ḌERĀ BĀBĀ NĀNAK (30º-2'N, 75º-2'E), on the left bank of the River Rāvī in Gurdāspur district of the Punjab, is sacred to Gurū Nānak, who on the conclusion of one of his long travels arrived here and sat near a well owned by Ajittā Randhāvā, the chaudharī or headman of Pakkhoke Randhāve, village where the Gurū's family had been staying with his wife's parents. Around the spot where he had halted grew the town of Ḍerā Bābā Nānak. As the news of the Gurū's arrival spread, people from the surrounding villages started pouring in ever-increasing numbers to see him and receive his blessing. Bhāī Ajittā requested him to settle down permanently at or near Pakkhoke. This led to the foundation of a habitation across the Rāvī, which the Gurū named Kartārpur. On his death, on 7 September 1539, his ashes were buried near Kartārpur and a monument raised over them. But the monument was soon after washed away by a flood in the river. Gurū Nānak's elder son, Bābā Srī Chand, who was then staying at Pakkhoke, got the urn containing the ashes salvaged, reburied it close to Ajittā's well and raised over the spot a mud hut which came to be called Dehrā or samādh of Gurū Nānak. Later Bābā Dharam Dās, the son of Gurū Nānak's younger son, Lakhmī Dās, founded a new habitation around this Dehrā and named it Ḍerā Bābā Nānak. There are two historical gurdwārās in the town now.
GURDWĀRĀ DARBĀR SĀHIB, in the centre of the town, comprises three separate memorials. The well which originally belonged to Bhāī Ajittā Randhāvā still exists and is reverently called Sarjī Sāhib. Pilgrims take its water home in the belief that it possesses curative properties. The second memorial is the Kīrtan Asthān, a rectangular hall, which marks the site where Gurū Arjan had sat rapt in kīrtan when visiting Ḍerā Bābā Nānak for condolence on the death of Bābā Dharam Dās. The Gurū Granth Sāhib is seated in the hall. The central shrine, called Thaṛā Sāhib, marks the thaṛā, or platform, on which Gurū Nānak had sat when he first came to Ajittā's well and where, later, Bābā Srī Chand buried his father's ashes. The Gurū Granth Sāhib is seated here in a small square pavilion with a pinnacled lotus dome under an over-hanging gilded canopy. The whole pavilion is covered with gold-plated metal sheets with some of the hymns of Gurū Nānak embossed on them. The Thaṛā Sāhib is at one end of a recently constructed spacious hall, above which, over the sanctum, is a square domed room with an ornamental arched coping and domed kiosks at the corners. The entire exterior above the roof level of this room is covered with gold-plated metal sheets. The gold-work on top as well as on the sanctum was got executed in 1827 by Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, who also made endowments in cash and land for the maintenance of the shrine.
The Gurdwārā is administered by the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee through a local committee. Special dīvāns take place on every amāvasyā, the last day of the dark half of the lunar month, and all major anniversaries, especially the one marking the death of Gurū Nānak, are observed. But the most important annual event is the fair celebrating the Baisākhī festival. A handwritten copy of the Gurū Granth Sāhib is preserved in this Gurdwārā. It has 1660 pages, each page having a handsomely illuminated border.
GURDWĀRĀ LAṄGAR MANDIR CHOLĀ SĀHIB, in the eastern part of the town, is connected with a relic - a cholā, or cloak, believed to have been presented to Gurū Nānak by a Muslim devotee at Baghdād. The cholā, bearing some Qurā'nic verses and Arabic numerals, arranged in the form of charms embroidered on it, was procured from Baghdād by Bābā Kābalī Mall, a descendant of Gurū Nānak, it is said. It was brought to Ḍerā Bābā Nānak on 20 Phāgun 1884 Bk / 1 March 1828. A special shrine was constructed where the Cholā Sāhib was kept and where it was put on display at the time of a fair held from 21 to 23 Phāgun, early March, every year. From the Gurū kā Laṅgar which serves the pilgrims, the shrine has come to be known as Gurdwārā Laṅgar Mandir Cholā Sāhib. It was under private management of the resident descendants of Gurū Nānak. As the Gurdwārā reform movement got under way, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee claimed possession of the shrine, but the owners resisted. In the end, the control of the Gurdwārā passed to the Committee, but Cholā Sāhib, the relic, remained with the family. It is now displayed in a glass case in a private house, about 50 metres from the Gurdwārā, attended in rotation by three Bedī families living there.
Gurdwārā Laṅgar Mandir Cholā Sāhib is now administered by the local committee managing Gurdwārā Darbār Sāhib. The 3-day annual fair and Gurū kā Laṅgar are held as usual in the adjoining compound. The Gurdwārā compound also has within it the samādh of Bābā Kābalī Mall and an octagon-shaped old well. The local belief is that the water of this well cures women whose offspring die during infancy.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)