Early Gursikhs: Bhai Nand Lal Ji
Nand Lal, a great scholar of Persian, was one of the fifty-two poets. of Guru Gobind Singh. He was born at Ghazni in Afghanistan in 1633 AD and was thus twenty-three years older than the Guru. His father was Diwan Chhajju Ram, Mir Munshi or chief secretary of the Governor of Ghazni.
Nand Lal was an intelligent child, and in a short time acquired great efficiency in Persian and Arabic. He bad a natural aptitude for poetry and began composing verses in Persian even at the young age of twelve under the penname Goya. He lost his mother at the age of 17, and father when he was 19. Finding no suitable opening for his talents in Ghazni, Nand Lal decided to migrate to India. Having sold his ancestral property he journeyed along with his two brothers and two Pathan servants through Kandhar and Bolan Pass and settled down at Multan. He bought a house and took a local Sikh girl as wife. The Nawab offered him a job and soon appointed him Mir Munshi. He was sent on an expedition against a notorious dacoit Sahu who was captured and 700 of his followers were slain.
Multan, "the abode of dust, heat, beggars and graveyards,"1 as a popular proverb says, appeared a poor substitute for Ghazni, a lovely place at a height of 7,000 ft. He did not like the place and migrated to Delhi. He came to the notice of Prince Muazzam, later on Emperor Bahadur Shah, who took Nand Lal in his service. Once the King of Iran sent a letter to Aurangreb. The Emperor asked his nobles including his eldest son, Prince Muazzam, to prepare the draft of its reply. The Prince’s draft written by Nand Lal was considered the best and was despatched. On another occasion a discussion arose in the court of Aurangzeb about the meaning and interpretation of a certain verse in the Holy Quran. The Muslim theologians failed to satisfy the Emperor. Prince Muazzam was also there. He talked about this matter to Nand Lal who immediately gave its version. The Prince conveyed it to the Emperor who was highly delighted. He inquired who bad given that definition. On hearing the name of a Hindu he felt upset, because he did not like a Kafir’s mastery over the sacred text. He suggested that such a man of learning should be persuaded to embrace Islam. In a public durbar he was awarded a robe of honour and a cash prize of Rs. 500.
When Prince Muazzam was imprisoned by Aurangzeb in 1686, Nand Lal lost his job. Aurangzeb wanted to retain Nand Lal in his court after converting him to Islam. On his persistent refusal, it was feared that he would be put to death. Nand Lal left for Northern India. At his departure he composed the following couplet
Dil-e-zalim ba qasad-e-Kushtan-e-Ma ast,
Nand Lal’s wife belonged to a Sikh family of Multan. She daily recited Gurbani and knew Gurmukhi. As Nand Lal also had a religious bent of mind, he sang the Gurus’ hymns and picked up Gurmukhi. In those days Guru Gobind Singh’s name was on the lips of everybody in Northern India. He made up his mind to wait on him. Leaving his family at Multan, he made for Anandpur alone. It happened about the beginning of 1689.
Nand Lal lived in a small house, and did not call on the Guru. He thought if his poetry was of any worth, the invitation must come from the Guru. He composed a poem in Persian and sent it to the Guru. He said:
How long shall I patiently wait?
My heart is restless for a vision of thee.
My tearful eyes, says Goya,
Have become flooded with streams of love,
Flowing in a passionate affection towards thee.
The Guru kept silent. He expected that the writer would present himself at his durbar of his own will.
A few days later Nand Lal composed another poem to the same effect and sent it to Gobind Rai.
My heart burns in separation of the beloved,
My soul is aflame with a passion for him,
I am so much enveloped in these flaming emotions,
That whoever sees me in this plight
Burns like pinewood that catches fire.
I am not the only one burning in these flames,
The whole world around me is ablaze.
I am burning on the embers of separation,
Just as a chemist burns chemicals on a furnace.
Blessed be thou O heart of Goya,
For being burnt in passionate flames of love. –
The Guru invited Nand Lal to meet him. Gobind Rai, 23 years old, possessed a dazzling personality. he was sitting in a durbar. At first sight Nand Lal was struck at the splendour and grandeur of the court and at the radiance of the Guru’s face. He spontaneously addressed the Guru thus:
0, The prince of heaven ! The king of the beautifuls! Pray do not become more beautiful. I have no more strength left in me. Allured, charmed and fascinated by thee, I sacrifice myself unto thee !
Glory, glory, O beloved!
He was offered a seat. Nand Lal immediately composed a poem on the spot and said.
My life and faith are held in bondage,
By your sweet and angelic face
The glory of heaven and earth,
Is hardly worth
A hair of your golden locks.
0, how I can bear the light,
Shed by the piercing glance of your love,
To ennoble and enlighten life,
A glimpse of the beloved is enough.
Guru Gobind Rai gently smiled and gave him a penetrating glance. Nand Lal at once said:
From the beautiful bow of your eye-brow
You shot the arrow of your glance;
The arrow of love is through my heart,
There is no cure, no remedy,
The eyes that are half closed with joy
Caught from the beam of the face,
Look not at anything else.
If in their way, a thousand thrones wait for them.
The joy-sealed eyes have no time to cast
Even a passing glance on the jewelled crowns.1
Nand Lal was admitted to the court as the topmost poet. One day Nand Lal presented the Guru with a collection of his poems entitled Bandgi Nama (The Book of Homage). The Guru replied in the following Persian verse changing its name from Bandgi Nama to Zindgi Na,na (The Book of Life):
Ab-e-haivan pur shud Chun jam-e-o
Zindgi Nama shud Bandgi Nama-e-o’
[When his goblet was filled with the water of life, His Bandgi Nama became Zindgi Nama.] On another occasion Nand Lal said
Ma ra bayak ishara-e-abru Shahid kard,
Aknun i!aj nest kth tir az kaman guzasht.
[I was made a martyr by one gesture of your eyebrow;
There is no remedy now as the arrow has left the bow.]
At another place he observed:
Zahe sahib due raushan zani ire ar if-e-kamil.
Kih bar dargdh-e-Haq peshani-e-o daima me bashad.
[Behold the lord of the heart, enlightened in mind, perfect holy man.
Whose forehead is always at the door of God.] Nand Lal calls the Guru king:
Ma bapa-e-Shah sar afganah em, Az do alam dast ra afshandah em
[I have placed my head at the feet of the King, I have given up both the worlds]
Guru Gobind Singh was involved in several battles against the hill rajas and the Mughal governors of Jammu, Lahore and Sarhind. Besides the hill rajas also revolted against the Mughal government. When the Panjab officials had failed to suppress them, Emperor Aurangzeb ordered his son Muazzam to chastise the rajas and the Guru. The hill rajas fled into the high mountains. Their territory was looted and destroyed. In the campaign which took place in 1698 AD. the Guru was left unmolested mainly due to the pleading of Bhai Nand Lal. He assured the Prince that the Guru was a mere saint, and he had nothing to do with the revolt of the rajas. He was also convinced that the Guru could be of great help to the Prince in his struggle for the throne. About the Prince the Guru writes in Bachitra Natak:
"He had demolished the houses of disloyal persons to the Guru.
God himself saved all his true followers.
Not a hair of them was touched."
At Anandpur there were several free community messes for the poor and needy. One day all the nobles began to praise their own free kitchens. Guru Gobind Singh in disguise of a rustic called at everyone of them, and he found only Nand Lal’s langar working properly.
In 1700 AD, Holi was celebrated on a grand scale by Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur. On this occasion Nand Lal composed a poem in Persian in which he said
Holi has made lips beautiful like a flower bud. Rose water, amber, musk and saffron water fell like rain on all sides. Chun ba ran barishe az su basu kard). The scattering of gulal by the Guru turned everything red. (Zamin-o-asman ra surkhra kard). The pistons filled with saffron-coloured water imparted lovely tinge to the uncoloured. When my king put on the coloured neck cloth, both the worlds became happy through his kindness.
Do alam gasht rangin az tufailash.
Chun Shaham jama rangin dar gulo kard.1
Nand Lal was with the Guru up to December 1704. The Guru’s family was separated from him in the battle of Sarsa river. The Guru’s 80-year-old mother with her two youngest grandsons went with their cook. The Guru’s two wives, Mata Sundari and Mata Sahib Dcvi remained with Bhai Mani Singh. Nand Lal soon joined them. He ha~ lived at Delhi earlier for several years, and had contacts with influential, liberal-minded nobles at the court. It appears probable that the two ladies went to Delhi under Nand Lal’s guidance, otherwise they would not have one to the imperial capital. Nand Lal must have thought that the ladies’ safety and security could be assuredt there against Wazir Khan’s wrath. His jurisdiction extended up to the borders of Panipat.
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Nand Lal was the inter mediary between Emperor Bahadur Shah and the Guru. Nand Lal was in Bahadur Shah’s camp from 1707 to 1712.
Amar Namah composed in October, 1708, at Nander in line 42, says that Bhai Nand Lal was present in Bahadur Shah’s camp at Nander as one of his secretaries.
Nand Lal ivas present in the Emperor’s Lohgarh campaign against Banda Bahadur in 1710. He accompanied the Emperor to Lahore. On Bahadur Shah’s death at Lahore in 1712, he joined Bahadur Shah’s son and successor Jahandar Shah and came to Delhi. In 1713 Jahandar Shah was defeated and killed by Farrukh Siyar.
Farukh Siyar displayed in the streets of Delhi Jahandar Shah’s headless body tied on the bare back of an elephant and his head fastened to its tail. He then searched for late emperor’s faithful upporters and servants. Nand Lal escaped from Delhi and went to Multan. There he opened a school to impart higher education in Persian and Arabic. He died in 1715. In 1849 at Panjab’s annexation the British found this school functioning under the patronage of Nand Lal’s descendants. He had two sons Lakhpat Rae and Lila Ram.
Nand Lal wrote 10 works, 7 in Persian, 2 in Panjabi and 1 in Hindi. All of them were composed at Anandpur. He adopted two nom de plumes, Goya and Lal. The following are his compositions:
1. Zindgi Nama. The author called it Bandgi Nama. Guru Gobind Singh changed its title to Zindgi nama. Its theme is love of God and devotion to the Guru. It contains 519 verses.
2. Diwan-e-Goya. It is a collection of 63 ghazals 18 quatrains and 126 bayats.
3. Tausif-o-Sana. It is in prose, but contains a few verses at the end. It is in praise of Guru Gobind Siugh. This work is full of Arabic and difficult Persian words.
4. Ganj Nama. It is a panegyrical discourse on all the ten Sikh Gurus individually. It is both in prose and poetry. It is saturated with the author’s love for Guru Gobind Singh.
5. Jot Bikas. It is in Hindi. It contains 43 couplets. It is mainly devoted to explain Guru Arjan’s Jaitsri ki Var, with special reference to the ten Gurus being only one spirit and one light. It is also loving exposition of Guru Gobind Singh’s personality.
6. Jot Bikas. It is in Persian. It is an exposition of 43 Hindi couplets into 179 Persian couplets.
7. Rahit Nama. It was written in Panjabi in December, 1695, on the banks of river Satluj at Anandpur. It is a code of conduct for the pre-Khalsa Sikhs.
8. Tankhah Nama. It was composed in Panjabi after the creation of the Khalsa. It contains frequent references to Guru Gobind Singh and his Khalsa, and serves as a code of discipline for the Khalsa.
9. Dastur-ul-Insha. It is a collection of letters in Persian prose to his relatives and friends. They serve as a model of letter writing and contain valuable historical information regarding political, social and economic conditions of Guru Gobind Singh’s time.
10. Arz-ul~AIfaz. It is in Persian poetry, and contains praise of God and Sikh Gurus and religious philosophy.1 He gives his own interpretation of Sikh doctrines.
Nand Lal’s poetry is fresh, soft, sweet and inspiring. It is free from ambiguity and artifices. It is rich in imagery, lucid in perception and penetrating to the heart. His frankness, truthfulness and sincerity leave a lasting impression on the mind of the reader. His sharp intelligence and keen intellect are visible everywhere in his verses. Nand Lal’s works are fine commentaries on Guru’s teachings and Sikh way of life. His Rahit Nama is a dialogue between Guru Gobind Singh and himself, concerning rules of conduct for Khalsa.
Nand Lal’s poetry flows like life. There is majesty in thought and emotions which rise and soar like a flood, with complete surrender to the Guru, and then happiness will flow like a spring water