Kartarpur, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, holds a special place for the community
Sikh devotees enjoy the langar at Kartarpur Sahib.
The Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, some 140 km from Lahore in Pakistan’s Narowal district, is a memorial to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. It is where the guru lived the last 18 years of his life and also his final resting place. To devout Sikhs, Kartarpur is among their most revered shrines, alongside the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar and the Gurudwara Janam Asthan, the guru’s birthplace in Nankana Sahib, which is also in Pakistan.
Established as an idyllic, egalitarian commune, it is where Guru Nanak first started the tradition of Guru da langar (free community kitchen) and congregational worship. The original shrine, constructed after the Guru’s demise in 1539, is said to have been washed away by floods in the Ravi river in 1920. The present gurudwara was rebuilt in the mid-1920s with a contribution of Rs 1,35,600 from the then Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupindar Singh. Falling into disuse after 1947 save for some offerings by the local Muslim followers of Guru Nanak, the Pakistan government renovated the gurudwara in 1995 following appeals by Sikh devotees. Kartarpur Sahib finally reopened to Sikh pilgrims from India as an outcome of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in 1999.
Since Partition in 1947, access to Sikhism’s most sacred shrines-the gurudwaras at Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur and Panja Sahib-has been restricted, with successive regimes in Pakistan permitting pilgrim groups or Sikh jathas only during important religious festivals. So it’s been a part of the daily ardas (prayer) of Sikhs all over the world to be given khulle darshan-deedar (free access).
Besides its sanctity, Kartarpur holds out the greatest hope of an answer to the seven decades of ardas by Sikhs. Located a mere four kilometres from the international border between the two Punjabs, the shining white gurudwara is visible from the Indian side at Dera Baba Nanak.
The visa-free pilgrim corridor that India and Pakistan have consented to build in time for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year has kindled massive hope among Sikhs in India. It has also raised hopes of a big thaw in bilateral relations-Prime Minister Narendra Modi likened the construction of the Kartarpur corridor to the falling of the Berlin Wall; and at the ground-breaking ceremony at Kartarpur on November 28, Pakistan PM Imran Khan said another war between the nuclear-capable neighbours wasn’t an option. Will the four kilometres from Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib become a ‘corridor of hope’ for more than Guru Nanak’s followers?
There’s also an ominous flipside to the jubilation. Security officials in Punjab say that Pakistan’s sudden capitulation to the long-pending demand is suspect. They point to the fact that Pakistan army chief Gen. Q.J. Bajwa had informed Navjot Sidhu of the Kartarpur decision way before Imran could have known about it (at Khan’s swearing-in). “It’s clearly a Pakistan army-ISI game plan,” says a senior intelligence officer. “The corridor will be a security nightmare and expose an unprecedented number of Indians to the ISI and its handlers.” The officer says foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s ‘googly’ comment “has let the cat out of the bag” on what Pakistan really means to do with the c