Nankana Sahib

by Saloni Poddar

“Me, the bard out of work, the Lord has appointed to His service. In the very beginning, he gave me the order to sing His praises nighr and day. The Master summoned His ministrel to His true court. He clothed me with the robe of His true honor and eulogy. Since then, the True Name had become my ambrosial food.”

Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji

The town of Nankana Sahib formerly called Talwandi, was founded by a wealthy merchant Rai Bhoi. His grandson, Rai Bular Bhatti, renamed it Nankana Sahib in honor of Guru Nanak. Gurudwara Nankana Sahib marks the spot where the first Sikh Guru was born to Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta. The shrine, also known as Gurudwara Janam Asthan, is located in the Punjab Province of Pakistan about 75 km from the city of Lahore. The Gurudwara was built in 1600 EC by Nanak Devji’s grandson, Baba Dharam Chand, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh is said to have repaired it between 1819 – 1820 EC.

Nankana Sahib houses several historic Gurudwaras, each built to commemorate a different miraculous occurrence of Guru Nanak’s life. These shrines are surrounded by 18,750 acres of land bestowed upon the Guru by Rai Bular Bhatti, who was a Muslim headman of Talwandi village. His descendants have severed Guru Nanak Devji over centuries.

Gurudwara Janam Asthan, a vast and imposing complex with manned gates located at the end of the main artery that runs through the city and marks the spot where once his house was situated.

On the Eastern side of the city is situated, Gurudwara Bal Lila Sahib, where Nanakji played as a child. Over the past few years such smaller Gurudwaras, which lay in ruins, have been resurrected telling a tale of the beloved life and times of Nanak Devji’s life, weaving it in the rich tapestry of Sikh heritage.

There is another one in the vicinity called Gurudwara Patti Sahib where the Guru is said to have received his early education. It is a relatively small shrine, surrounded by a courtyard around which several rooms have been constructed to accommodate pilgrims who used to travel to Nankana Sahib in pre-partition times. Presently, however, these rooms are being used by Sikh families who moved to the city after fleeing from the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Giani Pratab resided on these premises and taught Sikh children ‘Adhi Granth’, giving them access to divine Sikh poetry written in Gurumukhi. This, he felt was, essential, because otherwise, Sikh children Studying in the Pakistani education system would be unaware of their holy scriptures.

Years later, Mastan Singh, a prominent resident of Nankana Sahib’s Sikh community, established the Guru Nanak High School in the vicinity. This was the only school that imparted religious learning in accordance with secular education in the city. After this, the makeshift school at Gurudwara Patti Sahib was shut down.

In Punjabi, ‘patti’ refers to a slate on which children learn writing in the early days of education. Guru Nanak Devji Mastered Sanskrit and also taught Persian and Arabic as they were the dominant languages of those times. The place where he received this education from Maulana Qutub-ud-din came to be known as Gurudwara Patti Sahib and today this is where, even decades later, young Sikhs learn Gurmukhi. This was also where Guru Nanak, the poet, was born. He added massively to the Punjabi language, in terms of words, phrases, and symbols, which was at that time not considered very literary. Thus, Nanak Devji not only led the spiritual development of Sikhs but also played an irrefutable role in its linguistic development.

About a couple of kilometers, East of Gurudwara Bal Lila lies Gurudwara Kiara Sahib. It is a simple, humble square building with a domed sanctum with a circumambulation verandah around it, built on raised plinths.

There is a legend around this piece of land. It is said that once Guruji took his father’s herd of cattle for grazing and while he was engrossed in meditation, the cattle damaged the crop in a farmer’s field who complained to Rai Bular. However, when the field was inspected, no damage was found. To commemorate this miracle, this field came to be called ‘Kiara (field or plot) Sahib’ and a Gurudwara, at the same spot, was raised by Sant Gurmukh Singh Sevavale in the 1930s.

Gurudwara Sri Malji Sahib lies about one and a half kilometer from Gurudwara Janam Asthan. It is said that in this spot a venomous cobra was seen shading the sleeping Nanak against the afternoon sun as the shade of the Mal tree, under which Guruji was sleeping, receded. The Gurudwara here was first built by Diwan Kaura Mall and later renovated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is larger and more imposing than Kiara Sahib, the interiors being decorated with ancient ceramic tiles, about four inches square, each depicting a cobra.

When Guruji was 18 years old, his father sent him to Chuharkhana with some money to do business, instead the former fed hungry villagers with the money and later hid under an old ‘van’ tree which resembled a ‘tambu’ (tent) as he feared Mehta Kalu’s rebuke. Extreme East of the main Gurudwara now lies this Gurudwara Tambu Sahib which is a double-storeyed domed structure in the center of a square hall with architectural embellishments similar to Gurudwara Mal ji Sahib.

There are two more shrines, Gurudwara Sri Arjan and Gurudwara Sri Hargobind Sahib, located near Tambu Sahib but both share a common boundary. These commemorate the visits of the two Gurus to these sites. Only buildings stand here as Guru Granth Sahib’s prakash does not take place here.

The last shrine in the vicinity is Gurudwara Nihang Singhan stands between Tambu Sahib and Hargobind Sahib.

 Coming back to Gurudwara Nankana Sahib, as one enters the premises, a Palki Sahib made of pure gold (sent from Delhi) can be seen in a glass case. Near the main gate hangs a beautiful painting of Guru Nanak and his closest companions, Bhai Mardana and Bai Bala. A hanging banner explains the 5 articles of faith – Kangha, Kara, Kesh, Kachera, and Kirpan. It consists of the main square, Saroor Sahib (holy pool of water), Sikh Shaheedi, Langar Khana (dining room), and a sprawling sitting area for the devotees. The complex has a residential block of about 500 rooms for pilgrims to stay. Every year Sikhs from all across the globe visit the shrine in November to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

The inner premises of the Gurudwara have white marbled flooring and the facade is painted in hues of pale yellow. The structure itself is massive and two stories tall with white domes at the top. These domes spring from a floral base and are adorned with inverted lotus symbols.

Nankana Sahib stands tall and proud as a cherished testament to the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Devji. The journey of Guru Nanak not only shapes the foundations of Sikhism but also fosters interfaith harmony which reminds us of his timeless message of love, compassion, and humility.

Nankana Sahib stands tall and proud as a cherished testament to the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Devji, the founder of Sikhism. The journey of Guru Nanak not only shapes the foundations of Sikhism but also fosters interfaith harmony, which reminds us of his timeless message of love, compassion, and humility.

However, it is deeply saddening to acknowledge that in Pakistan, the very land where Guru Nanak preached about harmony and peace, the Sikh minority faces persecution and neglect. Many historic Gurdwaras, which hold immense spiritual significance for Sikhs worldwide, lie in ruins due to neglect and lack of maintenance. These Gurdwaras should stand as beacons of spiritual enlightenment, but their dilapidated state reflects a disregard for their cultural and religious importance.

Saloni Poddar

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