Callous neglect

The arcade is an important monument of the medieval period that could not be preserved in its original shape. A modern structure — the Dera of Kar Sewa Wale — has been constructed in the vicinity of the gurdwara. The kar seva is being carried out by Baba Hira Singh these days.

It is a common belief that Guru Arjun Dev used to stay at this place when the new city in Majha region was being founded with the construction of Darbar Sahib, Tarn Taran.

The two pillars in Jhulna Mahal Gurdwara symbolise the meeting of Guru Arjun Dev  with Guru Hargobind Sahib. Photo by Rajiv SharmaUnfortunately, the place is being neglected today. The Babas of Kar Sewa Wale have started constructing a new gurdwara around the double pillars, symbolising the meeting of Guru Arjun Dev with his son Guru Hargobind Sahib. Surprisingly, the pillars remain covered with a saffron cloth and devotees can’t have look at them.

The masonry work done in the vicinity of Jhulna Mahal Gurdwara has also caused considerable damage to its unique architectural features.

The well, made of small Nanakshahi bricks, has been broadened with new construction. As a result, it has lost its sheen. The municipal taps have been attached to the modern construction around the ancient well.

And it was the imagination of the Guru and masons of the period that blended all these elements together to produce one of the great wonders. The place attracted visitors and worshippers from far-flung areas. Instead of carrying out the repairs of the aging structures by getting the opinion of experts, a modern look is being given to some parts of the ancient structure.

Guru Arjun Dev made Amritsar the headquarters of his pontificate. He completed the digging of the tank, and a new town began to grow up around the sacred pool. In the centre of the tank, he built the Hari Mandir. In 1590, he built another Sikh shrine with a tank at Tarn Taran. The Guru was himself a man of fame and wealth, and his influence extended over Hindus and Muslims to such an extent that he incurred the wrath of Emperor Jahangir. Hearing a report that the Guru had shown sympathy towards Prince Khusru who had rebelled against him, Jahangir ordered him to be thrown into prison and, according to the account given in Tuzak-I-Jahangiri, the Guru’s death was caused directly by the orders of the Emperor in 1606.

A sevadar, while giving description of Jhulna Mahal Gurdwara, claims that when Emperor Jehangir was passing through the nearby road with bedecked elephants swaying, the curious Sikh sangat went up to the road to see the royal procession. It is said that Guru Arjun Dev blessed the magnificent place to “swing like an elephant”.

Another shaking arcade — Jhulna Mahal — is situated in the adjoining district of Gurdaspur. This Jhulna Mahal is also crying for immediate preservation. The arcade is an important monument connected with the medieval history of Gurdaspur town. The town is named after Guriaji who had bought the village and named it after himself.

The construction of this Jhulna Mahal in Gurdaspur district began in the middle of the eighteenth century and was meant to be the residence of Narain Dass, one of Guriaji’s grandsons. However, the construction could not progress beyond a wide wall comprising a set of arches. The wall came to be known as “Jhulna Mahal”, as it used to vibrate considerably if someone touched it. A document (dated 1839) of a Mahant stated that Rang Mahal, the residence of Narain Dass’ brother, Saran Dass, was built in 1737. It is believed that the Jhulna Mahal of Gurdaspur also belongs to that period. Some people here attribute the shaking of the wall to mystical powers.

The damage caused to many heritage buildings in the border belt has already drawn flak from heritage lovers. Even in 2003, the kar seva at the Golden Temple came in for severe criticism. The SGPC and the Akal Takht secretariat was flooded with objections raised over the alleged damage to the magnificent old structures in the past, but the vandalism of heritage continued.

“We Sikhs are either too naive or do not care for our past,” read a letter written by an SGPC member and President, Akali Dal (Amritsar), Mr Simranjit Singh Mann, addressed to the then SGPC Chief, Mr Kirpal Singh Badungar. He saw a “conspiracy to finish the Sikh heritage through the Babas of Kar Seva Wale” and had held Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra (who remained the SGPC Chief for 25 years) and his successors, “responsible” for this colossal damage. Earlier, Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, a former general secretary, had written to the SGPC to stop the ongoing gilding of the interiors of the Golden Temple, stating that it was not being done as per recommendations of experts.

There are many such sites in Amritsar district, which, though quite ancient and associated with history, have neither been included in tourist circuits nor mentioned adequately in tourist literature.

Kar seva controversy

The institution of kar seva came under the scanner from the Sikh Sangat for the first time when in a shocking but unprecedented development, Amrik Singh of Dera Baba Jagtar Singh went underground after allegedly embezzling donations worth crores of rupees. However, Baba Amrik Singh levelled serious counter-allegations against Baba Jagtar Singh.

Baba Jagtar Singh had alleged that Amrik Singh had purchased about seven acres land in Hoshiarpur district in his own name recently. A Scorpio vehicle was purchased in the name of his (Amrik Singh’s) relative, he further alleged.

Earlier, a couple of years ago, Amrik Singh was held “responsible” for the missing of some things during the kar seva of the sarovar of the Golden Temple, but no action was taken against him. Amrik Singh, who is only about 38 years, had joined the Dera of Baba Jagtar Singh at the young age of 17 years. He had won the confidence of senior Sikh sants and was brought to Tarn Taran, the headquarters of the kar seva.

Since he was found to be ‘worldly wise’, he was given the general power of attorney in July 1998. He had visited many developed countries, including the USA, with a view to collect donations. However, recently, he developed sharp differences with Baba Jagtar Singh when his activities were found suspicious.

SGPC versus the Babas of Kar Sewa Wale

The SGPC executive suddenly withdrew kar seva from Baba Jagtar Singh and Baba Lakha Singh on the pretext that they (the Babas) had indulged in “anti-SGPC” activities. The immediate provocation to ‘punish’ Baba Jagtar Singh was that he had accepted a siropa from the Congress stage at Tarn Taran. However, within 24 hours, the SGPC Chief did a volte-face. He had to call an emergency meeting to restore the kar seva to Baba Jagtar Singh, eulogising his services in the field of kar seva.

The SGPC executive, however, took a principled decision not to give a free hand to the Babas to demolish the Sikh heritage. From now onward, the kar seva would be carried out on the basis of the recommendations of the heritage experts and on the approval of the Shiromani Committee. Had such a decision been taken immediately after the formation of the SGPC, the rich heritage would have been saved.


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