Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh, an architectural jewel built during the rule of Sikh leader Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, is all set to reopen after almost six decades. Its ownership has been handed down to the Sikh community.
Sikh elders told The Express Tribune there was no controversy over the place of worship. However, after Partition, the Sikh community started shifting to other places—such as Hasan Abdal and Rawalpindi—resulting in fewer worshipers at the gurdwara. For the population left behind in the city, Gurdwara Jogan Shah in Saddar was more than enough.
However, in the last few years a renewed movement had taken root to take back the historical monument from the Auqaf department.
Restoration under way
Sikh leader Baba Ji Gorpal Singh told The Express Tribune, “The 300-year-old gurdwara has reopened after we waited for years; we have been struggling to get its ownership rights from the Auqaf department.”
He added, “Earlier, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government allocated Rs5 million for its restoration but in spite of claiming to have spent the amount, renovation remained at a standstill.” Singh added Sikhs had now taken it upon themselves to restore the gurdwara to its previous glory.”
He said, “The government has constructed a school right next to the gurdwara and we will not demolish it as our religion gives importance to education. However, we have demanded the authorities to erect a tall wall between the two sides to maintain privacy.”
History enthusiast Dr Ali Jan told The Express Tribune, “The gurdwara is considered an archaeological monument in Peshawar.” He added, “Though renovation work has commenced, it must follow the archaeological code for restoration.”
Jan pointed out, “There is a possibility the design and structure of this beautiful monument was planned during the reign of Paolo (Abu Tabela), an Italian general serving in the Army of Ranjeet Singh.”
Giving details of the intricate design, Jan said “The old Samadi still exists in the basement and its roof is carved with complicated woodwork similar to the one found in the Shahi Qila in Lahore.” This, according to the historian, reflected it was constructed during Ranjeet Singh’s brief rule in Peshawar. He added, “There is a dome on the roof that is badly damaged while its walls also incurred damage during various earthquakes.”
Director for Archaeology and Museums Dr Abdul Samad told The Express Tribune, “We have written several times to the Auqaf department to hand over a list of archaeologically important buildings or at least hire our services for restoration of the gurdwara but they never replied to us.” Samad said the Auqaf department should have taken the archaeology directorate into confidence before handing the building over to the Sikhs for restoration.
“We were told that after Partition, there has been some controversy between the Muslims and Sikhs due to which some people from our community left the city,” said Sikh elder Charanjeet Singh. “But now we live here peacefully.” Charanjeet was looking forward to set foot in the gurdwara again.
“Handing over the gurdwara to us sends a positive message – the government appreciates our importance and gives adherents of all faiths freedom to protect their places
A brief history
The gurdwara in Jogiwara is said to have been established at the time of the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, who died in 1708, making this structure at least 300 years old.
The gurdwara was one of the most visited places of worship for followers of Sikhism for centuries but has not been used since Partition. Post Partition, many Sikh families migrated to Rawalpindi, Hasan Abdal, and Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies. During these years, the building remained under the Auqaf department which protected it from being encroached but failed to renovate the structure.
The decision to reopen Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh was taken several years ago but it could not be implemented as people living in the area questioned its existence as Sikhs had abandoned the place. However, in a recent meeting between Sikhs, Auqaf department officials and the deputy commissioner, it was decided the gurdwara would be reopened after the completion of its restoration.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2015.