KARSEVA, voluntary contribution of physical labour towards cleaning and construction operations at sacred tanks and temples, holds a special significance in the Sikh tradition. Sevd, altruistic service, was preached by the Gurus as a means to God realization. “One who renders selfless service attains to the Lord`s presence,” says the Scripture (GG,28687). Kdr may be interpreted in two ways. In Sanskrit as well as in Persian the word means simply act, action, work, operation, labour, service, etc., so that kdrsevd may mean any physical act, labour or service altruistically performed. However, in Sikh usage the term is applied to free voluntary labour contributed to building, repairing or renovating projects, undertaken by the community. In another and more popular sense till recently, the word kdrw^s taken as derived from the Arabic (y`rtr meaning “to go to the bottom, to make deep, bottom, depth (of well, etc.).” Kdrsevd is thus applied specifically to the work of dredging or removing by manual labour sedimentary mud and garbage, collected at the bottom of a sarovar, sacred pool or tank, over the years. Sikhs, male and female, old and young, high and low, consider it a privilege to participate in kdrsevd.
Therefore, in order to give a chance to the maximum number, it a customary not to use mechanical contrivances but use simple digging implements and baskets during the operation.The inauguration of the work is marked by a solemn ceremony. Panj Piarc or the Five Elect are chosen for their eminence in piety. They, after ardds, supplicatory prayer to God for assistance in successful completion of the task, offered in the presence of gathered volunteers, dig the first clods and carry them in baskets on their heads up to the banks of the sarovar amidst singing of the sacred hymns.
The volunteers then take over and the whole tank hums with activity combined with hymnsinging or simple, sonorous repetition of “Sati Nam Vahiguru””God whose very name is the Truth.” As the operations conclude, the sarovar is refilled w^ith fresh water and a thanksgiving ardas is offered.Sikh chronicles describe the kdrsevd operations at the Pool of Nectar, the sacred tank, Amritsar, which lent its name to the city, on several occasions. This sarovar was dug initially by Guru Ram Das (1534-81).
Being unlined and rainfed, it soon started getting shallow. Guru Arjan (1563-1606) took up the first kdrsevd which involved not only deepening but also bricklining of its banks with steps leading down. He had the Harimandar constructed in the middle of it as also the causeway connecting the shrine to the bank. The project extending over several years was executed primarily with voluntary, free labour.
With the shifting of the Guru`s seat to Kiratpur and Chakk NanakT in the Sivalik foothills, no kdrsevd at Amriisar is recorded to have taken place for a century and more. In 1746, Lakhpat Rai, dwdn, revenue minister to Yahiya Khan. governor of Lahore, started a severe campaign of persecution against the Sikhs in retaliation of the death of his brother, Jaspat Rai, at their hands in an encounter. Besides inflicting heavy casualties upon the Sikhs in what is known as Chhota Ghallughara, the minor holocaust, he destroyed their shrines and had the Pool of Nectar partly filled up.
But the following year, Sikhs regained control of Amritsar and had the sarovar cleaned through kdrsevd.The sarovar was got filled up again in May 1757 by Jahan Khan, an army commander and deputy viceroy of the Punjab under Taimur Shah, the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani. Taimur and Jahan Khan were, however, driven out of the Punjab in April 1758 by a combined force of Sikhs and Maraihas, and the Sikhs got tlic sarovar cleaned by two hundred odd Afghan prisoners of war. Sikh volunteers also assisted in the kdrsevd.
Five years later, on the eve of BaisakhT of 1762, Ahmad Shah Durrani, not content with the crushing blow he had inflicted upon the Sikhs two months earlier during what is known in Sikh history as Vadda Ghallughara, the greater holocaust, suddenly fell upon Amritsar, where he blew up the Harimandar with gun powder and filled up the Pool of Nectar with debris and rubbish.Dal Khalsa, the fighting force of the Sikhs, under Jassa Singh Ahluvalla retaliated with an attack on Sirhind in May 1762. Zain Khan, the faujddr, was defeated and purchased peace with Rs 50,000 as indemnity to the Sikhs. Following their advantage the Sikhs reoccupied Amritsar in October 1762.
Durranl`s one attempt to eject them on DivalT day, 17 October, was frustrated and the Sikhs were left free to perform the kdrsevd at the sacred tank in peace. In January 1764, the Sikhs conquered Sirhind. The accursed town was put to systematic destruction and pillage, and it was decided to set apart a major part of the plunder for the reconstruction of the Harimandar and the embankment and circumam bulatory terrace around the sarovar.The execution of the project was entrusted to Bhai Dcs Raj and was completed in 1776.
The next kdrsevdv/as carried out in 1842 under the supervision of BhaT Gurmukh Singh Giani. Eightyone years later, in 1923, the newly established Shiromam Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee planned a kdrsevd. As a preparaory measure, an earthen embankment temporarily divided the sarovar into two parts. Water of one was transferred into the other so that the emptied half could be ready for digging and deepening.
The actual operations were inaugurated with great fanfare on 17 June 1923.Parij Piare Sant Sham Singh of Amritsar, Sant Gulab Singh of Gholia, Jathcdar Tcja Singh of Chuharkana, Sodhl Pritam Singh of Anandpur Sahib and Sardar Mahitab Singh came to the Harimandar at the head of a large procession. Five gold shovels and five large silver bowls were placed at Har ki Pauri. After offering ardds, the Parij Piare each lifted a shovel and bowl, and digging some sedimentary clods from the emptied half of the sarovar carried them in the bowls up the embankment stairs to throw it beyond the terrace.
Volunteers, assembled districtwise, took turns at sevd. Even Maharaja Bhupindcr Singh, ruler of Patiala (1891-1938), and other Sikh chiefs participated in the sacred labour.The latest kdrsevd at Amritsar was in 1973. This time the Parij Piare included five eminent saints known for their dedication especially to the renovation of the holy Sikli shrines at different places.
They were Sam Gurmukh Singh, Sant Kliarak Singh, Sant Jivan Singh, Sant Seva Singh and Sant Mohindar Singh. Dredging through kdrsevd of the sacred lank at Tarn Taran, tlie largest of the Sikh sarovars, was carried out from 10 January 1931 to 31 May 1932. Building activities through kdrsevd go on continuously at different places throughout the country keeping the Sikh tradition of sevd alive and inculcating among the followers of the faith values such as equality, humility and dignity of manual labour.
1. Pratap Sing, Giani, Gurdwnrn Sudhar artat Akati Lahir, Amritsar, 1975
2. Gian Singh, Giani, Twankh Sfi Amrii.wr. Atnritsar, 1977
3. Madanjil Kaur, The Golden Temple Past and Present.
4. Amritsar, 1983 oI. Fanja Singli, The City of Awrit.wr. Delhi, 1978