The images could not have been more poignant. At the start of the Premier League football matches two military officers march smartly to the centre of the ground at Anfield, England, and lay a wreath of poppy flowers and blow the bugle while the players stand in solemn silence. This is to mark the Armistice Day, the centenary of the end of World War I. In Germany Angela Markel kneels at a brick wall and takes a red piece of stone in another solemn ceremony that marks the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago to the day.
All this happens amid a week of build-up to the verdict on the contentious Ayodhya issue that had been coming for some time now. The verdict, pronounced by a five-man bench that ran into 1040 pages, after a hearing that lasted a record 40 days has been one of the longest in the legal history of the country. When the gate of the dome was opened in 1949 that triggered the controversy after Independence, none of the judges who have now given the verdict had even been born. The opening up of the Kartarpur corridor to the holy shrine of the Sikhs in Pakistan on the occasion of Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary also happened around this time. So many coincidences.
When Guru Nanak began his travels across the country there were no borders and he walked his way even as far as Saudi Arabia. When he visited Ayodhya in 1510 there was no evidence of any controversy because the mosque had not come up at that site then. That was also the time when cartographers and surveyors had not appeared and the British had not set foot here with their survey maps and the great trigonometric instruments to give a shape to this country. They had not yet started making a nation out of a civilization. The land at that time belonged to everybody and the commons were shared as also its produce.
While one of the judges who pronounced the verdict maintained there was no material evidence to identify the exact location of the Ram Janmabhoomi, Guru Nanak’s visit to Ayodhya before the building of the Babri Masjid could be held as proof that Lord Ram's birth was an event that, indeed, did take place. This was also proof that many other pilgrims visited Ayodhya. The mosque was built at the site by Emperor Babur in 1528.
Interestingly, the reference to Guru Nanak's Ayodhya visit holds tremendous significance as the corridor from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab to Kartarpur, the site considered holy by the faithful, as Guru Nanak spent his final days there, was inaugurated on the same day as the Supreme Court judgement.
So many birthday celebrations fall on this full moon night that this has a certain poignancy. When the gurdwaras on both sides of the border were illuminated and throngs of the faithful flocked, and their images were reflected in the shimmering waters of the sarovars, that seemed to herald a new era in this sub-continent’s tortuous relations since Independence. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the corridor from the Sultanpur Lodhi, the holy shrine on the Indian side of the border, and thanked his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for his efforts to make this possible, and during the five minutes of joint ride the Punjab chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh had with Imran Khan he recalled how their fathers had played for the country in cricket these were more than diplomatic niceties and tokenisms, these were reminders of the shared memories and bonds that had held the two peoples together. If one reckons that many of the sacred shrines of the Sikhs are in Pakistan that was also Guru Nanak’s birth place as well as his final resting place as well as his stomping ground, one can imagine how deep and ingrained are these bonds.
A large number Sikh pilgrims from India, Canada, the US, Britain, and the UAE as well from different parts of Pakistan had gathered at Gurdwara Janamsthan Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak on his birth anniversary, carrying out a ‘palki’ from the shrine and moved to eight other shrines in that city. Pakistan’s Federal Minister, Ijaz Shah said the visitors were overwhelmed by the arrangements made for them as well as the opening of the corridor. The Pakistan President Arif Alvi addressed these pilgrims at Lahore where he had invited them for lunch and said the doors would be open always at every occasion.
‘Pakistan is advocating love and peace as wars are not the solution to issues which could be solved through dialogue,’ he said. He assured that Pakistan was a safe place for minorities and it was working for the restoration of religious places of not only the Sikh community but also of other minorities like Christians. In the pact that was signed paving the way for the Kartarpur corridor Pakistan would allow 5,000 pilgrims daily to visit the shrine, which has become the world’s largest gurdwara.
Guru Nanak also appeared at a propitious moment in Indian history when arid monists and dualists were arguing and the common people were far away from these disputes. The time was ripe for the Bhakti movement that began to sweep the country. Kabir and Ravidas and Meera were going around the country singing their heart-wrenching songs of love and separation. That flood of love had completely swept the country and Nanak was among the vanguard of this movement. His shabad kirtans and Gurbani used to fill the nights in the vast Punjab countryside and brought such peace and harmony it was inconceivable how such a landscape would be strife-torn and lead to such misery.
In the Ayodhya verdict the learned judges apportioned a certain number of acres for the temple claimants and a time schedule was set up for working out the modalities of its construction. To reduce Ram to a shrine in a certain geographical area of a few acres whereas he had wandered across the country and interacted with everyone, like the ideal kings of old, none escaping his benign gaze, (subekhsna) and even the squirrels carrying the mark of his carousal on their back to this day, and subjecting him to judicial scrutiny in a minor kingdom seems the other extreme.
Instead of walls and barricades and bunkers it is time, it would seem, after a 500-year interregnum, for peace and harmony to flood the sub-continent so that it will spill over to the rest of the world. So like the olden times, it would not be soldiers and game hunters who would be traversing the world but minstrels and fakirs and pilgrims who would wander in search of salvation, sharing their craftsmanship and songs and mysterious mantras.
It was appropriate that the full moon day when the corridor opened also happened to be the sacred Kartik Poornima when was born the founder of the Jain faith.
So 100 years after Armistice and 500 years after Nanak Jayanti, might be coincidence, but these could be harbingers of a harmonious time when the sonorous
shabad kirtans from shrines would fill the nights. It was almost symbolic that during the Ayodhya arguments one of the senior counsels tore up a map that was produced as evidence in the case. That might be ‘an extreme case of cartographic aggression’ in the judicial premises, but that sums up the entire situation.