A controversy erupted at the historic Gurdwara Pathar Sahib, on the outskirts of Leh, after Buddhist religious murals and slogans were painted on its walls during renovation.
Indian Army, which maintains the Gurdwara associated with Guru Nanak Dev, says it has re-painted the walls after receiving objections from Sikhs.
The matter came to light earlier this month when renovation and repainting work was being undertaken at the Gurdwara. Visitors, mostly from Sikh community, noticed that Buddhists religious slogans had been painted on the walls of the Gurdwara along with certain murals.
A video and some photographs found their way to social media. In the video, it was alleged that the Gurdwara’s nature of a Sikh place of worship was being changed despite an Army unit – 18 Guards – being responsible for its upkeep.
“We were shocked to see that apart from the Sikh religious symbols, Buddhist religious art and text had been added to the Gurdwara. We brought this to the notice of the Army authorities in Leh and demanded an immediate reversal to the Gurdwara’s original state,” said a devotee from Leh who did not want to be named.
Former president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Avtar Singh Makkar, said that this was a very serious issue. “How can anyone paint their religious symbols on a place of worship of another faith? Earlier, the Union government was urged that the Gurdwara be handed over to the SGPC but they did not agree. If the Army is now maintaining it, then it must see to it that the Gurdwara’s sanctity is not disturbed,” he said.
An officer of Army’s Northern Command, headquartered in Jammu & Kashmir’s Udhampur, said that it was the contractor who had erred. “We immediately got the new images painted over,” the officer said.
A senior officer at Army Headquarters in New Delhi, when contacted, said that the General Officer Commanding of Leh-based 14 Corps intervened in the matter to resolve it.
“Gurdwara Pathar Sahib is one of the most revered places of worship for Army personnel in the entire Ladakh sector. A lot of renovation work is being undertaken in there, for comfort of visitors and before commencement of next tourism season. All work is being undertaken with utmost reverence and piety,” the officer said.
He added that as part of renovation and painting work, local symbols were painted on the outer wall by the contractor. “His aim was only to improve aesthetics. Immediately, on receipt of information about objections by a section of the populace, same was removed within a few hours. Indian Army troops have a deep emotional and spiritual connect with place hence it is unfathomable that Army will do anything which will affect the ‘shaan’ (honour) of Gurdawara Pathar Sahib,” the officer said.
Gurdwara Pathar Sahib is located around 25 kms from Leh city on the Kargil-Leh highway and is believed to have been a place where Guru Nanak Dev, known as Nanak Lama in local parlance, rested while on his travels around the world. It is said that a demon had hurled a giant rock, which turned soft when it hit the Guru and got moulded into his body shape. Hence, the name Pathar Sahib.
Given the remote location of the Gurdwara, local Army units are given the task of its upkeep and maintenance.