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The harmony between two faiths in Mechukha is perfectly set amid the pristine nature — the bounteous sky, the overwhelming mountains and the clear water of the Siang.
The Tap Asthan of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji lies around 20 km from the main town. As the road coils up the mountain overlooking the Siang and the villages on its banks, Tashi Sona, a local government official and guide to a lost traveller, narrated the story of the cave that is revered by both the Buddhists and the Sikhs.
“Guru Nanak had travelled long distances and came to Mechukha too. The story goes that during his stay in this place, he and dog was attacked by a wild animal (a tiger or a bear) and they both hid in the cave. The Guru had supernatural power and so he could hide against the roof of the cave. The Sikhs believe that the curves underneath the cave are impressions of the Guru and the dog,” said Tashi as he pointed at the cave.
Earlier, villagers, most of whom were followers of Buddhism, would walk through the forest to visit the cave during Buddha Purnima. But now the army has constructed a paved footpath and steps which lead to the cave. The front of the cave has been turned into a humble prayer hall of the Sikhs. One can see Buddhist prayer flags, or Lung-ta, hanging along the way to the cave and down the river.
During festivals, the faithful take the wooden steps down to the river to take a holy dip. They also have to walk through a narrow passage through stone walls as a symbol of faith. Tashi came close to a hole in a rock near the river. “It is said that there are three stones of different colours. A person with good heart will get all the three,” he said with a mischievous smile on his face. Two seconds later, I realised what was in his mind. “I can try but my heart has no goodness or sympathy for this world,” I said and pushed my hand into the hole.
As I had predicted, I failed to prove the purity of my heart but Tashi did not look disappointed. Probably, he had anticipated the opacity of a citywallah’s heart.
“This place shows how two faiths can co-exist without offending each other’s sentiments. The cave is as holy for the Sikhs as it is for us, the Buddhists. Buddhist priests perform rituals for six days during our festival (Buddha Purnima) on the sixth day, the faithful come in hordes. I think this is an example,” said Tashi.
It is indeed an example, especially in times of religious discord in the country where secularism is at stake and the majority group is stomping its feet and flexing muscles to prove its prowess.
A few meters away from the Tap Asthan is a gurudwara of the army camp. But that is another story. For now, the road ends at Mechukha’s ‘harmony point’.