Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Negotiations to Purchase Historic Gurdwara Baoli Sahib at Jagannath Puri in Orissa

Gurdwara Baoli Sahib at Jagannath Puri in the state of Orissa, where Guru Nanak unearthed a natural spring and where he sang the shabad ‘Gagan mae thaal rav chand deepak banay, Taaraka mandal janak moti...’ that challenged the concept of aarti, is a rather miserable looking place.

Like many other Sikh historic places, Gurdwara Baoli Sahib is desperately in need of conservation.

A painting of Guru Nanak languishing in the gurdwara shows the Guru sitting under a tree with his two sons sitting to his right, and his companion, Mardana, playing the rabaab, also to his right. When I saw it in February, it was in very sad condition.

The decrepit baoli, a stepped well that goes down to the water surface, marks the spot in the sand where Guru Nanak dug his staff to release a spring of sweet water, the only source of drinkable water in the area.

The gurdwara is very small. There are two rooms, one for Guru Granth Sahib and the other for Lord Jagannath. The caretaker priest does both Sikh and Hindu prayers.

About a mile from Gurdwara Baoli Sahib stands a newer gurdwara, Nanakmata Sahib, which was built less than 10 years ago. It has 24-hour open langar and a building next door for travelers to stay.

There is also a lot across the road, just in front of the gurdwara, large enough to build three homes. It was donated to the gurdwara by the city of Puri. Gurdwara officials said they were planning to build a children’s park and a library named after one of the Panj Piaray, Mohkam Singh, who was from Puri.

Puri does not have any Sikh resident, but the sangat regularly goes to Gurdwara Nanakmata Sahib from the neighboring state capital of Bhubaneshwar and from the city of Cuttack.

Gurdwara Nanakmata Sahib is working with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to take possession of the old historical Gurdwara Baoli Sahib. Its secretary said the government and the Brahmin family at Baoli Sahib had agreed, in principle, to hand it over, at an agreed price.

When that will happen is not known, but hope the Baoli Sahib family is given millions of rupees for their seva and for passing the responsibility of the gurdwara on to the Sikhs.

Jagannath Puri, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, is one of the four most sacred places of pilgrimage for Hindus. A special ritual, called aarti, is performed in praise of Lord Jagannath, Lord of the universe. Aarti worship involves circulating a metal platter on which little lamps with butter-soaked wicks are lit.

Guru Nanak watched pilgrims doing aarti at Jagannath Puri during his odyssey in the mid 1500s. He did not participate. Instead, he sang a shabad about the true realm of Waheguru, in which aarti is meaningless.

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