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Gurdwara Gyan Godri
By PUNEET SINGH LAMBA
The Sikh Times, Jun. 23, 2020
Photo: Gurdwara Gyan Godri. The Bharat Scouts and Guide (Boy Scouts of India) office, which Sikh organisations claim to be the erstwhile Gurdwara Gyan Godri at Subash Ghat in Haridwar. Credit: tribuneindia.com
Photo: Gurdwara Gyan Godri. Original structure. Credit: wikimapia.org
Photo: Gurdwara Gyan Godri. Inside. Credit: facebook.com
I recently chanced upon an interview of Gurcharan Singh Babbar on TV84, and learned of this issue and decided to research it. I am sorry to say, I had not heard about it until now. Even if it appeared on the news, I might have skipped over it assuming it was just another grievance. What importance does it have given the long list of Sikh grievances that have gone unattended?
Context. Gurdwara Gyan Godri (Treasure of Knowledge), located in Haridwar (a Hindi word meaning "Shiva's Door"), Uttarkhand, at the spot where Guru Nanak is said to have visited during his travels (known as the udasis), was apparently destroyed in 1979 and Sikhs were not allowed to reconstruct it. There is a claim that this event is recorded as having taken place in 1504 in some of Guru Nanak's janamsakhis (biographies).
Geography. Most of Haridwar's holy sites are situated on the banks of the Ganga river. These spots are called ghats and Har Ki Pauri (meaning "Shiva's Steps") is the most famous of the ghats and is believed to be the spot where the river leaves the mountains and enters the plains. Gurdwara Gyan Godri is/was situated in the Subhash Ghat area of Har Ki Pauri.
History. It is said that Raja Narinder Singh of Landhaura State and owner of Landhaura House donated the premises to Gurudwara Gyan Godri in 1980 (1880?). After a Kumbh Mela stampede in 1966, Haridwar administration acquired Landhaura House to widen Har Ki Pauri and demolished a part of the gurdwara as part of a sundrikarn (beautification & development) effort. Another ancient gurdwara called Gurdwara Nanakwara, located 200 metres away was also demolished. Later there was forcible destruction of the gurdwara premises during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. As of today the gurdwara building is no longer in existence except for mehrabs (pillars) that constituted the front entrance to the gurdwara building and a small room where the Guru Granth is situated. The remainder is a market. (Credit: The Punjab Pulse)
Support for the claim that Guru Nanak visited Haridwar is actually quite weak in the janamsakhis as well as academic circles. The B40 janam-sakhi said to have been written by Daya Ram Abrol in 1733 claims that Guru Nanak visited Benares. Although Haridwar is not called out, the claim is diluted by adding that he visited all 68 (Hindu) centers of pilgrimage (McLeod, "The B40 Janam-sakhi", p. 89. 1980.). As Kirpal Singh acknowledges in his book "Janamsakhi Tradition" (p. 19), distinguished scholar W.H. McLeod has indicated that the Janamsakhis do not resolve the uncertainty about whether Guru Nanak visited Haridwar ("Exploring Sikhism", p. 90). Vir Singh wrote a biography of Guru Nanak (Sri Guru Nanak Chamatkar, 1928) and claims therein that Guru Nanak visited Hardwar (Khosla, p. 93). The Indian government has taken this into account in justifying its lack of support to push for the gurdwara's restoration, given that Haridwar is a major Hindu center of pilgrimage and real-estate along the Har Ki Pauri area where this gurdwara was situated is in very high demand.
Commentary. Another issue mentioned in the TV84 interview was Gurdwara Nand Nagri in Delhi's Sultanpuri area which was destroyed during the 1984 Sikh massacres. I commend the effort to bring such issues to attention, lest they be forgotten. However, the nagar kirtan (procession) and letters to authorities seem like a waste of time. If the third picture (above) is genuine, the gurdwara was likely being managed by Hindu priests anyway. (According to wikipedia.org, a "tenant Ram Piari" used to pray before the Guru Granth. Why not a Sikh priest?) These small victories, even if achieved, seem meaningless and a mere craving for attention in a country that has refused to return valuable materials taken from the Sikh Reference Library at the Golden Temple in the aftermath of the 1984 invasion (aka Operation Bluestar) by the Indian Army. We have got to stop getting distracted by new shiny objects and keep our eye on the ball. Can we agree as a community on which efforts to prioritize?
Gurcharan Singh Babbar is president of the the All India Sikh Conference (AISC) and Chief Editor of The Sikh Times in New Delhi. He is also author of the Punjabi book "Sarkari Qatl-e-Aam" (2000) documenting the government-sponsored Sikh massacres of 1984. Babbar's publication (thesikhtimes.in) has no affiliation whatsoever with this publication (sikhtimes.com established in 1999). Nor is there a connection with the Sikh Times English-Punjabi weekly published from Birmingham, England founded by Harjinder Singh Dilgeer where he served as editor from January 2001 to December 2001. Another disheartening trend in the Sikh community is the tendency to create competing organizations, often with similar names, rather than lend support to existing ones.