Buses in Punjab are frequent. Almost always I am able to find a seat. Buses are modern and comfortable. Inside, there is often a colourful display of turbans. Everyone is dressed neatly. I can rarely see poor people. Even secondary roads cutting through the countryside are smooth and journeys are fast. From my window, lush green fields zip past acre after acre.
On the road to Amritsar, coming from the south, there are a couple of places of interest. My first stop for the day is Zira. I am told there is a Jain temple here that’s worth visiting. It is some distance away from the bus stand. I take an auto-rickshaw. We drive past a beautiful gateway of red sandstone. Its cusped arches, reliefs, brackets and jarokhas are superbly sculpted. The rickshaw-wallah takes me through little lanes crowded around with old houses. For a small town, it appears congested but this is the way towns were built for many centuries.
I can’t even remember the name of the Jain temple. It stands sandwiched in a line of houses. It hardly looks like a temple, only something converted into one. There are some wall murals and a painted ceiling. Influences of Hinduism is plain on a couple of idols. Varaha avatar rides an elephant, only that the Jains call him by another name. Ganesha sits under a hooded serpent. A deity named Chaitrapal flys across with a mountain in his hands like Hinduism’s Hanuman. These are really trivial stuff but having come looking for this temple I have to see something at least. My stop at Zira has been a waste of time.
It is said that the gurudwara here was founded in the 16th century by the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev. The guru’s most important work was the compilation of the Adi Granth. With the rising popularity of Sikhism, the conversion of Muslims to Sikhs caused anger in Jehangir’s court. It is claimed that Guru Arjan Dev was tortured and put to death by his Muslim persecutors.
Today the gurudwara standly beautifully in clean marble surroundings. The dome and parts of the building are gilded in gold. The first sight of the building when seen through the arched gateway stuns me with its beauty and glow. Corner domes supported on slender columns balance the gurudwara. Jharokhas too are gilded in gold. It is a busy place and welcomes a constant stream of pilgrims. I cover my head with an orange scarf and enter the main prayer hall.
A group of musicians are singing verses in praise of their gurus. They are dressed in clean whites. They all wear navy blue turbans. Black cloth bands run across their chests to support a kirpan at the end. One tabla lends it beat to the recital. A harmonium sounds the notes in meditative fashion. Listening to this music takes me to another world. Loudspeakers softly relay this music all across the gurudwara and beyond. I sit inside mesmerized by the music. Half an hour passes by quickly. I find myself dozing off in the corner. Someone taps me on the shoulder. I see that everyone is standing up for the mid-day prayer. I quickly follow suit.
The decorations inside are rich. Under a gilded canopy with bangla roof and cusped arches, a covered tomb sits. The cloth that covers the tomb is richly embroidered. I am not sure if its really a tomb and not something else symbolic in Sikhism. The walls, ceiling, pilasters and arches are richly covered in beautiful designs. A corridor runs on all sides on a higher mezzanine floor. A chandelier hangs by a long pole. A fan rotates smoothly and keeps the room cool.
I step outside in the burning sun but the waters of the holy tank (sarovar) behind the main building gives a cooling effect. Pilgrims are walking around the sarovar either in the open on coir carpets or in the long cool corridors. The flooring in these corridors have beautiful stone inlay work. They say this is one of the largest sarovars in the world. Volunteers are busy sweeping these spaces every now and then. Like Jain temples, gurudwaras too are extremely clean places.
I take one last look at the gurudwara and look back towards the entrance gateway. The gateway too is a beautiful piece of architecture. It is not gilded but white-washed uniformly without any highlights. I have skipped langar at Tarn Taran. Now I am going straight to Amritsar.