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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Source: FirstPost

When Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were forced to leave their home and the land of their forefathers, what did they carry as souvenirs? Nothing, but a few seeds of memories. But what they left behind in 1947 was an immeasurable wealth of culture — a syncretic lifestyle evolved and enriched over centuries.

Not long back, communities were bound by spiritual values — by the underlying thread of humanity and mutual respect. All this was wiped out. Yet, a few residual shades remind one of the possibilities of what could be. At the last surviving Hindu temple in Kabul, the Asamai temple, the Bhagwat Geeta, the only enshrined scripture, is in Gurmukhi. Although, the priest at the temple can read only Urdu. A reminder that languages and scripts are not owned by specific religions, but are a heritage for humankind.

At Asamai temple in Kabul, the only enshrined scripture, Bhagwat Gita, is in Gurmukhi. All pictures courtesy Amardeep Singh

Unfortunately, the exiled communities in alien lands found that the seeds of memory fail to grow into trees that would bear the fruits of culture-left behind. In two generations, the culture is lost, even when re-planted on a different land. “Look at all the Gurdwaras of north Punjab, it’s all marble and gold. It’s sad if our younger generation starts believing that our forefathers knew so little; if we present a blinkered view in the name of our heritage. What about art, architecture, forts, havelis, temples, Gurdwaras, battlegrounds and the human stories?” rues Amardeep Singh, Singapore based self-taught writer, photographer and now a documentary maker who produced two coffee table books, Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, followed by The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, based on his photographic documentation of Sikh legacy in over 90 towns and cities across five states of Pakistan.

Under the shadows of guns, Amardeep is shooting for a documentary in Afghanistan, tracing the legacy of love and brotherhood of Guru Nanak’s footprints across nine countries. In doing so he is challenged with unscripted events on a daily basis. The first one being to visit the actual sites themselves where the founder of the Sikh religion addressed congregations of diverse faiths between 1500 AD to 1524 AD. Amardeep has to chart out his own course by making human bonds which alone could pave his way ahead. A vast geographical area where Nanak preached his messages is now a conflict zone.

Holding an AK 47, Khalida appeared to be an ‘iron lady’, who opened her home to offer hospitality and shared fond memories of growing up with Nanakpanthis of Khost ( Afghanistan).

He attempts to document the impact of Nanak’s words five centuries later; to record the remnants of syncretic culture lost to the melee of the Partition and other geopolitical developments. His work is neither political nor academic. He narrates tales of people and places that survived the storms of hatred and destruction to still blossom with love and brotherhood.

Post-Partition, Guru Nanak’s words have been boxed within the Sikh identity; whereas Khalsa was just one arm of Nanak’s broad humanism. His legacy was larger than any religion across countries he travelled — present-day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. For each geographical unit, Amardeep encounters hurdles on every step, be it visas, permissions or the risks involved in entering conflict zones. In these countries, he is tracing the legacy of a borderless land Nanak traversed in five major journeys he undertook to cover roughly 28,000 km, mostly on foot. His companion was Bhai Mardana, a rebab player of Muslim faith, from his hometown. “In his times, he would have travelled in and out of India-Pakistan border more than 15 times, to Afghanistan, three times, Tibet, twice, and so on, but then he didn’t have to cross borders and present visas. He travelled to Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Jaffna, Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Tibet, the traces are still there — at Hinglaj temple, Balochistan, Pakistan, Imam Raza Shrine, Mashhad, Iran, or Sita Eliya, Sri Lanka.”

India’s independence was gained at the cost of the culture of the Indus belt, where the religious identities were blurred among Nanakpanthis — Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs and the Sufis. Among the Sindhis, Balochis and Hindus, Nanak was deeply entrenched along the Indus belt. Today that culture is wiped out of the memory, communities are fragmented, and are boxed into religious compartments as about 80 percent of the land where this culture evolved is now in Pakistan. When people of this land were forced to migrate and were settled in the Gangetic plains, their syncretic nature was lost. As such, the Partition of 1947 raised religious identities to a new pitch, undermining other legacies, observes Amardeep.

As the world prepares to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019, Amardeep travels to 150 inter-faith sites, visited by Nanak. “That he preached monism, not monotheism; to him, religious faith was secondary to humanity. This has been forgotten even by his followers,” he says. Although his documentary will be ready for release only by November 2020.

Amardeep Singh with Dr Raghunath, the only Nanakpanthi in Kandahar.

Nanak’s verses are about spirituality, the history of his travels was documented 50 years after his death by Bhai Gurdas, based on oral traditions. The core repository of these travelogues is Janamsakhis and Udasis. “It’s a maze which doesn’t have consistency, because they were written by men of faith,” observes Amardeep, who has to stitch together diverse tales, to join the dots and lend his narrative an element of objectivity. “Though historians have written extensively about these travels, some scope for oral tradition has to be allowed for the sake of narrative.”

The narrative of Nanak’s travels is huge and the canvas vast. Mapping the routes alone took months; shooting across nine countries will take about a year’s time. The film is titled Allegory — A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels, and will attempt to unravel the hidden meaning behind the journeys Nanak undertook and spent two decades of his life in spreading the message of universal brotherhood. “I want the younger generation to have access to the true identity of Guru Nanak, not boxed within religion, but of his greater philosophy and spiritualism, that is still evident in places he visited. There are still traces of the values he preached; lived and experienced by Nanakpanthis, spread across regions.”

Pockets in Balochistan, Sindh, NWF, across the Indus belt — Nanakpanthis have multiple identities. They are Nirmala, Udasi, Sehajdhari, who are not turbaned. Then there are Pashto Sikhs who wear a turban, but are very different from the Sikhs of North Punjab. There are Jogis too, who are followers of Nanak. Why multiple identities of Sikhs disappeared from the Gangetic plains? Amardeep unravels the underlying unifying thread of Nanakpanthis, not boxed by religion, by going back to the sites of Nanak’s travels. About 50 percent of the sites are inaccessible due to multiple reasons; mainly armed conflict. Which makes travelling back in time and space all the more relevant — to understand why in more than 500 years since Nanak, humanity could not let go of the essence of his words.

There are instances that rekindle hope in the middle of conflict zones. For instance, Amardeep comes across Dr Raghunath, a Nanakpanthi Hindu, who hasn’t left Kabul against all odds to serve the natives of the land. He helps the film crew in locating the abandoned sites across Kandahar region Nanakpanthis had made in the memory of Guru Nanak’s travels. Everything is not lost.

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Source: Gov.UK

A detailed report by UK government about Afghan Hindus and Sikhs

In case the above URL doesn’t work, here’s a link to local copy.

Local copy is saved for archival purposes as websites change and information is archived.

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Source: SikhNet.com

Pritpal Singh, an ethnic Afghan Sikh, and media personality well known for his TV documentaries, Mission Afghanistan and Hindu Kush to Thames interviews Inderjeet Singh on his new book on Afghan Hindus & Sikhs.

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Q – Inderjeet, you used to regularly write articles on Sikh history for Sikhnet but it has been well over a year since you have written anything, have you been on a sabbatical?

A – Yes, Pritpal, you are right. I have not written an article since January 2018. I have been busy writing a book on Afghan Hindus & Sikhs.

Q – I am very pleased but equally curious about why you choose this topic? Are you an Afghan Sikh?

A – No, I am Punjabi Sikh. My paternal grandparents were from Lahore and maternal grandparents came from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). Following the partition of Punjab, they came and settled in East Punjab in India. The Sikh community lost schools, colleges, businesses, properties, agriculture land, heritage and above all our historical Gurdwara Sahibs. And the almost same thing has happened with Sikhs (& Hindus) in Afghanistan. I was concerned that we need to document the life and time of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus before all of them leave the country.

Q – How did this journey of writing the book begin?

A – I was always intrigued why and how Sindhi Hindus revere Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Gurbani? I have written a few articles on it. I also noticed that some Hindus in Baluchistan and KPK province are also Guru Nanak Naam Leva Sikhs. I started gathering information about them. I started reading the accounts of British travellers and agents of 18th and 19th century who travelled to these provinces. Some of them also went to Afghanistan and it was interesting to note that they wrote that they found Hindus shops and merchants in Kabul and Peshawar in the 1780s and early 1800s. In Peshawar, Pakistan most local Pathans/Pashtuns believe that Hindus and Sikhs came to Peshawar when Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed the city in 1834. The Maharaja first won it in 1818 and made the city his tributary. We have two British accounts to prove that Hindus & Sikhs lived in Peshawar prior to 1834. This gave me a clue that I could write something meaningful.

Q – The local Afghans don’t believe that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are natives of Afghanistan. What do you intend to achieve from this book?

A – Yes, the locals in Afghanistan believe Afghan Sikhs and Hindus came to the country when Ahmed Shah Abdali brought them as slaves or merchants from India. Some state that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus came when Mughals joined Kabulistan with North India. I want to prove to the world that Afghan Hindus and Sikhs are the natives of Afghanistan.

Q – Most Afghans do not give much credence to writings of outsiders especially those of Europeans? Have you referred Afghan historians in your book?

A – My book covers the period approximately from 950AD to 2019. I have used contemporary or near-contemporary sources only. Till the 16th century, I had to use Farsi sources. After the 16th century onwards I have used Punjabi, European, Farsi and Afghan sources. I can’t read Farsi hence I believe some of the sources may have been missed. But most history written in South Asia has been political history, the chronology of conquests by Kings and I wrote about a small minority. Most Afghan historians make only passing reference to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. A lot of space is given to Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a neighbouring ruler and he annexed Attock, Derajat, Multan, Peshawar, and Kashmir from Afghans. But they were the Sikhs from Punjab and I wrote about the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. I have been very clear about this distinction.

Q – What challenges did you encounter in writing this book?

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A – The information on Afghan Sikhs and Hindus is very minuscule. We get references of Sikh Sangat from Kabul and Peshawar coming to Punjab during the Guru Sahiban’s time but none of Afghan Hindus or Sikhs have left a written record of themselves. Hence I had to rely on other sources. Professor Ganda Singh visited Afghanistan in 1951 and left a travelogue in Punjabi which is very valuable. Despite my best efforts and I spoke to a number of Afghan Hindus but I was unable to find the history of Mandirs in Kandahar. Some people of the community were not interested in history and sadly they did not reply to my messages and phone calls, which was very disappointing. Those who returned my call developed cold feet (lest they would give inadequate information) when they came to know that I was writing a book.

Q – Did you managed to speak to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who are living in Afghanistan?

A – Yes, I spoke to few Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan for my last chapter including late Sardar Avtar Singh Khalsa and his son Narinder Singh Khalsa. Ram Saran Bhasin from Kabul was very helpful. You gave me details about Khajinder Singh Khurana and he kindly sent his book to me which proved very useful. Dr. Joginder Singh Tej Khurana Ji, former Member of the Afghan Great Assembly who later wrote the foreword of the book was very happy to meet me and congratulated me for writing the first ever book on Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in English. This encouragement led me to write further 10,000 words when I had already submitted my final manuscript to the publisher!

Q – Thanks Inderjeet for speaking to me. I sincerely hope that your book is well received and read.

A – Thanks Pritpal for your support. I would like to tell the readers that Pritpal has been mentioned 15 times in my book. All contributions and people to whom I have spoken have been duly noted in the book. I hope through this book, the general public and especially the new generation of Afghan Hindus & Sikhs will be a little bit wiser about their history. This will also assist in raising awareness about the issues concerning Afghan Sikhs and Hindus still living in Afghanistan.

For more information visit here.
Book on Amazon India
Book on Amazon.com

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Article by Anwesha Ghosh for The Diplomat – August 2016

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Source: BBC News

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