When I was in Patna last December, there had been huge hoardings everywhere welcoming Sikhs from all over the world for the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, or as it was being called, Prakash Parv. I of course, had no idea. Mainaz, my colleague and co-traveller, who up till then had been steadily debating with me on current affairs, in preparation of the UPSC exam, was suitably judgmental. This time, on a whim I decided to go see the gurudwara, which is called the Takht Sri Patna Sahib.
To do this, is to venture into one of the densest parts, of one of the densest cities in the world. The office Tata Sumo dropped me off at Gandhi Maidan and from there I took a shared auto. For about 10 kilometres, it drove through a narrow road with shops on loop; jewellery, poultry, steel dishes, clothes, tent house, band, halwai, tailors, kids toy stores, plastic buckets, vegetable vendors, again and again and again. Google maps showed the road we were on, as an angry red line of traffic. The Ganga its apparently a few hundred metres away. There's no sign of it.
To survive in this country, is to have a relationship with heat. During my time in London, I remember acutely missing searing heat, the kind that soaks your clothes with sweat off your back. This auto ride had plenty of that. To thrive in this country however, I'm not sure what it takes, but it would have to do with crowds, accepting the jostle, allowing for adjustment. Crowds are instantly democratic, as are crowded places, and Bihar has a lot of those.
The main gate of the gurudwara is impressive in its height and patterned doorway. Venturing in, there are a couple of state policemen, a few turbaned army jawans and signs for toilets and drinking water. Walking inwards, through the archway, the majestic beauty of the gurudwara presents itself, with its multiple domes and jharokas, framed by spires and flags. The whiteness goes with heat. There are also two blocks of rooms, adjacent and opposite it, all clearly brand spanking new for the visitors it would have expected last year. Some women are snoozing in the corridors, a few street kids walk around doggedly, knowing all eyes are on them. There's a sign that says "From Auckland to Manchester, from Toronto to Nanded, all Sikhs welcome." Beyond it, there is still construction work going on.
I leave my shoes and walk in to the gurudwara through a curtained doorway. After matha-taking, I venture towards the end and sit down for awhile. The first thing I notice is the temperature, it's cool. There are two giant electric fans on the ceiling, each blade perhaps 10 metre long. There are also air conditioning vents. Being mid day and mid week there aren't too many people. There are a few bossy looking women sitting around, a shrieking child, a few young girls taking selfies. There is also a lady monitor amongst us, wrapped in saffron, who exhorts people to cover their head, and not take pictures. The ceiling of the gurudwara has marble inlay work, reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. The entire front face is plated in gold, invoking the Golden Temple. There are two huge, layered chandeliers dropping from the ceiling, spawning perhaps our cultural aesthetic.
The earnestness of my prayers always surprise me. Perhaps it is the universal act of thanksgiving, of focusing sharply for a few minutes, that automatically reveals your priorities. If I was to really introspect, I would perhaps be classify myself as an atheist. Then again, to live in this country is to know that faith is largely inconsequential to religion.
History though, is always a pleasure. There are no signs in English, and no visible learning material. Quick internet searches reveal that this is one of the five takhts, or holy places for Sikhs, the others being in Amritsar, Nanded, Bhatinda and Kartarpur in Pakistan. A takht, literally means a seat of authority. Earlier it is from where the Sikh gurus issued their hukums (or commandments). Now it has a more metaphorical meaning, as fountainheads of the faith. This is also the birthplace of our last guru, Guru Gobind Singh in 1666, and a gurudwara was built here by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, during 1837-39.
The Government of Bihar has set up its own website (http://350thprakashparv.bih.n
ic.in) with details of the birth of the Guru in Patna. A name that appears repeatedly in the write ups, is that of Pir Bhikhan Shah, a muslim mystic from Haryana who predicted the birth of the guru and travelled to see him in Patna. On meeting the child, he placed two bowls of sweets in front of him, one from a Hindu shop and one from a Muslim shop. As the story goes, the baby Gobind Rai, placed his hands on both the bowls at the same time, thus confirming the Pir's prophecy that this guru would help both Hindus and Muslims.
After a while I head out. The person at the shoe counter, is young and sort of flirty. He talks to me in Punjabi, and asks if I've eaten langar or not. I reply in Hindi. I go to the tourist information centre, mainly to check out the public service and also to see if there's a shorter return route. In typical Bihari fashion, when posed with this question, the three men at the centre energetically discuss the options. After a while they ask me my name. When I reply with Inayat, one of them asks me my full name and fathers name which I refuse to give. His name his Husain he says, he's an inspector, and that he's just trying to help. I'm not Muslim, I clarify. At least write something in the visitors book, he says, which I do and then head back into the heat.