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HomeExpositionsHistoryGurudwaras, temples face existential crisis in Pakistan

Gurudwaras, temples face existential crisis in Pakistan

A Pakpattan temple bears witness to the interreligious dialogue that shaped Sikhism when gurudwaras were a variant of temples incorporating some Islamic ideals

Gurudwara Tibba Nanaksar Sahib, the holy pilgrimage site of the Sikhs in Pakistan seen in the featured image above, is on the verge of collapse. Located in the Pakpattan area of Sahiwal district, this historical site associated with the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, is facing severe neglect by the Pakistani government. Years of indifference have left the gurudwara in a dilapidated state, threatening its very existence. Urgent action is needed to prevent this holy site for Sikhs from turning into ruins. This is one of several historically important but neglected gurudwaras in Pakistan. Hindu temples in the Islamic country fare no better.

The temple below, about 6 km from Pakpattan town, is associated with the belief that it was here that Guru Nanak received the sacred verses written by Baba Farid. These verses were later incorporated into the Guru Granth Sahib, the most sacred scripture of Sikhism, by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev. The gurudwara thus serves as a living connection between two major figures in Sikhism. It also bears witness to the interreligious dialogue that shaped the early development of Sikhism where gurudwaras were nothing but a variant of Hindu temples where some Islamic ideals were incorporated too.

This temple, about 6 km from Pakpattan town, is associated with the belief that it was here that Guru Nanak received the sacred verses written by Baba Farid [Gurudwaras, temples face existential crisis in Pakistan: Internal image 1]

Even though the tomb and mosque of Baba Fateh Ullah Shah Noori Chishti, a descendant of Baba Farid, within the gurudwara precincts are well maintained with timely repairs and whitewashing, the gurudwara building receives no such maintenance. Recent videos of the gurudwara show that local villagers use it as a cattle shed. Its walls are smeared with cow dung cakes and its rooms are filled with filth and cattle fodder.

Monsoon rains and floods last July caused serious damage in Pakistan, resulting in the loss of another important Sikh historical site. A portion of the Gurudwara Sahib at Daftu in Kasur, Punjab province, collapsed during heavy rains. It is the second such incident in Pakistan that month, highlighting the vulnerability of historical sites to both natural disasters and neglect. Gurudwara Sahib has special significance due to its association with the revered 17th-century Sufi poet and reformist Baba Bulleh Shah. Bulleh Shah is said to have taken refuge in this gurudwara after facing threats from Islamic fundamentalists. The collapse represents not only structural damage but also the degradation of cultural heritage.

Dalveer Singh Pannu’s book Sikh Heritage Beyond the Borders highlights the historical importance of Gurudwara Sahib Daftu. A famous story from the 18th century describes how the Sufi poet Baba Bulleh Shah took refuge here when pursued by an angry mob. The Sikh caretakers refused to hand him over, saying that no harm could come to him within the walls of the gurudwara. Pannu has painted a contrasting picture of the gurudwara’s grand past and its present dilapidation. Once a magnificent structure with ornate arched windows and a central dome, it is now separated from the street by a brick wall and stands neglected. Its grandeur is disappearing behind a dilapidated facade. A single Ganesha Chakra is embedded on the back wall, a silent reminder of its former glory.

Earlier this month, the historic Gurudwara Sri Rori Sahib near the India-Pakistan border fell victim to torrential rains, causing a portion of its wall to collapse [Gurudwaras, temples face existential crisis in Pakistan: Internal image 2]

Earlier this month, the historic Gurudwara Sri Rori Sahib near the India-Pakistan border fell victim to torrential rains, causing a portion of its wall to collapse. The gurudwara was built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak to Jahman village and stood for centuries. However, after the partition of India, it fell into disrepair due to neglect by the Pakistani government.

Pakistani historian Imran William laments the loss, calling it “one of the saddest and darkest days” in Sikh history. He says the gurudwara was already in ruins and despite appeals for restoration, the Pakistani government never took any action.

The documentary Allegory: A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels made by historian Amardeep Singh says Bhai Wadhwa Singh had built Gurudwara Rori Sahib. It holds significance as the place where Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana Bhabhara engaged in spiritual discussions with the Jain community. Some members of this community were influenced by Nanak’s teachings and became his disciples. Sadly, the gurudwara, once a popular pilgrimage site for Sikhs, is now neglected. The huge pond near it has dried up and only the remains of artwork and frescoes indicate its past grandeur. Guru Nanak often visited the nearby Dera Chahal, where his maternal grandparents lived.

The Mari Mata Temple, a historic Hindu temple in Karachi’s Soldier Bazaar, was demolished under the cover of darkness in July 2023. There was a power cut in the area late on Friday night. Heavy machinery was deployed to demolish the internal structure of the temple, which is now gone, with only the outer walls and the main gate standing. Residents reported seeing a police vehicle present during the demolition, raising concerns about the legality and transparency of the operation.

The Mari Mata Temple, built 150 years ago, holds cultural and religious significance for the Madrasi Hindu community in Pakistan. Fearing a possible collapse of the structure, most of the deities were temporarily shifted to a nearby room while the temple management planned renovations. However, the sudden demolition without proper consultation or warning deeply shocked and distressed the community. The incident raises questions about the security and due process at minority religious places in Karachi.

What is worrying, within a day of a Hindu temple being vandalised in Karachi, another temple in Pakistan faced a shocking incident of vandalism. Unidentified persons targeted a Hindu temple and nearby houses in the area under the control of the Ghauspur police station in Kashmore. The attackers fired indiscriminately at both the temple and the residence. Hearing the gunshots, a police unit led by Kashmore-Kandhakot SSP Irfan Sammo reached the spot.

Save Sharda Committee, a Kashmir-based organisation, has resumed demanding access to the historic Hindu pilgrimage site. Sharda Peeth, once a famous centre of education, has fallen into disrepair after coming under Pakistani control. Save Sharda Committee (SSC) founder Ravinder Pandita accused the Pakistani Army of illegally occupying the ruined Sharda temple complex and setting up a coffee shop there. They claim that the Act disregards a judgment issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on January 3, 2023. Pandita further stressed that Pakistani civil society has joined with SSC to condemn this action and the damage caused to the boundary wall of the temple. He made a passionate demand for the reopening of Sharda Peetha for pilgrimage purposes.

Historic sites of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan, such as Gurudwara Tibba Nanaksar Sahib and the Mari Mata Temple, are suffering worrying neglect and desecration, highlighting a troubling pattern of the government’s callous regard for minority places of worship. Gurudwaras in Pakpattan and Kasur collapsed due to neglect, echoing the tragic collapse of Gurudwara Sri Rori Sahib. The recent secret demolitions in Karachi and Kashmore, coupled with brutal acts of vandalism, underline the vulnerability of minority religious sites. The government’s continued failure to protect these sacred places raises urgent questions about the dire need for transparency, due process and stronger security measures. The ongoing decline emphasizes the heartbreaking reality of cultural erosion, disrespect for minority sentiments, and the need for urgent action to reverse these injustices and restore respect for minority communities.

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