How Fatehgarh Sahib has moved on from its violent past

Sikhs and Muslims mingle with serene calm in the sacred town

58-Jeet-Singh The multitasker: Jeet Singh, the custodian of the Guru Granth Sahib of Mastgarh Sahib Chittian Gurdwara, is also the caretaker of Chittian Masjid, located next to the gurdwara | Sanjay Ahlawat

As we left the Rauza Sharif in the sacred city of Fategarh Sahib in Punjab, our car driver from Delhi seemed a little perplexed. “I saw so many sardarjis going in and out of the dargah. Do they go to pray there? Or are they just helping out?” he asked while exiting the bougainvillea-fronted premises of the dargah of Shaikh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi, who lived here in the time of Akbar in the 16th century. Sirhindi is revered by Sunni Muslims the world over. They see the Rauza Sharif as the second Mecca, and Sirhindi as second only to the Prophet.

It is not uncommon to find our Sikh brothers taking care of the masjids. If there is no masjid nearby, we can say namaz on the gurdwara premises. No one will stop us. - Syad Farid Ahmed, a member of the dargah committee

Fatehgarh Sahib is, in fact, an important pilgrimage centre in Sikhism. “It is not uncommon to find our Sikh brothers taking care of the masjids in Fatehgarh Sahib. If there is no masjid nearby, we can say namaz on the gurdwara premises. No one will stop us,” said Syad Farid Ahmed, a member of the dargah committee.

He said the maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh had given 350 acres to the Rauza Sharif. “After the excesses of the partition years, this town of Sirhind-Fatehgarh hasn’t seen any inter-faith acrimony,” he said. “It is a shining example of brotherhood and harmony.”

The Sikhs and Muslims mingle with serene calm in the sacred town, which in 1705 witnessed the killing of two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru. The boys, nine-year-old Zorawar Singh and seven-year-old Fateh Singh, who refused to embrace Islam, were entombed alive by the Mughal diwan Wazir Khan, after the capture of Anandpur Sahib. Waizr Khan was killed by Banda Singh Bahadur, a Khalsa military leader, in the battle of Chappan Chiri in 1710.

The gleaming white and golden Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib stands majestic in the centre of the town as a symbol of the martyrdom. Built in 1843, the gurdwara complex holds the underground spot where the children were buried alive and where thousands of followers come to pay their respects.

Two kilometres away, at Mahadian village, one finds a gurdwara and a masjid separated by just a courtyard—Mastgarh Sahib Chittian Gurdwara and the Chittian Masjid, which goes back to Shah Jahan’s time. Its interiors gracefully uphold the cracks and fissures of centuries, and the sweet smell of incense emanates from arched alcoves in the bare walls.

There are no supplicants in this mosque, save for its guardian, Jeet Singh, who looks forward to the day when the faithful will come back to pray. Jeet Singh is the granthi in the adjoining gurdwara; besides reading the holy book, he does the cleaning, supervises langar and manages its day-to-day affairs. He has also been the caretaker of the abandoned mosque ever since he came here nine years ago. Every day he wakes up at 4am, and after finishing his work at the gurdwara, comes to the masjid to sweep the floors and light the incense. He repeats the ritual in the evening after the rehraas (a collection of hymns of five different gurus).

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee committee publishes a newspaper. “I read in it that there were 350 mosques within a distance of 10km at the time of Baba Banda Singh. He didn’t destroy any,” said Jeet Singh, taking us to the langar hall right next to the masjid.

Inside the annexe to the masjid is a dug-up tunnel which is believed to go all the way to the Rauza Sharif. “When I came here, the kar sevaks wanted to demolish the mosque. But I took a stand. Because the structure was here before anything else, right?” said Singh, recalling a time when two Sikh saints held 101 Akhand Path (non-stop recitation of verses) of the Guru Granth Sahib in the mosque itself.

He said the Guru Granth Sahib was kept inside the mosque for years, until the new Mastgarh Gurdwara was built. “Every religion has a presence in the Guru Granth Sahib. The rationalists also follow the teachings of Guru Nanak, who dispelled superstition. The Sufi saint Baba Farid has given 112 verses (bani) in the Guru Granth Sahib,” he said.

During the annual Shaheedi Jor Mela, a religious congregation at Fategarh Sahib in December to mark the martyrdom of the Sahibzade, Jeet Singh repaints the Chittian Masjid white. Chittian means white in Punjabi. “I have asked the villagers at Mahadian to come and pray in this mosque so many times. But they have built a mosque in their own village. Perhaps if some more repair work is done, they will start coming,” he said.

His ancestors had fought in the Battle of Chamkaur in1704, against Wazir Khan. “So long as I am here,” he said, “I will take care of the mosque.”