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Mardana and Marriage

At the door of Nanak’s house, one day, came a village bard. He sang plaintive Punjabi folk-songs and heroic strains in various ragas. The art of music was in his blood. As a family profession, he could use it for no better purpose than to sing at marriage ceremonies, or for begging money, food, and clothes, from door to door. He belonged to that great class of minstrel-poets who composed and sang verses, celebrating the achievements of chiefs and warriors. They were looked down upon as sudras (low-caste people) by Hindus. To gain some social respect and patronage for their art, almost all the bards had become Muslims.

“What is your name?” asked Nanak. “You play on the rebeck, so well.” “My name is Dana, Sir,” said the bard. “God bless thee, for appreciating my art. No one has said such words of appreciation before.” “You play the rebeck like a master-musician and you seem to have profound knowledge of ragas. If you sing shabads (the hymns of God) in such ragas, I will provide you the hymns. You will receive, Gods’ blessing both in this world and the next,” said Nanak1. “It is all very well, Sir, as you say, but who will provide me and my children with food, which I get only by begging, “replied Dana and continued, “As for being saved in this world and the next, I recite the five namazes and keep fast during Ramzan. That is quite enough for my salvation, Sir. God bless thee for liking my music.” “I shall take full responsibility,” said Nanak, “for providing for your family. Remember God provides for all those who labour in His service, and in the service of humanity. As for the namaz you say, and the fasts you keep, they can bring salvation if in your prayers and fasts your mind is tuned to the love of God through the path of virtue.” "How am I to know how such a complicating thing is to be done? I just say my namaz and keep the fasts, and I know I will not go to hell,” said Dana. Nanak was moved by his innocence and said, “Listen, this is how it is to be done. Play the rebeck and I will sing the song of true namaz in the Rag Majh.”

Five prayers, five times a day, Have five different names :

Make Truth the first prayer; The second to lawfully earn your daily bread;

The third: charity in the Name of God; Fourth : purity of mind;

Fifth: adoration of God. Recite these five prayer in practice.

Let good deeds be your article of faith, the Kalma.

Then you can call yourself truly a Muslim.

(Guru Nanak: Var Majh)

Dana was won over, not so much by the arguments of Nanak, but by his affection and assurance that he would not have to beg for his food any more2. He could sing the sacred hymns which the low-caste people were not entitled to sing. He would be treated as his brother. “Thanks be to thee, Sire, for your kindness. You have a very tender heart. In this unmusical world, music has been made the profession of beggars. How can I ever dream of being treated as a brother by the scion of a Kshatriya of the Solar dynasty like you? I am a downtrodden bard, you are the highest and noblest among the twice born,” said Dana sadly. “No my dear friend Dana, there is no difference between you and me. We are both human beings, made of the same elements, and we carry within us the same light of God. He created us equal. The only difference is that you are a bard of society which knows not how precious music and musicians are, while I am a bard of God, Who has given me a mission to awaken people from their sleep of ignorance, to the realisation of truth, through music and poetry. Join me Dana. Be my companion ever, and God will bless you with all the graces of life.”3

Thus ended the first meeting between the great bard of Sikh history, Dana, and Baba Nanak. Dana was won over and was renamed Mardana by Baba Nanak. He spent most of the time with his Master, but could not help going to marriages of the rich on festive occasions to sing for them and beg money. Mehta Kalu felt that his son was giving indications of renouncing the world, and wandering away from home. He was advised to arrange his marriage. At the age of fifteen or sixteen he was betrothed to Sulakhni, daughter of Mul Chand, the patvari of Batala. The date of the marriage was fixed a year later.4

Mehta Kalu went to Rai Bular to seek his blessings for Nanak’s marriage. “Your humble servant Nanak’s marriage has been fixed, Sire. Give him your blessings,” said Mehta Kalu. “Ah,” said Rai Bular, “Do not indulge in such blasphemy, Mehta ji. How can you ever call Nanak, my servant? Nanak is the world-teacher. He is the Lord of the world. All kings, rulers, and chiefs are his servants. This is the truth you have not realised. This is the truth the world will know soon. Hindu marriage ceremonies are very intricate. Nanak resents priests and rituals. If something happens there, do not show your usual wrath. I hear Nanak’s father-in-law is also a bad-tempered man. Do not offend Nanak in any way.”5

Gurdwara Kandh Sahib where Guru Sahib got married
Rai Bular then sent for Nanak. He embraced and kissed his forehead, and then loaded him with gifts. The marriage party left Talwandi first for Sultanpur. From there it went to Batala. Local tradition maintains that Jai Ram brought some elephants and horses of Daulat Khan’s court to add to the pomp and pageantry of the wedding party.6 Meharban’s Janam Sakhi and an old recension of Bala’s Janam Sakhi give the details of the marriage ceremony which partly substantiates the traditional accounts, supported by the historical evidence of a tell-tale mud wall at Batala. Bhai Vir Singh has also recorded this story about the wall in his historical footnotes to Nanak Prakash of Kavi Santokh Singh. It is said Guru Nanak refused to marry according to Brahmanical rites and suggested a simpler wedding ceremony. The Brahmins resisted and Mul Chand Chauna refused to marry his daughter to Nanak according to any other rites. He even threatened to send the wedding party back. The Bhandari family of Batala agreed to marry their daughter to Baba Nanak if Mul Chand Chauna broke his daughter’s engagement to Nanak. Mul Chand Chauna at once relented, but agreed on the condition that Nanak must convince the Brahmins that the ceremony he proposed was better. A discussion was arranged. It was raining that day. At the time of discussion Nanak was given a seat near a crooked mud-wall which was about to fall. Mul Chand expected victory from either of the two scores. Either Nanak would be defeated by the pundits, or a little push given to the wall could kill him. An old lady, who came to know about the conspiracy, informed Nanak. Nanak smiled and said to the lady, “This wall will not fall for centuries. The Bhandaris who have shown concern for me shall be blessed. The Chaunas who conspired to kill me shall be uprooted. The Will of God shall prevail.”7

It is further recorded in old manuscripts of Bala’s Janam Sakhis, that Baba Nanak composed four lavans (marriage hymns) and four mangalas (songs of felicitation). These four lavans (marriage hymns) and mangalas are recorded in Bala’s Janam Sakhi (Litho Copy) published by Aftab Press Lahore and some old copies also. They are quite different from the lavans read nowadays. Each marriage hymn describes one yuga. The fourth reads as follows: Ram cauthi lauii karte kaljug pragtaya balramojio; Jin Hari sion prit nahi te sang bhrame maya jio”. By the fourth nuptials circling, the Lord created the Kaliyuga. Those who loved not God were ensnared in the web of maya.”

Janam Sakhi of Meharban also strongly indicates that no Vedic ceremony was performed. Meharban says that kirtan was performed and many hymns composed by Nanak were sung at various stages of the marriage. He has given some hymns though, to differentiate his collection from those of Guru Arjan’s authorised version, he corrupts almost all the hymns. In their correct form these hymns are still sung at the time of the wedding, though they do not form an essential part of the marriage ceremony. In the end Meharban writes, “Every one present, Hindus, Muslims and many low caste people were deeply impressed by the ceremony which was open to all.”8

The marriage party came back to Talwandi. Whoever came to offer felicitations received gifts and sweets. Both Mardana and Bala received special gifts from the Master. To Mardana, Nanak offered his wedding-dress saying: “This dress will be a bond of equality and fraternity between you and me, and you must now promise never to beg for your living. You are my companion, my friend now; I take complete responsibility for the welfare of your family. Your music will give divine inspiration to the world. You will live and move in society like a respected musician, and not like a beggar.”9 Mardana promised and solemnly kept the promise. He even gave up the little begging he indulged in, out of habit, after his first meeting with Nanak.

After the marriage, when Bibi Nanaki left for Sultanpur, her parents loaded her with gifts and presents. Her mother, Tripta, asked Nanak to pray to God that Bibi Nanaki may have a child. Nanak was prepared to do anything for his dear sister. He said: “By the grace of God, Bibi Nanaki will have one son and one daughter in due course.”10 Bibi Nanaki was happy and said to her brother: “More than anything else, my dear brother, I want you near me. Promise me that you will come to Sultanpur, and stay with me for a very long time.” Nanak promised.

Among the guests, who had come to participate in the wedding, was Mata Tripta’s sister, Lakho. She could not help remarking, rather sarcastically, “Your son, Nanak, my dear Tripta, is half mad. He picks up every good thing in the house and gives it to the poor.” Nanak, who overheard it said, pointing to her little son, Ram Thaman, “Your son, dear aunt, will be madder than me.”11 Ram Thaman later on came to be known as the intoxicated saint. His memory is still commemorated on Baisakhi gatherings at Kasur every year.

For the next four years, Nanak led a quiet homely life looking after his father’s affairs as best as he could. In the morning and evening he would perform kirtan and give spiritual discourses. In the day time he would go about his work. He liked looking after his farms. During these years he had two sons who were named Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das12.

Early one morning when Nanak went out he met a starving mendicant. As he did not have any money with him, Nanak gave him his gold ring and lota (metal jug). This annoyed Kalu Chand and he complained to Rai Bular. Rai Bular began to think seriously about the matter. After some reflection he said, “This place is too small for such a great man as Nanak. I am sending a messenger to Jai Ram to keep Nanak at Sultanpur, the capital city, where he is bound to attract the attention of the governor and distinguish himself in every field.”

A few days later Nanak received an invitation from his brother-in-law Jai Ram Palta to visit Sultanpur, which he readily accepted. Elaborate preparations were made for his departure as he had decided to go there for a longer stay.

Notes and References

  1. “jl mera naun Dana MirasIIok kehndehan” Nanak kahya: “tun rabab bhala vajaunda hain, te tainu ragan dl, bhall sojhl hai, par je tun asadl sangat karain, tan eh Sab ad rag pake gavai; tan asl tera din duni vie udhar karial.” Ji asln dhanl logan nu rag sunae ke car paise lyanvde han, apne putran dhlan vie dunya dl gujran karde han, te panj vele namaz padde han te tin roze ramzan nu rakhade han, asada din da bhala hunda hai. (S.B.M. (MSS), J.M.S. (MSS)., f 58, f 67.)

According to another Janam Sakhi Dana was younger brother of Mardana.

  1. Meharban’s Janam Sakhi says that Mardana was a playmate of Guru Nanak. This Janam Sakhi has put in many improbable facts and is not supported by any other Janam Sakhi on the question of Nanak’s place of birth, place of stay in early life. When Mardana met Guru Nanak, the Guru was unmarried while Mardana had grown-up children and was therefore much older. He also died much earlier than Guru Nanak. It is highly inconcievable that Mardana, who was at least fifteen years older than Nanak, could be his playmate.
  2. This dialogue has been given in slightly different form in Bhai Mani Singh’s Janam Sakhi, Sikhan di Bhagatmal, and Bala’s Janam Sakhis (Old MSS).
  3. Puratan Janam Sakhi fixes the marriage date at the age of 12, which is too early. Bhai Mani Singh and Meharban’s Janam Sakhi fix it at the age of fifteen or sixteen, which seems to be correct. Bala’s Janam Sakhis fixe it at the age of eighteen, which is less probable. The month and date of marriage in all these Janam Sakhis is the same.
  4. pher Rai ne kiha, he Kalu tera subha bada khota hai, bol vigad hai, dekhl kich bol vigadl kardon; ate Mulla bhi tera kudam, oh bhi bada sakhat hai, dono iko jehe ho, mate kol kam bigad do. (J.B. (L. I and ll) p.75)
  5. Almost all Janam Sakhis say that the betrothal ceremony took place at Talwandl and the marriage party left for Batala from Talwandi. Bala’s Janam Sakhis (Old MSS) say that the betrothal ceremony took place at Sultanpur and the wedding party started from Talwandi and first went to Sultanpur and then to Batala. The correct position appears to be that the betrothal ceremony took place at Talwandi and the distance from Talwandi to Batala being 90 miles , it could be covered in four or five days. A day before the marriage the wedding party reached Sultanpur and from there it went to Batala. Elephants and other royal paraphernalia could be acquired for the wedding only from Sultanpur.
  6. jis divar heth gost hoi, oh divar kaci hai, aje tak khatfi hai te vingi. Chonya ne nah kiti te Bhandari kehan lage ke asin nata dende han. is par Guruji ne var dita : Bhandhari bhare rehan gete Chaune cune jan ge.

Bhai Vir Singh’s footnote to Nanak Prakash p 155.

  1. Khatri, Brahmin, Sud, Vais, jitna sa, jitna Musalman tha, se sabh Guru Baba ki ustat lage karane, je dhan ho Guru Baba Nanak. (J.Mb. p. 37)
  2. Guru Nanak ne apne gal thi colna Mardane nu lah dita tan Mardane colna apne gal paya, tan pher Guru Nanak ji kehya Mardanya tu ik sada bacan man; tan Mardane akhya pharmaiai tan Nanak akhya sun Mardanya tu Bedlan da Mirasi hain horas pason mangna nahi (J.B. (L) I p. 71)
  3. Mataji ke kahe Guru Nanak ne Bibi Nanaki nu ik long, ik laci diti ar kehia ke ik putar hovega ar ik dhi hove gi. (J.M.S. (MSS); LI p: p 113)

We do not find any details of the life of Bibi Nanaki or Jai Ram, nor is there any indication whether they had any children. Further research into the history of Palta families may throw some light on these facts.

  1. Guruji di masi Lakho nami apnl bhain nu milan ai te Guruji da hai vekh ke boll : tera putar tan, kamla jiha hai, jo kujh ghar vie labhda hai lokan nu de dinda hai, eh gal sun ke Guru Sahib bole, masi ji tera putar mere nalon bhi kamla hovai ga”. (T.G.K. p 52.)
  2. According to another tradition Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand were born at Sultanpur.