Monday, 26 June 2017

Anandpur Sahib – The Haven of Bliss

A series of shimmering steel bridges set among green paddy fields and blue skies seem to be leading you straight to heaven. This is exactly what Guru Tegh Bahadur was seeking as he tried to create his own piece of solitude away from plotting masands and contentious relations. The Ninth Guru bought a hillock near the ancient ruins of Makhowal and built himself a village where he could spend his days in peace and hopefully named it Anandpur – the ‘Haven of Bliss.’ Anandpur Sahib in Punjab is about 90 kms north-west of the capital Chandigarh and close to Kiratpur, the ‘Haven of Refuge,’ founded by his father Guru Hargovind, the Sixth Guru.

The largest Khanda in India, Anandpur Sahib, Punjab
A series of shimmering steel bridges around Rupnagar built over canals of Sutlej leads you to the 'Haven of Bliss'
As you pass through the picturesque surroundings and into the gates of Anandpur Sahib a rejuvenating energy seems to infuse the mind and body. You drive into the pleasant town framed against the backdrop of Shivaliks as Sutlej flows quietly on the south-west and Naina Devi Temple beckons from top of the hill on the east. Just ahead, the biggest Khanda you have ever seen, glints under the blue skies. The Khanda, the Sikh Emblem, seemingly lights up the entire town as it towers over a water tank in the Panj Piaras Park.
The Sodhiyan di Haveli in old city of Anandpur Sahib
A trio of the most loveable birds that are wise, patient, observant, humble and always unfazed
Anandpur Sahib, the second most holy Sikh city after Amritsar is the birthplace of Khalsa Panth and is also the headquarters of the Nihang sect, the Beloved Army of Guru Gobind Singh. Nihangs or Daredevils attired in blue robes and lofty turbans and armed with array of weapons were always at the forefront of a battle. The town is also the residence of various members of Sodhi family. The prime residence is the 300 year old ‘Sodhiyan di Haveli’ in the old city. Seven of the ten Gurus were from Sodhi family, a Khatri sub-caste, beginning with Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Guru.
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib - one of the five Sikh religious seats

View from Shaheedi Bagh Gurudwara, Anandpur Sahib, Punjab
The Sodhis give a legendary account of Anandpur and its origin. On the site of Anandpur there lived a cruel demon called Makho who had occupied the place for 700 years before Tegh Bahadur came. Tegh Bahadur wanted to expel the demon but the demon promised to depart on his own accord. He just wanted one favour that his name be associated with the place where he had lived for so long. The Guru replied that the Sodhis would call the place Anandpur but the hillmen and others would call it Makhowal.
Guru ka Mahal where Guru Tegh Bahadur lived

In the old city stands the Gurudwara Sis Ganj. It was here that a nine year old Gobind Rai cremated the severed head of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. The gurudwara is the namesake of the gurudwara in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk where the Guru was executed in 1675 on the orders of Aurangzeb. The dignified looking gurudwara is a reminder of the Guru’s sacrifice to protect his people from the tyranny of an increasingly intolerant and persecuting government. Across the street is the Guru ka Mahal where Guru Tegh Bahadur used to live. There is an underground cell called ‘Bhora Sahib’ where he used to worship alone.
The Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum
You are making your way to the much talked about Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum. The first sight of the museum is stunning enough to blow you away. Set amongst the traditional architecture of domed gurudwaras in the town, the futuristic looking building can leave the visitor awe-stuck by its design and layout. The museum designed like hands offering prayers has two complexes connected by a ceremonial bridge. Beyond the terraced reflecting series of pools is the five-petalled Flower Building depicting the Five Virtues of Sikh religion. Inside, the museum has galleries showcasing the rich culture and history of Sikhs.  The sandstone towers and reflective silver roofs add an extra dimension to the striking visual appeal of the complex. It is not easy to wrench yourself away from this incredible sight.
Gurudwara Anandgarh in Anandpur Sahib
Let's Paint the Town White - Anandpur Sahib was painted white to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1665
Guru Gobind Singh fortified Anandpur with five forts for protection from Mughals and other assorted hill tribes to the north. Next to the museum is the main fort of Anandgarh. Nothing survives from the original fort which was the stronghold of Guru Gobind Singh and where the army of Nihangs was garrisoned. Built on a hill is the Gurudwara Anandgarh with a deep well called Kuan Baoli. Standing atop here and looking at the city sprawled below you notice that all the houses and gurudwaras are painted white. You have seen Rajasthan cities sporting the same colour – Jodhpur is blue while Jaisalmer is yellow. Anandpur Sahib was painted white to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the city in 1665. The white swathe of the city surrounded by green expanses and bounded by Shivaliks in the distance provides delightful views.
The decked up Sri Keshgarh Sahib
‘Shastran de Darshan’ ceremony

An elderly Nihang warrior sportingly posing for you
Dusk has arrived. The sky has turned into a glorious canvas. Shabad kirtans waft through the town mellowing the evening. The dome of Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib seems to glow like the setting sun. You make your way to the gurudwara that is one of the five Sikh religious seats. On the occasion of Baisakhi in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh had asked his followers to come to Anandpur. Here he baptized the Panj Piaras (Five Beloved Ones) thus establishing a new community called the Khalsa or the Pure. You are just in time for the ceremony called ‘Shastran de Darshan’ where the weapons are brought out reverentially and displayed to the devotees. Later in the evening you sit back on the marble floor outside the sanctum as divine notes of shabad kirtans fill the cool spring night. The sweet hymns transport you to a perfect world of love and peace. That perfect world is right here in Anandpur Sahib and you don’t want to ever leave this utopia.

Holla Mohalla (a detailed story to follow)

Guru Gobind Singh decreed that the day after the Hindu festival of Holi be celebrated with mock battles. The day came to be known as Holla Mohalla commemorating the founding of Khalsa Panth. The word Holla derived from Halla meaning ‘a military charge’ and Mohalla stands for organized procession. During these three days, the small town of Anandpur Sahib witnesses a deluge of lakhs of devotees. A sea of humanity wades through the streets paying obeisance at the various gurduwaras and partaking of meals at the scores of langars set by villagers. On the final day, people gather at the stadium to watch the spectacular events put up by the majestic Nihangs that include gatka or mock encounters, tent-pegging and bareback horse riding and standing up on single, two and even four horses.

A version of the story appeared in the June 2017 issue of Rail Bandhu, the on-board magazine of Indian Railways (Pages 62-65)

Rail Bandhu June 2017

Getting There:
Anandpur Sahib in Punjab is 330 kms from New Delhi and about 90 kms from Chandigarh.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Trippingg Down the Memory Lane - Village Tripps

My father was born into a farmer’s family and before him his father. We belong to a farming community. We have always been tilling our lands. In the past, along with farming, we also fought with the assorted rulers ranging from Razia Sultan to the Mughals and the British. In Khushwant Singh’s words: “The Jat was born the worker and the warrior. He tilled his land with his sword girded round his waist.”
Sarson ke Khet - captured by my first digital camera - a point and shoot Olympus

Our worldly possessions were a pair of bullocks, a plough, few buffaloes and some land. Times changed. Youngsters aspired to move out of the villages. Families were large and the land holdings small. Armed forces and the police was the logical choice for the born warriors known for their courage and fortitude. Father too moved out of the village, stayed with relatives and got a college degree. Hopes of a big family and an entire village rested on him.

2017 is going to be bumper harvest
He eventually came to Delhi where he got his big break in Delhi Police. With time, he moved into the police quarters in Lutyens’ Delhi. We kids came along, born in perhaps the most elite address in whole of India – Chanakya Puri, house to pretty roads, embassies, cars with diplomatic plates and Chanakya theatre and Nirula’s!

Over the years, the village where Dad was born and where he grew up would keep pulling him back. He would visit his village whenever he could manage leave. Once a year we too made the trip. The summers would always make one of us sick. Instead of good times the trips turned into disasters. It was decided that now trips would be made in winters during the Christmas holidays.

A week before the trip an inland letter was posted to the village announcing our impending arrival. Dad usually was not part of these longish trips.We would wait for the mini bus (yes, these were private buses and for some reason were smaller than the usual DTC buses) at the corner of Sardar Patel Marg and Willingdon Crescent. The bus carrying the excited kids would lurch its way to the ISBT Kashmere Gate. To its credit ISBT then smelled as bad those days like it does now. Mom would drag us through the chaos looking for the stand where the roadways buses ply for Mathura.

The bus with Mathura / Agra sign pulls in and there is a mad scramble to get in. Bags and handkerchiefs are thrown through the windows to mark the seats. When the dust settles we had just managed to get ourselves a seat. Roadways bus journeys are a world onto themselves. Just as everyone is settling there is a sharp rap of knuckles on the metal ceiling of the bus. The bus falls silent. The performance begins. The salesman is selling candies – candies for kids, candies that will help you cope with motion sickness, candies for timepass and candies to gift your relatives. The sales pitch, the voice modulation is top-notch. Zig Ziglar would be proud - Product Price Place Promotion at its best. “Yes, of course you can try for free”.“Oh yes, since this is company scheme you get discount too”. “The orange candy is our best selling flavour and these are the last few packets left.”

At other times the salesmen would promise to get rid of your 20 year old kabz with this churan, fix that pyorrhea with just a rub of this powder, turn you into a bestselling upanyas writer with these pens and turn your kids into Picassos if they start practising in these colouring books. Once the salesman doubling up as a dentist pulled out a decaying teeth. The relieved patient finally smiled after days of agony. The customers fall over each other to lap up the assorted items. Kids hanker after their mothers for the candies. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

The UP Roadways bus tears through the highway amid mustard and wheat fields. Roasted peanuts smell mingles with the tang of oranges. Infants wail. Somebody has puked in the aisle - the candy apparently didn’t work. Bidi smoke wafts through the interiors of the bus.
At Mathura, we change the bus that would bring us closer to our village. Now these buses that run in the interiors of district are special. Bumping on rutted tracks the whole body would shudder, the window panes rattle as if hailstorms are raining on the roof, the engine would scream and the gears grind before dropping into the slot – a cacophony cocktail no Hollywood sound engineer can ever create. It was miracle that the bus did not disintegrate. There was some unseen superglue holding the entire contraption together. Mom has begun to glance out of the window periodically. She sees something and yells for the driver to stop.
Photo Credit - Mr. Ranbir Singh Phogat
India Post had delivered the letter. Our cousin brother is waiting by the roadside. The late model shiny wooden cart shod with wooden wheels sits gleaming under the winter sun while the bullocks graze nearby. The passengers look at our waiting ride with total envy. We tumble out of the still intact bus. Smiles and greetings are exchanged. Yes we have grown up since he last saw us. Bullocks are harnessed to the cart, bags are loaded, a sheet is spread and we grab our spots. Brother raises the stick, yells to the bullocks, pops the clutch tugs at one of the tails and we are off.

From the mini bus few hours ago to two roadway bus rides and now to the bullock cart; the thrill continues. Brother decides to raise the thrill levels a notch higher. The cart is rolling through the narrow dirt track lined with high wild grass. “Robbers hide among the tall grass, waiting to pounce upon the passers-by.” We go very quiet –only the jingling bells of the bullocks providing some relief in the silence as we start seeing things in the grass.
The Yamuna Expressway - the faster option now!

The coming of cars ended the thrill and romance of travelling to the village. While in the past it would be few days trips, now it is mostly a one day return trip. Today you are travelling to attend the engagement of your cousin brother’s son. The Yamuna Expressway built to give competition to American freeways provide additional thrill of darting people across the lanes. Built of white concrete, the best expressway in India is a peephole into the changing roadscape across the country. Few kms on the smooth tarmac and you want to keep going to the end of the Indian peninsula.

Today you will get off at the Aligarh exit to dive into some village life on the way to the waiting ceremony. The last few kms on the broken service road provide some throwback to the days of yore.

Here is a Photo Journey – hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The change from the smooth tarmac to the dusty broken service road is sudden - expressway on one side and fields on the other
The first bird sighting is the scruffy and fairly common altitudinal migrant Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) feasting on a carcass by the side of the service lane
Look Dude, I don't give a flying crap if Yuvraj Donor has made hundreds of thousands babies. I, the Stud Baker has made millions of patties - now go beat that

Making dung cakes is a big part of village life - and the work is hard. Women of the villages spend long hours collecting the gobar, bringing it out to fields, patting it down, letting them dry, then making these little houses called Bittora with decoration and storing the upley or kandey that will last the whole year - like I said this is lot of work
You make a stopover at this field where potato harvesting is being done. A tractor with potato digger runs throught he field as kids and women collect the potatoes which are then graded and filled in bags. The potatoes will then go to cold storage to get better rates in the future.

The village pond or pokhar behind our house provides beautiful views with its birds and occasional sighting of snakes
The Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) enjoying its day out
Now this is presumably uncommon winter visitor to Assam - really?! This is Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorbyncha) and there was a whole bunch of them here doing the birdie stuff they can do all day - balancing on one foot, preening themselves. These birds are like a non-stop self-service parlour. So the question is what were they doing in my village pokhar?!

Okay now over to the engagement party - neighborhood women come over to help out with the elaborate menu
This is just the snacks part to be followed by more elaborate snacks and then meal

DJ Truck arrives - abhi toh party shuru hui hai - jisko dance nahin aata woh jakar apni bhains chara le

The engagement ceremony

Sealed with some bidis
It is time to head back into the city again


Related links on this blog:
Mother's Childhood in Dholpur State

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