Guru Nanak Life and Travels | Janamsakhi 4

Tanda

Leaving Nanakmatta the Guru travelled about sixty miles (ninety-six km.) towards South and reached Tanda.

This town was situated on the road connecting Muradabad and Nainital. Most of the inhabitants of this town belonged to Banjara community as they still do.

According to the Imperial Gazetteer, in the beginning; this town might have been a halting place for these traders. That is perhaps why the town came to be known as Tanda of the Banjaras.

The natives of this town traded in rice which they brought down from Terai region to the plains for sale. They used to keep several horses and mares. They would load the grain on these animals.

This town is situated in the present day district of Rampur and is about eight miles (13 km.) from the district headquarters. It is about twelve miles (19 km.) towards north of Muradabad.

Guru Nanak approached Tanda and sat down outside the town.

They say that a son was born that day in a Banjara family and there were festivities going on. Other natives of the village had come to that house to offer their felicitations.

As Mardana saw these people thus enjoying, the old habit of felicitating with a view to seeking reward raised itself in Mardana’s mind. He sought the Guru’s permission and reached that house. In the crowd no one cared for Mardana’s presence and he came back disappointed. The Guru advised him to cultivate contentment and perseverance.

As fate would have it, the boy whose birth was being celebrated with such enthusiasm and joy died the very next day.

Now the joy and celebrations disappeared and sorrow and grief overtook the family. All those who came out of this house came out weeping and crying. Guru Nanak was highly moved by this event.

He uttered the following hymn:

In the first watch of the night, O my merchant friend,
you were cast into the womb, by the Lord’s Command.
Upside-down, within the womb, you performed penance,
O my merchant friend, and you prayed to your Lord and Master.

You uttered prayers to your Lord and Master, while upside-down,
and you meditated on Him with deep love and affection.
You came into this Dark Age of Kali Yuga naked,
and you shall depart again naked.

As God’s Pen has written on your forehead,
so it shall be with your soul.
Says Nanak, in the first watch of the night,
by the Hukam of the Lord’s Command, you enter into the womb.

In the second watch of the night, O my merchant friend,
you have forgotten to meditate.
From hand to hand, you are passed around,
O my merchant friend, like Krishna in the house of Yaśodā.

From hand to hand, you are passed around,
and your mother says - This is my son.”
O, my thoughtless and foolish mind, think:
In the end, nothing shall be yours.

You do not know the One who created the creation.
Gather spiritual wisdom within your mind.
Says Nanak, in the second watch of the night,
you have forgotten to meditate.  || 2 ||

In the third watch of the night, O my merchant friend,
your consciousness is focused on wealth and youth.
You have not remembered the Name of the Lord,
O my merchant friend, although it would release you from bondage.

You do not remember the Name of the Lord,
and you become confused by Māyā.
Revelling in your riches and intoxicated with youth,
you waste your life uselessly.

You have not traded in righteousness and Dharma;
you have not made good deeds to your friends.
Says Nanak, in the third watch of the night,
your mind is attached to wealth and youth.  || 3 ||

In the fourth watch of the night, O my merchant friend,
the Grim Reaper comes to the field.
When the Messenger of Death seizes and dispatches you,
O my merchant friend, no one knows
the mystery of where you have gone.
So think of the Lord!
No one knows this secret,
of when the Messenger of Death will seize you and take you away.
All your weeping and wailing then is false.
In an instant, you become a stranger.

You obtain exactly what you have longed for.
Says Nanak, in the fourth watch of the night,
O mortal, the Grim Reaper has harvested your field.  || 4 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib. pp. 74-75

Ayodhyā

Setting out from Tanda, Guru Nanak travelled South-East. Those days there was a dense forest in the region where we now find Rampur, Pilibhit and Bareilly districts. Habitation was rather sparse.

In these forests and the adjoining hilly areas, the Rajput chiefs had waged war against the Delhi kings for several centuries. The Delhi kings cleared these forests to make way for the movement of the army.

The contemporary Sultan of Delhi, Sikandar Lodhi liked the hills of Pilibhit and he frequented this area for his hunting expeditions.

From Tanda, Guru Nanak moved to Gala, an ancient town of district Kheri. This town is situated 22 miles (35 km.) north-west of Lakhimpur which was once the major centre of pilgrimage in this region. There were temples of Śiva here. It is estimated that in olden times it was on the bank of the Ganges river.

However, during the days of Guru Nanak, Sharda river flowed a little distance away from the town. In the Kheri district this river was given the name of Chauka, and from a little distance off Gola transportation by boats started in this river.

Leaving Gola town, the Guru reached the river bank and took a boat. This Chauka river merges into the Ghagra near the Brahma straits. The Ghagra river was one of a major means of travel for those desirous of visiting Ayodhyā.

Therefore the Guru travelled by boat and landed at Ayodhyā: he was accompanied by Mardana. The site where Guru Nanak sat on reaching Ayodhyā is now marked by an old gurdwara.

Ayodhyā was an important centre of Hindu pilgrimage. It is said to be the birth place of legendary Lord Rāma. The Samādhi of Daśaratha is also situated in this town. The well-known Chinese travellers Heun Tsang had also visited this town.

Holy men from different religious traditions came here to Guru Nanak and put him many questions.

They asked that many give huge alms on the occasion of yajña, many perform austere meditation, many go naked, many hang themselves upside down, many perform worship and rituals, many undergo physical penances and thus kill themselves.

The question was put to the Guru, “Will they or will they not get liberated?”

Listening to them, the Guru kept quiet for a while and then recited the following hymn:

You may give feasts, make burnt offerings, donate to charity,
perform austere penance and worship,
and endure pain and suffering in the body.
But without the Lord’s Name, liberation is not obtained.
As Gurmukh, obtain the Nām and liberation.  || 1 ||   

Without the Lord’s Name, birth into the world is useless.
Without the Name, the mortal eats poison and speaks poisonous words;
he dies fruitlessly, and wanders in reincarnation.  || 1 || Pause ||   

The mortal may read scriptures, study grammar
and say his prayers three times a day.
Without the Word of the Guru’s Śabad,
where is liberation, O mortal?
Without the Lord’s Name, the mortal is entangled and dies. || 2 ||   

Walking sticks, begging bowls, hair tufts, sacred threads,
loin cloths, pilgrimages to sacred shrines and wandering all around  -
without the Lord’s Name, peace and tranquillity are not obtained.
One who chants the Name of the Lord, Har, Har,
 crosses over to the other side.  || 3 ||   

The mortal’s hair may be matted and tangled upon his head,
and he may smear his body with ashes;
he may take off his clothes and go naked.
But without the Lord’s Name, he is not satisfied;
he wears religious robes, but he is bound by the karma
of the actions he committed in past lives.  || 4 ||   

As many beings and creatures as there are in the water,
on the land and in the sky - wherever they are,
You are with them all, O Lord.
By Guru’s Grace, please preserve Your humble servant;
O Lord, Nanak stirs up this juice, and drinks it in.  || 5 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib. p. 1128

The Guru halted at Ayodhyā for some time and then continued his journey.

Prayāga

From Ayodhyā Guru Nanak boarded a boat in the Ghagra river and reached what is now known as Tanda (Faizabad district).

During those days the place was not populated. Although the town Tanda took its present shape in the beginning of the 18th century, in the days of Guru Nanak the place was a famous ferry. The banjaras or the wandering tradesmen would stay here during their journey to and fro.

From here Guru Nanak walked on foot twelve miles (19 km.) towards the west and reached the Singholi region.

Towards the west of this area two streams-Marha and Saboi merge together, and thereafter it gets the name Tanas in which the boat plied to Jalalpur throughout the year.

The place in Singholi region where Akbarpur (Faizabad district) was founded during the reign of Emperor Akbar was a ferry of Tanas river. People would board boats from here for going towards Azamgarh.

Guru Nanak also took a boat from here for Nizamabad (District Azamgarh). A gurdwara stands on the site on the bank of the Tanas since long past commemorating the memory of Guru Nanak’s visit to the place.

On the bank of the Tanas, Nizamabad has been a centre of Sikhism. A furlong off the river inside the township is said to be the site where Guru Nanak then halted. Agurdwara has been constructed on this site.

It is said that Baba Prem Das Udasi discovered this site and several generations of the Bhallas (descendants of Guru Amar Das) have lived here thereafter.

No tradition of Guru Nanak linked with this town has survived. All the Sikhs of the place are unanimous that Guru Nanak had visited this place. Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, in his Cur Tirath Sangrah, accepts that Guru Nanak visited this place.

Nizamabad falls on the way from Ayodhyā to Prayāga. Prayāga where the three rivers meet together is about ninety miles (144 km.) from Nizamabad (now District Azamgarh).

Guru Nanak left Nizamabad for Prayāga (now Allahabad). He passed through what is now Phulpur tehsil and halted at Jhusi town which is on the left side of the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna.

Old Jhusi was an ancient town and high-rising sand dunes are still found there. This place is linked with Pratiṣṭhān or Kosi mentioned in the Purāṇas. A well from the times of Samundra Gupt still survives in the village. The Ain-i-Akbari mentions this place as Hadiabad.

This place is situated on the north of Ganges opposite the sangam (confluence) just as Prayāga is on the south.

The Yamuna river also flows down from the south to merge with the Ganges. Emperor Akbar had got a fort erected in-between both the rivers. While coming from Nizamabad, Guru Nanak halted at Jhusi away from the crowds of Prayāga town.

During the times of Guru Nanak, the Ganga flowed just past Jhusi.

According to Mahant Baba Pañcha Nanda of the Udasi centre, a raised platform existed at the site sanctified by Guru Nanak which has since been washed away by the river.

This platform is said to have been between the present Udasi monastery (Kot Dayā Ram) and the high-rising buildings of the Nirmalas.

The pilgrims used to come over to Jhusi after bathing at the triveni.

One day the Guru sat absorbed in his thoughts on the bank of the Ganges. Many pilgrims felt impressed by the glow on his forehead and sat near him.

When the Guru looked at them, they asked the Guru for spiritual guidance. They explained that they performed worship, but that was of no avail and that they failed to achieve the celestial bliss.

The Guru told them that vices like kāma (lust), krodha (wrath), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), and ahaṁkāra (egoity) did not let them enjoy this bliss. The Guru recited the following hymn:

Greed is a dog; falsehood is a filthy street-sweeper.
Cheating is eating a rotting carcass.
Slandering others is putting the filth of others into your own mouth.
The fire of anger is the outcaste who burns dead bodies at the crematorium.
I am caught in these tastes and flavours, and in self-conceited praise.
These are my actions, O my Creator!  || 1 ||   

O Baba, speak only that which will bring you honour.
They alone are good, who are judged good at the Lord’s Door.
Those with bad karma can only sit and weep.  || 1|| Pause ||

The pleasures of gold and silver, the pleasures of women,
the pleasure of the fragrance of sandalwood,
the pleasure of horses, the pleasure of a soft bed in a palace,
the pleasure of sweet treats and the pleasure of hearty meals -
these pleasures of the human body are so numerous;
how can the Nām, the Name of the Lord, find its dwelling in the heart

Those words are acceptable, which, when spoken, bring honour.
Harsh words bring only grief.
Listen, O foolish and ignorant mind!
Those who are pleasing to Him are good.
What else is there to be said?  || 3 ||   

Wisdom, honour and wealth are in the laps of those
whose hearts remain permeated with the Lord.
What praise can be offered to them?
What other adornments can be bestowed upon them?
O Nanak, those who lack the Lord’s Glance of Grace
cherish neither charity nor the Lord’s Name.
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15

The pilgrims felt deeply influenced by the hymn.

Again on another day Guru Nanak sat wrapped in thoughts. Some pilgrims came to him and respectfully asked him that people suffer numerous kinds of tortures physically.

They meditate standing in the water torture the body putting chain around their necks visit pilgrim centres and go about naked, but neither ego is eradicated nor other evils afflicting the body are got rid of.

The Guru advised them that the evils of mind could be eradicated by making the mind the dwelling-place of Divine Name.

Then he recited the following hymn:

There is no Truth in suffering; there is no Truth in comfort.
There is no Truth in wandering like animals through the water.
There is no Truth in shaving one’s head;
there is no Truth is studying the scriptures
or wandering in foreign lands.
There is no Truth in trees, plants or stones,
in mutilating oneself or suffering in pain.
There is no Truth in binding elephants in chains;
there is no Truth in grazing cows.

He alone grants it, whose hands hold spiritual perfection;
he alone receives it, unto whom it is given.
O Nanak, he alone is blessed with glorious greatness,
whose heart is filled with the Word of the Śabad.

God says, all hearts are mine, and I am in all hearts.
Who can explain this to one who is confused?
Who can confuse that being, unto which I have shown the Way?
And who can show the Path to that being
whom I have confused since the beginning of time?  || 1 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 952

All the pilgrims bowed to the Guru after listening to the hymn and comprehending the essence of it from the last verse. The Guru stayed here for some time and then proceeded eastwards.

Benares

There was a kutcha road leading from old Jhusi parallel to the Ganges towards north on the other side of the river. It has not been possible to ascertain how and when this road was laid. However, it is certain that this road existed before the arrival of the Muslims. Guru Nanak went 89 miles (142 km.) south-east on this road and reached Benares.

The site where Guru Nanak halted at Benares is one mile off the Benares railway station. It is called the Guru-ka- Bagh. The area is known as Kamachha.

According to a local tradition, Ganga Ram, a Brahmin, was the first to call on the Guru. He was much impressed by the Guru and became his disciple.

One day Guru Nanak sat on the bank of the Ganges. There he saw many Pandits absorbed in reading boob. Several disciples also sat by them taking lessons. Many more were meditating. Some others sat there with their faces and bodies besmeared with ashes from the cremation ground.

On seeing Guru Nanak there, some people came to him and asked him what was he doing there?

All were absorbed either in worship or studying or teaching. In reply to the question put to him, Guru Nanak recited the following hymn:

I am not torn by duality, because
I do not worship any other than the Lord;
I do not visit tombs or crematoriums.
I do not enter the houses of strangers, engrossed in desire.

The Nām, the Name of the Lord, has satisfied my desires.
Deep within my heart, the Guru has shown me the home of my being,
and my mind is imbued with peace and poise, O Siblings of Destiny.
You Yourself are all-knowing, and You Yourself are all-seeing;
You alone bestow intelligence, O Lord.  || 1 ||   

My mind is detached, imbued with detachment;
the Word of the Śabad has pierced my mind, O my mother.
God’s Light shines continually within the nucleus of my deepest self;
I am lovingly attached to the Bani, the Word of the True Lord Master.  || Pause ||   

Countless detached renunciates talk of detachment and renunciation,
but he alone is a true renunciate, who is pleasing to the Lord Master.
The Word of the Śabad is ever in his heart;
he is absorbed in the Fear of God, and he works to serve the Guru.

He remembers the One Lord, his mind does not waver,
and he restrains its wanderings.
He is intoxicated with celestial bliss,
and is ever imbued with the Lord’s Love;
he sings the Glorious Praises of the True Lord.  || 2 ||
- Guru Granth Sahib, p. 635

The listeners were much impressed and they bowed at Guru Nanak’s feet.

Benares has been known as centre of religious scholarship where discourses and dialogues were common.

When Guru Nanak arrived there, a Brahmin named Chatar Das lived there. One day he came to the Guru, sat by him and said:

“O devotee! You wear not saligram. Neither you have rosary of osmium sanctum (tulsi) nor have you put the frontal mark of sandal. What kind of devotee art thou?”

In reply Guru Nanak uttered the following hymn:

O Brahmin, you worship and believe in your stone-god,
and wear your ceremonial rosary beads.
Chant the Name of the Lord. Build your boat, and pray, “
O Merciful Lord, please be merciful to me.”  || 1 ||   

Why do you irrigate the barren, alkaline soil?
You are wasting your life away!
This wall of mud is crumbling.
Why bother to patch it with plaster?  || 1 || Pause ||   

Let your hands be the buckets, strung on the chain,
and yoke the mind as the ox to pull it;
draw the water up from the well.
Irrigate your fields with the Ambrosial Nectar,
and you shall be owned by God the Gardener.  || 2 ||   

Let sexual desire and anger be your two shovels,
to dig up the dirt of your farm, O Siblings of Destiny.
The more you dig, the more peace you shall find.
Your past actions cannot be erased.  || 3 ||   

The crane is again transformed into a swan,
if You so will, O Merciful Lord.
Prays Nanak, the slave of Your slaves:
O Merciful Lord, have mercy on me.  || 4 ||
 -Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1171

After listening the Guru, Chatar Das paid his obeisance.

One day as the Guru sat there, some people asked him what spiritual gain the people of Benares will achieve since the town has been a major centre for the study of Hindu scriptures, its inhabitants study the scriptures and acquire knowledge. How much spiritual upliftment will they get?

Guru Nanak responded by uttering the following hymn:

You may read and read loads of books;
you may read and study vast multitudes of books.
You may read and read boat-loads of books;
you may read and read and fill pits with them.

You may read them year after year;
you may read them as many months are there are.
You may read them all your life;
you may read them with every breath.

O Nanak, only one thing is of any account:
everything else is useless babbling and idle talk in ego.  || 1 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 468

The listeners got their doubts resolved and bowed before the Guru.

The orthodox among the Hindus of the 16th century had invented one or the other ritual for each religious observance. They called it maryādā.

In matters of cooking and eating rituals that laid stress on purity and untouchability came to be strictly observed. The rituals connected with purity laid stress on bathing, keeping away from sutak (where a child is born recently), etc.

A Brahmin of Benares one day requested Guru Nanak to have meals with him at his place. He made Guru Nanak sit by him and cooked meals for him with extra care to maintain purity.

He offered this food to the Guru. However, the Guru said that food was not pure because he did not keep the feeling of purity in mind while preparing food.

When the Brahmin asked the Guru what he meant by purity, he uttered the following hymn:

As a woman have her periods, month after month,
so does falsehood dwell in the mouth of the false;
they suffer forever, again and again.

They are not called pure, who sit down
after merely washing their bodies.
Only they are pure, O Nanak,
within whose minds the Lord abides.  || 2 ||
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 472

The Guru saw that the Brahmin has made the hearth by digging the earth. The firewood was washed before use. The Guru said:

If one accepts the concept of impurity,
then there is impurity everywhere.
In cow-dung and wood there are worms.
As many as are the grains of corn, none is without life.

First, there is life in the water,
by which everything else is made green.
How can it be protected from impurity?
It touches our own kitchen.

O Nanak, impurity cannot be removed in this way;
it is washed away only by spiritual wisdom.
 - Guru Granth Sahib, p. 473

Listening this, the Brahmin paid obeisance go Guru Nanak.

One day as the Guru sat in Benares, some Brahmins questioned him that the Vedas lay stress on knowledge whereas he laid emphasis on deeds. They wanted to know the difference between the two.

In response Guru Nanak uttered the following hymns:

The Vedas proclaim that vice and virtue  
are the seeds of heaven and hell.
Whatever is planted, shall grow.
The soul eats the fruits of its actions, and understands.

Whoever praises spiritual wisdom as great,
becomes truthful in the True Name.
When Truth is planted, Truth grows.

In the Court of the Lord, you shall find your place of honour.
The Vedas are only merchants; spiritual wisdom is the capital;
by His Grace, it is received.
O Nanak, without capital,
no one has ever departed with profit.
-Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1243

The Brahmins understood that deeds were in fact necessary to acquire knowledge. So they bowed before the Guru.

Guru Nanak halted in Benares for a few days and then proceeded further.