Sirhind and Fatehgarh Sahib are twin places next to each other. Fatehgarh Sahib is the place where two young brothers were bricked alive by Muslim persecutors. The two brothers are martyrs in Sikh history. There are many places here associated with the brothers.
I first visit the main gurudwara in town. I walk into the office to see if I can find any accommodation for the night. The manager is on the phone but another sardar sitting at the desk is just finishing his lunch. He offers me a bowl of cut papayas and a glass of water. I first decline but upon insistence, I accept. This is the hospitality of Punjabis.
The manager greets me with a broad smile. He wears a turban and a clean white kurta. His white beard gives character to his face. I tell him about my visit to this place. He explains a little bit of its history and hands me a booklet for more details.
‘The brothers were sons of the last guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Their martyrdom happened in the early part of the 18th century following the Battle of Chamkaur,’ explains the manager.
I ask him about the practice of donation and collection of prasad I had observed at the Golden Temple, a practice followed in all gurudwaras.
‘You see, what you buy is only food. It becomes prasad only after it is cut by the kirpan and offered to the community bowl,’ he explains. I begin to understand that prasad is not something purchased but accepted from the community kitchen of any gurudwara.
He directs me to another office for my accommodation. I chat with the guys there. I may get a room tonight but it is still early to be sure. It so happens that two large sanghs (groups) are set to arrive here tonight. I deposit my things at the cloak room, pick up a head scarf, tie it over my head and enter the gurudwara. It is a white building with gilded domes that are now resplendent in the mid-day sun. I join pilgrims for a few minutes of prayer. I then visit the community kitchen for a nice meal of rotis and sabji. Eating at gurudwaras in Punjab has always been a pleasure. For hygiene, there is nothing better.
Near the gurudwara and across a railway line is a famous dargah. I spend a few minutes here. I find many Muslims praying here earnestly. I hesitate to walk around freely. I admire an ornate facade which leads to a beautiful marble monument. Opposite this dargah is another gurudwara associated with the brothers.
I follow the railway track to reach an old monument surmounted with three domes. It must be a tomb of some sort. I take an auto-rickshaw to Sirhind in search of a garden. There I meet two engineering students.
‘We live close by but this is the first time we are coming here,’ tells me one of them. The other one comments, ‘Near our univeristy is a gurudwara dedicated to the small boys. It is the place where they were cremated.’
‘Do you know Gurudwara Jyoti Sarup where the boys were cremated is built on the most expensive piece of land? Can you guess how much?’ tests one of the boys.
‘I have no idea. I am sure it’s a lot of money.’
‘The land was bought from a local Muslim who demanded payment in gold. The value was based on covering the land with gold coins. Todal Mal, a devotee of Guru Gobind Singh, arranged for the coins. When they started covering the land with the coins, the seller claimed that coins should be kept standing on their rims. So you can imagine how many gold coins they would have needed.’
The garden itself is in a pathetic state. It cannot be considered a garden by today’s standards. At best, it is a historic ruin of a Mughal garden. An information board gives some details but the paint has peeled off in many places. The rusted sentences are a little difficult to read. The water channels and decorative ponds have dried up. Their margins are grassless and parched. A few flowers beds have been cultivated in one part and mango orchards have been planted. These are modern additions that don’t do justice to the Mughal design of these gardens.
Among the ruins are a well, fountains, pools and water channels. Buildings near this area suggest water-cooled rooms and baths. These buildings are fallen or standing ruins. A little necessary maintenance is in order. The gardens are named Aam Khas Bagh. In other words, the ‘aam’ section is for the public and the ‘khas’ section is for private use. A high wall with a parapet and adjoining buildings separate the two sections. A large water tank, dried up of course, is the centerpiece of the Khas Bagh. An octogonal platform at its center can be accessed by an arcaded walkway, much like the one at Narnaul. The platform is simple but possibly once housed a pavilion for relaxation amongst the cooling waters. Other building ruins are scattered around this place.
The gardens are a window to the rich lifestyle of royalty during the Mughal Period. These might have in those times been pleasure gardens. It would take a lot of commitment and interest to restore them to their original glory. Most of all, it would take a lot of water to bring back that glory. But water is one essential resource, India can’t afford to waste in these times of global warming. So let’s be practical and leave these gardens as relics of the past. Let’s see them only as monuments of interest and not as pleasure gardens.