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Patna's MAGNIFICENT Prakash Utsav!

Last updated on: January 05, 2017 12:53 IST

Organising a festival that attracts 500,000 devotees is not easy, discovers M I Khan.

Tent city in Patna for the Prakash Utsav

The cold winter air is suffused with chants of 'Wahe Guru,' 'Guru ji ki kirpa,' 'Satnam Wahe Guru' and 'Bole so Nihaal!'

For a few wee seconds, you could be forgiven for imagining you were nearing the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

A sense of spirituality and celebration prevails over the sprawling, makeshift, tent township that has sprouted up at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna in honour of the 350th birth anniversary of the Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru.

The celebration, known as Prakash Utsav, began in the 61 acre tent city on December 30, with the recital of Gurbani Shabad by Giani Iqbal Singh, the jathedar (leader) of the Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib.

This kirtan was first sung by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

The utsav will end on Thursday and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to grace the occasion.

The replica of the Sri Harmandir Sahib at the tent city in Patna

Granthis (priests who are the custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs) specially invited from Amritsar have been reciting hymns in the mornings and evenings at the large, centrally located darbar hall.

According to Patna District Magistrate Sanjay Agrawal, the makeshift gurdwara's darbar hall -- which has been built with German technology -- occupies about 7.09 acres.

It has three stages, including a specially elevated one in which the Guru Granth Saheb has been installed on a gold-plated palki.

The other two are reserved for VVIPs.

"This unique darbar hall is built with polystyrene (thermocol) and plywood and can accommodate more than 20,000 devotees at a time," the DM adds.

Tent city in Patna for the Prakash Utsav

The tent city is thematically designed with the colours and symbols of the Sikh religion. The Nishan Sahib (a triangular flag, with a tassel at its end; it carries the emblem of the Sikh symbol, the khanda) adorns all pathways. 

Visitors will spot a beautiful replica of the Takht Sri Harmandir (also known as the Takht Sri Patna Sahib, it was originally built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1850 at Patna Saheb in memory of the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh who was born ion December 22, 1666, to Guru Teg Bahadur and Mata Gujri. Guru Gobind Singh, then known as Gobind Rai, spent the first eight years of childhood in Patna.)

Three thousand workers, artisans and experts worked for two-and-a-half months to build a large darbar hall, three langar halls that can seat over 5,000 people at a time and dozens of big dormitories, with single and double beds, to accommodate the devotees who have made their way here for the festival.

In addition, there is a stadium where gatka (a form of combat training developed by Sikhs where wooden sticks are used instead of swords) matches take place.

"Located barely 100 metres from the darbar hall, it has tiered sitting arrangements like any other stadium," says Tuntun Singh, event manager for Lalluji and Sons, the company that has constructed the tent city.

Tent city in Patna for the Prakash Utsav

Three joda ghars, with steel racks for keeping the devotees' footwear, and a cloak room for storing valuables, have also been constructed.

Nearly 1,000 prefabricated toilets have been provided for the devotees.

Heaters have been installed at strategic locations to battle the winter cold.

Other arrangements include a hospital, an ambulance service, a temporary fire station and a call centre.

More than 500 Sikh devotees, clad in white kurta-pyjamas -- they have mainly come the UK and Canada -- have come to Patna Saheb to give sewa by serving food in the langars.

"Security personnel have been deployed at every nook and corner inside and outside the tent city," says Patna Senior Superintendent of Police Manu Maharaj.

Tent city in Patna for the Prakash Utsav

Chandan Kushwaha, a district police officer, says there are separate lounges, with two rooms each, for Prime Minister Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

The Bihar tourism department has put up images of the five important sites associated with Sikhism in Patna -- the Bal Leela Gurdwara, the Handi Sahib Gurdwara, the Guru Ka Bagh Gurdwara, the Kangan Ghat Gurdwara and Takht Sri Patna Sahib.

Of these, the Takht Patna Sahib is the most important; it is, after the Golden Temple in Amritsar, considered the second holiest site of the Sikhs.

Sardar Avtar Singh Makkar, Takht Sri Harmandir Sahib management committee chief, estimates that, by the time the festival ends, nearly 500,000 Sikh devotees from Punjab, Haryana and other parts of India and abroad -- including the US, Canada, the UK and European countries -- would have attended the Utsav.


Photographs: M I Khan

M I Khan in Patna