Pakistan: Neglected since Partition, gurdwara at site visited by Guru Nanak to be restored

Built at the site where Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev had once visited, and abandoned in 1947 after the migration of the Sikh population during the Partition, the historical Gurdwara Pehli Patshahi Nanaksar in Sialkot is finally set for preservation. The Pakistan government on June 24 ordered the restoration of the Gurdwara, located at Fateh Bhinder village, Daska district, Sialkot in Punjab province.

The gurdwara building, with crumbling yet magnificent architecture, was one of the many such Sikh shrines in Pakistan that required immediate attention.

In the past few months, some illegal occupants had even turned the abandoned building of Gurdwara Nanaksar into a cattle shed and started tying their animals in the premises. (Express Photo)

In the past few months, some illegal occupants had even turned the abandoned building of Gurdwara Nanaksar into a cattle shed and started tying their animals in the premises, according to locals. Several cracks had appeared in the building’s structure, considered an important part of Sikh history and heritage across the border, but no action had been taken by the Pakistan government.

A marble plaque installed in the gurdwara, with details of Nanak’s visit inscribed on it in Gurmukhi Punjabi, is still present at the gurdwara.

The marble plaque installed in the gurdwara, with details of Guru Nanak’s visit inscribed on it. (Express Photo)

The Evacuation Trust Property Board (ETBP) of the Pakistan government, which looks after the properties abandoned after the Partition, has finally issued a written order for the preservation and restoration of Gurdwara Nanaksar, Sialkot, a copy of which is with The Indian Express.

The order was issued after a team of ETPB officials visited the site and found that the crumbling structure needed immediate repair.

The order was issued after a team of ETPB officials visited the site and found that the crumbling structure needed immediate repair. (Express Photo)

The order issued by Bilal Ahmad, executive engineer, ETPB, addressed to the administrator, ETP office, Gujranwala, dated June 24, 2022, reads: “It is apprised that the Gurdwara Nanaksar was visited by the Chairman ETPB on 10-6-2022 . In this context, it has been directed to start the work at the site immediately, especially cordoning off the ETPB land besides restoration of the deteriorating building. For this purpose, you are directed to direct the concerned representative administration ETPO Sialkot to identify the demarcation of the land through the revenue department at the site urgently to enable the Technical Team to start the work at the site.”

What has played a part in waking up the Pakistan government, which ignored the country’s gurdwaras for more than seven decades since the Partition, was Dr Dalvir Singh Pannu’s detailed research and pictorial book ‘Sikh Heritage: Beyond the Borders’. He has documented the plight of crumbling gurdwaras in Pakistan in his book.

Locals said that the double-storey gurdwara had a number of marble plates which have now been removed and till very recently it was a cattle shed. (Credit: Dalvir Pannu)

Speaking to The Indian Express, Pannu said: “Gurdwara Nanaksar holds immense value in Sikh history because the site was once visited by Guru Nanak. Pakistan government finally waking up to the plight of gurdwaras is a welcome step. There are many such gurdwaras in Pakistan which need immediate attention after being abandoned in 1947. This heritage needs to be saved now before they collapse and it’s too late.”

Pannu’s book, which has a dedicated chapter on Gurdwara Nanaksar, describes the shrine as: “Gurdwara Nanaksar, associated with Guru Nanak, is located in the village of Fateh Bhinder. The village can be reached via Burj Cheema-Goendky road. On his way to Sialkot, Guru Nanak had stayed there. A gurdwara was later built at the site to commemorate Guru’s visit.”

“While some remnants of older decoration have survived, the building is largely in ruins. Piles of cow dung cakes were placed against the walls when we visited there,” said Pannu.

The excerpts from the chapter further mention the travelogue Gurdham Deedar which describes the shrine’s condition as of 1924-26 as: “This is a small shrine to which the local residents of the village have donated 1 ghumaon land. Pujari Bhai Mangal Singh is a humble person. The income of the shrine is modest. The village is predominantly of the Muslim population. A fair is organized on every ‘Nimani Ikadshi’. It is 12 miles northeast of Gujranwala railway station. After the paved road, there are additional two miles of dirt track to reach here, and a special ride has to be arranged.”

“While some remnants of older decoration have survived, the building is largely in ruins. Piles of cow dung cakes were placed against the walls when we visited there,” added Pannu.

“For nearly seven years now, we have been highlighting the plight of Gurdwara Nanaksar and demanding its restoration because the condition of the building is very bad,” said Shahid Shabbir, a Sikh historian from Pakistan.

Shahid Shabbir, a Sikh historian from Pakistan, said that a marble plaque installed in the gurdwara provides important evidence of Guru Nanak’s visit here. “The plaque says that Guru Nanak visited here after he came from Babe-di-Ber, also in Sialkot, and now a gurdwara. For nearly seven years now, we have been highlighting the plight of Gurdwara Nanaksar and demanding its restoration because the condition of the building is very bad. Some illegal occupants had started tying their animals in the premises as the building was abandoned which have now been removed after the ETPB team visited the site. There are hardly any Sikh community members living nearby this gurdwara.”

Locals said that the double-storey gurdwara had a number of marble plates which have now been removed and till very recently it was a cattle shed. Then, Sardar Dewa Sikandar Singh of Sukkur, Sindh went and lodged a complaint to the Assistant Commissioner, Daska and ETPB Additional Secretary (Shrines) and the cattle shed was removed.

Later, it was with the intervention of Sialkot MP Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar that ETPB team visited the site and a restoration order was issued.

There are just around 15,000-20,000 members of Sikh community left in Pakistan.

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