Negotiations Under Way to Purchase Historic Gurdwara

Guru Nanak paintingGurdwara Baoli Sahib at Jagannath Puri in the state of Orissa, where Guru Nanak unearthed a natural spring and where he sang the shabad ‘Gagan mae thaal rav chand deepak banay, Taaraka mandal janak moti…’ that challenged the concept of aarti, is a rather miserable looking place.

Like many other Sikh historic places, Gurdwara Baoli Sahib is desperately in need of conservation.

A painting of Guru Nanak languishing in the gurdwara shows the Guru sitting under a tree with his two sons sitting to his right, and his companion, Mardana, playing the rabaab, also to his right. When I saw it in February, it was in very sad condition.

The decrepit baoli, a stepped well that goes down to the water surface, marks the spot in the sand where Guru Nanak dug his staff to release a spring of sweet water, the only source of drinkable water in the area. By sweet, I mean it is not salty, even though it is located very close to the seashore.

I went down the steps and reached into the well to get a palm full of water. It was indeed sweet spring water. The Hindu caretaker, a descendant of the original Brahmin family that was given charge of the place during Guru Nanak’s visit, gave me a bottle of the water.

I asked him about the deterioration of the building, but he did not have much to say. He and his family do what they can to make repairs. At the time, he was replacing the floor tiles that had been worn down to the dirt.

The gurdwara is very small. There are two rooms, one for Guru Granth Sahib and the other for Lord Jagannath. The caretaker priest does both Sikh and Hindu prayers.

About a mile from Gurdwara Baoli Sahib stands a newer gurdwara, Nanakmata Sahib, which was built less than 10 years ago. It has 24-hour open langar and a building next door for travelers to stay.

BaoliGurdwara Nanakmata Sahib was originally a house that belonged to a wealthy local Oriya Hindu family. The owner, who lives in Switzerland, built it for his mother so she could live near the Jagannath temple and visit it everyday.

But, after a short while, she refused the house and went to live with her son in Switzerland. Her son then donated the house, for a very nominal amount, for use as a gurdwara.

There is also a lot across the road, just in front of the gurdwara, large enough to build three homes. It was donated to the gurdwara by the city of Puri. Gurdwara officials said they were planning to build a children’s park and a library named after one of the Panj Piaray, Mohkam Singh, who was from Puri.

Puri does not have any Sikh resident, but the sangat regularly goes to Gurdwara Nanakmata Sahib from the neighboring state capital of Bhubaneshwar and from the city of Cuttack.

Gurdwara Nanakmata Sahib is working with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to take possession of the old historical Gurdwara Baoli Sahib. Its secretary said the government and the Brahmin family at Baoli Sahib had agreed, in principle, to hand it over, at an agreed price.

When that will happen is not known, but I hope the Baoli Sahib family is given millions of rupees for their seva and for passing the responsibility of the gurdwara on to the Sikhs.

Jagannath Puri, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, is one of the four t sacred places of pilgrimage for Hindus. A special ritual, called aarti, is performed in praise of Lord Jagannath, Lord of the universe. Aarti worship involves circulating a metal platter on which little lamps with butter-soaked wicks are lit.

Guru Nanak watched pilgrims doing aarti at Jagannath Puri during his odyssey in the mid 1500s. He did not participate. Instead, he sang a shabad about the true realm of Waheguru, in which aarti is meaningless:

Gagan mae thaal rav chand deepak banay
Taarika manddal janak motee.
Dhoop mal-aanalo pavannu chavaro karay
Sagal banraa-i fulanti jotee.

Sky is the platter with sun and moon as candles
Clusters of stars in it are like many precious pearls.
Sandlewood fragrance from the sylvan mountains
Is incense, and breeze the whisk of devotion.
All forests and all the flowers
Are flowers in the sky platter.

Kaesee aaratee ho-i
Bhav khanddana teree aaratee
Anahata sabad vaajant bheree.

Such is eternal grand aarati worship,
O Creator of the universe Your worship
The sonorous sound of eternal bugle.
O Lord, is there just for Your worship.

Sahas tav naen nan naen hahi tohi ka-u
Sahas moorat nana ek tohee.
Sahas pad bimal nan ek pad gandh bin
Sahas tav gandh iv chalat mohee.

You have a thousand eyes,
Yet the Formless One You have none.
You have a thousand immaculate feet.
Yet the Formless One You have none.
You have a thousand noses to smell,
Your these wonders have me in a spell.

Sabh mah jot jot hae so-i.
Tisadae chaanann sabh mah chaanann ho-i
Gur saakhee jot paragattu ho-i.
Jo Tisu bhaavae su aarati ho-i.

Glow of life in creatures is your radiance,
Your radiance shines in every creature.
Teachings of the Guru reveals His radiance,
Your aarati happens just as You desire.

Har charann kaval makarand lobhit mano
Anadino mohi aahee pi-aasa.
Kripaa jal deh Nanak sarang ka-u
ho-i jaatay teray naa-i vaasa.

My mind yearns for pollen of Your Lotus feet,
This yearning is like an eternal thirst.
Give thirsty bard Nanak water of your blessings,
So in Your Name he stays engrossed.

Note: Kamaljeet Singh Dogra is the author of 'Prayer at Dawn,' a translation of Japji Sahib in English verse. He is also finishing a similar translation of Rehras Sahib and Kirtan Sohila.

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