Sixty-year-old Manjit Kaur had travelled all the way from the US to Patna to participate in one of the most revered Sikh festivals-- Prakash Parv.
Before embarking here, she was quite apprehensive about the place as she had heard news about Bihar mostly for the wrong reasons. “But once I was here, my perception about the state changed diametrically. People here are so helpful and energetic. Sab Wahe Guru ki kripa hai Bihar ke logon pe. (It’s all due to God’s blessings on Biharis),” the Sikh pilgrim averred about her first visit to the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Sikh Guru.
Like Manjit, there were lakhs of Sikh pilgrims who had descended here from across the globe to attend Prakash Parv. Takht Shri Harmandirji shrine in Patna Sahib too had been reverberating since December 31 when the events started rolling. It was Patna Sahib where the Tenth Sikh Guru, who was initially known as Gobind Rai, was born to Guru Tegh Bahadur and Mata Gujri.
When his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded for refusing to covert to Islam, Guru Gobind Singh was formally anointed as the new Sikh Guru at the age of nine. However, he was the last Sikh Guru. His two sons died in the war between Sikhs and Mughals, while the other two sons were executed.
Guru Gobind Singh spent the first eight years of his childhood playing and learning here at Patna Sahib where stands the majestic Takht Shri Harmandirji shrine. This shrine is perceived to be the second most important religious seat of Sikhs after the Golden Temple in Amritsar. “Around four lakhs pilgrims, mostly Sikhs, from across the globe came here to pay their tributes to Guru Gobindji. They also experienced warm hospitality of Biharis,” said Gurinder Pal Singh, chief of the Prakash Parv Organising Committee. “After the renovation work of the sanctum sanctorum at Takht Shri Harmandirji was over, the visitors were awe-struck by the grandeur of the renovated building,” said Singh.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who won accolades for flawless arrangements by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, personally monitored every minute detail of the Sikh festival. Arrangements were made to accommodate 30,000 pilgrims at the specially erected Tent City near Patna bypass, 18,000 at Tent City at Gandhi Maidan, 5,000 at Kangan Ghat and another 50,000 at various government schools and colleges. A replica of Takht Shri Harmandirji shrine was set up at Gandhi Maidan, which eventually became the prime attraction.
Prakash Parv actually kickstarted on January 3 with saints, preachers, jathas (religious group) and priests from four Takhts arriving at Shri Harmandirji for bhajan, kirtan, and other religious activities. The religious function started with “Akhand path|” at Gaighat Gurudwara and the makeshift Gurudwara at the Tent City in Gandhi Maidan. Later a seminar on Guru Gobind Singh’s life was organised under the chairmanship of Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee chief Kirpal Singh Badungar. This was followed by special kirtan durbar by ragi jathas of five Takhts, horse race and martial arts competition.
On January 4, a massive shobha yatra was taken out from Gandhi Maidan where the Panj Pyare led the yatra by escorting the chariot of Guru Gobind Granth Sahibji. This yatra had 130 horses which included the one which was worth Rs 1 crore. The yatra became more grand with the presence of three elephants and 11 camels, two bands of army - King pipe band and Mumbai dholi band - besides thousands of pilgrims.
Earlier, a group of 17 Sikh pilgrims from Nanded in Maharashtra walked more than 1400 km to reach Patna Sahib. The group had pilgrims of the age of 16 as well as 60. “We started on November 17 for this journey. We fixed a target of covering around 50 km every day,” said Badal Singh, one of the pilgrims from this Maharashtra group. The pilgrims were quite delighted to see the arrangements here, particularly the Tent City at Gandhi Maidan.
The Patna district administration had set up 75 help desks to provide all possible assistance – be it free medical treatment, medicines, transport, food, drinking water, accommodation or even help those who wanted to visit important tourist spots.
The Bihar Police too had deployed special weapons and tactics teams, besides round-the-clock patrols and around 17,000 policemen as fool-proof security cover for pilgrims, who had one or other reason to smile after arriving here.
A group of 200 Sikh pilgrims travelled by Amritsar-Howrah Mail to Patna. When the pilgrims alighted at the Patna junction, they were pleasantly surprised to hear the announcement on the railway platform. “Ji aaya nu thodda Patna di dharti te swagat hai (You are welcome in the land of Patna)”, was announced in Punjabi language by the East Central Railway (ECR) for all those Sikh pilgrims.
Among the 200 devotees who arrived here, one jatha (group) of 80 pilgrims had come exclusively to take care of shoes and baggage during the Sikh festival. “We came here on the directive of Akal Takht in Amritsar,” said Kashmir Singh, who was leading the group. “We worked as kar-sevaks at ‘footwear house’ and ‘baggage house’ at Gandhi Maidan, where the Tent City had been erected,” said Singh.
Of all the religious functions, ardas and kirtans remained the main attraction. “We have to profusely thank the Bihar Chief Minister for such a wonderful arrangement for Prakash Parv,” said Balbir Singh, who came from Punjab along with his family.
“Bihar is quite opposite to what we had actually heard. People here are quite helpful, warm and friendly,” he said while enjoying sweet delicacies like ‘Maner ka laddu’ and ‘Tilkut’ of Gaya at Gandhi Maidan.