Guru Nanak Life and Travels | Janamsakhi 6

On the Way to Jagannāth Puri

There was an old route taken by passengers from Cuttack to Puri. This was also called the Jagannāth Road. Guru Nanak took this route to reach Puri.

When the King of Orissa met the Guru at Cuttack, the news spread to Puri and other places also.

There lived a pandit in Puri those days. He was an expert in Logic and was quite rich. He was a priest of many pilgrims who would put up with him. He was quite clever and he became known by the name of Kaliyug.

When he learnt that the King had respected the Guru, he came to the old road of Jagannāth well equipped with his knowledge of Logic, Tantrism and wealth so as overpower the Guru.

At first he tried to overawe the Guru. He took to several dreadful postures. Bhai Mardana was terrified, but the Guru told him not to be afraid.

When nothing worked, he came closer to the Guru and tried to entice the Guru with his wealth, to enchant him with offerings of pearls, mansions and maids.

However, the Guru held his ground and asked Mardana to play rebeck. He recited the following hymn:

If I had a palace made of pearls,
inlaid with jewels, scented with musk, saffron and sandalwood,
a sheer delight to behold seeing this,
I might go astray and forget You,
and Your Name would not enter into my mind.  || 1 ||   

Without the Lord, my soul is scorched and burnt.
I consulted my Guru, and now I see that there is no other place at all. || 1 || Pause ||   

If the floor of this palace was a mosaic of diamonds and rubies,
and if my bed was encased with rubies,
and if heavenly beauties, their faces adorned with emeralds,
tried to entice me with sensual gestures of love –
seeing these, I might go astray and forget You,
and Your Name would not enter into my mind.  || 2 ||   

If I were to become a Siddha, and work miracles,
summon wealth and become invisible and visible at will,
so that people would hold me in awe –
seeing these, I might go astray and forget You,
and Your Name would not enter into my mind.  || 3 ||   

If I were to become an emperor and raise a huge army,
and sit on a throne, issuing commands and collecting taxes –
O Nanak, all of this could pass away like a puff of wind.
Seeing these, I might go astray and forget You,
and Your Name would not enter into my mind.  || 4 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 14

On hearing this, Kaliyug fell at the Guru’s feet.

Thus discoursing with Kaliyug, the Guru reached Jagannāth Puri. Jagannāth Puri Guru Nanak set out for Puri from Cuttack. There is a gurdwara erected in the Guru’s memory: it is called Baoli Sahib.

About the Jagannāth temple, the Western scholars hold that it was earlier a Buddhist shrine and that in medieval times it took the form of a Vishnu temple with the help of Ganga and Solar -dynasty kings of Orissa.

At the time of Guru Nanak, it was a famous temple of Vishnu. Pilgrims came from far and near to visit this shrine. Chaitanya (1485-1533), the famous saint of Bengal came to Puri when he was 25 and thereafter spent the major part of his life there.

The sight of ocean and sky meeting together here; so impressed Chaitanya that once he jumped into the sea to meet God in a moment of ecstasy. He was taken out by a fisherman with the help of his net. Some writers opine that Guru Nanak met Chaitanya at Puri and sang hymns in his company.

The town of Puri with its sea waves, breeze blowing over the sea, moon and stars in the sky looked very enchanting to Guru Nanak. It appeared to him as though all the creation of Nature performed Āratī for the Lord.

Once the Guru went to the Jagannāth temple itself and witnessed the pandas performing Āratī there. While they all stood during the Āratī, Guru Nanak kept sitting.

When the Āratī was over, the pandas asked him why did he not get up for the Āratī? The Guru replied that all the objects of Nature were consistently performing His Āratī and that was the real Āratī.

The pandas asked him to recite for them the Āratī he spoke of. Hearing this, the Guru recited the following hymn:

In the bowl of the sky, the sun and moon are the lamps;
the stars in the constellations are the pearls.
The fragrance of sandalwood is the incense, the wind is the fan,
and all the vegetation are flowers in offering to You, O Luminous Lord.  || 1 ||

What a beautiful lamp-lit worship service this is!
O Destroyer of fear, this is Your Āratī, Your worship service.
The sound current of the Śabad is the sounding of the temple drums. || 1 || Pause ||   

Thousands are Your eyes, and yet You have no eyes.
Thousands are Your forms, and yet You have not even one form.
Thousands are Your lotus feet, and yet You have no feet.
Without a nose, thousands are Your noses.
I am enchanted with Your play!  || 2 ||   

The Divine Light is within everyone; You are that Light.
Yours is that Light which shines within everyone.
By the Guru’s Teachings, this Divine Light is revealed.
That which pleases the Lord is the true worship service.  || 3 ||   

My soul is enticed by the honey-sweet lotus feet of the Lord;
night and day, I thirst for them.
Bless Nanak, the thirsty song-bird, with the water of Your Mercy,
that he may come to dwell in Your Name.  || 4 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 663

When the pandas heard this āratī, they were highly impressed.

Another Visit by the King of Orissa

The King of Orissa, Raja Prataprudradev, had called on Guru Nanak to Cuttack. However, when he learnt that the Guru had gone to Puri, he also went to Puri and had a glimpse of the Guru again there.

The Guru recognized the king because they had met earlier at Cuttack. The Guru asked for his welfare. The king asked him as to how he had acquired the gift of Name that he possessed.

In response the Guru uttered the following hymn:

The nine treasures and the miraculous spiritual powers
come by contemplating the Immaculate Nām, the Name of the Lord.
The Perfect Lord is All-pervading everywhere; He destroys the poison of Maya.
I am rid of the three-phased Maya, dwelling in the Pure Lord.
The Guru’s Teachings are useful to my soul.  || 1 ||
 -Guru Granth Sahib, p. 220

After listening to this hymn, the king bowed to him. The Guru stayed at Puri for some time and then left southwards via Cuttack.

On the Bank of a Pond

From Jagannāth Puri, Guru Nanak and Mardana took a southward turn. They went from Puri to Cuttack and thence to Ganjam. There was an old road leading to Ganjam from the Bengal.

From Ganjam they travelled further southwards on the road to Kāñchī-puram or Kanjivaram and reached a place now called Guntur.

It is a famous town of Andhra Pradesh and the principal town of a district by this name. This town is 60 miles (96 km.) west of Masulipatam and just six miles (9.6 km.) east of the adjoining mountain.

A gurdwara stands there in the memory of the Guru’s visit. This shrine was got built by Chandu Lal, a minister in the state of Hyderabad in the first half of the 19th century.

He built shrines at five such places in the south which had been sanctified by the Guru’s visit. Gantur was one of them. The priest has been an Udasi.

The word Guntur is a derivation of the Telugu word gunta which means water-pond. In the 16th century, Guntur was not so famous a town. Gantur became famous in the 18th century when the French came here and got impressed by the scenic beauty of the place.

Guru Nanak also seems to have been much impressed by this beautiful place. He sojourned at this place for some time and recited a hymn, giving examples of a frog.

After resting a while on the bank of this pond the Guru started his travel southwards.

The Jain Ascetic at Kāñchī-puram

Leaving Gantur and passing through the area around the modern city of Chennai, Guru Nanak travelled southwards and reached what is now known as Kāñchī-puram and what was called Kānchī or Kañchivaram by the British rulers. It is situated in the district of Changalpat, 45 miles (72 km.) south-west of Chennai.

Kāñchī-puram is among the most famous ancient pilgrim centres of India. Heun Tsang visited this place during the seventh century. He records that the population of Jainas here was equal to those of the Buddhists and Brahmins.

This city has been the capital of Pala and Chola kings. Emperor Krishna Deva, the most powerful king of Vijaynāgar state, and a contemporary of Guru Nanak got two temples built here in 1502.

During Guru Nanak’s time also, temples consecrated to both Śiva and Vishnu existed here. Now there also stands a gurdwara in commemoration of Guru Nanak’s visit. It was managed by Mahant Narinder Nāth up to the 1960s.

One day Guru Nanak went to a village called Triparutikumram, two miles (3.2 km.) south of Kāñchī-puram. Here was a Jaina temple of the times of Chola Kings.

When the priest of the temple learnt that a saint from north India had arrived, he came out to receive him. Coming out, he asked:

“You take any kind of fresh and old food and drink water without filtering and kill creatures?”

The Guru remained silent for some time pondering over this question, and then recited the following hymn:

They pluck the hair out of their heads, and drink in filthy water;
they beg endlessly and eat the garbage which others have thrown away.
They spread manure; they suck in rotting smells,
and they are afraid of clean water.
Their hands are smeared with ashes,
and the hair on their heads is plucked out –
they are like sheep!
They have renounced the lifestyle of their mothers and fathers,
and their families and relatives cry out in distress.
No one offers the rice dishes at their last rites,
and no one lights the lamps for them.
After their death, where will they be sent?

The sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage give them no place of protection,
and no Brahmin will eat their food.
They remain polluted forever, day and night;
they do not apply the ceremonial tilak mark to their foreheads.
They sit together in silence, as if in mourning;
they do not go to the Lord’s Court.

With their begging bowls hanging from their waists,
and their fly-brushes in their hands, they walk along in single file.
They are not Yogis, and they are not Jangams, followers of Shiva.
They are not Qazis or Mullahs.

Ruined by the Merciful Lord, they wander around in disgrace,
and their entire troop is contaminated.
The Lord alone kills and restores to life;
no one else can protect anyone from Him.
They go without giving alms or any cleansing baths;
their shaven heads become covered with dust.

The jewel emerged from the water,
when the mountain of gold was used to churn it.
The gods established the sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage,
where the festivals are celebrated and hymns are chanted.

After bathing, the Muslims recite their prayers,
and after bathing, the Hindus perform their worship services.
The wise always take cleansing baths.
At the time of death, and at the time of birth, they are purified,
when water is poured on their heads.

O Nanak, the shaven-headed ones are devils.
They are not pleased to hear these words.
When it rains, there is happiness. Water is the key to all life.
When it rains, the corn grows, and the sugar cane,
and the cotton, which provides clothing for all.

When it rains, the cows always have grass to graze upon,
and housewives can churn the milk into butter.
With that ghee, sacred feasts and worship services are performed;
all these efforts are blessed.

The Guru is the ocean, and all His Teachings are the river.
Bathing within it, glorious greatness is obtained.
O Nanak, if the shaven-headed ones do not bathe,
then seven handfuls of ashes are upon their heads.  || 1 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 149-50

Listening to the hymn, that Jain bowed to the Guru.

The Guru spent some time at Kāñchī and then went further to South.

The Entire World is Full of Pain

Guru Nanak, accompanied by Mardana, continued to travel southwards from Kāñchī and reached the town Trivanmalai. The town these days falls within the district of South Arcot.

In the 16th century, it was situated on the highway leading to South. On its western side were pathways passing through mountains. In modern times roads to all different directions take off from here.

The word ‘trivanmalai’ means the sacred fire aflame on the mountain. It is said that once Śiva’s consort Pārvatī put her hands on Śiva’s eyes, thus causing darkness in the entire world.

At this, Śiva got annoyed with Pārvatī and sent her down to the world. Trivanmalai was one of the places where she did penance. For some time, she meditated here. Then Śiva sprouted fire on the adjoining hill, thus indicating that her lapse had been condoned.

Thus, the town that came into being on the foot of the hill on which fire had sprouted came to be known as Trivanmalai. It is a very ancient town where there is a very beautiful Śiva temple of great antiquity.

Guru Nanak stayed in Trivanmalai for some time. Here stands a gurdwara in the memory of his visit. The gurdwara was managed by Mahant Narinder Nāth until the 1960s.

While being here, Guru Nanak thought that no god or goddess had been able to get free from the consequences of his or her karmas.

Even Pārvatī had also to resort to penance. It is only through the Name Divine that one could escape from the effect of karma. Here he recited the following hymn:

Branded with a thousand marks of disgrace, Indra cried in shame.
Paraśurām returned home crying.  Ajai cried and wept,
when he was made to eat the manure he had given,
pretending it was charity.
Such is the punishment received in the Court of the Lord.
Rāma wept when he was sent into exile,
and separated from Sita and Lakṣman.
The ten-headed Rāvaṇa, who stole away Sita with the beat of his tambourine,
wept when he lost Sri Lanka.
The Pāṇḍavas once lived in the Presence of the Lord;
they were made slaves, and wept.
Janamejaya wept, that he had lost his way.
One mistake, and he became a sinner.
The Sheikhs, Pirs and spiritual teachers weep;
at the very last instant, they suffer in agony.
The kings weep — their ears are cut;
they go begging from house to house.
The minister weeps;
he has to leave behind the wealth he has gathered.
The Pandit, the religious scholar, weeps when his learning is gone.
The young woman weeps because she has no husband.
O Nanak, the whole world is suffering.

He alone is victorious, who believes in the Lord’s Name.
No other action is of any account.  || 1 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 953-54

The Guru stayed here for some time and then travelled on to the South.

Śrī Lanka

Guru Nanak and Mardana left Trivanmalai to travel further south and reached Trichnapalli. Just nearby Trichnapalli was the most famous temple, called Śrī Rangam, of the Tamil Ālvār saints who were Vaiṣṇavites.

This temple is situated in between the rivers of Kāverī and Kolerun. In fact, the word śrī rangam in Tamil language means the one situated between two rivers.

It was the greatest temple of the Vaiṣṇavites in the South and it was here that Rāmānuja, the famous Vaiṣṇavite saint and a leader of the Bhakti movement spent the last years of his life. This temple has seven circumambulatory paths.

It is said that Guru Nanak stayed in this temple for some time. Here was also a gurdwara in commemoration of his visit, but it has with the passage of time fallen down.

From Trichnapalli Guru Nanak took a boat via the Kāverī and reached Nāgapatnam. This was an old port of India from where the people embarked on ships to reach Śrī Lanka.

Various evidences have been found that testify to the existence of transportation between southern India and the eastern side of Śrī Lanka.

There was a very old Hindu temple in Trinkomli on the eastern coast of Śrī Lanka. This temple was pulled down by the Portuguese in the 17th Century. There was another port in the south of Trinkomli known as Matiakalam or Madakulapa: its modern name is Batticola. This new name was given to it by the Dutch.

Madakulapa was a very old colony of the Tamils. It finds mention even in the Skandha Purāṇa. The incident of Lanka-burning by Hanuman, as given in the Ramayana is also said to have taken place here.

From Nāgapatnam Guru Nanak reached Trinkomli and therefrom Matiakalam (Batticola). The king of Batticola was a Śaivite. That is why the authors of various Janamsakhis have named him Raja Shiv Nābh.

This means that he was a devotee of Śiva. His real name is not known.

He had learnt praises of Guru Nanak because Bhai Mansukh of Lahore, who had met Guru Nanak at Sultanpur along with Bhagirath of Malsian, had gone there in connection with his business and during his conversation with the king had told him of Guru Nanak’s greatness. The king of Batticola had no doubt heard the name of Guru Nanak but he did not know him by face.

So when he learnt that a saint from north India had come, he sent some charming maids to test him. They showed him many of their charms but could not entice the Guru who remained occupied in his own thoughts.

Then the king himself came and asked for his introduction – whether a Yogi or a Pandit? The Guru recited the following hymn in response:

The Yogi who is joined to the Nām, the Name of the Lord,
is pure; he is not stained by even a particle of dirt.
The True Lord, his Beloved, is always with him;
the rounds of birth and death are ended for him.  || 1 ||   

O Lord of the Universe, what is Your Name, and what is it like?
If You summon me into the Mansion of Your Presence,
I will ask You, how I can become one with You.  || 1 || Pause ||   

He alone is a Brahmin,
who takes his cleansing bath in the spiritual wisdom of God,
and whose leaf offerings in worship are the Glorious Praises of the Lord.
The One Name, the One Lord,
and His One Light pervade the three worlds.  || 2 ||   

My tongue is the balance of the scale,
and this heart of mine is the pan of the scale;
I weigh the immeasurable Nām.
There is one store, and one banker above all;
the merchants deal in the one commodity.  || 3 ||   

The True Guru saves us at both ends; he alone understands,
who is lovingly focused on the One Lord;
his inner being remains free of doubt.
The Word of the Śabad abides within, and doubt is ended,
for those who constantly serve, day and night.  || 4 ||

Above is the sky of the mind, and beyond this sky is the Lord,
the Protector of the World; the Inaccessible Lord God;
the Guru abides there as well.
According to the Word of the Guru’s Teachings,
what is outside is the same as what is inside the home of the self.
Nanak has become a detached renunciate.  || 5 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 992

The King now realized that here was the same holy man Bhai Mansukh had referred to. The king bowed before him and took him to his palace. He kept the Guru with him for some time.

Then the Guru took leave of him and went over to a place twelve miles south of Batticola. It was a beautiful and enchanting place. The Guru stayed here for a while. It seems the Guru initiated Changa Bhatra into Sikhism at this place.

The place where the Guru stayed is now a part of the town called Kurukulmandap.

‘Kurukul’ is a Tamil word which literally means ‘the Guru’s town’. The people of this town told the author that a realized soul had come here from north India and that it was about four-and-a-half-hundred years ago. This town came up in memory of his visit.

Guru Nanak halted here for some time and then travelled ahead.

Meeting the King of Śrī Lanka

Guru Nanak left Kurukulmandap for Katargama, the most famous pilgrim centre in Śrī Lanka. This latter town is situated on the extreme south-east tip of Śrī Lanka. Indian pilgrims had been visiting this place for centuries before Guru Nanak.

From Batticola, the pilgrims went to Katargama, travelling on the eastern coast of Śrī Lanka. The Guru reached that famous town travelling through towns of Kalamunai, Thiokol, Patuvil and Panam.

This famous pilgrim centre is situated on the bank of the Manak Ganga river. Many traditions are associated with this place which are said to be five thousand years older than Christ.

All these are related to Śiva’s son, Subrāmaṇya who is also called Kāṇdakumāra or Katargama in Sinhalese. According to Giani Gian Singh, Guru Nanak went farther from the temple of Katargama or Kārtik Swami to a town called Badula.

Thence he travelled to the hilly tract of Nura Ahilia, also called Sita Ahilia. Passing through Sitavaka, he reached Koti state.

At that time king Dharmaprakarmabahu, IX, ruled over Koti. His regime spread from Kalaoia in the north up to Valalvi Ganga in the south. The King was highly impressed by the Guru.

The state of Koti was predominantly Buddhist by faith, which is one of the atheistic religions.

Guru Nanak not only believed in the existence of God but also felt that God was ever with him. So he preached theism which deeply impressed the King.

In Buddhism, the Raja Sangha enjoyed the highest status and was held in esteem by the Buddhists. When the Raja Sangha learnt that a saint from north India had arrived and he has made the king his disciple, he tried to create an opportunity to have dialogue with Guru Nanak.

Since the Guru’s teaching was against castes and idol-worship, the Brahmins here also sided with the Buddhists. They all began a discourse with the Guru in the presence of the king of Koti. The Guru advised them that only the Name Divine can provide you peace.

The Guru recited the following hymn:

The Era of Truth (Satya yuga) utters only truth;
Those who live on air alone waiver not;
In the Trētā Era, the devotees of God meditated hard;
They observed meditation and penance and sat in trance,
In the Dvāpara Era, worship was of four kinds;
And, in Kāli yuga kirtan and the Name Divine are fundamental;
Then again followed Satya yuga, Trētā and Dvāpara, and the four-fold worship
Earlier these aeons were determined by these,
but in Kāli yuga only the Name is man’s support.
(These verses are not included in the Guru Granth Sahib).

Listening to these words, Dharmaprakarmabahu and others were highly impressed.

After a brief halt at Koti, Guru Nanak travelled northwards.