Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One person. One place . Three religions. Three memorials for this one person

Guru Nanak traveled to far-away lands in all four directions. He went towards the East, the North, the South and even westwards to Mecca. Some say , though I cannot substantiate it, that  he went all the way up to Rome .It was at the end of these long journeys ,that  Guru Nanak came and settled down at Kartarpur.He called it the town of Kartar…the Creator…  it was on the bank of river Ravi  in Punjab,that is the erstwhile Greater Punjab, now in the  Pakistan part of Punjab.

 He lived here, a life of a regular house holder with his family till his demise in 1539. But he was always surrounded by people, hordes of people, and all his devoted disciples in great number.

Scores of them ran shops and were what we call today retailers and wholesalers, others were farmers at Kartarpur.  Visitors came to visit the Guru everyday from far and near and the message he succeeded in conveying was simple…lead a normal life,  make an honest living and share your blessings and love.

The life he lead  very clearly  illustrated that to attain our place in heaven we do not have to become a hermit in Himalayas nor do we have to forfeit all, and go into ashrams.
He said renunciation was not the only path for mere mortals.
Once he settled in Kartarpur, for the first time on Indian subcontinent he ran a community kitchen the 'Langar' and asked the so called high and low caste people to dine a ‘pangat'
Bhai Gurdas Ji tells us that usually after the morning meals were served in the community kitchen , all the 'sangat'….even  those  who came as visitors  worked in some labor-intensive job or the other.
 The Guru himself ploughed his land to reap the crops, he used to get up early in the morning, take bath and then hold the morning prayers.  Guru Nanak, like all his ‘sangat’’ labored on the farm, his disciples worked with him in his fields with pleasure. 

The Guru was enthusiastic and took delight in sowing wheat, and reaping the golden harvest….The joy he exhibited, was childlike in a way.
According to historical narrations, Kartarpur Sahib is the place where the Great  Guru Nanak Dev spent about 18 years of life from 1522 AD till he left this material world on September 22, 1539 AD, at this village of Kartarpur on the bank of River Ravi in Narowal district of Pakistan cultivating land to earn living for his family and preaching.

 We know that anything and everything that is born in life as flesh must perish and die one day. As it is said ’dust on to dust’. Everyone is mortal and his or her earthly stopover must end. So, for Guru Nanak also the time came for an end to his earthly existence. 
By the time the call of the creator came ,Guru Nanak  had a large following of Hindus who regarded him a Guru and an equally large and devoted following of Muslims who regarded him a Pir …..or wise one. His message was to unite humanity through introspection ,but ironical as it may seem at the time of his ‘deh tyag’ the country side erupted in a controversial dispute, and the community stood divided.

Since the Guru's followers had been raised as Hindus or Muslims  and they had different methods of performing the last rites, an argument arose over whether the Guru's body should be cremated or buried. Traditionally, Hindus cremate while Muslims bury the bodies of loved ones after death.
The folklore, parables and history set a picture for us…..It is said, that at his death a bitter argument broke out between his followers, both who were followers of Hinduisms and those who followed the tennets of Islam. The discord was tearing down the harmony that Nanak had worked tirelessly to forge….What does this tell us, more or less it is frailties of human nature….and that it is hard to transform or change our spots and stripes. Well, I presume, the extra baggage accumulated over the years isn’t always easy to shake off.
Nanak was no more now, but his body was there and his followers loved him too much and they were acrimoniously divided to stake claim.

What to do they do now?
 The Muslims wanted to bury him in accordance with Islamic requirements and rites. The Hindus wanted to follow the Hindu way and cremate Nanak. Emotions ran high; compromise was not in sight.
It is rightly said that people will argue for religion, have petty squabble over it, come to blows and kill for it and even die with a notion of martyrdom.
But what is really surprising is that we have not and maybe never learn to love and live in the name of our belief.
However coming back to the day when Guru Nanak left for his heavenly abode. The war of words was fought over Nanak's body bitterly and the atmospherics were charged with palpable emotive arguments.

Ultimately it was decided that flowers would be placed by each group on his body. Whosoever's flowers were found withered the next morning would loose the claim. 
 The wait lasted through the night.
Now what  would happen when the day dawned?

It is said that the next morning when the cloth sheet was removed the Guru's body was missing and both sets of flowers were found as fresh as when they were placed.
In the morning, when they lifted the sheet that covered Nanak's corpse, there was no Nanak but only a sheet and a bunch of fresh flowers.
 What do we call this …A miracle?
Well that’s what all the people thought at that time. For them it was redemption, they had been saved .Now there was an acceptable solution…..Baba had saved them from a potentially hostile situation.
Now they could amicably divide the cover sheet and the flowers - The Hindus could cremate them; those who followed the tenets of Islam would bury their half.
The Hindus were satisfied. The Muslim were satisfied.
Hindus built a Samadhi to Nanak; the Muslims erected the grave of their own

The Mazar
The Samadhi

Even today the two stand, next to each other within the Gurudwara and the place is equally important for the Muslims as they had constructed the grave of their Hazrat Baba Guru Nanak,out of respect and love.
This gurdwara at  Narowal  in Kartarpur is considered to be one of the eminent  holy places for Sikhs because it is a kind of a memorial to commemorate his life….. where he had spent the last 18 years of his life.
This is the story which has travelled down to us as tradition and folklore ….. Somehow I for one have never heard a differing version…… This is what I have heard all through my life from childhood. …Perhaps some vital facts are overlooked as historical aberrance, nevertheless, today I chose to follow my heart and believe in it in  toto and leave the arguments for another  day for rationalist.
The two communities then decided to divide the cloth sheet that covered the Guru's body and together with the flowers that they had place, one burying it and the other consigning it to fire. Therefore, both a samadhi  as per Hindu tradition a monument of remembrance lies in the Gurdwara at Kartarpur and so does the  grave according to Muslim ritual .Thus a reminder stands for posterity of this joint claim on Guru Nanak by both the communities.
What a wonderful tribute to Nanak; the man, his life and his work.
One person. One place . Three religions. Three memorials for this one person.
How awe-inspiring Nanak's life must have been? 


  1. It's interesting post. I liked it.