Punjab: Kotwali Sahib, Gurdwara Thanda Burj Sahib and Punjabi Death Fog

Good morning everyone,

Kotwali Sahib.  Where?  Morinda, Punjab.  The gurdwara is under construction and has been for about 4 – 5 years.  Gurdwara’s don’t get government funding for construction generally, almost all of the funds used to build come from donations by the sangat and a lot of the work itself is kar seva, physical labour donated by volunteers.  So many gurdwaras take a long time to build.

This gurdwara, though being constructed, is historical.  It is being built around what used to be an old jail, and in particular one cell of the old jail.  You can see the bars of the cell in one of the pictures.

That cell contained three very important Sikh prisoners.  Important especially at this time of year.  They were Mata Gujri and her grandsons, the two youngest children of Guru Gobind Singh Ji – Bhai Zorawar Singh Ji and Bhai Fateh Singh Ji.

After the Sikhs, led by Guru Gobind Singh Ji left Anandpur Sahib, they crossed the Sirsa River, followed by Mughal forces bent on their destruction.  Guru Gobind Singh Ji and his eldest sons, Bhai Ajit Singh Ji and Bhai Jujhar Singh Ji were separated from his mother and his two youngest sons.  The elder sons went along with the Guru on eventually to Chamkaur, while Mata Gujri and the younger sons were taken to a village near Morinda by Gangu.

Gangu had been a cook but was discharged by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.  After being caught trying to steal from Mata Gujri and hoping to collect a reward as well, he turned her and the children from his home and reported her presence to authorities, who arrested them and had them held in this cell.  From this cell, after the treachery, they were taken to Wazir Khan in Sirhind.

It would have been December in Morinda when the boys and their grandmother spent time in this unheated, relatively open barred cell.  Mata Gujri would have been 81 at the time and the Shahebzadaas were 8 and 6 years old respectively.

In Sirhind they were kept by Wazir Khan in an open tower, or Thanda Burj, that was meant for use in summer to escape the heat of the Panjab plains.  In winter, it would have been especially cold and they were exposed to the elements with only the clothes on their back and no food or water.  Curious villagers would gather below the Thanda Burj to stare at them, some to mock and harass as well.

Each day they were separated from their grandmother, in the hope of making them more vulnerable, and brought before Wazir Khan.  One the first occasion, the Ranghar who brought them before the Wazir told them that their father and elder brothers had been killed.  The Ranghar hoped this would make the boys that much more vulnerable.

When facing the Wazir, they were promised riches, wealth and power if they adopted Islam.  It was made clear that their only other option would surely be death.

They refused to be converted by force to Islam and remained steadfast in their beliefs.  They were sent back to their grandmother in the Thanda Burj, and given a few days to think about it.  They continued to refuse to convert to Islam, remaining calm and brave throughout.

When the Wazir decided that no inducement would see the young sons of our tenth Guru convert to Islam, he bricked them up in a wall instead.

The Thanda Burj is at Fatehgarh Sahib along with the palaquin that carried the boys, and a large, beautiful gurdwara built over the site.

As the boys were being bricked into the wall, they were slowly being suffocated.  Eventually the boys became unconscious due to the lack of oxygen.  When this happened, the wall collapsed and their throats were cut, killing them.  It was December 27th, 1704.

These are our two youngest martyrs.  On learning of their deaths, Mata Gujri died of what they say was grief or broken heartedness.  Our tenth Guru lost his other two sons to combat with the Mughals also in December 1704 at Chamkaur.

That is the story behind the two gurdwaras you see in the left hand side of the pictures.  The story is a lot more detailed and complicated as you can imagine.  I apologize that this brief space does not allow me to tell in full and for any mistakes that are caused by summarizing.

There are more gurdwaras involved as well, though we did not visit all of them.  They include Gurdwara Bibaan Garh where the Mughals discarded the bodies of Mata Gujri and the young Shahebzades and Gurdwara Jyoti Saroop Sahib where Todar Mal purchased a small piece of land from the Mughals by covering it in gold coins (one of the most expensive land transactions ever) so that he could perform the Antim Sanskaar for the three souls properly.

Both of these gurdwara sites was visited earlier in November with the worst driver ever on our way to Chandigarh and again yesterday, while on a pilgrimage of sorts to Anandpur Sahib and back with my brother and his cousin.

While on that pilgrimage we ran into… the Punjabi Fog of Death.  Seriously… I haven’t seen fog this thick and pervasive since leaving my hometown when I was young.

It is apparently a common sight in winter here in Punjab (which means Five Rivers, so you should really expect fog) but the level of it is insane.  It can reach 100% humidity here and not rain a drop.  The fog will just get thicker and thicker, spreading its dampness for dozens of kilometres in any direction.

The humidity makes winter here very cold.  Also, the fact that most houses are not heated here makes a foggy, 100% humidity, 4C morning… very cold indeed.

We were driving home in this insane fog last night.  What should have been an hour and a half turned into a four hour trek in almost 0 visibility with traffic accidents piling up to the left and right of us.  I took some of the pictures below on my camera phone from the back seat of the car.

Stephen King would be in awe of this fog.  Like one of his shorter stories (the name of the tale escapes me for the moment), this fog is so thick that any evil thing might be hiding in it and we would never know until it reached out an grabbed us.  This fog could hide things as small as a parakeet or as large as a Boeing 777.  You just are not going to see it until you are within 8 to 10 feet of it.  Then… maybe.

So if you want to know what is crazier and more death defying than driving on the roads in India… I’m sure you can guess by now that it’s driving on the roads near Amritsar in the Death Fog ‘o Winter.  Yeah, it’s an ordeal I don’t want to have too often.  Thankfully my brother was driving and got us home safely instead of the worst driver ever from a few weeks ago.

I have driven through blizzards with more visibility than this fog.  I have stopped driving too with greater visibility.  But I wasn’t driving…

What I want to know though is this.  While I sat in the back of the car and quietly pondered the fact that this Death Fog o’ Winter experience was in fact how I was going to die … my brother’s cousin Ramdeep just slept.  He just sat there in the front seat, pulled his woolen jacket tight around him, and slept.  Occasionally he lifted an eyelid to say “your windshield is fogging up” or “there’s a truck just behind you to the left.” but other than that, he slept.  That’s either real dedication to rest, a denial/coping mechanism or it’s a resignation that you’re going to die that came just a little to easy…

 Whichever way… the fact that he slept through most of it fascinated the hell out of me.  So, when we got closer to home, I laid down in the back seat, thought “what the hell, I don’t need to see the truck coming…” and went to sleep myself…

Until next time ‘all.  I am settling in with my brother, his wife, his son and his mother, my second set of hosts so it might be a day or two before I post again.  In the meantime, stay well and Happy Holidays!  (I forgot it was Christmas and all that fun stuff).

Next time, we’re on to Kartarpur where there are good gurdwaras and bad gurdwaras… at least from our perspective.  It’s time to introduce you all to one of the newest threats to Sikhi – that is Hindu nationalism and … the R.S.S.  Sigh.

I know it’s Boxing Day back home by now for most of my friends and family.  Enjoy the sales or the extra day off with your families and friends.  I hope for you a great holiday.

It’s the Shaheed of our Shahebzades here (the 27th).  I’ll be spending the day at the gurdwara, hopefully doing lots of seva.

Thanks for reading!

Peace and love all,
Preet

P.S. One of my friends asked me what a Sikh Santa Claus would look like.  Sikhs don’t celebrate Christmas but frankly Santa Claus is a commercialization of a Christian Saint who loved children and was kind to them.  He really isn’t tied to the religious aspects of the holiday any longer.  Too bad, because Saint Nicholas was a very, very good man and an example we can all learn from.

Anyhow, I found this and so I’m sharing it.  This is totally what a Sikh Santa Claus would look like, I think.  I wish I could have found a matching Sikh Mrs. Claus but alas I could not and my lack of artistic skills means I can’t make one either (at least not today in the time that we have).  Too bad.  In my head, she’s amazing and looks a lot like Mata Gujri.

Now, you all know what this time of year means to us (or at least a large part of the story) though and it doesn’t involve a big, overweight man in a red suit bearing gifts.  The picture comes from a website that explains why Sikhs can join Christians in celebrating some parts of the Christmas holidays and I for one think we should.

Fostering understanding between faiths, showing respect for one another and our traditions, honestly and genuinely being good neighbours to one another without judgement (which isn’t ours to hand out really) and with open minds … that is the way to peace.  And I’m all about the Peace.

Again, Peace and Love (and clear, fogless nights) all,
– Himmatpreet Kaur

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