Sikh heritage bears the brunt as kar sewa turns into big business
About 10 days ago, the demolition of a portion of a 200-year-old heritage ‘darshani deori’ (entrance) of Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib shocked and angered the Sikh community.Updated: Apr 11, 2019 15:41 IST
The tradition of ‘kar sewa’ (voluntary service) in Sikhism for construction of gurdwaras and restoration of sites having religious importance has become a business involving donations to the tune of millions of rupees. Not surprising then that heads of the organisations that carry out ‘kar sewa’ seem in hurry to build sprawling marble structures, at times obliterating religious heritage in the process, going by the unaccounted donations they receive for the job.
About 10 days ago, the demolition of a portion of a 200-year-old heritage ‘darshani deori’ (entrance) of Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib shocked and angered the Sikh community.
Most gurdwaras now look the same – grand white marbled structures with huge domes over them. This is courtesy the ‘kar sewa’ heads who, it is said, compete with each other to bag contracts from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) headquartered in Amritsar, which manages historical gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh; and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), a parallel body in the capital.
‘Kar sewa’ emerged from the gurus’ mandate that the state should not fund construction of religious places but involve the community in raising funds and the work be executed by the people of repute in the community. But the current ‘kar sewa’ system is proving out to be a disservice to the Sikh tradition, feel most people associated with the SGPC and DSGMC whom HT spoke to, but none was willing to come on record.
The ‘kar sewa’ heads enjoy clout and power and no one wants to annoy them.
At Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib, in the middle of the night on March 30 this year, 400 men deployed by Baba Jagtar Singh Kar Sewa Wale, pulled down the structure that was constructed by Naunihal Singh, the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sikh institutions and religious leaders came under severe criticism, forcing the SGPC to withdraw permission for ‘kar sewa’ and order an inquiry, while introducing a system to monitor the preservation of heritage.
Conservation architect Gurmeet Sangha Rai, who is the officiating president of India chapter of International Council on Monument and Sites, put the onus on SGPC for failing to protect the Sikh heritage and sites associated with the 10 gurus, which the body is mandated to do.
“The ‘kar sewa’ comes at the end. SGPC should hire experts, create blueprints, give briefs to heads of those undertaking the ‘kar sewa’,” she said.
Former DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK says, despite a passage of 200 years from first Sikh master Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and the last, the gurdwaras associated with all 10 gurus look the same – courtesy the ‘kar sewa’.
SGPC member Kiranjot Kaur says Sikhs want old structures to be preserved. “Kar sewa organisations are encroaching upon gurdwara properties which is not possible without the political patronage,” she says.
A former office-bearer of the SGPC on anonymity said the ‘kar sewa’ culture became popular when Gurcharan Singh Tohra was the SGPC chief, but things became worse when Bibi Jagir
Kaur became the head of the gurdwara body. Multiple contracts were granted without a brief for preservation of the historical and religious sanctity, despite a whopping amount of money pouring in from across the world for construction of gurdwaras.
However, the catch is that ‘kar sewa’ heads don’t make the collections public.
“The system is in dire need of accountability and transparency,” suggests Balkar Singh, a retired professor of Sikhism from Punjabi University. He says Sikh institutions are managing gurdwaras but not preserving them.
‘Kar sewaks’ deployed by Baba Jagtar Singh demolished the 200year-old entrance of Gurdwara Tarn Taran Sahib, constructed by Naunihal Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Baba Kashmir Singh Bhuri Wale removed the heritage ‘darwaza’ of ‘darshani deori’ at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, many years ago.
The door, which was installed during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was taken for restoration, but it was never installed back.
Baba Harbans Singh-led ‘kar sewa’ built Bala Sahib hospital at a cost of ₹60 crore. The building is
in ruins due to questionable planning. Fire department, local municipal corporation and the medical council of India have declared the building unfit for a hospital.
Historic Thanda Burj associated with Mata Gujri in Fatehgarh Sahib was damaged when Kashmir Singh Bhuriwale was performing ‘kar sewa’.
The home of Bebe Nanki in Sultanpur Lodhi was demolished when Baba Jagtar Singh undertook ‘sewa’ about 15 years ago.
Historical Chamkaur-diGarhi in Chamkaur Sahib, associated with Guru Gobind Singh, was demolished.