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Bebe Nanki Ji

Dr. Mahinder Kaur Gill

Bebe Nanki was born in the year 1464 A.D. Her father's name was Kalu Ram and mother's Tripta. Kalu Ram's family was small comprising of two children - Bebe Nanki and Baba Nanak. Bebe Nanki was five years older to her brother.

Kalu Ram lived in a small town Talwandi, in district Lahore (now called Nankana Sahib). He had a younger brother Lalu Ram. The latter did not want to marry and lived with Kalu Ram. On Bebe Nanki's birth her parents were of course very happy, but her paternal uncle (Chacha), Lalu Ram was overjoyed. Both uncle and niece adored each other and Lalu Ram spent hours playing with Bebe Nanki and often brought toys and goodies which delighted her. She too was very attached to him. Listening to her childish prattle enthralled him. Thus Nanki grew up amidst lot of love and affection. Her fair, glowing face with its divine radiance, impressed everyone who saw her. Kalu Ram was the village Patwari and everything was in plentiful, leaving each member of the house happy and satisfied.

As she grew up, she helped her mother in the daily household chores. Bebe Nanki would bring water from the well, stitch clothes, wash utensils and cook food. Whenever her mother fell ill she would shoulder total responsibility of the house very skilfully. In those days it was a matter of pride for the girl to have complete mastery of the household work and mothers imparted this skill to their daughters very earnestly. Expertise in household work was the true beauty of a girl. Realising the fact that her daughter was now no longer a child, Mata Tripta taught the young one everything about the house. She would motivate her by logically explaining the true value of work. Work was blessing, she used to tell her daughter. It kept one healthy, sharpened appetite, and the mind became joyous, she explained to her young daughter. When Bebe Nanki was five years old she was blessed with a brother in 1469 A.D. The whole day she would enjoy the sweet company of her younger brother and loved to play with him. As she was Nanki, the little one was named Nanak. The tie between the brother and sister was full of love and affection and she did everything that would make a small child happy and well cared for. They were both apple of the eye of their uncle, Lalu Ram. He was ever-smiling and light-hearted while his-eider brother was just the opposite in his nature. Bebe Nanki was totally involved with his younger brother and she adored him. Time and again she would kiss his tiny hands and spend hours narrating stories to him. A small golden ring was put in the finger of her younger brother. She always followed him wherever he went and displayed great concern for him. .

Right from the beginning Nanak was the quiet type, and serious minded. He would never react strongly to anything and always looked pensive with a gentle smile on his face. Nobody had ever seen him fight with his sister, Nanki.

To answer Nature's call, one day, the child Nanak went to the fields to ease himself. On the way he met a sadhu asking for some alms. Nanak quickly removed his golden ring for charity and even gave the sadhu his iron mug (Garvi). But the thought of his father's wrath made him shudder and he hid himself behind a bush. When Nanak did not return home for quite some time his father set out to look for him. Bebe Nanki also followed him. On seeing him hiding behind a bush Kalu Ram held his arm tightly and asked about his whereabouts. The little Nanak stood in stunned silence, and his father noticed that the gold ring was not there. He asked Nanak about it. Still he stood in silence. Now Kalu Ram could not control his anger, and gave him a tight slap on his cheek, which almost made him cry in pain. By now Bebe Nanki had also reached there. Seeing all that, her heart bled with sorrow. She wept bitterly and with folded hands pleaded to her father to spare her brother and beat her instead. Seeing this Kalu Ram's anger subsided slightly. Bebe Nanki immediately took her little brother home, washed his face, and caressed his tender cheek again and again to lessen his pain and even played with him to divert his mind from the sad incident.

Time passed by. Bebe Nanki was also growing up into her early teens. Everybody in the house was discussing about a suitable match for her when someone suggested Jai Ram. He was the son of a Patwari, Parmanand. Jai Ram lived in a town called Sultanpur. Jai Ram had two sisters and one younger brother. His father died when they were quite small. Sharp witted Jai Ram picked up his father's work and continued his occupation of a Patwari. One day he had come towards Sultanpur for some work of land measurement. Rai Bular was well acquainted with Bebe Nanki's family and felt Jai Ram to be the right match for her. Kalu Ram was also happy about it and finally within a few months the wedding took place. Bebe Nanki was eleven years old then.

The child Nanak paid all due respects to his brother-in-law. Nanki dressed as a bride was an unusual sight for Nanak. In those days brides never wore make-up like today. Heavy jewelry was enough to adorn a bride. Brother Nanak had mixed feelings towards his sister's appearance. He sometimes appreciated her in the bridal attire and sometimes found her very odd. The marriage took place with all pomp and show. Bebe Nanki was given Rijas also - a two and a half metre brand new khadi cloth. In those days these were given to the manual labourers of the girl's in-laws' village. This showed respect for them and also that the bride was like their daughter now, in fact daughter of the whole village. By and by Bebe Nanki won over everyone's heart with her sweet ways. She mingled very well with her sisters-in-law and brother-in-law which gave great happiness to her mother-in-law.

But Bebe Nanki's absence left a void in her brother's life. He missed her tremendously, and always looked sad. Seeing this Kalu Ram told him to bring Nanki home for some time. In Sultanpur, Bebe Nanki was overwhelmed to see her brother. Jai Ram also warmly welcomed him and took him around the village. Everyone who saw Nanak was attracted to his divine beauty. One found peace and solace by talking to him as his manner was so soft and polite.

After a short stay, Nanki returned to Talwandi along with her brother. Everyone was overjoyed. Yet Kalu Ram and Lalu Ram were deeply anxious about Nanak's state of mind when his sister was gone. They kept thinking of a way out by which Nanak could live with his sister for some time at least. The idea of Nanak not being in the house saddened Mata Tripta, but the prospect of seeing him happy was consoling. Still she wondered on what basis he would accompany Nanki.

Jai Ram had got promoted to Mal Officer from Patwari. In connection with some work he went to Nanki's village. He met his in-laws with great love and affection. He met Rai Bular who was glad to see him happily married.

Jai Ram had now come to take Nanki to their house. After a short visit to parents home, the bride is finally taken to her in-laws house by her husband. So according to this custom he had come to take her back. One day, as he sat chatting casually with Kalu Ram he noticed that he seemed to be unhappy about something. On asking, Kalu Ram explained to him about Nanak's disinterest in all the worldly affairs. He was all the time found sitting quietly, as if preoccupied with something, Kalu Ram complained to Jai Ram. Mother Tripta and Lalu Ram also joined him in the conversation. Everyone had the same worry - how to involve Nanak in some gainful occupation so that he would settle down in life. Jai Ram gave a patient hearing to his in-laws and assured them that he would do the needful. They also told him that Nanak was deeply attached to his sister and her absence had further quietened him.

Now Bebe Nanki's parents had prepared her mentally for the final separation from them. Before she and her husband left for Sultanpur, Jai Ram went to meet Rai Bular. The latter also wanted to see Nanak happy and told Jai Ram of Nanak's saintly nature, which was in constant conflict with the worldly nature of his father. Sometimes Kalu Ram even scolded Nanak as he spent most of his time in meditation. Rai Bular explained this to Jai Ram and told him to find a suitable job for Nanak. So it was finally decided that after a month or so Jai Ram would take Nanak with him to Sultanpur. Meanwhile Rai Bular would discuss this with Kalu Ram also. After meeting Rai Bular, Jai Ram and Nanki bid farewell to Kalu Ram and his family. Bebe Nanki, who never wanted to leave Nanak alone, assured him that very soon he would be called to Sultanpur.

Nanak was now totally lost within himself. He went wherever he found the company of saints and sadhus. He loved to sit silently in prayer and meditation and never showed any enthusiasm for any work. Absolutely, exasperated with such behaviour, Kalu Ram went to Rai Bular and poured out his heart to him. Rai Bular was prepared for this and immediately gave him a letter for Jai Ram to be given to Nanak who would then go to Sultanpur. In Sultanpur, he was given a warm welcome by Nanki and Jai Ram.

Nanki perceived Nanak not only as a brother, but, like Rai Bular, to be a very divine and saintly soul. In her free time she often mentioned events of Nanak's life to Jai Ram - those events which really showed Nanak to be outstandingly pure and Heavenly. She respected Nanak immensely. The letter of Rai Bular was given to Jai Ram who was already thinking along those lines. Nanki further emphasized to her husband about Nanak's job. Within a few days Jai Ram spoke to Nawab Daulat Khan who appointed Nanak as the in charge of accounts (Modi) in his Modi Khana - a shop where government officers were given ration and provisions.

At dawn, Nanak would go to the Vaieen river, near Sultanpur, and after his bath sit down in prayer. He would come back at day-break. Nanki would be waiting for him and serve him a hearty breakfast of hot parathas with lots of butter and butter milk. After this Nanak would leave for work. In the evening he would again sit in prayer before having his dinner. Nanki was very happy to see her brother usefully occupied and intimated this to her parents also. They, too, were overjoyed. Now as any other sister, Nanki wanted to see her brother happily married. She expressed this desire to her husband, who never wanted to deny anything to her. Actually it was Nanki's goodness and sweet nature which had won everybody's heart, including her husband's, who never ignored her demands. He told her about Mool Chand, a Khatri by caste and a patwari by occupation. He lived in district Gurdaspur's village Pankhian; and was prepared to marry his daughter to Nanak. Bebe Nanki was very thrilled to hear this and sent this news to her parents also.

One day, one man approached Jai Ram and told him that his brother-in-law Nanak was giving free ration to all the poor people (Fakirs).lf there was any loss in the Modi Khana, it was Jai Ram who would be fined, he warned him. At night, Jai Ram spoke to his wife Nanki. But Nanki had complete faith in her brother and immediately told Jai Ram there could be no losses as long as her brother was the modi and that the accounts should be scrutinized. The idea of her husband suspecting her brother was unbearable for her. Within a few days, the accounts of the past three months were settled and there was a profit of Rs. 135. Nanki was very happy and began to praise Nanak endlessly. Her brother went on with his usual manner and continued to help the poor and hungry. People were astonished to see the Modi Khana make profit despite the fact that Nanak gave so much Khairat(donation) to the poor. There was some Heavenly blessing (barkat) in his hands - God-given gift.

At last, the auspicious day of her brother's engagement also dawned. Nanak's parents came to Sultanpur. All rituals, auspicious ceremonies (Shagans) were performed and a lot of money was given to the poor. But Bebe Nanki was the happiest person. She felt nice to think that her brother respected her and obeyed her wish of getting married. At that time Nanak was eighteen years old. With all gaiety and celebrations the marriage took place. The barat left for Batala. Rai Bular and Daulal Khan also accompanied the barat which had a Heavenly splendour about it. After a few days it came back with Bibi Sulakhni's Doli. Bebe Nanki wanted the barat to go to SuItanpur but because of her parents sentiments it first went to Talwandi. Over here everyone was overjoyed. Rai Bular was very happy. After some days, as per the custom, Sulakhni, the bride, went to her parents' house and Nanak left for Sultanpur to resume his duties. After five years Sulakhni and Nanak finally came to Sultanpur. Now Bebe Nanki told Nanak to have a separate home, an independent establishment and felt very happy to see the couple settling down. Soon, her brother was blessed with two sons -Sri Chand was born in 1494 A.D. and Lakhmi Das in 1496 A.D. Seeing her brother's house full of happiness and prosperity Bebe Nanki always thanked the Almighty for His kindness.

Now with the passage of time, Nanak's sadness also grew. Bebe Nanki was constantly nagged by a fear - what if her brother left the house. She knew that even though Nanak had settled down to work, got married and had a family, but his mind was elsewhere. One she knew of his inner state of mind. At last her fears came true. One day Nanak never returned home after his usual bath in the river Veieen. There was utter commotion and a rumour spread that he had fled because of losses in the Modi Khana. Jai Ram was sent for by Nawab Daulat Khan. The latter sent someone to look for him and at last he was found. Accounts were settled and there was again a profit of Rs.760. The Nawab was overjoyed and wanted to give this money to Nanak but he declined the offer saying that money was useless for him. He also told the Nawab to appoint someone else instead. Leaving everything behind, he set out as fakir (Sadhu). This news reached Sulakhni's parents who told all sorts of things to Bebe Nanki. Jai Ram was also getting irritated with people's remarks about his wife's brother. It seemed as though the whole world was against Bebe Nanki's dear brother, and she stood all alone to confront them. But still she had a deep inner faith in her brother's divine powers and perceived him as the highest of saints.

Now Nanak was in a state of Vairag (divine love). Mardana joined him with his Rabab (musical instrument) and Nanak in his Heavenly notes recited shabads from Gurbani. Bebe Nanki now knew that he was completely immersed in divine love and could not be stopped from his divine quest. One day Nanak, along with Mardana, came to meet Bebe Nanki. With great courage she told her brother that if he wanted to go out to satisfy his divine strivings he could do so. She reassured him that she would look after his family. But with folded hands she told him never to forget her. Nanak, now in the younger brother's capacity, told her with great reverence that whenever she would remember him he would come. The thought of separation pained Bebe Nanki and made her cry. Nanak silently watched her tears flow and then infused courage in her by saying that since she had taken the responsibility of his family. Heavens would be pleased and God who cares for the entire universe would protect her. Nanak went to far off lands to preach his teachings. Bebe Nanki cared for his family with great tenderness. Nanak went far and wide and spent a long time away from home. Bebe Nanki was extremely good natured and very fond of children. Though she herself was childless she cared for every child in the village. Whenever any child fell sick she immediately nursed him. But her brother's absence had made her quite sad, and quiet. The whole day, engrossed in work, she remembered him. After a long time away from home when he came back from his first Udasi, (long journey) he first of all went to meet his sister. She was overwhelmed and on her instructions he went to meet his parents also.

Bebe Nanki was the first one to recognize her brother's true inner light. During childhood so many times she took the beating from her father. But never let the little brother be thrashed. On her advice only he joined the Modi Khana, and only she inspired him to get married and settle down. When he went out she played a very supportive protective role towards his family. Though Guru Nanak for many years travelled widely to preach, he never renounced his family. In his last days he settled down at Kartarpur with his family. This proves the fact that he never got entrapped within the narrow limits of his family only. Rather he cared for, and loved the whole world and found happiness in service of humanity at large.

Bebe Nanki played a very major and important role in the life of Guru Nanak. As a child she played with him, acting like a child herself. She always protected him from their father's wrath. Even after getting married his welfare was of utmost importance to her. She even gave him money to buy his first rabab. This had a deep philosophical meaning - it shows that it was she who first of all recognized his deep insatiable thirst for the Divine Master, and not Guru Nanak's inability to buy a rabab. She inspired him to sing Shabads and respected Mardana a lot, as she knew he was always there with her brother. They both (Guru Nanak and Mardana) stayed together till almost the end of their lives. She cared for his family when he went out for his Udasis and on returning asked him to meet their parents also. Thus it was she who helped Guru Nanak in maintaining social ties in a cordial way.

Towards Bebe Nanki's end, Guru Nanak was by her side in Sultanpur. She died in 1518 A.D. in the month of November. Guru Nanak left for his Heavenly abode after 19 years of Bebe Nanki's death. He performed her last rites. Both brother and sister were engrossed in the purest of the pure brother and sister ties throughout their lives and valued each other thoughts. Bebe Nanki always held her brother in a lot of esteem and respect and thought of him as very God-like in his nature - a very Divine Atma. Bebe Nanki made a distinguished contribution in spreading Guru Nanak Dev's religion. Her endeavours towards this end till today remain unparalleled.

Source – Eminent Sikh Women by Dr. Mahinder Kaur Gill

Tr. (Mrs.) Amar Jyoti