‘Sometimes you have to go back to where it all began to find yourself again, return to where you came from to feel some things again.’ I wrote these words after visiting the Gurdwara in Lakhpat in 2015 for the first time.
It was my first trip to Kutch. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the ancient fortified town of Lakhpat, let alone its importance. Located some 140 km from the city of Bhuj to the far northwest corner of Kutch, Lakhpat makes for an imposing sight with its massive 20 feet high walls rising up against the stark landscape of the Great Rann of Kutch on its east and Kori Creek on the west.
Once a flourishing trading port between Gujrat and Sindh, Lakhpat was called Basta Bander in the 16th century. According to folklore, its name changed to Lakhpat (town of millionaires) because of the number of millionaires or lakhpatis living in the town between 1750 A.D. and 1820 A.D.
A part of the province of Sindh, Lakhpat’s strategic location at the mouth of the Indus river on the Western edge of the Indian subcontinent meant that it was on all major trading routes in Western India. There’s a popular story that suggests that it was the daily revenue of one lakh kauris (the old currency of Kutch state) generated by its maritime trade that gave Lakhpat its name.
Its fortunes took a turn in 1819 when an earthquake devastated the town and changed the course of the Indus river. Thus, in one stroke, the bustling port turned into a barren forgotten town, its stories of lakhpatis and kauris buried in the ruins. What remained are its massive fort walls, several temples and dargahs and the Lakhpat Gurdwara.
Known as Gurdwara Pehli Patshahi (Gurdwara of the first master), it was built to commemorate Guru Nanak Dev ji’s visits to Lakhpat during his second and fourth Udasis in 1506 – 1513 A.D. and 1519 -1521 A.D. respectively. It is home to holy relics like the Guru’s khadavas (wooden sandals) and his carved and painted wooden palki in addition to old manuscripts in Sindhi on the Gurbani and the markings of two of the heads of the Udasi sect.
The Founder and the first Guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev ji travelled extensively along with Bhai Mardana on spiritual journeys called Udasis (a prolonged absence from home). He travelled through the Indian subcontinent and West Asia, seeking wisdom and sharing it with those he met. During two of those journeys on his way to Mecca, Guru Nanak Dev ji stayed at the home of a local Sindhi family of Lakhpat. The family preserved the house to commemorate his visits, which was later established as a Tikana of the Udasi sect by the Guru’s son, Srichand.
The Lakhpat Gurdwara has the architectural style of a typical Udasi dera with a unique courtyard structure. There’s an outer enclosure with a big gate and nagar khana (big drums), then comes the courtyard, a verandah and the room inside. An ancient well in its compound is considered holy as it has sweet water, unlike the salty water that is found in the underground aquifers in the area.
Constructed in limestone, the Gurdwara has chabutras and statues in human and animal form embedded to its walls. The verandah has exquisitely carved wooden columns and the walls are painted with motifs of the period – flowers, ships, royal personage, etc. It has even retained the historic graffiti done on its walls by the pilgrims in the late 1800s describing the details about their journey in the ancient larivaar script.
It is this quality of keeping true to its origins that gives the Gurdwara Pehli Patshahi Lakhpat an added dimension. The simplicity it embraces resonates deep within and gives a lesson in the transience of life as seen in the fate of a once thriving port of millionaires reduced to an almost forgotten village of deserted streets and derelict homes.
With the stark expanse of the salt plains of the Great Rann on one side and the lapping waves of the Arabian Sea on the other, the Gurdwara in Lakhpat is a place that connects you deep within yourself to better understand those conversations you have with your god. The message it conveys is that the essence of faith is to be enduring, while remaining unaffected and unchanged, through time and tide.