Spiritual journey to the City of Bliss-Anandpur Sahib

Every year on the day following Holi, Hola Mohalla festival is celebrated at Anandpur Sahib....

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Anandpur Sahib is a place that instills great interest and devotion for me. My mother prayed for a son and I was born and since then, my inner love for the place is beyond any description. I love the divine and pristine environment and the fresh air from the green vegetation surrounding the region. Guru Gobind Singh spent a chunk of his life here and one can feel his presence! Khalsa was created here in 1699 and whenever, I am there, I just cannot resist taking Amrit again and again; the togetherness and love is what I enjoy most. Just watching the Panj Piyares stirring the amrit with the recitation of the Nitnem, bestows on to others the peace and solace. It is the same khanda that is used to stir valour and the spirit in others; all the items used in the initiation ceremony are Sarbloh. My visits are usually for the day but on this occasion, I decided to stay for a week. I stayed in the accommodation provided near to Sri Keshgarh Sahib and to the Langar Hall.

Sri Keshgarh Sahib is named after kesh as significance was given to hair and not to remove it, but to be one of the main personal aspects of an individual that needs to be respected and maintained.

Anandpur Sahib, literally, the revered city of bliss or joy, is one of the many towns founded by the Sikh Gurus. It is situated on the left banks of the Sutlej River; it lies along the Sirhind-Ropar-Nangal rail and road link. The Sivalik Hills or Range are the southernmost and geologically youngest east-west mountain chain of the Himalayas and are the backdrop of Anandpur Sahib.

The region which is now known an Anandpur Sahib includes Chakk Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib and some adjacent villages.

It is generally believed that the Anandpur town was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji on June 19, 1665. In fact it was Chakk Nanaki which had been founded in 1665. The foundation stone of Anandpur Sahib was laid on March 30,1689. The area of Chakk Nanaki (in 1665) extended between the village of Agamgarh and the square between Keshgarh Sahib and the town's bus stand.

Usually, new towns are founded, established and developed by monarchs. It is a unique phenomenon in the history of Sikh religion that its Gurus founded a number of towns and turned several villages into major towns. Hence, social, political, economic and spiritual role became one in Guru Sahib.

The first town associated with the Sikh history is Nanakana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. But, the first town founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji was Kartarpur (Pakistan). Even Sultanpur Lodhi had the privilege of having felt of the touch of the feet of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Angad Dev Ji turned the small village of Khadur into Khadur Sahib. Guru Amar Das Ji founded the town of Goindwal. He also asked Guru Ram Das Ji to establish a new Sikh State in the middle of Majha zone. Guru Ram Das Ji laid the foundation of Guru Da Chakk which, later, came to be known as Ram Das Pur and now is the epicentre of Sikh spiritualism- the divine city of Amritsar. Guru Arjan Dev Ji developed Guru Da Chakk into a major city and also founded the towns of Tarn Taran, Chheharta, Hargobindpur and Kiratpur (Jullundur). Guru Hargobind Ji revealed Akal Takhat Sahib. He purchased the territory of the present town of Kiratpur Sahib {Kiratpur Sahib was founded and established by Baba Gurditta, son of Guru Hargobind Sahib}. Guru Har Rai Ji played major role in the development of Kiratpur Sahib and turned it into another major centre of the Sikhs. By the time of Guru Harkrishan Sahib, Kiratpur Sahib had become a full-fledged town. His visit to a small village Panjokhara, near Ambala, put the village on the world map and his visit to Raja Jai Singh's residence turned it into "Bangla Sahib" in New Delhi.

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Chakk Nanaki had been founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji. Earlier he used to live at Bakala and had spent more than seven years (1656-64) in Assam, Bengal and Bihar. He had spent some time at Talwandi Sabo and Dhamtan too. In the middle of April 1665, he made a visit to Kiratpur Sahib. When he was still at Kiratpur, on April 27,1665, Raja Deep Chand, the ruler of Bilaspur, died. The Bilaspur ruler was a very devoted Sikh. On May 10,1665, Guru Sahib went to Bilaspur to make last prayers for Raja Deep Chand. Guru Sahib stayed there till May 13. By this time, Rani Champa had come to know that Guru Sahib had decided to move his headquarters to Dhamtan. This made Rani Champa despondent. She approached Mata Nanaki (Guru Sahib's mother) and begged her to ask Guru Sahib not to move far away from Bilaspur State. Mata Nanaki could not resist helping a sentimental Rani Champa. Mata Ji requested Guru Sahib to fulfil Rani's desire. When Guru Sahib agreed, Rani Champa offered to donate some land to Guru Sahib so that he might establish a new town. Guru Sahib decided to set up new town but refused to accept a donation of the land. He selected a piece of land in between the villages of Lodipur, Mianpur and Sahota and paid regular price for the same. Rani Champa hesitatingly accepted the price of the land but her joy knew no bounds at the thought that Guru Ji had chosen to establish his headquarters near Bilaspur State.

The site chosen by Guru Sahib, around the ruins of the erstwhile village of Makhowal, was very remarkable from strategic point of view. It was surrounded by river Sutlej on one side as well as hills and forest on all the sides. This was a peaceful zone for meditation as well as for arts and intellectual activities. It was also safe from military interference and disturbances. The Sikhs had experienced Mughal invasion at Amritsar and Kartarpur in 1634 and 1635. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji too had participated in these battles. Though Kiratpur Sahib had remained safe from the Mughal attacks, yet a possibility always existed because Emperor Aurangzeb was sitting on the Delhi throne and he was known for his fanaticism.

Thus, the site selected for new town had a special importance. In 1665, the river Sutlej used to flow through the present city of Anandpur Sahib (now it flows near Kiratpur Sahib). Kiratpur Sahib too was a strategic place. It was surrounded by Sutlej on one side, river Sirsa on the other side and a chain of hills on the third side. Similarly, the site of Chakk Nanaki too was still a better choice. It had the protection of Charn Ganga stream on two sides and river Sutlej on the third. Towards the hills-side there were thick bushes and trees. Long long ago, it was dense forest and herds of elephants and other animals used to inhabit these jungles. Then, this area was known as Hathaut (literally: abode of elephants)

The area of Chakk Nanaki was a peaceful region. Besides, it was a fertile land and could yield two crops annually. Hence, it was capable of being a self-sufficient City-State. Guru Sahib's selection of the land was highly appreciated by Rani Champa and the Sikhs. The Bilaspur elite was exceptionally happy because the presence of a Sikh City-State on the borders of Bilaspur State and the Mughal territory meant complete safety for Bilaspur and its associate States.

The foundation stone of the new town was laid down by Bhai Gurditta (great-grandson of Baba Buddha Ji), on June 19,1665 at the present site of Guru De Mahal. The first prayers were made by Diwan Dargah Mall. Guru Sahib named the new town Chakk Nanaki after his mother Mata Nanaki. Guru Sahib spent the next three months at Chakk Nanaki. During this period a couple of house had been built for the visitors to the Sikh City.

Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji could not visit Chakk Nanaki for the next six and a half years. He was on a long missionary journey of Assam, Bengal and Bihar from January 1666 to March 1670. After this, he spent about one and a half year at Bakala (now Baba Bakala). In March 1672 Guru Sahib and his family moved to Chakk Nanaki and finally established it as his headquarters. Guru Sahib faced martyrdom on November 11,1675.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji stayed here till March 1685. In April 1685 Guru Gobind Singh Ji founded Paonta Sahib and stayed there till October 1688. He returned to Chakk Nanaki in November 1688. On March 30,1689 Guru Sahib laid the foundation of a new town and named it Anandpur Sahib. Now Chakk Nanaki and Anandpur Sahib both as well as some adjoining villages (Sahota, Lodipur, Agampur, Mataur etc) form the present city of Anandpur Sahib.

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Chakk Nanaki was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Anandpur Sahib was established by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The boundaries of Chakk Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib, Sahota, Lodipur, Mataur, Agampur etc. are not known to a common man. Only revenue officers (Patwari and Lambardar) know about the actual boundary-lines. In government papers Chakk Nanaki is known as "Chakk" only.

The square between the present bus stand and Gurdwara Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib is the meeting point of Chakk Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib and Lodipur. Gurdwara Guru De Mahal (Bhora Sahib, Damdama Takht Sahib and Manji Sahib) are in the territory of Chakk Nanaki. It was the residence of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Gurdwara Sis Ganj is on the border of Chakk Nanaki and Anandpur Sahib. The Bus Stand, Hospital and the Girls School are in Chakk Nanaki. A part of the saw-mill near Gurdwara Holgarh Sahib is in the territory of Chakk Nanaki and its boundary wall is within the boundary of Sahota village. The Milk Bar (near the squares) and the Sarovar (tank) are in Lodipur village. The garden adjacent to the police post is a part of Chakk Nanaki. Khalsa High School is in the territory of villages Sahota. Qila Anandgarh Sahib Gurdwara Shahidi Bagh (under the management of one group of Nihangs) are situated in the village of Lodipur. The area around Keshgarh Sahib is a part of Anandpur Sahib. Khalsa College has been built in the territory of village Mataur. The bridge over Charan Ganga is a part of Chakk Nanaki. Now all these areas form the present city of Anandpur Sahib.

The Anandpur region has undergone several major changes in the past 345 years (1665 to 2010). The river Sutlej, which used to flow near Anandgarh fort, has changed its course and now it flows about seven km away (near Kiratpur Sahib). "Himaiti" stream, which used to protect Anandpur Sahib from Mughal invasions, has silted up and disappeared. Several other rainy streams too have disappeared. A bridge has been built on Charan Ganga rivulet. The hill on which a tent was put up (Tambu Wali Pahari) on the day of revelation of Khalsa does not exist any more. Even the hill on which Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib shrine has been built is, now, at least ten feet (more than three metres) lesser in height than it was in 1698. A road has been built to link Sri Keshgarh Sahib and Anandgarh Sahib. A very large number of new buildings too have been constructed in and around Anandpur Sahib. Today's Anandpur is a lot different from Anandpur Sahib of the eighteenth century. However, almost all the shrines of the region have been built at actual sites.

Today, Anandpur Sahib is a tehsil meaning city or town. Its 240 villages include Chakk Nanaki, Agampur, Sahota, Lodipur, Mianpur, Mataur (Anandpur Sahib region), Kiratpur Sahib, Jauwal, Kalyanpur Bhaguwal (Kiratpur region), Jindbari, Khera-Kalmot, Nangal (Nangal region), Kahanpur Khuhi, Nurpur Bedi (Nurpur Bedi region) Bajrur, Basali, Chanauli (Takhtgarh region) etc. "Guru Ka Lahore" and Gurdwara Taragarh are a part of Bilaspur district (Himachal Pradesh). Though most of the places associated with the history of Anandpur Sahib are in the territories of Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib regions but Kalmot, Basali, Bajrpur, Bibhaur, Bassi Kalan, Bhattha Sahib, Chamkaur Sahib, Machhiwara (as well as Machhiwara to Talwandi Sabo) are situated in other regions. Similarly, Gurdwaras at Gurpalah, Bilaspur, Nahan, Paonta Sahib, Bhangani, Nadaun, Rivalsar etc are in Himanchal Pradesh. No Gurdwara has, so far, been built at Ajner, Malakpur and some other places associated with Guru Gobind Singh Ji's stay at Anandpur Sahib and his journey from Machhiwara to Dina Kangar.

Anandpur Sahib had a population of a few hundreds at the time of Guru Gobind Singh Ji but hundreds of Sikhs used to visit Anandpur Sahib to make obeisance to Guru Sahib. In the month of March more than twenty thousand Sikhs used to attend the annual Sikh gathering at Anandpur Sahib. On the night of December 5 and 6,1675 when Guru Gobind Singh Ji finally left Anandpur Sahib, only one person, Bhai Gurbakhsh Das, was left in the town. After a few years the families of Gulab Singh and Sham Singh (great-grandsons of Guru Hargobind Sahib) moved to Anandpur and began living there.

With the passage of time, Anandpur Sahib again became a prominent Sikh centre. At the time of Akali Phula Singh, in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the family of Bhai Surjan Singh Sodhi (a descendant of Guru Hargobind Singh) used to live there. At that time the population of Anandpur Sahib was less than three thousand. In 1868, when the first regular census was held, the population of Anandpur Sahib was 6869. In the first half of the twentieth century its population remained less than seven thousand. During this period an epidemic spread through the town and the adjoining villages, resulting into exodus of most of the population. After 1947, a few Sikh families, which had been uprooted from the West Panjab (Pakistan), moved to Anandpur Sahib. After a couple of years the Bhakhra-Nangal-Ganguwal projects added population of several hundred persons to the town. Today, in 2010, the population of the municipal area of Anandpur Sahib is around 20,000 and there is no possibility of any extra-ordinary increase in spite of launching of several new projects in connection with celebrations of the tercentenary of Khalsa.

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The new projects launched at Anandpur Sahib in 1998-99 are likely to give a new look to the town, but, the city, which used to be Anandpur Sahib of the period of Guru Sahib will not remain the same.

Thousand years ago, the Anandpur region, from Kiratpur Sahib to Nangal, which was known as "Hathaut" (literally: abode of elephants), was a dense forest with thick growth of trees and bushes. This jungle-valley was surrounded by several hill belts, river Sutlej, Charan Ganga and other rivulets. It was a home for elephants, lions, bears, wolves and other beasts. This area, about 50 km in length and 10-12 km in width, did not have any human population. By fifteenth century most of the beasts had either been killed or had moved to the upper hills, but, still, people were afraid of visiting this area. It was only in June 1665 when Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji founded the town of Chakk Nanaki that people began visiting this area. Guru Sahib turned this haunting forest into a fine place. The area where people did not dare to enter even during daytime became a great centre of spiritualism, learning and arts. Before 1665 the region of Anandpur Sahib had no mention in history. According to a local myth a giant named Makho used to live here. At that time this place was known as Makhowal. According to another tradition two brothers named Makho and Mato were the chiefs of this area. They founded the villages of Makhowal and Mataur. Both were cruel chiefs. As a result, residents of these areas began moving to far-off places and finally both the village were deserted. But, there is no historical evidence to prove these 'stories'. In 1665, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji laid the foundation of Chakk Nanaki at the top of the mound known as ruins of Makhowal.

Today, three villages of Hathaut i.e. Chakk Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib and Kiratpur Sahib, have special mention in the history of the world. It is because Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji had stayed there. From Anandpur Sahib to a Bhattha Sahib (near Ropar), the scene of furling Khalsa flags, throughout the region, tell the story of the State of Guru Sahib. Several hundred Sikhs laid their lives in this area. The whole of the zone has been immortalized by Guru Sahib, their families and the Sikh martyrs. It is known as Guru Ji's Land and the Bilaspur State, which compelled Guru Sahib to abandon Anandpur Sahib, exists no more. Its capital Bilaspur, too, lies fifty feet (more than fifteen metres) deep under the waters of the lake named after Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The family which wanted to expel the Sikhs from the region does not exist any more. The family, the State, the capital have ceased to be even a political entity.

Anandpur Sahib "City of Bliss'; is one of the most holy places of the Sikhs. it is closely linked with their religious traditions and history. Situated 45km from Ropar on the left bank of the river Sutlej, Anandpur Sahib has a number of historical Gurdwaras. The town gained further importance with the construction of Nangal and Bhakra projects nearby, 20 km to the north. These projects have brought Anandpur Sahib on the rail and road map of India. It is located at a distance of 80 km from Chandigarh - the city of dreams and is easily accessible with good roads and rail links.

Today, Anandpur is one of the five most important religious places of the Sikhs. This is the birth place of the Sikh faith. Here Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth on Vaisakhi day in 1699. The Takhat Keshgarh Sahib stands at the place where the Tenth Master initiated the 'Panj Piyares', the five beloved ones, and administered Amrit to them and took Amrit himself.

Besides, there are a number of other Gurdwaras associated with Sikh history. Gurudwara Guru Ka Mahal was built by Guru Tegh Bahadur for his residence and it was here that sons of Guru Gobind Singh were born. Gurdwara Sis Ganj commemorates the spot ~where the head of Ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur was cremated when it was brought to Anandpur Sahib by Bhai Jaita Ji from Delhi, after his martyrdom in Chandni Chowk in 1675 and his headless body was placed on a bed and cremated in a house belonging to Bhai Lakhi Shah Banjara; to commemorate this event now stands Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, in New Delhi.

Besides, Gurdwaras Keshgarh, Anandgarh, Lohgarh and Fatehgarh mark the spots where once stood four fortresses built by Guru Gobind Singh who fought many pitched battles against Mughal and Rajput forces.

Every year on the day following Holi, Hola Mohalla festival is celebrated at Anandpur Sahib. On this day Anandpur Sahib re-enacts the martial splendour of the Khalsa under their great Guru. About two million devotees and others from all over India and abroad participate in the festival with great gusto. For visitors, accommodation is no problem at Anandpur Sahib and pilgrims ensure that they all arrive in time for this unique festival.

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For pilgrims and tourists, a visit to Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Museum is a must. It was set up in the memory of Guru Tegh Bahadur who made the supreme sacrifice for sake of liberation of the oppressed and for the freedom of conscience and belief. The great saga of Sikh history of this period is full of struggle and sacrifices which are depicted here via the medium of paintings prepared by eminent artists. These paintings are primarily in realistic style covering the most turbulent significant and epoch-making period of the Sikh history.

Gurdwara Sri Keshgarh Sahib is located in the centre of the city of Anandpur Sahib. It is also known as Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib and is the city's main shrine. The city began as Chakk Nanaki, which was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1665. His son Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who spent 25 years of his life in the city, added greatly to the city's size, giving it the new name of the City of Bliss (Anandpur).

Its foundation stone was laid on March 30,1689. In fact, It was here that the Khalsa was born with the first initiation of Khande Di Pahul, when the young Guru called for a special congregation on the Vaisakhi day of 1699 with thousands of Sikhs in attendance. One can only imagine how large the area was around Keshgarh Sahib then to accommodate the many thousands of Sikhs in attendance on that historic day.

The holy weapons at Anandpur Sahib are inscribed on the marble at the front of the entrance of Sri Keshgard Sahib;khanda- Double edged sword with which the holy nectar(Amrit) was prepared; karpa barchha-steel armour piercing lance; saif-double edged sword of Hazrat Ali which was presented to Sri Guru Gobind Singh by the 7th Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah; nagin barchha-cobra lance with which Bhai Bachittar had made the enemy's drunken elephant retreat from Lohgarh Fort; musket- it was presented by a devotee to Guru Gobind Singh Ji; katar- small cutlass used in hand to hand fighting and .two lances, Shamshir-i-Teg, a remarkable sword, Dah-i-Ahni, a forked lance with steel handle, a Golden Chakra kind of an attacking Quoit with 22 stanzas of the holy scriptures of Sri Japji Sahib engraved on it and Rhino - skin shield --- these weapons were retrieved from England in 1966.

At that time the hill of Keshgarh Sahib was at least 10-15 feet higher than it is today. Next to it there was, at that time, another hill known as "Tambu (tent) Wali Pahari", because a special tent was set up there on the day of the revelation of Khalsa. That hill and a long range of small hills which extended from Keshgarh Sahib to Anandpur Fort no longer exists, because in the name of progress, in 1973, a road was constructed to link Keshgarh Sahib and Anandgarh Sahib fort that necessitated leveling the hill tops.

Keshgarh Sahib fort was built in 1699. The neighbouring hill armies attacked Anandpur Sahib several times between 1700 and 1705, but were never able to reach Keshgarh Sahib because the fort was seemingly impregnable and besides, before reaching the gates of Keshgarh the armies would have had to capture the forts at Taragarh, Agamgarh, Fatehgarh and Anandgarh and that never happened. It was only after the half starved occupants of the city and its defensive forts, convinced Guru Sahib to agree to leave the city, under the promise of safe passage from their attackers. It was only when the great Guru and his Sikhs were about to forge a nearby river, that the hill armies entered the fort and began to demolish it.

The Sikhs were unable to return to Anandpur Sahib until Baba Banda Singh's efforts to retake the city proved successful. Baba Banda Bahadur also subjugated the ruler of Bilaspur, who had been behind the siege of the city in 1705. But all to soon the Sikhs had to face another wave of persecution after the fall of Baba Banda Singh.

Within the next ten years most of the Sikh homeland was once again under the rule of Sikhs. With Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the other Sikh Misls and the Patiala dynasty, becoming the de facto rulers of Panjab, a period of peace and prosperity allowed the scattered Sikhs to begin making frequent visits to Anandpur Sahib. Anandpur Sahib became the safest place for Sikhs. Baba Baghel Singh of the Karorasinghia Misl, who had taken charge of Delhi and constructed many Sikh shrines in the city, visited Anandpur Sahib in the 1780s and decided to construct, repair and renovate the shrines of the city.

In 1812, Mahan Chand, the ruler of Bilaspur, attacked Anandpur Sahib only to suffer heavy losses.

Keshgarh Sahib is the home of many historical relics which belonged to Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. These include the actual Khanda (double edged sword) that the Guru used to prepare amrit on the revelation of Khalsa Day which is still used in the ceremony; a Kataar, Guru Gobind Singh's personal dagger (which he always carried), a saif (a double edged weapon presented to the Guru by Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah) and a beautiful gun that was presented to Guru Sahib by one of his Sikhs from Lahore are all displayed to the pilgrims every morning and evening.

After 1820 regular Granthis began serving at Keshgarh Sahib. Historical sources mention the names of Bhai Karam Singh, Bhai Kharak Singh, Bhai Budh Singh, Bhai Puran Singh, Bhai Amar Singh etc as the Granthis of Kesgarh Sahib. For about a century (1820 to 1925) Keshgarh Sahib had only one Granthi, but after Gurdwara reform movement (1920-25) a "Jathedar" was appointed here too. This designation was given to Giani Resham Singh, Giani Partap Singh Mallewal, Jathedar Bir Singh, Master Ajit Singh Ambalvi, Giani Fauja Singh, Giani Bachitar Singh, Jathedar Gurdial Singh Ajnoha, Jathedar Harcharan Singh Mahalon, Bhai Shawinder Singh, Bhai Balbir Singh, Bhai Sahib Manjit Singh (Professor), Giani Gurcharan Singh and recently Jathedar Tirlochan Singh is in command.

The present complex was constructed during 1936-44 under the supervision of Sant Hari Singh Kaharpuri. Being on a slope, the complex has two levels protected by retaining walls on the sides. On the lower level, approached by a flight of steps is the imposing two-storeyed gateway, offices, and a 30-metre square courtyard. The level on which stands the main building is 2.5 metres higher than the courtyard. The 16-metre square hall with a balcony in front contains within it the sanctum, a 5.5-metre square room in which some old weapons preserved as sacred relics from the time of Guru Gobind Singh are displayed on a low platform.

The Guru Granth Sahib is seated under a canopy outside the sanctum, above which rises a fluted lotus dome topped by a tall ornamental pinnacle of gilded metal, and a gilded khanda as a finial. On the roof, corners of the hall and the balcony are adorned with domed kiosks. Guru ka Langar is on the lower level behind the central building. The lower slopes of the Keshgarh hill are covered with rows of residential rooms for staff and pilgrims where I stayed for a week. This complex is collectively known as Dashmesh Nivas. A 55-metre square divan hall, about 150 metres east of the central building, was added during the 1980's to cater for large congregations on festival occasions.

A sarovar or bathing tank, 80-metre square, in a walled compound is situated at ground level to the west of the Takhat Sahib and close to the Ropar-Nangal highway. The relics placed in the inner sanctum of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib include a khanda, a katar (dagger), a saif (double-edged straight tapering sword), a muzzle-loading musket, a spear known as karpa barchha, and a nagani (a kind of spear with a twisted and pointed blade). Another set of weapons also believed to have once belonged to Guru Gobind Singh, which had been taken away by the British to England after the occupation of the Panjab in 1849 and which were returned in time for the celebration of the 300th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji 1966-67 are now on display here.

A Sachkand bus leaves adjacent to Sri Keshgarh Sahib in the morning at 0900 hrs and conveys the pilgrims to all the Gurdwaras in the Ropar District surrounding the Anandpur Sahib. It is good time to meet other pilgrims from various rich backgrounds and all the historical significance is discussed and shared amongst others. The driver has a good sound knowledge of the history of all the Gurdwaras and usually, sewadars do their sermons in each Gurdwara before offering the Prasad, usually with great pride impart their knowledge in the existence of each Gurdwaras.

I decided to go by the bus and it was so enjoyable visiting all the Gurdwaras as this was the unique way to access the remotest Gurdwaras which would have cost a fortune to hire a taxi. The spirit of him with like-minded people was exciting and just fostered the relationship of strangers to fraternity.

The Gurdwaras I had darshan are many and the time went fast as each moment was worth cherishing as it was different every minute and second. Theses are the miracles and Grace of Guru Ji.

Guru Ka Lahore is a cluster of three Gurdwaras near Basantgarh village in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh, about 12 kilometers north of Anandpur Sahib in Panjab, which are located at the site of Guru Gobind Singh's marriage. A fourth Gurdwara at the spot which played a part in the wedding is located about a kilometer away.

In keeping with Panjabi tradition the betrothal of young Gobind Rai had taken place during the lifetime of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur, but the marriage had been postponed because of the elder Guru's martyrdom in November 1675. Early in 1677, Jito Ji's father, Bhai Hari Jas, a resident of Lahore, came to Chakk Nanaki (later Anandpur Sahib) and proposed that the bridegroom's marriage party should go to Lahore with the marriage being performed at an early and suitable date.

The elders in the holy family considered that it was still not politically advisable to go to Lahore. The young Guru said, we shall create a 'Lahore' here. The bride's family may come and reside in it, and the marriage may take place as agreed. Consequently, a temporary camp was set up near Basantgarh to look like part of Lahore. The site was called Guru Ka Lahore. Bhai Hari Jas brought his family and relations to the temporary 'Lahore' and the marriage took place on 23rd Har 1734 Bikrami/21st June 1677. Even after the camp had been closed down and disassembled, the place continued to be considered holy. A Gurdwara was established at the camp site to which two more were added later close to some nearby springs.

Gurdwara Anand Karaj Sthan Patshahi Dasvin - represents the spot where the marriage was performed. Its present building, a square hall with the domed sanctum over its middle, was constructed by Sant Sewa Singh Anandgarhwale during the 1960s.

Gurdwara Tir Sahib - enclosing a spring formerly called Karpa (lit. spear) Baoli was created, according to popular legend, by the Guru with a blow of his spear. It is a domed square hall with a pavilion over the spring in front of the hall.

Gurdwara Paur Sahib - a small domed room with a verandah in front, near another spring is also based on a legend similar to the one related to Triveni Sahib. In this case the spring is said to have been caused by the Guru's horse stamping its paur (hoof).

Gurdwara Sehra Sahib - One kilometer south of Guru Ka Lahore in Bilaspur is located at the spot where Guru Gobind Singh halted for a short time on his way to his marriage at Guru ka Lahore. According to tradition the Guru donned his sehra (bridegroom's floral headband) here. The Gurdwara, a square domed room with a circumambulatory verandah, was constructed by Sant Sewa Singh of Anandpur Sahib in 1962.

Gurdwara Qila Anandgarh Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, Rupnagar, District Ropar.

This Gurdwara was one of the five forts constructed by Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur Sahib for the defense of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh spent 25 years at Anandpur Sahib. To protect the Sikhs from the Hill Rajas or Mughals, Guru Gobind Singh began the construction of five defensive forts all around the town. Keshgarh at the centre (now a Takhat), Anandgarh(Fort of bliss), Lohgarh (Fort of steel), Holgarh (Fort of colour) and Fatehgarh (Fort of victory). All the forts were joined together with earthworks and underground tunnels. The construction began in 1689 and took over ten years to complete.

Gurudwara Qila Anandgarh Sahib is situated on another spur, about 800 metres south-east of Takhat Sri Kesgarh Sahib. It is a newly constructed building though marks of the old, original structure are also still traceable. The present building complex was raised during the 1970's by Sant Sewa Singh (d. 1982) whose successors are now managing and further developing it. Earlier, during the 1930's, Kartar Singh Kalasvalia had got a fort-like building constructed which is still intact on top of the hillock. The present Gurdwara, separated from this building by a spacious terrace paved with slabs of streaked marble, is a 15-metre square hall with an 8x3 metre porch in front. The 6-metre square sanctum within the hall has above it a lotus dome topped with a gilded pinnacle and khanda as a finial. The entire wall surface has a facing of streaked marble. This building was completed in 1970. The water level of an old baoli, a stepped well 4-metre in diametre, is approached through a covered passage. The baoli has 135 marbled steps. At the lower levels on the eastern flank of the main building are a spacious hall for Guru ka Langar constructed in 1972, and 300 rooms for pilgrims and administrators.

Gurudwara Qila Fatehgarh Sahib, situated on the northern outskirts of the town of Anandpur, marks the site of another fortress bearing this name. The present building was constructed during the late 1980's under the supervision of the successors of Sant Sewa Singh and Sant Baba Labh Singh of Qila Anandpur. The Gurdwara is a two-storeyed domed building. In front of it is an old well which once served the needs of Fatehgarh Fort. Qila Fatehgarh- reminds long long struggle between the Mughals and great defender of 'Anandpuri'.

Gurudwara Qila Lohgarh Sahib, one and a half kilometre southwest of Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib, marks the site of the fort of that name constructed by Guru Gobind Singh to protect the riverside flank. It was here that Bhai Bachittar Singh faced and turned back a drunken elephant which the hill chiefs, during their siege of Anandpur in 1700, had sent to batter down the gate of this fort. The present building, octagonal in shape and three-storeyed high with a dome on top, was constructed during the late 1980's.

Gurdwara Holgarh Sahib stands on the site of Holgarh Fort, one and a half km north-west of the town across the Charan Gariga rivulet. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh introduced in the spring of 1701, the celebration of hola on the day following the Hindu festival of colour-throwing, holi. Unlike the playful sprinkling of colours as is done during holi, the Guru made hola an occasion for Sikhs to demonstrate gatka in simulated battle. Hola or Hola Mahalla, became thereafter an annual tournament of warlike sports in Anandpur as long as the Guru stayed there. The observance of Hola Mahalla was revived after the Sikhs had established their rule in Panjab. It is now the biggest festival of Anandpur. The mahalla or the march on this occasion starting from the Takhat Sahib on the concluding day of the week-long festival ends at Holgarh, where sports like fencing, coil-throwing and tent-pegging are held. The present building, a three-storeyed octagonal, domed edifice, was constructed under the supervision of Sant Sewa Singh and was completed in 1970. The sanctum is in the middle of the marbled ground floor

Gurdwara Mata Jito Sahib;Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's first wife Mata Jit Kaur died at Anandpur Sahib on December 5,1700. She was cremated in the outskirts of Chakk-Nanaki in the boundary of the village of Agamgarh. Some one constructed a platform at the site where she had been cremated. Later, a Gurdwara was built by the Sikhs.Gurdwara Jito Ji, built within a half-acre enclosure just outside Agampura village, about 2 km northwest of Anandpur marks the site where the body of Mata Jito Ji, wife of Guru Gobind Singh, was cremated in December 1700. The present three-storeyed domed building was completed in 1972. The 4-metre square sanctum marked off by four pillars is in the middle of the square hall on the ground floor. The fluted lotus dome on top of the building has a gold-plated pinnacle and a gilded khan da as finial.

Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib - Anandpur: Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib embraced martyrdom in Delhi on November 11, 1675. His head was brought to Chakk Nanaki by Bhai Jaita and his associates. The cremation of the head of Guru Sahib was held here on November 17,1675. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji left Anandpur Sahib, on the night of December 5 and 6,1705, he visited this place and appointed Bhai Gurbakhsh Das Udasi as caretaker of this shrine and began his final journey. It is believed that the central pedestal of their shrine is the oldest structure of Chakk Nanaki-Anandpur Sahib. Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib within the town is sacred to Guru Tegh Bahadur whose head was cremated here in November 1675. A memorial shrine in the form of a platform within a small room was got constructed over the ashes by Guru Gobind Singh himself. At the time of the evacuation of Anandpur in December 1705, Guru Gobind Singh Ji especially entrusted it to the care of Gurbakhsh Udasi. The renovation and enlargement of the monument were carried out under the supervision of Baba Sewa Singh of Anandgarh during the early 1970's. The original pavement in the front compound with old Nanakshahi bricks arranged in geometrical patterns is still intact. The two-storey building with a pinnacled dome provides a 4.5-metre wide covered circumambulatory passage supported on exquisitively designed marble columns around the inner sanctum where the Guru Granth Sahib is seated.

Gurdwara Damdama Sahib Ji; It is known as Gurdwara Takhat Sahib as well. Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib used to perform the functions of Akal Takhat Sahib from this place. It was Diwane-i-Khas. It was also the court of Guru Sahib. Here, Guru Sahib used to receive representatives of different States as well as important guests. Here, Guru Gobind Singh Ji was installed as Tenth Nanak on July 8,1675. In March 1698, when Guru Sahib summoned all the Masands at Anandpur Sahib, they were tried here. This shrine is a part of the erstwhile Guru De Mahal complex. By the side of this building, an old well, from the time of Guru Sahib, still exists. The Masands who had been found guilty were punished here. Gurdwara Damdama Sahib stands, along with Thara Sahib and Bhora Sahib in the same compound, close to Sis Ganj, formerly called Guru ke Mahal, i.e. residential quarters of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Damdama Sahib marks the site where the Guru used to sit while receiving and addressing visiting sangats. The ceremony of installing Guru Gobind Singh as Guru was performed here. The present domed octagonal building was constructed during the early decades of the 20th century.

Gurdwara (Guru Ka Mahal) Bhora Sahib-Anandpur; Here Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib used to sit for meditation and for composing hymns. Residence of Sri Guru Teg Bahadur inherited by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji; the Sahibzadas, the divine sons of the tenth Guru were born here. There is an underground room cut off from the din of life where the ninth Guru used to meditate. Gurdwara Bhora Sahib, a three-storeyed domed building close to Damdama Sahib, was a part of Guruke Mahal. Here in a bhora (basement) Guru Tegh Bahadur used to retire for solitary meditation which I had darshan. A 1.5-metre square and half a metre high platform in the middle of the present basement marks the site of the original bhora. The Holy Book is now seated on a platform on the ground floor.

Gurdwara Patalpuri; This Gurdwara is situated at Kiratpur in district Rupnagar. It has been built on the banks of the river Sutlej and is situated across the railway tracks and is the place where many Sikhs take the ashes of their dead to be immersed in the river here. Guru Hargobind in 1644 as well as Guru Har Rai in 1661 were cremated here. The ashes of Guru Harkrishan were brought from Delhi and immersed here in 1664. The ashes of Harbhajan Singh Yogi, who motivated thousands in the West to embrace the Sikh way of life, were immersed in the Sutlej at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib here by members of his family. Someone in the bus remarked that one day we all have to come back to this place again. I got the message; the day we are born we are destined to go one day!

The Gurdwara is located in a large plot of land measuring over 1km square and houses a large Darbar Sahib with a langar hall located near by. A small sarovar is located near the toilet and shower facilities. A footbridge is located to connect the devotees to the bank of the river. Ample car parking space is available on the Gurdwara grounds. The main entrance to the Gurdwara is from behind the main building. Gardens and living rooms are located to the right of the main building.

Kiratpur Sahib situated on the banks of the river Sutlej is the other important historical place in this District. This town was established by The Sixth Master, Guru Hargobind after buying Land from Raja Tara Chand of Kehloor through Baba Gurditta. It is said that Guru Nanak Dev made a prophesy regarding the establishment of this place. It is very near here that Guru Nanak Dev met saint Buddan Shah in what was then a jungle. Also at a place called Sheeshmahal which is close by that Guru Hargobind stayed from 1627 till the end came.

In 1675 Guru Gobind Singh at the age of nine received the tragic news that his father Guru Tegh Bahadur had been executed in Delhi. Guru Gobind Singh travelled from here to Anandpur Sahib for the cremation of his father's head which had been spirited away from Delhi by a devoted Sikh, Bhai Jaita.

Gurdwara Sri Parivar Vichora Sahib is situated in the Ropar District, Panjab, India on the bank of the river Sarsa. After vacating Lila Sri Anandgarh Sahib during the night of 5th-6th December 1705, Guru Gobind Singh Ji rested for the night and stopped here for morning prayers with his family and the Sikhs of Anandpur Sahib. It was at this spot that the Mughal army suddenly arrived in hot pursuit. . After invoking the blessings of the Almighty, Guru Gobind Singh Ji divided his forces into two columns. While part of the force was to engage their attackers, the other force was ordered to get across the river. The Guru was followed by a small party of devoted Sikhs who fought off their attackers with their swords flashing in their hands. It was here that Mata Gujri Ji with the two youngest Sahibzadas (the sons of the Guru) were separated from the Guru's party. Many Sikhs drown or were martyred while crossing the Sirsa River. While Guru Sahib Ji along with his two elder sons headed towards Chamkaur Sahib, Mata Gujri Ji and younger sons were guided by Guru Sahib's cook Gangu reaching the 'safety' of his ancesteral Village Saheri in Morinda Tehsil. There had been no time to look for the missing, Guru Sahib's wife with other Sikhs were escorted to Delhi.

The agreement which had been reached between the Sikhs and their attackers (the Rajput hill chiefs and their Mughal overlords) promising to allow the Sikhs to leave the fort unmolested, were promptly broken. Though their oaths were taken on the 'holy Quran' and the sacred books of the Hindus, their promises meant nothing as they had no sooner occupied Anandpur, than they sat out in hot pursuit of the Sikhs.

As it was here that the Guru's family was separated from each other, the Gurdwara has been named Gurdwara Sri Parivar Vichora Sahib, meaning the "Gurdwara of the family's separation." Situated on the bank of the river Sirsa in the district of Ropar, the Gurdwara Sahib has been built to honour the tragic happenings that followed the evacuation of Anandpur by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Located on a hill top, one has to climb 100 odd steps to reach this holy spot, which commands a panoramic view of the surrounding valley. This magnificent Gurudwara Parivar Vichhora, has been built by grateful devotees of Guru Gobind Singh Jib and it does need renovation as both the Darbar Sahib and Langar Hall needs sprucing up to appeal to others.

The journey finally took us to this impressive Gurdwara Vibhour Sahib (Bhibhour Sahib or Vibhore Sahib) is situated in the Nangal City in Ropar Distt. It was here that Guru came at the invitation of Raja Ratan Rai, staying for several months. Staying near Nangal for another nine months it was here that Guru Sahib wrote "Chaupai Sahib" Paath while sitting on the bank of Sutlej. Guru stayed here for about a year and composed hymns in praise of God. The Gurdwara is situated on the banks of the river Sutlej. This was among the happiest time of Guru Gobind Singh life when he had time to enjoy hunting and writing poetry in praise of God. It has a breath-taking view of the meanders of Sutlej River and it is also a haven for monkeys.

Anandpur Sahib is a must for all pilgrims as it is the most significant place not to be missed as this where the Khalsa Panth was created and Guru Ji created the casteless society. It was founded in the year 1665 by the Ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, near the ruins of an ancient place, Makhowal. On May 13, 1665, Guru Tegh Bahadur went to Bilaspur to attend the mourning for Raja Dip Chand of Bilaspur State. The Dowager Rani Champa of Bilaspur offered to give the Guru a piece of land in her state. The Guru bought the site on payment of five hundred rupees. The land consisted of the villages of Lodhipur, Mianpur and Sahota. Here on the mound of Makhowal, Guru Tegh Bahadur raised a new habitation. The ground was broken on 19 June 1665, by Baba Gurditta Randhawa. The new village was named Chakk Nanaki after the Guru's mother, Nanaki. The place later came to be known as Anandpur Sahib.

Anandpur Sahib comes to life every year on the occasion of Hola Mohalla. This tradition dates back to the times of the Tenth Master, Sri Guru Gobind Singh . The Guru decreed that the occasion of the festival of Holi be the occasion for the display of the martial spirit of his people and he gave this festival of Holi the Sikh name of 'Hola Mohalla'. Each year Hola Mohalla marks the congregation of up to 100,000 devotees from all over the country for a festival of colour and gaiety.

Thousands of devotees from various parts of the country throng to Anandpur Sahib to participate in the fair which lasts for three days. The Gurdwaras are specially decorated for the occasion. During Hola Mohalla, Anandpur Sahib wears a festive appearance and bustles with activities in the month of March every year. Community conferences and religious functions are also organized. On this occasion, Nihangs from all over the country gather for the celebrations of the Hola Mohalla. The highlight of the festival is a huge procession by the Nihangs, clad in their traditional dress and weapons, on the last day of the fair. The procession starts from the headquarters of the Nihangs, opposite Gurdwara Anandgarh Sahib, and passing through the bazaar goes to village Agampur and reaches the fort of Holgarh, the place where Guru Gobind Singh used to celebrate this fair. Thereafter, the procession proceeds to the sandy bed of Charan Ganga, where demonstration of martial games including riding, tent pegging, sword wielding and gatka are witnessed by a large number of people. When we mention Anandpur Sahib Ji, Bhai Khanaiya is remembered; Bhai Khanaiya offered first aid to friendly and enemy forces alike across the area spanning the now-almost dried up rivulet Charan Ganga and below the Taragarh hill. His unbiased service has been compared to the functions of the Red Cross as he saw Guru Ji in all irrespective of creed or race.

In fact, I felt like not leaving Anandpur Sahib and one of my friend, who has a shop near Sri Keshgarh Sahib remarked that he is so happy there that he would not even think of living anywhere else except Anandpur Sahib as Guru Ji has bestowed upon him everything that he wishes for. I do envy him and just want to return back for a longer duration to enjoy the presence and Grace of Guru Ji. It just has a different lifestyle; peaceful and tranquil for any devotee to say their Naam just to enjoy the bliss one is striving for in life.

References: Gateway to Sikhism

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