Bhai Mardana Ji and the Rebabi Tradition
The founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) established the ‘Rebabi’ tradition in Sikhism. Bhai Mardana, the life long companion of the Guru belonged to a cline of BARDS known in those days as MIRASIS. They commanded a very high respect in all communities throughout the Northern India. A ‘Mirasi’ was supposed to be the custodian of ‘MIRAS’ i.e. The Heritage. They would orally recite long poems about the ancestral heritage of a particular family at the time of birth, marriage and death and indeed on all occasions of celebrations both locally and widespread. However the cultural degeneration of Indians, especially Punjabi heritage defamed the title ‘Mirasi’ and reduced its connotation to a beggar poet till Guru Nanak Sahib ji chose Mardana ji as his companion.
Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, writes in his ‘Mahan Kosh’, that the Rebab was previously known as “Narad Veena” or “Ravan Veena”. It is the favourite instrument of the sage Narad and Goddess Saraswati. Although this instrument may have divine background, it was Guru Nanak Dev ji and the Sufi Fakirs who have brought this instrument down to the level of the general public. For Guru Nanak Ji the divine singer with this divine instrument was Bhai Mardana. Bhai Mardana was the first person from his childhood who started playing the divine gurbani music with the Rebab, and accompanied Guru Nanak on all his travels with earnest devotion.
Mardana ji was born in 1459 at the village of Rai Bhoi di Talwandi, district Shekhupura (Pakistan). This makes him ten years older than Guru Nanak His father’s name was ‘Badra’ and mother’s name was ‘Lakho’. It is said that Lakho had six (or some say five) children who had died during birth, and thus she named this seventh child as ‘Marjana'( the one who dies), but Guru Nanak started calling him ‘Mardana’, meaning ‘Marda – Na'(the one who wouldn’t die).
It is said that one day when Guru ji was passing by he heard the sound of a women in a typical Punjabi slang
” Ve Marjania ve koi kum kar lae , sara din Allah Allah gavnda rahenga , Ve tenu koi kum Allah Allah nal nahi milna , teri kise nu lor nahin “
– O Marjania Go find some work , singing Allah Allah will get you nothing , No one needs you for any job , Now stop this noise and atleast stay quiet “,
On hearing this Satguru ji knocked the door and said , ” Bibi , I need people who sing Allah, who can play, praise and stay with Allah” , Thereupon Mardana ji became Satguru ji best friend , life long companion whose duty was to stay with Baba ji , play with Baba ji and pray with Baba ji. Sharing the prayer was their goal.
Today we must learn from our teacher, our Guru ji. When Baba Nanak ji decided to travel there was only one follower. There was no Gurdwara, no Sikh Society, no Sikh king, no Sikh literature. There were no cars, no buses, no luggage, no motels, no restuarants. Only two pious souls walking slowly and slowly, day and night to share Dhur ki Bani. Let us continue the mission. Work goes on and on. Sikhi is not limited or made for Punjab. Gursikhi is an element, a diamond hidden in every human being. Let us break the barriers and identify the hidden Gursikhs around us. We may be surprised by our finds.
“kaljug meh keertan parDhaanaa” – SGGS ji ang 1075
In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Kirtan of the Lord’s Praises are most sublime and exalted