Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Gateway to Sikhism



About thirty miles south-west of the city of Lahore, the capital of the Panjab, and on the borders of the present civil districts of Gujranwala and Montgomery, stands the town of Talwandi, deep in a lonely forest. It is on the margin

[1. Essay on the Utility of Religion.]

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of the Bar or raised forest tract which occupies the centre of the Panjab. The town is still girdled by a broad expanse of arborescent vegetation, which, when not whitened by the sand blown by the winds of the desert, wears through all seasons a cheerful appearance. The jal (Salvadora Persica) predominates, but there are also found the phulahi (Acacia modesta) and the jand (Prosopis spicigera). The wild deer is seen occasionally to appear startled at the traveller who disturbs the solitude of its domain, and the hare and the partridge cower cautiously among the thickets, deprecating molestation.

In this retreat was born Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. His birth took place on the third day of the light half of the month of Baisakh (April-May) in the year 1526 of the Vikramaditya era, corresponding to A.D. 1469. As to the month in which he was born there are strange diversities of statement, which we shall subsequently notice. Guru Nanak's father was Kalu of the Bedi[1] section of the Khatri caste. He was by profession a village accountant, but added the practice of agriculture to this avocation. Kalu's father was Shiv Ram and his mother Banarasi. Kalu had one brother called Lalu, of whom little is known besides his name. Kalu was married to Tripta, daughter of Rama, a native of the Manjha[2] country. Tripta had a brother called Krishan, of whom history is as silent as of Lalu. Tripta bore to Kalu one daughter, Nanaki, and one son, Nanak. Nanaki married Jai Ram, a revenue official of high repute at Sultanpur, which is in the present native state of Kapurthala, and was then the capital of the Jalandhar Doab.

When Taimur had spread anarchy and devastation over Northern India, a dynasty of Saiyids, or descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, aspired to rule in Dihli in the name of the Mughal conqueror. To Dihli there was hardly any territory attached, and Ala-ul-din, the last of the Saiyid

[1. The meaning of this name will be explained when we come to the writings of the tenth Guru.

2. The Mâniha is the country between the rivers Râvi and Biâs.]

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rulers, in contemptuous disregard for the small and troublesome dominion meted out to him by destiny, retired to the distant city of Badaun to end his days in religious and political tranquillity. He left Dihli and the fortunes of empire to Bahlol Khan Lodi, a, man whose ancestors had been enriched by commerce, and whose grandfather had been Governor of Multan under the famous monarch Firoz Shah Tughlak.

Bahlol Khan Lodi reigned from A.D. 1450 to A.D. 1488, and it was consequently near the middle of his reign that Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was born.

After the accession of Bahlol Khan Lodi, Daulat Khan, a relative of his, obtained power in the Panjab, and governed under the paramount authority of his kinsman. He lived in state at Sultanpur till defeated and deprived of his possessions by the Emperor Babar. The Panjab appears to have been already parcelled out to Musalman chiefs who were retainers of the sovereigns of Dihli. One of these chiefs, called Rai Bhoi, a Musalman Rajput of the Bhatti tribe, had been Zamindar or proprietor of Talwandi. After his death his heritage descended to his son Rai Bular, who governed the town at the birth and during the youth of Nanak.

Talwandi is said to have been originally built by a Hindu king called Raja Vairat. It was sacked and destroyed by fire and crowbar, like most Hindu towns and cities, during the Musalman invasions. Rai Bular restored it and built a fort on the summit of the tumulus, in which he lived the secure and happy ruler of a small village, some limited acres of cultivated land, and a boundless wilderness.

Although the age was one of religious intolerance and persecution, Rai Bular appears to have been the very reverse of a bigot. His father and he were converted Hindus, doubtless added to the ranks of Islam by a hasty circumcision and an enforced utterance of some Arabic sentences which they did not perfectly comprehend.

[1. The descendants of Râi Bulâr still exist in that part of the country.]

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In such a solitude Rai Bular could not have been under the less worthy influences of Islam; and indifference, the parent of toleration, appears to have supervened on his Muhammadan religious training. But the human mind is so constituted, and the religious or emotional instinct so dominant ill human nature, that most men at some period of their lives are irresistibly impelled to religious speculation. Something, too, must be allowed f or Rai Bular's patriotic prejudices for a suffering though renounced faith. Talwandi shared not the tumults and excitements of the outer political world. It was a theatre meet for the training of a prophet or religious teacher who was to lead his countrymen to the sacred path of truth, and disenthral their minds from the superstitions of ages. Rai Bular in his little realm had ample time for reflection, and when he heard of Nanak's piety and learning, felt a mysterious interest in the clever and precocious son of Kalu.

The house in which Nanak was born lay a little distant from the fort. Probably Rai Bular and his family alone inhabited the ancient tumulus, while his tenants dwelt in he town of Talwandi on the plain. The town has now lost its old name, and is known as Nankana, in memory of the religious teacher to whom it had the honour of giving birth. When the Sikh religion had gained prominence, there was a temple erected on the spot where the Guru was born. It was afterwards rebuilt and enlarged by Raja Tej Singh, at the time when the Sikh arms had attained their greatest power and the Sikh commonwealth its widest expansion. Within the temple is installed the Granth Sahib, or sacred volume of the Sikh faith, intoned by a professional reader. The innermost shrine contains some cheap printed pictures of the Guru, and musicians beguile the day chanting the religious metrical compositions of the Gurus.

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The etymology of the term 'gurdwara' is from the words 'Gur (ਗੁਰ)' (a reference to the Sikh Gurus) and 'Dwara (ਦੁਆਰਾ)' (gateway in Gurmukhi), together meaning 'the gateway through which the Guru could be reached'. Thereafter, all Sikh places of worship came to be known as gurdwaras.
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