For Dharma

Gurudongmar Lake

Religion is the mainstay of human life which provides a roadmap for a liberated and holistic existence. In the  contemporary unfortunate times of  balkanization where religion is being misinterpreted and misused, it is essential to understand and practice the true tenets of religions. Two of the numerous religions  worldwide make converging statements for coexistence and universality. Sikhism and Buddhism tread on similar paths for liberating human beings from Samsara. They advocate the release of mortals from the endless cycle of life and death. Both believe that the primary reason for human suffering is the ignorance of reality. During His travels (Udasis), Guru Nanak Dev ji approached a monastery on his way from Srinagar to lower Tibet where an inquisitive Lama questioned Him about the philosophy of the Creator and its creation that is prevalent in the plains. Guru Nanak's words were greeted with a rare reassurance by the Lama as he had already heard of similar theories of the Absolute. He was regaled with a divine light when Guru Nanak said, "When the human mind, by the power of the word communicated by the Guru, bathes in the lake of truth, it obtains release from the wheel of birth and death". The Lama said, "So, the truth of Lord Buddha still remains and the knowledge remains that all beings are tied to the wheel and suffer agonies till they obtain release by following the eight-fold path". (Singh 72) This dialogue reads like a common statement for Sikhism and Buddhism. 

 However, the recent turbulent times have  brought the two at loggerheads with each other. They are embroiled in a legal battle over the possession of a lake I.e. Gurudongmar lake in North Sikkim.  The water body is revered by both Buddhists, and Sikhs as a land blessed by their Guru only, at the cost of negating the other. Ironically, the board hung outside the place proclaims Sarv Dharam Sthal or a place for all religions. 

 The unadulterated beauty of Gurudongmar lake has been flooding our social media profiles for a while now. The crystalline water, the spectacular backdrop of mountains, and the unpeopled character of the place is breathtaking. At an altitude of 17, 800 ft, the lake is one of the highest lakes in the world. Situated in the Lachen-Lachung region of North Sikkim, it is also called the Jewel of Sikkim. It is every traveler’s dream, and every seeker’s paradise.  

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We know that the Republic of China has been stealthily advancing into the territory of India both physically and ideologically. This tussle over the lake is one of the ramifications of this invasion. The Buddhists who revered Guru Nanak as Nanak Lama or Guru Gompka Maharaj got swayed by the discourse of Tibetan invaders who propagated in favor of preserving Buddhism sans Guru Gompka Maharaj (Guru Nanak). It is believed that the locals led by the Dzumsas were instrumental in desecrating the sanctity of Guru Granth Sahib by removing the holy scripture and other Sikh material from the premises of the then Gurudwara in 2017. In fact, when Baba Yadavendra of Bangla Sahib approached a dzumsa for preventing the mishappening, he was told that they would allow only Buddhist shrines. (Bannerjee) The place now resembles a monastery with no access to media and Sikhs. Interestingly, Dzumsas are a part of the traditional Tibetan administrative system who exercise complete authority over their region. This is evident from the garrison-state-like situation in Lachen and Lachung regions. Several army regiments tried to maintain the gurdwara but the Dzumsas have always maintained that it is an illegal structure for violating the Forest Act, and had to be pulled down anyway. If this continues, North Sikkim would turn into a vulnerable place like Kashmir with the Dzumsas revolting against the army.

The Sikh legend has it that when the yak grazers of the extremely cold place (Gurudongmar lake) approached Nanak for the lack of potable water there, he struck the frozen water of the lake with his staff causing the water to melt, for all times to come. The water of that part of the lake does not freeze even at a temperature of -20°C. In the 1960s, the army regiment constructed a Gurudwara at the place as a memorial to the miracle performed by Guru Nanak. The Buddhist legend, on the other hand, narrates how the founder of Buddhism Guru Padmasambhava had solved the perennial problem of the scarcity of water. He touched a part of the lake which stopped freezing thereafter. 

 Incidentally, a writ petition (No. 49 of 2017) was filed by an advocate in Sikkim High Court  in 2017 investigating the alleged desecration of the place. The petition also vouches to safeguard the gurdwara, and prevent its complete demolition later. What is even more shocking is the differential treatment meted out to Sikhs in that region. Sikhs aren't given a ride in public transport or an accommodation in a hotel and they are not even allowed to reach anywhere near the lake even if they have a valid permit or Inner Line Permit (ILP). Such hostility makes the belongingness of communities even stronger. This unnecessary use of force to suppress the sentiments of Sikhs puts a damper on the communal brotherhood nurtured by a diverse people. It is an attempt at erasing the past of a community that does not reside in the surroundings of its place of worship. It is aimed at destroying the collective memories of Sikhs and most importantly, at hampering the proliferation of dharma which is free from any religious labels.

I fail to comprehend this obsession of a people with its religious sites. All religions teach us love and compassion for everyone, and abstain from violence in any form. In the present case, we are well aware of the commonalities of the two religions i.e. the concept of samsara, sangat, meditation, warrior-saint, etc. Why is it difficult to worship at a common place? Why can't we internalize the oneness of God who is worshiped in various forms? It is not necessary to validate any of the legends. There is an urgent need to counter the menacing forces that want to divide the nation on communal lines. Why can't we let the holy site be true to its name Sarv Dharam Sthal. I am sure Guru Nanak and Guru Padmasabhava wouldn't at all mind coexisting in a place.

References

Banerjee, Rabi. "Nanak Lama Ignored". The Week. 22 April 2018, https://www.theweek.in/theweek/cover/2018/04/14/gurudongmar-gurdwara-in-...

Singh, Sir Jogendra and Raja Sir Daljit Singh. The Great Humanist: Guru Nanak. 1970, Languages Department, Punjab.

 

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