Sikh shrine in Baghdad lives on in memories

A desolate courtyard surrounded by fields of mournful graves is all that remains of an ancient shrine to the Sikh faith`s founder Guru Nanak inside a sprawling Muslim cemetery in Baghdad.

Last Updated: Jan 27, 2011, 17:45 PM IST

Baghdad: A desolate courtyard surrounded by
fields of mournful graves is all that remains of an ancient
shrine to the Sikh faith`s founder Guru Nanak inside a
sprawling Muslim cemetery in Baghdad.

War, insurgents or looters have wiped any trace of a
historical footnote that had preserved the memory of the
Indian holy man`s 16th-century journey through Arabia and his
stay in Baghdad, hailed by Sikhs as an early example of
inter-faith dialogue.

"No one visits anymore," lamented Abu Yusef, the lean and
bearded Muslim caretaker, standing in the nearly-bare patio
where a disorderly stack of broken electric fans and a
discarded refrigerator replace the prayer books and articles
of Sikh worship that had furnished a shrine whose modesty
mirrored the apparent humility of the man it honoured.

"Before the war a few Sikh pilgrims would occasionally
arrive," Abu Yusef said, referring to the 2003 US-led invasion
that toppled ex-dictator Saddam Hussein and unleashed an
unending cycle of violence.

"Once or twice we even had Western tourists. Last year,
after a very long time, a Sikh man came from Dubai who
promised to return and rebuild the shrine. But since then,
nobody," he said with a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

When they came, the pilgrims would stay a night or two
and convert the shrine into a temple, Abu Yusef recalled.

"They slept in the courtyard, where they also cooked
large quantities of food to share after worship with whoever
came along," he remembered, pointing to the places in the
roofless, sun-beaten enclosure with whitewashed walls and a
plain concrete dais that had housed prayer books, painted
portraits of the guru and a prized stone plaque from the 16th
century.

What is known about the origins of the site, which lies
today inside central Baghdad`s expansive Sheikh Marouf
cemetery that adjoins a disused train station where decaying
railroad cars rest frozen on rusted tracks, is gleaned from
scant historical sources?

One is a Punjabi hymn by the poet and philosopher Bhai
Gurdaas, written several decades after the visit.

PTI