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Sarhali - A Village Steeped in History

Unchallenged hero
Praveen Bhim Kumar Sobti from Sirhali ruled the Indian athletics arena in the sixties and the seventies. His six feet seven inches frame made him a 'born champ' even before he stepped on the athletics track.

This gentle giant from Sirhali was the unchallenged king of hammer and discus throws for several years. When he was around, no one could ever think of challenging him, forget about beating him. He was the discus throw gold medallist in the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games and also held the games record of 56.76 metre. He bagged a silver medal in the 1974 Asian Games at Teheran, and was a silver medallist in the Commonwealth Games at Kingston in 1966.

Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Sirhali and its offshoots of 21 villages situated on old Patti-Kasur Road present an exceptional history of a big family tree, having common ancestry and genetic connections.

The nine-century-old Sirhali is much older than the historical cities of Amritsar and Tarn Taran.

Unlike the infamous Nazi Plan to create a super race, it is the 'natural flow; of 'pure blood' belonging to a common ancestor that runs into the veins of about 60,000 Sandhu Jats of the 22 villages, including Sirhali. The cluster of villages is called 'Bahia', meaning 22 villages.

As per genealogy, the study of family structural history, drawn on demographic data sources (such as birth and death certificates, immigration, and other administrative records), the Sandhu Jats of these 22 villages are descendants of one ancestor.

The study says that all Sandhu Jats, living in these villages, are linked with an element of a broader kinship network that links ancestors and descendants of a person, Jago, who founded Sirhali.

Rooted in past: These villagers from Sirhali trace their family history to a common ancestor. A Nath jogi sits near the dhuni that has been smouldering for the past nine centuries. - Photos by Rajiv Sharma

The literal meaning of Sirhali is converting of a barren land into a fertile land by a tiller. The name of the founder who made this land cultivable was Jago - the forefather of the Sandhu Jats.

Change of Heart
Bhai Bidhi Chand was born to Bhai Wasan, who lived at Sur Singh village. His mother belonged to Sirhali, a famous village in Amritsar district. During his early days, Bhai Bidhi Chand got into wrong company and became a dacoit.

Bhai Adli, a Sikh since the days of Guru Ram Das, met him. Bhai Bidhi Chand accompanied Bhai Adli on his visit to Amritsar. Later, Bhai Bidhi Chand went to Guru Arjan Dev and confessed that he was a dacoit. The Guru advised him to earn his living honestly. Bhai Bidhi Chand’s mind was changed then and there, and his whole life was transformed.

According to renowned Sikh Scholar, Prof Mehal Singh, it was Bhim Nath, a disciple of famous Nath Jogi, Jalandhar Nath, who chose the secluded place of Sirhali (it was jungle at that time) for meditation in 1170 AD, much before the advent of Sikhism.

The Nath tradition is a lineage of spiritual masters, connected with Infinite Consciousness through the greatest Yogi of all ages, Gorakhnath. These ancient yogis discovered that the secret of cosmic consciousness is intimately linked with breath mastery. The life force, which is ordinarily used for bodily functions, can be channelled for higher activities by a method of calming and stilling the ceaseless demands of the breath.

The Yoga system of philosophy, as established by Patanjali, taught the means whereby the human soul might attain complete union with the Supreme Being. However, with the advent of Sikhism, Nath tradition suffered a big jolt in Punjab.

A farmer called Jago, who used to rear cattle of his relatives, reached the Dera of Bhim Nath in search of green pasture in 12th century. Jago and Bhim Nath became close to each other, and the latter asked the former to make the place his permanent abode. There was nothing resembling a village in the immediate vicinity at that time because much of the surrounding land was a wet meadow, and the farms were large and scattered. However, the first village Sirhali came into existence with the passage of time.

The nine-century-old Nath Dera at Sirhali is being given a facelift these days. Unmindful of its heritage value, bathroom tiles are being put on more than nine-century-old building belonging to Nath Jogis. However, dhuni, lit by Baba Bhim Nath, founder of the sect still smoulders.

Unenviable Sobriquet
Some misconceptions have been associated with the historical town of Sirhali. The village, which has produced great freedom fighters like Baba Gurdit Singh Kamagatamaru, world famous sportspersons like Praveen Kumar and religious persons like Baba Ram Singh, was lately called 'Sirhali Choranwali' (Sirhali of thieves). In his book, Prof Mehal Singh gives a number of reasons, based on some folktales, for this unenviable sobriquet.

The renovation of the dera has been going on war-footing with a view to give a 'modern look' to the whole complex. The beautiful dome, made of Nanakshahi bricks, has already been covered with bathroom tiles. The rest of the structure is being whitewashed. The front portion of the dera has also been plastered, and the management is contemplating to put bathroom tiles on this portion of the complex also.

The idol of the founder of the dera, Baba Bhim Nath, has also been covered with white marble.

However, the old tree, planted by the founder, and other rare trees have been preserved with extra care. The present chief of the dera, Baba Vichar Nath, and Baba Onkar Nath said that it was the need of the hour to carry out immediate repair and renovation work. This was being done to 'preserve' the ancient structures, they added.

Sirhali was also blessed with the visit of three Sikh masters, including Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind and Guru Teg Bahadur. There is a historical gurdwara, known as Chabacha Sahib, built in the memory of Guru Arjan Dev. It is said that while coming from Bir Sahib, Guru Arjan Dev stayed at Sirhali Kalan.

According to the Gazetteer of India, Guru Arjan Dev wanted to make it a place of religious importance. At Sirhali Kalan, the jogis, known as Naths, were very popular. At their instigation, residents of Sirhali declined to give land to the Guru who got annoyed. He broke a brick into four pieces and threw them in different directions, symbolising the desertion of the place. Next day, the people of the village came to Guru Arjan Dev and apologised to him. Baba Budha collected water in a chubacha (water-pit) with which the Guru bathed. This water-pit is known as Chubacha Sahib, which is said to have healing properties.

The Sirhali village has also produced great souls like Sant Baba Tara Singh who carried out kar sewa of several historical gurdwaras. He was also the moving spirit behind the establishment of Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College, Sirhali, the only National Accreditation Academic Council in the countryside.

Interestingly, the constitution of the college says that it is mandatory to be a resident of any of the 22 villages of Sirhali to become an office-bearer of the college’s managing committee.