As soon as I entered the Sachkhand Hazur Sahib gurudwara in Nanded, I felt as if I had been swept away from the heartland of Marathwada and transported straight to Punjab. Once inside the imposing white gurudwara complex, the chaos and sounds of the town outside were drowned out by verses being recited from the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs.
I covered my head with my dupatta, as is customary when entering a gurudwara and went ahead to offer my prayers. Built on a raised platform, the main shrine is made entirely of white marble. Inside in the Darbar Sahib, the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth Sahib lay placed in two golden palkis. Beyond the palkis is a room called the Angitha Sahib, built over the place where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs, breathed his last in 1708.
When Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam, the mantle of being the spiritual guru of the Sikhs fell on his son, Gobind Rai. All of nine years of age when his father passed away, Gobind Rai or Guru Gobind Singh as he later came to be known, was a renowned warrior and a very spiritual man. It was he who proclaimed that after him the Granth Sahib be enshrined as the enteral guru of the Sikhs. He was institutional in founding the Khalsa community and made it mandatory that all Sikhs wear on themselves the five articles of faith, namely, Kara, Kirpan, Kesh, Kangha and Kacchera.
In the years that followed, Guru Gobind Singh fought many battles against the Mughals. After the passing of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, his son and successor, Bahadur Shah invited Guru Gobind Singh for a reconciliatory meeting in the Deccan region. It was then that Guru Gobind Singh came to Nanded, on the banks of the river Godavari, with a group of Sikhs. The Hazur Sahib gurudwara stands today at the site where Guru Gobind Singh set up camp. Weeks passed by but the meeting with Bahadur Shah never happened. It was during this period that Wazir Khan, a Muslim army commander, sent two Afghans to assassinate Guru Gobind Singh. By stealth, the two men managed to reach Guru Gobind Singh and one of them stabbed him. On hearing this, Bahadur Shah sent some of his best surgeons to attend to Guru Gobind Singh.
Guru Gobind Singh recovered slowly, but realising the transitory nature of the human body, he declared the Guru Granth Sahib to be his successor, and named Nanded as Abchalnagar or steadfast city. Today, Nanded is one of the five Takhats or places of primary importance to the Sikhs. The others being Akal Takhat at Amritsar, Takhat Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur, Takhat Patna Sahib in Bihar and Takhat Damdama Sahib in Bhatinda, Punjab.
After Guru Gobind Singh passed away, a few Sikhs continued to stay on in Nanded and run the community kitchen or langar as per their guru’s wishes. They built a small shrine and placed the Guru Granth Sahib there. In 1832, Maharaja Ranjit Singh commissioned a group of soldiers, masons and architects from Punjab to build a two storey gurudwara at that very site, in a style similar to that of Harmindar Sahib in Amritsar. The sanctum sanctorum of the gurudwara is a sight to behold, with marble walls decorated with intricate inlay floral designs and a ceiling that is covered with gold plated stucco work.
Besides the gurudwara is a shrine dedicated to Mai Bhago, a valiant Sikh woman who fought against the Mughals. It was she who chided 40 sikh men who left the guru at Anandpur setting out to fight with the Mughals against his orders. Realising their mistake of not following the hukam or orders of their guru, the 40 Sikhs along with Mai Bhago went back to Guru Gobind Singh. The place where she used to reside has now become a place of worship called Bunga Mai Bhago within the Hazur Sahib complex. On display is a 12 feet rifle made of sheesham and sandalwood, weighing 50 kilograms, that Mai Bhago used to use. Also on display are several weapons that the 40 Sikhs used including a 100 kilogram cannon.
In the Angitha Sahib in the main shrine, Guru Gobind Singh and some of his confidante’s personal effects are preserved such as a golden dagger, a matchlock gun, a quiver with 35 arrows, 2 bows, a steel shield studded with precious stones and 5 golden swords. At the time of the evening aarti everyday a shastar darshan ceremony is held, where some of the artefacts are brought out and shown to the gathering.
As I sat in a corner savoring the warm, sinful and delicious karah prashad that is served to everybody who visits the gurudwara, it was hard to imagine that it was right there that such momentous events had taken place. Fighting, aggression and sorrow seemed incongruent with my surroundings. All I felt was a sense of calm and quite, and a connection with the divine that was subtle yet significant.
As the day wore on, devotees streamed in to seek blessings despite the steady rain. People from all over the world come to Nanded year round with numbers swelling during Dussera, Diwali, Holi and Gurpurab, a celebration held in honour of an anniversary related to the Sikh gurus. At Hazur Sahib, a 5 day celebration is held during Gurpurab, where in addition to kirtans, kathas and langar, renowned scholars, poets and singers are invited to engage with the audience. During these festivals, a much awaited event is the nagar kirtan or procession that leaves the gurudwara winding its way through the streets of the city. A congregation of Sikhs, led by the Panj Piare or five beloved of the guru, pass through the city singing holy hymns, spreading the message of god to the community at large.
In 2008, grand celebrations were held in Nanded to mark the completion of 300 years since the declaration of the Guru-ta-Gaddi or the proclamation of Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal guru. Over 2.5 million people from around the world participated in the celebrations spread over 8 days at Hazur Sahib. To commemorate the event, a special van carrying some of Guru Gobind Singh and his close associates’ weapons started its journey from Nanded and traveled the length and breadth of India. The Jagriti Yatra that lasted over 10 months touched many people’s lives on its journey, spreading the message of devotion and love. In addition, in Nanded, a museum showcasing Sikh history was opened to the public, and a one hour laser show highlighting the life of the 10 Sikh gurus was also launched. The show takes place everyday at 7:30 p.m. at Gobind Bagh, in the gurudwara complex and has music and commentary by the renowned Ghazal singer Jagjit Singh.
Nanded is a popular destination for religious tourism with several important places of worship of all faiths found here. Besides Sachkhand Hazur Sahib, in and around the city there are other gurudwaras related to Guru Gobind Singh’s life, namely, Gurudwara Banda Ghat, Gurudwara Shikar Ghat, Gurudwara Nagina Ghat, Gurudwara Heera Ghat, Gurudara Sangat Sahib, Gurudwara Mata Sahib Diwaan Ji and Mal Tekdi Sahib.
Visit the Jyotirlingas around Nanded and seek blessings of goddess Renuka at Mahurghad, a 800 year old temple.
For variety visit the Kandhar Fort, designed and built by Rashtrakuta King Krishna III. During the monsoons head to Sahastrakund waterfall (100 kilometers from Nanded), popuarly known as the Niagara Falls of Marathawada.
Nanded is well connected by road and rail, and is at a distance of 650 kilometers from Mumbai and 250 kilometers from Hyderabad. Almost all major cities in Maharashtra are connected to Nanded by overnight sleeper coaches. However, the most convenient and comfortable way of reaching Nanded is by train. Sachkhand Express is a super fast train that connects Amritsar to Nanded. A unique feature of the Sachkhand Express is that langar is provided to all passengers traveling on this train. Mumbai is connected to Nanded via Manmad and Hyderabad via Secunderabad.
There are number of 3 star hotels in the city that offer a reasonable night’s sleep. However, if the gurudwara is your main focus book one of the rooms inside the gurudwara premises. There are 130 AC rooms inside the gurudwara that can sleep about 5-7 people each. The gurudwara kitchen operates night and day, so visitors can have all their meals there.
A slightly edited version of this article has appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Indian Railway’s magazine – Rail Bandhu. Read it online here.