A Baisakhi amid curfew, with a handful of devotees


APRIL 14, 2020

Gurdwara Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, which usually teems with thousands of devotees each year on this day, was virtually empty with just a handful of them present at the historic gurdwara to mark Baisakhi — the day the Tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Khalsa Panth at this historic place in 1699.

Mindful of the directive of the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal body of Sikhs, to keep away from gurdwaras to avoid infection from COVID-19 and to pray at home, just a few Sikh devotees could be seen at the gurdwara.

A modest function was held in the inner courtyard of the historic place, presided upon by Giani Raghbir Singh, Jathedar of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, with around 50 devotees sitting in attendance. Another few devotees sat in the inner sanctum where the Guru Granth Sahib was placed and hymns were being sung in praise of Guru Gobind Singh.

The entire surrounding area of the gurdwara presented a surreal atmosphere with deserted streets, closed shops and huge empty spaces where langars (community kitchens) operate to feed the huge influx of devotees for Baisakhi. Sikhs every year descend from all across Punjab in large numbers days in advance for the festival and there is an air of celebration. But there was an eerie silence Monday in place of the loud crowds punctuated now and then only by the soft ‘kirtan’ (prayer) of the Raagi Jatha (hymn singers) in the gurdwara.

Police checkposts marked all approaches to the city of Anandpur Sahib with barricades preventing any ingress of traffic. Closer to the main gurdwara too there were policemen deputed with roads leading up to the gurdwara blocked. However, the policemen did not bother the trickle of local devotees going to pay obeisance. The numbers were too low.

Speaking to The Indian Express inside the gurdwara, the Jathedar of Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Giani Raghbir Singh, said that though it was painful to see such low presence of devotees it was necessary because it saves lives.

“One does feel sad seeing that a place which throngs with crowds on Baisakhi is virtually empty today. But I am happy that Sikhs, not only in India, across the world, have adhered to the call given by the Akal Takht to pray at home. Crowds will always come to gurdwaras in future, but right now it is necessary to undertake all those measures which will stop this pandemic from spreading,” he said.

Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) member Amarjeet Singh Chawla, also present at the gurdwara, said that Akal Takht Jathedar had appealed to the devotees to stay home, so on this Baisakhi negligible number of people have visited Anandpur Sahib.

“Painful as it is to see such few devotees at the birthplace of Khalsa, but since it was the call of Akal Takht Sahib Jathedar so everybody must adhere to it,” he said.

A devotee present at the gurdwara, Jagir Singh, said that he had come to the gurdwara in early March from Uttarakhand for Hola Mohall celebrations and had to stay back due to the lockdown. “I have been coming to Anandpur Sahib for the past 40 years, but it is the first time that you can count the devotees on fingers. These are tough times but people must follow the instructions,” he said.

At the deserted parking lot, Gursahib Singh, an SGPC employee, said he had never seen such low crowds at the historic gurdwara on Baisakhi. “Par rab meher karega. Sab chheti theek ho jaayega. Guru Maharaj kirpa karange (But God will shower his blessings. All will be fine soon. The Guru will bless).”

‘How can a community be targeted for an act of an individual?’

Addressing the masses through social media on the occasion of Baisakhi, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh on Monday said there had been attempts to blame the Sikh and Muslim communities for the spread of the coronavirus.

He was speaking from the Takht Damdma Sahib Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda.

Touching upon the Sunday incident in Patiala, where group of five men from the Nihang sect chopped off the hand of an assistant sub-inspector after being asked to show curfew passes at a lockdown barricade, the Jathedar said, “There was an unfortunate incident in Patiala yesterday. We also felt pain. We can’t appropriate such incidents. But it was used as an opportunity by those who have hatred for Sikhs. The whole community was targeted for the act of an individual.”

He further said, “There are different yardsticks for different kinds of people. This is the irony. Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus are treated differently for same the kind of crime. What is the reason behind this different explanation of crime depending upon the religion of the accused? Any individual responsible for the crime should be punished. But the whole community can’t be held responsible for the same.”

Speaking about the Tablighi Jamaat incident in Delhi, he said, “How can the whole Muslim community be held responsible for a gathering in Delhi where some devotees were found positive for COVID-19? Similarly, there were attempts to blame the whole Sikh community when a Sikh priest, Baldev Singh, was found positive.”

Baldev Singh from Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar was the first COVID-19 patient to have died in Punjab.

On the lockdown, he said, “I read a piece of news about how a one-year-old girl in Ludhiana died because she couldn’t get treatment due to lockdown. The system should take responsibility for her death.”

Reacting to incidents of cremations of COVID-19 patients being opposed by local residents fearing infection, he said, “We shouldn’t let our humanity die in these testing times. How can you ask doctors and nurses to treat COVID-19 patients when you yourself are not allowing cremation of COVID-19 patients? It shouldn’t happen. We should help each other in crisis. No one should be discriminated against.”

The Jathedar also asked the community to prepare for the possibility of a post-COVID-19 economic recession, and asked Sikhs to remain at home during the Foundation Day of Khalsa and the Baisakhi festival due to the lockdown.

Courtesy/Source: Indian Express