Guru Nanak Life and Travels | Janamsakhi 1
There was a village called Talwandi Rai Bhoel situated in the tapa of the Bhattis, thirty-four miles south-west of Lahore, the capital of ancient Punjab: this village is these days known as Nankana Sahib.
Here was born Guru Nanak in the house of Mahita Kalu (father) and Tripta (mother) on Vaisakh Sudi, 1526 Bikram (15 April, 1469) at 1 o’clock at night.
Mahita Kalu was Bedi Khatri by caste and was posted as Pat Wari (a revenue official) in the village. At the time of his birth Guru Nanak did not weep like any other ordinary child, rather he uttered “Thy Name, Thy Name.”
Guru Nanak possessed an equipoised and peaceful temper by birth. He was not inclined to weeping like other infants. When he was 13 days old, he was named Nanak after the name of his elder sister Nanaki. He learnt to hold his neck straight when he was of three months and learnt how to sit when 7 months old.
He learnt how to crawl as he was of 9-10 months of age and as he grew to be of one-and-a-half years he began to speak in a lisping manner. He started playing with other children as he was of 3-4 years. He would sometimes get aloof of other children and become absorbed in God.
When he was of five years, he made an impact on the people of his village. He would discourse with both the Hindus and the Muslims about the Creator and His creation which assured the people of the child’s divine inspiration.
The chief of the village and the chief of Bhattis Rai Bhoe, and his son, Rai Bular also learnt of this child’s prodigy.
When Guru Nanak was of 7 years, his father chose an auspicious day to send him to a pandha (teacher) to learn. The pandha wrote for him landa alphabets which were then called sidhojnaia.
A few years were thus spent in learning, and during this period child Nanak created a deep impress on his teacher.
He completed his studies before long and acquired considerable knowledge of Hindu religion about which we learn from various allusions made in his hymns.
Thereafter, Mahita Kalu thought of sending his son to learn Persian. One day he took him to a maulvi.
The first day the maulvi wrote alphabets on the wooden slate and taught him the initial alphabets of Persian script. Guru Nanak learnt all this quite soon and acquired proficiency in Persian.
He also learnt arithmetic and how to add and subtract. Thus, he was far ahead of his companions in a few days.
The maulvi was quite surprised at the intellectual genius of this child.
When Guru Nanak grew up to be of nine years, his parents thought of performing the ceremony of Yajñopavīt i.e. investing the child with the sacred thread called janeu.
The pandit brought along a janeu made of cotton. As per the practice, then prevalent, a special area was earmarked for the ceremony. The ground was sanctified by smearing it with a paste of cow-dung mixed with mud.
Nanak was made to sit there, and it was whispered in his ear that it was the religion of Brahmins and Khatris to wear janeu.
The ceremony was complete and all the relations who had come to see it went back. However, all this did not leave any special impact on Guru Nanak’s mind.
The Guru has explained thus the real janeu in one of his hymns:
Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread,
modesty the knot and truth the twist.
This is the sacred thread of the soul;
if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.
It does not break, it cannot be soiled by filth,
it cannot be burnt, or lost.
Blessed are those mortal beings, O Nanak,
who wear such a thread around their necks.
You buy the thread for a few shells,
and seated in your enclosure, you put it on.
Whispering instructions into others ears,
the Brahmin becomes a guru.
But he dies, and the sacred thread falls away,
and the soul departs without it.
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 471
The Guru says that the pandits who perform the ceremonies of wearing janeu are themselves engrossed in passions. They cannot put on a janeu which helps increase contentment in man that can save him from evil propensities:
There is no sacred thread for the sexual organ,
and no thread for woman.
The man’s beard is spat upon daily.
There is no sacred thread for the feet, and no thread for the hands;
no thread for the tongue, and no thread for the eyes.
The Brahmin himself goes to the world hereafter without a sacred thread.
Twisting the threads, he puts them on others.
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 472
Guru Nanak kept the company of the holy men during his childhood. Many such saints used to come to Talwandi and Guru Nanak would engage in dialogue with each one of them. He would listen to them attentively.
As he grew up in years, Mahita Kalu felt concerned to put him in some useful vocation.
One day he asked Nanak to take the cattle to the fields to graze them. Nanak agreed, and next day he took the buffaloes and cows along and left for the pastures. This became his daily routine.
One day Nanak sat, as was his wont, wrapped in thoughts. His cattle strayed into the field of a Bhatti who in turn complained to the chief of the village, Rai Bular.
He sent for Mahita Kalu and enquired from him about Bhatti’s complaint. Nanak replied that they should go and see the crop themselves.
When they reached there, they found no harm done to the crops. Bhatti felt slighted.
When Guru Nanak came of 16 years, his parents thought of his marriage. They saw that he was not interested in any worldly vocation.
They called in the family priest and asked him to find a suitable match for Nanak.
In search of such a match, he reached Pakhoke Randhawe (in modern-day Gurdaspur district), a village situated on the eastern bank of the Ravi.
There lived a person named Moola, a patwari by profession and Chona Khatri by caste. He offered to marry his daughter, Ghummi, to Nanak. As per a local tradition, Ghummi was the only child of her parents.
According to prevalent practice, Moola’s brother and the family priest went to Talwandi Rai Bhoe, performed the betrothal ceremony of (Guru) Nanak and came back after fixing a date for marriage.
It was also decided that the marriage party should reach Batala (Gurdaspur district) which was twenty miles (32 km.) off Pakhoke Randhawe; the native village of Moola. A gurdwara, Dera Sahib, exists now on the site of Moola’s house.
Mahita Kalu went to Batala with the marriage party of his son. Marriage ceremonies of Nanak were performed there. The place where the marriage party halted is still marked by an old wall preserved since then: this gurdwara is named Kandh Sahib.
Guru Nanak did not show much interest in business or worldly affairs even after his marriage. He remained restless, as ever before. He would meet saints and fakirs visiting Talwandi and had dialogue with them. On return home, he simply kept quiet and would lie down.
It was a matter of deep anguish for the parents that Nanak who was now a married person did nothing to earn livelihood but instead went about with saints and fakirs.
They apprehended that he might not turn to the life of an ascetic. They also felt scared of the taunts of the people: who say that Kalu’s son was good for nothing. Thus, the parents always impressed upon him the need to take up some useful vocation.
One day Mahita Kalu advised his son to do some work. He gave him twenty rupees, saying that he could make a good deal with the money.
With his father’s permission, Nanak left home along with another person who was asked to accompany him.
When Guru Nanak reached near Chuharkana, a village 15 miles (24 km.) away from Talwandi, he met a group of mendicants (sādhus) who were hungry.
He thought what else could be a better deal than providing food to the hungry holy men. Thus spending the entire amount on feeding the hungry mendicants, he returned home.
When Mahita Kalu learnt this, he was much annoyed because he had given him money to do some good business transaction and not to feed the ascetics.
Nanak was also well aware of his father’s temper and instead of going straight to home he hid himself under a huge tree in a dry pond beyond the woods a little away from the village.
From there Mahita Kalu and sister Nanaki brought him home.
The site where stood the bushes then is now marked by a gurdwara named Tamboo Sahib. The place where he fed the hungry ascetics is now called Saccha Sauda (the true bargain).
When Guru Nanak was 20 years of age, he asked Mardana to accompany him on a pilgrimage.
Mardana was also a native of Talwandi. He was a Mirasi by caste and used to play rebeck and sing verses of saints like Kabīr, Bhagat Trilochan, Ravidas and others. Nanak would listen to the recitation of such hymns from him.
When Mardana heard this proposal, he responded by expressing his inability to go on pilgrimage because he was to marry off his young daughter.
Yet Nanak one day asked his father’s permission to go on a pilgrimage. Mahita Kalu did not accede to this request. Instead he said:
“We have just performed your marriage. There is lot of time to do pilgrimages.” Hearing this, the Guru kept quiet.
Guru Nanak was now past 20, but he was still indifferent to any worldly vocation. Once Guru Nanak did not eat anything for a few months and remained absorbed in meditation.
His mother and other relatives got worried and thought that Nanak has fallen prey to some ailment. Father Kalu sent for a physician.
The physician came and felt Nanak’s pulse and asked him as to what ailed him. Nanak in response laughed and said that he suffered from no illness. Only he pines for union with the Lord. The physician was surprised at this and left without prescribing any medicine.
On Mahita Kalu’s enquiry about diagnosis, he replied that he had no prescription for such a malady. After some time the Guru delineated this incident as follows:
Some call him a ghost; some say that he is a demon.
Some call him a mere mortal; O, poor Nanak! || 1 ||
Crazy Nanak has gone insane, after his Lord, the King.
I know of none other than the Lord. || 1 || Pause ||
He alone is known to be insane,
when he goes insane with the Fear of God.
He recognizes none other than the One Lord and Master. || 2 ||
He alone is known to be insane,
when he falls in love with his Lord and Master.
He sees himself as bad, and all the rest of the world as good.
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 991
The elder sister of Guru Nanak was married to Jai Ram. Jai Ram lived at Sultanpur, a town situated on the eastern bank of rivulet Bein a tributary of river Beas. The town is 45 km. (28 miles) south-west of Jalandhar, a famous city of the Doaba region.
The earlier name of Sultanpur was Tamasvan. Sultan Khan, an officer of Mahmood Ghazanavi’s army, named it after his own name. He also tried to make it prosperous.
However, Sultanpur of Guru Nanak’s time acquired more of its splendour from Daulat Khan Lodhi, a relative of Bahlol Khan Lodhi who was the founder of the Lodhi dynasty.
In fact, it was the major town of Daulat Khan’s jagir. Guru Nanak’s brother-in-law, Jai Ram, was an employee of Daulat Khan.
When Jai Ram learnt that Nanak did not feel interested in any worldly vocation, he wrote a letter to Mahita Kalu suggesting that Nanak be sent to Sultanpur. Maybe, he felt at home there. He even hinted at trying for a job for him.
Before the receipt of this letter Mahita Kalu had already tried to put him in varied vocations but had failed. Therefore, the family agreed to send him to Sultanpur. Hearing of this letter, Nanak also agreed to go to Sultanpur to visit his sister there.
When Guru Nanak was about to leave Talwandi, his wife was sad and began weeping. She said:
“What will become of me? Though you were despondent in Talwandi but I had the satisfaction that you were at home. Now you set out for a far off place. God knows when you would return home or may not return at all.”
Hearing such words, Nanak gave her solace and said:
“When I get some job, I shall send for you to Sultanpur.”
Saying this Guru Nanak set out for Sultanpur.
When Guru Nanak reached Sultanpur, he was affectionately received by Nanaki and Jai Ram. Next day Jai Ram took him to Daulat Khan and recommended his name for a job.
Daulat Khan gave Nanak a searching look and was impressed by his personality. He appointed Nanak to work in his Modikhana (the stores) along with Jai Ram.
Jai Ram was the chief executive of the Modikhana. Modikhana was considered a very important institution of a faujdar since those days (the time of Sikandar Lodhi, 1488-1517) revenue was collected in the form of grains.
Although there was no ban on paying revenue in cash (which Ibrahim Lodhi put after 1517) yet the problem of safe custody of currency made the land tenants pay revenue in kind. The revenue was a fixed part of the total produce.
During the last decade of the 15th century Daulat Khan became Governor of Punjab after the death of his father, Tatar Khan, in 1504. When Nanak was appointed in the Modikhana, Daulat Khan was only the jagirdar (or faujdar) of Sultanpur.
The Lodhi Kings conferred jagirs on their select officers and these jagirdars in turn used to give lands to some of those who worked for them. All military positions were based on land grants.
The employees in the Modikhana (where Nanak was employed) received paltry amount as salary and their main source of livelihood was alufa which meant they were also given fixed quantity of grains on daily basis.
In the Modikhana, Nanak was entrusted with the job of weighing grains and keeping records of it. He would daily write the details on the account-book. He used to complete this work by each evening even if he had to sit late hours. He would not rest until all accounts were resolved.
On the site of the Modikhana now exists Gurdwara Hatt Sahib. Some of the weight measures said to be of Guru Nanak’s time are preserved there.
A few years went by after Nanak’s marriage. He remained despondent as ever. Both mother Tripta and wife Sulakhani felt rather sad at this.
Nanak’s elder sister, Nanaki, was also issueless although quite some years had passed since her marriage. Because of this reason also, Nanak’s parents wished him to sire a child soon.
Nanak’s mother-in-law, Chando Rani, was also worried. One day she talked to Nanaki suggesting that she advised her brother. Nanaki also shared her desire with him when she and her husband visited Talwandi.
After some time a son was born to Nanak who was named Śrī Chand. Thereafter Nanak was blessed with another son, Lakhmi Chand.
Many categories of people such as landlords, overlords, chiefs, etc. came to the Modikhana to deposit grains, jaggery, etc. as land revenue.
Daulat Khan’s officials, soldiers, accountants and others received grains in the required quantity in lieu of salaries. Guru Nanak behaved honestly with each one of them.
All the Modis who worked there before him used to keep unto themselves one-tenth of the required quantity: it was called dahinimi. It was a corrupt practice in vogue. Guru Nanak put an end to this practice and weighed as much as was sought by anybody.
In this manner, those who received grains were favourably affected. They began singing eulogies of the new Modi. The reputation of Nanak as honest Modi spread all around.
Many mendicants, monks, ascetics, fakirs and other poor people of different groups began to flock to Modikhana to get grains. Nanak had a special love for such people. Sometimes Nanak would take a fakir along and got a daily livelihood quota fixed for him.
Thus, all these holy men were much pleased at this newly-appointed Modi, and they had special words of appreciation for him. In this way, fame and glory of Nanak spread far and wide.
There was a village called Malsihan, 13 km. (8 miles) off Sultanpur. The chief of this village was Bhagirath. He was a God-fearing man, and was a devotee of the goddess KāIī.
One day as he went to Sultanpur to deposit grains (as land revenue) in the Modikhana, he was highly impressed by the new Modi.
He recognized the great spirit within Nanak which nourished the poor. Besides, Nanak was fully proficient in the job assigned and was ever absorbed in God. He felt as if the goddess whom he worshipped also served this great soul.
All the doubts in his mind were cleared and he became a disciple (Sikh) of (Guru) Nanak. Now whenever he visited Sultanpur, he experienced peace and poise after meeting Nanak.
As Nanak’s glory spread with each passing day, someone jealous of him made a complaint to Daulat Khan saying that Nanak squandered the Modikhana grain among the ascetics and fakirs.
The job of the Modi was of great responsibility. So Daulat Khan called for Jai Ram and asked him to check the accounts of the Modikhana.
Jai Ram told Nanak and the officers so appointed by Daulat Khan checked the accounts. Everything was found in order. The complaint made by the jealous proved to be false.
The news of Nanak’s appointment as Modi had reached Talwandi. The fame of his alms-giving and liberality had also accompanied.
Whosoever from Talwandi on a visit to Sultanpur met Nanak, he would get his alufa fixed and the fellow returned to Talwandi in a very happy frame of mind and sang praises of Nanak.
The stories of Guru Nanak’s liberality touched Mardana deeply, and he felt a keen desire to meet Nanak. As chance would have it, Mahita Kalu one day asked Mardana to go to Sultanpur and bring some news of his son.
On getting this message, Mardana went over to Sultanpur. Guru Nanak made him stay with him for some time. Baba Nanak would get up early every morning and go to Bein rivulet for a bath.
Thereafter, he remained absorbed in meditation for a while. Then Mardana would sing verses of saints and similarly kirtan used to take place every evening. Some time went by this way.
Sensing the liberal nature of Nanak, one day Mardana placed his problem before him. He sought some help for the marriage of his daughter.
On hearing this, Nanak replied that he should think of the articles required for the purpose and then make a list of them so that these could be arranged. Mardana brought such a list and gave it over to Baba Nanak.
After some days Bhagirath came to offer his respects to Nanak. At that time Nanak put before him the paper Mardana had given him. Bhagirath attentively listened to everything and said that he would go to Lahore and fetch all these articles.
Keeping in mind that there is no delay in bringing this material in time for the marriage, Nanak directed Bhagirath not to spend more than one night at Lahore.
Bhagirath had a friend named Mansukh who was a trader at Lahore. Bhagirath put that paper before Mansukh and told him everything.
Mansukh was able to collect all the things in a day but he was deeply influenced by this gesture. He thought what a great man he would be who was buying so many things to give away in the marriage of a poor man’s daughter.
He also appreciated the devotion of Bhagirath who was taking all these things for his Guru in the course of one single day.
It was natural for Mansukh to ask Bhagirath many things about his Guru. He was so influenced by the personality of Nanak that he accompanied Bhagirath to Sultanpur so that he could also see the great man at whose feet his friend Bhagirath had sought shelter.
Both of them reached Sultanpur. Mansukh felt elated on having seen Nanak and, like Bhagirath, he also became his disciple (sikh).
Mardana went back to Talwandi taking with him the things meant for his daughter’s marriage. After marrying off his daughter he returned again to Sultanpur.
When Nanak left Talwandi, he had told his wife that he would invite her to Sultanpur after he got an employment. After his appointment in the Modikhana, he sent for his wife from Talwandi. He hired a separate house in Sultanpur and made it the residence of his family.
These days Gurdwara Guru Ka Bagh stands at that site. Many ascetics, saints and fakirs flocked to the Modikhana because of the liberal temper of Nanak, the Modi.
He would daily get some quota fixed for such holy men by Daulat Khan. Those who could not somehow be accommodated were taken by him to his own house and were offered food there.
Thus, there was a crowd of ascetics and other holy men at the house of Nanak at the meal-times.
When the parents-in-law of Nanak heard of this, they came to Sultanpur. They wanted him to lead life like any other worldly person and not throwaway everything before the ascetics, mendicants and the poor.
The mother of Sulakhani and wife of Mula Chona, Chando Rani, met Nanaki and asked her to prevail upon her brother and stop him from indulging in such charities.
She replied that Nanak gives alms out of what he earns and that the family has enough to spare.