Founder of the Sikh faith and First of the 10 Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) was born in Talwandi Rai Bhoe Ki, then part of the undivided Punjab region (part of present-day Pakistan).
At an early age (30), Guru Nanak left home on a mission to spread the message of Ik Onkar or One God. His journeys (Udasis) took him to different places in India and other countries, spanning 24 years. In all, he covered a distance of 28,000 km, most of which were on foot.
Accompanying Guru Nanak in all his journeys was Bhai Mardana, a childhood friend and a Muslim. Bhai Mardana would play the Rebab – a musical instrument, adding to the mystic of Guru Nanak’s divine Shabads (Hymns).
Through his Shabads, Guru Nanak spread the message of Ik Onkar – the existence of the only formless God which was omnipresent and above all.
Wherever he travelled, Guru Nanak would teach people the way to salvation was not through meaningless rituals and idol worship. He continued to show people the way to lead a selfless life while serving the community in a quest to connect with the omnipresent God.
The Guru would show the path to connecting with Ik Onkar, and it was through selfless service to community and devotion to the only God.
Guru Nanak read the Holy Scriptures of Hinduism and Islam and observed the practices and customs of each. He objected to superstitions, fanaticism, and hypocrisy in society. Through healthy debate and reasoning, he would win over religious scholars and people, convincing them of the equality of all humans before the one and only God – Ik Onkar.
At the age of 50, he set off for his Fourth Udasi spanning three years, to distant lands west of India.
Guru Nanak, it is said, is the second most travelled person, after the famous 14th-century Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta.
Guru Nanak’s Fourth Udasi (1519-1521)
Tracing Guru Nanak’s journey to the West.
Guru Nanak first travelled west of Punjab, crossing the Sutlej to reach Pakpattan. He then visited Multan, Uch, Sakhar, Lakhpat, Vadodara, and Junagarh before reaching Somiani port in Sindh, in present-day Pakistan.
Here, he boarded a boat taking him to the port city of Jeddah, in present-day Saudi Arabia. From Jeddah, he travelled by foot to the Holy city of Mecca or Makkah, before heading east to reach Medina, the city where Prophet Muhammad lies buried.
From Medina, Guru Nanak travelled to Kuwait before heading for Basra in Iraq. He then travelled north to Baghdad. At the time, Baghdad was a major centre of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish literature and scholars.
He made his way to Tehran in Iran before heading off to other central Asian cities. Finally, on his return journey travelling eastwards, he reached Kabul. From Kabul, passing through the Khyber Pass, he visited Jalalabad, Sultanpur, and Peshawar. From here, he made his way to Hassan Abdal (Panja Sahib), before returning to his home in Punjab.
Pakpattan: Guru Nanak Shares Pearls of Wisdom with Sheikh Brahm
As per Janamsakhi Puratan, Guru Nanak arrived in Pakpattan to meet with the wise scholar Sheikh Brahm. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib records the words of Baba Farid. Sheikh Brahm was the eleventh successor to Baba Farid.
As per the script, the first nine pauries (stanzas) of Asa di Var were spoken by Guru Nanak in his discussion with Sheikh Brahm in response to his queries. The other 15 pauries were addressed to Dhuni Chand Dupher of Lahore.
In the tradition of Var, Guru Nanak asks Sheikh Brahm, “when there is only one god, why should there be a second.” To which the Sheikh asks, “if there is only one God but two paths to him, then which shall I take.” The Guru replies, “Choose one, reject the other.”
The Sheikh asked Guru Nanak, “Give me such a knife that those who are killed with it, shall be acceptable to God. With the ordinary knife, the lower animals are killed. If a man’s throat is cut with this knife, it becomes carrion.”
The Guru replies the best knife is the “Truth.” It is a knife stronger than steel, whose scabbard made with “Merit.” One at the receiving end of such a knife would open up the path to God.
It was a priceless exchange of divine knowledge for Sheikh Brahm, and he acknowledged there was no difference between Guru Nanak and God.
Mecca: Guru Nanak Shows God is Omnipresent
Walking from the port of Jeddah, Guru Nanak arrived at the holy city of Mecca, along with Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala. In Mecca, they met with Haaji Rukn-ud-Din and Haaji Taajudin Naqshbandhi, a historian and writer from Iran. Both Rukn-ud-Din and Naqshbandhi have recorded their meetings with Guru Nanak in Mecca.
Guru Nanak, along with Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala, dressed up as regular Hajjis of the time; a blue robe, walking stick, and a lota (for ablutions). They looked no different than other Muslim Hajjis, and this must have been the reason why they were able to travel to Mecca freely.
In those days, the Mamluks of Egypt controlled the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and were part of the Ottoman Empire. Mecca was a small outpost in the desert where travellers and traders would frequently pass through. There was no Saudi Arabia as we know it today. So, it was not unusual for Guru Nanak to pass off as a Muslim Haji.
So why did Guru Nanak make this journey to Mecca and later to Medina?
Guru Nanak wanted to see for himself the Islamic practices followed here and wanted to spread his message for life under One God, without the rigid ritualistic practices.
There is a story about Guru Nanak arriving tired at Mecca and lying down to rest with his tired feet pointing towards Kaaba or Ka’bah, the most sacred Mosque in Islam.
On seeing the direction of Guru’s feet, a Maulvi comes running agitated and shouting at the Guru. Guru Nanak asked him to calm down and asked what the matter was.
The Maulvi said it was an insult to point one’s feet towards God. On hearing this, Guru Nanak shifted the direction of his feet. The room and door room, in the same direction. The feet continued to point towards Kaaba!
The Guru moved it again, and once again, the room and door shifted directions. Whichever direction Guru moved his feet; it still ended pointing towards Kaaba. The Maulvi was shocked and confused. Guru Nanak explained to the Maulvi, the one and only Almighty was everywhere (Omnipresent) and not residing only in the Kaaba.
Guru Nanak further explained one would not become a good Muslim by merely following the rituals of praying five times as ordained in the Holy Quran, nor would it bring salvation. For that, one had to follow the five principles:
- Be truthful
- Make an honest living
- Do charity to God by sharing a part of one’s income with others
- Do good deeds
- Praise the one and only Lord
As per Guru Nanak, by repeating the above, one would be a good Muslim and on the right path to connecting with the Almighty.
According to one version, the Maulvi in the above incident was Rukn-ud-Din, who later was all praise of the Guru. Both Rukn-ud-Din and Naqshbandhi refer to their enlightened meeting Guru Nanak referring to him as Nanak Shah Faqir.
One of them is said to have asked Guru Nanak for remembrance, and the Guru obliged, giving him his sandals. The sandals are said to have later been brought to Uch in Bahawalpur, present-day Pakistan, and preserved.
Baghdad: Pir Bahlol discovers the divinity in Guru Nanak
Karkh or Al-Karkh District lies on the western shore of the Tigris River, which runs through Baghdad in Iraq. There is an ancient Gurdwara here with followers of Guru Nanak still living there who belong to the Sobi community and are goldsmiths by profession. They maintain long hair and beard and fondly remember Guru Nanak as Baba Nanak or Baba Nana.
On arriving at the city, Guru Nanak gave the customary Islamic call to prayer but in his style and quickly drew a large gathering who were both curious and impressed with this new mystic in town.
Pir Bahlol or Bahlol Dana was a leading priest of Baghdad. On hearing of a mysterious Pir drawing crowds, Pir Bahlol wanted to meet Guru Nanak and test his knowledge.
Guru Nanak is said to have greeted him with “Sat Kartar” and commenced reciting verses from Japji. Pir Bahlol was taken by surprise at the temerity of this new visitor to question the tenets of the Holy Quran but was also impressed at the knowledge Guru Nanak possessed about the cosmos, and the almighty that controls the cosmos.
The Pir, it is said, further tested the Guru’s divine powers, and Guru Nanak demonstrated the same by placing his hand on the Pir’s son and showing him the upper and lower regions, as described in Japji.
Guru Nanak had made his impact, and it was the beginning of having followers who would walk the path of Ik Onkar– the One and Only God.
Guru Nanak’s Fourth Udasi lasted three years before he returned to his home town in Punjab.