudwara sees a huge crowd on amavasya (no moon) night as a multitude of pilgrims gathers here.
On September 7, 1539, he left the world leaving a legendary faith behind.