Memoir / Essays: MEMORIES OF A PILGRIM

Satbir Chadha

Satbir Chadha

A pilgrimage always makes you feel that you’re close to God, that you can feel Him better and He will hear you, and Sikhism being a young religion, we can fortunately visit the historical Gurudwaras, where the most important events of our history took place, and they are well chronicled too. My earliest memory is of a visit to ‘Nankana Sahib’ which is the birthplace of our first guru, Guru Nanak, which is now in Pakistan.

I was barely eight years old and Mom and I were visiting my aunt in Jammu when a group of people were travelling to Nankana Sahib to celebrate His birthday, so we managed to get a temporary passport and visa and joined them along with my aunt and uncle. We changed trains at Lahore and all along it felt like a divine journey with everyone praying and sharing episodes of our history, but when we reached there it was unbelievable, that we were at the place where Guruji was born, we were touching things He may have touched, walking where He must have walked. We saw the place where Guruji had spent all the capital given Him by His father to start a business, to distribute food to hungry sadhus and poor people, sowing the seeds of ‘Langar’ as it is done all over the world today. We were shown the place where His father then slapped Him, and the field where he then quietly lay Himself to rest and where a cobra spread its hood across His face to shade it, and we burst into tears, such was the feeling of ‘bairag’. The next day we took part in a long memorial procession, and when we returned, we experienced a miracle. A small child less than a year old, slipped from his mother’s arms and fell from the third-floor terrace where she was leaning to see the procession, and fell in the main veranda. The mother ran screaming down the stairs, to find the baby sit up unharmed. All of us fell to the ground in devotion and thanking Guruji, whose abode we were visiting.

Another Gurudwara we visit often is at Nanded in Maharashtra, ‘Sri Huzoor Sahib’ where our tenth guru, Furu Gobind Singh breathed His last after appointing the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ as our eternal guru. The main complex has a glorious and peaceful ambience, and we get to see Guruji’s own arms and weapons, leaving us in awe. Each arrow has on its tip twelve grams of gold, for those hurt to be able to get treated, and in case of the adversary’s death, it would be useful to his widow or mother to survive, a sight of these arrows is so moving. There is also the enormous gun used by Mai Bhago, the famous lady warrior in Guruji’s army, which is about four feet in length and weighs over thirty kilograms. We admire it lovingly as it hangs on the wall as a relic of the battle, and marvel at the courage and strength of Mai Bhago as she is said to have been six feet tall.

We explored other places of historical significance, like ‘Maltekri Sahib’ where Guruji paid the salary to his soldiers retiring to Punjab after the battles, measuring out gold coins by shieldfuls. He filled His own shield that He wore to war with them, and we can still have a ‘darshan’ of that shield, eyes brimming with tears, touched by Guruji’s grandeur and nobility.

We also paid a visit to ‘Hira Ghat’ on the banks of the Godavary river. It so happened at this place that Bahadur Shah Zafar gifted Guruji a rare and large sparkling gem. Guruji thanked him and then threw the gem into the river. The king felt annoyed and doubted Guruji’s discerning eye, then Guruji told Him to look into the river and get it back and now He would accept it, but when Zafar looked into the river, he found the bed full of gems, bigger and brighter than any. Guruji was teaching him a lesson in humility, and the pain a big ‘ego’ causes to man. While Maltekri Sahib gave me a lesson of ‘contentment’, ‘Hira Ghat’ made me pray that I be free of my ego.

Another unforgettable site is the gurudwara ‘Sangat Sahib’, where I realised what it means to be in a ‘sangat’. It means being one with the ‘sangat’, being one with everyone, being one with every one grows further into being one with the Almighty. So simply said, but so difficult to achieve.

The most inspiring and empowering part of my pilgrimage that I recollect, is my visit to the gurudwara ‘Banda Ghat’. There dwelt a faqir named Madho Das who had acquired some powers after doing bhakti, and he used them to topple unsuspecting folks who came to his hut and sat on the bed; he would use his powers to turn the bed upside down, leaving his guest confounded. But when Guruji sat on the bed, Madho Das’s powers failed, so Guruji told him to stop being a mischievous faqir and become a ‘banda’ that is a good human being. Thereafter, he became a devout Sikh and remains one of the most valiant warriors, who went to Punjab after Guruji’s demise and avenged the martyrdom of the Guruji’s younger two sons. He also established the first Sikh kingdom where the rule was fair and just and the land belonged to the tillers, and under whose mighty armies, every subject was secure and safe.

The gurudwara where I get the most solace is ‘Paonta Sahib’ on the banks of the Yamuna in the district of Nahan in Himachal. This is where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru spent His most peaceful years, writing volumes of poetry and having poets compose and recite every day, to the extent that the mighty roaring Yamuna also is silent and still while it flows by that place, as requested by Guruji, as his darling poets were being disturbed. That is the loving peaceful guru, teaching us to find peace in rhyme and verse and in singing pious hymns.

And how can I not talk about the trip to the wonderful ‘Hemkunt Sahib’ ten thousand feet up the lofty Himalayas, past Joshimath and past the famous Valley of Flowers, where Guru Gobind Singh meditated for thousands of years before the Almighty commanded Him to come down to earth to uplift the human race, and give new vigour to the weakened gentry? This is on the side of a deep lake surrounded by seven remarkable peaks in a most picturesque valley. The peace felt here after a trek of nineteen kilometres is so pervasive, it has to be felt if one wants to know the true essence of the place.

I could go on and on and such profound experiences would enrich me endlessly, but the guru has also taught us that running around in pilgrimage does not give you a ‘moksha’, that comes only by following your religion and practising kindness and the path of truth, by reciting the Almighty’s name, by earning an honest living and sharing generously, by performing ‘sewa’ that is service, by shunning greed and avarice, by being fair and just.

It is remarkable that Guru Nanak travelled so many continents more than five centuries ago, leaving His footprints in Tibet, where He is called Nanak Llama. There is a historical Gurudwara at Dangmar Lake, one of the highest in the world, in Assam on the banks of the Brahmaputra where He was when the news of His son’s birth came, far west in Samarkand, Baku and Afghanistan, where some Sikhs still survive and practise Sikhism, to the south in Sri Lanka where there still exists the gurudwara He made, then called a dharamsaal.


Bio: Satbir Chadha was born in Nainital to a prosperous business family. She is the author of the highly acclaimed memoir FOR GOD LOVES FOOLISH PEOPLE, for which she won the Reuel International Prize for Literature in 2017. Her next novel was BETRAYED, a medical thriller, both published by Vitasta, again much applauded by readers. Her poems and short stories find place in several national and international anthologies including SILHOUETTE 1&2 by Authorspress.
BREEZE was her first solo collection of poems, by Authorspress. Her second collection of poems, “Glass Doors” is in print. Satbir Chadha was awarded the Litpreneur award instituted by Authorspress in 2019 for her contribution to literature. Satbir has instituted the NISSIM International Award for Literature which is awarded to upcoming writers in English prose and poetry. She lives in DELHI with her four sons and six grandchildren.

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