KAR SEWA (SELFLESS SERVICE) -ONE OF THE SIKH’S WAYS TO SALVATION

September 28, 2012

Devotion and loyalty to the Guru is the most important quality that a Sikh is expected to imbibe with a sincere feeling of humility and surrender. And one of the ways to do this, beside many others, is Kar Sewa meaning ‘Selfless service with your Hands’. Besides service with your hands one could contribute financially and or materially. All this is done without any expectation of payment in return. (Kar is hand and Sewa is selfless service).

One of the most humble ways of doing Kar Sewa is to go down upon your knees and get your hands into the dirt at a construction site where something for the general good of, not only the Sikh community, but, all people is being made: you could carry a basket full of bricks or mortar or sand/mud upon your haughty head; haul around bucketfuls of water; serve drinking water to the physically exerting in Kar Sewa; give a helping hand to the masons etc.

And the most important part of doing Kar Sewa is ‘NOT TO TALK ABOUT IT’: how much you did; how hard you worked compared to others; how your clothes became dirty; how much money and material you contributed etc. And while doing Kar Sewa, such thoughts will enter your mind: ‘I’m an important and rich person, yet so humble’, ‘Are others watching me working so hard?’, ‘What impression would they form about me?’ All these are acts of show off and egoism. In order to rise spiritually one has to ‘kill’ ego and ‘imbibe’ humility.

Kar Sewa can be started by the management of a Gurdwara or it can be started by a Sikh Sant (Saint). Most of the time, Sikh Sants have organized and overseen Kar Sewa at various locations all over India and even abroad. In the recent past Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal had organized the cleaning of Holy Bein River through Kar Sewa. The river is associated with the visit of Guru Nanak, the First Guru when he vanished in the water for three days and emerged to say, “No koi Hindu na koi Musalman” (Neither is there a Hindu nor a Muslim). The Santji was even on the cover of Time magazine.

Though the list of Kar Sewas is very long, for this post I have selected the road bridge across Godavari River at Nanded (pronounced Nander) where Kar Sewa did something which the Government should have done. Nanded is a small town and a district with the same name located on the left bank of Godavari River 651 kilometers (430 miles) east of Bombay (Mumbai) on the eastern-most part of Maharashtra state of southwestern India as shown by an arrow.

For the Sikhs Nanded came into prominence with the arrival of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Guru, in 1708 accompanied by Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah-I. Readers may wonder how the two got together when there was historical suppression of the Sikhs by the Mughal rulers. Since that is a long story, I will write another blog as Part-II to this one.

After arrival at Nanded, Guru Gobind Singh left for his heavenly abode and the site where his bodily remains were cremated has been sanctified by Gurdwara Sachkhand Sahib situated on the left bank of the river. Before the Tenth Guru left for his heavenly abode he passed the Guru-ship to the Holy Granth Sahib thus finishing the line of ‘human-gurus’ and establishing a unique tradition of the ‘written-word-being-the-eternal-guru’. Thus Granth Sahib became the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ for eternity for the Sikhs.

Prayers are held all the year round and devotees from all over come in large numbers. Sikhs generally refer to Nanded as ‘Hazur Sahib’ or ‘Abichal Nagar’. Both these names basically apply to the principal shrine Sachkhand Sahib, but are commonly used for Nanded town itself. ‘Hazur Sahib’ is a title of reverence, meaning ‘Exalted Presence’ and ‘Abichal Nagar’ means ‘Immortal Town’. (Abichal is Immortal and Nagar is Town or City) Nanded is also one of the five Takhts -seats of religious authority and legislation- for the Sikhs.

       

Guru Gobind Singh conferred Guru-Ship upon the ‘Granth Sahib’ in the traditional way all the previous Gurus had always done. Thus the ‘Granth Sahib’ became “Guru Granth Sahib”.
The main Sachkhand Gurdwara on the right.

Besides Gurdwara Sachkhand Sahib, other historical Gurdwaras at Nanded associated with the visit of the first and the tenth Gurus are Nagina Ghat, Banda Ghat, Sangat Sahib, Baoli Sahib, Mal Tekdi, Shikar Ghat, Hira Ghat and Mata Sahib. Except for the Gurdwara at Mal Tekdi, which is associated with the visit of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, all the others commemorate the visit of Guru Gobind Singh. This is also the place where the Tenth Guru passed on the Guru-ship to the Holy Granth Sahib thus finishing the line of ‘human-gurus’ and establishing a unique tradition of the ‘written-word-being-the-eternal-guru’. Thus Granth Sahib became the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ for eternity. After Guru Gobind Singh left for his heavenly abode, a small group of Sikhs continued to look after all the Gurdwaras. Sikhs living in Punjab and other parts of the world have been ever since visiting Nanded in large numbers to pay obeisance.

Travel across long distances in the 18th and 19th centuries was fraught with many dangers but when the English colonial rulers started laying-out a railway network from the middle of 19th Century, it became comparatively easy. Nanded got connected to the rail network through a meter-gauge line which ran from Hydrabad in south India up to Manmad on the Delhi-Bombay rail-link. The meter-gauge link was made by ‘The Nizam’ of Hydrabad, a Muslim ruler, who was well disposed toward Nanded because all his palace guards were Sikhs from Punjab. The meter-gauge was abandoned and a broad-gauge was installed in the 1980s. This enabled direct rail-link from Amritsar in Punjab all the way to Nanded. There are three Gurdwaras across Godavari River away from Nanded. They are Shikar Ghat, Hira Ghat and Mata Sahib. Below is the link which shows the shrines in Nanded town and those that are across the river.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203920124020277541681.0004b3f224c5851fa841c&msa=0&ll=19.152466,77.361259&spn=0.132484,0.219727

The thin line which runs from Nanded to the east is the railway line and it crosses a tributary of Godavari as indicated by a thin blue line. One can see how difficult it must have been for the Sikhs to visit the three Gurdwaras and what all they had to bear for the sake of their devotion and for the love of their Guru.

Before the railway network and paved roads were made, to visit the three shrines across the river the Sikhs had to either take a boat across the crocodile infested river or use a road bridge which was facing in the wrong direction. And if they used the road bridge, then they had to walk through rough and forested region full of thorny bushes over a long distance to reach Shikar Ghat, Hira Ghat and then Mata Sahib, in that order. After the visiting the last Gurdwara Mata Sahib they had to do the reverse journey.

But when the railway line came up, it passed from west to east traversing north of Godavari River. In this case the Sikhs found it easy to walk along the railway track because the track was clear of wild growth. Then they approached the three shrines from the north as the distance was considerably reduced compared to the earlier route.

Then they had to face another problem: cross over the rail-bridge upon a tributary of Godavari which flows-in from the north. They had to go over the rail-bridge gingerly balancing between the wooden slippers lest they fall through the gap to the river below. And if a train was due, there was even greater danger. I have myself walked the rail-bridge on two occasions when I was 5 years and 14 years old and it was a unique experience never to be forgotten.

And after crossing the rail-bridge the Sikhs had to walk cross-country to the three Gurdwaras starting with Mata Sahib, Hira Ghat and then reach Shikar Ghat. Thereafter the journey had to be repeated in the reverse order. This could take the whole day walking many miles. During both my trips, we left early morning and reached back at the main Gurdwara in Nanded by mid night. And the area is infested with snakes and it’s risky walking cross-country without a light. Compare this to present day visitors who reach Nanded by the night train, hire an auto-rikasha and do the round of all the historical Gurdwaras in about two hours time and then they go back by the night train. But walking had its own charm.

The management of historical Gurdwaras at Nanded knew about the difficulties and had been requesting the Civil Administration to make a road bridge to provide a shorter and safer route, but to no avail. Non availability of money and engineering problem at the deep river gorge were the usual excuses. Some local insensitive Hindus had the audacity to comment sarcastically, “Why do you want to waste money? The Sikhs will make it themselves. Just wait and see.”

And the Sikhs made it themselves.

In 1966 a Sikh Saint, Sant Baba Jivan Singh, arrived at Nanded. He was accompanied by a close associate Baba Dalip Singh. After paying homage at all the shrines he stood on the edge of the deep gorge opposite Shikar Ghat Gurdwara, on the opposite bank, accompanied by his close associates. He put his palms together to do the traditional Sikh Ardas to Waheguru (beseech God Almighty). After the standard wordings of the Ardas, he explained the difficulties faced by Gods’ devotees and sought Wahegurus’ help to make a bridge at the very spot they all stood.

At the end of the Ardas the traditional Sikh Jaykara, ‘Bole So Nihal, Sat Shri Akal’ followed by the Sikh Fateh, ‘Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh’ were hailed by the group in a loud, clear and lingering manner, as it is always done. The Jaykara and the Fateh echoed across the gorge and skimmed the waves of the river and were heard by all and sundry.

And in the ‘spiritual world’ the request for a bridge must have been heard, registered and noted for action, as the request of a Sant.

It’s believed that a small hut was made at the spot where the Sant and his associates stood and did the Ardas. They lived there indulging in prayers and singing the praises of Waheguru and waited for His miracle to take place. The associates of the Sant went and passed the word around at other Gurdwaras and the rest-houses where devotees first arrive and stay. And when the Sikhs went back to Punjab or wherever they had come from, the word spread, “Sant Baba Jivan Singhji has done the Ardas and a bridge has to be made across Godavari River at Nanded.”

All this was done by word of mouth and not by advertisements or flyer campaigns.

Then Gods’ miracles began to happen. One day an architect arrived out of nowhere and said, “Babaji, I’ll design the bridge for you.” Obviously free of charge.

A truck load of cement arrived out of nowhere and the driver said, “Babaji, I have been sent by ‘a-big-building-contractor’ to deliver this. Where do I unload?” And a truck load of stone aggregate arrived and a truck load of steel rods came and a truck load of sand came with a promise that the driver will keep bringing more as and when needed.

Then the Sikhs started coming in big and small batches and they all said, “Babaji, we have come from ‘such-and-such’ village in Punjab and we’ll do Sewa for ‘so-many-days’.

All this without any charge.

While construction work was going on, the Langar was also running side by side. Everyone who came could eat. No one went hungry. Tea was constantly being made and served. Those who were physically exerting at the construction site could take a tea-break anytime to refresh themselves. The whole ambience was energetic and friendly with devotion to a superior cause being the motivating factor.

Those who could not provide material or physical help gave cash donations which were put into a wooden cash box called Golak with a sealed lock. Santji had the key and as per Maryada’ (code of conduct) the Golak was opened in front of five Sikhs who counted the money and undated the on-site ledger for donations. Cash contributions helped to meet sundry construction and Langar expenses.

While the construction work picked up Hindus and Muslims from the area came to watch the enthusiastic Sikhs doing something which they had never seen before. Some of them joined in and were enthralled. The Civil Administration -all Marathi speaking Hindus who had been stalling the demand for a bridge- was also spying and sending out reports to their higher ups in Bombay. The result of their spying and reporting proved unique and positive.

Then the local politician stepped in to try and benefit from the selfless enterprise: as politicians always do. He proposed to the Public Works Department to get a road made heading towards the bridge. And to up his political image with the higher echelons of the ruling party and Government, he persuaded the Minister of Surface Transport to inaugurate the road which would run over the bridge and connect the vast semi-arid agricultural areas across the river with the wholesale market in Nanded: inauguration of the road discretely implied inauguration of the bridge.

And to keep his image in good shape with the hard working Sikhs, majority of who came from Punjab and went back and had nothing to do with local politics, the political leader visited Santji a number of times to appreciate what was being done and to say a few words of encouragement: as if the Sikhs needed encouragement from people like him.

By 1969, after 3 years and about 9 months, the bridge was ready for inauguration and by then the road had been slowly inching toward the bridge. The local politician got a black granite slab engraved with the name of the Minister of Surface Transport along with many other irrelevant names and had it embedded into a masonry pillar on one side of the bridge facing Nanded town. On the other side two similar sized slabs were put which read, the one on the left in English and the other in Gurmukhi:-

      Tablet with period of construction -Apr 1966 to Dec 1969- on the lest and the Gurmukhi version on the right. (Gurmukhi is the script for Punjabi language)

EK ONKAR (means God is One)

Godavari Bridge Shikarghat

With kind blessings of Guru Gobind Singhji Sahib.

This bridge was constructed

from public donations and

by social service

Length 953 feet

Work started Dec 1966

Work completed April 1969

          

Two views of the bridge looking towards Shikarghat Gurdwara hidden behind the trees on the mound

Two views on the right are looking towards Nanded

There was no need to mention the names of Sant Baba Jivan Singh and his close associate Baba Dalip Singh. Nor was it necessary to mention the names of innumerable Sikhs: who designed it; who provided how much raw material; who all toiled in the heat and all those who gave money. It’s assumed with full faith in Waheguru (God Almighty) that the ‘spiritual world’ knows everything and has recorded the Sewa of all those who contributed.
View of masonry pylons of the bridge looking towards the mound with Shikarghat Gurdwara.

    Traffic upon the bridge

Ironically the Sikh population in the general area of Nanded is a trickle compared to the vast Hindu majority. And Sikhs from Punjab and elsewhere in the world are also a microscopic minority. And because they wear a turban, unavoidably they become prominent and stand-out among thousands. Therefore they appear in large numbers and give the impression of a multitude.
The biggest benefit from the bridge is enjoyed by the local Hindu population who can now wiz across it and take their agricultural produce to the wholesale market in Nanded. The countryside has become a major banana growing area since then.

  

Granthis reading the Holy Hymns (A Granthi is a person who reads the Guru Granth Sahib)

A view of Shikarghat Gurdwara

Gurbani, the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs states, “Khavo kharcho rall mil bhai, Totth na aawaey vadhdo jayee” (Eat and share with others, oh brothers! It will always increase, never runs short)

How I wish others could follow the Sikhi-way and bring peace and prosperity all around rather than bombs and blasts.

4 Responses to “KAR SEWA (SELFLESS SERVICE) -ONE OF THE SIKH’S WAYS TO SALVATION”

  1. Amy Dhillon Says:

    Sat Sri Akal,

    Your post has answered many questions that had been bothering me for a while, I really appreciate the amount of work and insight that has been put into this post. It is a wonderful and interesting read.

    Thanks

    Amneet Kaur

    • tejwantsingh Says:

      Dear Amneet Kaurji,
      I am happy that my post has been of some use to someone.
      You can surely wait to read more posts that will be coming up in the future.
      There is much to inform the world about the Sikhs and the values that the Great Gurus gave to us.
      Sat Siri Akal,
      Tejwant Singh

  2. premhejmadi Says:

    I started reading it ‘casually’ and after I moved a few sentences, could not put it down till I reached the end. Indeed a very gripping recount of history. India Gandhi of the Kaul Gotra may well have been Gangu reborn (???) and the Sikh who shot her may well have been Gangu’s victim? Since there is no such thing as coincidence, victim or accident if one believes in “karma”. Extremely well narrated blog, makes for educative reading. Keep up the good work Tejwant. SSA.

    • tejwantsingh Says:

      Thank you Prem for your encouraging comments,
      I have not ever heard Indira Gandhi speak at any occasion but someone who heard her at one place mentioned that she said, “My family has an historical link with the Sikhs. We have to sort out lot of things with them.” Or words to that effect.
      After Banda Singh Bahadur (former Madho Das the Bairagi Sadhu who was converted by Guru Gobind Singh at Nanded in Maharashrta) came to Punjab and raised an army to fight the tyranny of the Mughals, he fought a pitched battle with Wazir Khan the Subedar (Governor) of Sarhind at Chappar Chiri which is northwest of Sarhind and southwest of Chandigarh. The Mughal army was all professional soldiers and very well armed compared to the Sikh army which was not so. Fateh Singh, one of the close companions of Banda Singh Bahadur, beheaded Wazir Khan within no time. After their leader was beheaded the Mughal army was routed with the Sikhs chasing them into Sarhind town where they made a last stand but could not for very long.
      Gangu, who was hiding inside, was caught and dealt with along with Sucha Nand (the Brahmin advisor of Wazir Khan) who had pressed the Subedar to give exemplary punishment to the minor sons of Guru Gobind Singh. The son of Gangu was in Kashmir and he was subsequently brought by Mughal Emperor Farukhshiar and settled northwest of Delhi along the canal (Nehar) which brought water for the city. That is how the name Nehru came into use. When the Sikhs became rulers in the Malwa region of Patiala, the Nehru family seems to have shifted to Allahabad.
      On the contrary the Nawab of Malerkotla was the only one who expressed reservations saying that there was no mention in Islam that small children had to be executed. And he walked out the Darbar. When Guru Gobind Singh heard about the Nawab’s role he said that the Muslims of Malerkotla will be our friends. To this day they live there while all others have migrated to Pakistan. The Muslims of Malerkotla have gone a step further: I have heard that they have framed the sayings of the Tenth Guru as his Hukumnama and displayed it prominently in their homes and shops. The ruling family is a member of the Akali Dal.
      You are right: Our Karma makes us take birth again and again to sort out unfinished issues of our previous lives. That is the theme of my next book on reincarnation titled ‘Curse of Ghimru’.
      With warm regards,
      Tejwant Singh


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