GuruPurab: Yesterday was one of those relaxed thursday evenings when you have the satisfaction of having given your best at work. So, an appointment with the idiot box was long overdue. As I flipped the channels, the familiar rumblings of Arnab and the competing noisy news channels filled my drawing room with petrifying decibels. This time the fight was about whether the governor of J&K should have or not have dissolved the assembly. I tried to listen- really hard I did, but alas everybody was shouting – one on top of other. My nervous fingers gave way and I started to flip further till it got a little sedate on a Hindi news channel. There was a heartwarming story of Pakistan deciding to open a corridor for Sikh pilgrims to visit the Kartarpur Sahib on occasion of the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary. Kartarpur Sahib is situated across the river Ravi in Pakistan, approximately four kilometers from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. It was established by the Sikh Guru in 1522. The first Gurdwara is also believed to be Guru Nanak Devji’s resting place. Islam & Sikhism have fought spiteful and long drawn battles in the 16th and 17th century. Even during the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and the resultant partition of Punjab along religious lines, violence of enormous proportions was witnessed. Both the Sikhs and the Muslims saw their homeland being shredded in the name of religion by a hastily drawn Radcliffe line. For Pakistan to put all that behind and welcome the Sikh pilgrims deserves appreciation. As like anything else between India and Pakistan, it does not come without its usual suspicions that Pakistan is trying to fuel the Khalistan movement again and that there are posters of Bindrawala and 84 et al being propagated there. Be it as may, the act itself by Pakistan is commendable. And that brings me to our own story, that of Kashmiri pandits. Owing to its geographic location, Kashmir witnessed Islamic invasions far earlier than rest of India. The atrocities of the Pathan rulers and the Moghuls are well documented in the annals of history and the pandit community has always been at the receiving end. The most notable among the tyrants was Iftikhar khan, the governor of Kashmir under the protégé of the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. A shrewd ruler that he was, Aurangzeb knew fully well that if he converted the elite Kashmiri pandits, the rest of the Hindus in India would follow. Hence imposition of stiff taxes, persecution of the worst kinds and the honor of their sisters and daughters was repeatedly violated. The pandits were losing their religion to the fanatic furor with which the population was being converted to Islam. It is then that the Pandits led by Pandit Kripa Ram Dutt, a Sarasvat Brahmin of Matan, 65km east of Srinagar, decided to seek help from the Sikh Guru of that time, Guru Teg Bahadur. Guru Teg Bahadur was a firm believer of religious freedom much ahead of the age that he was living in. He was a firm believer that people everywhere should be free to practice their religion without fear or favor. It is this principle that was tested when Kripa Ram Dutt came to him with the plea to save the Pandits. The Guru realized that all this persecution would not stop without a greater sacrifice and while he was still in his thoughts, his eight-year-old son, Gobind Rai realized upon him… “Who else than you o father?” So leaving the Gurugaddi (mantleship) of the Sikhs in the hands of a young eight year old Gobind Rai (Guru Gobind Singh), Guru Teg Bahadur left for Delhi to confront the might of the Mughal emperor. He was arrested midway and brought to Delhi in an iron cage. What followed has been captured in many history books. The Guru withstood all possible limits of human pain, stood like a rock against the worst torture to his body and ultimately made his supreme sacrifice -his head severed from his torso. So badly was his body tortured that a devotee had to burn his own house to clandestinely cremate the body of the Guru.The severed head was finally brought to Anandpur sahib and cremated by Guru Gobind singh ji.
His supreme sacrifice earned Guru Teg Bahadur the title of “Hind di chahder”- Saviour of the Hindus and he saved whatever was left of the Hindu population in Kashmir. The more one reads about this medieval madness, the more disturbing it gets but it also points out to something about our community and rings a few questions in my head. Are we Pandits an ungrateful community with a sense of entitlement and forgrantedness? Why don’t we have a picture of Guru Teg Bahadur mandatorily in our puja rooms? After all don’t we owe our existence to his sacrifices? I pride myself to come from a family with very tolerant views of every religion. My grandfather, when I was young, used to take me to Hari Parbat every Sunday. On the foothills of Parbat was the Ganesh temple where my grandfather used to pay his obeisance. The Ganesh temple shared its boundary wall with the shrine of a sufi saint Makdhoom Saheb. My grandfather would bow his head at Makdhoom Saheb’s before proceeding to the Ganesh Temple. I
used to do the same and this little ritual taught me to respect all religions including Islam. It taught me that religion, per say, had nothing to do with Aurangzeb’s bigotry. It was his lust for power that made him the tyrant that he was. It helped me to understand why he didn’t spare even his own Sufi brother Dara Shikon or his father whom he got executed in the journey to attain the reins of Moghul power. However, on the foothills of the same Parbat was the gurudwara Chatti Pathsahi. I beg to ask this question? Why didn’t my grandfather not once take me to that gurudwara. Why, as a child, was I never told the story of the bravery of Guru Teg Bahadur except for in the footnotes of my moral science book (and that too without context). Have we told this story enough to our children? Festival celebration is a very important and direct way of teaching our children what we believe in. By celebrating Diwali we tell them to be on the righteous path because however tedious that path may be, success is guaranteed at the end of it. Shouldn’t Gurupurab, the birthday of Gurunanak and thereby of Sikhism be as important an celebration for us ? Then why isn’t it celebrated with the same fervor of, for example, Shivratri? Shouldn’t we communicate to our next generation that we owe our existence to the Sikhism. My mother has filled my ears with various leelas and bhajans of Sharika, Raginya, Shiva and Krishna. Even after four hundred years, shouldn’t we have at least one bhajan / hymn expressing our gratitude to Guru Teg Bahadur for his sacrifices or to Guru Gobind Singh for dawning it onto his own father to help a community he knew very little about at that tender age ? They say history repeats itself. Our generation and the one before faced persecution at the hands of some Islamist fanatics as well. We were at the same crossroads in 1990 as Pandit Kripa Ram Dutt was centuries ago (although the magnitude may not have been the same). Have we done enough to eulogize our savior? If not, then why? Are we a selfish, ungrateful community having a sense of entitlement or was the Aurangzeb story an exaggerated one? If the former, then we deserve every bit of the extinction that we are facing today as a community. We absolutely do.