The sky was overcast and it was a cold and windy January morning in 2011, as we darted barefoot across the marbled courtyard into the Takht Sri Harmandarji Patna Sahib. The spot where the gurudwara stands is where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs, was born.
The hall where the morning prayer session was on was full with devotees who'd congregated here from far and near. UK businessman Peter Virdee chose to take the nine-day trip on the luxury train, the Deccan Odyssey, visiting all the Sikh Takhts with his family. There was also kar sevak Sarabjeet Singh who arrived with 13 others, two days ahead of Gurpurab, the Guru's birth anniversary, after a 48-hour truck ride from Hoshiarpur, Punjab. If for Virdee and his family, the journey was about touching base with their roots, for Sarabjeet it was about keeping the Sikh tradition of kar seva or service alive.
Holy relics on display
The jathedar or head priest was displaying the Guru's holy relics, mostly from his childhood. Devotees looked on with awe as the sevadars brought out gold-encrusted ivory slippers of Gobind Rai, as he was called as a child. To the call wahe guru, the slippers were restored reverentially inside the glass box.
The ninth Sikh guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was in Patna during his tour of the east when he decided to leave his pregnant wife Mata Gujri in the care of his followers here. Gobind Rai was born here on December 22, 1666. After spending several years here, he moved to Anandpur, Punjab, succeeding his father as the next Sikh Guru. On April 13, 24 years later on Baisakhi Day, he established the Khalsa Panth by baptising the Panj Pyaras or five chosen disciples. A decade later, at Nanded, he declared the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, as the permanent Sikh Guru.
The Patna gurudwara houses Pangura Sahib ji, his cradle, Chola Sahib ji, his silken frock, a copy of the Adi Granth signed by him, and other relics. It also has three pieces of the wooden spinning implements that belonged to Sant Kabir Das, whose verses are included in the Guru Granth Sahib.
The gurudwara was gearing up for the January 5 birthday celebrations. As the prayer meeting concluded, the sevadar made announcements regarding the celebrations. A kavi darbar was being scheduled as part of the festivities.
Circumambulating the gurudwara, we could see a series of rooms where the sangat or the faithful were engaged in kar seva, also making atta laddoos for prasad. Several quintals of laddoos had been readied for distribution, already.
In the lane behind the gurudwara, trucks full of kar sevaks were pulling in. Many, like Sarabjeet, had arrived from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, laden with kitchen paraphernalia for the 24-hour langar service. "We've brought 10 canisters of ghee, 40 quintals of wheat flour, 20 tons of potatoes," Sarabjeet rattled off, returning to his cosy bed of straws in the back of his truck.
Devotees eat together
Sarabjeet and friends were to be assisted by a team of 60 men and women from their sangat and were expected to arrive next day by train. "Together we will feed around 10,000 devotees through the day," he said, deep devotion evident in the way he went about organising things for the big event. But why come all the way from Punjab, driving for 48 hours in the bitter cold during the harsh winter? Sarabjeet rubbishes the allusion to needless effort. "Our Babaji - local gurudwara chief - has been visiting Hazur Sahib, Nanded, situated on the banks of the River Godavari in Maharashtra, for the past 15 years, to host such day-long langar services during the Dussehra festival. Our Babaji makes us prepare several sweets, and a range of food items that we would feed the devotees with a lot of affection. We are planning to do the same here at the birth place of Sri Guru Gobind Singh, for the first time. We are looking forward to this," he says.
Such was the fervour among the organisers and devotees who were flocking to the Patna Sahib Gurudwara, that we were swept away with the intensity and faith. And in their own way, every one of them seems to have made the pilgrimage here to resurrect their faith and seek divine grace.
Mona Mehta, Times of India, Jan 2, 2012