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The enlightenment of Guru Nanak, and a glimpse into his global Udasis

The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak’s life has been recorded in Janamsakhis, while his travels on foot—across nine countries over 21 years—are known as Udasis. On Guru Purab, Sahapedia takes a peek into these records of how a young storekeeper emerged from a river as a Guru, and went on to change the world forever. We also delve into some of his travelogues

New Delhi |
Updated: November 30, 2020 10:03:46 am
Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak background, Guru Nanak ideals, Udasis, Guru Purab, indian express, indian express newsNanak’s travels are full of stories of how he endeared himself to people and made disciples. (Source: PTI)

Written by Harminder K.,

Around the year 1485, a 16-year-old boy named Nanak moved to Sultanpur Lodhi in Punjab, where he lived for the next 14 years. Each day before sunrise, he would go for ablutions by the Kali Bein, a seasonal rivulet, accompanied by Mardana, the minstrel boy and his to-be lifelong companion. One day, to Mardana’s surprise, Nanak plunged into the river but didn’t surface. Mardana waited and waited and then rushed to the town to seek assistance. Everyone thought that either Nanak had drowned or had been washed away in the river, which was in spate.

Nanak was then working as a storekeeper for Nawab Daulat Khan, governor of Jalandhar Doab. When the Nawab learnt about the incident he rushed to the spot and asked the fishermen to throw their nets in the rivulet and find Nanak. All efforts failed. Then, suddenly on the fourth day, Nanak appeared in town. Khan heaved a sigh of relief and there was great rejoicing among his friends and relatives. But by now Nanak was a completely changed man. His face was radiant and there was divine light in his eyes. He was perpetually in deep reflective thought.

As word about Nanak’s return spread, people started thronging the place. They asked him where he had been, but Nanak remained silent. People said he was in the water for many days so he was out of his mind. But Nanak did not respond. After a day passed, he said: ‘Na koi Hindu, na koi Mussalman (There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim’. Each time he spoke, he repeated these words. The Janamsakhi (literally, life story or biography) describes the incident as a communion with God, who gave him a cup of nectar to drink and charged him with the mission in the following words:

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‘Nanak I am with thee. Through thee will my name be magnified. Whosoever follows thee, him will I save. Go into the world to pray and teach mankind how to pray. Be not sullied by the ways of the world. Let your life be one of praise of the Word (naam), charity (daan), ablution (isnaan), service (seva) and prayer (simran). Nanak I give thee my pledge. Let this be thy life’s mission.’

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak background, Guru Nanak ideals, Udasis, Guru Purab, indian express, indian express news A young devotee dressed in a traditional attire in Ludhiana. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

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The ‘mysterious’ voice spoke again: ‘Nanak he whom you bless will be blessed by Me; he to whom you are benevolent shall receive My benevolence. I am the Great God, the Supreme Creator. Thou art the Guru, The Supreme Guru of God.’ Nanak is said to have received the robe of honour from the hands of God Himself who revealed to him the ‘Divine Reality’.


It is significant to understand here that in medieval Hindustan, though the Muslims were the main persecutors of the Hindus and the Sikhs, Nanak’s words, ‘There is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman’, was meant to disregard the conflict with them in the spirit of a ‘spiritually aroused person’, one who bears ill-feelings towards none. The Revelation, therefore, was the culmination of a spiritual direction his childhood and youth had taken. When he reappeared, he provided a new spiritual and humanistic message of ‘oneness’ of humanity that would go out to millions in his lifetime and in the centuries to come. Guru Nanak saw God as ‘One Reality’, Ek Onkar.

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak background, Guru Nanak ideals, Udasis, Guru Purab, indian express, indian express news Children in Ludhiana dressed in traditional clothes on the occasion. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

His vision of the world was of an all-embracing, all-inclusive humanism. It was his divine calling that impelled Nanak to spread this message of God. Soon after his enlightenment in 1499 Guru Nanak set out on his journeys—which were recorded as udasis by eminent Sikh saints—to spread his vision of the divine. He visited the equivalent of nine modern countries or more in today’s global map comprising India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran—on foot, travelling for 21 years. Dressed in a loose, flowing shirt, armed with the light of truth and zeal of a missionary, he started his journeys first within Punjab in 1499 and then to the east in 1500, followed by travels to the south, north and west.

There are many stories from his travels that demonstrate how he stirred human consciousness so that people could connect with God and live life truthfully and honestly. The Guru first went to Saidpur (now Eminabad in Pakistan), then walked through jungles and wilderness and arrived at an inn run by a person called Sajjan, meaning ‘gentleman’. Ironically, though, Sajjan was a robber and a murderer. He had built a mosque and a temple for prayers of passing travellers and an inn for their stay. But that was only a cover. He beckoned travellers into his inn, waited for them to sleep and then robbed and killed them.

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak background, Guru Nanak ideals, Udasis, Guru Purab, indian express, indian express news In Chandigarh, devotees took to the streets during Nagar Kirtan. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

ALSO READ | Happy Guru Nanak Jayanti 2020: Gurpurab Wishes, Images, Status, Quotes, Messages, and Photos

When Nanak went to his inn, Sajjan looked at the glow on the Guru’s face and thought he was a prosperous trader, travelling in the garb of a recluse to avoid being waylaid by robbers. He waited and waited for Nanak and Mardana to retire. Instead of going to bed, Nanak sang a hymn to the tune of Mardana’s rabab (rebec).

Tinned copper so bright and lustrous,
When rubbed, appears a surface inky black.
Its impurity by washing shall not go, despite washing a hundred times.
Those are true friends who are one’s companions of the way;
And when their reckoning is called for,
instantly render it. (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 729)

Sajjan understood the import of the Guru’s hymn. He begged forgiveness, gave up his evil ways and became a true man of God. He converted his inn to a dharamsal, a place for religious worship. This became the first major centre the Guru set up for the congregation of his disciples. It is no mean achievement that during his lifetime, Guru Nanak was able to set up dharamsals from Assam in the east to Iraq in the west.

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak background, Guru Nanak ideals, Udasis, Guru Purab, indian express, indian express news A display of valour in Ludhiana. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Nanak’s travels are full of stories of how he endeared himself to people and made disciples. Most of these were recorded in Janamsakhis and are now oft-recounted. One among them was fakir Bahlol of Iraq, who sat at the foot of the platform where Guru Nanak sat for a discourse, and spent 60 years of his life remembering Nanak. The Guru is still remembered in the many places he visited with many names, each adopting him as their own—Baba Nanak, Wali HindNanak Qandhari, Nanak Pir and Lama Nanak Nãnak. Such is the power and influence of this saint.


(This article is part of Saha Sutra on, an online open resource for Indian arts, culture, heritage and history.)

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First published on: 30-11-2020 at 09:10:32 am

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