On Friday, tension mounted in Nankana Sahib in Pakistan and there was outrage in India after a mob, led by the family of a Muslim man who had married a Sikh teenage girl, hurled stones at Gurdwara Janam Asthan, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, and threatened to convert it into a mosque.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to “immediately intervene to ensure that the devotees stranded in Gurdwara Nankana Sahib are rescued and the historic Gurdwara is saved from the angry mob surrounding it”.
What is the historical significance of Nankana Sahib?
Nankana Sahib is a city of 80,000 in Pakistan’s Punjab province, where Gurdwara Janam Asthan (also called Nankana Sahib Gurdwara) is located. The shrine is built over the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was believed to be born in 1469. It is 75 kms to the west of Lahore, and is the capital of Nankana Sahib district.
The city was previously known as Talwandi, and was founded by Rai Bhoi, a wealthy landlord. Rai Bhoi’s grandson, Rai Bular Bhatti, renamed the town ‘Nankana Sahib’ in honour of the Guru. ‘Sahib’ is an Arabic-origin epithet of respect.
Besides Gurdwara Janam Asthan, Nankana Sahib has several important shrines, including Gurdwara Patti Sahib, Gurdwara Bal Leela, Gurdwara Mal Ji Sahib, Gurdwara Kiara Sahib, Gurdwara Tambu Sahib — all dedicated to stages in the life of the first Guru. There is also a Gurdwara in memory of Guru Arjan (5th Guru) and Guru Hargobind (6th Guru). Guru Hargobind is believed to have paid homage to the town in 1621-22.
The Janam Asthan shrine was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after he visited Nankana Sahib in 1818-19 while returning from the Battle of Multan.
During British rule, the Gurdwara Janam Asthan was the site of a violent episode when in 1921, over 130 Akali Sikhs were killed after they were attacked by the Mahant of the shrine. The incident is regarded as one of the key milestones in the Gurdwara Reform Movement, which led to the passing of the Sikh Gurdwara Act in 1925 that ended the Mahant control of Gurdwaras. In 2014, Pakistan had a memorial for the massacre built.
Until Independence, Nankana Sahib’s population had an almost equal number of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, which since Partition has been predominantly Muslim.
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