Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gurudwara Hemkunt Sahib, Uttaranchal

Gurudwara Shri Hemkunt Sahib is the highest Gurudwara in the world – at a height of 15210 ft (4636 mtrs) above sea level. 550kms drive and 20km climb from Delhi, Shri Hemkunt Sahib is accessible only in the summer months – from June till September each year. Heavy snows make the passage impossible for rest of the year.

The drive from Rishikesh to Gobind Ghat (on the Badrinath route) is picturesque crossing various Prayags (Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karanprayag, Nandprayag) to reach Joshimath and then Gobind Ghat.

From Gobind Ghat one has to climb up either on foot or on a horseback. The first part of the walk is from Gobind Ghat to Gobind Dham (also known as Ghangaria) which is around 13 kms. The initial 10 kms is not very steep though the final 3 kms get much steeper. Most of those on foot take night’s halt at Gobind Dham and proceed towards Hemkunt Sahib the following day.

The second part of the walk from Gobind Dham to Hemkunt Sahib is about 7 kms and is more steep than the previous climb. After around 6 kms plus, one has a choice to trek further else climb over a 1000 steps to the Gurudwara Sahib.

The Gurudwara Sahib building now is a two storey building; Upper story which was completed in 1993 is where Guru Granth Sahib ji’s Prakash is done now. Right in front of the Gurudwara Sahib is the Langar Hall and right behind is the Hem kund (or the lake of ice).

Pilgrims usually take a dip (or more) in the freezing cold water of the Hem Kund (part of the lake is frozen even when the Gurudwara is opened in June) before visiting the Gurudwara.

The location at which the Gurudwara is now situated was described by Guru Gobind Singh ji in his composition ‘Bachitra Natak’
Ab mai apni katha bakhano
Tap sadhat jhi bidh muh ano
Hemkunt parbat hai jaha
Saptsring Sobat hai taha
Saptsring tih naam kahava
Pandaraj jah jog kamava
Tah ham adhik tapasia sadhi
Mahakal kal ka aradhi
In this verse, taken from chapter six of ‘Bachitra Natak’ Guru Gobind Singh Ji talks about his previous incarnation (as Dusht Daman). The verse describes a place high in the Himalayas with a lake of ice and surrounded by seven peaks, as the same place where King Pandu had been – this was the place where he did intense meditation till he achieved Union with God. From here, the Guru was summoned by God to be reborn into the world to teach the people the true path.

Search for the place which fits description given in Bachitra Natak started in late 19th century. Several scholars including Pandit Tara Singh Narotam in 19th century and Bhai Vir Singh researched and described the possible locations. In 1933 Sant Sohan Singh, a retired granthi from the Indian army working in a Gurudwara in Tehri Garhwal set out to search for this place. When he came across this place, which fit the description – he spoke to various authorities who at first did not listen to him. He then went to Bhai Vir Singh who then committed himself to the cause of developing Hemkunt Sahib and asked Sant Sohan Singh to start a small construction.

Sant Sohan Singh was joined in this task by Havaldar Modan Singh, and in 1937 Guru Granth Sahib was installed in the hut on the lake. A new Gurudwara was constructed in late 1960s, and improvements have been ongoing. The upper story where Guru Granth Sahib Ji is now installed was completed in 1993 and Guru Granth Sahib installed in June 1994.