Guru Nanak Life and Travels | Janamsakhi 5
From Benares there are two routes that lead to Hajipur (Patna). One of them was a kutcha passage that went parallel to the Ganges. Another led to Patna via Gaya.
The road that led to Patna via Sasaram and Gaya was later on named Sher Shah Suri Road because Emperor Sher Shah Suri also got constructed inns alongside this road. Walking down this route, there lies an ancient town Chandrauli, 29 miles (46.40 km.) off Benares.
Within a radius of five miles (8 km.) of this town there are several habitations well as ancient ruins. It seems Hari Nāth was a chief of one of these places where Guru Nanak went there.
Setting out from Benares and on his way to Gaya, Guru Nanak halted near Chandrauli. He took up his residence outside the town. The Guru remained absorbed in himself and did not talk to anybody. He remained silent for some time and this had a salutary effect on the people.
The news spread throughout the town that a fakir had come who neither spoke nor made any gestures. The very sight of his handsome and impressive face was blissful.
Listening this, the Chief of the town, Hari Nāth, came to have a glimpse of the Guru. He came and sat beside the Guru.
At this time, the Guru recited the following hymn:
My soul burns, over and over again.
Burning and burning, it is ruined, and it falls into evil.
That body, which forgets the Word of the Guru’s Bani,
cries out in pain, like a chronic patient. || 1 ||
To speak too much and babble is useless. Even
without our speaking, He knows everything. || 1 || Pause ||
He created our ears, eyes and nose.
He gave us our tongue to speak so fluently.
He preserved the mind in the fire of the womb;
at His Command, the wind blows everywhere. || 2 ||
These worldly attachments, loves and pleasurable tastes,
all are just black stains.
One who departs, with these black stains of sin on his face
shall find no place to sit in the Court of the Lord. || 3 ||
By Your Grace, we chant Your Name.
Becoming attached to it, one is saved;
there is no other way.
Even if one is drowning, still, he may be saved.
O Nanak, the True Lord is the Giver of all. || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 662
This hymn acted as a balm on the aching psyche of Hari Nāth. It seemed to him as if the Guru had spelt out the condition of his (Hari Nāth’s) mind when he said:
“My soul burns over and over again “
As for the question of love, attachment and enjoyment, it seemed to him as if God Himself took the form of this fakir to eradicate his suffering.
So he fell at the Guru’s feet and prayed that the Guru make him his disciple and let him be his companion. He even promised to renounce the throne.
The Guru advised him that there was yoga even in reigning. He further told him to serve the people and remember the Name Divine. Thus giving Hari Nāth the message of nām (Divine Name), dāna (charity) andgharibi (humility).
Thereafter, Guru Nanak resumed his journey.
Guru Nanak reached Gaya after passing through Chandrauli and Sasaram. It was a Hindu pilgrim centre situated on the bank of the Phalgu.
It was strongly believed during those days that Gaya was a devil (shaitan) who took to hard meditation. Vishnu was pleased at this and told him to ask for a boon. The devil sought the boon that whosoever saw him might get free from the pangs of hell. Lord Vishnu said ‘whosoever sees my feet will get liberated.’
The Vishnu Pad is a huge temple where pilgrims from all over India come to pay obeisance.
Another belief that was current was that if one performed here the last rites of his ancestors who were already dead they would also get liberated. Therefore, many Hindus visited Gaya to perform last rites of their ancestors to seek liberation for them.
While performing these rites, they make round balls of rice and lighted lamps. They believed that by their doing so, their ancestors could get salvation.
As Guru Nanak sat on the bank of the Phalgu river absorbed in his thoughts, the pandas came to him and advised him to get the last rituals performed for his own and his ancestors’ liberation.
The Guru replied that he had lit a lamp for himself and his ancestors. He had performed such a ritual that the darkness of ignorance would wane.
Heaven and hell are phenomenon of ignorance. Those who have lit the lamp of knowledge of Divine Name they stood liberated.
The Guru uttered the following hymn for the pandas:
The One Name is my lamp;
I have put the oil of suffering into it.
Its flame has dried up this oil,
and I have escaped my meeting with the Messenger of Death. || 1 ||
O people, do not make fun of me.
Thousands of wooden logs, piled up together,
need only a tiny flame to burn. || 1 || Pause ||
The Lord is my festive dish, of rice balls on leafy plates;
the True Name of the Creator Lord is my funeral ceremony.
Here and hereafter, in the past and in the future,
this is my support. || 2 ||
The Lord’s Praise is my River Ganges and my city of Benares;
my soul takes its sacred cleansing bath there.
That becomes my true cleansing bath,
if night and day, I enshrine love for You. || 3 ||
The rice balls are offered to the gods and the dead ancestors,
but it is the Brahmins who eat them!
O Nanak, the rice balls of the Lord are a gift which is never exhausted. || 4 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 358
The Brahmins felt impressed on listening to these words and bowed before the Guru.
There is a gurdwara in Gaya to commemorate the Guru’s visit to that place. It is situated by the side of Vishnu Pad temple. Baba Ram Das Udasi is the Mahant who manages the gurdwara which is known as Gurdwara Deo Ghat.
The building of the shrine was got constructed by Almast during the pontificate of Guru Hargobind. The stamp of Bhai Almast is still preserved there.
A kutcha road from Gaya led to the place which has since come to be known as Patna Sahib.
Those days debris of the old city of Pacliputra were extant. Passing through these debris and crossing the Ganga, Guru Nanak reached Hajipur which was a famous city those days.
Hajipur is situated on the northern bank of the Ganges and opposite the city of Patna where the Gaṇḍakī river merges with the Ganges.
After crossing the Ganges, the Guru sat on the site where now stands the Nanak Shahi Gurdwara. This place is in the Ram Chaura Mohalla in Harihar colony.
When Guru Nanak reached Hajipur, his companion Mardana was very hungry. The Guru sent him to the Jawahartola so that he got something to eat from the houses of the rich people living in that colony.
One of the jewellers gave him three paisa. Mardana felt rather disappointed.
He went to the next house where the jeweller named Salis Rai lived. He was a noble soul and his accountant, Adarka by name, as also a God-fearing person. As Mardana reached Salis Rai’s house, he was having his meals.
The accountant, Adarka, came out and took Mardana to his master. Salis Rai saw that Mardana was quite hungry. So he fed him to his full and then gave him some money for his onward journey.
Mardana accepted the money and returned to Guru Nanak in a happy frame of mind. The Guru asked him, for what purpose he had brought the money and wanted him to return the same. Mardana came back to Salis Rai and returned the money.
Salis Rai was highly impressed by this gesture. He took his accountant along and came to have a glimpse of the Guru.
He also brought along some food which he presented to the Guru and said that earlier he considered Mardana a jewel with you but after meeting you I see jewels all around you.
The Guru replied that those who have Divine Name in their eyes see nothing else. There are both gurmukhs (Guru-oriented persons) and manmukhs (self- oriented) in the world.
Similarly, there is lotus as well as the frog in the water. Both of them perform different sorts of functions. Then the Guru uttered the following hymn:
In the pure, immaculate waters,
both the lotus and the slimy scum are found.
The lotus flower is with the scum and the water,
but it remains untouched by any pollution. || 1 ||
You frog, you will never understand.
You eat the dirt, while you dwell in the immaculate waters.
You know nothing of the ambrosial nectar there. || 1 || Pause ||
You dwell continually in the water;
the bumble bee does not dwell there,
but it is intoxicated with its fragrance from afar.
Intuitively sensing the moon in the distance,
the lotus bows its head. || 2 ||
The realms of nectar are irrigated with milk and honey;
you think you are clever to live in the water.
You can never escape your own inner tendencies,
like the love of the flea for blood. || 3 ||
The fool may live with the Pandit, the religious scholar,
and listen to the Vedas and the Śāstras.
You can never escape your own inner tendencies,
like the crooked tail of the dog. || 4 ||
Some are hypocrites; they do not merge with the Nām, the Name of the Lord.
Some are absorbed in the Feet of the Lord, Har, Har.
The mortals obtain what they are predestined to receive;
O Nanak, with your tongue, chant the Nām. || 5 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib. p. 990
Salis Rai felt peace in his mind on listening to the hymn. He paid obeisance to the Guru and prayed that his offering be accepted. The Guru refused to accept money, but did accept the food.
Salis Rai again prayed that he be assigned any service. The Guru advised him that it is not necessary that the virtue of Name is achieved only after acquiring some status. Therefore, one must not be proud of one’s higher social status.
The Guru also told him that his subordinate Adarka was on way to realizing Name and that he (although a subordinate in social life) was spiritually higher than him. Therefore, he deserved to be held in respect.
There was an old temple dedicated to Gajgrah near Hajipur. A fair, called the Sonpur fair, was held there on the full-moon night of the month of Kārtik each year. Many pilgrims came on that day.
Even otherwise the devotees of Vishnu kept pouring in throughout the year. One day a devotee of Vishnu came to Guru Nanak and put him a question:
“Mind seeks material wealth; material wealth cannot be attained without ego; and ego takes one away from God. How can one realize God?”
In response, the Guru recited the following hymn:
When the body perishes, whose wealth is it?
Without the Guru, how can the Lord’s Name be obtained?
The wealth of the Lord’s Name is my Companion and Helper.
Night and day, centre your loving attention
on the Immaculate Lord. || 1 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 416
This provided that Vaiṣṇavite the required solace and he fell at the Guru’s feet. The Guru spent some time at Hajipur and then proceeded eastwards.
Guru Nanak left Hajipur (Patna) and set out on his way parallel to the Ganges. Passing through the cities of Monghyr and Bhagalpur, he reached Kant Nagar, a town in the Katyar tehsil of present day Purnia district.
This town was situated on the bank of the Ganges and near the famous city, Kargola. Here stands an old gurdwara in the memory of Guru Nanak’s visit. According to a local tradition, the Guru had stayed here.
From Kant Nagar, the Guru went farther eastwards. There the Ganges takes a turn towards south. Here the river Mahānandā coming from the north merges with the Ganges.
In this region, the Ganges is known by the name of Kālindī. There was a town called Malda on the site where the Kālindī and the Mahānandā meet. This town was a huge halting point for the boats which sailed on these two rivers.
Guru Nanak took off at this point. It is said that a money-lender by the name of Ram Dev met Guru Nanak here. He was much impressed by Guru Nanak. The Guru stayed here for some time.
Then he set out further towards south-east. Now he took the route alongside the Ganges towards the south: It was later on turned into a pucca road by Sher Shah Suri.
This route passed through Maksudabad (Murshadabad) and then took a turn eastwards and reached Sonar village. This village is 15 miles (21 km.) towards north of Dhaka (now in Bangladesh). Guru Nanak did not go to Sonar’ village and instead turned towards south to reach Dhaka.
Here was an ancient pilgrim centre, the temple of Dhakeshwari goddess. It is after the name of this goddess that the town of Dhaka was named. During those days Dhaka was famous only for the temple of goddess Dhakeshwari. It became the capital town of the region in 1608.
Dhaka was situated on the bank of the Bohi Ganga which was then an important tributary of the Padma river.
Guru Nanak halted on the northern side of Dhaka at a site which is these days called the Rear Bazar. There lived the potters, as they do even these days.
The tradition of Guru Nanak’s visit to this place still survives among these people. A well of Guru Nanak’s days is still extant. It is said that the Guru dug up the earth here with his wooden stick to make this well. Before the partition of India in 1947, a fair used to be held here every year in the month of Chet.
From Dhaka Guru Nanak set out for Kamrup. Those days the most frequented route of travel from Dhaka to Kamrup was the Brahmaputra river. The present day districts of Goalpara, Kamrup-Rangpur and Cooch- Bihar constituted Kamrup.
Guru Nanak boarded a boat in the Brahmaputra and reached Dhubri which is these days an important town of the Goalpara district.
Guru Tegh Bahadur later on got a raised platform in the memory of Guru Nanak by bringing in earth from Rangamati. The Goalpara Gazetteer records that the Muslim soldiers helped, on request of Guru Tegh Bahadur, by bringing in earth in their shields.
From Dhubri Guru Nanak went on to Guwahati by boat In the Brahmaputra. The town was then named Prayāga Jyotispur.
In the beginning of the 16th century, the people of Kamrup were very proficient in tantra. They were worshippers of Shakti. Although the Muslims had once demolished the temple of Kāmākhya goddess, but the people s belief could not be shattered.
Mostly the people of Kochi tribe inhabited the Kamrup region. They worshipped goddess Kāmākhya and offered human sacrifice to the goddess.
Guru Nanak stayed outside a town in Kamrup. The Guru’s companion, Mardana, felt rather hungry at the time. The Guru allowed him to go into the town and have something to eat.
When Mardana went and stood outside the door of a house, the womenfolk inside invited him in. With the help of their tantric power, they took away Mardana’s power to think and speak. They almost turned him into a ram who simply followed them.
The Guru waited for Mardana for some time but thereafter he himself went inside the town in search of him.
Those women tried to do with Guru Nanak what they had earlier done with Mardana. However, all their magical power proved futile in face of the Guru’s spiritual strength. They all bowed before the Guru.
Then the Guru brought Mardana back to his senses and asked him to play rebeck. The Guru recited the following hymn:
The virtuous bride ravishes and enjoys her Husband Lord;
why does the unworthy one cry out?
If she were to become virtuous,
then she too could enjoy her Husband Lord. || 1 ||
My Husband Lord is loving and playful;
why should the soul-bride enjoy any other? ||1 || Pause ||
If the soul-bride does good deeds, and makes her mind the thread,
she obtains the jewel, which cannot be purchased for any price,
strung upon the thread of her consciousness. || 2 ||
I ask, but I do not follow the way shown to me;
still, I claim to have reached my destination.
I do not speak with You, O my Husband Lord;
how then can I come to have a place in Your home? || 3 ||
O Nanak, without the One, there is no other at all.
If the soul-bride remains attached to You,
then she shall enjoy her Husband Lord. || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 557
Then an idea occurred to these women that this man of God might wish to listen to some song. They thought that they might still be able to put him in their trap with the help of their songs and dance.
So they tried to please and charm the Guru with their songs and dance but to no avail.
The Guru recited the following hymn:
The urges of the heart are like cymbals and ankle-bells;
the drum of the world resounds with the beat.
Nārada dances to the tune of the Dark Age of Kali Yuga;
where can the celibates and the men of truth place their feet? || 1 ||
Nanak is a sacrifice to the Nām, the Name of the Lord.
The world is blind; our Lord and Master is All-seeing. || 1 || Pause ||
The disciple feeds on the Guru;
out of love for bread, he comes to dwell in his home.
If one were to live and eat for hundreds of years,
that day alone would be auspicious,
when he recognizes his Lord and Master.|| 2 ||
Beholding the sight of the petitioner, compassion is not aroused.
No one lives without give and take.
The king administers justice only if his palm is greased.
No one is moved by the Name of God. || 3 ||
O Nanak, they are human beings in form and name only;
by their deeds they are dogs - this is the Command of the Lord’s Court.
By Guru’s Grace, if one sees himself as a guest in this world,
then he gains honour in the Court of the Lord. || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib. pp. 349-50
When even the song and the dance failed to have any effect on the Guru, they came with a lot of material things which they offered to him.
However, Guru Nanak remained absorbed in his own thoughts. When they had exhausted all their tricks and energy and failed, they finally fell on the Guru’s feet.
The Guru advised them to remember the Name Divine. He stayed there for some time and then proceeded ahead.
In the sixteenth century the boundary of the Kamrup went only up to the Kama river, and the area of Assam began with the present day district of Darang. That is perhaps why in the Janamsakhis the Kamrup and the Assam (Assa country) have been mentioned as two different regions.
In Kamrup, the Kochi kings reigned whereas Assam was with the Ahom kings. It was after the name of the ruling tribe (Ahom) that the region also came to be known as Ahom or Assam.
The Ahoms worshipped Śakti. They were rather orthodox and tolerated no new ideology.
This region gave birth to a holy man called Sankardeva (1449-1569) who preached Vaishnavism, but the Śaktas paid no heed to him. The king of the day, Raja Swarg Narain (1497-1593) who was earlier named Chuhumung decreed his exile.
Guru Nanak left Kamrup and travelled eastwards along the Brahmaputra river. He stayed at several places on the way.
Guru Nanak on his way entered a tow where the inhabitants began to laugh at and taunt him and did not let him stay there. The Guru left the place saying ‘May this town flourish.’
Travelling further the Guru sojourned in a village. Here the inhabitants served the Guru and Mardana very well. The Guru left this place saying ‘May this village disperse’.
When Mardana heard these words, he asked the Guru why he had said so: those who did not let us stay put were blessed to flourish and those who served us so well have been cursed to get uprooted and disperse.
The Guru told Mardana when the good people will go to other places, people at large will become good in their company. On the other hand, if wicked people of a town go to other places, they will spread vice among those who come in their contact.
On listening this, Mardana bowed before the Guru.
Guru Nanak travelled eastwards on the bank of the Brahmaputra river and reached Golaghat town. This town is situated on the eastern bank of the Dhanasri river and falls in the district of Sibsagar, in the extreme east of present day Assam State.
The valley of river that passes by Golaghat is called Dhanasri valley because this was the plain region along the Dhanasri river.
This river originates from the Naga mountain and separates Sibsagar district from Nowgong district and thereafter flows towards north-west to finally merge into the Brahmaputra.
On the north of the Dhanasri valley were wide plains surrounded by Naga and Mukir mountains. The Naga people reside here. They sacrificed humans and were cannibals.
When Guru Nanak and Mardana reached the Dhanasri valley, they were captured by the Nagas. They found the Guru and Mardana performing kirtan, fully transcended from worldly cares.
When they attempted to kill them, they were charmed by the divine glow and spiritual strength of the Guru. They realized that they were not ordinary mortals.
They were highly impressed by the divine word and they freed them. The Guru returned after teaching them the Name Divine.
Guru Nanak travelled via the Brahmaputra to Guwahati. From there a hilly route leads to Shillong.
Guru Nanak set out on this route and passed through Jowai. Therefrom he took the Jainatipura hilly route on which only horses and human could walk and reached Sylhet.
Jainatipura is 64 miles (102 km.) from modern Shillong via Jowai and Sylhet is 26 miles (40 km.) away from Jainatipura.
There used to be an old gurdwara in Sylhet in the memory of Guru Nanak. Tara Singh Narotam has referred to it in his Guru Tirath Sangrah. Maybe, the gurdwara got destroyed in the earthquake of 1897 because it does not find mention in the books published thereafter.
Sylhet is on the south of the Brahmaputra valley and falls in the valley of the Surma or Bark rivers. That is why it was closer to East Bengal. In the beginning of the 16th century, the Muslims had established themselves here.
Shah Jalal had been a known fakir of this region. He passed away in 1531. This tomb and shrine have been the special memorials in Sylhet even today. Shah Jalal was a contemporary of Guru Nanak. It is just possible that Guru Nanak and Shah Jalal might have met each other.
There are several routes from Sylhet to the modern city of Calcutta. People in Sylhet region generally travelled by boat. So Guru Nanak also sailed in a boat in the Surma river towards east and passed by south-west Dhaka in the Bark river.
It appears that at several places the Guru went by boat and at others he walked on foot. Ultimately he reached the road which passes by Calcutta and leads to Ganjam. Ganjam was a town in the south of Orissa. Travelling farther on this road, he reached Cuttack, the principal town of Orissa.
The most famous temple in Orissa was Jagannāth Temple of Puri. Because of this the king of Orissa was also reverentially called Jagannāth.
When Guru Nanak arrived in Cuttack, Raja Prataprudradev was the king of Orissa. He had ascended the throne after the death of his father, Raja Parsotamdev, in 1497.
Prataprudradev belonged to the Solar dynasty and was a Vaiṣṇavite by faith. It was during his regime that Vaishnavism spread the most.
Chaitanya (1485-1533) also visited this temple during his lifetime in 1510. His teachings also helped in the spread of Vaishnavism.
When Prataprudradev learnt that a holy man from North India has arrived and that he is accompanied by a rebeck player who sings hymns, he rode his horse and set out to meet Guru Nanak.
The people who sat near the Guru made way for the King who sat close to the Guru. After sitting for a while, the King asked the Guru what this world was:
he himself knew nothing about it. All the creatures herein are different from one another; some are holy whereas others are cheats. What image can we perceive of God from His creation?
In reply the Guru recited the following hymn:
In the pool is the one incomparably beautiful lotus.
It blossoms continually; its form is pure and fragrant.
The swans pick up the bright jewels.
They take on the essence of the All-powerful Lord of the Universe. || 1 ||
Whoever is seen, is subject to birth and death.
In the pool without water, the lotus is not seen. || 1 || Pause ||
How rare are those who know and understand this secret.
The Vedas continually speak of the three branches.
One who merges into the knowledge of the Lord as absolute and related,
serves the True Guru and obtains the supreme status. || 2 ||
One who is imbued with the Love of the Lord
and dwells continually upon Him is liberated.
He is the king of kings, and blossoms forth continually.
That one whom You preserve, by bestowing Your Mercy, O Lord,
even the sinking stone - You float that one across. || 3 ||
Your Light is pervading the three worlds;
I know that You are permeating the three worlds.
When my mind turned away from Maya,
I came to dwell in my own home.
Nanak falls at the feet of that person
who immerses himself in the Lord’s Love,
and performs devotional worship night and day. || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 352
When the king listened to this, he bowed before the Guru, paid his obeisance and departed. There is an old gurdwara in Cuttack in memory of Guru Nanak.