by Diditi Mitra and Shashwati Talukdar
The gurdwara is located near Ludhiana, Punjab in the village of Rara Sahib. It was constructed in the early part of the twentieth century subsequent to the visit of Sant Isher Singh-ji and Sant Kishan Singh-ji. The village Rara was transformed into Rara Sahib after the visit of the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind-ji in the seventeenth century.
One of the features of the Gurdwara is the continuous rendition of paath and kirtan. Apparently it goes on day and night, every single day without a break. And we would venture to say, it is much more beautiful than what you’d hear from Harmandir Sahib. Here is a live feed from Dukh Niwaran Sahib, that is comparable to what we heard in Rara Sahib.
On the second floor of the main building was a permanent exhibit of paintings. The first image that greeted us was a sign saying “self photography strictly prohibited.”
It wasn’t that taking photographs was prohibited. The use of the Gurdwara as a tourist destination is what was objectionable.
Most of the images had to do with incidents from the life of the Gurus that are familiar to everyone. An image, however, stood out. This was the image of Bharthari — something we had not really associated with Sikhism. Bharthari is a Gorakhshnathi Saint, a figure of reverence for some Udasins ( for a discussion of how Udasins stopped being part of the Sikh panth read this, if you can get behind the firewall). And here he was, his story conflated with that of Guru Nanak. Despite the hardening of boundaries of Sikh identity over the last hundred and fifty years or so, this image, which one imagines had been purged out of Sikh religious institution had survived. For a the current status of who is considered a Sikh and who is not according to the ecclesiastical powers that be, see Amandeep Sandhu on the status of Sahajdhari Sikhs.
We had lunch at the langar in Gurdwara. Scores of women were seated in rows, hovering around a hot oven in the extreme heat of summer in Punjab, making rotis. Making bread was their seva, or service, as part of Sikh religious duties. The particular task of seva – cooking – is of course gendered. That observation, while difficult to overlook, is not the entire picture of the kitchen though. Clearly, it is a space that women have carved out for themselves, albeit within the confines of social expectations. So then one has to consider that this space is likely where women form close bonds, a space to talk about their lives, and it is likely to be a place where women offer support to each other. This space for seva is also then a space for women’s community.
(Go here for the first post in the series)