New Delhi: Located right behind the North Block and Parliament, the historic Rakab Ganj Gurdwara denotes the seat of power for Sikhs in Delhi. It is here that the beheaded body of the ninth Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur was cremated in 1675. The office of the cash-rich Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) sits in one corner of the sprawling central Delhi complex.
The original shrine is almost 230 years old and part of the notified heritage structures in Delhi. Now, the Gurdwara has a marble facade and is the place from where Sikh matters of Delhi are decided even as Sis Ganj and Bangla Sahib top the list of revered shrines. The Sarai is often used by the devout to stay for a few days. The Sikh belief resonated at its best during the trust vote in Parliament in July 2008. As the debate heated up in Parliament to decide the fate of Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh Prime Minister, a round-the-clock path (prayer) for the PM was conducted at Rakab Ganj. Ironically, the Gurdwara loudspeaker had then broadcast the prayers, forming a soothing backdrop to those politically charged days.
As of today, the biggest issue is the construction of a multi-level underground parking facility which was stopped in April 2012 following a Delhi High Court directive. The inadequate parking facility cropped up during a prayer meeting for the slain Ponty Chadha. Roads were jammed for kilometers as thousands turned up in their cars to pay last respects.
A public interest litigation filed by the Sikh Forum for Service and Justice had been taken up by the court. The NDMC had rejected the proposal for redevelopment of the premises, including a three-level underground parking facility. The civic body mentioned 23 reasons for rejecting the DSGMC plan.
The shrine’s history is related to Guru Teg Bahadur. A disciple of the Guru, Lakhi Shah Vanjara hid his body in haystacks and cotton bales and ‘sped off’ on a bullock cart from Chandni Chowk. Since then, Rakab Ganj has evoked deep feelings among the Sikhs. It was at this spot that Lakhi Shah Vanjara and his eight sons placed the body of the Guru on a pile of sandalwood and set fire to their entire house to avoid suspicion of the Mughals, who had beheaded him.
In 1783, the Sikh Army defeated the Mughals. The Sikhs wanted a Gurdwara in memory of the Guru in village Raisina (now part of the President’s Estate).
The Sikh Review edition of 1980 said, “A copper urn containing the mortal remains of the ninth Sikh Guru was found at the site. The Wazir gave orders for demolition of the mosque and construction of Gurdwara.”
The name Rakab is derived from the Persian word ‘Rukab’ meaning stirrups (foot rests) attached to the saddle of horse riders. Dr H.S. Singha, in his book ‘Sikh Studies’, explains, “They (Lakhi Shah) used to live in a colony of stirrup makers, hence the name Rakab Ganj.”