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Appendix II - The Janam Sakhis

The Janam Sakhis, as we find them today, are crude mixture of history, heaven of Hindu legends, and hell of haters of Nanak, who wanted to denigrate Nanak. Up to 1880, there was no confusion in the minds of Sikhs historians about the worth and importance of each Janam Sakhi, although the tendency to accept most of the miracle stories literally was there. But with the zeal to give undue importance to Colebrook’s Manuscript by sometime calling it Valayat Vali Janam Sakhi, and at other times Puratan Janam Sakhi, a name which has come to stay, two Sikh scholars instead of making correct assessments of all Janam Sakhis, poured the most vitriolic scorn and used the most malignant language that can ever be imagined by quoting from versions of Bala's Janam Sakhis against which Bhai Mani Singh warns us in 1716, and Kavi Santokh Singh warns us in 1830 A.D. Such dishonest and absolutely incorrect arguments have been used to condemn this Janam Sakhi outright, that before I give a brief account of these Janam Sakhis in historical context, I will deal with one of their baseless conclusion, and that is, because their foreign imported Valayat Wali Janam Sakhi does not mention Bhai Bala, so Bala does not exist. Because Kartik Purana Mashi is given the birth date by Bala's Janam Sakhi so this is wrong. To add to these fantastic statements, a third misleading and absolutely incorrect statement is made. That is, no reliable records mention the name of Bala.

As very few historians writing on the basis of Janam Sakhis have peeped into old Janam Sakhis, the truth is that Mehma Prakash, and Bhai Mani Singh's Janam Sakhi, two out of the three records, which they quote contain Bhai Bala’s name in many places. There is Bala family’s well still at Nankana Sahib. There is Bala’s samadhi at Khadur, because as the Janam Sakhi states he was cremated by Guru Angad with his own hands, a unique honour for a great Sikh, and the memory of this event has been preserved in history and tradition. While all the documents quoted in Appendix I give the name of Bhai Bala, the most important is Bhai Behlo’s “Suchak Prasang Guru ka” in 76 lines. It is a summary of what then was Bala’s Janam Sakhi, though no legendary stories are hinted at. It ends saying.

Bale taja kalevar tahan

Puri Khadur pa van mahan

Bhali marjada Angad nath,

Bale ke kram kine hath

Bala discarded his body there,

At the holy city of Khadur,

Angad, the Master, performed the rites,

Graciously with his own hands.

This is what Bhai Behlo writes at the time the Adi Granth was being compiled. I have given some critical comments on these Janam Sakhis in Chapter 10. Here I give a brief history, which would reveal also how the genuine Janam Sakhis have suffered at the hands of enemies of Sikhism, as much if not more than the Sikhs have suffered. The Sikhs who suffered at the hands of the Minas, the Hindalyas, the Masands were called heroes and martyrs while the Janam Sakhis which have suffered at their hands are blindly cursed and damned and the work of those who mutilated them are praised as new discoveries. The following are the principal Janam Sakhis.

Janam Sakhi Bhai Bala - Guru Angad first got the writings of Guru Nanak compiled. It is he who got the Guru’s life stories compiled through the scribe Paida Mokha. Guru Angad could get material of the Guru’s later life but no childhood companion of Guru Nanak was left. So the stories of Guru’s early life were acquired only from Bhai Bala. To get the exact date and time, Bala procured the Guru’s Janam Patri from Nanak’s uncle Lalu, who was yet living. The scandalizers of Bald's Janam Sakhi say that children born on Kartika Puran Mashi are unfortunate and contemptible people. They do not quote the pundit or the astrologer who says so, but I have to submit historical evidence against this punditary. Baba Atal in whose memory and eight story monument is built by his father Guru Hargobind was born on Katrika Puranmashi? His eldest brother, Bhai Gurditta was also born on Kartika Puranmashi. Because of this coincidence of date and time of birth, he was considered the living image of Guru Nanak, and I wonder if it was for this reason Sri Chand selected him as the successor of his Udasi Mission. The eminent astrologist Dr. B.V. Raman in his well-known book “Notable Horoscope” proves after lengthy calculation that Guru Nanak was born on Kartika Puranmashi and not on Baisakh Sudi 3. This Janam Sakhi was first corrupted by the Minas, or Meharban and his followers. Then during the life time of Guru Gobind Singh by the Handalyias, and then by the printers who in their zeal to give a simple and all inclusive and sensational Janam Sakhis changed the language and made whatever changes they liked. All version printed after the Litho-copies were produced in 1890, are anything but Janam Sakhis. Because Bala’s Janam Sakhis were traditionally considered the oldest and the first, these printers traded in them with indecent abandon and neither the Sikh institutions nor the Universities in Punjab, which waste thousands of rupees in publishing trash, have ever cared to employ some scholars to edit the oldest available manuscripts of Bala’s Janam Sakhi, also known as Paide Mokhe di Janam Sakhi.

Meharban’s Janam Sakhi: Meharban and his father Prithi Mai were called Minas by the Sikhs, a name given probably by Bhai Gurdas who says, they are not Nanak-panthis but Narak- Panthis or Community of dwellers in hell. Prithi Mai posed as the fifth Guru, but when Guru Arjan died a martyr, it became impossible for him to pose as his rival. So he announced himself as the sixth Guru, and his son Meharban called himself the seventh Guru, while Meharban’s son Harji became the 8th guru. After that their guruship faded away. In the name of Nanak VI, VII and VIII they composed hymns, plagiarizing and changing the verses of nirgun upasana to sargun upasana in priase of Krishna and Rama. They stole so much of it and imitated so much of the Bani of earlier Guru that Guru Arjan had to compile a correct version.

Bhai Mani Singh tells us that Guru Arjan felt that the original Janam Sakhi had developed many patterns and it was necessary to standardize it. Time did not permit him to do so but he asked Bhai Gurdas to compose a Var contradicting the false representations of historical and mystical facts of Nanak. Bhai Gurdas, and also Guru Arjan contradicted the theory that Nanak was avatara of Janak. He refuted their versions of Nanak’s visit to Mecca, Baghdad and Sumer.

I am firmly of the opinion that because the Minas wrote hymns under the name of Nanak VI, VII, VIII, the real successors of Guru Nanak who rightly were Nanak VI, VII, VIII never wrote any hymn. That made it easier for the Sikhs to discard the hymns of Minas. Bhai Mani Singh calls Meharban’s Janam Sakhi, as milk diluted with a lot of water. He changes not only the date of birth but also the place. Nanak according to it spends the first seven years of his life at his mother’s parents’ home, which is unbelievable at the face of it. Most of the legends and stories denigrating Nanak for which the Hindalyas are accused later on were introduced by Meharban. His son Harji calls Meharban far greater than Nanak. The best portion of this Janam Sakhi is Guru Nanak’s life at Sultanpur. The rest is all soap opera taking Nanak to heaven after every three chapters and contradicting himself throughout in names, places and directions of journeys.

Bhai Mani Singh's Janam Sakhi - Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Gurdas, and Guru Arjan blame Meharban and his followers for corrupting Gurbani and the Janam Sakhis. We have shown in Appendix I how someone later on changed the date of death and date of birth in his Janam Sakhi. In no other Janam Sakhi it is easier to sift the matter interpolated and distorted than in this Janam Sakhi. Bhai Mani Singh follows the historical chronology of Bhai Gurdas’ Var and the person who has distorted it introduces new material by destroying that order. The language of Bhai Mani Singh which can be attested from his other work “Sikhan di Bhagat Mai” is quite different from that of Bhai Mani Singh. Bhai Mani Singh never introduces Puranic stories either in his interpretations of Japji, Siddha Gosht etc. or in his Bhagat Mai, and that is why the Puranic and Koranic stories introduced into it are visible to the discerning historian like patches of black cloth on a white coat. This Janam Sakhi also has never been printed in the last seven decades. It refers to the original Bala’s Janam Sakhi many times. Unfortunately very old copies of this Janam Sakhi are not available. If a copy of the middle eighteenth century is available it is likely to be quite different from the present version and it might solve many of our problems.

Valayat Wali Janam Sakhi - This is a cross-breed of a number of Janam Sakhis. It gives a few stories and leaves out many. It leaves out such stories as sacha sauda in which Bala figures and that is the obvious reason why Bala is not mentioned. It leaves also the stories in which Bhai Lalo is mentioned. What surprises me is that historians depend on it for dates, when in my opinion it is the most unreliable Janam Sakhi on date of birth and date of death, and also for quotations from Gurbani. Ill advised by Bhai Gurmukh Singh, MacaulifFe used the wrong date and year of death and the wrong date of birth from this Janam Sakhi. It quotes and puts into the mouth of Guru Nanak the hymns of the third, fourth, and fifth Guru, which Bala’s Janam Sakhi never does. Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee says that because the language of this Janam Sakhi is more or less Lehandi it cannot be the original version. The original Janam Sakhi must have mahjhi as their language and old manuscripts of Bala’s Janam Sakhi have this type of language.

I can imagine Gurmukh Singh giving to the public erroneous notions and impressions about Janam Sakhis in 1884 when there were hardly two or three graduates. I can also imagine Karam Singh historian impulsively repeating the arguments of Gurmukh Singh about the Janam Sakhis, because scientific study of the Janam Sakhis or any other historical record was not in vogue. Karam Singh during his last days repented over what he had written against Bala’s Janam Sakhis and he wrote a letter to Baba Prem Singh Hoti that if he recovered from his last illness he would undo the damage his book had done. He did some rethinking about it because, Giani Gian Singh, the eminent historian refused to accept Baisakh sudi 3, and insisted on proving that Kartik was the date. The Nirmala scholars also strongly criticized this ill-conceived notions propagated about the Kartik date, and Pundit Tara Singh Nirotam and Nirmala Sant Dayal Singh and Sant Sampuran Singh strongly wrote against these Baisakh notions and date.

I however cannot imagine that in 1967 A.D. a historian would write fantastic and baseless things about Janam Sakhis without so much caring even to see which heresy allegation applies to which Janam Sakhi.

Khushwant Singh in his “History of the Sikhs” Appendix I p. 300 says: (1) “Angad according to Bala’s admission was ignorant of Bala,” Nowhere does Bala says so. Disciples who came to know that Angad had succeeded Nanak came to pay homage to him, and Bala came to see whether the successor was spiritually as great as the Founder, because Sri Chand, who was also known to Bala from the very day of his birth naturally, attracted his attention. (2) Then Khushwant Singh says that the language of Bala's Janam Sakhi is comparatively modern. Copyists have no doubt taken liberty to alter the language of every Janam Sakhi they wrote, but the language of Old Manuscripts of Bala's Janam Sakhi is in no way recent or modern. It is at least as old as that of Puratan Janam Sakhi. (3) Khushwant Singh then says the hymns of the second, third, and fifth Guru are ascribed to Nanak. This is so in Valyat Wali Janam Sakhi and nowhere in Bala's Janam Sakhi are hymns of other Gurus quoted. Bala’s Janam Sakhi and Bhai Mani Singh's Janam Sakhis are the two records which give the most appropriate quotations. (4) Then Khushwant Singh says that expressions such as Vahguru ji ki Fateh which gained currency during Guru Gobind Singh’s times are used in Bala'v Janam Sakhi. These expressions are used mainly in Valayat Wali Janam Sakhi. In Bala's Janam Sakhi the writer sometime says bolo bhai Vahguru. Vahguru ji ki Fateh is not there in any Manuscript and not even in the printed Litho copy. I wish Khushwant Singh had at least taken a cursory look at these Janam Sakhis before making these fantastically incorrect remarks confusing one Janam Sakhi with the other.

About interpolations done by the Minas, Bhai Mani Singh said they had added milk to water, and just as a swan separates milk from water so will the discerning Sikhs separate facts from fiction. About the Hindalya version of Bala's Janam Sakhi, Kavi Santokh Singh wrote in Nanak Prakash in 1832 that they have put dead flies into a sweet pie. Their version must be avoided. If even in the present age of advanced historical studies historians continue to write from complete ignorance of the contents, or just pick the flies out of the pie and display to the world to create contempt for them, they are neither serving the cause of historical studies nor showing any respect for truth and facts. Even though Renan completely demolished the historical basis of the four Gospels in his six volumes of critical studies, the fact remains that Gospels have historical elements and Christ, whatever the details of his life, however great the contradictions in the four Gospels, was a unique figure of history. So was Guru Nanak and so are the Janam Sakhi of some vital historical importance, though their study is a very delicate and difficult research work. I have not come across a single document of history of the 15th, 16th, 17th century in any language which can be totally accepted or can be totally rejected.