15 November 2014

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi


Regarded as one of the holiest Sikh shrines in the city and one of the prettiest Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in the country, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, lined with tons of evocative pearlesque-white marble and surmounted by striking gold domes, was originally the regal mansion of Mirza Raja Jai Singh I, the Rajput king of Jaipur (then known as Amber). In fact, it derives its name too from the word “Bangla”, the Hindi/Punjabi translation of “mansion”, even though it has been transformed into a magnificent shrine and today draws thousands of visitors, including hundreds of foreign tourists, from the city and outside everyday. Dedicated to the memory of Guru Harkrishan, the eighth of ten Sikh spiritual leaders, who, upon being summoned to Delhi by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (ruled AD 1657-1707) and following the invitation of Raja Jai Singh I, briefly stayed in this mansion before his untimely demise at the age of eight caused from getting inflicted with smallpox while serving patients of the disease who flocked to his assembly everyday in the hope of solace and treatment.


In Guru's memory - Gurudwara Bangla Sahib


Much to the unabated chagrin of his elder brother Ram Rai who had him summoned to the royal court, Guru Harkrishan was reasonably declared the Sikh spiritual leader by their father Guru Har Rai at the tender age of five and proved his religious understanding and spiritual and mystical capabilities through several inconceivable episodes that occurred during his short lifetime before succumbing to the disease. Ram Rai himself was disowned by their father on account of his hobnobbing to the Mughal Emperor who was a declared political and religious enemy of the Sikhs. It is said that when the Guru first arrived at Raja Jai Singh’s mansion, the latter’s queen, intent on ascertaining the Guru’s mystical powers dressed herself as a handmaid and hid amongst her servants whom she had lavishly attired and adorned with jewelry, but was astonished when the Guru immediately recognized her as queen and thanked her for the hospitality extended by her household. The gorgeous mansion was converted into the prominent Gurudwara following the Sikh warlord Banda Bahadur’s invasion of Delhi (AD 1783) and was one of the nine mesmerizing Gurudwaras he raised; it was renovated and given this present magnificent appearance few years post-1947 when India achieved independence from British colonial rule. It is extremely difficult to believe that such a massive and unbelievably gorgeous structure was once a mere mansion, that too of a vassal sovereign of a small territory!

The Gurudwara is entered via a tall arched gateway surmounted by five onion chattris (domes raised on pillars) and faced with painstakingly polished, glistening white marble inset with colorful stones embedded in numerous floral patterns and Sikh religious motifs. The area around the Gurudwara bears a rushed, crowded look throughout the day since the shrine is extremely popular, especially amongst locals who come from near and far to pay their respects and also to marvel at the majestic regal architecture. The first thing that catches one’s eye, even before the long streaming queues of devotees waiting to enter, are the stunning pointed domes of the structure – the three gold-plated onions surmounting the building and the single superbly crafted marble onion on either side of the entrance. Other prominent architectural features include chattris, pavilions with curved tops lining the roof and exquisitely crafted, multi-arched hanging windows (“jharokhas”). The courtyard surrounding the central building, accessible from the road level by a flight of stairs, is vast and afterwards most devotees prefer to sit along the sides, especially if the purpose for visiting is photography.


A touch of gold!


The interiors are spellbinding – immediately upon stepping within, one is exposed to a large, mesmerizing shrine built entirely from gold and ornamented with a plethora of floral and religious motifs embossed into the gold work; especially intricate are the peacock figurines and the rounded vases from which emerge numerous convoluting, blossoming vines rising vertically upwards; Sikh symbolism, in the form of the recognizable motif of a vertical spear crossed over a pair of curved swords, lines the marble walls and decorates the patterns in gold; the thick rectangular pillars, each covered in layers of gold and also ornamented with the endearing vases overflowing with a vertical expansion of vines and floral blossoms, are especially admirable; lastly, the golden roof, polished to mirror-like perfection and bathed in a orange-gold glow by a large chandelier, reflects all the visitors, but proves frustratingly difficult to photograph. At the end of the elongated area on either side of which sit devotees, underneath an immensely intricately sculpted curved gold shrine is placed a copy of Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture; elderly musicians seated next to the canopied shrine sing melodious sermons and invocations referring to God and the Gurus while a priest continuously fans the hallowed text. The affluent, orange-hued gold extravaganza, rows of flower vases, expensive carpets and the rich canopy overhanging the shrine impart an unbelievably fascinating visual existence that is hard to replicate in photographs and even harder to contemplate in words – it is a sight and an experience that can only be registered on an emotional and visual level – of course, the irrepressible pushing and shoving by other devotees striving unnecessarily urgently to reach the shrine spoils the experience to an extent, but it is nonetheless worth being there.


Music for exhausted souls


A large “langar khana” (“food hall”) behind the Gurudwara accommodates visitors on the floor irrespective of any distinction of economic, social or religious status and daily serves 10,000 meals of simple vegetarian fare free of cost to everyone. Enormous quantities of food, including roti (Indian bread), lentils and vegetables is voluntarily prepared by several devotees themselves as a philanthropic measure from the raw materials charitably contributed by more affluent devotees – the entire idea is that of a large community kitchen where everyone can mingle together with dignity and companionship and partake food free of cost irrespective of any distinction, differences or bitterness. The “karha prasad” (a thick pudding cooked from wheat flour, clarified butter and sugar) served at the gateway of the shrine is blissfully delicious (though my personal favorite remains that served at Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib, Chandni Chowk, refer Pixelated Memories - Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib). Across the expansive courtyard extra servings of the savory prasad can also be purchased from a counter near the entrance gateway – a receipt will be generated at the counter which, upon being produced before the person serving the prasad, will be exchanged for a quantity of it – interestingly, after filling up a disposable bowl for a visitor and handing it over, the person serving will retract a small quantity of it and mix it back in the larger vessel as symbolic of a person sharing from his own plate – this, surprising for me since I had seen it for the first time, made me get a second helping since the first proved less than what I desired to have; I also had some packed separately to take home for my cousins with whom I was staying then. From one side of the courtyard, stairs lead downstairs to another courtyard flanked on all sides by Gurudwara managing committee offices and hostels – here, a massive well, canopied by a wide octagonal roof and an onion dome, is especially revered. Legend is that Guru Harkrishan dipped his feet in its water and ordered his followers to give the water to the diseased and pox-inflicted as a cure for their troubles. He earned the title of “Baal Peer” (“Child saint”) due to his ability to cure the sick and the destitute. Even today, the well is manned by numerous devotees who draw the water into large bowls and offer it to hundreds of faithfuls who believe in Guru Harkrishan’s magical and spiritual sanctity and come to the Gurudwara for a sip of the hallowed water. The only difference between then and now being today water is drawn through taps and not pails! The Gurudwara’s charitable acts do not end here – a hospital, a library and a girl’s school are also run in the buildings adjacent which also house a museum and an art gallery.


Sacred water - The canopied well associated with Guru Harkrishan's healing powers


It is the other side of the Gurudwara that is the most famous – a massive “Sarovar” (water tank) with clear blue water and large, colorful fishes exists on this side and reflects a perfect reflection of the Gurudwara building and its golden domes and colonnades. This frame is perhaps the most famous visual composition when photographing the Gurudwara despite the fact that photography from here is prohibited and requires special permission. The caretakers and cleaners of the Gurudwara keep patrolling around the tank, stopping people from clicking and asking swimmers to step out if they have been in too long. A small rectangular changing room for women exists along one of the corners of the tank too. Colonnades surround the courtyard around the water tank and the corners are domed to appear externally like diminutive towers (“burj”).

It is best to visit the Gurudwara at night when it is lit up beautifully and the lights reflect in the black waters of the tank to generate a mesmerizing image imprinted on the overall darkness of the surroundings. The place also wears a festive look on Guru purab, Diwali and Guru Harkrishan’s birth anniversary.

Advisory – Men and women are required to leave their footwear at the shoe counter located outside the Gurudwara complex before entering within and also cover their heads with handkerchiefs or dupattas (long scarves). Being a religious shrine, it is advisable to dress modestly.


Nighttime beauty!

Location: Jaisinghpura, Connaught Place
Nearest metro station: Patel Chowk (1.1 km away)
How to reach: Walk/avail an auto/e-rickshaw from the metro station to the Gurudwara
Open: All days, sunrise to midnight
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography charges: Nil (Permission has to be solicited for clicking around the tank level, but everybody clicks anyway). Videos prohibited.
Relevant Link - 
Suggested reading - 

4 comments:

  1. Karen DobruskyNovember 18, 2014

    Great job! I am glad you chose such a lovely place to photograph. Not everyone who visits Delhi goes here, so it is nice to see this.

    Karen D (kdobrusk@barnard.edu)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Karen. Indeed there are so many gems hidden in the bylanes of Delhi, the city is simply fascinating in terms of history and cultural heritage!

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  2. i usually visit our nearby GURUDWARA but never visited such a wonderful place as you have mentioned....Just loved the place like anything....thank u for the wonderful article....

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  3. Wonderful job !!! I am proud of you my friend .

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