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Above: Manikaran -- bipran ki reet!

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Rawalsar

GURMUKH SINGH

 

 

 

In his “Mahankosh” (encyclopaedia), Bhai Kahn Singh refers to Rawalsar as the place where Guru Gobind Singh addressed the hill rajas in 1701. 

From the gurdwara and open divaan stages, dhadhis and kavishars (folk singers and poets), including our father Giani Harchand Singh of Malaya, used to recite Guru Sahib’s revolutionary and thunderous challenge to the assembled rajas in “parsang” (ballad) style. 

The great historical significance of Rawalsar cannot be overstated. Perhaps that is the reason why, like the revolutionary significance of Asa ki Vaar, which was heard daily in the villages of Punjab, the message of Rawalsar too has been incrementally forgotten through politically induced amnesia!

Bipran (the ways of the brahmin) biased ritualism, worship and religious politics have taken over Sikh affairs in Punjab.

The “Encyclopaedia of Sikhism” published by Patiala University does not even mention Rawalsar! 

(One senior parbandhak, responsible for the Mandi and Rawalsar gurdwaras was scathing about the attitude of our funding and overseeing institutions when we visited the gurdwara recently.)

Guru Gobind Singh’s message of liberation and freedom from the tyranny of Mughal rule fell on the deaf ears of the hill rajas assembled at Rawalsar, about 15 miles from the town of Mandi in Himachal Pardesh. It is not too far north from Anandpur Sahib. That was a mere two years after Vaisakhi 1699, when the Khalsa was revealed as Akal Purakh ki Fauj (the Immortal Army of the Timeless). 

The morally bankrupt paharri rajas (hill chiefs) were content to continue their lavish and corrupt life-styles at the expense of the citizens of the land.  Even today, despite massive subsidies by the state government of Himachal Pardesh, and by the central government through various schemes and megawater diversion and hydro-electricity projects, these hill people continue to scrounge around at subsistence level. 

The Hindu rajas were content to pay tribute and taxes to the jihadi marauders arriving from over the mountains of the north-west frontier, tripping over each other to present their daughters to the invaders at the border, hoping to buy mercy and goodwill. In the meantime, they were continually at each other’s throats. 

The Guru was often invited to settle their internal petty disputes.

The declared intention by Guru Sahib At Rawalsar in 1701 to liberate the downtrodden people marked the start of the battles that ultimately led to the Siege of Anandpur (May 1705), the great sacrifices of the Sikh warriors -- including by the four Sahibzaadas -- and the Khalsa’s prolonged struggle for the rights of the common people.

Today, though, the commercialised and bipran (Hindutva-Brahmanwadi) politics that plagues India is instantly visible not only from the condition of many of the important historical sites like Rawalsar that carry a powerful Khalsa message, but also from the poorly-worded and highly biased drafting of the information boards at gurdwaras like the one at Rawalsar.

The powerful reminder in Punjabi of “desh nu sadiyaa(n) di gulami to(n) mukt karaa-on layee...”  i.e. to free the subcontinent from centuries of slavery ..., is lost in the pidgin English translation to Sikh and non-Sikh alike.

Yet, gurdwaras with a heavy bipran bias and newly-riddled rituals -- such as the one in Manikaran (north of Rawalsar) are promoted and thronged by thousands of devout Sikhs each year. 

Let us move away from the mythology, preaching and pilgrimages of the ‘other-worldly’ Manikaran and Hemkund, to educational historical preservation of places like Rawalsar, which has now been virtually taken over as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre in recent years. 

Yet, the Raja of Mandi had allocated many acres of land to the Sikhs to sustain and mark this great Sikh historical site which commemorates the first declaration of independence on the subcontinent.

It is that proclamation that ultimately led to the over-throw, first of the Mughal yoke and then of the British Raj, finally bringing independence from foreign rule in the 20th century.

If the great contribution of the Khalsa towards the independence of the people of the subcontinent is to be properly recorded in the history books, then the true story of Rawalsar must be memorialised and told … accurately and articulately. 

Every Sikh should visit Rawalsar and see the divine reflection of Guru Gobind Singh in the lake at Rawalsar. After all, unlike the mythological Hemkund, Guru Sahib did visit this sarovar, and himself saw the reflection of the future of those who would be his own “gareeb (humble) Sikhs,” leading a people’s revolution as his Khalsa.

 

June 19, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 19, 2013, 8:19 AM.

The best way out of any Hindu or Muslim practices for 'Sikhs' is to have a personal check list, asking if it is a superstition, a talisman, caste-related, paternalistic and chauvinist, gender discriminatory, astrological, ritualistic (fasting, requiring silence, etc.), mind-altering substance usage, etc., etc. ... and then you'll know how much you respect the Guru and if you have a right to put yourself in the Sikh camp!

2: G Singh (United Kingdom), June 19, 2013, 3:15 PM.

Absolutely fascinating. I had been through Mandi to Manikaran to escape Punjab's summer heat but knew nothing about Rawalsar!

3: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), June 20, 2013, 4:11 PM.

The creation of the Khalsa was to fight tyrannical rulers, protect the poor and downtrodden and usher in a classless society. Prof Puran Singh writes: "Ever since its birth, Khalsa had to take on Mughal might and brahminical schemes. Out of the jaws of death, survival of Khalsa is a miracle. So everything is not lost and the khalsa will be there till this world lasts." In Sarabloh Granth, Guru Sahib writes: "Khalsa Kal Purakh ki Fauj" 'Kal' is used instead of 'akal'.

4: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), June 21, 2013, 1:37 AM.

Someone, quite rightly, has asked me to further clarify the connection between Asa ki Vaar and Rawalsar. To my mind Asa ki Vaar was open revolt against the priest and the king by Guru Nanak, and Rawalsar commemorates the proclamation of a revolt against oppressive rule (both local and foreign) by the Tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh. Regrettably, the Indian Sikhi trend, under Hindutva influence, is to move away from the egalitarian and independent aspects of Sikh thought, by rewriting Sikh history. Today, many in India would like to believe that no one spoke of independence until the aimless "Indian Mutiny" of 1857 -- lately magnified, pumped-up and mis-characterized as 'India's first war of independence.'

5: Paramjit Singh Kohli (London, England.), June 21, 2013, 4:36 PM.

Educational for me. I have to study this further and research more on Rawalsar. Many thanks, S. Gurmukh Singh ji, for this timeline on Sikh History. Sikhi thought and Sikhi values are indeed unique and independent from Hinduism and Muslim ideology.

6: H. Kaur (London, United Kingdom), June 23, 2013, 1:20 AM.

As S. Gurmukh Singh, "Every time you dig up something from the past, you give more meaning to the present." The story of Rawalsar does give more meaning to the saga of Indian independence from the Mughals and the British.

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