Guru Nanak Life and Travels | Janamsakhi 3

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Kurukṣettra

Leaving Pakpatan, Guru Nanak crossed the Satluj and took the road leading to Delhi via Sirsa and Hansi. In Sirsa there is an old Gurdwara commemorating the visit of Guru Nanak.

From Sirsa, another road led to Thanesar. Taking the road to Thanesar, Guru Nanak reached Kurukṣettra passing through Kara and Pehowa.

The village Kara is situated in Kaithal district of modern Haryana and is seven miles (11.2 km.) west of Pehowa. Here Raja Udai Singh (also called Bhai) a Sikh ruler of Kaithal state got built a gurdwara in the memory of Guru Nanak.

Pehowa is a centre of pilgrimage for Hindus. It is believed that river Saraswati once flowed through here. This place is twenty miles (32 km.) west of Kurukṣettra. As per a local tradition, the Pāṇḍavas performed the last rites of their kin here after the fierce battle of Kurukṣettra.

At first Raja Udai Singh and then the local Sangat built a gurdwara here in the memory of Guru Nanak.

There is a spring of Guru Nanak’s time which continues to ooze water. This is believed to have sprouted in old bed of Saraswati river. Later on Guru Hargobind got a baoli built over this spring.

Kurukṣettra is the name of that important site where, according to the Mahābhārata, the Kaurāvas and the Pāṇḍavas fought a war.

It is situated south of Thanesar, forty miles (64 km.) north of Panipat and thirty miles (48 km.) south of Ambala. Heun Tsang has recorded it as “Dharma-Kṣetra.”

Guru Nanak reached Kurukṣettra at the time of the solar-eclipse. He sat on a high mound. The site where the Guru sat was got discovered by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He purchased the land and got a gurdwara built there. The shrine is named Gurdwara Sidh Bati.

The building of this shrine is built of small bricks and seems to be more than a hundred years old. The well nearby is also brick lined with small bricks. This site is just near the Kurukṣettra sarowar (tank) and the boundary of the gurdwara touches the boundary of the Kurukṣettra University Campus.

When Guru Nanak sat near the sacred pool of Kurukṣettra, a prince and his mother came there. The prince did not know about the fair on the day of solar eclipse. So he brought along the body of the deer he had hunted down on his way. He offered that deer to Guru Nanak.

The Guru was touched by the devotion of the prince and accepted his offer. He asked for an earthen kettle and wanted to put it on fire so as to cook the meat.

As they did so, the pandas rushed to the site seeing smoke coming from there. Some of them were got aggressive and they started a quarrel with the Guru as to why he had started cooking during the solar eclipse.

They were further enraged on learning that it was the meat of a deer that was being cooked.

The Guru counselled them patience and told them that it was not proper to quarrel with anyone during the solar eclipse.

Among them was a pandit by the name of Nanu Mal who considered himself very clever. So he surged ahead of others and began arguing with the Guru with his sharp tongue.

The Guru in reply uttered the following hymn:

First, the mortal is conceived in the flesh,
and then he dwells in the flesh.
When he comes alive, his mouth takes flesh;
his bones, skin and body are flesh.
He comes out of the womb of flesh,
and takes a mouthful of flesh at the breast.
His mouth is flesh, his tongue is flesh; his breath is in the flesh.
He grows up and is married, and brings his wife of flesh into his home.
Flesh is produced from flesh; all relatives are made of flesh.
When the mortal meets the True Guru,
and realizes the Hukam of the Lord’s Command,
then he comes to be reformed.
Releasing himself, the mortal does not find release;
O Nanak, through empty words, one is ruined.  || 1 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1290

The fools argue about flesh and meat,
but they know nothing about meditation and spiritual wisdom.
What is called meat, and what is called green vegetables? What leads to sin?

It was the habit of the gods to kill the rhinoceros, and make a feast of the burnt offering.
Those who renounce meat, and hold their noses when sitting near it, devour men at night.
They practice hypocrisy, and make a show before other people,
but they do not understand anything about meditation or spiritual wisdom.
O Nanak, what can be said to the blind people?

They cannot answer, or even understand what is said.
They alone are blind, who act blindly. They have no eyes in their hearts.
They are produced from the blood of their mothers and fathers,
but they do not eat fish or meat.
But when men and women meet in the night, they come together in the flesh.
In the flesh we are conceived, and in the flesh we are born;
we are vessels of flesh.

You know nothing of spiritual wisdom and meditation,
even though you call yourself clever, O religious scholar.
O master, you believe that flesh on the outside is bad,
but the flesh of those in your own home is good.

All beings and creatures are flesh; the soul has taken up its home in the flesh.
They eat the uneatable; they reject and abandon what they could eat.
They have a teacher who is blind.

In the flesh we are conceived, and in the flesh we are born;
we are vessels of flesh.
You know nothing of spiritual wisdom and meditation,
even though you call yourself clever, O religious scholar.

Meat is allowed in the Purāṇas, meat is allowed in the Bible and the Koran.
Throughout the four ages, meat has been used.
It is featured in sacred feasts and marriage festivities; meat is used in them.
Women, men, kings and emperors originate from meat.

If you see them going to hell, then do not accept charitable gifts from them.
The giver goes to hell, while the receiver goes to heaven - look at this injustice.
You do not understand your own self, but you preach to other people.
O Pandit, you are very wise indeed.
O Pandit, you do not know where meat originated.
Corn, sugar cane and cotton are produced from water.
The three worlds came from water.

Water says, - I am good in many ways.” But water takes many forms.
Forsaking these delicacies, one becomes a true Sannyāsi, a detached hermit
- Nanak reflects and speaks.
-Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 1290-91

Listening to the ideas of Guru Nanak, Pandit Nanu and his companions were much impressed. The Guru halted there at Kurukṣettra for some time and then proceeded further.

Haridwar

The passage from Kurukṣettra to Haridwar seems quite old. People of the Punjab often went to the Ganges via Kurukṣettra. Giving a detailed description of the path followed by Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das has said:

First came the holy preceptor to Kurukṣettra, holy occasion solemnized….Next went the Master to Yamuna where the name Divine was chanted …..In the third place the master came to the Ganga where a miracle happened.

Leaving Kurukṣettra, People had to first travel on what is now Pipli, Ladwa, Jagadhari road and then cross the Yamuna. Thence they reached the Ganges. Thus, Guru Nanak after crossing the Yamuna reached the bank of Ganges river at what is now called Haridwar.

At the time of Guru Nanak, the present day town of Haridwar did not exist. Heun Tsang has recorded this place as ‘Maulo’ and the Ain-i-Akbari calls it Mayapur.

Guru Ram Das has also referred to Kurukṣettra but has made no mention of Haridwar.

The devotees of Śiva call Haridwar ‘the door of Śiva’ and those of Vishnu call it Haridwar or door of Vishnu and Hari-ki-Pauri.

Guru Nanak stayed about one-and-a-half furlong away from this Hari-ki-Pauri. There was no habitation around there then. The site where the Guru is said to have halted got the name ‘Nanak Vara’ or ‘Nanak Bara’.

A shrine exists there. The building is made of small bricks and is now occupied by some celibate mendicants (Udasis). They have installed there a huge portrait of Guru Nanak.

The seat of Dera head is now occupied by a disciple of Bhagat Bhagwan. Bhagat Bhagwan was a Sikh preacher of Guru Har Rai’s time: the Guru gave him this name and he preached Sikh tenets in far-flung regions. It seems Guru Har Rai located this site and gave the responsibility of looking after it to Bhagat Bhagwan.

When Guru Nanak reached Haridwar, there was a considerable rush of pilgrims because of the Vaisakhi fair.

The Guru stood in the waters of the river. All the pilgrims bathing there were offering water to the sun (towards the east) but Guru Nanak began throwing water westwards.

At this, people were astonished and some created a furore. Someone said that he might be a Muslim. During the course of these proceedings, someone suggested that he be asked as to why he offered water westwards.

Therefore, some persons went to him and asked:

“O devotee of God! Why do you offer water westwards?”

In reply the Guru put them a question:

“Why do you throw water towards the Sun?”

The pilgrims told him that they offered water to their forefathers. The Guru asked them as to where their forefathers lived. They told him that they were in the other world, about 490 million kos farther away.

The Guru wanted to know if the water reached them to which they replied in the affirmative. The Guru now told them that he had lands near Lahore and he was sending water thereto.

They all laughed saying that Lahore was too far off for the water to reach there. How can this water reach the lands near Lahore?

 The Guru replied that it will reach there in the same way as their water reached their forefathers. The Guru sojourned at Haridwar for some time and then went ahead.

Nanakmatta

The Imperial Gazetteer of India records that the passage for pilgrims to religious shrines in the Kumaon hills passed through Haridwar.

The details of this passage have been provided in Charles A. Cherring’s western Tibet and the British Borderland. Mr Cherring had been Deputy Commissioner of Almora district for several years. He records:

“Hindu pilgrims usually travelled from the east along Tanakpur (modern Nainital, Uttaranchal) near the Nepal border and river Sharda which is also called black (Kala) river

crossed Jepu pass to reach Mansarovar and circumambulating the Kailash Mountain reached Haridwar. Those who started from Haridwar in summer they reached Jepu Lekh pass after visiting Badri Nāth and Kedarnāth.”

This was a shorter route to reach the Terai region from Haridwar without having to go to Mansarovar and Kailash. Guru Nanak took this route to reach Gorakhnātha.

From Haridwar, Guru Nanak went on to Kankhal. That was perhaps why Guru Amar Das also stayed at Kankhal.

From Kankhal, a hilly pathway led to Kot Duar. The Guru went to Kot Duar from Kankhal. There is an old gurdwara at Kot Duar in commemoration of the Guru’s visit: it is named Gurdwara Charanpadaka. According to a local tradition, Guru Nanak had sanctified this place with his visit.

From Kot Duar, a direct hilly pathway leads to Srinagar (Pauri). The town of Srinagar was the capital of Garhwal state.

Here also existed an old shrine, Gurdwara Charanpadaka, in memory of the Guru’s visit. The building of this shrine was found intact even after the floods of A.D. 1803, because it is found mentioned in Tara Singh Narotam’s Gur Tirath Sangrah.

From Srinagar, the Guru went over to Badri Nāth and Kedarnāth. From Kedarnāth, the Guru took the route that now leads to Joshi Math and passing through Antdhura reached near Lepulekh.

Beyond Srinagar no gurdwara or shrine built in the memory of Guru Nanak’s visit is traceable.

Towards the south of the present day Almora district, the Nainital district touches the western boundary of Nepal. Along the Nepal border on the Indian side flowed the Kāli river. It is also called the Sharda river.

From Lepulekh, a passage leads to Almora alongside this river. On the southern flank of Lepulekh on a hilly pathway there was a town now known as Haldwani Mani.

Thirty-three miles (53 km.) towards east from Haldwani; passing through Durga Pipal, one can reach a place in the forest sacred to the yogis.

Guru Nanak reached this forest coming through the hilly pathway from Almora. The site where the Guru sat is not more than 25-30 miles (about 48 km.) towards east from Almora. It is now called Ritha Sahib.

In the beginning of the 16th century, this entire region was replete with hermitages of yogis. There were several schools which followed the yoga śāstra of Patañjali.

In the beginning of the 16th century, the yogis were predominant in the Punjab and northern India. All of them were disciples of Gorakh Nāth.

They lived in hermitages erected around Almora. They were further sub-divided into twelve traditions and the yogis of different traditions had separate habitations.

It is related that Mardana felt very hungry as Guru Nanak approached this place of the yogis. He asked Mardana to go to the place of yogis and ask for something to eat, but the yogis refused.

The Guru asked Mardana to eat the fruit of the tree under which they were sitting.

Mardana climbed up the tree. It was a soapberry tree and it bore soap-nuts, but the fruit was sweet rather than being bitter as was its nature. The devotees of Guru Nanak call this tree Ritha Sahib (ritha = soap-berry; sahib = an honorific epithet).

The fruit of the tree has since been sweet as always. Devotees take the fruit as an offering to far off places. The custodian Mahant of the yogi hermitage looks after this tree. It is said that an improvised canopy has also been built above it.

Setting out from here, Guru Nanak reached a place near the Deuha rivulet, which now bears the name Nanakmatta. During those days, it was known as Gorakhnātha or Sidh Matta. Travelling through hilly pathways, this place is about thirty miles (48 km.) from Ritha Sahib. But if one travels via Haldwani, the distance comes to about 70 miles (96 km.).

Coming to Gorakhnātha, the Guru sat beneath a peepul tree. The original natives of this region, who are called Dharus, call this place Panja Sahib.

They have the faith that every leaf of this tree bears the imprint of the Guru’s hand (panja). On the Diwali day, a huge fair is held there. These people throng to this place in thousands. The echoes of “Victory be to Panja Sahib” resound in the region.

Strange are the ways of God: this peepul tree is also not like any other ordinary peepul tree. Each leaf of it is rich green, softer than the leaves of ordinary peepul trees and has more than one imprint on each one of them.

About twenty yards off the peepul tree in the Nanakmatta Gurdwara there is another peepul tree within the precincts of the shrine. This tree is quite ordinary and has nothing in common with the sanctified tree.

Guru Hargobind sent Bhai Almast to this place who worked enthusiastically to discover this place. The yogis felt jealous of him and they burnt this peepul tree.

Then on the invitation of Almast, Guru Hargobind arrived at Nanakmatta. He poured into the roots of the tree a bowlful water mixed with saffron. Soon the tree sprouted into green leaves and since then its branches have a reddish tinge.

Sitting beneath this tree, Guru Nanak asked Mardana to make a bonfire. Mardana first collected some wood and then went to the yogis to get some fire from them. The yogis refused to lend him any fire.

Mardana somehow succeeded in getting fire and he lit the bonfire. There was a strong wind and heavy rain that night. The tradition has it that all the bonfires of the yogis got extinguished, except that of Guru Nanak which remained lit throughout.

Getting up in the morning, Guru Nanak felt the need of water. He sent Mardana to fetch some water. The yogis refused to oblige. The Guru asked Mardana to go northwards.

Mardana went 2-3 furlongs and found a rivulet there, and brought water from there. This rivulet is known as Phauri Ganga to commemorate Guru Nanak’s visit to the place. This rivulet has since got merged in the Diuha dam.

As a result of the pressure mounted by the local Sikhs, the Uttar Pradesh (now Uttaranchal) Government improvised some springs of Phauri Ganga into a well and connected the well with the dam.

Stairs go down into the well from both sides so that the devotees can get down into the well and take the sacred water (Charaṇāmrita). The pool formed at the dam has been named Nanak Sāgar. The outlet from where the water is let out is two miles (3 km.) from Gurdwara Nanakmatta.

When the yogis realized that their non-cooperation with Guru Nanak has failed either to harass or harm him, they felt impressed by the personality of Guru Nanak.

They came to the Guru in a group and asked him as to who was his Guru and from whom had he received initiation?

Perhaps the siddhas might also have posed similar questions to him. Therefore, Guru Nanak uttered the following hymn in reply to them:

What scale, what weights,
and what assayer shall I call for You, Lord?
From what guru should I receive instruction?
By whom should I have Your value appraised?

O my Dear Beloved Lord, Your limits are unknown.
You pervade the water, the land, and the sky;
You Yourself are All-pervading.  || 1 || Pause ||   

Mind is the scale, consciousness the weights,
and the performance of Your service is the appraiser.
Deep within my heart, I weigh my Husband Lord;
in this way I focus my consciousness.  || 2 ||   

You Yourself are the balance, the weights and the scale;
You Yourself are the weigher.
You Yourself see, and You Yourself understand;
You Yourself are the trader.  || 3 ||   

The blind, low class wandering soul,
comes for a moment, and departs in an instant.
In its company, Nanak dwells;
how can the fool attain the Lord?
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 731

The yogis were not satisfied with this hymn of the Guru because their experience didn’t go beyond outward appearance. Therefore, they impressed upon the Guru to become yogi like them and live a life as they do.

In response the Guru uttered the following hymn:

Yoga is not the patched coat, Yoga is not the walking stick.
Yoga is not smearing the body with ashes.
Yoga is not the earrings, and not the shaven head.
Yoga is not the blowing of the horn.

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –
this is the way to attain Yoga.  || 1 ||   

By mere words, Yoga is not attained.
One who looks upon all with a single eye,
and knows them to be one and the same –
he alone is known as a Yogi.  || 1 || Pause ||

Yoga is not wandering to the tombs of the dead;
Yoga is not sitting in trances.
Yoga is not wandering through foreign lands;
Yoga is not bathing at sacred shrines of pilgrimage.

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –
this is the way to attain Yoga.  || 2 ||

Meeting with the True Guru, doubt is dispelled,
and the wandering mind is restrained.
Nectar rains down, celestial music resounds,
and deep within, wisdom is obtained.

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –
this is the way to attain Yoga.  || 3 ||   

O Nanak, remain dead while yet alive - practice such Yoga.
When the horn is blown without being blown,
then you shall attain the state of fearless dignity.

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –
this is the way to attain Yoga.  || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 731

In this hymn the Guru has expressed his own views while using the terminology of the yogis. At this the yogis understood the Guru’s greatness and they bowed before him. The Guru stayed here for some time and then went on to Tanda.