landscape of Kartarpur is where Guru Nanak worked out the details of his religious practices and where his poetry was set to music
By Sarwat Ali
Kartarpur, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism, is where Guru Nanak breathed his last. Actually, he had founded the settlement earlier and then in his later years he came back to spend the remaining part of his life there. Once through with his endless journeys, he tilled the land — setting example of humility and the dignity of working with one’s own hands, reuniting with the common folk, whose suffering and sorrows he was so acutely aware of. Inspired by the Sufis, he also instituted the langar where all could eat and drink, irrespective of faith and caste.
The gurdwara is ideally located on a raised platform overlooking River Ravi, amidst a lush green valley that has the feel of the mountain air. This is the place where the Ravi enters Pakistani territory, actually hitting the plains after rushing through the mountain slopes of the Himalayas in the province of Himachal. As one looks eastwards and northwards, the thickly forested environment forms a horizon beyond which lies the Indian Punjab.
The gurdwara, like most gurdwaras, is multi-storied and as one ascends to the top landing the panoramic view is very impressive — the plains are as if meeting the mountains. Apparently, it has been flooded quite a few times. One impressive dome constructed on the order of Ranjit Singh was destroyed in one of the floods and the current structure, built under the patronage of the Maharaja Patiala about 80 years ago on a much raised platform so as to withstand the flood waters of the Ravi, stands majestically. There are the remnants of a well that the Guru and his family drew water from and the guava orchard adjoining the gurdwara, which still bears fruit. It is said to have been cultivated by Guru Nanak himself.
Guru Nanak led a very active life. He travelled far and wide in search of truth and met very many sages and saints that helped him in forging his views on life and death that eventually led him to found a religion. In those days when travelling was truly an ordeal, a gruelling test of one’s physical and mental endurance, Guru Nanak travelled to Mekkah, Baghdad, Sri Lanka, Kashi (Banarus) and then up north to Mount Kailash and wondered in territories in what is now China and the Central Asian Republics. Also he traversed the length and breadth of the Indian land mass.
Some questionable sources, mostly oral, also stress that he travelled to Europe and Africa but these have not been backed by written accounts. These travels known as udasian hold a great deal of religious significance for the Sikh religion.
Nanak, born in Talwandi Rai Bhoey in now district Sheikhupura, which because of him has become Nankana Sahib, drank deep from the various sources that he discovered or were at his disposal.
When Guru Granth Sahib was compiled, it was evident that its major portion was inspired by the poetry of Baba Fareed of Ajodhan (now Pakpattan), the first major Punjabi poet.
As one goes from Narowal to Shakargarh and passes the decaying railway station of Jassar, after a few kilometres on the east one can see a white dome. There is a railway station that must have been built to facilitate the pilgrims in the past but now it is like the entire railway system — a decrepit sight. From the main road about a couple of kilometres is a narrow picturesque road that leads to the gurdwara situated all alone amidst a few unobtrusive buildings that house the keepers of the gurdwara and its maintenance staff.
Guru Nanak wanted to bring the faiths together and he founded a religion that was to do just that. In his death too it is said that the various factions and faiths started to quarrel as to what to do with his body — should he be buried or should he be cremated. As the story goes he wanted a wreath to be placed on his body. When the wreath was removed, to the amazement of the crowd, it was not the body of Guru Nanak but a heap of flowers. The devotees according to their own individual religious beliefs disposed off the heap of flowers.
Though Sikhism came to be institutionalised much later, yet Nanak started some of the rituals associated with it here as he had matured to work on the details of his religious practices. It is said that Bhai Mardana too died at Kartarpur and that his last rites were also observed there. Musician Bhai Mardana was a lifelong friend devotee of Guru Nanak who excelled in playing the rubab. The religious texts of Nanak, who himself was a great poet, were set to music by Mardana.
It is said that, after his death, his son Bhai Shahzaad too was asked by Nanak to continue with the tradition of singing the religious texts. The descendents of Bhai Mardana were the singers of the Sikhs in and outside the gurdwaras and were considered indispensable to the faith of the Sikhs.
The boundary of the Punjab on the Shakargarh side and also Jammu is amazingly beautiful but that has been lost to the ordinary citizens due to its inaccessibility, the fencing and heavy fortification because of the tension between India and Pakistan. But whenever there is an opportunity, it is a reminder of the beautiful landscape as the hills on the east and north saddle the vast uniform plains of the Punjab, a landscape very different from the rugged hills of the Potohars to the west.
Kartarpur was ravaged by the Ravi many times over so another settlement called Dera Nanak was also set up across the river. It is difficult to tell since the river has kept changing its course but some say that Kartarpur is the same as Dera Nanak while for others it another site across the river.
Kalasha community is unique — it seeks merriment in death
“We celebrate death — because when someone is born we celebrate with cheers and in the same spirit when someone expires we say adieu to him with cheerfulness,” says Meeta Gul, from the Rumbor valley. The Kalasha people have a unique culture, language, religion and rituals.
They believe in the ‘will of the God’ — a leaf falls and is separated from the tree; likewise, a man dies and is separated from his friends and family, he goes to a better place, in the hands of the God, and so deserves a merry farewell.
The deceased is buried only when all the relatives and friends have seen the dead body. All the tribe fellows are informed in the three Kalasha valleys. There is no fixed duration for funeral rites. A rich family may follow the funeral rituals for a few days otherwise the usual three-day funeral rites are observed. In these three days, songs are sung, dance is performed and the tribe fellows pay tribute to the deceased person. “But dance is not performed in case of a female death,” says Shah Jawan, an elder Kalasha spokesman.
Mourners gather and feast for three days. Goat and cow meat, wheat, ghee, cheese and local wine (tara) is served in bulk by the host family. The quantities of commodities used in funeral rites are: Goats 30 to 40, cows 4 to 6, wheat 30 to 40 maunds (one maund is equal to 40 kg), cheese 100 kg, ghee 100 kg and tara more than 200 litres. The price for all this is exorbitant.
“In case of a very poor or destitute family all tribe fellows contribute in death rites,” discloses Sher Alam, a Kalasha teacher from Bumboret valley.
The Kalasha is an agro-pastoral community of Pakistan and depends on flocks, paddock and terraced fields. Each family has its own flocks, trees, land and vines of grapes and common pastures for summer grazing. The backbone of Kalasha economy is their pastures and forests where they live half of their lives with flocks of goats.
But now deforestation is a major threat to their economy and culture. If area for grazing is reduced then definitely their flocks of goats would suffer and as Athanasious Lerounis, a Greek welfare organiser says, “the goats are very important for the Kalasha culture and religion. The Kalasha people sacrifice their goats frequently as rituals of birth, marriage, death, etc.”
The Kalasha is the sole pagan tribe of Pakistan living in three remote valleys of district Chitral — Bumboret, Rumbor and Birir. Once the Kalasha tribe ruled the upper and lower Chitral for centuries and then was defeated by Kho tribes of Chitral. In 1320 AD, the Rais rulers invaded the land, and Bulasing and Raja Wai were the two grand rulers of the dynasty in later ages.
Many historians hold that the Kalasha tribe belonged to the Greeks and are descendants of Alexander the Great. I am not going to deal with history of the people but contemporary sciences like genetic studies and archaeology dispel the Greek descendant myths. Their language, archaeological evidences and genetic studies suggested that the Kalasha people belonged to Indo-Aryan.
The population of the Kalasha people was 200,000 in 1320 A.D in upper and lower Chitral; in 1959 there were 10,000 people; and presently the population is estimated to be 4,000 only.