SANGALWALA AKHARA. A UNIQUE HERITAGE

A number of rare manuscripts, preserved and catalogued in a scientific way, are considered invaluable for researchers who are interested in the history of Gurmukhi script. Moreover, the manuscripts establish significant linkage of the Hindi language with the Gurmukhi script.
Though t of the linguists have failed to notice the worth of the Bhakti literature stored in its magnificent library, yet Dr H.S. Bedi, Head, Department of Hindi, Guru Nanak Dev University, describes this Akhara as 'second university' of Amritsar. While the first university was established in 1969 after the name of Guru Nanak Dev, the 'second university' (Sangalwala Akhara) is named after his (Guru Nanak's) son, Sri Chand ji. Some of the students from Guru Nanak Dev University and scholars from far-flung places visit the Akhara in connection with research work.

The credit for compiling a huge collection of religious works, in Gurmukhi script, seems to be the result of several years of hard work and dedication. The great volume of 1206 folios (Gurmukhi script) was compiled in this Udasin Akhara establishment. It contains four Vedas, Upanishads, Vishnu Puran, Panch Dashi, Panch Bhasha Grantha, Vivek Sindu, Vashishta Sar, Shesh Samavad, Agyan Bodhini, Vigyan Geeta, Vichar Mala. A big manuscript of Guru Granth Sahib, Dastoor-e-alam and Sadhu Suman Chanderika are the other works attributed to Nirvanji. All are written in Gurmukhi script. The library is 'enriched' with ancient literature pertaining to various religions and old manuscripts.

Interestingly, unlike in t other religious places, the Head of the Sangalwala Akhara, Mahant Anantanand, is a graduate. Born in Hoshiarpur, he belongs to a Sikh family. His parents shifted to Burma in search of greener pastures before the Partition of the country. He was only two years old when the family had to come back to Punjab after the annexation of Burma by Japan. A poet, excellent orator and prose writer himself, he has written a number of books and is instrumental in preserving the age-old history of the Udasin Akharas.

He also arranges seminars and honours scholars every year, besides holding religious functions. He has been serving this institution from February 1978. During his tenure, a library and well-furnished reading room for newspapers was established for the benefit of the general public.

Despite the good works done, the management of the Akhara has failed to preserve the invaluable frescos and originality of its beautiful structures. However, Swami Anantanand claims that the roof of the sanctum sanctorum had collapsed in 1972. The wall paintings were lost during the re-construction of the structure. The cave and other structures have been plastered with modern material, thereby losing their pristine glory.

The Udasin sadhus also played a significant role in bringing water from River Raavi to the Golden Temple through 'hansili' (covered water channel). Raavi was 100 miles away from Amritsar. It is claimed that Nirvan Priyatam Dass and Santokh Dass took this job in their own hands and helped in filling the temple tanks with river water when groundwater level had gone down drastically. The sardars helped Nirwanji with money and manpower and the project was completed in Bikrami 1940-41. The said 'hansili canal' still feeds the Golden Temple's sarovar and other sacred tanks.

Interestingly, the Sangalwala Akhara is committed to be pro-government. The Continued from Page 1
modern gadgets inside the room of the head of the cult, including close-circuit cameras, speak volumes about the modern approach of the Akhara.

This institution was earlier named 'Nirvan Akhara' in Bikrami 1828, when it actually came into existence. Later in Bikrami 1920-42, someone from the Akhara got fixed a heavy iron chain at the main gate of the Akhara to perpetuate the memory of Nirvan Priyatam's victory over the sanyasis at Haridwar by whom this Akhara was actually founded.

The site where Akhara Sangalwara exists was a desolate and uninhabited place. Only a large tree, where Nirwan Priyatam Dass had first stopped for six months, was there.
The literal meaning of Akhara is an arena for wrestling, a place for exercise, a congregation of sadhus or their abode, a place of residence for singers. But in the Sadhu Samaj, especially in the Udasin sect, Akhara means a place where fellow sadhus stay, worship with their preceptor, a sangat, dera for the boarding and the lodging of Udasin sadhus.

The place where Shree Nirvan Dev sat under the large tree is called the 'Charanpaduka'. Adjacent to it, there is a flag named 'Dhwaja Sahib' by the side of which idols of deities have been installed. These places were built by one of his disciples, Shree Brahm Nijroop.

Later, a cave and some small rooms were constructed for the stay of sadhus. The location of the Akhara is 13-foot below the road level. Similarly, the cave is eight-foot below the ground level of the Akhara, where monks of the Udasin cult do penance and meditate.ÿ

History of Udasin asceticism

Mahant Priytam Dass Nirvan

THE word 'Udasin', in general, means a person who has renounced the world; who is unbiased, unattached, ascetic and is averse to mundane affairs of this world. It means a fully detached person, who neglecting perishable body relations, keeps on moving steadfastly on the path of mental progress merging all faculties into the Brahma. Such a person has nothing to do with the activities of this world.

The Udasin sect is an order of sadhus which was founded by the elder son of Guru Nanak, Baba Sri Chand, following the path of renunciation (udas). They generally wear a red chola with a black scarf (seli). The term 'Udasin' means sorrow or sadness, from Sanskrit 'udas'.

Modern Sikhism is generally opposed to asceticism and for that reason alone it has little place for the Udasins. This, however, was not always the case. Prior to the period of the Singh Sabha Movement (the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries), the Udasin way enjoyed considerable prestige, and under the Sikh rulers of Punjab, its practitioners were recipients of substantial land grants. Today, one finds a few Udasin centres.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh connection

 

MAHANT Anantanand, present head of the Akhara, claims that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born with the blessings of the Udasin sadhus. Quoting from the history of Udasins, he said that Maharaja Mahan Singh being disappointed from all corners came to pray through Nirvan Dev at Amritsar along with his wife Raj Kaur and asked for a child. Nirwanji looked upon them with kindness and blessed them with a son. They were told they 'would be having a son having one eye as your wife was having one eye covered with her mantle. He would be a great warrior and win all rajas and maharajas of this area and enjoy kingdom and prosperity'.

In Bikrami 1837, the couple was blessed with a son, who later grew up to be Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Akhara head claims that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was an ardent devotee of Nirvan Dev and he used to visit him whenever he was in Amritsar. 

 

A file picture of a fresco at the Akhara which has been lost now (above ) Mahant Anantnand displays a handwritten Hindi bir in Gurmukhi script. ' Photo by Rajiv Sharma

2 responses to “SANGALWALA AKHARA. A UNIQUE HERITAGE”

  1. Dhan Dhan baba shri chand hi. Mere Nanak nandan , mata sulkhani de noor. Tuhanu lakh lakh parnaam.

  2. gud

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