Sikhs and Pilgrimage

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Recently a friend emailed asking for some advice about a topic. The coversation was all about Sikhs and pilgrimage. The original message sent by bhenji is below followed by the response.

I visited Nanakana many years ago, two days after the annual Sikh yatris had departed. Of course I did not see any turbans; except the old impoverished granthi and his wife who complained about the SGPC not paying him enough. Like the Golden Temple and Hazur Sahib Sikhs have been continuously setting up other places of pilgrimage. Hemkund was invented in the mid-forties; not known to Sikhs earlier. Sikhs practice and have total faith in pilgrimages to these places, no different from the Hindus. I often wonder if this practice conforms with the Sikh Way shown in the Granth. A point for thought!

My response to this email is below

Dear Bhenji

I do agree with some of what has been said in that email. The Granthis are indeed underpaid and many Sikh yatris who time to time visit these shrines.

The Harmandar Sahib and the Sarovar and considered of utmost importance to the Sikhs. From the time of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, the construction of the Sarovar and the subsequent building of the Harmandar Sahib Darbar, it s stone laying ceremony and many aspects of this shrine have been of historical and spiritual importance.

The Sarovar and it s excavation are equally significant. When the Sangat was excavating the Sarovar, they enquired when they should stop and they were told that it would become apparent when to stop. They kept digging until they came across a door which was locked from inside. The door was broken and inside there was a yogi who had been in meditation for thousands of years. He was revived by Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who was also a master in Yoga. It was then discovered from discussions with the Yogi, that this land where the Sarovar is built was considered sacred from ancient times.

From the times of Dunni Chand and the Pingla, there existed a pond near Dukh Bhanjani Beri which was considered to contain healing properties. The water from this pond cured the famous Pingla who was a leper.

The actual construction of the Darbar Sahib had important architectural aspects to it as this shrine would represent an important image and centre for all Sikhs. It consisted of 4 doors which invited the 4 castes of the Hindus (Kathri.... Brahmin) and the 4 castes of the Muslims too. The corners of the building are located perfectly in the directions of NE, NW, SE and SW implying that the vibrations of the word of God would travel in each direction of the Globe.

There are exactly 84 steps from the Darshan Diori to the entrance of the Darbar. These represent each yatris travel through each of their lives to their current state. Their last step into the Darbar represents their current life.

Many years ago, a Doctor wrote a famous article which I read. He visited the Harmandar Sahib and wrote about his personal experience of cleaning the parkarma of the Darbar on his knees for everyday of the month. He had a life fatal medical condition which disappeared after a month of doing this sewa. The Doctor was from Canada. There are several such real life occurrences that true Sikhs can relate to.

Baba Budha Ji was the first Granthi of the Harmandar Sahib and he represented one of the most upright and admirable Braham Gianis of all time. He initiated nearly all the Gurus and was consulted on all matters relating to the Sikh Panth by all the Gurus.

The Adi Granth, which was later completed to compile Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was first compiled and read at the Harmandar Sahib. This was due to the extreme importance that this shrine would represent in the future for all Sikhs.

The Akal Takht was built by Guru HarGobind Maharaj. He had a vision for the future of Sikhs and felt that one place would issue the orders on the Sikh Panth. So, the Akal Takht is the political centre for Sikhs and it sits directly opposite the most revered Sikh Temple.

And when Nadir Shah, an invading Emperor from Iran enquired about Sikhs, and how only a handful had managed to attack his massive army and release thousands of Hindu girls and ladies, he was informed these are great people for three reasons:

  1. Harmandar Sahib- they have a most revered place of worship which was built by their Gurus which gives them unity, pride and spiritual strength.
  2. Guru Granth Sahib Ji- their Guru pervades everywhere and teaches them equality, uprightness and belief in one Supreme Lord.
  3. Waheguru Shabad- this mantar is considered to be the ultimate form- it has been derived from the three previous ages, represents the power of the Almighty and meditation on it gives them the ability to keep the five vices in control.

At this point Nadir Shah ordered the filling up of the Sarovar with cement and stones and the destruction of the Harmandar Sahib. History has recorded that when the cannon was aimed and fired at the Harmandar Sahib, Nadir Shah stood next to it. And a stone from the flying debris of the blown up Darbar killed Nadir Shah.

It was Jassa Singh Aluwalia who later overlooked and managed the rebuilding of the Darbar Sahib and later, it was the mighty Maharaja Ranjeet Singh who cladded it s outer walls with gold plates. When the latter decided to do this sewa, he was informed by his wazirs that his decision to build memorials in the name of Guru Gobind Singh Ji would cost him his family. He would have no heir if he did this sewa. He gladly accepted the sewa because he felt that the Harmandar Sahib deserved a Gold finish.

Enough cannot be studied about the importance of the Golden Temple. With so much reverence, spirituality and rich history associated with this shrine, it is impossible for any learned Sikh to avoid a visit to this most important shrine. Perhaps one can call it a pilgrimage. But, we as Sikhs do not believe in salvation from pilgrimages. Neither are we able to wash away our sins by visiting these shrines.

Pilgrimages to Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and other places by Muslims and Christians are associated with redemption of sins and acceptance by God. This is not consistent with Sikh philosophy and teachings.

Visiting the Hazur Sahib, which is also an extremely important Shrine for the Sikhs, is probably less significant than the visit to the Harmandar Sahib.

My visit to Pakistan brought me closer to Guru Nanak Dev Ji. If you visit the street where Guru Ji studied, played and grew up, you will be overwhelmed with how close you will feel to Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Just to breathe in the air that he breathed out is a great feeling.

Our visits to these institutions represent a search for our history. They detail the persecution of our ancestors, show us their struggles and relate us to our past. I feel that it is important for all of us to research our past. The past of our families, and the past of our religion.

Article written by Akaldayal