Pakistan Today – Book Review: Legacy of Guru Arjan Singh*

Basharat Hussain Qizilbash

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru ArjanDevjikiyadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas, published by Lahore Shanasi Publications, Lahore, pages 63, price Rs 100.

A long, forgotten time brought back to life

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras of Sikhs.

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru Arjan Devji ki yadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas is educative in several respects. Guru Arjan was one of the four offspring of his parents and was nominated as the fifth Guru of the Sikhs on the wish of his mother, by his father, Guru Ram Das, who was the fourth Guru.

Later on, he nominated his son as the sixth Guru on the wish of his wife.

Guru Arjan was otherworldly from early life yet he ordered the construction of many public works such as ponds, ‘bowlys’ (wells), dharamshalas, etc, on assuming Guruship. Among his several achievements, two stand out: one, he compiled Granth Sahib, the most sacred book of the Sikh religion.

Two, he invited his Muslim mystic friend Hazrat Mian Mir from Lahore to lay the foundation of the Sikhs’ holiest shrine Golden Temple at Amritsar.

To continue building public works at large scale and offer free food to the pilgrims, a constant source of income was required, so, for the first time, a yearly contribution of ‘daswandh’—one-tenth of earnings was collected from the adherents of the faith.

The lives of all great men are examples of courage and endurance and Guru Arjan’s was not different either. His brother Parthi Chand was jealous for not being awarded the Guruship, and therefore, joined hands with non-Sikh influential nobles to kill his brother, in vain.

Guru Arjan also developed strained relations with Chando Lal, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s revenue minister in Lahore because he refused the request of Chando to marry his son to Chando’s daughter.

This caused deep enmity between the two in which Chando used his political influence with the emperor to punish the Guru, who was saved by the kind words of Nawab Wazir Khan of the famous Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore in favour of the Guru.

Wazir Khan owed it to the Guru because some time back when he suffered from an acute illness that could not be cured by any physician in Lahore, he had approached saint Mian Mir for spiritual healing, who in turn referred him to Guru Arjan, whose prayer cured the ailing Nawab on the spot.

Meanwhile, Chando Lal continued to plot against Guru Arjan and eventually succeeded in convincing Jahangir that the Guru had monetarily helped the rebel prince Khusrau at which the Emperor ordered Chando to imprison the Guru which he did at his haveli at Mochi Gate in Lahore.

During imprisonment, he brutally tortured the Guru, who kept refusing the marriage proposal. When he decided to sew alive the Guru in a cow hide, the Guru expressed his desire to bathe in River Ravi, to which he was taken. The Guru jumped in the river never to come out.

His son, the sixth Guru Her Gobind Singh Ji, vowed to avenge the death of his innocent father, which he did by cultivating good relations with the Emperor who handed Chando Lal to the Guru with the express instruction to do what he deemed fit with the prisoner.

Guru Gobind put a chain around Chando’s neck, kept him with dogs, blackened his face, put him on a donkey and sent him around the city of Lahore where he was assaulted and killed by the same man, who had been employed by Chando to torture Guru Arjan. Such can be the twists and turns of fate.

Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal.

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras (temples) of Sikhs. The Gurus possessed both spiritual and temporal powers. It was an intuition that made Guru Arjan compose Granth Sahib and other sacred texts.

The book sheds light on the friendly nature of relations between the Muslims and the Sikhs at that time. The two cases of inter-religious co-existence were of Hazrat Mian Mir and Wazir Khan. However, the relations between the Sikhs and the Mughal state remained hot and cold.

Emperor Akbar personally scrutinised the Granth Sahib on the false complaint that it contained sacrilegious content against the Muslims but was pleased to find out that it was a text of inter-faith harmony.

During the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan relations between the seventh Guru and the Qazi of Lahore remained strained and in persecution the state confiscated a sacred building of the Sikhs, closed the ‘bowly’ (well) and built a mosque at its ‘lungarkhana’ at Rang Mahal in Lahore.

Later on, when Ranjit Singh came into power in Punjab, the said ‘bowly’ was revived on his orders because once when he got ill, Guru Arjan appeared in his dream and revealed that he would get cured if he bathed in the water of the closed ‘bowly.’

The Sikhs reasserted their power in Lahore by having the Mullah of the ‘Sonheri Masjid’ thrown out as they found the call of ‘Azan’ quite disturbing, occupied the mosque and converted it into a place of worship for the Sikhs which was retaken by the Muslims through the good offices of Faqir Aziz-ud-din, who was a minister of Ranjit Singh.

This was not a one-off incident: political power added muscle to the reigning community and often soured inter-communal harmony.

Equally interesting is the story of Lal Kho (well) in the Mochi Gate. Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal. Hence, the name Lal Kho and its sanctity for the Sikhs.

In addition, the author has collected images of several sacred places of the Sikhs in the city of Lahore, particularly the Walled City. There is a beautiful portrait of Guru Arjan but the author has not mentioned whether it is real or imaginary and as to who was the artist.

Furthermore, there is an imaginary painting that depicts the scene of torture that Guru Arjan had to go through during his imprisonment at Lal Kho and another drawing that shows him dictating the Granth Sahib to a scribe.

Other photos are of the ‘samran’ (rosary) owned by Guru Arjan; the Dewan Khana of Guru Arjan in Chuna Mandi; Gurdawara Bowly Sahib at Rang Mahal chowk (1910); Gurdawar Lal Kho at Mochi Gate (1960); Gurdawar Dera Sahib (1840), etc.

This is a unique effort of Syed Faizan Abbas, who has made a name for himself by devoting his energies to exploring the history of old Lahore. The book admirably enlivens the presence of the Sikh community which once played an active role in the social and political life of the city.

*The names Singh for male and the name Kaur for female Sikhs were introduced in 1699 at the foundation of the Khalsa. There are more inaccuracies in the article, but I am happy that there again is an interest in Sikh history in West-Panjab. Man in Blue

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/blog/2016/12/11/book-review-legacy-of-guru-arjan-singh/

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