Reflections on the Gurumat Chetna Yatra

In 1995, Snatam Kaur, Shanti Kaur, Sat Kirin Kaur and Bibiji were in India and had the blessing of participating in a walk from Anandpur Sahib to Damdama Sahib.  Here is an article written by Shanti Kaur about that experience:

The dust of a hundred vehicles snaked for miles down the narrow village road as the Gurumat Chetna Yatra wound its way through rural Punjab.  Up and down the caravan of vehicles the call of ‘Boley So Nihaal, Sat Siri Akal, Deg, Teg, Fateh!’ could be heard over and over and over again, as the Sangat called out in joy.  Along the village streets, people came from miles to greet the yatris offering prashad with folded hands in an outpouring of love that held no reservation. In the extreme heat, in the pouring rain, the yatris smiled – their hearts set free. Their faces were red from the sun, their feet were brown from dust, but their hearts were luminous with the Guru’s radiance.

The Gurumat Chetna Yatra began in Anandpur Sahib on August 6th with a program that would travel through Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala, Bhatinda and the towns and villages of southeastern Punjab. The yatra culminated in Damdama Sahib on August 18th, bringing hundreds of devotees that had joined along the route. I felt very privileged to join Bibiji on the yatra along with Snatam Kaur and Sat Kirin Kaur, ladies of our Gurbani Kirtan Jatha.

Most days held more than twenty programs, stopping every few kilometers to address the gathered sangat. The weather was hot and the days were long, challenging the endurance of all the yatris. The first four days of the yatra proceeded at a dynamic pace. Our American Sikh jatha received a warm welcome everywhere we went. For some, we were a curiosity in our turbans and white bana, but for many we served as an inspiring role model of a Khalsa woman. We played Gurbani Kirtan each morning and evening, sharing the devotion and the love of the sangat. The Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib inspired the crowds who gathered and Saropas were given at the many stops along the way.

Word began to spread and people came from miles to hear his uplifting speeches. So moved by his talk, one man came to the stage and pledged to do anything that Singh Sahib asked. There is something very important you can do, replied the Jathedar.  But don’t do this for me, do it for yourself.  Stop trimming your beard and proudly grow a full beard with the dignity of a true man.

Walking with the people all along the route through the rain and the mud, the Akal Takhat Jathedar tirelessly led the yatra.  Once we entered in the rural areas, we were face to face with the reality of how much the Sikh Panth had suffered over the past ten years. These hardships had taken a huge toll on the spirit of our people and the status of our communities. At one stop along the way we visited a Dera, welcomed by the beatings of the Nagara Sahib and a beautiful display of horsemanship. However, when we arrived, we were stunned with the sight of the Sangat bowing on hands and knees to the Sant of the Dera. Even though I had heard stories of such things occurring, it was shocking to see this with my own eyes. Beautiful Gursikhs in the bana and grace of Guru Gobind Singh were on their knees with their head touching the floor in front of a mortal man.

When faced with the situation, the Jathedar struck out with an electric response. The yatris rushed from that place, moving directly to the gurdwara in the next village and the shelter of the True Guru, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. As the Jathedar stood to speak his eyes flashed fire, “What has become of my Punjab?” he implored to the Sangat. “Have you forgotten the strength of the young Sahebzadi of Guru Gobind Singh who would bow to no man? Have you forsaken the Light of the world, the only True Guru, the Shabad Guru?”, he asked. The tears of anguish ran down his face as he demanded a response to these unanswerable questions.

Not a voice could be heard. Not a rustle of cloth, only the whirling of the fans as the Sangat sat in emotion filled silence. In that silence the Jathedar sunk to his knees before Siri Guru Granth Sahib ji and laid his forehead on the Rumala Sahib as sobs of grief wracked his body. From that moment on, the yatra irreversibly changed course.

Chetna means awakening and what started as a small light grew until the hearts of all who touched the yatra began the blissful process of inner awakening. Amrit Prachar became the mission in each town and at each stop. People responded by the hundreds, coming forward to receive kesari Saropas and call before the Sangat ‘Boley So Nihal.’

Singly and in groups, men and women joined the yatra on its way to Damdama Sahib and the Amrit Sanchar. Heads that hadn’t worn turbans since childhood filled the crowds with proud paghris and the new stubble of an uncut beard. Grandfathers who had lived as Sikhs their entire lives anxiously came forward to finally give their heads to Guru Gobind Singh. Entire families vowed to live as Amrit Dhaari and come to Damdama Sahib to receive Amrit. More than twenty-five of the accompanying police force were so moved that they came forward to receive saropas and pledged to live as Khalsa. No one was immune to the thundering heartbeat of the Khalsa.

Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh.

–Excerpted from 8/28/1995 Espanola Lecture

Click here to read the full lecture and see the video where this article was read (the reading of the poem starts at 44:00)


This is a video of another yatra from Anandpur Sahib to Damdama Sahib in the 1970s


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