Gurdwara Sri Atal ji Sahib is situated at the back of the Sri Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara complex in the city of Amritsar.
Baba Atal Rai was born in Samvat 1676 at Amritsar to Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. From early age he was intelligent, lively and a deeply religious boy. He was called 'Baba' because he carried a wise head over his young shoulders.
Baba Atal Rai used to play with his friends and tell them many wise things. Whatever he said, even in jest, had some deep humane meaning. His friends all loved him dearly. Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji was especially fond of him. Guru Ji used to take him in his lap, cuddle him and say, 'God has given you much power. Don't make a show of it. If you have to use it, use it with caution and wisdom. Don't waste it away on little things'.
One of Baba Atal's friends, Mohan, was about the same age as Baba Atal. Baba Atal and Mohan were playing until late one day. It was mutually agreed that Baba Atal and Mohan would continue playing the next morning, and they returned home. That night, Mohan was bitten by a cobra. He screamed in agony. The next morning, all the boys reached the playground, except Mohan.
Baba Atal Rai enquired about Mohan and came to know about the incident. Baba Atal Rai went straight to Mohan's home. He found Mohan's parents and others in deep mourning. When told that Mohan was dead, Baba Atal Rai said, 'No, he can't be dead. He is pretending to be dead. He does not wish to give me my turn. I will make him get up.' Saying this, he went to Mohan's room. He touched him with his stick and said, 'Mohan, get up and say 'Satnam Waheguru', open your eyes.'
Upon this, Mohan got up as if from sleep. The news of Mohan's revival spread like wild fire. Guru Hargobind Sahib also heard about what his son had done. He was not at all pleased. He said, We must obey God's will. We should not try to undo what He has done.
When Baba Atal Rai returned home, Guru Sahib said to him 'You acted against God's will. Baba Atal Rai Ji went away. He took his bath in the sacred Sarovar, took four rounds of the sacred Harmandir Sahib and went to the nearby Kaulsar Sarovar (lake) - his favourite haunt. he laid down there, After that, he departed peacefully for his True Home on July 23, 1628 A.D.
Guru Hargobind Sahib ji soon learned of his son's passing away in these strange circumstances. He advised his family and his Sikhs not to go into mourning, saying, 'All those who are born must die. Such is the Almighty's will. What pleases God is good. We should accept it cheerfully. Atal's name and fame shall live for ever.'
Baba Atal's body was cremated at the spot where he had renounced it. Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji said, 'Atal has, by God's will, given up his body in his ninth year. A nine storied Memorial shall be built here, so that it can be seen from afar.'
Two great heroes from Sikh history Nawab Kapur Singh and Jassa Singh Ahluwalia were also cremated here.
It is believed a monument has been here since the 1600s - this was destroyed by Abdali. The Sikh Sardars built a 3 storeyed building in 1750 AD - Giani Gian Singh claims the present nine storeyed building was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1821 AD - though SGPC records claim the foundations and tower date from 1778 and was completed in 1784 AD.
At the spot now stands a beautiful nine storied Gurdwara Sahib known as Baba Atal Sahib. To express their reverence to his bountiful nature, people call out to the open hearted prince of truth, 'O Baba Atal, Pakkian Pakaian ghal.' ie. O Baba, the revered one, send us well-baked bread to satiate our hunger. Since then, faithful Sikhs distribute cakes of bread to all visitors.
The first floor of the tower is painted with scenes from Guru Nanak's life - in the form of a Janam Sakhi. There are also depictions of The Sahibzadey and Shaheeds.
These frescoes are believed to have been originally painted around the mid to late 19th century, using Indian red, ochre and other earth colours with Gold accents - However almost all have been repainted in a 1971 "renovation" in a very garish manner - with different colours and synthetic paints - Arshi (1986) states that "they do not have the essence of their antiquity and even the colours have been changed" - and that quote is before the more recent "renovation" which included the use of tiles and 'cover up' whitewashing.
At present 42 panels remain - the frescoes on the ground floor were covered with marble slabs decades ago and the remaining 'retouched' frescoes are under threat from the slapdash whitewashing of well meaning sewadars.
One illustration of the total disregard for Sikh Heritage in Punjab is the fact 'little' bricks from the original 'Baradari' of the Baba Atal Tower are openly sold in the Bazaars of Amritsar as souvenirs - while these may be fakes - it shows the current sad state of affairs.
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