Buddhist sect attempts to convert Sikkim Gurdwaras into monasteries

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With two petitioners in the Sikkim High Court and one in the Supreme Court granted stay till 13 September, DSGMC meeting Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, five-term-in-a-row CM-Pawan Kumar Chamling meeting SGPC-DSGMC team, the district DC and SDM colluding with those hell-bent on turning Gurdwaras into Buddhist monasteries, the author, deeply involved with the affairs, presents the history of Gurdwaras in Sikkim -especially Gurdwara Gurudongmar. Watch: Exclusive Interview

The inglorious sight of items of worship and the holiest of holy Guru Granth Sahib placed on the road outside another Gurdwara after being removed from Gurdwara Gurudongmar in Sikkim by Buddhist Lamas who want to convert the decades-old religious shrine into a Buddhist monastery with full state patronage and support has sent shock waves in the Sikh community with the Sikh religious and political leadership up in arms and making last-ditch attempts, including legal petitions, to save the Gurdwaras in Sikkim.

Of late there have been sinister attempts to take over Gurdwara Gurudongmar Sikkim, attempts are consistently being done to remove all evidence of Guru Nanak’s visit to Sikkim, to take control of all relics of Guru Nanak and to replace all boards depicting Guru Nanak’s name with Padmasambhaba or Baja Guru.

Guru Nanak was a great traveller. He travelled globally to deliver the message of truth, brotherhood, equality and love for humanity. In his Third Itinerary –Udasi, as per his chronicles, he visited the Himalayan region travelling through present-day Himachal, Uttaranchal, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal, China and Kashmir. His visit to Nepal/Sikkim/Bhutan has been recorded in  hagiographies (Janamsakhis written in 17th century), travelogues of Giani Gian Singh (Panth Parkash (1870 AD) and Twareekh Guru Khalsa  (1891AD), Major NS Issar (1965AD), S. Surinder Singh IDSA (1968-1969), Col Dr dalvinder Singh Grewal  (1970-1971 and 1987-1992 AD) research books published by Punjab University: (Travels of Guru Nanak: 1969 AD), Punjabi University: (Punjab Past and Present Guru Nanak Number (1969 AD), Sikh Review (Guru Nanak number 1969-1970 AD),  Travels of Guru Nanak in Himalayas and East Asia (1995 AD) and Amazing travels of Guru Nanak (2002 AD) by this researcher and numerous articles published from time to time. All this material confirms that Guru Nanak visited Himalayan region including Sikkim.

“I feel you mix Guru Nanak with Guru Padmasambhva or some of his followers.’ The Buddhist Lama was emphatic in saying ‘No’. He specially mentioned that it was Guru Nanak of Punjab only. Elders of his sect have been going to Amritsar, Guru’s nectar store, to pay homage to Guru Nanak. Their places of pilgrimage in India are Bodh Gaya as well as Amritsar. When I requested him to show some records about Guruji’s visit: he respectfully replied, “Are not the hearts of the people true records of Guruji’s visit?”

Local people and Lamas of Lachen, Lachung, Thanggu interviewed by Major NS Issar in 1965 AD, by Surinder Singh IDSA in 1968-69 AD, and by me in 1987-1988 were very confident and categorical in saying that Guru Nanak visited Sikkim especially places like Chungthang, Lachen, Lachung, Thanggu and Gurudongmar.

A Gurdwara existed on ground and on map in Chungthang in 1968-1969 AD as recorded by Surinder Singh IDSA (Sikh Review 1970). I visited this Gurdwara in 1970 and 1971 and from 1987 to 1992 AD (during my two tenures with the Indian army) when I was posted in Sikkim. During both the tenures, Sikkim was my area of operational responsibility. All local people including Lamas of Lachen, Lachung, Thanggu confirmed to me that Guru Nanak had visited Sikkim.

I put across my doubt to the Lama, “I feel you mix Guru Nanak with Guru Padmasambhva or some of his followers.’ He was emphatic in saying ‘No’. He specially mentioned that it was Guru Nanak of Punjab only. Elders of his sect have been going to Amritsar, Guru’s nectar store, to pay their homage to Guru Nanak. Their places of pilgrimage in India are Bodh Gaya as well as Amritsar. When I requested him to show some records about Guruji’s visit: he respectfully replied, “Are not the hearts of the people true records of Guruji’s visit?” To my request for printed records, he said, “We have Guru Nanak’s life history and his hymns (shabads) in our books. All these are in Tibetan: I can show you these records’. I was helpless as I did not know Tibetan. I departed from the place with a vow to learn Tibetan so that I could know more about Guru Nanak and come back to verify the details. Nevertheless, it was clear to my mind that Guru Nanak had visited Sikkim and Karmapa lamas in their hour of need. (The Sikh Review, Nov 1988, Vol. XXXVI, No. 419, p.31)

There are visible landmarks and material items depicting Guru Nanak’s visit to the place. At Chungthang, a boulder, with Guru Nanak’s footprints, a spring, a rice field and a stick-turned-into-a-tree commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit. At Lachen Gompha, a robe offered to Guru Nanak, a kamandal and his footprints are preserved in the Gompha.

At GuruDongmar, the corner of the lake where Guru Nanak hit the snow with the stick in his hand (daang) to provide perpetual source of water for the Yak graziers, who themselves told me the story of Guru’s visit to the lake and of providing them water all the year around. This was further confirmed to me by Lachen Lama, J.K. Bhutia, the intelligence officer at Thanggu and Lama of Thanggu -the nearest locality to the lake. All these statements are on record and duly published in books, research journals and newspapers. Even the Sikkim Government accepted this on record by issuing passes for the visitors to the shrine of Guru  Nanak. The Punjab and Sind Bank issued a calendar in the 1990s about Guru Nanak’s visit to Gurudongmar.

I went through a plethora of books, written by Indians and others, but could not find any reference about Padmasmbhava’s visit to Sikkim. He had stayed in Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and Samya monastery in Tibet as per all available records. As I mentioned earlier, there was no actual research institution in Sikkim except the Institute of Tibetology which had confirmed to me that it was Guru Nanak who visited Sikkim. Now the Institute of Tibetology is manufacturing “alternative facts”

When I reached Gurudongmar in 1987, a Gurdwara was under construction at Gurdongmar next to the place where Guru Nanak had hit the lake, was in progress. Since I was to stay there for 3 months, I too assisted in the construction.  The area was a plateau at around 18000 feet with only 10% oxygen. There was no civilian around for miles together except a few stone huts of graziers at a distance. There was no construction other than the Gurdwara Sahib and only the flag on Nishan Sahib of Sikhs fluttering in the air.  I have been visiting the Gurdwara Sahib regularly till 1992. All the people from Thanggu, Lachen, Chungthang and beyond pay their respects at the Gurdwara Sahib.  It was quite evident that Guru Nanak of Amritsar had visited the place. Sikhs working in the Army and GREF personnel working on road construction nearby collected the funds and built the Gurdwara. It was not an Army Gurdwara but a historic Gurdwara commemorating the visit of Guru Nanak and built by Sikhs, especially those working in the Indian army.

Since the last 40 years of their existence, no one questioned the historicity of the Gurdwaras. During my stay there, Sikh groups from across the world started to make visits to the Gurdwara. In 1968-69,    Surinder Singh IDSA visited Gurdwara Chungthang and found only two places at Chungthang i.e., a Gurdwara and a police post.  When I had visited the place in 1970 for the first time, I too had found these two prominent landmarks of Chungthang. The local people were cordial and respectful. In 1992, Harbhajan Singh Setia visited the Gurdwara and thereafter he visited the Gurdwara regularly with his group till 2015 AD  after which he was held up by his age (now over 85 years). He found everything to be fine till 1999. Gurdwara Gurudongmar and the Sikh flag  -Nishan Sahib, were the two prominent marks on the entire plateau. No other building or flag existed.

After his visit in 1999, he told me that some flags of other religions were planted  near the gurdwara and a board was placed outside the Gurdwara mentioning it to be ‘sarv dharma mandir’. Some idols were also placed near the sanctum sanctorum. I wrote about this in various papers (My article Desecration of Gurdwaras Gurdongmar appeared on various Internet forums in 2000AD) on net. Getting in touch with the President SGPC Sardar Gucharan Singh Tohra, I apprised him of the desecration of Gurdwara Gurudongmar. He immediately rang up the then Defence Minister  -George Fernandes,  who ordered the Army not to allow any interference in the Gurdwaras. Things cooled down there after. However, after 2012 again, idols and Tankhas of Mahatma Buddha/Padmasambhava were placed inside the Gurdwara and the shape of Gurdwara was converted into a Buddhist Gompha by Lachen Lama and others gradually claiming that it was a Buddhist shrine. Representatives of Lachen Lama started collecting offerings of the Gurdwara. I was astonished and deeply disturbed at the sudden change since Guru Nanak’s visit to the area was never questioned for forty long years.

The developments were immediately conveyed to the SGPC who wrote to Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling. A delegation of SGPC was sent to Sikkim to sort out the matter with Sikkim Government and local lamas. The chief minister and other governmental representatives remained totally negative and actively assisted the local lamas not only in taking over the control of relics relating to Guru Nanak but also replaced the sign board of the History of Guru Nanak’s visit to the area with those declaring it to be Baja Gur/Padmasmbhava  and not Guru Nanak who actually visited Sikkim.

No monuments or records of the visit of Padmasambhva to Sikkim existed earlier hence these were created post haste after 2002. The Institute of Tibetology was asked to publish papers and books in support of their new claim. State acts were amended post haste to adjust the change. I was too astonished to find a sudden change especially when Lachen Lama himself had given me the statement that Guru Nanak visited Gurudongmar, Thanggu, Lachen, Chungthang, Lachung, etc. All of these has been published in my book on Guru Nanak’s Travels in Himalayan Region in 1995 and Amazing Travels of Guru Nanak in 2002. Even the then Director of Institute of Tibetology had categorically told me that it was Guru Nanak who had visited Sikkim and the places are related to Him. This too was published in one of my articles.

Some vested interests especially the Lamas who have been collecting funds of their monasteries thought of these places as a good source of income and have probably hatched a plan to convert these Sikh holy places and relics to their benefit by claiming them to be Buddhist. It is clear that vested interests among local Buddhists helped this campaign and started a tirade that it was not Guru Nanak who visited the place but Baja Guru/Padmasambhava.

“Guru Nanak and Padmasambhva generally belonged to the same area; Padmasambhava having been born in 8th century in Swat Area and Guru Nanak in Nankana Sahib. Both these areas are very close.” This kind of perverted logic was spread through the internet by the SDM of Chungthang and his team. Being in the government, they were able to influence the Government to pass certain acts in the assembly to further their claims.

I went through a plethora of books, written by Indians and others, but could not find any reference about Padmasmbhava’s visit to Sikkim. He had stayed in Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and Samya monastery in Tibet as per all available records. As I mentioned earlier, there was no actual research institution in Sikkim except the Institute of Tibetology which had confirmed to me that it was Guru Nanak who visited Sikkim. Now the Institute of Tibetology is manufacturing “alternative facts”.

I am told that local people still maintain their faith in Guru Nanak’s visit to these places despite the communal propaganda aimed at creating a wedge between two communities. I found local people to be nice and warm during my stay from 1970s onwards and till 1992 when I left and even in 2015 when I visited the area.

In 2014, we received information that the Gurdwaras were being continuously desecrated and control of relics related to Guru Nanak were totally taken over by these local lamas with the full complicity of SDM Chungthang. All the boards showing Guru Nanak’s visit to Chungthang and Gurudongmar were officially replaced by that of Baja Guru/Padmasambhava. The then President Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee  and Chief Minister of Punjab wrote to  Chief Minister Sikkim, urging him to stop the  desecration of gurdwaras. In April 2014-15, an SGPC delegation also visited Sikkim. Things again cooled down.

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However, as we know, a fresh wave of attempts are on to take over the Gurdwaras in Sikkim, beginning with the removal of Sikh items of worship from Gurdwara Gurudongmar and the SDM Chungthang ordering revenue audit of the Gurdwara Sahib in Chungthang. While the SGPC-DSGMC leadership are doing their bit, it is time for the Sikh Sangat to stand up.

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