MUKTSAR (30º-29'N, 74º-31'E), a district town in the Punjab, commemorating the martyrdom of Forty Muktās, i.e. the Liberated Ones, is a famous pilgrimage centre for the Sikhs. The sacred pool which lends its name to the town was formerly known as Khidrāṇā ḍhāb, a natural depression which fed by rain water, used to be the only reservoir for miles around. When Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, with only three other survivors of the battle of Chamkaur (7, December 1705), set out towards the Mālvā country, he was pursued by a strong Mughal force. The Gurū retired deeper into the desert, many Sikhs, mostly warriors of the Brāṛ clan, rallying round him. Chaudharī Kapūrā, who owned a fortress in the area, provided a guide for Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to be escorted further west to the safety of Khidrāṇā. Here a small party of Sikhs from the Mājhā, country between the Rivers Beās and Rāvī, had hardly presented themselves to atone for the desertion by some of them at Anandpur, when the pursuing column drew close, too. While Gurū Gobind Siṅgh and his Mālvā Sikhs moved to occupy a vantage point, a sandy mound (ṭibbī, in Punjabi), 1.5 km away, the Mājhā Sikhs, only 40 in number led by a courageous lady, Māī Bhāgo, took their positions in a thicket of vaṇ trees (Quercus incana) and karīr bushes (Capparis aphylla) near the ḍhāb itself.. They spread their sheets over the bushes to give them the semblance of tents. As the Mughal vanguard, on noticing the "encampment," stopped at a distance, the Sikhs fired their muskets in a volley and charged to engage the confused enemy in a hand-to-hand fight. In the grim action that followed, they fought ferociously and fell to the last man, but not before forcing the host to retreat. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, who had been showering arrows in support from the ṭibbī, came down to the battlefield. Blessing by turns his Sikhs who had valiantly laid down their lives, he saw one Bhāī Mahāṅ Siṅgh who, though gravely wounded, was still alive. The Gurū praised the gallantry of the Mājhā contingent and promised Mahāṅ Siṅgh any boon he might ask of him. The only request the dying Sikh made was for the cancellation of the deed of renunciation he and some of his companions had signed at Anandpur. The Gurū granted the request and blessed Mahāṅ Siṅgh who now died in peace. Māī Bhāgo, who lay seriously injured, however, survived and attended upon the Gurū ever after. The forty dead were declared by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh Forty Muktās or the Forty Saved Ones, whence the pool of Khidrāṇā came to be named Muktsar. Besides the 100-metre square sacred pool, five gurdwārās commemorate the events of 29 December 1705, the day on which, according to the Bhaṭṭ Vahīs, the historic battle was fought. The local tradition, however, favours the 21 Baisākh 1762 Bk/ 18 April 1705 date. The sites were marked out by an eighteenth-century Nirmalā saint, Bhāī Laṅgar Siṅgh, resident of Harīke Kalāṅ, 18 km east of Muktsar, who also appointed the first the month of Māgh as the memorial day for the martyrs.
GURDWĀRĀ TAMBŪ SĀHIB, near the south-eastern corner of the sarovar, marks the spot where the muktās took position behind trees and shrubs which they camouflaged to look like tents (tambū, in Punjabi). The present building, which replaced the old one built at the initiative of Mahārājā Mohinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā (1852-76), was constructed through kār-sevā during the 1980's. It comprises a high-ceilinged domed hall, with a gallery at mid-height and the sanctum in the centre.
GURDWĀRĀ SHAHĪDGAÑJ SĀHIB, also called Angīṭhā (lit. pyre) Sāhib, about 50 metres west of the sarovar, marking the spot where the bodies of the martyrs were cremated by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, was first built in 1870 by Rājā Wazīr Siṅgh of Farīdkoṭ (1828-72). The new building, a rectangular domed hall, was reconstructed through kār-sevā during the 1980's.
SRĪ DARBĀR SĀHIB, the principal shrine at Muktsar, is on the western bank of the sarovar and was the earliest to be established by the first few Sikh families who had settled here around 1743. Additions to the building were carried out by Bhāī Desū Siṅgh and Bhāī Lāl Siṅgh, chiefs of Kaithal, and later by Sardār Harī Siṅgh Nalvā (1791-1837), one of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's army generals. During the 1930's Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh Kārsevāvāle and Sant Sādhū Siṅgh renovated the building. They marble-panelled its walls, added decorative domes on top and paved the floor in and around it with marble. This edifice was, however, pulled down by his followers for reconstruction during the 1980's. A high tower and flagpost close to the Darbār Sāhib were raised by Mahārājā Hīrā Siṅgh of Nābhā (1843-1911) during the 1880's. An old vaṇ tree believed to have existed since before the battle of Muktsar still stands between the Dīvān Asthān and the Nishan Sāhib.
GURDWĀRĀ ṬIBBĪ SĀHIB, marking the sandy mound from where Gurū Gobind Siṅgh had showered arrows on the enemy during the battle, was first established as a modest structure during the eighteenth century, and reconstructed in 1843 by Soḍhī Mān Siṅgh of Mānsiṅghvālā. The present building, which came up during the 1950's under the supervision of Bābā Baghel Siṅgh, a follower of Sant Gurmukh Siṅgh, is a square hall with the sanctum in the centre. Above the sanctum is a square pavilion topped by a lotus dome and decorative marble kiosks at corners. The entire wall surface including the dome is lined with white marble. The floor in and around the hall is also marble topped.
GURDWĀRĀ RAKĀBSAR SĀHIB, 200 metre east of Gurdwārā Ṭibbī Sāhib, was also constructed by Bābā Baghel Siṅgh during the 1950's. According to local tradition, as Gurū Gobind Siṅgh came down from the ṭibbī and was going to mount his horse, the stirrup (rakāb, in Punjabi) snapped. Hence the name of the shrine.
The control of Srī Darbār Sāhib and other shrines in Muktsar, initially in the hands of hereditary mahants or priests, passed to the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee in February 1923. The major annual celebration is on the Māghī day (mid-January) when vast numbers of devotees throng the premises from all over for ablutions in the holy pool and to attend religious dīvāns.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)