Connection between Guru Nanak and ancient Gurdwara in Iraq that India wants renovated

21 April, 2023 | Anupam Shrivastav

Baba Nanak Gurdwara Featured

A dive into the India's Sikh connection to Iraq.

Situated in West Asia, Iraq was a historically and culturally rich country that was the cradle of Mesopotamian Civilization and remained center of various empires including Babylonian, Akkadian and Neo-Sumerian Empires. The country however, in recent years has gone through several tragic and life altering events right from the toppling of Saddam Hussain regime by United States to the rise of cruel Islamic State. The country although has a very important historical connection with India that many people would be surprised to know.

Earlier in March, the Government of India sent a formal request to Iraq to renovate historical Baba Nanak Sikh Gurudwara located in Baghdad. This request was raised by Indian NSA Ajit Doval to his Iraqi counterpart Qasem Al Araji during his visit to Delhi. Previously, many from Sikh community had raised the issue to the Iraqi government however not much attention was given to it. Baba Nanak Gurdwara holds great religious importance for the Sikhs as Guru Nanak Dev visited the city in around 1511 AD.

Significance of Baba Nanak Gurdwara in Baghdad

Revered Guru Nanak Dev had left his family at the age of 27 in 1496 for a period of 30 years, yet his journey was not easy. He went far and wide, took several udasiyan, odysseys to achieve his spiritual pursuits including that of Tibet, most of South Asia and Arabia. While returning from Mecca, he took a halt in Baghdad. At first, Guru Nanak was not allowed to enter the city of Baghdad which is why he spent the night in the cemetery outside the city. It is said that the radiance on the face of Guru Nanak was so profound that people of Baghdad soon understood about his sainthood.

During his stay in the city, Guru Nanak Dev exchanged spiritual ideas with Pir Dastgir and and Pir Bahlol both of whom later became his disciples. The event led to the formation of a group of his followers in the city. The locals used to refer the Guru Nanak Dev as Nanak peer. During the first World war Dr Kirpal Singh, who was a captain in the British Indian Army located the Gurdwara in the west of Baghdad. A shrine was later constructed in his holy memory right at the cemetery where he spent his night. To the Arabs the place is known the Tomb of Bahlol.

During the visit of Major Harkirat Singh to the city in 1982, local Sikh community was persuaded for construction of Gurdwara. But the task was only undertaken after his death in 1983. Major Harkirat was the nephew of Dr Kirpal Singh and son of Sewaram Singh, a sessions judge. Sardar Sevaram Singh was the first to write a biography of Guru Nanak Dev in English in his book titled ‘Divine Master’ where he has mentioned about Baba Nanak shrine. The book also mentions the layout of the shrine drawn by Captain Kirpal Singh. They also found historic relics such as old plaque in Arabic inscriptions which were looted by miscreants during 2003 Iraq war.

What’s the Current status of Baba Nanak Gurdwara?

In 2007, Iraqi government expressed a desire to rebuild the shrine. Till 2011, Abu Yusuf was the caretaker of the shrine which was frequently visited by few Sikh pilgrims prior to war. Before Abu Yusuf, his grandfather was the caretaker of the shrine. Indian workers used to congregate, cook and share langar at the shrine. The shrine was completely damaged during the war leaving only parts of outer wall remain intact next to the Tomb of Bahlol.

The cemetery is known as Sheikh Marouf Junaid al-Baghdadi and the place is in a dilapidated state. A demand was made to rebuild the walls and roof in 2004. The gurdwara is located near Al-Muthana airport which is now used by Iraqi Military. There have been multiple attempts to rebuild the Gurdwara with requests to the Iraqi authorities several times with the latest formal request in March 2023.