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VARANASI (25°20`N, 82°58`E), the holiest place of Hindu pilgrimage, has since ancient times, been one of the most important centres of Sanskrit learning. Guru Gobind Singh sent five of his Sikhs to Varanasi to study Sanskrit, and following them several centres for the study of Sanskrit and theology were established by Nirmala Sikhs. Thus there are many places of historical importance for the Sikhs in this holy city. GURDWARA BARI SAN GAT SRI GURU TEGH BAHADUR, NICHI BAGH.

Probably since the visit of Guru Nanak but certainly since the time of Bhai Gurdas, a Sikh sangat had been in existence in Varanasi. When Guru Tegh Bahadur came here in 1666, he was received by the sangated by BhaiJavehari Mall, the local Sikh minister. The Guru was put up in the house of Bhai Kalyan Mall, the site of the present Gurdwara Bari Sangat where he is said to have stayed for several months. Bhai Gurbakhsh, the masand atJaunpur, came with his sarig`atto offer obeisance.

Bhai Gurbakhsh. a practised musician, pleased the Guru with his melodious kirtan and gave Bhai Gurbakhsh a mrdang (a drum) as a mark of his appreciation and blessing. When he was not preaching or meeting his devotees and visitors, Guru Tegh Bahadur meditated in a room still kept apart as his Tap Asthan. Once, it is said, Bhai Kalyan Mall came to the Guru`s Tap Asthan early in the morning and invited him to a dip in the holy Ganga, that being an auspicious day of die month.

The Guru, as the tradition goes, asked him to lift a stone lying near by. Immediately, a spring of river water gushed forth. The spring is still preserved in the form of a narrow well, called Baoli Ganga Pargat, inside the main hall of the Gurdwara, and its water is used for drinking. People believe in its curative properties. In the Gurdwara are preserved two cloaks (cholas) and a pair of shoes belonging to the Guru. The shoes have since decayed with only the soles left. Guru Gobind Singh also visited this shrine in 1670 when as a child he was being escorted from Patna to the Punjab.

A pair of his shoes is also preserved here as a relic. The Bari Sangat at Varanasi remained an important Sikh centre. Seventeen hukamnamasofGuru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Devan addressed to the Sangat are preserved in the Gurdwara. SHRI CHETAN MATH, located in Bishveshvarganj, popularly known as Bisesargahj. is another site of historical importance. This is the place where the five Sikhs sent by Guru Gobind Singh to study Sanskrit had stayed and which became in due course a centre of the Nirmala Sikhs.

The centre now functions as Shri Guru Nanak Nirmal Sanskrit Vidyalaya, affiliated to the Sanskrit University. The Guru Granth Sahib is installed in a portion of the building and is studied by those interested, but such study does not form a part of the school curriculum. Most of the scholars hail from Nepal. GURDWARA CHHOT! SANGAT, commemorates an old Sikh sangat in Varanasi visited both by Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. The building is privately owned and is crowded by families to whom the different rooms are let out on hire.

A room on the first floor is set apart for the Guru Granth Sahib, with a Nirmala sadhu as the custodian. Among the several largesized old paintings in glowing colours and heavy frames depicting scenes o from Hindu mythology is a portrait of Guru Nanak with Bala sitting on one side of him and Mardana on the other. Bala is shown beardless with a high peaked cap, but Mardana is dressed like a Mughal prince with a plumed turban, though he is not without his rebeck. The Gurdwara possesses an old handwritten copy of the Guru Granth Sahib transcribed in Phagun 1833 Bk/ February 1777.

GURDWARA GURU BAGH, commemorates the visit of Guru Nanak to Varanasi at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The occasion was the Sivaratri of 1563 Bk, which fell in February 1507. Guru Nanak`s apparel which was neither of a householder nor of a hermit attracted notice. One of die leading Pandits, Chatur Das, came and began to question him, "What faith do you profess ? You carry no Saligram, tlie devotee`s stone, nor do you wear the necklace of Tuisi, the holy basil. You have no rosary and no mark of wliite clay upon your forehead.

What devotion you have attached yourself to ?" Guru Nanak asked Mardana to play the rebeck and recited the hymn : "Let God`s Name be the Saligram thou adorest and good deeds the basilwreath round thy neck. Seek divine grace and let this be thy raft`s anchor. Why waste thy time watering barren land and plastering walls built on sand ? Let good deeds be the string of vessels to draw whaler from the well and yoke thy mind to the wheel. Distil the nectar and irrigate with it the land.

Then wilt thou be owned by the Gardener." Chatur Das was proud of his learning and invited the Guru to stay in Varanasi and master the various branches of knowledge. Guru Nanak said that for him only one word was of real account and that was the God`s Name. He reckoned him truly learned wTio remembered Him and engaged himself in the service of others. The bagh (garden) where this colloquy took place is no longer in existence. However, Gurdwara Guru Bagh marks the site.

Tlie construction of the present building was inaugurated on 23 November 1969, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Guru Nanak`s birth.The vast rectangular divan hall has an elegant little porch at the entrance and a 5metre wide gallery at midheight on three sides. There are 14 small rooms for use as office and residence for staff and pilgrims. One of these rooms in the building liouses a library named after Guru Nanak. In an adjacent campus is a girls college called Guru Nanak Khalsa Balika Inter College, Guru Bagh.

The management of the Gurdwara is in the hands of a local committee. SANGAT MiR GHAT is situated near Vishalakshi Temple on the bank of the Ganga.The spot is sacred to both Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. The building consists of a hall with several small rooms attached and a triangular stonepaved compound in front overlooking the river. At present it is used by Udasi students whose main school, Udasin Sanskrit Vidyalaya, is located at some distance from this site. The Guru Granth Sahib is seated in the hall on the raised platform.

NIRMAL SANGAT LAHORi TOLA, since redesignated Nirmal Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Nirmal Sangat, Lahori Tola, located in the interior of the city near the famous Vishveshwarnath Temple, is another old sangat established and maintained by Sikhs of the Nirmala sect. The building of the Nirmal Sangat was originally a mandir acquired by the Nirmala Sikhs in 1887 circa. The Guru Granth Sahib is seated on the first floor. The institution is affiliated to the Sampurananand Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya. The present mahantis Gur.dip Singh Kesari, a prominent Nirmala scholar of Punjabi origin.

References :

1. Narotam, Tara Singh, Sri Guru Tirath Sangrahi. Kankhal, 1975
2. Thakar Singh, Giani, Sri Gurduare Darshan. Anii-ilsar, 1923
3. Gian Singh, Giani, Twarikh Gurduariari. Amritsar, n.d
4. Fauja Singh, Guru Teg Bahadur : latra Asthan, Paramparavan te Yad Chinh. Padala, 1976
5. Harbans Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Delhi, 1993