Whither devotion to heritage ?

However, hardly any devotee noticed the wanton destruction of the rich Sikh heritage in this ancient town. Founded in 1596 AD, the town has already lost many sites of antiquity.

The word ‘bunga’ is derived from Persian, meaning a hospice, or a dwelling place. Akharas and bungas served as centres of elementary Sikh education for a long time.

Of the total 105 bungas, constructed around Darbar Sahib, especially during the Sikh rule, at least 85 have already fallen prey to insensitive residents. Many of them have either been demolished to construct modern dwellings or encroachments built by unscrupulous persons. Rest of the dilapidated bungas are not even on the priority list of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) or other Sikh organisations, who are on the forefront of celebrations to milk maximum political mileage out of the functions.

Owing to callousness by all concerned, the surroundings of Darbar Sahib are fast turning into a cultural desert. Reckless destruction of heritage sites is so far gone that some bungas are up for sale while bungas of Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, founder of The Tribune, and many bungas from Majitha town have lost their existence.

The two bungas in the name of Bhai Sahib Singh and Bhai Himmat Singh – two of the five ‘pyaras’ of Guru Gobind Singh, are also in ruins. The pertinent question is can’t the SGPC or babas of Kar Sewa Wale purchase such sites and restore them?

In the booklet, ‘History of Sri Darbar Sahib Tarn Taran’, written by Shamsher Singh Ashok and published by the SGPC, it has been ‘gracefully’ admitted that due to the callousness of the Sikhs, the historical bunga of Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa and the 32 acres of land attached to it could not be protected. Hari Singh was one of the greatest commanders-in-chief of the Sikh army. The British had also showered praises on him for his military skills and went as far as to conclude that he was the greatest.

A large number of nagar kirtans, langars, kirtan darbars are an obvious index of the religious fervour of the devotees at display during the celebrations, however, the intent to revive the heritage associated with the Guru is missing.


Tarn Taran is an important religious centre in the heart of the Majha tract. Various derivations of the name Tarn Taran have been given.

According to one, it means ‘salvation’, according to another, ‘cleansing water’, whereas the third and t appropriate and probable meaning is, ‘to swim or helping to swim across’.

 Taran originally belonged to sarovar, a name given by Guru Arjun Dev. Literally it means ‘the boat that takes one across’ (the ocean of existence). ‘Tarana’, in Sanskrit, is a raft or a boat.

A view of one of the dilapidated bungas surrounding Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran. — A Tribune photograph

 The babas of Kar Sewa Wale’, while constructing memorial gates, also overlooked the heritage sites of Tarn Taran, which are in danger. Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited Tarn Taran several times between 1802 and 1837 AD. The gold plating of Darbar Sahib and beautiful frescoes were done at his behest. According to historian Sohan Lal Suri, the boundary wall of the town was constructed on the orders of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the year 1836 AD to protect the town from foreign invaders. The 14 gates were constructed to enable elephants and their riders to have a hassle-free entry.

However, with the passage of time, the big wall and its gates have disappeared. Maharaja’s grandson, Kanwar Naunihal Singh also evinced keen interest to give Tarn Taran a new look. Maharaja’s grandson had ordered construction of a three-storey minaret in the gurdwara premises in 1839 AD, which is still in good condition. Rest of the minarets could not be completed due to the decline of the Sikh empire.A view of one of the dilapidated bungas surrounding Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran.

It is alt the same story elsewhere. No site at the Gurdwara Pipli Sahib (Putligarh), Amritsar, where Bhai Gurdas guided the Sikh sangat, has been protected by the SGPC. Gurdwara Pipli Sahib stands as a sacred memorial on the spot where the sangat, from Afghanistan and north-western districts of the Punjab who came to take part in the excavation of the holy at Amritsar, was welcomed by Guru Arjan Dev. The cutting of trees around the marbled heritage structure comes as great shock to devotees.

Guru Arjan Dev also founded other towns, like Kartarpur in Jalandhar district. Hundreds of old trees, mute witness to history, have been cut at Guru Ka Bagh in the name of kar seva, causing concern among environmentalists and the sangat alike. A visit to the site shows stumps of old trees outside the gurdwara premises. Jathedar Dalip Singh, a former vice-president of the SGPC, says it is shocking on the part of the SGPC to have turned a blind eye to the destruction of old trees by babas of Kar Sewa Wale.

Guru ka Bagh (the garden of the Guru) is 20 km from Amritsar, built to commemorate Guru Arjan Dev’s visit. This gurdwara has also been witness to important events in the last century. During the freedom struggle the Sikhs launched a morcha (agitation) against a corrupt mahant from its premises. When the British government bowed to the pressure of the Akalis, who had held a peaceful agitation, Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram, congratulating the community with a one-liner: “First decisive battle for India’s freedom won.”

The Guru Ka Bagh massacre is widely recognised as the turning point in India’s struggle for Independence. Salutations followed from all around.

Moti Lal Nehru, father of Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, said: “I salute the Sikhs who are fighting for freedom.” Dr Saffudin Kitchlu commented: “Our Sikh brothers have taught us the way to achieve freedom.  No power can stop us now, from becoming a free nation.”

Though the twin gurdwaras of Guru Ka Bagh are under the direct control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, no function has been planned to mark the 400th martyrdom anniversary of the fifth Guru. Similarly, no function has been arranged at Mallu Nangal, once a Pathan dominated village near Amritsar to commemorate Guru Arjan Dev’s visit.

 In the centre of Tarn Taran, stands the gurdwara founded by Guru Arjan Dev, who also arranged for the digging of the tank. The site of the gurdwara and the tank was an open place at that time. However, the structure of main Sikh shrine was altered. Maharaja Ranjit Singh renovated the gurdwara with golden plates. He also got the pavement around the gurdwara constructed. The gurdwara stands on the edge of the tank. At the north corner of the tank, a little away from the gurdwara, is a lofty column or minar, with white stucco-covered top, reached by a winding staircase inside the column.

Several wells in the gurdwara premises and adjoining bungas have either been filled up with earth or are in disuse.

Another historical well, known as Guru-ka-Khuh, has been covered with marble slabs and the SGPC has installed taps adjoining to it following depletion of water.

Bibi Bhani da Khuh, situated on the western side of the town, has also not been preserved.

The ‘baoli’ (well with steps) at Goindwal Sahib — the birth place of Guru Arjan Dev — is a fine structure and has 84 steps leading to the surface of the water. 

However, the old Nanakshahi bricks of the baoli have been covered with ornate marble.

The gold plating of Darbar Sahib and the gold palanquin required more than 55kg of gold, worth more than Rs 4 crore to mark the 400th year of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. The Sikh shrine had earlier been gold-plated at the behest of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

However, heritage lovers allege that rich edifices and murals of Darbar Sahib suffered colossal damage during ‘kar sewa’. Wall paintings of Hindu Gods, including Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, which were unique specimens of the Sikh School of Art, have disappeared from the upper storey of Sri Darbar Sahib. The frescos were completed in the year 1824, during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

However, babas of kar sewa wale have denied that old frescoes were replaced. He claimed that the wall paintings were damaged in 1980s and hence some of them were beyond recognition and difficult to restore.

Balvinder Singh Reader (Conservation Planner), Guru Ramdas School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University, emphasised upon the need to identify spiritual memorials related to the fifth Guru during his lifetime.

He conducted a survey and spent time at places such as Goindwal Sahib, the birth place of the Guru; Kartarpur in Jalandhar district; Ram Sar, the place where Sukhmani Sahib was compiled; Guru Ke Mahal, where Guru Arjun spent many years and is also the birthplace of Guru Teg Bahadur Sahib; and finally Dera sahib in Lahore, Pakistan, where Guru Arjan, who was tortured by Mughal Emperor Jahangir, attained martyrdom. He says the real tribute would be to conserve all the places related to the Guru.

The Pakistan Evacuee Property Trust Board has also failed to conserve the rich heritage relating to Guru Arjan Dev in Pakistan.

Mr Balvinder Singh says the condition of the mohrakshi (frescoes made by using natural pigments on wet lime) work in Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Lahore, needs immediate care.

t of the frescoes are vanishing. Documentation with latest scientific techniques is required and then practical conservation to save them from further decay.

In addition, the traditional entry should also be highlighted so that pilgrims can have glimpses of spiritual moment of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev.

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