Guru Nanak Dev Ji (Saturday 15 April 1469 – Monday 22 September 1539) is the first of the 10 Gurus and Founder of the Sikh faith.
He was born in village Talwandi Rai Bhoe Ki, which is now part of the Nankana Saahib district in Pakistan. He was a saint, spiritual thinker, mystic, poet, traveler, and philosopher.
Did you know Guru Nanak is recognized as the second most traveled person?
That’s right. After the well-known Moroccan scholar and explorer, Ibn Battuta (1304-1369), Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539) is the second most traveled person in the world.
Between 1500 and 1524, spanning 24 years, Guru Nanak traveled more than 28,000 km. He made five major Udasis or journeys in his lifetime, most of which were on foot.
In all his travels, Bhai Mardana, a Muslim and his childhood friend, accompanied him. The two complemented each other as they traveled to distant lands. Guru Nanak would sing his spiritual Shabads (hymns) while Bhai Mardana would play the musical string instrument – the Rebab. They would create soulful music with a lasting message.
Why did Guru Nanak travel so extensively?
At a very young age, Guru Nanak began questioning the social and religious beliefs and practices around him. He was upset to see the society around him so dominated by superstition, rituals, hypocrisy, untouchability, and irrationality.
A Hindu by birth, he studied Islam at the local Madrasa, where he met his friend and companion, Mardana. Guru Nanak was quick to learn different languages, including Punjabi, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Persian, enabling him to read several religious scriptures of Hindu and Islamic faith.
The more he read, the more he questioned existing practices. He was disturbed by the irrational and often conflicting spiritual messages given by priests and other religious scholars, and he disagreed with most of them.
His thoughts and beliefs centered on the existence of one omnipresent and formless God, believing all humans, irrespective of faith, caste, or profession, were equal before the only Supreme Power. He believed there was a better way to connect with God through devotion and action, as all the answers lay within oneself.
Guru Nanak wanted to go out and enlighten people’s lives with his message of connecting with God. He felt it was his divine mission to go out and spread his spiritual message.
Back then, traveling on foot was no easy task. Loot and plunder, diseases, and wildlife were all serious threats to a traveler besides the lack of availability of food. However, none of these held back Guru Nanak from setting off to unknown lands along with Bhai Mardana, in a quest to spread his divine message.
Puratan Janamsakhi records the earliest accounts of Guru Nanak’s Udasis (journeys). As per accounts available, Guru Nanak was just 30 when he started his first Udasi, and over the next 24 years, he traveled to distant places in the North, East, West, and South of his hometown.
Besides traveling extensively within India, he traveled widely to several countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, present-day Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
In each of his journeys, Guru Nanak visited local religious centers and meet local priests, seers, pirs, and other scholars in an attempt to learn their spiritual customs, beliefs, and practices. He would engage with them on spiritual matters and reason with them why and how his message made rational sense in connecting with the one and only Almighty and finding inner peace in the process.
One must keep in mind the times when Guru Nanak traveled. It was a period where religion, culture, and social practices were steeped in rigid tradition, and therefore, it was not easy for an outsider from a different culture to arrive and be accepted by local people.
Yet, Guru Nanak was received very warmly by all communities wherever he traveled. His simplicity, humility, and earthy logic connected with locals, and they listened keenly to his divine message.
Such was his acceptance, there are documented instances of Guru Nanak being remembered by various names even today, including, Nanak Rimpochea (Bhutan and Sikkim), Nanak Shah, Nanak Peer (Baghdad), Nanak Rishi (Nepal), Nanak Acharya, Nanak Lama (Tibet), Nanak Vali (Egypt), Baba Nanak (Iraq), Nanak Kadamdar, Baba Foosa (China), Vali Hind (Mecca), Peer Balgdaan (Mazhar-e-Sharief), Guru Nanak Vali Hind (Russia).
There is a debate between whether Guru Nanak returned after the First Udasi before starting the Second or whether the First and Second Udasi were combined as one extended journey.
Guru Nanak’s Five Udasis (1500 – 1524)
First Udasi: (1500 – 1506)
Duration: around 7 years
Guru Nanak’s age: 30 – 37 years
His first Udasi was within undivided India.
He visited Sultanpur, Bhatinda, Tulamba (present day Makhdumpur) in Multan district of Pakistan, Sialkot in Pakistan, Saidpur (present day Eminabad) in Pakistan, Pasrur in Pakistan, Delhi, Panipat (Haryana), Nanakmata – Nainital district (Uttarakhand), Tanda Vanjara – Rampur District (U.P), Kamrup (Assam), and Asa Desh (Assam).
Second Udasi: (1506 – 1513)
Duration: around 7 years
Guru Nanak’s age: 37 – 44 years
Within India he visited Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala.
In Sri Lanka he visited Batticaloa, Sita Elliya, Matiakalam, and Katargama.
Third Udasi: (1514 – 1518)
Duration: around 5 years
Guru Nanak’s age: 45 – 49 years
He visited Himachal, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Sikkim, Sumer Parbat (Lhasa- Tibet), and Nepal.
Fourth Udasi: (1519 – 1521)
Duration: around 3 years
Guru Nanak’s age: 50 – 52 years
He visited present day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Saudi Arabia.
Fifth Udasi: (1523 – 1524)
Duration: around 2 years
Guru Nanak’s age: 54 – 56 years
After finally settling down in Kartarpur in present-day Pakistan, Guru Nanak’s Fifth Udasi was within Punjab region in India.
He left his physical form in 1539.
Refer to our articles:
The Guru and His Travels – Up North
The Guru and His Travels – Down South
The Guru and His Travels – Towards East
The Guru and His Travels – Towards West