A small town on the outskirts of Amritsar in Punjab, Verka, finds itself on the map of Sikh history from early 16th century, when the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak stayed here overnight on his way to his in laws’ house in Batala. He was already a revered seer, and upon his stay, a mother of a marasmus infected toddler visited him and sought his blessings. He cured the child; and the devotees added the hymn, “Sukhe hare keye khin mahe, amrit dhrist sanch divae.”
Numerous times, Bhai Nirmal Singh –former Hazoori Raagi at Golden Temple—recited this incidence in his religious recitations across the world. Apart from strengthening the devotions among the Sikh devotees; Singh felt proud as Verka was also his home. But not knowing when he would die, the village would lock the doors of the cremation ground to resist performing his last rites there.
Early morning of April 2, Nirmal Singh died of Covid-19 infections, and the doctors at Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev Hospital say, his situation got complicated since he had asthma as well. The other cremation grounds in the city too turned down the administration’s request, later it was decided that he should be cremated at his home-village.
But soon, a group of 200 residents of the village led by local Congress leader Navdeep Singh prevented the administration from conducting his cremation at the village cremation ground. Amid vehement protests, this local leader said that the villagers got suspicious as the administration moved too quickly. And the protesters fear, the leader said, the cremation might spread the corona infection. However, the experts denied such mode of spread of this virus. The adamant protesters forced the administration to take his remains to the nearby Shukarchak village and took the village panchayat’s land in isolation to perform the last rites.
Every year, around 12th day of Chet month (Nanakshahi Calendar), usually around March 25, the Gurudawara — standing tall next to the pond — where Guru Nanak apparently treated the child, organises an annual fair, to celebrate the famous visit of the first Guru. The fair was called off this year, because of the lockdown.
Disturbed with the instance, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chief Gobind Singh Longowal said that the protestors had insulted the departed soul; and followed by this, the Shiromani Ragi Sabha of Golden Temple announced that they will boycott all religious celebrations in the village. Now the SGPC has decided to build a memorial at the place of cremation; the world will always tell a parallel story of what Verka did with their famous child. This blot is difficult for the villagers to undo, at least for the time being.