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Guru Nanak Goes East

Guru Nanak reached Talwandi. He asked companions to go into the city, but preferred to remain outside at the well of Ghanderbhan, father of Bala Sandhu. When the news spread in Talwandi, Kalu Chand, his brother, Lalu Chand, and Mother Tripta came to the place with sweets and fruit. Kalu Chand was pained to see his son in the simple dress of a mendicant He was wearing a small turban and had the robes of sadhus on his body. He carried, a sheet of cloth which served as his prayer carpet.1 When pressed to go home he was reluctant to do so. He was anxious to leave for his eastern tour. Someone then reminded him that the aged Rai Bular was anxious to see him. Guru Nanak loved Rai Bular deeply and profoundly. He at once went to meet the devotee and protector of his childhood.

As soon as Rai Bular saw Guru Nanak he got up and embraced him, now a youngman of about thirty two. With tears in his eyes he said : “Let me touch your feet, my dear Nanak. The world has now recognised you as the greatest living sage. I knew it so long ago.” “No, Raiji” said Guru Nanak, “You have always been a real father to me, and I shall ever be proud to be your son. Always be a loving father to me, and I will feel honoured to serve you as your son. “Rai Bular embraced Guru Nanak again and kissed his forehead. “Pray Nanak, then, for me, so that Allah may forgive my sins and lead me to His Light,” “Raiji”, said Guru Nanak, “You were forgiven and blessed from your very birth. I have the highest respect and love for you.” “My noble Child,” said Rai Bular, “I wish to spend my last days in your presence and be very near you. Remember me always.” “Wherever I am Raiji”, “said Guru Nanak, “I will never forget you. Can a son forget his father?” “Honour me then dear Nanak by taking your food today at my house. Shall I call a Brahmin cook”, asked Rai Bular. “Rai ji”, said Guru Nanak, “Your house is purer than the cooking square of all the Brahmins. The food that is cooked in the house of such a saintly and virtuous soul like you, will be more sacred to me than the food offered to deities. Nothing shall give me greater joy than to take my meals in your house.”2 Rai Bular was overwhelmed with joy. The next day Rai Bular came to know that when Guru Nanak rose up very early to take his bath, no well of the village had started working, and there was no river or pond. Rai Bular at once decided to build a bathing tank in memory of Guru Nanak, which the Master could use for bathing purposes.3

After five days stay Guru Nanak left for his missionary journey to the East. He was accompanied by his bard, Mardana, and his disciple, Bala, and perhaps one or two more disciples.4 He put on the garb of an Indian holy man which looked neither purely Hindu not purely Muslim. It was not possible to have access to places of pilgrimages without the display of holy robes. Guru Nanak put on such a religious garb which could not identify him with any specific creed or- faith.. He changed this dress according to the requirements of the region which he visited.5

Bisakhi Fair at Hardwar

Guru Nanak went to Hardwar, an important place of Hindu pilgrimage on the banks of Ganges. Pilgrims had gathered here from all parts of India for the Baisakhi fair.6 Early in the morning he saw pious Hindus standing in the Ganges water with their faces towards the rising sun in the East. They were reciting the Gayatri mafiira and offering water to the sun-god, so that it could reach their ancestors. Guru Nanak stood there with his face towards the West and started throwing water out of the river towards the West. The dramatic reversal of the age-old practise attracted everyone’s attention. The Brahmins asked, “Why are you standing with your back towards the sun, and why are you offering water towards the West?” Guru Nanak replied: “Some miles away from Lahore I have my fields. This year we have not had any rains. So I am offering water to my fields.” Everyone burst out laughing. “Are you mad?” said the Brahmins, “how can your water reach your fields near Lahore?”7 “Guru Nanak smiled and said if the water you offer to the sun can reach your ancestors in heaven thousands of miles away, why can it not reach my fields which are only about a hundred miles away on this very planet. If my attempt to water my fields from here is an impossible feat is not your attempt to offer water to the sun utterly futile and useless?” This remark made everyone think seriously about the primitive ceremony which had no significance in the age of Nanak and least so in our own time.8

Then, Guru Nanak sang passionate songs of the One Beloved God and discouraged the worship of avatars as gods. “Avatars” he said “were human beings, who had attained perfection. They were divine in Spirit and were no doubt sent with a definite mission, but they were human all too human. In the vast universe of God there were innumerable creatures like the avatars. They were not incarnations of God. God is never born.”

In the evening Mardana went near a Vaishnava and asked for a little fire from his hearth. The Vaishnava angrily abused Mardana saying: “You Chandala, you have polluted my food and cooking square by stepping into it. Get away.”9 He prepared the cooking square again and started cooking his meals. He wanted to offer this food to a very holy man first. He extended an invitation to Guru Nanak whose influence and popularity at Baisakhi fair had spread like wild fire. Said Guru Nanak: “I would have certainly accepted the food, but it is polluted. So I hesitate to eat it.” The Vaishnava was taken aback and explained that he had carefully prepared the cooking square and not permitted any low caste Chandala (pariah) to come near it. Guru Nanak said, “The cooking square was quite pure before you entered it. It is your presence in it O Vishnava, that has polluted it because along with you the four most despicable Chandalas (your inner vices) have entered the cooking square. And all the food prepared by you is impure, no matter how pure a Vaishnava you claim to be.”10

Perversity of the mind is like a low caste woman,

Lack of compassion is like a butcher woman;

The desire to find fault with others Is like a scavanger woman,

The sin of wrath is like an utter outcaste;

What use it is to draw line around your kitchen.

If four vile vices keep your company Make practice of truth your disciple,

Make the practice of virtue your cooking square;

Make meditation of the Holy Name The ceremonial cleaning of your body;

Sayeth Nanak: Those alone shall be deemed good and pure That walk not in the way of sin.

(Guru Nanak: Sri Rag)

All the sannyasis, yogis, brahmcharis now came to Guru Nanak for spiritual discourses and received enlightenment. Raja Vijai Prakash, the ruler of Garhwal under whose jurisdiction Hardwar was situated, also came to pay homage to Guru Nanak. After receiving the Master’s blessings he invited him to his state, but the Guru expressed his inability to go at the moment as he was planning to tour India for missionary work.11 The Raja was anxious to know the caste of the Guru, and the reason why he had renounced his household life and adopted such unorthodox ideals as his creed. Guru Nanak explained to him that caste system was the artificial creation of Brahmins. Men were born equal and no group of people had the right to condemn a section of society as low by birth and claim racial, clannish, or any other purity. He judged men by their character and virtues and not by their claims of high birth. The Master further explained that he had not renounced a householder’s life. He had his wife and children. He had a mission to be completed and for that he had left home for some period. He had not renounced his family. The only thing; he had renounced was love of wealth and earthly power. Raja Vijai Prakash was deeply impressed.12

All parts of Kurukshetra pilgrimage at Kurukshetra where people from all parts of India had come on the auspicious day of solar eclipse. The first to meet the Master was a group of siddha yoga who held a discourse with him in the hope of winning him to the cause of yoga. Guru Nanak explained what true yoga was, and so profound was the influence of his sermon, that they bowed before him acknowledging him as the truly enlightened Master.

To his great surprise Guru Nanak came to know that a Brahmin whose real name was Nanu, claimed to be Guru Nanak, the prophet of his times. He carried a copy of Bhavish Purana (the Hindu Book of Prophecies), which stated that in kaliyuga a great prophet by the name of Guru Nanak will be born.13 Pundit Nanu was no doubt a great scholar. In debates and discussions he had defeated every scholar that challenged him and before Guru Nanak arrived at Kurukshetra he was respected as Nanak, the Messiah of Kaliyuga. Guru Nanak was amused to hear about the pretensions of this Brahmin scholar. He sat apart and sang a few songs to the tune of Mardana’s rebeck. A crowd gathered around the Master.

Prince Jagat Rai, son of Raja Amrit Rai of Hansi state, came there with his family. He had been driven out of his state by his enemy and now he begged the Guru to pray for him and bless him with the restoration of his kingdom.14 Guru Nanak asked him to prepare some food and distribute it to the poor. There were free kitchens for high caste people but there was none for the poor and the low caste visitors. The prince confessed that he did not have any money. A deer which he had hunted on his way to Kurukshetra was the only thing he could offer.

Guru Nanak asked him to cook the meat of the deer and distribute it to those who could eat.15 Firewood was lighted and the flesh of the deer began to be cooked in a large cooking pot.

To prepare meat during the solar eclipse on the sacred grounds of Kurukshetra was considered an act of sacrilege. The eyes of all orthodox pundits now turned to Guru Nanak. Under the leadership of Pundit Nanu (the impostor Nanak) all of them came to the Master to condemn his unholy act.16 Guru Nanak pointed out that in the classical age horses and other animals were sacrificed on auspicious occasions and their meat was cooked and eaten by the Brahmins.17 From the very seed and egg from which human beings are born to human bodies, everything is made of flesh. All human relationships centre around the flesh. Commenting on the hypocrisy of the Brahmins who shunned eating meat, but did not hesitate to suck the blood of innocent people, Guru Nanak said:

Only fools wrangle about eating or not eating meat.

They ignore the truth: the way of right actions;

They know not what is flesh and what is non-flesh, They differentiate not the food that was sinful,

And the, food that was connected with piety.

In ancient days the Hindus killed rhinoceros And offered its flesh in oblation at the sacrificial fires, The Brahminical Hindus today have become man-eaters; They suck the blood of the innocent masses,

Through most cruel and pitiless exploitation.

But at the very sight of meat,

They hold their noses and show contempt for flesh.

They are morally and spiritually blind,

Who cannot see or act upon what is right.

(Guru Nanak : Rag Malar)

“Banish cruelty and hypocrisy from your minds”, said Guru Nanak. Merely vegetarianism would not bring you any salvation.17 All the Brahmins begged the Guru to initiate them as his disciples. And according to Bhai Mani Singh’s Janam Sakhi, Guru Nanak baptised them with Charan-pahul amrit.18 A Sikh temple was established which survives to this day and Kurukshetra became an important centre of Guru Nanak’s faith.”

Meeting with Sheikh Sharaf of Panipat

On his way to Delhi, Guru Nanak stopped at Panipat where he attracted the attention of Sheikh Tatihri, disciple of the Sufi Saint Sheikh Sharaf. Sheikh Tatihri reported to his Master, his impression about Guru Nanak, which he had formed after a short conversation with the Guru.

Sheikh Sharaf came to meet Guru Nanak and the first question he asked him was: “If you have become a fakir why do you keep hair? A clean shaven head was the first major symbol of a Hindu or Muslim fakir who has renounced the world.” To this Guru Nanak replied: “I have not renounced the world. I have renounced all that detracts me from God and Truth. Merely shaving the head does not clean the mind of the vices that are in it”.19 Then Sheikh Sharaf asked, “To which faith does your garb belong. What is the symbolic meaning of all the things you wear?” Guru Nanak replied: “My garb is not an expression of my ideals. If at all it reflects anything, it shows that I do not believe in any distinguishing garb. While in the court I had to dress like a courtier. While going to holy places I have to dress like holy men. I change this garb according to the needs of the place and country. I am not attached to any particular garb.

Sheikh Sharaf then turned the discussion on to serious questions of spiritual life. He was now anxious to know from Guru Nanak how enlightenment could be achieved. He prayed day and night for a glimpse of the Light of God, but had not achieved much. He formulated his eager thirst into the following verse.

Sheikh Sharaf:

I ever ask scholars and sages,

How and when can the Beloved be met?

Guru Nanak:

Be not in haste, O Shah Sharaf One pang cannot become a passion;20 Be not mad to have a glimpse of Him.

And then continued Guru Nanak: “The life of the spirit should grow as naturally as a fruit. A fruit is at first green; it then becomes yellow and sour and then it becomes sweet and red. This is how the soul should mature naturally towards perfection. At first there is the pang of separation and the seeker becomes pale and sad. Then he achieves perfection. His face glows with the Light of wisdom.”21

When the discussion turned on the study of scriptures and Sufi doctrines, Guru Nanak said, “A seeker of truth should not be blindly attached to any of the four ancient scriptures, either of Hindu religion or of the Semitic faiths. He should not be a dogmatic follower of the shariat (Law). He should tread the path of tarikat (doctrines) and ma’rfat (experience) with faith and confidence. He should be pure within and righteous in his outward deeds. Such a Sufi can easily enter the Lord’s inner Castle.”22

Sheikh Sharaf then asked: “How can a man be released from the wheel of karma” Guru Nanak replied, “All the chains of karma break when one lives in the love and grace of God. If one gives up all attachment to everything other than God, the mind attains its poise and balance and the seeker finds himself on the highway to truth. One should give up cruelty, oppression and exploitation of the poor before he walks on the path of truth.”23 Sheikh Sharaf bowed his head in reverence to the Guru and accepted him as his preceptor.

Notes and References

  1. tan kae dekhan, sir de upar do gaj da safa badha hoya hai, ik cadar ute te ik cadar ted ik dudh gaj da safa hath vie. They saw that Guru Nanak was wearing a turban about two yards long, and had a sheet on his body and another one around his legs. He also carried a scarf one and a half yard long. (J.B. (LI) p. 41)
  2. All old MSS of Bala’s Janam Sakhis give the incident in considerable details. (J.B. p. 141-3)
  3. tan Guru Nanak pehar rat rehandi baharvar isnan,. karan vaste gae ahe, Jae kar dekhan tan koi khuh bhi vehanda nahi, tan sri Guru ji de mukh thi vacan hoya, jo ethai than toba bhi koi nahi, jo eh khabar Rae Bular ne suni jo tape de muho tobe da avaj nikliya hai, aj asln nihal hoe han tan Rai Bular ne kiha, ethai toba khato tape ji de nau da. Rae ne Babeji de nam da talao lavaya. Three hours before dawn when Guru Nanak went out to take his bath, he found that no well was working. He then said that it is a pity there is no pond here where one could take his bath. When Rai Bular came to know > that Guru Nanak, the sage mystic (tapa), has expressed his desire for a pond he was extremely happy and eager to fulfil the least wish of Guru Nanak. He immediately had a beautiful pond constructed and named it after the Master. (J.B. (LI) p. 144; MSS)
  4. Some Janam Sakhis give Mardana’s name as his only companion. Most of the Janam Sakhis give the name of Bala, Saido, Gheo and others. The Bangali MSS at Orissa gives the name of Sarang.
  5. phir Babe akhia, grehsti da bhekh tirthan te nibhda nahi, so tan bhi te mai bhi udasi da bhekh kar laiai. Sir te topian pa laiai ar gal vie cole palae ted, langote mutke ban lae, ar palrin khadavan pa laian. (J.B.S p. 134, MSS 144)

cale prabhu pun is sidh kar kai, abdhut bekh tan bikhe dharke,

kesar tilak bhai mai lala, sir par urdh kula bisala,

bhagvan ambar ipar lina, nilo ted lapetan kina,

mai bisal kanth mai pai, ik rumal kar ma suhai,

ik pag panhi nok bad ik pag kauns tikae. Hindu Turk na lakh pare, aiso bhekh banae.

(Santokh Singh : Nanak, Prakash adh, 21, 70-3)

  1. Baba ji Ganga ko cale ar ramte ramte Baisakh ke mele jae pahunce. (J.M.S. p. 200)

Baba Nanak Ganga tirath ke upar baitha tha; age purab laga Baisakh ka. lok bahut car kut ka judia hai, (J. Mb. p. 117)

  1. Lahore ke najik hamara ghar hai, ar khetar hai; mere, khetar me, mlh kadi nahi padya, mai us khetar ko pani, deta hun; tab oe lok has pade koi eh bavla hi. (J. Mb. p. 118)
  2. J.M.S. p. 210, J. Mb. p. 118.
  3. Mardane ne una ton ag mangl tan oh krodh kar maran uthe ke malech di dristl nal sadft caunka bhrist to ho gaya hai (T.G.K.)
  4. jicar tusin na sau cadhde cauke ticar cauka suca si, tusan. cadhoyan sath cauka bhita; tab Guru Nanak ne kiha tusan cadhdyan nal nic cadhe; tab oni akhya, asan tan na aya, dis, nic cadhdyan; tab Guru Babe akhya, aje tusan hi nal baithe hain, maino disde hain, tusan no nahn disde. (J. Mb. p. 119)
  5. Babe da jas sunke Garhwal de raja Vijai Prakash ne Babe da darsan kar puchia, tumarl kya jat hai ar fakir kion hoe ho? (T.G.K. p. 74)
  6. ibid.
  7. Gyan Singh in his Tawarikh Guru Khalsa says on p. 26, that the prophecy is found in the 28th chapter of Puna khanda of Bhavisha Purana. It also says that the Sikhs will rule for a short period and then lose their kingdom. Then after some years they will rule for 350 years. The prayer of the Sikhs” rajkare ga Khalsa” is possibly based on this deep faith in their political destiny.
  8. Amrit Rai Hansivale de bete Raja Jagat Rai ne mrig mar ke jo anda si rihnan di samagrJ samet bheta rakh ke arj kltf. (T.G.K. p. 74)

Rani ne ardas kiti sade sarik parbal pae han ate sanu des vicon kadh dita hai, tusl kirpa karo tan asln pher des vie jae vasle. (J.M.S. (L) p. 135)

Bala’s Janam sakhis say that he was Raja of Patna (J. B. (LI) p. 535)

  1. ibid.
  2. tan Babe kehya tusin sabhe pundit kurkhetar de ikathe hovo tad mai tuhade nal caraca karna han, tan sabh, pundit kurkhetar de ikathe ho, ate, Nanu Chand jo bada pundit si ho bhi vie ae bhitha. (J.M.S. p. 136)
  3. A fairly complete account of the sacrifice of the horse such as it prevailed in the Vedic times is to be found in hymn 152 of the first mandala of the Rig Veda. The meat was roasted and boiled while the soul of the horse was supposed to go to the gods. (Romesh Chander Dutt : Early Hindu Civilization p. 37)
  4. Guru Nanak did not make meat eating a creed as some try to interpret. He made it plain that eating or abstaining from taking meat cannot be a means of salvation. What is necessary is purity of heart.
  5. tab jete pundit, rikisar ar raje the an carni lage; tin ko saje caran ka angutha dhoe kar carnamrit dia ar tin ko satnam da ar bhau bhagat ka updes kla. (J.M.S. p. 185)

Meharban in his Janamaakhi says that the pundits of Hardwar also asked to be initiated into Sikhism and they were initiated, tab Guru Baba Nanak ji kirpal bheya, kirpa kar kar un ko dikhya dim, (J. Mb. 123)

  1. N.C. p. 56
  2. nit puchan pundit joisl pia kabi milava hoei, Shah Sharaf na thio utavala. ik cot na thivan cavula. kion darasn an bhulabavla. (J.M.S. p. 186)
  3. cahu kitaba di kan chade, Sarah sarlat na mani, tarikat ma’rfat da faca rakhe, bahron sahi andron lai, Guruji Guruji kaha, tau chetl mehal mai pahunco ge. (J.B. (LI) p. 524)
  4. phir Sharaf pucha kaima te mukt kaise hoi da hai ? Guruji kaha; khudae di mehar hovai, duja bhav chadai tadon rah odak da pavai, eh rehanl rahe tai man darust rehanda hai; jor julam chado halemi pakdo. (ibid)