The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur is the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, died peacefully over 400 years ago. Until now, the shrine has been out of bounds to Indian Sikhs for over nearly 70 years as it is in Pakistan. Here is its long and complicated story.
Kartarpur is a town that was founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century. He was given this land after he had roamed the country on his spiritual journeys. He settled here with his family and thousands of devotees would come from far and wide to hear his wise teachings. As his following grew, the settlement did too – living areas for followers were built as well as a large communal kitchen which fed langar to all (just like the Golden Temple does today). In 1539, Guru Nanak passed away, and a platform was created to mark his final resting place. Over the years, however, the Ravi river, which is close to the town, changed course and flooded that original town. Legend has it that Guru Nanak’s son managed to escape with the urn that contained his father’s ashes. He buried this on the other side of the river, at Dera Baba Nanak, which was also a holy place, a site where Guruji had stopped to rest on one of his tours. Pilgrims would visit both sites to pay their respects, and all was well.
Fast forward to the Partition of India and Pakistan. When Radcliff, the Britisher assigned to dividing the nation drew his border, Dera Baba Nanak was given to India while the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib went to Pakistan. Heartache for millions of Sikhs ensued as they were denied access to the holiest of their sites. Ever since 1947, they have been petitioning successive governments to create a special corridor that allows them visa-free access to visit the Gurdwara. Finally, in 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan respectively, signed off on the corridor. In 2018, work began on the same and was opened on 9th November 2019 to coincide with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Both countries are hoping that the corridor is one of many initiatives that will bring peace to both countries. We hope so too.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.