Every day, Sikhs pray for free access to their sacred shrines put out of the reach of the community by the partition of India. Kartarpur Sahib is one of the most hallowed of such shrines. Built on the banks of the River Ravi where Guru Nanak spent his last eighteen years and passed away, it lies just four kilometres from the international border and is visible from India. The opening of the corridor will allow access to thousands of pilgrims daily. It will provide immense emotional and spiritual comfort to millions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Integrated Check-post of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor at Dera Baba Nanak at Gurdaspur, on the Indian side. Prime Minister said, it will now be easy for pilgrims to pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib Gurudwara. A high level delegation comprising of former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Union Ministers Harsimrat kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri were part of the first Indian ‘jatha’ of pilgrims to the Darbar sahib.
Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary is a moment for reflection, for rediscovery and reiteration of his essential message. Several important aspects of the message emanate out of the Guru’s life at Kartarpur where he settled down after more than two decades of constant travel during which he spread his message of truth and truthful living, of compassion and equality among men, and of the true nature of creation and worship. He discoursed widely with learned men of all faiths and dispelled ignorance and darkness, rejecting renunciation and empty ritualism.
At Kartarpur, Guru Nanak gave practical shape to his spiritual message. He lived as a householder and worked as a farmer. A community of followers quickly grew around him – Hindus and Muslims, the rich and the poor, dervishes and merchants accepted him as their guide. This was not a monastic order in the making but a community of traders, farmers and artisans with families and worldly responsibilities. The core of the message was an affirmation of the world, seen as a reflection of divine purpose; man’s path was to live in this reality and staying above its impurities do all he could to alleviate human suffering. Pure piety, expressed in rituals and self-abnegation, was seen as superficial; a higher importance attached itself to practical virtue. This message was encapsulated for the community in simple words: kirt karo – do work; nam japo- meditate on His Name; vand chhako – share in charity.
Several important traditions can be traced to Guru Nanak’s time at Kartarpur, amongst them being those attached to concepts of the dharamsal, sangat and pangat. Dharamsal was the place of worship where the community gathered together to listen to the hymns of Guru Nanak in praise of the Creator; these hymns are considered divine wisdom received through the agency of the Guru. The dharamsal, later to evolve into the Gurudwara, was an important metaphor for the restoration of religion to the householder, away from the selfish grasp of the priestly classes.
The congregation that gathered to listen to the singing of hymns or kirtan came to be known as the sangat. The sangat performed a social function as well – the creation of a brotherhood or fraternity. The sangat was a community of purpose as well as of action, based on equality and brotherhood and became a melting pot for the high and the low, whose members mixed together without consideration of caste or status. A similar reiteration of Guru Nanak’s message came through the tradition of pangat or line in which the rich and poor sat down to eat from the langar or the community kitchen irrespective of caste or social standing or rank. The langar also embodies the spirit of seva or voluntary service; the Sikh community is known the world over today.
The opening of the Kartarpur Corridor provides us a golden opportunity to rededicate ourselves to Guru Nanak’s perennially relevant message of equality of man, human compassion and Oneness of God.
Script: Navtej Sarna, Author Of ‘The Book of Nanak’
Former Ambassador Of India To The United States