Baisakhi in the City of Bliss

Guru Gobind Singh chose Anandpur Sahib to be the venue of a transformative movement in Punjab. Today, we see teeming masses march up to Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib on the Baisakhi day.

Roopinder Singh

What is it that is raising so much dust? Is it an invading force of raiders?
No, that’s just a poet blessed with wealth by Guru Gobind Singh going home after attending the darbar.

The couplet attributed to one of the court poets of Guru Gobind Singh speaks of the dignity with which they were treated and also the magnificence of his gifts to the gifted. A flourishing cultural milieu came up wherever Sikh gurus set up camp. Guru Gobind Singh inherited many of the poets in his darbar from his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and we find compositions in Braj bhasha, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and Punjabi from the period in different manuscripts. The village of Makhowal became Chakk Nanki when Guru Tegh Bahadur christened it after his mother. He had bought the village and surrounding areas in 1665 and it became his headquarters. He was to live here for 10 years before undertaking the fateful journey to Delhi and facing martyrdom while defending religious freedom for the adherents of other religions, not just his own.
It was this ethos that Guru Gobind Singh evoked in his fight against the repression of the day, personified by the Mughal rule of Emperor Aurangzeb. “I will make sparrows fight the hawks,” said Guru Gobind Singh, after he formed the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib on Baisakhi in 1699. Lakhs of Sikhs go to the birthplace of the Khalsa to celebrate Baisakhi, even as it is celebrated on a grand scale at other places too, notably at Talwandi Sabo.
The collected hymns of his predecessors and his own compositions were the guiding force for all. The annual gathering at Anandpur Sahib became the focal point of a renaissance that had as much to do with the transformation of religious beliefs, a push towards an egalitarian society and a firm belief in the oneness of the Almighty, as it had with military preparation. The Baisakhi of 1699 threw up a vision of a new and regenerated humanity. Today, all those who visit Anandpur Sahib go to Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, and rightly so. Rich in history, the present gurdwara, however, is relatively recent. It was built in the mid-1930s. It houses a collection of relics associated with the Gurus, especially Guru Gobind Singh.
These relics draw us to the magnificent heritage of the City of Bliss, as Anandpur literally translates into. It is here that the Gurus and their families lived. A thriving trade was provided for the inhabitants and visitors and the Guru’s darbar attracted the hordes, especially during festivals like Hola Mohalla and Baisakhi.
Guru Gobind Singh spent some years of his childhood and later raised his family at Anandpur Sahib. It was here that he created the Khalsa. It was from here that he lost his family and his home, but never relented in his fight against tyranny. It was he who re-named Chakk Nanki as Anandpur. His Sikhs suffixed the honorific Sahib.
“Redemption comes through knowledge,” said the Guru and the sheer volume and quality of literature that was created in the city became the stuff of legends. Going by what Bhai Santokh Singh says in Suraj Parkash the manuscripts weighed around 350 kg! All except the small volumes that had been taken out earlier were lost when the Khalsa forces evacuated Anandpur Sahib in December 1705. They had to go through the Sirsa stream that was in spate. The eldest two sons of Guru Gobind Singh were killed in the battle with the Mughal forces at Chamkaur Sahib. His two younger sons and his mother were separated from him, and much of the treasures, including the literature, were lost in the melee.
Anandpur would later be taken over by the Raja of Bilaspur and bought by the cousins of Guru Gobind Singh whose families ran the local gurdwaras. The family’s writ ran over various institutions. One of the descendents, and it was under Sodhi Kishan Singh, a descendant, that the town became a municipal committee in the last decade of the 19th century. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) took over the gurdwaras in 1923 and has managed these since.
Over the years, Hola Mohalla became a festival associated with the city and its people. On this day, Nihangs, resplendent in cobalt blue tunics and turbans, horses and other accruements of warriors — perform death-defying feats.
Crowds gathered for Baisakhi, too, but not in such great numbers. Anandpur, the sleepy town at the foothills of the Shivalik Hills, remained out of public eye and missed much of the boom that other cities in Punjab benefited from.
Having, in Giani Zail Singh, a Chief Minister who was an MLA from Anandpur Sahib, helped. The Guru Gobind Singh Marg celebration in 1973 brought focus back to the city. This route traced the 47-day journey of Guru Gobind Singh from Anandpur Sahib to Talwandi Sabo, and the joint effort of the SGPC and the Punjab Government resulted in a major up gradation of infrastructure around the area.
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution, adopted by the Shiromani Akali Dal that year, lit a political fire that would soon ignite passions far beyond the town.
The Singh Sabha Shatabdi Committee, led by Hukam Singh and Giani Gurdit Singh, made a concerted effort to revive the spirit of Baisakhi at Anandpur Sahib. Scholars read out research papers to massive audiences. Some of them were honoured publically for their contribution to history and understanding of religion. Like in much of Punjab, the decade between the mid-1980s and 1990s was largely lost.
Celebrations to mark the tercentenary of the Khalsa in 1999 saw the city being painted white. Lakhs of people, hundreds of langars and massive functions marked the occasion on which the establishment of the Virasat-e-Khalsa museum was announced by the then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Giani Tarlochan Singh’s appointment as Jathedar of Keshgarh Sahib in 2003 was another milestone. He had spent much of this life at Anandpur Sahib, and served as a catalyst to growth till his death, in harness, in 2013.
The Virasat-e-Khalsa museum, which opened in 2011, is now a major tourist attraction. Today, the celebrations have evolved too. People on horseback could well be polo players, not just Nihangs. The SGPC and the city administration play a major role in directing the festivities, with kirtan darbars and katha sessions dominating the discourse. Relative newcomers like the Anandpur Sahib Foundation and Sikh Chamber of Commerce have planned a half-marathon, a movie festival and knowledge sessions, activities reflecting an evolving spirit of Baisakhi. Baisakhi at Anandpur Sahib reflects the egalitarian ethos of the Gurus, who re-kindled the spirit of the downtrodden and the battered and made them stand up for the rights of others, as well as their own.

52 court poets

Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha’s authoritative Mahan Kosh lists the following ‘Bavanja Kavi’ in who received the patronage of Guru Gobind Singh:

1 Uday Rai 2 Ani Rai 3 Amrit Rai
4 Allu 5 Asa Singh 6 Alim
7 Ishavar Dass 8 Sukh Dev 9 Sukha Singh
10 Sukhia 11 Sudama 12 Sainapat
13 Shyam 14 Heer 15 Hussain Ali
16 Hans Ram 17 Kallu 18 Kuveresh
19 Khan Chand 20 Gunia 21 Gurdas
22 Gopal 23 Chandan 24 Chanda
25 Jamaal 26 Tehkin 27 Dharam Singh
28 Dhanna Singh 29 Dhayan Singh 30 Nannoo
31 Nishchal Dass 32 Nihal Chand 33 Nand Singh
34 Nand Lal 35 Pindi Dass 36 Ballabh
37 Balloo 38 Bidhi Chand 39 Bulland
40 Brikh 41 Brij Lal 42 Mathura
43 Madan Singh 44 Madan Giri 45 Malloo
46 Maan Dass 47 Mala Singh 48 Mangal
49 Ram 50 Rawal 51 Roshan Singh
52 Lakha


Gurdwaras of Anandpur Sahib

Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib Gurdwara Qila Anandgarh Sahib
Gurdwara Qila Fatehgarh Sahib Gurdwara Qila Lohgarh Sahib
Gurdwara Holgarh Sahib Gurdwara Mata Jito Ji
Gurdwara Manji Sahib Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib
Gurdwara Damdama Sahib Thara Sahib
Gurdwara Bhora Sahib


This article was published in the Spectrum section of The Tribune on April 8, 2018.

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