VATICAN STATUS FOR NANKANA SAHIB
Nankana Sahib, with it’s beautiful landmark, has a great pull for the Sikhs because it connects them with the glorification of their founder’s past and sacred deeds.
The Sikhs hold it with the greatest esteem because it also celebrates Guru Nanak Sahib’s place of birth and his cherished childhood. It leaves a definite mark and a blissful touch when pilgrims set foot in Nankana Sahib and marvel at the beauty and importance of the Janam Asthan Gurdwara, which vividly reveals what its existence means to the Sikhs and Sikhism.
Meditation inside the Gurdwara delightfully stirred my spirituality and cleared my thoughts. The site was also a wonderful social focus and getting together with new people in it enhanced the desire for greater human contact to promote the spirit of humanity and equality.
It saddened me because Nankana Sahib had been separated from the Sikhs in 1947 when India and Pakistan were created as separate nations. And not very many Sikhs live in Pakistan. I wished, forlornly though, it had remained in India for the cause of the Sikhs and Sikhism. Of course this will never happen, surely a freer and increased access to the Gurdwara for the Sikhs would hugely enhance its status and significance like most of the major Sikh Gurdwaras in India.
One way to achieve that is to get some kind of a Vatican status for Nankana Sahib. Owing to the presence of so many Gurdwaras related to Guru Nanak Sahib’s reputed sacred deeds, Nankana Sahib has gradually grown from a simple village between two rivers to a place of international fame. It would receive a further boost and expansion if it was to be granted the Vatican status.
The Sikh yatris, I spoke to about such a status, wholeheartedly agreed and said their community should do something tangible about it with a collective and undivided effort. More importantly, they said, the Sikhs should seek the support of other nations, communities and religious organisations because they could not achieve such an international recognition all on their own.
Such a state, located within the Nankana Sahib town, would serve as the religious centre for the Sikhs and a common training place for their parcharaks (preachers). Its landscape could be developed appropriately according to the concept of Sikhism. A museum, library and art gallery could be built as added attractions to propagate the Sikh heritage, glory, successes and various aspects of their religion.
Foremost, the Sikhs’ Ardas (supplication) for an all-time access to the Gurdwaras separated from them, would finally be answered if such a status was achieved. It would allow the Sikh Panth (nation) to exclusively manage the affairs of the Gurdwara, which would ensure that the Sikh Maryada and sentiments were safeguarded.
It is never too late to ask for such a status. The Vatican City for the Roman Catholic Church in Rome was created only in 1929. More recently when the Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya was destroyed, the World Council of Hindus and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for Ayodhya to become a Vatican for the Hindus. Thus, for the Sikhs to float the idea for a Vatican status for Nankana Sahib, is not out of place.
For Pakistan, Nankana Sahib would become a major tourist attraction and place the town high up on the international pilgrimage map. Given the amount of land available to the Gurdwaras in the town, it would be easy for the Sikhs to develop Nankana Sahib as one of their major religious and heritage centres in Pakistan.
I understand that the Indians have, in the past, asked for such recognition without success. In May 2001 the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) sent a memorandum to the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpai to ask Pakistan to declare Nankana Sahib a holy city on the lines of Vatican. In April 2003 the DSGMC sought the Vatican status for Nankana Sahib with Pakistan officials when they visited India. In 2014 when the DSGMC President Manjit Singh GK led a Jatha to Pakistan, he raised the matter again with Pakistan’s government officials.
The chairman of the DSGMC Dharam Parchar Committee, Kulmohan Singh, in conversations with me in April 2017, confirmed that it was one of the major aims of the DSGMC to acquire some kind of Vatican status for Nankana Sahib because it was the desired wish of the Sikh community world-wide. While the Akal Takht in Amritsar would always remain the Sikhs’ “Dharmic Kendar”, they wanted Nankana Sahib, the birth place of their founder, Guru Nanak, to be their Vatican with un-restricted access, he added. “Sikhs deserve to have that status because we have been accepted by all to be an azad kaum with our own identity and religious philosophy. We are not part of any other religion or linked to any other religion in any way. We have made these views fully known to the Pakistan officials. We have also made an offer of substantial funds for the reconstruction of the crumbling Gurdwaras in Pakistan,” Kulmohan Singh emphasised. While they had not received any official response from the Pakistan authorities, Kulmohan Singh said, they would always stand by their aim and continue to pursue it at every opportunity.
A group of Pakistan-born Sikhs, now settled in Patiala, who had migrated from Pakistan during the Partition, have formed the Sikh Nation Organisation (SNO), headed by Dr Manjit Singh Randhawa. In 2009 they demanded, through the United Nations, a Vatican status for Nankana Sahib in the wake of mass exodus of Sikhs as a result of Taliban persecution in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and North West Frontier Province. While the response from the UN is not known, the demand by the Sikhs has at least exposed the matter world-wide. Similar requests need to be made to other global organisations, either collectively or by individual Sikh organisations to keep the matter alive and in circulation.
The Sikhs certainly need to renew their appeal with new ideas, given how the Janam Asthan Gurdwara has developed in a big way in recent years. The Sikhs will have to take the lead themselves and argue their case with vigour and the support of friendly governments. We also need to maximise our resources by collaborating with leaders of other religions. Foremost we need to take the Government of Pakistan into confidence and win its support. Backing of the Indian Government and the United Nations is equally vital as it will carry a lot of weight.
The Sikhs need to do more than what they have done so far about this matter. We certainly need to do much more than simply put forward the idea of a Vatican status. It should be a serious mission with a thoroughly thought-through application and an innovative approach. We need to explain it with a clear message and a strong strategy, backed by a consistent passionate and purposeful campaign. We have to demonstrate how the proposed Vatican would be financed, managed and controlled. We need to convince that it would be beneficial both for the Sikhs and Pakistan, which would receive an added spiritual boost besides economic gain. We need to start conversations with one and all and then put our heart into the mission, follow it up regularly and remain persistent with our demand.
The big question is who should take the lead? Individuals can do a lot but if the Sikhs want to achieve this status and serve the community at large, we need to get organised and united beyond Jathebandis, behind one big force. In my view that force could be a joint committee formed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, Amritsar and Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, which should then head the campaign with the collective support of all the Sikh organisations in India, Pakistan and other countries, particularly the United Kingdom, America, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Europe and East Africa. The effort should be united and in the best interest of the Sikh religion.
Ramesh Singh Arora, the first Sikh to be a member of Punjab Assembly from Lahore, told me that it was a wonderful idea and would do the Sikhs proud. “It is a long process which we need to explore and take forward diligently. First we need to win the support and confidence of the Pakistan government with a definite and a convincing plan. The Pakistan Sikhs will play a purposeful role with the outside Sikhs in approaching our government. We need to do it collectively and with one strong agenda,” Arora emphasised.
On his part Arora has succeeded in making the occasion of Guru Nanak Sahib’s birthday a public holiday in Punjab from 2014. His next plan is to put forward a bill at the Punjab Assembly to grant Nankana Sahib the status of a holy city. “It is not going to be easy and soon but we shall endeavour to garner support as we know Guru Nanak is held with utmost admiration in Pakistan. We want to achieve this through the consent and wishes of majority of the Pakistanis. If we are able to acquire this recognition then Nankana Sahib could one day become an international holy heritage for the Sikhs, which could then gradually lead to gaining some kind of Vatican status. We need to do it step by step. It will take time but the Pakistan Sikhs will definitely work for it and we hope the outside Sikhs will support us,” Arora said. Very reassuring words which need to be supported by all the Sikhs if we mean to make the big dream a reality.
It is a challenge and a huge one too. It is equally a challenge which cannot be ignored or dismissed. It is certainly not a feat beyond the Sikhs’ capabilities, if done collectively and with a firm agenda. It needs to be supported by every Sikh, using Guru Gobind Singh’s charisma, heroic and unselfish deeds to inspire us to reach our goal and achieve the ultimate mission. With the blessing from our Gurus and a sincere collective effort from all the Sikhs, surely we can succeed, particularly so when we know it is a divine mission beneficial not only for the Sikhs but the entire humanity. We shall do our Gurus and our community proud by achieving it
Amrik Singh Banse, United Kingdom
This is a chapter from his proposed book about Gurdwaras. Please feel free to share any relevant new information or ideas as to how Sikhs could achieve Vatican status for Nankana Sahib.