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YATRA OF GURDWARA SRI HEMKUNT SAHIB: THE CHERISHED DREAM OF ALL THE SIKHS

June 05, 2022 07:41 PM
Gurdwara Hemkund Sahib (File pic)
Dr Amrit Kaur

 Every year several lac Sikh pilgrims pay their obeisance at Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt  Sahib which is situated in the Himalayas in the Chamoli District of Uttarakhand State  of India at a height of about 15, 210 feet above the sea level. ‘Hemkunt’ means  ‘Receptacle of Ice’. This holy shrine is dedicated to the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs Sri  Guru Gobind Singh Sahib who in his autobiographical work Bachitar Natak has  stated that in his previous life he meditated the Name of God at a place he has  mentioned as ‘HEMKUNT PARVAT’ adorned with seven peaks where earlier King  Panduraj (a character in the epic Mahabharata) had practised Yoga. Guru Sahib  Says : 

Hemkunt Parbat hai Jahaan 

Sapt sring sobhit hai tahaan 

Sapt sring teh naam kahawa 

Pand raaj jahan jog kamava 

Guru Sahib says that ‘I was absorbed in deep meditation on Primal Power the  Supreme Being’. In his meditation when he became one with the God Almighty, He  ordained him to take birth to crush the cruel rulers. He further says that at this time  Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib and Mata Gujri Ji who later became his father and  mother were also meditating for union with the Incomprehensible Lord. The Service  that they rendered the God caused the pleasure of the Supreme Guru (i.e. the  Lord). When the Lord ordered me I was born in this Iron Age i.e. Kalyug. 

Guru Sahib has also mentioned that ‘I had no desire to come to the world because I  was totally absorbed in devotion for the Holy Feet of the Lord. But the Lord made me understand His Will and sent me in this world’ to show the world the path of truth, to  rid the world of superstitions and to preach the people to worship God alone. He  says that finally he accepted God’s word humbly by saying, ‘Thy word shall prevail in  the world, with Thy support’. Guru Sahib has warned not to worship him by saying  that ‘those who call me God shall into the pit of Hell be cast. I am but the slave of the  Supreme Being come to watch the world spectacle’. 

From Rishikesh onwards the area is hilly. From Rishikesh after covering a distance  of about 200 kms. in buses, cars, scooters, motor cycles and taking rest in the  Gurdwaras on the way the pilgrims reach Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat. At  Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat 100 rooms with attached bathrooms, an equal number  without attached bathrooms and 30 large-sized halls have been constructed for the  pilgrims. In general, 7000-8000 pilgrims are accommodated but if needed 10, 000  pilgrims can be accommodated. In addition to langar the pilgrims are provided  bedding as per the need of the climate. At Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat in addition  to a large-sized parking place for the Gurdwara there is a 4-storey car parking for the  pilgrims

Hemkunt Parvat, the site of worship by the great Guru remained in oblivion for about  a century and a half after compilation of Bachitar Natak. It is generally believed that  the composition of Bachitar Natak may have begun in 1688 at Paonta Sahib during  the first spurt of Guru Sahib’s literary activity and this autobiographical work must  have been completed before 1699 when Guru Sahib formed the ‘Khalsa Panth’  because this work does not refer to this event. 

The initial efforts towards finding the location of this Holy site are attributed to  Mahakavi Bhai Santokh Singh who in 1843 in his book Gurpartap Suraj  Prakash dwelled on the theme that Guru Sahib in his previous birth had worshipped  at Hemkunt Parvat. After that in 1844 Pandit Tara Singh Narotam (1822-1891) a  well known Nirmala scholar in his book Sri Gur Tirath Sangreh determined its 

location after referring to the Mahabharat text (1.119). Eighty five years later in 1929  Bhai Vir Singh, a well known Punjabi poet referred to this fact in his book Sri  Kalgidhar Chamatkar by mentioning that Guru Sahib in his previous birth had  worshiped God at Hemkunt Parvat. It was this book which in fact led to a search  for the Holy place where Guru Sahib had worshipped during his previous birth. 

A very interesting event in the discovery or re-discovery of Hemkunt Sahib is that in  1932 Sardar Sohan Singh who was working in the Indian regiment as a Granthi  posted at Tehri Garhwal came across Bhai Vir Singh’s book Sri Kalgidhar  Chamatkar. He was so much impressed by this fact that Sri Guru Gobind Singh  Sahib had worshipped at a parvat with seven peeks that he set out on a journey to  find this place. He started his journey in 1933 and returned a year later without any  success. Next time near Gobind Ghat at a place called Pandukeshwar he asked the  local people if they knew of a parvat with seven peaks. Those people told him that  there is such a place called Lokpal (literal meaning protector of the world) which is  believed to be the site of meditation of Pandavas and that they consider this place a  very holy place. They also told Sardar Sohan Singh that they make an annual  pilgrimage to the lake which is situated at this place. After this dialogue with the local  people Sardar Sohan Singh proceeded further and reached the place which fully  resembled the accounts given in Bachitar Natak. Thus in 1934 Sardar Sohan Singh  had finally found this Holy place – HEMKUNT SAHIB, which is now visited by lacs  and lacs of Sikh pilgrims every year between June and October. 

Sardar Sohan Singh returned from Hemkunt Sahib and contacted the Gurdwaras in  the nearby places such as Mussoorie and also met the common folk, but nobody paid any heed to his finding. He then contacted the Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak  Committee, Amritsar but this Committee also did not take any interest. Finally, he  visited Bhai Vir Singh in Amritsar, who listened to him carefully and after asking  several questions gave him Rs. 2100 and asked him to go back and start the  construction of a Gurdwara there. Bhai Vir Singh tried to publicise the location of this  Holy spot and also tried to help Sardar Sohan Singh in collecting funds for the  construction of the Gurdwara. 

One day at Mussoorie when Sardar Sohan Singh was buying material for the  construction of Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib a Sikh ex-army sergeant named Sardar  Modan Singh asked him as to what was he doing. When Sardar Sohan Singh told  him about his mission Sardar Modan Singh became very much impressed and joined  him in his efforts. They both went to Sri Hemkunt Sahib and in 1936 with the help of  local people constructed a Gurdwara 10 feet x 10 feet in size at the site of the Tap  Asthan (place of meditation) of Guru Sahib. The Gurdwara was constructed on the  bank of the sweet-water lake (circumference roughly 2.5 km) in a narrow valley  surrounded by high mountains capped by seven peaks which Sri Guru Gobind Singh  Sahib had called ‘SaptSring’. In 1936, when Sardar Sohan Singh retired Sardar  Modan Singh shifted to Sri Hemkunt Sahib. 

In 1937, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal scriptural Guru for the Sikh community  was installed in this Gurdwara and the daily tradition of recitation of ‘paath’ was  started. It was declared as a Gurdwara at the highest altitude in the world. Soon after  the construction of the Gurdwara Sikhs started paying their obeisance at this Holy  place every year. On February 13, 1939 Sardar Sohan Singh died and after that  Sardar Modan Singh assumed the total responsibility. The first Sikh jatha of pilgrims  was sent in 1952 by Chief Khalsa Dewan, Amritsar. Since then inspite of some  natural calamities which have occurred in this area the Holy place has continued to  gain more and more popularity. The weather calamities at times have taken lives of  people and animals in this area but it has continued to attract more and more Sikh  pilgrims every year who undertake a very strenuous journey to reach this place  because of their profound faith. 

In the early years, there was no shelter en route to Sri Hemkunt Sahib and Sardar  Modan Singh would take shelter from fierce wind and cold weather in hollowed out  tree trunks which stood at the grounds of Gobind Dham. From 1939 Sardar Modan  Singh served with devotion for the next 21 years. He not only maintained Gurdwara  Sri Hemkunt Sahib but also established Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat (height 6000  feet) and Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Dham (height 10500 feet) to serve as base camps  for the pilgrims. Before his death in 1960, he set up Sri Hemkunt Sahib Management  Trust with headquarters at Kanpur which has now been shifted to Rishikesh. This  Trust replaced the previous buildings with new and more spacious buildings and  constructed two more Gurdwaras one each at Sri Nagar and Joshi Math. Now for the convenience of the pilgrims Gurdwaras exist at various places on the rout which  provide accommodation and langar (community meal) to the pilgrims. In addition to  these four Gurdwaras which serve as base camps for the pilgrims Sants of Ber  Kalan have constructed a Gurdwara named Gurdwara Damdama Sahib at Nagrasoo  in-between Sri Nagar and Joshi Math. 

As mentioned earlier before the Sikhs discovered Hemkunt Sahib as having been  associated with Sri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib the local people who lived in the valley  below considered this place a Holy place and made pilgrimages every year to the  lake on the shore of which Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib is situated. The other  persons who helped in the discovery of the site of Sri Hemkunt Sahib include Sardar  Thandi Singh and Sant Suraj Singh. 

To reach this Holy Shrine there are two routs. The pilgrims from Punjab side pass  through Rishikesh, Dev Prayag, Srinagar, Rudra Prayag, Karna Prayag, Nanda  Prayag, Joshi Math, Vishnu Prayag, Gobind Ghat, Gobind Dham and finally reach  Sri Hemkunt Sahib. The pilgrims from Delhi side pass through Hapur, Rampur,  Kichha, Ranikhet, Choukhutia, Nand Prayag, PipalKoti, Joshi Math, Vishnu Prayag,  Gobind Ghat, Gobind Dham and reach Sri Hemkunt Sahib. Thus from Nand Prayag  onwards all the pilgrims take the same road. Before reaching Gobind Ghat, in  general, pilgrims take rest at Rishikesh or Sri Nagar or Nagrasoo or Joshi Math. The  pilgrams can stay at Gurdwara Sahib Rishikesh, Gurdara Sahib Sri Nagar, Gurdwara  Damdama Sahib, Nagrasoo, Gurdwara Sahib Joshi Math and Gurdwara Sahib  Gobind Ghat. At Gurdwara Damdama Sahib, Nagrasoo there exists a 5-storey  building for accommodating the pilgrims. At Gurdwara Sahib Joshi Math there are 36  small rooms including 20 with attached bathrooms and 7 small halls and one large sized hall. These rooms can accommodate 1200 – 1300 pilgrims, but at the time of  need 3000 pilgrms are accommodated.  

From Rishikesh onwards the area is hilly. From Rishikesh after covering a distance  of about 200 kms. in buses, cars, scooters, motor cycles and taking rest in the  Gurdwaras on the way the pilgrims reach Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat. At  Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat 100 rooms with attached bathrooms, an equal number  without attached bathrooms and 30 large-sized halls have been constructed for the  pilgrims. In general, 7000-8000 pilgrims are accommodated but if needed 10, 000  pilgrims can be accommodated. In addition to langar the pilgrims are provided  bedding as per the need of the climate. At Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat in addition  to a large-sized parking place for the Gurdwara there is a 4-storey car parking for the  pilgrims. The staff at this Gurdwara includes 30 persons. Earlier no vehicle was  allowed to go beyond this place and the remaining distance of 19-20 kms. had to be  covered on foot or mule riding or kandi or dandi. In kandi or pithoo system a person  generally a child is carried on the kand (back) of a porter who charges money for this  service. In dandi system the person is carried in an improvised palanquin which is carried by four persons. These three systems facilitate old persons and children to  undertake this strenuous yatra. 

In 2016 Sri Hemkunt Sahib Management Trust decided to allow the four-wheeled  vehicles only upto Gobind Ghat instead of Pulna and arranged public conveyance  round the clock between Gobind Ghat and Pulna at the rate of Rs. 35 per person.  However, the scooters and moter cycles were allowed to go up to Pulna. The 14-km  journey from Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Ghat to Gurdwara Sahib Gobind Dham is a  very tiresome venture. A vast majority of the pilgrims prefer to walk on foot from  Gobind Ghat to Gobind Dham. Only those who cannot walk ride mules or resort  to kandi or dandi system. Depending on their health status the pilgrims cover this 14- km hilly track in 6 to 10 hours. At Gobind Dham all the pilgrims take rest for the night.  The next day early in the morning they resume their remaining 5-6 km journey. 

From Gobind Dham pilgrims take 5-7 hours to reach Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib.  At the end of this journey the pilgrims have to go up about 1000 stony steps. The  19-20 km journey from Gobind Ghat to Sri Hemkunt Sahib is an ‘up hill’ task in the  real sense of the word. But on reaching Sri Hemkunt Sahib, a place of utter beauty  and peaceful serenity the pilgrims are so much impressed by the scenic beauty of  the surrounding mountains and the lake that they feel that they have gotten closer to their Guru and thereby closer to God Almighty. Some pilgrims are so much  engrossed in the charismatic power of Sri Hemkunt Sahib that they go on this  pilgrimage every year. The panoramic view from the Gurdwara of the snow covered  peaks is just marvellous. The words fail to describe this charismatic power.  The sarovar (the holy tank) on the shore of which the Gurdwara is situated gives a  very impressive look. All the pilgrims take a dip in the freezing water of  this sarovar (holy tank) and this takes away all the fatigue of the strenuous journey. 

The pilgrims are not allowed to stay over night at Hemkunt Sahib because of  insufficient oxygen. After paying obeisance and taking a dip in the water of  the sarovar they resume their return journey. They spend only 1-1½ hours at Sri  Hemkunt Sahib and return to Gobind Dham where they have to generally spend  another night. Only a few pilgrims reach Gobind Ghat the same day. 

At all these Gurdwaras adequate langar facilities are provided. At all the Gurdwaras  food provisions are hoarded for atleast 15 days in advance. First aid and medical  facilities are also provided at all these Gurdwaras free of cost. 

Sri Hemkunt Sahib Management Trust has done laudable work of providing the  necessary facilities for the pilgrims. However, at Gobind Ghat and Gobind Dham  several hotels have come up which charge exorbitant rates during the season. It is  time that this Trust constructs some more accommodation facilities at these two  places to avoid looting of the pilgrims by the hotel owners. Punjab Government can  also take necessary steps in this direction. Every year there are several complaints by the pilgrims that the dhabas (eating places) on the way charge exorbitant prices  for food including tea and drinking water. To evade exploitation of the pilgrims by the  shopkeepers they have been directed to display rate lists. The Trust has also fixed  rates for mule riding, kandi and dandi systems. For the safety of the pilgrims the  mule owners have been asked to insure their mules. 

Every year Yatra of Sri Hemkunt Sahib starts in May with ardaas (Prayer) at  Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib in which several lac pilgrims participate. The  registration of the pilgrims is started at Rishikesh 3-4 days earlier. The helicopter  service from Gobind Ghat to Gobind Dham has been started. 

The total Yatra from Rishikesh to Sri Hemkunt Sahib takes atleast two days and two  nights. The pilgrims come not only from Punjab and other parts of India but also from  all over the world. The pilgrimage to Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib is an act of deep  devotion among the Sikhs. 

This year i.e., in 2022 Gurdwara Sri Hemkunt Sahib was opened on May 22 for the  devotees. The first jatha of Sikhs departed from Gobind Ghat on May 19 with the  jaikaras (ovation) Jo Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal (blessed shall be he who shouts)  "hail the true and the timless one". Simultaneously the band was played to the tune  of the jaikara. The maximum number of daily pilgrims has been fixed as 5000. 

Gurdwara Gobind Ghat Sahib 

Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa 

Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh! 

Dr. Amrit Kaur Retd. Professor Punjabi University Patiala, Punjab India

amritkaurchd40@gmail.com

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