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Gurdwara Patti Sahib: Preserving Sikh Heritage in Nankana Sahib

August 17, 2023

Gurdwara Patti Sahib is small by Sikh standards. The single-story building has multiple rooms around a courtyard.

These were intended for pilgrims who traveled from pre-Partition India to Nankana Sahib to celebrate Guru Nanak Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the first Sikh guru, after whom this Pakistani city is named.

Sikh families that fled Taliban violence in Pakistan’s tribal areas to Nankana Sahib over the previous decade now occupy most of these apartments.

Giani Pratab, a devotee, taught young children about Sikhism and the Adhi Granth at this gurudwara.

Only a few Sikh families lived in Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace, until a few years ago. After Partition, most fled to India, where 200-250 Sikh families live.

Giani Pratab visited Nankana Sahib in the 1960s to honor Guru Nanak. With its abandoned gurdwaras since Partition, he decided to stay and care for them.

This was years before the Pakistan government renovated Sikh shrines, and tribal Sikh households hadn’t moved to Nankana Sahib. He was the sole Sikh in a Muslim city. Sikhs began moving from India in the late 1960s and accelerated with the Talibanization of Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pratab, an Adhi Granth scholar, taught children Gurmukhi to access Sikh Gurus’ sacred poetry. The children learned religion at this gurudwara in addition to school.

This was vital for Pakistani children who would never have learned Gurmukhi or their holy texts.

Mastan Singh, a renowned Nankana Sahib Sikh, founded Guru Nanak High School years later. The improvised school at Gurudwara Patti Sahib closed because it was the only city school that taught religion and secular education.

Preserving Punjab

This gurudwara has a history of education and a wooden board called patti, which children use to write.

Guru Nanak had to learn Sanskrit because his Bedi clan were ancient Veda readers. After learning the old Indian language, he learned Arabic and Persian, the most politically powerful languages of his time. Gurdwara Patti Sahib is where Maulana Qutab-ud-din taught Nanak these languages.

Guru Angad Dev, Nanak’s pupil and spiritual successor, taught Gurmukhi alphabets to Sikh children here almost five centuries after Nanak. The second Sikh Guru wanted to write a fresh script to teach Sikhism’s founder’s message.

Nanak the poet was born at this gurudwara. Nanak, who spoke Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit, combined Punjabi with them in his first composition.

Before Nanak, a language unfit for philosophical knowledge was given new words, sentences, and symbols. Thus, Nanak shaped Punjabi’s language and spirituality.

Punjabi is now a hallowed language in institutional Sikhism, although when Nanak wrote, it was the language of the laypeople and not for the educated elite. Literature, history, philosophy, and religion were passed on in sacred languages like Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian. This may have been Nanak’s most groundbreaking move.

He translated elite knowledge from texts and languages into the vernacular. He democratised thought and gave a language, people, and civilization centuries of cultural subjugation dignity.

Years after Sikhism made Punjabi a hallowed language, Nanak’s nation has again marginalised it. In Punjab, Pakistan, formal education is taught in Urdu and English, while Punjabi poetry, literature, and culture are erased.

Derision of Punjabi is widespread. It’s a cursing language. Last year, a private school banned Punjabi as a “foul language”. The school claimed it was a misunderstanding and meant Punjabi curses, but the outcry showed detest for the language.

International Mother Language Day promoted multilingual education on February 21. More than ever, we must revisit Nanak’s legacy and the importance of languages, not just in Punjab but worldwide, where they have been replaced by more powerful languages.

Our Featured Article:

Read More: Evolution and Significance of the Guru Granth Sahib in Sikhism

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