Home Feature Bygone Doon: When Guru Gobind Singh Graced Dehra Dun

Bygone Doon: When Guru Gobind Singh Graced Dehra Dun

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By PRADEEP SINGH

Coming of the sons and daughters of soils of Punjab post Partion ( in 1947) to Dehra Dun is well known and there are still some present who recall the traumatic upheaval that scarred their lives with inerasable memories. But less well known is the historical fact that Dehra Dun has an over a three century old connect with two prominent sons of the Sikh Gurus. Doon Valley was a portal to the holy places of Hindus and the spiritual alma mater of many a luminary that sought the higher reaches of the Himalayas for effacing their material desires and elevating their consciousness. Even the gentler Siwalik ranges that enclosed the Doon Valley were no less attractive to men of God for which reason they were at times referred to as “Siddh Pahara”.

The developments in the second half of the seventeenth century in the Sikh Panth,far removed from the then almost unknown Doon Valley, had outcomes that were soon to see their manifestation in this remote tract of land in the Siwaliks. Guru Har Rai the seventh Sikh Guru( 1630-1661) had unwittingly got embroiled in the politics of the Mughal war of succession amongst the sons of Shah Jahan. His role was seen as being that of a partisan of Dara Shikoh, the main opponent of Aurangzeb. To answer for his alleged role in the affair Guru Har Rai had sent his elder son, Ram Rai ( 1646-1687) to the court of the newly coronated emperor Aurangzeb. Here the conduct of Ram Rai displeased Guru Har Rai considerably and which led to the father’s decision to disown and disinherit his son, Ram Rai.

Ram Rai, without a patrimony or an estate to maintain him was in the status of an exile and living at Delhi where he had residence at Majnu ka Tila, where now stands the Gurudwara of the same name.Ram Rai was later, in 1676, provided a rent- free estate in the Doon Valley on the recommendation of Aurangzeb and with the good will of the Raja of Garhwal. Seven villages in and around present day Dehra Dun were put at the disposal of Ram Rai who soon set up his establishment here, now known as the Darbar of Guru Ram Rai. Initially it was referred to as the Dera(camp) of Ram Rai whence comes the city’s name: Dehra Dun.

The Dera and later the Darbar of Ram Rai flourished under his spiritual aura and became a destination of pilgrims from Punjab and nearby regions. The pilgrim season was in the first half of March when the Jhanda Mela, and attendant ceremonies, was organised over a fortnight, a legacy that has traversed three centuries and more.

However, the last years of Ram Rai’s life were troubled ones on account of the conduct of some of his key masands(appointed missionaries) who were keen to take control of the Darbar establishment once Ram Rai was no more, especially as the latter had no issue to succeed him. In his mysterious death on 4th September 1687, the role of some of the masands( Gurbaksh being one of the chief ones) was complicit.

Meanwhile, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh ( 16661708) had come and settled down at Paonta at the invitation of the Raja of Sirmour. Though younger than Ram Rai, Gobind Singh was his uncle and he was thus regarded as both: an uncle and Guru by Ram Rai. The Guru had used the good offices of Ram Rai to improve relations between the royal houses of Sirmour and Garhwal who shared disputed borders in western Doon. The two had met about a year prior to Ram Rai’s death as attested by both the Sikh tradition and the tradition of the Darbar of Ram Rai. During this meeting with Guru Gobind Singh, Ram Rai had expressed his apprehensions about the conduct of the masands and their possible designs to usurp the establishment at Dehra Dun. He had specifically requested the Guru to provide protection to his family once he was gone.

Thus, when the death of Ram Rai occured on 4th September, 1687, the Darbar became the scene of intense machinations by the masands under Gurbaksh. To salvage the situation, the distraught Mata Punjab Kaur, Ram Rai’s widow, sent urgent summons to Poanta, requesting Guru Gobind Singh for help. The Guru responded and keeping his promise to Ram Rai he hastened to Dehra Dun and reached without delay. Sikh tradition informs us that the Guru severely punished the masands who were guilty of causing trouble at the Darbar and his personal intervention to restore order was a boost to the young widow, Punjab Kaur, who proved to be a very capable administrator of the Darbar for several decades. The Guru had assured Punjab Kaur the support she would need in future would be forthcoming too. In “Singh Sagar” of Bir Singh the Guru’s words to Punjab Kaur at Dehra Dun are thus stated:

” You are the wife of a great scion of Guru Ram Das’s Sodhi family;

On your honour rests the honour of the whole of our Sodhi family.” It is also informed by the Sikh tradition that Guru Gobind Singh deputed some Udasi youths to assist Punjab Kaur to manage the Darbar affairs as per the tenets of the Udasi Sampradaya and the will and instructions of Ram Rai.

Adjacent to the present Darbar of Guru Ram Rai is the Gurudwara( in Arhat Bazar ) dedicated to the memory of Guru Gobind Singh and his visit to Dehra Dun. The tenth Guru’s visit to the Doon Valley continued the tradition of Sikh Gurus coming to Uttarakhand of whom Guru Nanak and the sixth Guru, Hargobind, were the earliest.

Pradeep Singh is an historian and the author of the “Suswa Saga: A Family Narrative of Eastern Dehradun”(2011) and ” Sals of the Valley: A Memorial to Dehradun”(2017).