Paonta & Hemkund: Sites close to heart of Guru Gobind Singh
Monday, 14 January 2019 | Jaskiran Chopra | Dehradun–
Two years ago, the 350th Prakash Parv of Guru Gobind Singh was celebrated the world over. Sunday marked his 352nd birth anniversary. This is an apt occasion to remember the deep connection his life, in his birth as Gobind Singh and in an earlier birth, had with this mountainous region.
The two sites that are were his abode are that of Paonta Sahib and Hemkund Sahib, the first close to Uttarakhand and the second within it.
Paunta is in Himachal Pradesh, located just across the Uttarakhand- Himachal Pradesh border. It is a religious and cultural meeting point for people of both mountain states.
During the Hemkund Sahib Yatra every year, pilgrims, mostly from Punjab, Delhi and Haryana, visit Paonta either before going up to Hemkund or on their way back from Hemkund.
The Guru’s association with these two places brings to mind many interesting facts. Paonta Sahib is on the banks of Yamuna, a shrine dedicated to the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind Sigh, who spent five years here. It is a now amid a bustling town. It retains tangible memories of Guru Gobind Singh in the form of his weapons and his wooden “kalams” (pens).
The Gurudwara has been built on the spot where Guru Gobind Singh dismounted from his horse after arriving at Paonta.
After arriving in the erstwhile Nahan state in 1685 from Anandpur Shaib on the invitation of Raja Medni Prakash of Nahan, the Guru surveyed the area and when he set eyes on the place where the present Paonta township is located, he was fascinated by the landscape on the western bank of the Yamuna river and decided to settle there.He built a fort and a cantonment for his army and founded the city of Paonta which means “space for a foothold”(Stirrup). Soon, the city became a centre of literary and cultural activity.
It is an interesting fact that before this happened, Guru Ram Rai had already set up his “Dera” on the eastern side of the Yamuna in Doon. He had been removed from the line of Sikh Gurus as he had performed ‘miracles’ in the court of Aurangzeb (a thing prohibited by the religion).Aurangzeb and his friend Fateh Shah of Tehri then set up Ram Rai in the valley which came to be known “Dera Doon” (camp in the valley” and subsequently, Dehradun.
Paonta is just fifty kilometers away from Doon. Ram Rai sent several messages to Gobind Singh and expressed his desire to have a glimpse of him. The Guru conceded his request and came personally to receive him in midstream Yamuna and embraced the aged Ram Rai. It was here that Guru Gobind Singh composed most of his poetic works.Fifty two poets adorned his “Kavi Darbar” which can be seen even today at Paonta. The Guru held many a poetic symposium at this place. Historians recorded that the Guru also set up an armoury at Paonta.
Higher up, the glaciers from Hathi Parvat and Saptrishi peaks feed the Hemkund lake and a small stream called Himganga flows out of the lake. Guru Gobind Singh wrote in one of his works that he had meditated on the bank of this lake in one of his earlier births.The site was discovered by a Sikh Havaldar, Sohan Singh and became a major pilgrimage centre only after 1930. It is also believed that Lakshman meditated by this lake and regained health after being wounded by Meghnad, son of Ravana. The Lakshmana temple, which is also in the same premises as Hemkund, also reopens for worship on June 1 with the traditional Pooja-Archana.Mid-August is the peak time of the Hemkund Sahib yatra.
It is not easy to walk the path of the Lord. A “shabad” in Sukhmani Sahib says, “Charan Chalo Marag Gobind, Mitey Paap japiye Har bind” (walk in the way of the Lord, Sins are washed away, chanting the Lord’s name, even for a moment ).
This perfectly describes the Hemkund Sahib Yatra. From the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a large group of Sikh devotees reaches Hemkund on foot every year and is given a rousing welcome at the shrine. It takes the group from Amritsar a month to walk to Hemkund! The trek to the shrine passes through some breathtaking stretches like the one along Hem Ganga. At an altitude of 1828 metres above sea level and 18 kilometres from Joshimath lies Gobind Ghat from where the motor road branches into two-one rising steeply as a pathway leading to Ghangharia at a height of 3048 metres. The other goes to Badrinath. The pilgrims to Hemkund stop at Ghangharia to rest and acclimatise themselves for higher altitudes.
Hemkund lake near the Gurudwara is encircled by seven snow clad peaks and reflects them beautifully on its crystal- clear serene waters. Guru Gobind Singh wrote in one of his works that he had meditated on the bank of this lake in one of his earlier births. The story is recounted in Bachitar Natak, which roughly translated means ‘Amazing’ ‘Beatific’ or ‘Unique Drama’ – an autobiography attributed to Guru Gobind Singh himself and included in the Dasam Granth. In poetic language, the author alludes to the place from which the Guru was called by God:
Hemkund Parvat Hai Jahan
Sapat Shring sobhit Hai Tahan.
Sapat Shring Tahan Nam Kahava.
Pandu Raj Jahan Yog Kamaya.
Tahan Hum Adhik Tapasya Sadhi.
Mahan Kal Kalika Aradhi.
Ehi Bidhi Karat Tapaya Bhaya.
Dwai Te Ek Rup Hwai Gayo.
Sohan Singh, a retired granthi from the army, journeyed through the Himalayas to search for it. When he saw a beautiful lake, he started to count the peaks which surrounded it, wondering if this could be the place described in Bachitar Natak. As he was counting, he heard a voice behind him say, “O Khalsa, kidhar se aye ho (from where did you come)? Kya dhundhte ho (for what do you search)?” Sohan Singh turned and saw a tall rishi (hermit) clad all in white. He had a long beard, heavy eyelids, and a face so radiant that Sohan Singh was unable to look at him eye to eye. So he bowed his head before the rishi and said, “Baba Ji, Mai Guru Gobind Singh ka tap asthan dhundhne aya hoon”. The rishi gestured to a flat stone beside the water and said that this was the place at which the Guru had sat for so long in deep meditation. “Go and bow your head.” Sohan Singh hastened to go, with his eyes filled with tears of joy. The ecstasy of fulfillment after a two year search left him somewhat dazed. Nevertheless, when he recovered a bit and resolved to ask the rishi more questions the holy man had disappeared.
Hemkund Sahib, at 4329 metres, is the highest Gurudwara in the world.