Exploring the Legend of Gurudwara Panja Sahib

by Saloni Poddar

It is a well-known fact that Guru Nanak traveled far and wide on ‘Uddasis’, right from as far west as Mecca and Bagdad to Assam in the East. As always, he was accompanied on these journies by his companion and disciple Bhai Mardana.

On one such ‘Uddasi’, Guruji chanced upon the town of Hasan Abdal, 48 km from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. This, today, is one of the three holiest shrines of Sikhism, called the Panja Sahib.

Around 1510 and 1520, in his 40s, Guru Nanak is said to have traveled to Arab countries like Mecca and Baghdad. On his way back, passing through Kabul and Peshawar, he stopped at a small village called Hasan Abdal, in the foothills of a steep hill. As legend goes, both Muslims and Hindus from the village and surrounding areas began to flock towards Guru Nanak and his entourage, being attracted by his teachings. On top of the hill, lived a ‘pir’ or Muslim saint, Baba Wali Kandhari. Baba Wali’s abode was the vantage point from where he could see the happenings of the village below and also the source point of spring which was the only supply of fresh water to the village.

Guru Nanak and his companion, Bhai Mardana, sat under a shady tree and recited ‘Kirtan’ as devotees and villagers listened spellbound. This popularity and reverence shown to a ‘non-muslim’ saint incensed Wali immensely. When Bhai Mardana felt thirsty, he went to the ‘pir’ at least three times requesting some water to quench his thirst. Wali denied the request twice but when Mardana stuck to his humble stance, the third time Wali exploded and remarked rather rudely, “Why don’t you ask your Master whom you serve?“. Upon hearing this the former went back to the Guru and said, “Oh lord! I prefer to die of thirst but will not approach the Wali the egoist again”. Guru Nanak replied, “Oh Bhai Mardana! Repeat the name of God, the Almighty, and drink water to your heart’s content”.

Saying this, the Guru put aside a big boulder lying near him and sure enough, a fountain of pure, sweet water erupted from the ground! Mardana satiated his thirst. However, the spring near Wali Kandhari dried up.

Wali, obviously, was enraged and hurled a huge boulder toward Guru Nanak, who, with his characteristically calm demeanor and half smile, put his hand out and the rock stopped! It was nothing short of a miracle as the huge boulder became submissive like wax and Guruji’s hand print (‘Panja’) was imprinted in it forever. Upon witnessing the miracle, Wali became Guru Nanak’s devotee and the people bowed down to him in obeisance.

The same spot came to be called Gurudwara Panja Sahib when Maharaja Ranjit Singh built a Mughal-style Sikh Temple here. The rock with Nanak’s handprint is embedded in the structure of the Gurudwara and a spring of sparkling water still flows from somewhere behind it! The Gurudwara stands on a raised platform and houses the Guru Granth Sahib.

Panja Sahib Gurudwara, though not grand or opulent, is surrounded by an aura of calm and serenity. It has a double-stored hostel, built around the courtyard, for the ‘Yatrees’. Also visible from the courtyard is Baba Wali’s hilltop, the place where he lived and died. A shrine was subsequently built there dedicated to the Pir. One can visualize red, black, and green flags fluttering at his grave on the hilltop. Devotees, both Sikhs and Muslims, visit this grave.

Every year, in April, Panja Sahib attracts thousands of Sikh pilgrims to celebrate the birth of the Khalsa (the Pure), initiated by Guru Gobind Singhji on Baisakhi day. Like most of our folklore, the story about ‘Panja Sahib’ is part fact, part belief, and a bit of fiction. On this day, the otherwise somber and rather quiet Gurudwara comes to life with vibrant processions, devotional ‘Shabads’, and distribution of ‘Prasad’. The festive atmosphere characterizes the joy and unity reflected in Sikh celebrations.

 Like most of our folklore, the story about ‘Panja Sahib’ is part fact, part belief, and a bit of fiction. Different versions of the legend exist but most of them have a distinct thread of similar incidents running through them.

It is a shame that a country that is home to such a holy shrine, persecutes its minority Sikh population. The Pakistan government must take swift action to make the Sikh population feel safe and welcome.

The tranquil surroundings of this Sikh temple, its rich history, and its profound spiritual significance make it a destination that beckons both the devout and the curious. As devotees step into its premises, they feel the warm embrace of Guru Nanak’s teachings and a connection with the Divine. Gurudwara Panja sahib is not just a physical structure, it’s a haven for the soul, a place where one’s spiritual. the journey finds a meaningful expression!

Saloni Poddar

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