Delegation meet Odisha Governor urging him to stop the proposed demolition of Guru Nanak shrines in Puri

Bhubaneswar, 23 September: As the Sikh world continues to be perturbed over the proposed demolition of Mangu Mutt, Punjabi Mutt and a portion of the Bauli Sahib Mutt and Gurudwara adjacent to the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri, a four-member delegation, comprising Prof. Jagmohan Singh Human Rights Activist, Anil Dhir, conservationist and historian, Sukhvinder Kaur, Advocate and Social Activist, and Gurmeet Singh, met the Odisha Governor Prof. Ganeshi Lal and presented him a memorandum seeking immediate intervention and action to stop the proposed demolition of Sikh and Hindu Mutts in the vicinity of the Jagannath Temple at Puri.

Significantly, the activists also sought the opening of a Guru Nanak Corridor tracing the footsteps of Guru Nanak in Odisha and the region.

The memorandum pointed out that “While the Sikh world is reverberating with religious functions, seminars, Nagar Keertans and unique functions and programmes to mark the 550 years of the birth of Guru Nanak Sahib on 12 November 2019, it would be hugely embarrassing for the Odisha government and deeply hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community.”

The document reads that, “the Government’s decision to demolish both the Mangu Mutt and the Panjabi Mutt as they fall within the 75 mts radius of the Meghanand Pacheri has evoked protests from Sikhs worldwide. Earlier teams from the Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee had visited Puri and given protests letters to the Collector of Puri.

The memorandum stated that “these monuments are the heritage of the golden period of Odishan history. The Mutts are the witnesses of our past glory and grandeur. They are the proven records of antiquity, but have fallen victims to the neglect of the owners, caretakers, rendering them unsafe.”

Speaking to the press after submitting the memorandum, Prof. Jagmohan Singh, who has come from Punjab, said that, “The connection between Sikhism and the Jagannath temple goes back to more than 500 years ago when Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited the holy temple to spread the message of Ek Onkar, meaning ‘one supreme reality’.” He said “The Mangu Mutt and the area around it is the spot where Guru Nanak composed the Sikh Aarti. Since then the association of Sikhs with the Puri was formed and continues till today.”

The team appraised the governor of the vast cultural importance and significance of Odisha in the world, and pleaded him to take new initiatives to celebrate the 550th year birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, and specifically sought to

a. Take up the matter of the proposed demolition of Mangu Mutt, Punjabi Mutt and portions of Bauli Mutt with the government of Odisha and ensure that these vital, historical and heritage sites or any part thereof, of the Sikh religion are not obliterated.

b. The government of Odisha may take up the development of the Guru Nanak Corridor -the path taken by Guru Nanak Sahib during his visit to various parts of Odisha.

c. As the Chancellor of the prestigious Utkal University, you may take up the proposal of setting up a Guru Nanak Chair for research into the hundreds of thousands of palm-leaf manuscripts relating to Guru Nanak Sahib in Odisha.

d. Ask the government of Odisha to initiate set up a panel of expert linguists in the Odia language to translate the Guru Granth Sahib into the Odia.

Anil Dhir who accompanied the delegates from Punjab pointed out that, “The Mangu Mutt was set up by Bhai Almast, the Sikh preacher and head of the Udasi sect sometime in 1615 C.E. The image of Baba Shri Chand, the son of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is kept in the shrine inside the mutt. Even Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji chose to visit the place in 1670 CE.” The memorandum reads that, “Understandably the exercise of expansion and beautification is being taken up on the basis of a Cultural Ministry’s move for security and improvisation of the Lord Jagannath Temple, it is our belief that it is not in the interest of any government or administration to destroy old religious places bearing a sacred significance and which are an integral part of the Jagannath culture.”

History records that both these Mutts have associational significance with Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s visit to Puri in 1506 C.E. After Guru Nanak Dev’s visit, there was a steady stream of Sikh pilgrims from the North, who came to Puri, travelling more than 2000 kms by foot. For these multitude of Sikhs, the Nanak Panthis built two Mutts, which include the Mangu Mutt and the Panjabi Mutt. Even after partition, they still came from Lahore each year during the Rath Yatra. Their presence has been recorded till 1955, after which border restrictions were imposed and they could not travel from Pakistan.

Anil Dhir reiterated that “Historic mentions are made in innumerable texts and written records. In 1868 Smith, Sanitary Commissioner of Bengal reported that Punjabis came to Puri walking on foot about 2000 miles for six-month long journey. They used to stay at Puri for a few weeks and walked back home happily. In 1873, J.S. Armstrong, Magistrate to the Commissioner, Orissa Division, wrote about the Mutt and its Sikh occupants. The Gajapati Raja of Puri had also granted the right of Chamar Seva or Mayur Pankhi Seva to be rendered by the Mahant of the Mangu Mutt.”

He further pointed out that, “Mangu Math also played an important role during the freedom struggle. Many freedom fighters, both from Odisha and upcountry were sheltered here. The Late Gobind Tripathy, freedom fighter from Puri has recollected his stay in the mutt as an inmate and the immense support he and fellow freedom fighters received here in the thirties.”

Sukhvinder Kaur who co-signed the appeal to the Odisha Chief Minister two weeks ago, said, “the administration may remove all the commercial establishments and illegal structures, but the Gadi, the Sanctum Sanctorum should be left intact. The relics should be properly preserved.” Both these mutts are intricately linked to Jagannath culture. It is the duty of the Government of Odisha to preserve and protect such heritage and religious institutions and safeguards the spiritual and emotional values attached to them, appealed the activists.

Delegation member from Ranchi Gurmeet Singh told the media that the Governor gave them a patient hearing and assured them that he would take up the matter with the State administration.

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