Festival time

Print edition : October 24, 2008

The Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib Gurdwara at Nanded being spruced up for the Gurta Gaddi celebrations.-PICTURES: G. SANJEEV REDDY

Nanded is all set to receive the pilgrims who will soon converge there to celebrate the consecration of the Adi Granth.

ROOTED in a culture that is lively and full of vigour, Sikh festivities are colourful and celebrated on a fairly massive scale. The tercentenary celebrations of the elevation of the Adi Granth as the perpetual Guru of the Sikhs, to be called Guru Granth Sahib thereafter, at Nanded city in Maharashtra are no exception. The city has the unique distinction of having been visited by the first and the last Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.

The festival, known as Gurta Gaddi in Punjabi, and the observation of 300 years of Guru Gobind Singhs departure for the heavenly abode will be held in late October and early November at Nanded, which is home to one of the five most important seats of authority of Sikhs, the Takhat Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib.

The Langar Sahib Gurdwara in Nanded has made arrangements to feed 1 crore pilgrims between Dasara on October 9 and the 10th Gurus 300th death anniversary on November 3.

The Gurdwara Sachkhand Board, the governing body of the Takhat Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib, and the Nanded district administration have geared up for this special occasion in the history of the worlds youngest religion. A princely allocation of Rs.350 crore has been earmarked to develop the citys infrastructure in view of the celebrations, an exercise that is a component of the work going on under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

During his sojourn at Nanded in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh was mortally wounded by an assassin. Realising that his end was near, he issued an edict that the Adi Granth, a compilation of hymns and poems by Sikh Gurus and saints, be recognised as the perpetual Guru. The tradition of humans being appointed as Gurus thus came to an end. Sachkhand Gurdwara is located at the place where the Guru is believed to have succumbed to his injuries inflicted by the assassin. The gurdwara, which houses the Angeetha Sahib, or the samadhi of Guru Gobind Singh, was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1831.

Camps on the outskirts of Nanded will accommodate two lakh pilgrims.-

The Gurta Gaddi celebrations will start on October 27 when Sikhs will observe the Takhat Ishnan, or the purification of the Sachkhand Gurdwara. The faithful carry pitchers of water from the Godavari and pour it on the Gurdwara in a symbolic act of cleansing.

On October 28, the festival of Diwali will be celebrated with deepmala rows of lamps will illuminate the gurdwara on that day. The main Gurta Gaddi festival is slated for October 30, when the consecration and elevation of the Adi Granth as Guru Granth Sahib will be re-enacted. The Granth Sahib will be brought from the Nagina Ghat Gurdwara on the banks of the Godavari in a procession amid the chanting of Gurbani. It will be consecrated at the Sachkhand Gurdwara, where devotees will get a glimpse (darshan) of the holy book. The event will be marked by the recital and singing of Gurbani. On November 3, the 300th anniversary of Guru Gobind Singhs death (parlok gaman) will be observed in the gurdwara, once again amid the recital of the Gurbani.

In April 2005, the Sachkhand Gurdwara Board and the Nanded Waghala City Municipal Corporation (NWCMC) drew up plans for the celebrations, which they estimated would attract about 30 lakh pilgrims. In a city with a population of five lakh people, the arrival of just five lakh pilgrims would mean supporting double of its usual population.

Collector Radheshyam Mopalwar said: The surroundings of Nanded had to be developed at least temporarily before the festivities. A plan was prepared in 2004, and it was approved by the State Cabinet on February 2 the next year. The plan, prepared in consultation with U.P.S. Madan, former president of the Sachkhand Gurdwara Board, sought to develop infrastructure to house pilgrims and facilitate easy access to the city.

Mopalwar, who took over as Collector on March 1, 2005, presented the plan to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 18, in Pune. The Centre agreed to bear 50 per cent of the cost of the project, which included development of Nanded city under the JNNURM.

As Mopalwar pointed out, the city would have to prepare for the celebrations with better roads and increased supplies of drinking water, apart from tackling the problem of housing the large numbers of pilgrims. The riverfront would have to be developed and accommodations would have to be arranged for VIPs.

Before the plan was put into action, the gurdwara premises and the surrounding localities were quite congested. But now the old buildings have been replaced by new accommodation complexes spread over 2.24 lakh sq ft. There are 1,500 rooms in this complex, which surrounds the gurdwara.

Mopalwar said: The new plan gave the gurdwara precincts a spacious courtyard of 2.8 lakh sq ft and an outer corridor of 4 lakh sq ft. This space is enough to ensure easy movement of pilgrims during the celebrations.

The families that were displaced by the project are now accommodated in the Abchalnagar housing project, which is not far from where they lived before. We completed the Abchalnagar residential colony in record time. Tourism Minister Ambika Soni, who laid the foundation for the colony in 2007, inaugurated it after it was completed, said Municipal Commissioner Deepak Mhaisekar.

Apart from the 1,500-room complex, accommodations were developed at places such as the Langar Sahib Gurdwara. Forty private buildings have been rented for the purpose of accommodating pilgrims.

Pilgrims will also be housed in school and college buildings that have been rented for the duration of the festival. At 40 camps on the outskirts of Nanded, some 2 lakh pilgrims will be accommodated. These camps have facilities for water supply and sewage disposal. There is also ample parking space for pilgrims who will drive in from other parts of the country, including Punjab.

The fact that open spaces were available on the southern side of the city was very helpful, said Mayor S. Balwant Singh Gadiwale. The camp sites are spread out, so that there is no possibility of a stampede. Around the Sachkhand gurdwara, we have set aside a 2 km by 2 km area for pedestrians where vehicles will not be allowed. An air-conditioned, 100-room building has come up opposite the Langar Sahib Gurdwara on the banks of the Godavari. Pilgrims who are non-resident Indians will stay here.

A new railway station, designed to ease the pressure on the existing one, has come up at Maltekdi. The old station is also getting a facelift.

P.C. Gajbhiye, Divisional Railway Manager, Nanded, said: The Gokulnagar side of the old railway station is being renovated. A new platform has been added and the yard and signalling system have been modified. A covered area of 1,400 square metres has been provided for the pilgrims. Besides, there are five units of pay-and-use toilets, with separate arrangements for men and women. All the waiting halls have been renovated.

A new office for the Government Railway Police and five 2.5-m-wide foot overbridges have been built. Three railway overbridges have been built to ease congestion of road traffic at Shivajinagar, the eastern bypass and Hingoli gate roads. A railway underbridge has been commissioned.

The 1,500-room complex built around the Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib will house pilgrims.-

There is a new ticket-booking office with 15 counters. Five more counters will be operational on the Gokulnagar side and a few reservation counters will be opened in the gurdwara complex. The station at Maltekdi will handle the entire goods movement, though it will also take passenger traffic during the celebrations.

Some 150 pairs of special trains will be run from different parts of the country, especially from the north, to Nanded during October and November. Special trains from Amritsar, Firozepur, Chandigarh, Kathgodam (Himachal Pradesh), Howrah, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Mumbai will carry pilgrims to Nanded. The special trains are in addition to the regular specials like the ones that run during Dasara. Then there are specials that we run and others that fall under the category of full tariff rake trains, said Gajbhiye. The biweekly trains from Amritsar have become daily services starting October 1 because of the increasing flow of pilgrims.

Nandeds new airport is now operational and flights between Nanded and Mumbai via Latur have commenced. This gives the city an air link with the capital of Maharashtra. Kingfisher Airlines operates the flights.

Some 10,000 policemen will be deployed on all the major streets of Nanded during the festivities, Mopalwar said. There will be sufficient barricading of places and some places will be earmarked for holding crowds. The gurdwara complex can hold over 85,000 pilgrims at any given time. The pilgrims will enter from gate number 1 and exit from gate number 5 with relative ease, he said.

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