Sunday, March 13, 2011

Controversy is knocking at the doors

Darshani Deodi Gates removed after 210 years for repairs, but something else needs some restoration too

Rita Manchanda

One would have thought that a task as sacred as restoration of the famous Darshani Deodi gates would be an occasion that will induce a fervour of religiosity and spirituality among the Sikh community and will only inspire our newer generation to know more about our history. One would have also expected, and rightly so, that thousands of young children would be asking why the Darshani Deodi gates were so important, where they came from, and how have they attained such huge place in Sikh sense of history.
Instead, as the SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar extended his hand for the mandatory photo-op, touching the historic silver gates when these were being removed and carted away, the questions that were tossed by sections of the community were rather disturbing.
And to add distrust to the context of utter failure to find unanimity and conciliation, Makkar himself put a question mark on the origin of the gates of Darshani Deodi by saying he does not want to comment on the origins of the gates. Such a statement is bound to put a question mark on the entire exercise.
Many political bodies of shades different than the ruling Akalis asked if there was any intention to return the gates to the Somnath Temple, and that too, under the influence of the Bhartiya Janata Party, with which the ruling Akali Dal has an alliance?
To prove that he had no such intentions, Makkar took some extra ordinary measures. Special glass enclosures have been erected. He had to announce that the Gates will not be taken out of the complex, not even for repairs, and that all repairs will be carried out in full public view inside the glass enclosures. A whole deal of time, energy and money is being spent on first filming, micro filming and preserving every inch of detail of the gates. And special assurances are being given that the details will not be changed and the gates will merely be repaired, not renovated.
All of this proves the extent to which the SGPC leadership has lost its trust, and what all it has to do to merely underline that if it wants to repair the gates, it will only do that and not run away with them and give these over to some temple. The centuries old huge gates at the entrance to the sanctum sanctorum of Golden Temple had their sandalwood base crumbling and the ivory carving and golden screws on the doors had suffered damage due to more than 210 years of exposure to the vagaries of time. Avtar Singh Makkar has been around for much less time, and seems to have suffered much more damage. Worse, no one is ready to vouch that it can even be repaired.
Since their installation in 1800 AD by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, this was for the first time that the gates were unhooked. Many historians believe the gates were originally from Gujarat’s Somnath Temple, which were looted by Afghan invaders in the 12th century, and which were later brought back by the Sikhs from Afghan hands. That story is part of the popular Sikh folklore for decades now. It is said that the Sikh warriors, after snatching the precious gates from the Afghans, had offered them to Hindus but the Somnath management had refused to accept the doors, terming them “impure” as these had been looked at and touched by the Afghans.
Now, with the advent of modernity and an idea of historical heritage taking deeper roots, there have been demands that the Gates be returned to the Somnath Temple. It is in this context that many had thought that the Gates were being removed with the hidden purpose of somehow effecting their return to the Temple. Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, who was against the removal or any “tempering” with the gates, found support from many other radical Sikh bodies.
Both Makkar and the Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh tried to say that the Gates were being removed only for repairs but the trust deficit has been much more than the damage to the Gates, forcing Makkar to issue a statement that said, "The doors are sacred and ... work will be carried out inside the Golden Temple premises and the gates will not be taken out of the complex.”
He said he does not want to get into any controversy by commenting on the origin of the gates. His opponents said that was strange behaviour.
"Does fear of controversy stop anyone from saying a historical truth? And why is Makkar hesitant? Is he ashamed of the Sikh history? Is, of all the people, the SGPC president saying he is embarrassed or ashamed by a chapter of the Sikh history and will not comment on it?" asked a senior leader and opponent of the move to remove the Gates. Makkar is stuck on his "no comments" line: “We do not want to get into any controversy. The gates need repair and we are duty bound to restore them to their traditional pristine glory.”
To underline the levels to which the SGPC president is suffering the trust deficit, members of the Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee sat outside the complex to ensure that the gates were not taken out.
Now, restoration cum preservation of the Darshani Gates will be carried out as kar sewa under the supervision of Baba Kashmira Singh Bhuriwale. “A five-member committee headed by Golden Temple head priest Jaswinder Singh will overview the repair work. Gates made of silver have replaced the original gates till the repair is completed, which may take a year,” Makkar said. Clearly, Makkar delayed the Darshani Deodi gates' removal for a year but failed to find conciliation with the opponents. Unfortunately, there is little chance of anyone taking up the kar sewa of Makkar's reputation that has suffered extensive damage due to his behaving more as a minion at the beck and call of his political masters than as a leader of the SGPC. Will our leaders learn from the past?

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