There’s a resentment brewing among the devotees and followers of Baba Makhni Ram over the last two years. Some Sikh activists are not allowing them to hold an annual Akhand Path (three-day long uninterrupted recital of Guru Granth Sahib) on Baba’s tomb at village Lohake in Punjab’s Tarn Taran.
The reason behind the objection of Sikh activists is that devotees offer country made liquor at the Baba’s tomb and it causes disrespect to Guru Granth Sahib, the holiest religious scripture in Sikhism and considered a living Guru.
“We organised the annual Akhand Path for around 30 years. Nobody ever raised an objection. But some activists from our village are not allowing us to hold the Akhand Path. We have a building to hold the annual Akhand Path where people can pay obeisance to Guru Granth Sahib. The tomb, where liquor is offered, is not part of the building. But still some activists are opposing it. Baba’s devotees are hurt by this development,” said Kewal Singh, who retired from electricity department.
Kewal Singh, who’s wife remained sarpanch of the village for two terms, claims that the land on which the tomb stands originally belonged to ancestors of his clan. “Then Nirmala Sant Baba Makhni Ram came here around 200 years back. He had divine powers and he still fulfills the wishes you make at his tomb. He used to drink liquor. It is the reason that after his death people started offering liquor at his tomb and it became an tradition. Mostly country made liquor is offered at the tomb,” said Kewal Singh.
However village gurdwara president Dilbagh Singh, presents another theory. “Baba was famous for collecting butter from village and then mixing it with flour to make bread. That’s how his name Makhni Ram came to be. But he did not drink liquor as has been projected. This myth that he used to drink liquor and that people should offer the same to make him happy came to be attached with Baba Makhni Ram much later. We have asked the management of the tomb to stop this practice if they want to hold Akhand Path there,” Dilbagh Singh said.
A similar kind of belief is associated with the tomb of Baba Khetarpal in Bhikhiwind, also in Tarn Taran. Balwinder Sharma alias Babbu, the Congress block president, takes care of the tomb where devotees and followers offer liquor.
“Baba Khetarpal was vegetarian and he does not drink liquor. He was blessed by Lord Shiva and Goddess Kali and Lord Bhairo always accompany Baba Khetarpal. Both Kali and Bhairo are considered non-vegetarian and drink liquor. Devotees offer liquor and mutton to Kali and Bhairo,” said Balwinder Sharma.
There are numerous other such religious in Tarn Taran where country made liquor is offered. Incidentally, of the 113 fatalities reported in the hooch tragedy that unfolded over last few days in three Punjab districts, maximum 84 deaths occurred in Tarn Taran, followed by 15 in Amritsar and 14 in Batala.
Meanwhile, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee member from Khemkaran constituency, Baba Avtar Singh, has yet another theory to why people offer liquor to local deities aor at local religious places. “They do so because they believe that it would improve the quality and quantity of the liquor they brew at home. In some villages, especially where Sandhu clan is in majority, the practice continues. People offer liquor to Baba Kala Mahar of Sandhu clan believing in the myth that it makes him happy.”
“There were many such villages in Tarn Taran where liquor was offered at local religious places. But now gurdwaras have come up at most such places. I myself took initiative to get gurdwaras constructed at Rajo Ke, Asal Uttar and Behadwal villages to stop this practice. Now no liquor is offered in these three villages,” Avtar Singh said, even as he a blamed politicians for promoting drugs and liquor for petty gains.
“Politicians distribute drug and liquor to win elections. Then how can they says that we will put a stop to such things? Do you really believe that government can stop drug and liquor sale and consumption,” asked Avtar Singh.
The country made or home brewed liquor, that people offer at religious places, has remained a glorified subject in Punjabi culture. As the latest tragedy again put the spotlight on illicit liquor, a investigation by Tarn Taran police has revealed that it was spurious liquor and not the country made that led to the deaths.
The police is now investigating a nexus in which denatured spirit, generally used in paint and hardware industry, is being channeled to make instant liquor. In the case of the latest tragedy, the accused were also mixing ‘lahan’ into the chemical concoction to make it smell and taste like country made liquor.
The set up for country made liquor is often a makeshift arrangement that can be disassembled after brewing liquor.
However, the videos of police and excise raids conducted at illegal liquor factories following the hooch tragedy show that the accused had constructed permanent structures to brew the liquor.
“Tarn Taran is known for its love for country made liquor. However, it is the first time that we have seen permanent liquor brewing factories and an organised network of suppliers and sellers,” said former Khemkaran MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha.
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