As work on the Kartarpur Corridor continues in full swing, there have been reports about how agricultural fields and trees in both India and Pakistan have been razed to pave way for the corridor. In fact on March 20, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded that the Imran Khan government must compensate those who have lost their land to the corridor.
The Kartarpur Corridor will connect Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, which is said to be the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, to Dera Baba Nanak in the Indian state of Punjab. The corridor has been a long-standing demand of the Sikh community.
While the establishment of the corridor is a remarkable feat, particularly in the context of current India-Pakistan relations, the damage to nature in the process of its development is disquieting.
Several photographs of uprooted trees near the Kartarpur Gurdwara have been circulated on social media, eliciting strong reactions from people across the world. These people argue that while the construction of the corridor will potentially bring people together, which is an essential feature of Guru Nanak’s religious philosophy, its development must not end up damaging nature, which Nanak celebrated throughout his poetry.
Nature has a particular significance in Guru Nanak’s philosophy. He often used symbols from nature to establish the divinity of God. For example, Guru Nanak stated:
“Of creatures of diverse kinds and colours
The ever-flowing pen hath made record.
Can anyone write what it hath writ
Or say how great a task was it?
How describe his beauty and his might?
His bounty how estimate?
How speak of him who with one word
Did the whole universe create,
And made a thousand rivers flow therein?
What might have I to praise thy might?
I have not power to give it praise.”
These words highlight how the world with all its beauty is itself proof of the power of God. While Nanak beautifully describes this beauty he also says that no one can truly describe the beauty of the world as words fail to do justice to its magnificence.
Using a similar theme in a different poem he writes:
“He who made creation is, shall be and shall ever remain;
He who made things of diverse species, shapes, and hues,
Beholds that his handiwork his greatness proves.”
Almost three decades of Guru Nanak’s life were spent traversing the world, traveling from one religious centre and pilgrimage spot to another, challenging the dogmatic beliefs and rituals at these places. Instead of following any particular rituals, he worshipped God through his songs, which he sang everywhere he went. A recurrent theme in his poetry is that God does not reside inside temples, mosques, or shrines, but rather in nature – God is everywhere. The following poem beautifully captures this philosophy:
“He who made the night and day,
The days of the week and the seasons,
He who made the breezes blow, the waters run
The fires and the lower regions,
Made the earth – the temple of law.”
In Nanak’s words the entire world acquired a sacred significance, everything in the world was part of God’s temple, while nature’s cycles were religious rituals.
“He hath his prayer-mat in every region,
In every realm his store.
To human begins he doth apportion
Their share for once and evermore.”
The firmament is thy salver,
The sun moon thy lamps,
The galaxy of stars
Are as pearls scattered.
The woods of sandal are thine incense,
The forests thy flowers,
By what worship is this
O destroyer of fear?”
Whereas Nanak’s genius as a poet lay in identifying the divine in nature, another remarkable feat seen in his poetry was his ability to transform everyday symbols into sacred symbols. Nanak used rural metaphors often, celebrating ordinary life, with all its mundane activities.
As a team of oxen are we driven
By the ploughman, our teacher.
By the furrows made are thus writ
Our actions – on the earth, our paper.
The sweat of labor is as beads
Falling by the ploughman as seeds sown,
We reap according to our measure
Some for ourselves to keep, some to others give.
O Nanak, this is the way to truly live.
Guru Nanak spent the last 17 years of his life settled in Kartarpur, working on his agricultural fields that were given to him by one of his devotees. One can therefore understand his association with the land and hard work. But his appreciation of honest work was not limited to agriculture. In another poem he said:
“If thou must make a gold coin true
Let thy mint these rules pursue.
In the forge of continence
Let the goldsmith be a man of patience,
His tools be made of knowledge,
His anvil made of reason;
With the fear of God the bellows blow,
With prayer and austerity make the fire glow,
Pour the liquid in the mould of love,
Print the name of the Lord thereon,
And cool it in the holy waters.”
“The Lord liked not thy bangle-seller
Thy bracelets and glass bangles He doth spurn
Arms that do not the Lord’s neck embrace
With anguish shall forever burn.”
Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib is an important part of Nanak’s legacy. It is where he spent the last years of his life, working on his fields, preaching and teaching his devotees. It is where he appointed the next Sikh Guru, and eventually died.
Today his smadh and grave at the shrine reminds us how he was revered by Hindus and Muslims alike. However his true legacy survives in his philosophy, in his poetry.
For him no one place was sacred, but the entire world in its abundance, nature in its full glory. Similarly no one caste or profession was holy, but every profession that demanded hard and honest work was sacred.
While it is important to commemorate his legacy through his gurdwaras, it is also essential to follow his philosophy and partake in his celebration of nature. Destroying nature to build the Kartarpur Corridor is no way to celebrate Guru Nanak.
Haroon Khalid is the author of four books including Imagining Lahore and Walking with Nanak.