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Ascension

The transfiguration of Lehna into Angad was an event of great importance and historical significance. It showed how on the path of Sikhism, a dedicated novice becomes an inspired disciple, and the disciple changes mentally and spiritually into an embodiment of his Master’s spirit.

Guru Nanak wanted to recreate every man that came to him for wisdom and enlightenment, in the image of the Word Incarnate, which as he said, was his life and blood. Every one. of his successor repeated this experiment in a novel way till Guru Gobind Singh merged his personality in the Khalsa. Angad was the first consummation, the ideal Sikh, who became the ideal Teacher, to the perfect Guru carry this movement forward the building of culturally autonomous super-national community. Nanak started treating Angad as his real spiritual son and prospective successor. He would seat him by his side as a king seats a prince by his side. This created jealousy and even suppressed ill-will in the mind of his sons1, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das, who with all the other qualities in them failed to understand their father as he wanted them to understand him. They considered themselves to be the Guru’s natural successors. Who could, they thought, take away from them, the land, the shrine or the pontific seat of Kartarpur. They would receive all this as their heritage and along this will come the Guruship of the Sikhs.

Sri Chand always dressed himself as an Udasi, exactly as Guru Nanak dressed in his Eastern missionary tour. He was under the impression that outward imitation of his father coupled with his piety and celibacy would entitle him to become the spiritual heir of his father. Angad and other disciples would naturally bow before him, acknowledge him Guru, or leave the place. He was pious but haughty and conceited; he was educated and learned but vain and disobedient. Foreseeing working of his mind, Guru Nanak asked Angad to go to Khadur and establish a manji (pontific seat) there. He told him that during his earlier visit to Khadur, Mai Virai, an old devout lady who ate the bread which she could earn by her own manual labour, had got constructed for him, a lovely pontific seat (manji). He had asked her to keep it for his successor. Angad was instructed to use that manji as his pontific seat.2 “Here” said Guru Nanak, “you may not get the respect you deserve. Go to Khadur and stay there,” said Baba Nanak.

“Master” said Angad,” what would be life for me, without your presence. When my hands cannot serve you any more, when my ears cannot hear your melodious voice, when my eyes cannot see you as a visible presence, I would be like a fish out of water,” “When you need me, and when you want to meet me, my son, I will come to you. You my Angad, are inseparable from me now, and forever in future. I have now to teach people to see me only in you, my Angad.”

Khadur, the seat of Durga-worshippers, became the seat of Guru Nanak’s mission. Angad stayed there for about four months, pining for a glimpse of his Master, remembering him constantly in his heart and soul, and talking about the greatness of his Master day and night. Khadur was only about fifty miles away from Kartarpur. Now and then visitors from Kartarpur would come and bring some news of his Beloved Master. After impatiently waiting for four months he received the news that Guru Nanak was coming to Khadur.

Angad went many miles to receive the Master. When he met him he tried to touch his feet, but Nanak embraced him.3 They stayed together for about a fortnight and then Nanak set out for Kartarpur. Angad accompanied him for some miles and then the Master commanded, “You need not go any further, Angad; you have already come a long way.” Obeying the Master, Angad waited there and saw him going towards Kartarpur. Whenever Nanak turned back to see him, he saw Angad still standing there, as if the parting was another waiting for his Beloved Master. Angad sat there watching his Master disappear in the horizon and as he saw him and contemplated his greatness, he brooded over the lovable personality of Nanak in his heart and in his soul. In this vision of love, he forgot himself and remembered only the resplendent personality of Nanak. On the third day Guru Nanak came to know that Angad was still sitting there, waiting and watching for the Master to come again. Guru Nanak went there and overwhelmed by his affection, he said, “Why this penance for love, my son, Come live with me, live within me, and live ever in future as my spirit and being.”4

Letter from Makhdoom Baha-ud-din

Makhdoom Baha-ud-din, a pir of Multan once came to the mosque in a pensive mood. People asked him the reason of the strange gloom on his face.” If I tell you,” said the Pir, you will lose faith in me. There is one who is far greater than me. He is greater than any Muslim divine I have ever known. He has lighted my path on this earthly journey. I wish he lights my path on my journey to heaven. My days are numbered.”5

He asked a messenger to carry his letter to Baba Nanak. In the letter he wrote: asan je ladan ladya, asadi kar kae. We have launched the boat, the caravan is leaving loaded with burden for the last journey. Come, and graciously help.” Guru Nanak on reading it said:

The perfect one goes loaded with treasures,

Everyone has to depart according to His Will

Those who live the life of Truth,

Their faces glow in the presence of God.6

Then blessing and praising Makhdoom Baha-ud-din he said, thrice “Liberated is the great soul of Baha-ud-din” Then as his eyes were filled with tears of affection, he wrote a letter and in it added the following hymn:

Riches, youth and flowers are short-lived,7 Like the leaves of Chaupati they fade and die;

Seek joy O friend while your youth is abloom.

Few and numbered are thy days,

Thy garment, the body will become old and die.

My beloved friend will now sleep in the graveyard.

I who weep for my dear friend,

I too must depart, I too must go.

Have you not heard with your own ears, O soul,

O bride, You cannot remain in your parental home, the earth for long,

You must go to your Huband’s Home, yonder.

She who sleeps heedlessly in this parental home,

Will be robbed of precious possessions in broad day light She who foolishly casts away the bouquet of virtues, She carries the faggots of iniquity.

When Baha-ud-din read this letter he wept tears of sorrow. Why those tears Master, “asked his disciples?” The Pir answered. “I wrote to Baba Nanak that I was leaving this world, as the call had come. I begged Baba Nanak to accompany me and light my path to heaven. The divine Nanak has sent his blessings saying, he would follow me after forty days. My friends, I am worried about those forty days. I will have to spend these forty days in darkness and wait for the bearer of Light, Baba Nanak, who will come and guide me to God’s presence.”8 The next day the Pir died. According to Mehma Prakash he died on the day the messenger arrived.

Ascension

It was now clear to everyone that Baba Nanak intended to leave the world. He was physically in good health. His sons did not in the least suspect that he would depart from the world so soon. On September 5, 1539 A.D. he announced his intention of bestowing Guruship formally on Angad.9 Preparations were made in a festive mood, of a coronation. For two days there was congregational singing, distribution of gifts and people poured from nearby places to witness the great occasion. Early on September 7, Guru Nanak seated Angad on his pontific throne, and offering five paisa and a cocoanut, bowed before him, touching his feet in reverence. Along with it he bestowed his spiritual regalia of his “Vani Pothi” the Book of Wisdom10. His light blended with the soul of Angad, and Angad was declared Nanak II, and from that day onwards Angad wrote hymns under this name.

The disciples watched the ceremony with awe and reverence. When Baba Nanak asked every one else to bow before Angad and acknowledge him as his successor, everyone did so except his sons Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. Angrily and bitterly they went away. In the evening Baba Nanak ordered preparations for his ascension. He asked his disciples to construct a tent-wall around a place where he had decided to pass into samadhi and leave the body.11 This was done to keep everyone away from disturbing his last moments. This is exactly* what Guru Gobind Singh did when he passed away. When thousands of people are around to seek his blessing, to touch him and be close to him, such an arrangement was absolutely necessary for a peaceful ascension in calm solitude. Only Guru Angad and disciples like Bhai Buddha were allowed to remain near the Master, during his last moment.

On learning that Guru Nanak was making serious preparations for leaving his body, his sons Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das came running to seek forgiveness and sought blessings saying, “Father, you have given Guruship, to Angad. What is left for us? Are we left to starve and remain neglected?” “Even the dogs in the Guru’s durbar have never starved. You are my sons. You have always aspired after material possessions and public importance and glory. You will get enough of it.”12 “What I have given to Angad cannot be acquired the way you have been trying to do. It is the gift of God, and it must go to him who deserves it, and to him whom God Wills it,” said Guru Nanak.

Then Guru Nanak covered himself with a sheet and passed away. The three major Janam Sakhis give three legendary versions out of which the historical reality has not emerged very clearly. Purdtan Janam Sakhl gives a version which is aptly worded by Kincaid: “He passed over his two sons, who had rebelled against him and placed the umbrella of spiritual sovereignty over the head of Angad and bowed down before him. Before Nanak’s death a quarrel arose between his Hindu and Musalman followers (for he attracted numerous disciples from Islam) as to the disposal of his corpse. The former wished to burn, the latter to bury it. Nanak was asked to decide it. He said, “Let the Hindus place flowers on my right and the Muslmans on my left. They whose flowers are found fresh tomorrow morning may have the disposal of the body.” After the flowers had been put on each side of him, the prophet drew his sheet over the flowers as well as himself. Next morning the sheet was found unchanged. The disciples removed it, thinking to find the saint’s dead body beneath it. The flowers would then guide them as to the disposal of the body. Both sets of flowers they found equally fresh and blooming, but the body had wholly disappeared.13 The version of Bala's Janam Sakhi is that just as he was passing into samaahi the Pathans arrived. They insisted on paying homage to the Guru but some orthodox Hindus would not allow them to touch Baba Nanak’s body. But as they were strong and armed they pushed their way inside the tent-wall. But when the sheet was lifted they found that the body had disappeared. The Hindus and Muslims divided the sheet between themselves and the Hindus burnt it, and the Muslims buried it.”14 Janam Sakhi Mani Singh adds another legendary story of resurrection. A man came after the death and told the people gathered there, he met Nanak a few miles way who asked him to tell his disciples that, only his body had disappeared. He was still living and with them in spirit.15

Mehma Prakash gives a more believable version. While the Janam Sakhis concentrate on telling us what Guru Nanak left for the Hindus and Muslims (Sikhs who claimed that they were neither Hindus nor Muslims are naively left out), Mehma Prakash tells us what they did with the body: “Baba Nanak’s follower’s carried his bier to the banks of the Ravi, singing hymns as they went, and there they cremated him amidst songs of rejoicing. When they searched in the funeral pyre for the remains of the body to be taken for the immersion in the Ganges they found no portion of his body remaining. All were struck with wonder. Chanting “Glory to Baba Nanak, the perfect Satguru, they all returned home.”16 Thus passed away Guru Nanak on the tenth day of the dark-half of the month. It was Asa Vadi 10, Samvat 1595 corresponding to 7 September, 1539 A.D.17 Exactly fifteen days after his ascension his devoted wife Sulakhani passed away. It appears separation from her godly husband was unbearable to her.18

Pundit Tara Singh Nirotam, on the basis of some record which he does not quote suggests that he was cremated on the banks of the river Ravi and his ashes were put in metal pot and buried there. A samadhi was built over it, but the river Ravi swept it away twice in the life time of Sri Chand. Perhaps the wish of Guru Nanak to have no samadhi or tomb, as the Hindus and Muslims wanted was fulfilled by the river Ravi. I do not believe in the legendary stories spinned out of some historical facts, which are still shrouded in mystery. It appears, just before his death the Hindus and the Muslims wanted some relic or some gift. He offered them the flowers that were lying around him, or tore one of the two sheets he was having and gave half to the Muslims and half to the Hindus. If Guru Nanak had given half the sheet or any other relic to the Hindus and Muslims, they would have neither buried it nor burnt it. They would have been wiser in preserving it. Such gifts by such great men, given just before death are never burnt or buried. The first legend is also attached to Kabir by nineteenth century writers on Kabir. These writers on Kabir have not only added stories from Guru Nanak’s, life to that of Kabir but have also lifted many of the Punjabi slokas of Guru Nanak and added them to the saint’s works. Just before passing away Guru Nanak asked his successor Angad for any boon or gift. Angad answered, “Master, give me but one boon, fulfil but one last wish, Forgive all those who have offended thee. Forgive and bless all those who have failed to understand thee and caused injury to thee. Make them thy own.”19 Guru Nanak said, “For your sake I bless them all.” Thus passed away one of the greatest prophets of peace, harmony, enlightenment and truth.

All his life Guru Nanak remained for humanity the Man who was the point of contact of the world with God, a creative genius full of dynamic force and strength. His mind was filled with reality, truth, intuition and conviction. The purity of his feelings, the beauty of his disposition reflected Light and Wisdom. Truth became sweet honey on his lips and every word he uttered mirrored God and Nature in all their manifestations. His speech radiated music, love and grace. His peace-shedding looks sank into the souls of feverishly searching hearts, and his healing touch gave strength, joy and power to men. “The true Guru”, said he, “is one who changes men into living gods,” “and such a Guru he was.” His thoughts, his philosophy, his spirit pervaded every segment of social, cultural and political life of the people. He oriented human passions with tender affection and compassion. He corrected rejuvenated and sanctified the wicked, the proud, the sensual and slothful characters. He lifted them from disgusting depths into which they may have fallen and elevated them to divine heights. He picked up the commonest of common men, transfigured them to unique heroes of history. Serene and imperturbable, he never took offence. He never complained of the wrong done to him. He forgot every injury and he knew no rancor. His art was the brightness of light. His method was to present truth directly, clearly and perceptibly. To everyone he showed the way to perfection within the area of his own religious traditions and culture. He taught men how to change the daily sorrows and sufferings to fragrance of love, power, strength and a heroic burning for truth at the altar of God’s presence.

Guru Nanak disciplined his Sikhs in such an inspiring manner that he made them immune to persecution, hostility and opposition and oppression. He recast their mind and soul in the crucible of his wisdom and made them indomitable like a river to which no rocky cliff is a barrier, and which sweeps aside all oppositions and obstructions and moves on towards its goal. He made every human being conscious of his dignity and destiny. Destroying all exclusiveness, he compelled all narrow faiths to open the doors of their wisdom to all, to come closer to one another, to live in harmony and not stink in isolated ponds of vanity of the past glory or the false conviction that there is no wisdom and truth beyond their holy books.20

Out of the seventy years of the life of Guru Nanak, emerges one consistently resplendent image of Guru Nanak which we find deeply and clearly engraved in his spoken and written words, and which has left an imperishable imprint on Indian history and people of all nations. He became for those who seek God through his Word and Wisdom, a being-Man and a becoming-Man. His divinity became his humanity and in his humanity was his universality of enlightenment. He was a poet of life, a musician who called himself a wandering bard of God, a singer of truth and eternity, a philosopher of human existence and essence, of life and spirituality, and a prophet of all times and all people on earth. In the words of Shakespeare we may say, “He was Man-all in all-we shall not look upon his like again.”

Notes and References

  1. dil khote aki phiran, ban bhar ucayan chatlai (Var Satta Balwand)
  2. gram khadur sadan kar rahlai, tahan birajo karo gurai moha singhasan sadan bhirai (Suraj Prakash, Ras 2, Ansu 57)

Purkha ji tusin khadur jae raho; Mai Virai de ghar sade singhasan baithan di manji hai mera singhasan vahl hai turn othe jae baitho, asin tuhade pas avail ge, tusln ethe na avna.

Listen divine Man go and live at Khadur. In the house of Mai Virai is my pontific seat, manji; that is my singhasana throne, go and stay there,. I will come to you. You need not come here. (Mehma Prakash)

  1. abhilakhat bhe milan jarur, Sri Nanak ji Se Khadur (Suraj Prakash Ras, 2, Ansu)
  2. tab mata khivi ji, Guru Angad ji ke kablle ne suna jo Baba ji ae hai, tab mata ji gae, puja kia, Baba ji ke ghar darsan
  3. jo asan ladan ladya asadi kar kae tad Bala likhya salok us e slok upar
  4. jo bharia so ladsi, sabhna hukam rajae, Nanak te mukh ujle cale hak kamae,
  5. dhan joban ar phuldj nathadiai din car, paban kere pat join dhal dhul jumanhar, rang man lai pyaria ja joban nau hula, din thodade thake bhaya purana cola, sajan mere rangle jae sute jiran, hambhi vanjha dumni rovan jhini ban ki na sunehi goriai, apan kani soe, lagi avai sahure nit na paeai hoe Nanak suti paiai jan virti san guna gavai ganthadi avgun cale ban (Nanak Sri Rag)
  6. On receiving Baba Nanak’s letter tears rolled down Baha-ud-din’s eyes. His disciples asked “why those tears Master” Then Makhdoom Bahau-udin said, “Friends I wrote to Baba Nanak to accompany me to the House of God. It would be a joy to go together. Baba Nanak has replied, “Go ahead, I shall follow you after forty days”. I am worried about those forty days which I will have to spend in darkness (without the company of Baba Nanak)”. (PJ. 128)
  7. tab asu vadi satavin (September 5) ka din hot hai, anand sohle gaite hai tab ik gal da gulgala sabhana lokan vie hoaya jo Baba Nanak ji samavda hai. (J.B. MSS 1826 of 253)
  8. tadon paise pafij Babe ji Angad ke age rakhke pairin paya. tadon parvar vie khabar hoi. tit mehal jo $abad hoa, so pothi juban guru Angad jog mili. (P.J.P. 128-132)

Babe Kiha, Angada, asin nu dargah da sada aya hai, so asin dargah jafide han, phir pafij paise te misri nalier Guru Angad age rakh ke Baba Nanak ji ne matha tekya, tan pher Guru Angad ji ne Babe age matha tekia. (J.M.S. (LI 582))

  1. bahuro kahyo kanat tanljaj, cahun dis mai ghera kar lijai, sarb nikas ke bahar javo satnam simroh gun gavo. (N.P. adh 5, 260)
  2. guruan di kutian nu bhi kaml nahi, rotian kapde bahut hovan ge, ate guru guru japa ge tafi janam savre ga. (P.J. p 132)
  3. tusl in duhan vail ‘phul rakho, dahnl val Hinduan de rakho are bahvin val musalmana ke rakho, je Hindu ke hare rehange than jalaenge, je musalmana ke dabenge., jab cadar uthaven tan kich hai nahi, phul dohan do hare rahe. (P.J. p 132-133)
  4. All versions of J.B. give and N.P. this story, and it is the most popular one.
  5. Baba dohan kohan to mile kise nu, ate akhya, ke mera suneha dena, mai sarir tianahi si dharya, mere asan te do ‘patan di cadar hai, ek pat Hindu sanskar karen, ik musalman daban. (J.M.S. 584)
  6. tab biban kirtan karte nadl Ravi kinare siskarya, bade bhajan anand hoe, phir jab ganga parvah ke vaste cikhah khol sat lain lage tan kol sarlr ka akar nazar nahi aya. sabh bismad hoe gae, dhan Baba Nanak pura jap japde sabh ghar ae. samvat 1596 asuvadi 10 (Mehma Prakash)

This is the most acceptable version. If the Hindus got half the cadar or flowers and the Muslims the other half what was left to the Sikhs and his family. If he had left any relic like the sheet, it is against Hindu or Muslim tradition to burn or bury such a relic. It was not the ceremony of burning or burying that would then have been important but the preservation of the relic. Bute Shah in his Tarikhe-i-Punjab says that the party of Muslims who claimed the right to bury Guru Nanak’s body was led by Syyed Mitha Shah a disciple of Guru Nanak.

  1. In the appended pages of Adi Granth compiled by Guru Arjan now lying at Kartarpur it is written: samvat 1596 asuvadi 10, nu Guru Baba Nanak Dev ji Samane, (This falls on 7th September 1539 A.D. This fact is stated in all the recensions of Adi Granth from the time of Guru Arjan to Guru Gobind Singh. I have seen them in about 300 copies. Two of them dates 1706 A.D. one of which is signed by Guru Gobid Singh are with the author.
  2. pher pandran dinpiche Sri Chand te Lkhami Das di mata bl baikunth dham nu gal, so us da bhi sanskar ate kirya karam kita

After fifteen days Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das’ mother also departed to baikuntha. She was also cremated and her last rites performed. (J.M.S. p. 584)

“The words, also cremated indicate that Guru Nanak was also cremated.

  1. ji patasah, tun bhaven tan, jo safigat nalon tuti hai, so lad. lalai ji, tan bacan hoya tera sadka sabh bakhshl. (P.J. p 128)
  2. Most of the disciples and devotees of Baba Nanak are men of real attainment of God fearing saintliness advanced in meditation and accepted prayer in the court of the Lord. Having removed all hatred from their hearts and lifting the curtain of doubt and darkness and narrowness from their minds they look upon their relatives and others alike; friends and foes are equal to them, and they are faithful to their friends and with foe they live without any quarrel with them. Even if a person were to come at midnight mentions the name of Baba Nanak, however stranger and unknown he may be, even if he were a thief, a robber or an evil doer, they look upon him as a brother and a friend and serve him to the best of their ability. (Sujan Rai Bhandari: Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh)