New Delhi: The Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan that will allow Indian devotees to visit Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara is set to be inaugurated on 9 November. The day also marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
Sikh pilgrims and political leaders have been demanding access to this historically and religiously significant place since Partition.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted a picture of the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara, the largest gurudwara in the world, Tuesday and said it was ready to welcome the pilgrims.
سکھ یاتریوں کے خیر مقدم کیلئے کرتار پور پوری طرح تیار ہے۔ pic.twitter.com/2rkHfsyztM
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) November 3, 2019
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What is the Kartarpur Corridor?
The Kartarpur Corridor is known as the corridor of ‘international peace and harmony’ and is a 4.2-km-long passage connecting the town of Dera Baba Nanak in India with the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district. Guru Nanak Dev is believed to have spent his last days in the gurudwara from 1521 to 1539.
In 1947, the Radcliffe Line divided these two important religious sites and Kartarpur Sahib became a part of Pakistan’s territory. For decades, devotees had to travel to Lahore to reach the gurudwara, travelling 125 km, despite it being just a kilometre away from the India-Pakistan border. In 2008, an elevated platform was erected near Dera Baba Nanak, allowing pilgrims to view the holy place.
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The religious significance of Kartarpur Sahib
Guru Nanak Dev travelled through many countries spreading the message of universal peace, harmony and love before finally arriving in Kartarpur in 1521. The then-governor of the region, Duni Chand, donated 100 acres of land on the bank of river Ravi to him.
In Kartarpur, the Guru “shed his travelling garb and adopted the dress of a simple household and farmer”, wrote Navtej Sharma, author and former Indian ambassador to the United States, and the place became a religious site after he settled there.
According to professor Puran Singh, a prominent 20th century Punjabi poet and scientist, the Guru “radiated love and faith and attracted people like light attracts moth” in Kartarpur.
Guru Nanak is believed to have composed many hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, in Kartarpur, including the japuji sahib. The community meal, called guru ka langar, was also initiated here and became an inseparable part of the Sikh tradition thereafter.
In 1539, when Guru Nanak passed away, a conflict arose between his Hindu and Muslim devotees on how his last rites should be performed. Legend has it that both communities were asked by the Guru to put flowers on his body overnight and the community whose flowers retained their freshness would perform his last rites.
It is believed that the next morning, the Guru’s body disappeared and all the flowers were fresh. Hence, both the communities mutually decided to divide the cloth that had covered his body and burned half of it, burying the other half. This led to the construction of two shrines built by his Hindu and Muslim devotees in Kartarpur.
These shrines were, later, washed away by floods and were rebuilt. The foundation stone of the gurudwara in Kartarpur was laid in 1572 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered its dome with gold. The present structure was built by Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala in 1925 and grandfather of Punjab’s chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
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The political tussle
British India’s partition and the subsequent division of Punjab saw the loss of a shared religious, cultural and spiritual heritage. “The political division of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 was, also in some measure, a spiritual division as the new states established complex systems of regulation to control the access of pilgrims from the two countries,” wrote scholar Gurharpal Singh in The Control of Sacred Spaces.
In 1948, the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab demanded the acquisition of Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib, the places of death and birth of the first Sikh Guru. Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, promised to approach Pakistan for a land exchange to acquire Kartarpur in 1969.
In 1999, then-Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif discussed the issue during the former’s visit to Pakistan. In 2008, former Indian PM Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee also brought up the proposed corridor but the plan could not be executed due to political tensions and cross-border terrorism.
A decision was finally taken in 2018. Pakistan’s army chief Qamar Bajwa assured Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu that the country will open the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrims ahead of Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary.
In 2018, Prime Minister Modi had compared the Kartarpur project to the fall of the Berlin wall and said that it can become a reason for greater bonding between the people from both nations.
India and Pakistan signed the official agreement on 24 October 2019, which will allow 5,000 visitors daily to visit the holy shrine, visa-free. They will be charged approximately Rs 1,400.
For Sikhs coming for pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off 2 requirements: i) they wont need a passport – just a valid ID; ii) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance. Also, no fee will be charged on day of inauguration & on Guruji's 550th birthday
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) November 1, 2019
“The corridor is a significant effort to bridge the ruptures of Partition history in Sikh memory. This occasion gives Hindu devotees of Nanak or Nanakpanthis an opportunity to reinstate their association with Sikh tradition. It offers us a major hope of healing a heavily mutilated history of South Asia”, said Yogesh Snehi, professor of History at Ambedkar University in Delhi, to ThePrint.