Founder of the Sikh faith and First of 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 to travel and spread his message of Ik Onkar or One God and took upon himself to enlighten people of the message of the real God. He visited several places in India and other countries on foot, covering a distance of 28,000 km. He covered this distance over 24 years spread over five separate Udasis or journeys.
His childhood friend, Bhai Mardana, who was a Muslim, played the Rebab, a musical string instrument, and accompanied Guru Nanak in all his journeys.
As he traveled, Guru Nanak would sing his Shabads (Hymns) educating and teaching people there existed Ik Onkar or One God, and the way to attain salvation was through selfless service and devotion to the only formless Supreme Being.
Well-read in several religious scriptures, Guru Nanak, would engage in healthy debates with priests and local people on blindly practicing irrational rituals, winning them over with logic and rational reasoning.
The Third Udasi (1514-1518)
In the third journey, Guru Nanak visited the following places:
- Himachal Pradesh: Kullu, Manikaran, Mandi, Rawalsar, Una
- Uttarakhand: Garhwal, Haridwar, Mount Kaag Bhasundi, Nanak Matta, Uddham Singh Nagar
- Kashmir: Srinagar, Mattan, Baramulla, Berwa (Budgam), Anantnag
- Ladakh: Leh
- Tibet: Lhasa, Mount Sumeru
- Nepal: Kathmandu
- Sikkim: Chungthang, Gurudongmar Lake
If one visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, don’t be surprised to see Tibetan Buddhist Monks devoutly offering prayers! One may ask what Tibetan Buddhist Monks are doing in the Golden Temple.
Well, they are here offering obeisance to their respected Rinpoche Nanak Lama. Yes, they look upon Guru Nanak as a Saint and a reincarnation of “Rinpoche” – the Precious Jewel or Precious One by Tibetan Buddhists. He is also known as Guru Gompka Maharaj, Baba Lama
So how did the people of that region, which include a very large territory of Sikkim, Ladakh, and Tibet, come to love an unknown mystic from Punjab?
In his quest to enlighten the world of the existence of Ik Onkar, Guru Nanak decided to go towards the northeastern part of India and into the Himalayas.
In those days, there were only narrow mountain tracks for travellers, and trekking was not easy, given the frequent inclement weather and bitter cold. It did not stop Guru Nanak from venturing into an unfamiliar land. He was a man on a mission.
Kailash Mansarovar, Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh
Guru Nanak made the arduous journey to the holy site of Kailash Mansarovar (lake). He mingled with the local people, telling them about Ik Onkar, the only formless god.
From Kailash Mansarovar, trekking along the Kali River, he crossed over into the Kingdom of Nepal, reaching Kathmandu. He stayed at the holy Pashupati Nath Temple beside the Bagmati River.
Here, he met with leading Hindu priests and other scholars explaining why it was futile to pursue rituals and why it was not the path to finding salvation. He won over many with his simple reasoning and logic. The Gurdwara Nanak Math commemorates his visit to Kathmandu.
Traversing Nepal, Guru Nanak entered through Nanak-la pass into western Tibet and arrived at the Sakya Monastery. He met the Lamas of Karma-pa Nying-ma-pa Sect, who were earlier hounded out by the Ge-lug-pa sect and had taken refuge here.
They were very impressed by this soft-spoken humble mystic from Punjab and were quick to recognize his divine message. Guru Nanak helped the Trasung Deochung rebuild their monastery, and they gifted him a special robe preserved to this day along with his footprints and kamandal (water-carrying utensil, at the Lachen Gompa, the Nyingma Buddhist monastery in Sikkim.
From Tibet, Guru Nanak traveled to Sikkim, entering through Chhorten-Nyi-ma-la, trekking past Dolma Sampa, Tongpen, and Muguthang Valley. He continued to spread the message of the real God to the people he met along the way, passing Kedang, Bendu, Lyingka, and Sherang.
Gurudongmar Lake: Guru Nanak Transforms Ice into Nectar
He then entered Nathu-la pass to reach the amazingly beautiful but frozen lake of Gurudongmar. The local Yak grazers here warmed up to the genial and friendly monk, quickly opening up regarding a major problem they faced – lack of drinking water due to the frozen lake.
Hearing their plight, Guru Nanak walked up to the frozen lake and touched it with his walking stick. The ice melted, turning into pristine sparkling water. As per the Lamas of the area, the lake never froze after that.
Delighted, they again approached Guru Nanak with another problem they faced – low virility. The Guru asked them to drink the water of the lake, and they would cure their problem. The result was amazing.
In Guru Nanak, they discovered their Guru Rinpoche. To this day, the Tibetan Buddhist monks view Guru Nanak with high reverence and continue visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar to pay respects to their beloved Guru who they also refer to as Rinpoche Nanak Guru and Nanak Lama.
The Gurdwara Guru Dongmar Sahib was built in the area to mark Guru Nanak’s memorable visit.
Chungthang: Nanak Lama Brings Rice and Banana forever
Deep inside North Sikkim at the height of 6,500 feet is a small place called Chungthang. Guru Nanak is said to have stayed at a cave here.
Chungthang was a desolate place where growing food was a challenge. The locals still managed to grow millets and potatoes. When Guru Nanak entered Chungthang, the people were curious to know about this mysterious person.
They were keen to know what he had to say, which the Guru communicated through his Shabads (Hymns). When hungry, Guru Nanak took out some rice packed in banana leaves he was carrying for a meal. The local people were extremely curious about the strange food. They had never seen rice or a banana leaf.
Guru Nanak offered some to them, but instead, they had the foresight to plant the rice and banana leaves. Soon, they began growing rice and bananas, both of which are grown to this day. The Guru had won them over.
The Gurdwara Sri Nanaklama at Chungthang commemorates his historic visit.
Leh Kargil: Guru Nanak Stops a Boulder
Today, while travelling on the Leh-Srinagar highway, 20 km from Leh is the Gurdwara Pathar Sahib.
There is an interesting story about a demon who was angry with Guru Nanak and followed him to Leh. Here he pushed down a massive boulder from the hill-top hoping to kill the Guru. Guru Nanak turned to watch the boulder hurtling down towards him. He remained calm and didn’t move, merely absorbing the rock. The Guru was fine, but the rock developed the Guru’s imprint.
Guru Nanak later chided the Demon for walking the evil path and showed him the way to salvation by devoting himself to serving the real and only God – Ik Onkar.
Gurudwara Pathar Sahib came up around that rock and continues to draw devotees from all faiths.
Mattan: Guru Nanak wins over the Pandit
After visiting Nepal, Tibet, Ladakh and Sikkim, Guru Nanak entered Kashmir visiting Srinagar, Baramulla, and Anantnag. 60 km from Srinagar lies Mattan.
It was a major site for Kashmiri Pandits, and among them was Pandit Brahm Das, a learned Brahmin scholar. He had a reputation for deep knowledge of Hindu scriptures and could out-debate anyone on matters of faith.
When Guru Nanak approached him, the egoist Pandit challenged Guru’s knowledge asking him what scriptures he knew. Guru Nanak responded with the following verse:
One may read thousands of books, with a camel-load of books to follow,
“One may study innumerable epics or fill,
One’s cellars with volumes of study,
One may read for generations and generations,
And spend every month in the year studying,
And one may read one’s entire life,
Right up to one’s last breath,
Sayeth Nanak, there is one truth His name only,
All else is the vanity of the egoistic mind.”
Guru Nanak explained to him the existence of Ik Onkar and why following meaningless rituals was not the way to serve god. He won over the Pandit who thereon became a disciple of Guru Nanak and continued to spread his message of One God.
Gurdwara Sri Mattan Sahib remains a popular pilgrimage with devotees.
After travelling and spreading the message of god for five years, Guru Nanak returned to his home in Punjab.