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                                Takht Hazur Sahib


All photos: courtesy, S. Om Prakash Singh.


Takht Hazur Sahib Makeover!
But, To What Purpose?



Everything in life has a purpose.

We build houses to live in and schools to study in; we buy clothes to wear and food to eat.  To everything there is a method and meaning.

If one buys a luxury car, it is so to travel in comfort.  If the house is a mansion, it is to enhance the joy of living.  Delectable dishes tickle the palate; money spent on plays and music is evidence of high culture, a sensitive soul and the pleasure that one derives from the good things of life.

Yet, sometimes I wonder!

This year is the 300th anniversary of the installation of the Guru Granth, and Sikhs worldwide are celebrating this historical marker with a plethora of activities  -  many, perhaps thousands of uninterrupted readings of the Guru Granth, keertan programs (singing of the liturgy) that last through the night, and lectures galore all over the world.

I don't want to be a sourpuss; yet, some things that are in the offing baffle me no end.

Nanded is a small town in Maharashtra, one of the many states that make up modern India. It is where Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Master, spent his last days.  This is where the Adi Granth, with some changes and additions that he made, was installed as the Guru Granth to become the repository of Sikh spiritual heritage.

One recent evening, the mail brought me an oversized, artistically designed, colorful invitation printed on art paper.  It announced "The Guru Beckons" and then went on to solicit me for a contribution.

It talks about plans for Nanded that are absolutely mind-boggling.

It speaks of building 250,000 square feet of marble courtyard, with lush greenery, elaborate landscaping and ample parking for 40,000 disciples and visitors.  Facilities are planned for "katha, keertan and daily showcasing of religious films in a Guru Granth Sahib Bhavan - a hall that would accommodate 4000 devotees".

Also on the plate is "a world class museum with a rich tapestry of contents to help connect the visitors to the Gurus emotionally, with the help of visual story telling, dioramas, installations, displays..."

A "Gobind Baag [garden] on eight acres is planned with waterbeds and fountains and amphitheater where the Gurus' philosophy will be propagated using the latest electronic techniques comprising of dancing musical fountains as well as laser projections on the water screens".  (I don't quite understand what is meant by dancing musical fountains and water screens, nor do I see what waterbeds would do in this context! But this is how the promotional blurb reads.)

In the process, the historical gurdwara associated with Guru Gobind Singh, "Hazur Sahib", seems to have morphed into "Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib".

Talk of luxury.  The projected cost is Rupees 115 crores  -  by my rough reckoning, that comes to about 29 million even in today's devalued dollars.  And I thought India was still a developing country with a large base of poverty.

Also keep in mind that cost overruns are universal; they are not unique to the Pentagon or governmental spending projects around the globe.  So that's another thing we can look forward to.

I am all for modernization but, in the process of beautification and a make-over, I see no mention how historic markers and sites will be preserved.

The promotional literature promises us that Nanded will emerge as an important new tourist attraction and "will no longer remain the sleepy place it has been so far".

To me, the final straw was the promise that by these efforts "Nanded will become a model community center of the Sikh way of life considering that Sikhism is a religion of service to the entire humanity". (Emphasis added.)

Am I missing something here? 

In the projected plans for development I see no mention of any new library, school, college or hospital, not even an orphanage or counseling and support services for women or the elderly. 

If gurdwaras are the educational institutions of Sikhi, then where is the idea of teaching the ideology and practice of Sikhism in this audiovisual extravaganza?  There is not even the design of any industry that might provide some economic hope to a people desperately trapped in poverty.

Isn't this somewhat like placing expensive and ornate marble statuettes at the entrance to your mansion, but forgetting to stock the pantry?

Far from the modern face of an "active Sikh community", I think this project stands to create a huge "Potemkin village", designed to give Nanded the appearance of modernity and borderline absurdity.  

(The term "Potemkin village", indicating a façade, comes from the fake townships that the Russian General Potemkin built to impress Empress Catherine II on her 1787 tour of Crimea.)

I wondered what had I done to deserve this handsome invitation to contribute.  Then I saw that I was not alone and need not be flattered at the attention.  The sharp minds of the caretakers of our religion in India recognize that there is now a growing, sizeable and reasonably affluent Sikh community outside Punjab and away from that country.  

Nevertheless, these Sikhs in the diaspora, about three million strong, remain attached to the culture and practices they have left behind by strong and flexible umbilical cords.  Our nostalgia makes us ripe for the picking.

Methinks this is a design for satisfying our never-ending wants and not the needs of others or the hunger within.

A showcase is fine, but it needs to surround a kernel of service.

Of course, all the project expects is to suck in the money!  But where exactly is the service to the entire humanity?


June 24, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Gurdit (Kansas City, U.S.A.), June 24, 2008, 4:25 PM.

Thank you, I.J. Singh ji, for highlighting the futility of this project. Unfortunately, not only is there no purpose to this makeover of Hazur Sahib, the process has resulted in the obliteration of many irreplaceable historic monuments such as the Baradari and the Ramgarhia Bunga. For more information, see

2: Brijinder Khurana (Delhi, India), June 25, 2008, 1:50 AM.

Respected I.J.Singh ji: Whatever you have written is totally a correct feeling of a true human being who understands the basic requirement of the world. Our Gurus have taught us to serve the community by providing food, shelter, and protection to the needy, whereas the people sitting in power are providing food, shelter and support to the people who can well afford the same. We feel proud that Sikhs lead in raising funds for our gurdwaras, but we forget that we can do even better with this money. For instance, there are numerous schools and colleges in Delhi being run under SGPC but the education is not free to all. Only 5-10 seats are available every year in these schools for the "needy", but those too are provided to the nears and dears of management of the schools and colleges. I don't want to name the people but I know these realities as I observe these acts around me. If you ask them what about the poor section of the society, they very loudly say that the management colleges are made for rich children. The needy and poor people should become clerks or assistants as per their status. It is shocking to hear these crude words from these so called "Top Notch" of SGPC. During the elections, they are your "sevaks" but after the elections and their win, they behave like "masters". Your article is an eye opener for all. In case they are funding these institutions, it would be better for them to use their hard-earned money for some noble cause like opening schools and providing free education to all. And free medical care for those in dire need.

3: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), June 25, 2008, 4:21 AM.

Thank you for highlighting this for the Sikh diaspora. In the recent weeks, we have seen a huge moblization of funds in the name of Jagriti Yatra throughout India. I agree that the tercentenary of Guru Granth Sahib is a very significant landmark in the history of Sikhs. But spending so much money on permanent structures surely defies logic. The exaggerated number of devotees expected could have easily been accomodated in tents and mobile amenities. And what purpose will these buildings serve after the event? The second and very important factor is the real Jagriti (awakening )of the Sikhs worldwide. Hazur Sahib follows some rituals which are in conflict with the universally accepted protocol of Sikh Rehat Maryada; the most significant one being the presence of the Dasam Granth next to the Guru Garnth Sahib, and reportedly the sacrifice of a goat on Holi and serving of bhang as prasad. As per Prof. Darshan Singh, who visited India recently, there are some sections in the Dasam Granth which are highly objectionable and cannot be discussed in a family gathering ... and cannot, in all rationality, be ascribed to Guru Gobind Singh. We should put pressure on such persons who are asking fo contributions to immediately stop such practices, have only Guru Granth in the sanctum sanctorum as the 10th Guru himself has ordered: "Guru Maanyo Granth".

4: Jodh Singh (Jericho, New York, U.S.A.), June 25, 2008, 12:18 PM.

Guru Gobind Singh was born in Patna in 1661, spent some time in Punjab and was assassinated in Nander in 1708. Many devotees visit Nander on the banks of the Godavari River. On my visit in 1959, the travel and facilities there were minimal; I still remember the bed-bug bites. This has discouraged many of us to revisit. If now India has progressed and if some devoted Sikhs wish to improve this place of pilgrimage, I do not see any reason to be unnecessarily resistant to it. I learnt that the project includes an airport and reasonable accommodations, hotels, etc.; sounds like a great idea. India is progressing with 8-9% GDP and still some folks are harping about empty bellies. Are there more empty bellies in India than folks on welfare in the U.S.A.? Is U.S.A. not going to have everything new and good to rule the world? I pay my special regards to K.T.S. Lalwani who is donating five crores for this project and Dr. Pasricha retd DGP Maharashtra for his services. Respectfully, Jodh Singh UQXmKw

5: Kanwarjit Dhanjal (Brampton, Canada), June 26, 2008, 3:23 PM.

I do not see anything wrong if Sikh shrines are upgraded and beautified. If good facilities are not available at the Gurdwaras, then we are the people who criticize the management. Whatever is being upgraded is for the benefit of the Sangat which comes from all over the world. I do wish to see more beaultiful facilities and gurdwaras, and would like the sangat to encourage the process.

6: Gurteg Singh (U.S.A.), June 26, 2008, 6:19 PM.

Sikh nation's lack of political and military power deprives it of any control over its own rich heritage or its destiny. Pasricha, an Indian Government stooge, is a turbaned front man of his masters. RSS and other fascist Hindu agencies with a very dangerous agenda of Sikh assimilation, are going to monopolize the celebrations in Hazur Sahib through the State Government which controls this historic shrine. The Akali Dal, led by Badal, whose Government depends on the BJP support, has been selling the Sikh nation for his personal power and money. The SGPC is controlled by unprincipled politicians and their appointed pujaris are running the show at the five Takhts.

7: Ravinder Singh (Bay Area, California, U.S.A.), June 27, 2008, 10:37 PM.

I find your comments in the beginning of the article too complicit with certain capitalist discourses that glorify consumption and perpetuate a culture of conspicuous consumption, which not only is damaging to the transnational diaspora, but also to a Sikh's goal of detachment from maya.

8: Harbinder Singh (England), June 29, 2008, 6:46 PM.

Once again, I.J. Singh has with great perception identified the general malaise which the development of Takht Hazur Sahib personifies. Sadly too, many so-called central institutions use such anniversaries as a mechanism for self propagation and for the amassing of funds. Even on a practical level, it is no longer necessary or desirable that massive buildings be erected at extortionate cost and with liitle practical use other than a few days per year. Other communities continue to provide infrastructure for much bigger gatherings without such a burden on the community's purse-strings or the environment. Even if one were to suupress one's conscience and give these organisers the benefit of one's considerable doubt as to their motives, how can we possibly ignore the fact that the last time we were taken for such a "ride", the much heralded Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex in Anandur Sahib, which was due to be completed in 1999, and then in 2005, today remains woefully incomplete. One would like to urge caution before these unnecessary citadels to the egos of Chief Ministers, Babas and others are erected in Nanded, but I fear it is too late!

9: SSK (Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A.), September 29, 2008, 6:07 PM.

Sounds like the coordinators of this have been to Las Vegas. When will India appreciate and value its history? This tacky, tasteless pursuit of all things Western is embarrassing. There is a time and a place for lasers and audio responsive controlled water fountains ... how about Disneyland? If you want to wow and entertain, or build an amusement park and show off all you want. Please leave the gurdwaras for people to come and contemplate, meditate, be uplifted and inspired by something far greater than any technological bells and whistles. There is something called good taste.

10: Iqbal Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), March 03, 2010, 11:59 PM.

It is a house of God.

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But, To What Purpose?"

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