The rise and the fall Destruction of Sikh Heritage

The first Sikh Master, Guru Nanak Dev, founded Kartarpur town. Subsequently, towns of Khadoor Sahib, Goindwal, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Kiratpur Sahib and Anandpur Sahib were got constructed and developed by Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Dass, Guru Ram Dass, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind Sahib and Guru Teg Bahadur, respectively. This tradition of building activities was carried forward throughout various periods of the Sikh history by the Sikh sants.

In the 20th century, the modern era of kar seva was revived by Sikh sants, including Baba Gurmukh Singh, Baba Jeewan Singh, Baba Harbans Singh, Baba Jhanda Singh, Baba Dalip Singh, Baba Uttam Singh, Baba Kharak Singh, Baba Jagtar Singh and Baba Sadhu Singh. The main idea was to preserve the heritage of the community without any vested interest.

The concept of kar seva is unique in Sikh religion, but it must be guided by experts. In the past all Babas of Kar Sewa Wale led very simple and truly religious life and had no personal ambitions, whatsoever. In fact, all of them were fully devoted to kar seva and dedicated their lives to this cause. They used to be embodiment of love and compassion and great dedication.

However, the wanton destruction of Sikh heritage in the name of kar seva is a recent phenomenon. Some of the pseudo-babas converted the great institution of kar seva into a big industry, much to the chagrin of the Sikh Sangat. These so-called Babas have developed taste for air-conditioned luxury cars that ply on donations.

The criminal cases registered against Amrik Singh, follower of Baba Jagtar Singh, have brought denigration to the institution of the kar seva. The lifestyle of the absconding Baba has hurt the sentiments of all those who have great faith in this age-old Sikh institution. The flashing of the news that Amrik Singh had fled after embezzling donations worth crores from Dera Baba Jagtar Singh of Kar Sewa Wale at Tarn Taran had come as a great shock to the Sikh masses.

The absconding Baba got into more trouble when Patiala Police detected sensational documents pertaining to purchase of prime land in certain parts of Punjab and bank accounts in the name of the alleged culprits.

The alleged culprit, Amrik Singh had supervised the kar seva of the holy tank of the Golden Temple, gold plating of Darbar Sahib Tarn Taran and Sikh shrines in Pakistan and had collected huge donations. He was kept in captivity for many days in the dera. However, he fled on the pretext of purchasing medicines from Amritsar.

The Patiala Police registered a fresh case against the absconding Baba on the intervention of the Director General Police yesterday when Baba Gurmit Singh submitted more documents pertaining to the purchase of land.

According to an FIR registered against Amrik Singh, he had bank accounts in the Centurion Bank of Punjab, Patiala. The perusal of the bank statements of this account reveals the manner in which Amrik Singh and his associates, including Guriqbal Singh and Amandip Singh, used to embezzle these funds. Amrik Singh purchased land measuring 27 kanal, five marlas at a village near Bahadurgarh, near Patiala.

The fresh FIR was registered under Sections 420, 406, 409,465, 467 , 468 , 470 , 471 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code against Amrik Singh and his associates. The FIR further alleged that absconding Amrik Singh had “illicit relations” with a resident of Bakshiwala. It alleged that Amrik Singh had given one and a half kilogram of gold and costly mobile phone (“obviously pilfered from kar seva donations”) to one Kanwaljit Kaur.

Yet another FIR was lodged against supporters of Amrik Singh at Kum Kalan, Ludhiana, on behalf of Kuldip Singh, a former driver of the absconding Baba. In the FIR, Kuldip Singh alleged that he and other followers of Baba Jagtar Singh were beaten up by the supporters of the absconding Baba.

A manager of the SGPC who had been giving shelter to absconding Amrik Singh has also been arrested. Baba Jagtar Singh, chief of the dera, had earlier cancelled general power of attorney given to Amrik Singh, after his disappearance. The dera chief has also given public notices, warning the Sikh sangat against the activities of Amrik Singh.

The alleged culprit Amrik Singh had succeeded in securing multiple-visa for Pakistan to carry out kar seva of Sikh shrines in Pakistan. He had supervised the construction of the Golden Palanquin taken to Pakistan by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

Amrik Singh, who is only about 38 years, had joined the dera of Baba Jagtar Singh at the young age of 17. He had visited many developed countries, including USA, with a view to collect donations.

The absconding Baba Amrik Singh who has been expelled from the dera of Baba Jagtar Singh Kar Sewa Wale, Tarn Taran, however, alleged that the dera chief and his followers inflicted “mental torture” on him for several days in captivity and hatched a conspiracy to “finish all proofs of embezzlement” collected by him.

Talking from undisclosed place, Amrik Singh alleged that he was “picked up” by the followers of Baba Jagtar Singh during the quadricentennial of the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev and kept in “illegal custody” at the dera, though he was severely ill.

There is a question mark on the kar seva of historical buildings done under the direct supervision of Amrik Singh. An ancient building adjoining Baba Atal that survived heavy shelling during Operation Bluestar was demolished in July 2000, thanks to the ‘kar seva’ carried out by Dera Baba Jagtar Singh. The ‘kar seva’ was entrusted to the Baba by the SGPC. However, a wall of the structure was saved due to the timely intervention of some concerned citizens. The ancient building dates back to the times of Guru Hargobind Singh. The Guru had monitored the construction of the octagonal tower from this place. Maharaja Ranjit Singh got the Barah Dari constructed at this place about two centuries ago. The Barah Dari is situated to the south of the Golden Temple, about 135 metre from Sarai Guru Ram Das.

Mr Balvinder Singh, a Reader and Head, Guru Ram Das School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University, laments that during the demolition, murals and art works were also destroyed. The building was demolished on the pretext that it was unsafe. Later, the building was re-constructed with old bricks (Nanakshahi bricks) with the help of photographs of the demolished building. Earlier, residents of the area had saved the building from demolition at the time of beautification of the surroundings of the Golden Temple.

The stand of heritage experts against the destruction of Sikh heritage by Amrik Singh has been vindicated. He was responsible for the demolition of the ancient house of Bebe Nanki, elder sister of Guru Nanak, at Sultanpur Lodhi. He got replaced some old frescos of Hindu gods from the roof of Darbar Sahib Tarn Taran. Mr Balvinder Singh says that instead of using tradition colours (natural pigments), acrylic paints were used. He says this does not give a soothing effect. “Let us learn from the experience or from our mistakes. Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angels (USA) has the techniques of preparing natural pigments, dyes, binding materials etc.

The kar seva of Sikh shrines in Pakistan monitored by Amrik Singh had also been going on in the same fashion without any professionalism. This is evident from the condition of frescos in Dera Sahib Gurdwara, and perhaps the façade of the birthplace of Guru Ramdas in Chunna Mandi, Lahore, will also be covered by marble slabs under the ongoing work of restoration.

On March 25, 2004, the first day of the kar seva of Amrit Sarovar of Harmandar Sahib witnessed an unprecedented rush of devotees. The rich and the poor were carrying silt on their heads. Those who could not find iron bowls to carry the silt preferred to carry it in hands. However, a gold spadeand three silver bowls donated by the Bank of Punjab were found missing. When the issue was raised in The Tribune, Amrik Singh had claimed that the gold spade might have been buried under iron bowls used in the kar seva and would be traced shortly. Finally, Amrik Singh produced the same following tremendous pressure. Instead of handing over five gold-plated spades and as many silver bowls to the SGPC, the chairman of the bank had handed these over to Baba Jagtar Singh. The SGPC, therefore, could not record the entry of gold-plated spades and silver bowls in its books. 

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