Sikh pilgrimage sites in the city of Nanded in Maharashtra

Knut A. Jacobsen

Pilgrimage is a widespread and popular ritual in contemporary Sikh religious traditions. Sikhism is a religion mostly of people from Punjab, and the majority of the Sikli places of pilgrimage are in the greater Punjab. These pilgrimage places are mainly gurdvaras built to celebrate historical events related to one or more of the Sikli Gurus and their historical presence at the sites. However, three of the major pilgrimage places are situated far away from the greater Punjab - Sri Hazur Sahib in the city of Nanded in Maharashtra, Hemkund Sahib in the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand and Takht Sri Patna Sahib in the city of Patna in Bihar - and these are all associated primarily with the tenth of the Sikli Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh. Nanded in southern Maharashtra is the place where Gum Gobind Singh spent his last days and where he passed away in 1708, which for the Siklis marked the end of the lineage of human Gums and the beginning of the Guruship of the Guru Granth. Nanded is also one of the five takhts, the Sikli seats of religious authority and legislation.1 Apart from the main gurdvara in Nanded, which contains a number of relics of Gum Gobind Singh - especially his weapons - and graves of saints, the Siklis have built a large number of additional gurdvaras in Nanded on sites associated especially with Gum Gobind Singh and historical events. Sikhs travel on pilgrimage from all over the world to Nanded, but Nanded has a particularly large presence of Nihang warriors during the pilgrimage festivals. The largest number of pilgrims arrives in connection with the Dasahra celebration, Divall and Holl. Some stay for weeks. The largest crowds are during the Dasahra celebration.2

The city of Nanded is interesting from the point of view of religion primarily because it is one of the most important Sikh pilgrimage places. In the last hundred years there has been a growth in the number of Sikli pilgrimage sites in the city and its surroundings and a great expansion of the main pilgrimage site, especially in connection with the 300th anniversary in 2008 of Gum Gobind Singh's death and the instalment of Gum Granth as the eternal Gum. This expansion was preceded by the destruction of many homes and historical buildings (Pasricha 2011; Nihang and Singh 2008). A new road to the gurdvaras in the areas surrounding Nanded was also constmcted in connection with the anniversary, which strengthened the idea of a pilgrimage parikrama in the Nanded area.

Sikh pilgrimage

In spite of the mistaken claim of some scholars that pilgrimage goes against the teaching of the Sikli Gurus,3 pilgrimage is indeed an important part of Sikli religion and an immensely popular religious practice.4 That Sikli pilgrimage goes against the teaching of the Sikh Gums seems to rest on mistaken interpretations. It is correct that Guru Granth is critical of Hindu (tirath pilja) and Muslim (hai kabai) pilgrimage, that is, travel to Hindu tirthas and the haj to Mecca and the belief that pilgrimage places have salvific power regardless of the intentions and attitudes of the pilgrim. Arguing against Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage, the text maintains that the only pilgrimage is contemplation on the Nam and the only centre is in one’s heart and that rewards from pilgrimage comes from control of the mind. "In the month of Magh, I become pure, I know that the sacred shrine of pilgrimage is within me,” says Gum Nanak (.Guru Grauth, p. 1109, line 11). The Nam is the tirath (GG 687, line 14, Gum Nanak), and contemplation on the Nam is a better method since, despite the many sacred tlraths to bathe in, the minds of those taking sacred baths "are still stained by their stubborn ego” (GG, p. 687, line 3, Gum Arjan). However, Gum Granth is not critical of Sikli pilgrimage places, that is, pilgrimage to the places associated with their Gums. Gum Granth says about the sarovar in Amritsar, the most important Sikh pilgrimage site:

Ramdas sarovar ndte

Bathing in the sacred pool of Gum Ram Das, sabh lathe pap kamate

all the sins one has committed are washed away.

(GG, p. 624)

Pilgrimage is an important institution in Sikhism, and different from both Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage, but strange as it may seem, in Harbans Singh's famous four volumes The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism published by Punjabi University, Patiala (Singh 2011 [1st ed. 1992]), there is no entry on pilgrimage and also no entry on tirath, the term used in Gum Granth for the Hindu places of pilgrimage.5 In the Gum Granth, significantly, "tirath” is mentioned many times (in the English translation "pilgrimage” is mentioned around 185 times; in some verses haj or haj kabe is used for "pilgrimage” when speaking about pilgrimage to Mecca).6 Muslim and Hindu pilgrimage is distinguished in Gum Granth; pilgrimage is either to Hindu tlraths or to Mecca. Gum Arjan writes: “haj kabaijao na tirath puja” (I do not make pilgrimages to the Kaba in Mecca, nor do I do Hindu pilgrimage puja) (1136, line 10). But always when Nam (the Name, referring to the one divine power) is mentioned as the place of pilgrimage, the term "tirath” is used, never "haj.” Tirath in the Gum Granth means "Hindu pilgrimage place,” a visit to which is considered fruitless for followers of the Sikli Gums.

Gum Nanak and the other Sikli Gums criticised Hindu ritual practices, including those performed at Hindu pilgrimage places, because what mattered was control of the mind, the company of the true congregation (satsai'ig) and meditation on the Nam. The power of the pilgrimage place belongs to the divinity and not to the place, as is often the case in Hindu pilgrimage traditions (Jacobsen 2013). “Meditate in remembrance on the Nam, the Name of the One Lord, in this way, the sins of your past mistakes shall be burnt oft' in an instant. It is like giving millions in charity, and bathing at sacred shrines of pilgrimage” (GG, p. 1221, lines 12-13, Guru Arjan). Guru Ram Das writes: "Instead of bathing at the sixty-eight places of pilgrimage, take the bath in the Name” (tTrath athsath rnajanu nai) (GG, p. 1263, line 7; for the concept of the 68 places of pilgrimage, see next). Gur sabadi, the word of the Guru, is the 68 places of pilgrimage, and by bathing in the word, filth is washed away (GG p. 753, line 16, Guru Amar Das). The creator (kartd) himself is the 68 places of pilgrimage, and he himself takes purifying baths in them, says Guru Ram Das (page 554, line 2). For gurmukhs, meeting the sant jana (community of saints) is like making a pilgrimage (GG, p. 597, line 13, Guru Nanak). Visiting the 68 pilgrimage places is presented as a method of getting rid of moral impurity, to which the Gurus offered a different and better method. Being part of the tme congregation (satsang) is compared to having taken baths at all the 68 tlraths (p. 1198, line 11, Guru Ram Das). Pilgrimage to tlraths, it is stated, is a worldly affair and brings no religious rewards (GG, p. 1195, line 19; p. 1191, line 6). It should be noted that a critique of the ideology of tTrthas and Hindu pilgrimage is not unique to Sikhism but is found also in the Hindu Dharmasastra literature and other Hindu texts (see Jacobsen 2013).

In the Guru Granth, the phrase "sixty-eight places of Hindu pilgrimage” is used frequently (athsadi tTrath),7 but there is no fixed list of 68 places of pilgrimage in the Hindu tradition, and the origin or meaning of the concept of athsath tTrath is not known. No well-known list of 68 places of pilgrimage exists in the Hindu pilgrimage tradition. Important places of pilgrimage such as Ganga Sagar and Triveni (vetjT sahgain, i.e., Prayag) apparently is not part of the 68 because in one verse Guru Nanak says that Ganga Sagar and Triveni and the 68 tlraths are merged in the divine (GG, p. 1022, line 1). An attempt to list 68 Hindu places of pilgrimage was found in Bhai Kalian Singh Nabha, Encyclopaedia of the Sikh Literature. Nabha noted that in Sikh literature the figure 68 points to the Hindu places of pilgrimage (Nabha 2006: vol. I, p. 118). He comments correctly that Hindu scriptures differ from one another on the exact number of places, and one could add that the Hindu pilgrimage tradition is a dynamic tradition in which pilgrimage to some places may cease, and new pilgrimage places are continuously being created. There is no fixed total number, although there are some fixed numbers in the attempts of constructing certain pilgrimage systems, such as four dhams, 12 jyotirlihgas and 51 sakti pTthas, but no fixed 68. Nabha notes that in a text he refers to as Kapil Tantar (perhaps the pilgrimage text Kapilapurdna), a list of pilgrimage places is found which contains 68 sites, and he provides the list. However, in this list is included also Ganga Sagar and Triveni, which according to Gum Nanak was not part of the 68 (GG p. 1022, line 1). In the Harmandir Sahib on the bank of the Amritsar tank is a site called athsath tTrath, and this is supposedly where Guru Arjan uttered the hymn "athsath tlrath jah sadh pag dharahi” (That is the sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage, where the sadhus place their feet.) (Nabha 2006: vol. 1, p. 119). Guru Arjan stated about the amrt sarovar: "Gurdev tlrath amrt sarovar” (The divine Guru is the sacred pilgrimage place and the pool with the water of immortality.) (GG, p. 250, line 3, Guru Arjan). A raised, canopied platform marks the place at which many visitors bathe. They take a bath, writes W. Owen Cole, either "in the hope that they may accomplish the arduous journey to the sixty-eight Hindu pilgrimage sites around India, or more acceptable, in the belief that the Ath Sath Tirath has the efficacy of them all put together” (Cole 2004: 7).

In the Guru Granth, it is especially the view that bathing at the pilgrimage places has salvific power by itself and that this power works independently of the proper mentality of the pilgrim that seems to be criticised. This view was promoted by the Hindu pandas (pilgrimage priests), the mdhatmya texts and the sthalapuranas of the Hindu pilgrimage sites (for salvific power of place in Hinduism, see Jacobsen 2013). The Sikli Gurus were against the idea of salvific power of place promoted at many Hindu places of pilgrimage, but they were not against religious travel to meet the Guru. Quite on the contrary, the Guru is the tlrath (gur tirath), it is stated by Guru Arjan (GG, p. 52, line 14). For Guru Nanak, the divine is the pilgrimage place: "Har [the divinity] is my tlrath” (GG, page 1286, line 3). The blessing of having darsan of the Gum is compared to having taken sacred baths at all the 68 places of pilgrimage (p. 1392, line 9, bard Kal-sahar). Nanak says that one who bathes in the immortal knowledge (amrtgian) gains the virtues of the 68 shrines of pilgrimage (p. 1328, line 18). The rewards from meditation on the Nam are compared to the rewards believed by Hindus to be attained from pilgrimage. Gum Nanak in a hymn glorifying the divine wrote that the divine power had created the places of pilgrimage:

Tirath dharam vicar navan purbdnid.

He created the sacred shrines of pilgrimage, where people contemplate righteousness and Dharma, and take cleansing baths on special occasions.

(GG, p. 1279)

Sikli pilgrimage can be understood as religious travel in order to be in the presence of the Gum and is a continuation of the travel to pay visit to the Gums when they were alive. Sikli pilgrimage therefore is primarily to historical places associated with the ten Gums. It seems for a site to become a pilgrimage destination, a historical relationship with the site to one of the Gums has to be established. This includes claims of connection to a previous rebirth of one of the Gums, as in the case of the Sikh pilgrimage site of Hemkund where the connection is only to a previous rebirth of a Gum. In the 1930s, Hemkund became identified as the place Gum Gobind Singh had stayed for meditation in a previous rebirth. Such a place is apparently described in Dasam Granth (in Bachitar Natak, Chapter 6), and Hemkund was in the 1930s identified with this place supposedly based on the descriptions in Dasam Granth. A small hut functioning as gurdvara was constructed in stone in 1936, and the work on the present gurdvara started in mid-1960s. It has become one of the major Sikh pilgrimage sites. However, in most other cases historical relationships with the site to one or more of the Gurus have been established and are the reason for the site becoming an object of pilgrimage travel. Claims of connection to a previous rebirth of a Guru may nevertheless be added to such places to increase their sacredness. This shows that the unique feature of Sikli pilgrimage is that it is the previous presence of their Gums at the sites that has created the sites’ sacredness.

Sikh history and the layout of the pilgrimage town of Nanded

For the Sikh community "the past was foremost expressed in relation to land” (Murphy 2012: 252). Nanded undeniably exemplify this expression of the past in relation to territory. Various sacred sites in Nanded are associated both with the first Gum, Nanak, and the tenth Gum. Gobind Singh, and also with the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, the Gum Granth. According to the pilgrimage tradition at Nanded, every Sikh should visit Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded before their 60th birthday (Sri Hasilr Sahib n.d.: 23).8 This statement seems to attempt to make pilgrimage to Nanded a religious duty for Sikhs.

The most important Sikli pilgrimage places are situated in and around towns and cities. The sacred place of Hemkund in the Himalayas is an exception. Nanded is an example of a Sikli pilgrimage city but unlike the pilgrimage places in contemporary Punjab, the main population of the pilgrimage place of Nanded is not Sikli but Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist (Navayana). The number of Sikhs living permanently in Nanded is quite small. According to the 2011 census, of the population of 550,000, 48 per cent are Hindus, 33 per cent Muslims, 15 per cent are Buddhists (Navayana) and only 2 per cent are Sikhs. It seems that the spiritual power of the sacred Sikh history of Nanded and the main gurdvara did not draw a large number of Sikhs to settle here permanently.9 Because of the absence of a large Sikli population, the Sikli pilgrims do not blend in in the city, but they constitute a separate pilgrimage community and stay in the Sikli areas of the city. The Sikli pilgrims stay primarily in the areas around the Hazur Sahib gurdvara and the street going from the Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River. In and around the Hazur Sahib and in the street to the Godavari there are a number of large dharamsalas for people to stay. The Sikli sacred geography of Nanded is a different geography than the one experienced by the local people and has relevance mainly for the Sikhs. However, the Sikli pilgrimage has influenced the city as a whole: the railway station was expanded, and in 2008, an airport opened in connection with the 300-year anniversary celebration of the Guruship of the Guru Granth and the 300th anniversary of the death of Guru Gobind Singh. Most Sikli pilgrims arrive from Punjab and North India. There are several special trains going between Punjab and Nanded to connect the sacred places of Amritsar and Nanded. The language spoken by the Sikh pilgrims is mostly Punjabi, their food is Punjabi, their dress is Punjabi and especially popular among the pilgrims is the blue Nihang uniform. According to the tradition, armed Nihaiigs represented the most important groups of the early Sikli settlers in Nanded (Banerjee 2017: 442). The Sikli sacred geography in Nanded has continually been expanding, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, as the number of pilgrims has grown. Old centres have become bigger and old historical structures have been destroyed to create more open space at the sites in order to be able to handle the large numbers of pilgrims. New sites for pilgrims to visit in Nanded and its surroundings have continuously been established.

The main sacred area is the Sri Hazur Sahib and its surroundings and the road from the Sri Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River. Sikhs also live in this area. In a map prepared by British officers between 1832 and 1841. the Sikh settlement (referred to in the map as Sheik Darbar) was in the area along a street that connected the Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River (Nihang and Singh 2008: 140-141). The street from Hazur Sahib to Godavari today has a number of shops, mostly owned by Sikhs, on each side of the street and several dharamsalas and gurdvaras. Banerjee notes that in the early years the secluded location of the Hazur Sahib "facilitated the demarcation of takhat's boundary” and that “a long line of babul trees was planted to hide the takhat’s location from outside” (Banerjee 2017: 442).

According to the Sikh tradition, the first Sikli Guru, Nanak, visited Nanded with his musician Mardana in the 16th century, and from that visit a group of Nanak pantlns supposedly arose in Nanded (Nihang and Singh 2008: ix). Nanak. after

Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded

Figure 5.1 Sri Hazur Sahib in Nanded.

Photo: Knut A. Jacobsen

The road from the Gurdwara Sri Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River

Figure 5.2 The road from the Gurdwara Sri Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River.

Photo: Knut A. Jacobsen

having meditated for a while at a site in Nanded, told Mardana that this was his place of penance in Satya Yuga and that at that time there was a town covering an area of six miles with houses built from gold and inhabited by sages. He then told Mardana that in his tenth incarnation (i.e., as Guru Gobind Singh) he would reveal the place and establish there the realm of truth (sach khand) (Nihang and Singh 2008: ix). Nihang and Singh argue that from this arose a myth that Nanded was once the centre of a big empire, which lay in the centre of the universe (Nihang and Singh 2008: ix).10 Thus the origin of the sacred site is claimed to be not the historical events of Guru Gobind Singh, but its discovery by Guru Nanak, and its sacredness is also claimed to be eternal and part of the structure of the universe itself. Gum Gobind Singh was cremated on this spot on which Nanak was supposed to have meditated in a previous life.

The reasons for Nanded becoming a pilgrimage place for the Sikhs seems nevertheless to have been because of historical events connected to Guru Gobind Singh (1661-1708), the tenth manifestation of Gum Nanak, as predicted in the myth. Gum Gobind Singh had an enormous influence on the formation of Sikhism. He founded the khalsa and defined the Sikh identity markers, and he collected the final part of the Gum Granth and established the Gum Granth as the eternal Gum. While the khalsa was founded in Anandpur in Punjab (in 1699), several of the other key events that gave shape to the Sikh religion took place in Nanded. The large Sikh pilgrimage circuit in contemporary Nanded and its surroundings with a number of sacred sites visited by the pilgrims are all connected to the days Gum Gobind Singh stayed there and the events that took place. The structure of the sacred geography is based on the historical events and religious narratives about these events. The Sikh map of Nanded constitutes a territorialisa-tion of these events and narratives, and a large number of gurdvaras have been built to mark and celebrate the events. The events were accompanied by miracles and the display of powers.

Gobind Singh had been selected by his father, Tegh Bahadur, to be the tenth Gum, which he became in 1676, as a boy after his father had been beheaded by the Mughals the year before. Gum Gobind Singh arrived in Nanded in August 1708. Singh had travelled south to meet with Aurangzeb. He sought justice for the murder of his two youngest sons, who had been killed by Aurangzeb's forces, and Aurangzeb had agreed to a meeting, but it never took place. Aurangzeb died in 1707. In the war of succession that followed, Gobind Singh supported the eldest of Aurangzeb’s sons. Prince Mu'azzam. In 1707, in the battle of Jajau, Gobind Singh and his forces assisted Mu’azzam against his brother Azam Shah. Mu'azzam took the name Bahadur Shah when he became the successor. He invited Gum Gobind Singh to his court. They exchanged gifts when they visited each other in Agra. Bahadur Shah travelled south to suppress an uprising in Hyderabad and asked Gum Gobind Singh to follow him. Moving southwards, the route took them to the banks of Godavari River at Nanded, where they stayed for a few days before Bahadur Shah continued towards Hyderabad while Gum Gobind Singh remained in Nanded to consider what to do next.

Gum Gobind Singh camped a mile from the city with 300 Nihaiig warriors and the rest of his retinue, and the connection to Satya Yuga was made when he shot an arrow that landed at a place where Nanak had meditated and announced that this was his place of penance in Satya Yuga. A follower of Nanak approached Gum Gobind, and he informed the Gum that Muslims had built a mosque at the ancient asrama place. The local Muslims obviously did not like that an arrow had been shot on their mosque, and a conflict started. Gum Gobind informed Bahadur Shah that the Muslims had built a mosque on the spot that was sacred to the followers of Gum Nanak from the time of Satya Yuga (Nihang and Singh 2008). After the conflict and some digging at the site of the mosque, proof that it was an ancient place of meditation was found, and Gobind Singh bought the property. The mosque was relocated, and Gobind Singh moved the camp to this place. Gurdvara Mai Tekedl Sahib is built at this place.

In another event, Guru Gobind met with a bairagi sadhu, Madho Das (1670— 1716), who was known for his great yoga powers. Gum Gobind wanted to visit him and went to his asram. Madho Das was not there, and Gobind Singh sat down on his bed. When Madho Das arrived and saw this, he became angry and tried to topple Gobind Singh from the bed with his magical powers. When he was unable to, he became a follower of the Gum (SriHasiir Sahib n.d.: 16). Contest involving magical powers is a common theme in medieval Indian hagiographies. According to another version of the episode. Gum Gobind Singh went to the place of Madho Das with his warriors, and he ordered the Nihangs to kill some of Madho Das's goats and cook him a meal. When Madho Das came he was infuriated and sent warriors to kill Gum Gobind Singh. The warriors returned bloody and defeated, and Madho Das mobilised a crowd from Nanded. But following a brief conversation with Gum Gobind Singh, he became a follower of him (Nihang and Singh 2008). His new name was Banda Singh, and he became subsequently one of the greatest warriors of the Sikli tradition. Gurdvara Baba Banda Bahadur Ghat Sahib marks this historical place.

Gobind Singh wanted justice from Bahadur Shah and a remedy for all the ills Aurangzeb had caused the Siklis. But Bahadur Shah would not give that, and Gobind Singh then said he would continue the war against the Mughal regime. While the Nihaiigs were preparing for battle, Gobind Singh was attacked by a Pathan named Gul Khan with a dagger. Gobind Singh survived and the wound partly healed, but after having been challenged by a Maratha warrior to shoot an arrow with a steel bow, the wound started to bleed again. Gobind Singh, becoming aware that he would soon die, called his closest followers and told them that the line of personal Gums had ended and that the Adi Granth should be his spiritual successor and their Gum. Gobind Singh also told one of the Sikhs, Santokh Singh, who ran the community kitchen (Jarigar) to remain in Nanded and to continue miming the kitchen. It has, according to the pilgrimage tradition of Nanded, been miming uninterrupted since. Several other Siklis also remained and built a small shrine in which they installed the Gum Granth. In the 19th century, Udasins took over the management of the shrine and an endowment of 525 acres of land around the shrine was secured. It was Maharaja Ranjit Singh who financed the building of the first large gurdvara - a gurdvara with a golden dome - on the place in 1832. Sikli artisans arrived in Nanded for this, and some settled permanently. Some also enlisted in the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and with the increase of Siklis, they took over the responsibility for the religious services in the shrine. The control of the main shrine and other gurdvaras at Nanded was transferred to a 17 member Gurdvara Board, with a five member Managing Committee constituted under the Nanded Sikli Gurdwaras Act passed on 20 September 1956 by Hyderabad state legislature.11

The Sri Hazur Sahib gurdvara is different from most gurdvaras in Punjab in that it has two shrines, one with Gum Granth and the other apparently with Dasani Granth, and a sacred room at the back of the shrines to which only the pujari has access. In this room Gum Gobind Singh's relics are stored: a cakra, a broad

Sikh pilgrimage sites 65 sword, a steel bow, a steel arrow, a gur: (heavy club with a large spherical knob), a small kirpan and five swords. In the evening, draff to the relics is performed, in which the relics are displayed by the pujari one after another. Similar rituals are performed in the Patna Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, but not usually in the gurdvaras in Punjab.

The foundation stories of many of the gurdvaras in Nanded are about powers and miracles. Gurdvara Hira Ghat Sahib exemplifies this feature. The gurdvara is 10 km from Nanded and a stop on the parikrama route. It is built on the spot where Gobind Singh stayed when he first arrived in Nanded. According to the sacred narrative, Bahadur Shah gave a very valuable diamond to Gobind Singh at this spot. The Guru looked at it shortly and threw the diamond away into the river. The Guru then invited the emperor to look in the water, and he saw heaps of diamonds lying at the bottom of the river. Bahadur Shah's pride was broken, according to this educational narrative (Sri Hasur Sahib n.d.: 5). The story illustrates a key doctrine of Sikhism: that pride and egoism are the opposite of gumiukh, truthful living. A gunnukh is a person who has destroyed his haumai, selfishness and pride.

Next to Gurdvara Hira Ghat Sahib is the Gurdvara Mata Sahib. It marks the spot of the place where the tents of Mata Sahib Kaur (Devan), Guru Gobind Singh's wife, were placed. This was the place of the larigar. and here lahgar has been served continuously since. The gurdvara building at the place was constructed as late as 1976-1977.

A few kilometres from Gurdvara Mata Sahib is Gurdvara Sikar Ghat Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh used this site to set off for hunting expeditions. The reason for the gurdvara building here is another story of the superior powers of Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh killed a rabbit at the place marked by the gurdvara and by killing it liberated the soul of Bhai Mula, who had been under a spell from Guru Nanak saying that he would continue in the cycle of birth and death until released by Guru Gobind Singh. This gurdvara was built as late as 1971. It also has a bathing tank.

Gurdvara Naglna Ghat Sahib is next to Godavari, one kilometre from Sri Hazur Sahib. The sacred story associated with this gurdvara is similar to the one at Gurdvara Hira Ghat. Guru Gobind Singh threw a jewel presented by a rich Sikh into the river at this place. The gum then asked the rich merchant to look into the water and the merchant saw heaps of glittering jewels in the river. This story also illustrates that pride and egoism is the opposite of gunnukh, truthful living. Gurdvara Naglna Ghat Sahib was built in 1968.

Gurdvara Baba Banda Bahadur Ghat Sahib is a kilometre upstream of Naglna Ghat and marks the site of the asrama of the sadhu Madho Das. It was at this place sadhu Madho Das lost his pride and his magical powers and was renamed Banda Singh after he became a follower of Gum Gobind Singh. Gurdvara Mai Tekdl Sahib, mentioned earlier, is five kilometres northeast of Sri Hazur Sahib. Gum Gobind Singh is believed to have unearthed a hidden treasure, given part of it to his soldiers, and buried the rest. The grave of a Muslim faqir Lakkar Shah is close to the gurdvara, which was built in 1929. Lakkar Shah lived at this place, and according to the tradition. Guru Nanak met him here. Gurdvara Sangat Sahib is probably named after the Sikli community that is thought to have existed in Nanded before the arrival of Gobind Singh. The hidden treasure unearthed at the place of Gurdvara Sangat Sahib was distributed at this place, according to the tradition.

Two of the panj piare, Bhai Daya Singh and Bhai Dharam Singh, who volunteered to be beheaded when the khdlsa was founded in 1699, survived the war in Punjab and were sent in 1705 to deliver the guru's letter, Zafarnaina, to Emperor Aurangzeb. They rejoined Guru Gobind in Nanded and later died there. The place of their cremation is marked by a small room within the compound of Sri Hazur Sahib. Some old weapons are also displayed here on a platform in the room.

Another stop along the pilgrimage route, Gurdvara Bauli Damdama Sahib, is the turning place of the processions. The place is a staple and a gurdvara. It displays the strong connection between Sikhism and horses, and many Sikhs donate horses here.

The continuous establishment of new Sikli places of pilgrimage in Nanded has been financed by Sikhs living in Punjab and abroad. Ranjit Singh gave a large donation for building Hazur Sahib, and other Sikli kings followed. The foundation of the inner sanctum of Sri Hazur Sahib was laid in 1839 (Nihang and Singh 2008: 124). In the last few years, the Gurdvara Langar Sahib has bought land and built several new gurdvaras from the donations they have collected from pilgrims. Gurdvara Langar Sahib in the main street connecting Sri Hazur Sahib with the Godavari was established in the 1920s to provide food and shelter for pilgrims coming to Nanded from distant parts based on donations collected in the Indian army. It is always open and hot food available. The newly built Gurdvara Nanak Sar Sahib is built on land 10 km from Nanded in memory of Nanak's visit. Another recent gurdvara is Gurdvara Nanakpuri, built by Dakhaui Sikhs about 100 metres from Nanak Sar. These last two illustrate that the expansion of Sikli pilgrimage spots at Nanded is an ongoing process. Another new gurdvara is Gurdvara Ratangarh Sahib, 14 kilometres outside of Nanded. It has been built next to a farmhouse, and it celebrates the story according to which Gum Gobind Singh, three days after he had been cremated, met here with Sheth Uttam Shresh-tha. The story of this meeting probably intended to show that Gobind Singh's life transcended death.

Gobind Singh is supposed to have said before he died, "Do not employ the great wealth that will accumulate here [in Nanded, from the offerings of pilgrims] to build a shrine. Instead, spend it all on degh [large cooking pot, i.e., food]. Have thepancamrtn prepared. The descendants of those who build a shrine will perish” (Suraj Prakas 14: 6335). The Sikhs have not been able to follow his wish and instead continue to expand and build new shrines.

Almost all the Sikli pilgrims to Nanded stay at the many dharamsalas in the vicinity of Sri Hazur Sahib run by the gurdvara organisations. Special buses owned by the dharamsalas and gurdvaras pick up the Sikh pilgrims from the railway station and the airport, so the Sikhs also do not need to interact with

Sikh pilgrimage sites 67 local non-Sikhs for local transport. The Sikhs are not present all around the city, but mainly only in the Sikh area of Nanded; in the Hazur Sahib and its surroundings, especially in the street going from Hazur Sahib to the Godavari River; on the ghats next to the river; and in the gurdvaras built at the historical places associated with events involving Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh along the parikrama route. The amiual hola mohalla and nagar ktrtan processions, however, pass through the central roads of Nanded. The processions give associations to the military parade, and they perform a symbolic conquest of the city (Jacobsen 2008). The annual Dasahra procession starting from the Hazur Sahib goes through the main streets of Nanded and is an important annual event. The greatest number of pilgrims is present at the time of this event. The procession ritual is loud and focuses on displays of weapons and symbolic military conquest. The procession has long stops for play and display of martial art (gatka) and includes a fast run with pointed swords involving many thousands of people, which symbolises a military charge and is considered a high point of the procession. Films of the run are posted on YouTube, which gives the processions a more permanent presence.13 In another annual procession in Nanded the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh are brought to the river Godavari and given a sacred bath (Pasrich 2011: 59).

The festivals in Nanded celebrate weapons, especially the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh, which are stored in the most sacred place in the main gurdvara Sri Hazur Sahib and are displayed during the evening draft ritual in the gurdvara. AratT is not commonly done in Sikh gurdvaras after the reforms of the 19th and 20th century, but the ritual has been preserved in Nanded. In addition, in earlier days "the worship of the weapons necessitated the decapitation of numerous goats in order to anoint the Gunfs weapons with their fresh blood” (Nihang and Singh 2008: 124). Currently goats are not decapitated in the daily evening aratT, but apparently one goat is decapitated before the start of the main procession ritual during Dasahra. Nanded is unique in that many of the early Sikh customs have been preserved here. One Sikh writer comments:

This shrine differs from other historical places of Sikh worship, including Harmandar Sahib of Amritsar. All ancient customs which were practiced at the time of the Gum are still followed here. For example, sandalwood tilak is still applied on the foreheads of priests and local devotees. This practice was followed by the Gum himself. The holy book on which he used to apply tilak every morning is unfortunately missing. The most important aspect of this holy shrine is that there are two sanctum sanctomms here. While all the functions are carried out by the priests in the outer room, the inner room is a vault which houses priceless objects, weapons and other personal belongings of the Gum. No one except Baba Kulwant Singh, the head priest - the 31st in line of succession - can enter this holy vault! He is a brahamachari. His day starts exactly two hours after midnight! That’s the hour Gum Gobind Singh used to wake up and take his bath before sitting down for his meditation!

(Tajwant Singh 2002)

The fast run with pointed swords which symbolises a military charge

Figure 5.3 The fast run with pointed swords which symbolises a military charge.

Photo: Knut A. Jacobsen

Iii connection with the celebration in 2008, the weapons of Hazur Sahib were taken for display on a specially designed van in a nationwide procession (jagrti yatra), which commenced on 15 November 2007 and returned to Nanded on 10 August 2008. The purpose of the procession was to "arrange a darshan" of the “weapons for devotees all over the country” (Pasricha 2011: 47).14 Another purpose might have been to make the pilgrimage place of Nanded better known to the Sikhs and to attract more pilgrims for the event, because Pasricha writes, "Astoundingly, many devotees did not know of Nanded or what the Gurta Gaddi Diwas15 was. The Yatra brought Sri Hazur Sahib closer to the people after which devotees started pouring into Nanded in thousands, their numbers increasing with the passage of time” (Pasricha 2011: 61).

The pilgrimage place of Nanded was dramatically transformed between 2006 and 2008 in connection with the 300th anniversary of the passing of the Guruship from Guru Gobind Singh to the Gum Granth. Nihang and Singh noted that the transformations included "the building of a modern airport (air-linked to Chandigarh and Amritsar); upgrading the existing railway station; improvement of sewage and water facilities; upgrading of the traffic management and security systems; and the laying of a fourteen-mile-long corridor linking all the Sikh shrines in the vicinity of the town” (Nihang and Singh 2008: 280). This resulted in "massive damage to many historical buildings, notwithstanding their well-documented sacred and historic associations” (Nihang and Singh 2008: 280). Nihang and Singh comment that “history stood in the way of government sponsored development” for the goal of making Nanded "an international pilgrimage destination.” The homes of around 750 poor Sikhs living in the houses around the Hazur Sahib, which had been built by the first Sikhs who had settled there, were demolished in 2006 (Nihang and Singh 2008: 288). The destructions are described and documented in Nihang and Singh (2008: 281-290), Dogra (2008: 16-18) and Pasricha (2011). Dogra points out that the leading Sikh organisations generally always prefer new white marble buildings instead of preserving the old buildings. An autobiographical description of the transformation of Nanded is found in Pasricha (2011). Pasricha led the rebuilding of the Nanded that was thought necessary for the 2008 celebration.


Nanded was not a pilgrimage place when Guru Granth was compiled and assigned Guruship; it became one afterwards. Pilgrimage to Nanded is not condemned in the Guru Granth. What is condemned in the Guru Granth is the belief that piija at Hindu tTrthas and the haj to Mecca are efficient means to attain salvific goals, not religious travel to see the Gurus. Sikh pilgrims to Nanded want to be present at the historical sites associated with two of their Gurus and celebrate the memory of historical events. In Nanded key features of the Sikh tradition have become territorialised. The presence of large crowds of Sikhs at the festival times in Nanded adds to the feeling of importance of the place. Interestingly, the tearing down of old buildings and the building of new ones do not seem to have obliterated the feeling among pilgrims of being present at historical places. One would have expected that the emphasis in Sikh pilgrimage on history and territorialisation of faith would have led to efforts of preservation of the old buildings instead of erasing them, since pilgrimage to historical places means for the pilgrims to have the experience of being "transported back in time” (Brar 1998). Perhaps one way to understand this paradox is to situate the transformation of Nanded in the current global expansion of Sikhism and its pilgrimage traditions.


  • 1 The five takhts are Akai Taklit near Sri Hannandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar, Taklit Sri Kesgarh Sahib (Anandpur), Taklit Sri Damdama Sahib (Talwandi), Taklit Sri Patna Sahib (Patna) and Taklit Sff Hazur Sahib (Nanded).
  • 2 My visit to Nanded on which the field observations of this chapter are based was during Dasalira in 2017.
  • 3 For such arguments see Jutla (2002) and (2006). Jutla writes: “In Sikhism a dichotomy exists between the authority of the Guru Granth Sahib and what is actually practised by believers. In spite of all textual references to the contrary, Sikhs still go on pilgrimage” (2002: 68). On this ambiguity, see also Paine (2003).
  • 4 Clarence O. McMullan noted in his study of popular religious beliefs and practices in rural Punjab that that “visiting pilgrimage centres is a common practice among the Sikhs.” He further informs that “every Sikh that we interviewed had visited one or another such place” and adds that “most had visited a number of these places” (McMullan 1989: 47).
  • 5 McLeod in his Historical Dictionary- of Sikhism has a short entry on tirath: “A Hindu pilgrimage center. Nanak taught that the only tirath is within the person. The idea of visiting pilgrimage centers proved too strong to be eliminated, but for Siklis the places were to be locations associated with one of the Gurus” (McLeod 2002: 212).
  • 6 All quotations from the Guru Granth are from this edition.
  • 7 Sometimes the word athsath itself is used in the sense of athsath tirath.
  • 8 Pasricha (2011) refers to “a legend that says that guru Gobind Singh waits for his followers to visit Sri Hazur Sahib till the age of sixty” (Pasricha 2011: 50).
  • 9 See Heitzman (2008: 43-62) for the argument that spiritual power attracts human settlements. See also Jacobsen (2011: 181-182).
  • 10 The claim of being the centre of the universe is made in the mahatmyas of several Hindu pilgrimage places.
  • 11 handed.
  • 12 Karah prasad, the sweet food, is offered before Guru Granth and afterwards distributed to devotees in Sikli gurdvaras.
  • 13 For one example, see
  • 14 Pasricha notes that “the Jagriti Yatra evoked a sentimental feeling among the followers and many unfortunates who were unable to visit Nanded believed that their attendance had been accepted at Sri Hazur Sahib” (Pasricha 2011: 50).
  • 15 The declaration made by Guru Gobind Singh that the next Guru was going to be the Adi Granth.


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6 The production of Muslim


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