Dera Baba Nanak (Punjab), Nov 10 (IANS) For a Sikh visiting Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan is like fulfilling the one lifetime wish of a Muslim to pay obeisance in holy Mecca.
This was the hope of almost every Sikh settled across the globe to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, situated just a few kilometres from the Indian border in Narowal district.
The shrine, originally known as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, is among the holiest of holy shrines and is believed to be the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion, whose 550th birth anniversary falls on November 12.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Kartarpur Corridor on Saturday when the first lot of 550 Indian pilgrims, led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visited the holy shrine across the border.
“The Kartarpur Corridor is an auspicious link between two nations,” Chandigarh-based Indo-Pak peace activist and journalist Chanchal Manohar Singh told IANS over phone from Lahore.
He said opening of the border by Pakistan from the Indian side for visiting devotees from across the globe has been a big achievement since both nations separated in 1947.
“Since the propaganda of hate by vested people on both sides, we are fortunate to see direct link between two historically important Sikh shrines — Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara,” Singh added.
The sacred shrine of Kartarpur Sahib is built on the historic site where Guru Nanak Dev settled after his ‘Udasian’ (missionary travels) and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.
The original structure of the Kartarpur Sahib was once destroyed by floods. It was reconstructed by Bhupinder Singh, the then scion of Patiala and grandfather of current Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
The shrine was closed to people coming from across India’s border after the partition in 1947.
The gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh ‘jathas’ have been visiting the shrine regularly ever since.
A 500-year-old well, believed to have been built during the lifetime of Guru Nanak Dev, was discovered near the Kartarpur gurdwara in April.
The well was discovered while digging the enclosure of the shrine.
Sikh ‘jathas’ from India travel to Pakistan on four occasions every year — Baisakhi, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev.
Before the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, Pakistani authorities normally clear the tall grass from time to time, enabling the devotees from India to view the shrine with the help of a telescope.
The Indian devotees, especially the Sikhs, have been demanding a visa-free “khule darshan” (free obeisance facility) at the gurdwara for all faiths, from India and overseas, all seven days a week by crossing the international border from Dera Baba Nanak town in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Keeping mind the huge sentiment of people of Punjab, India first proposed the Kartarpur Sahib corridor in 1999 when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore.
However, it did not make much progress before last year when the proposal was renewed and given a push by India.
Pakistan agreed to the proposal and foundation stones were laid for the corridor on both sides of the border in November last year.
India and Pakistan last month signed an agreement to operationalise the 4.2 km Kartarpur Corridor to allow Indian pilgrims a visa free day-long visit on foot to the holy Darbar Sahib.
However, the ticklish issue of a $20 service fee imposed by Islamabad remained unresolved.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])