Historical Insights

Guru Nanak ji was a neutral person who taught us the holy message of peace and compassion to all of mankind. The people of the world were confused by the conflicting message given by priests, pundits, qazis, mullahs, etc. He was determined to bring his message to the masses. He decided to set out on his sacred mission to travel and spread the holy message of peace and compassion to all of mankind. 

First Travel

The First travel lasted 7 Years (1500-1506 AD) and covered the following towns and regions: 

Guru Nanak was of the age of 31-37.  Source - SikhiWiki.org

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Guru Nanak started from Sultanpur to first reach his parent’s house in Talwandi and seek their permission and blessings for the divine mission ahead. From here, Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak’s childhood friend and companion, headed towards Eminabad in present-day Pakistan.

Eminabad: The Guru’s First stop

Guru Nanak’s first stop was Eminabad (earlier name Saidpur or Sayyidpur), located 8 km south of Gujranwala town, Pakistan.

On entering Eminabad, Guru Nanak met Lalo, a local carpenter. Despite being very poor, he invited Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana to his very humble home and asked to stay with him. Guru Nanak saw sincere warmth in Lalo and readily accepted.

Lalo would become Guru Nanak’s disciple, but before that, there is an exciting story.  

There was a rich man in Eminabad called Malik Bhago who had a reputation for having built his wealth unfairly and by exploiting the poor.

When Malik heard some Holy man was in town and staying with Lalo, he organised a special meeting of holy men and sent Guru Nanak an invitation to attend. Guru Nanak declined, and this upset Malik.

Determined to meet this mysterious holy man, he sent another invitation to Guru Nanak, inviting him to visit his residence. Guru Nanak accepted. On meeting Guru Nanak, Malik asked him why he chose to stay with an impoverished person like Lalo when he could have chosen to stay with him. Guru Nanak replied there was a unique sweetness in the Roti (flatbread) offered by Lalo. Malik challenged Guru Nanak to prove it.

Guru Nanak held Rotis made by Lalo in one hand and the ones offered by Malik in the other and squeezed. From Lalo’s Roti, milk gushed out while Malik’s drained blood.

Guru Nanak explained this to Malik, saying Lalo’s Roti’s were made with love and honest income while Malik’s were made by exploiting others.

Overcome by grief and guilt, Malik fell at Guru Nanak’s feet. The Guru advised Malik to give away all his ill-gotten wealth to the poor and start life anew with honest income.

In Eminabad, the Gurdwara Kuhi Bhai Lalo is marking the place where Guru Nanak first met Lalo. It is said, Guru Nanak was in Eminabad when Babur attacked and looted Eminabad in 1521. Guru Nanak was imprisoned and forced to manually operate the Atta-Chakki (manual stone mill) in captivity. Gurdwara Chakki Sahib in the town marks this event. There is yet another Gurdwara called Rori Sahib. This marks the time Guru Nanak slept on a bed of rocks along with Lalo after Babur destroyed the town.  

Tolumba: Guru Nanak meets Sajjan Thug

From Eminabad, Guru Nanak traveled east to Tolumba (present-day Makadampur) in West Pakistan. He, Guru Nanak, encountered an evil character called Sajjan Thug. Sajjan used to disguise himself as a holy man and invite unsuspecting weary travellers to his residence for spending the night where he would rob and sometimes kill them.

He invited Guru Nanak to spend the night at his home, which the Guru accepted. When seeing Guru refusing to sleep, Sajjan asked the Guru the reason. The Guru replied by signing a verse with a life lesson for Sajjan.

It was a defining moment for a person who was nothing short of evil. He fell at the Guru’s feet, begging for repentance. Sajjan gave up his evil ways and became Guru Nanak’s disciple. There is a Gurdwara to mark the occasion.  

Haridwar: Guru Nanak Pours Water on Superstition

Guru Nanak travelled east to Haridwar (Haridwar). Arriving on Baisakhi day, Guru Nanak took the customary dip in the holy Ganges River. Guru Nanak was amused to see devotees and priests turn east and offer water towards the early morning Sun.

He asked for the reason and was informed the holy water was offered to ancestors to quench their thirst. Guru Nanak immediately turned west and began offering water.

The priests found it amusing and asked Guru Nanak why he was doing it. He replied saying he was watering his fields back home. They laughed and said how he could irrigate his fields from here. “Precisely,” Guru responded. Just as I can’t provide water to my farms from here, how you could offer water to your ancestors from another world, he asked.

The priests had no answer, but in Guru Nanak, they saw a person with divine knowledge. In every place he visited, Guru Nanak would enlighten people on the folly of pursuing superstitions and irrational rituals and would teach them the existence of a single God and how they could connect with Him.

There is Gurdwara Nanakwara on the banks of the Ganges River to mark Guru’s arrival.  

Gorakhmata:  Guru Nanak Unravels “Nanak Matta”

From Haridwar, Guru Nanak went via Uddham Singh Nagar, Joshi Math, and Almora to reach Gorakhmata, just north of Pilibhit. The Guru faced resistance from local Yogis, known to possess special powers.

The temperature was cold, and Bhai Mardana requested their help to light a fire. They refused, asking him to get his Guru to light it. Guru Nanak looked at the pile of firewood, and it lit up.

Shortly, it began to rain. The Yogis’ fire was put out, but Guru Nanak’s fire remained lit. The Yogis realized this was a person with divine powers. Impressed, the Yogis asked Guru Nanak to join their cult, which Guru Nanak refused.

The Yogis saw Guru Nanak a threat to them and wanted him to leave. The next morning, using their occult powers, the Yogis tried uprooting the Pipal tree under which Guru Nanak sat. As the tree rose a few feet, Guru Nanak placed his hand on the tree, and it rested back. This was when they realised their mistake and asked Guru Nanak for forgiveness. Guru Nanak explained to them the real message of God and showed them the path of pure and selfless meditation. Based on Guru Nanak’s “Mat“ or knowledge imparted, the place came to be known as Nanak Matta and emerged as a popular Udasi destination.

Gurdwara Sri Nanak Mata Sahib stands here.

Reetha Sahib: The Story of the Sweet Reetha

Guru Nanak then traveled forty miles from Gorakhmata to reach a place known to be favoured by yogis. Upon arriving, he rested under a Reetha (soapnut) tree and began plucking some Reetha for Bhai Mardana, who gladly began to eat.

The local Yogis who were watching with interest couldn’t understand how the Guru and Bhai Mardana were eating Reetha, which is extremely bitter. When they tasted the fruit, they realised the part of the tree above where Guru Nanak sat, offered sweet Reetha!

From that time, Reetha is offered as Prasad (divine food) to devotees.

The Reetha tree still stands within what has since come to be known as Gurdwara Sri Meetha Reetha Sahib.

Benaras: Guru Nanak and the Message of Ramkali

From Reetha Sahib Gorakmata, Guru Nanak travelled to the holy city of Benaras (Varanasi) via Ayodhya and Prayagraj (Allahabad). In Benaras, Guru Nanak met Pandit Chatur Das, a highly respected and learned Brahmin priest. Guru Nanak asked him about what he taught people, and the Pandit said he offered the knowledge of fourteen sciences of life.

Guru Nanak explained the futility of these before the primary knowledge of the real God. He recited fifty-four stanzas of Ramkali Mohalla 1-Dakhni Omkar. It was to change Pandit Chatur Das’s life, and he became a Sikh and began spreading Guru Nanak’s teachings to others.

The place where Guru Nanak stayed in Benaras is known as Guru Ka Bagh Gurdwara.

Gaya: Guru Nanak takes on superstition

From Benaras, Guru Nanak traveled to Gaya in Bihar. Arriving on Baisakhi Day on the bank of the Phalgu River (Sarju), Guru Nanak witnessed people and priests offering prayers and food into the river. Amused, he asked the priests why they were doing so.

On hearing the need to satisfy the hunger of the ancestors and show them the light by lighting lamps, Guru Nanak burst into laughter and engaged them in a discussion. He asked them how could food and light travel to the other world when the bodies of the ancestors remained here. Priests and people understood the futility of superstitions and the existence of one formless God.

Kamprup: Guru Nanak and the Black Magic of Nurshah

From Gaya, Guru Nanak travelled to Patna, Hajipur, Malda, Dhubri, and arrived at Kamrup in Assam. He rested outside the town and sent Bhai Mardana into the village to get something to eat. Kamrup was controlled by a woman called Nurshah with Black Magic. She and her female followers were known to influence and exploit people through Black Magic.

When Bhai Mardana did not return, Guru Nanak understood that he must have come under her control. He reached her place, and on seeing the Guru approach, Nurshah tried to deploy her Black Magic. It was a futile attempt. Seeing Guru Nanak was beyond influence, she offered him her wealth to win him over.

It was when Guru Nanak recited three Shabads; Rag Suhi Mohalla 1; Sri Rag Ki Var Mohalla 1; Tilang Mohalla 1. On listening to these, Nurshah was overcome with guilt and asked for Guru’s forgiveness. She became a disciple and is said to have spread Guru’s message to others.   

Golaghat: Guru meets Kauda Rakhshash

During his travels in Assam, they once stopped to rest under a tree while travelling through Golaghat. An extremely hungry Bhai Mardana left to find food. There lived a violent cannibal by the name Kauda who feared by locals for his human flesh-eating. Kauda caught Bhai Mardana, tied him, and took him to be eaten. As Kauda lit the large pan with oil, Guru Nanak appeared.

Kauda was surprised and awed by Guru Nanak’s holy presence. The Guru chided him for his actions and life. It was to change Kauda, an emotionless man, forever. He begged Guru Nanak for forgiveness and became a devotee.

Jagganath Puri: The Guru explains God vs Deity

From Assam, Guru Nanak travelled to Puri via Golaghat, Guwahati, Sylhet, Dhaka (Bangladesh), Calcutta, Cuttack, before reaching Puri.

Jagganath Temple is part of the four holiest temples of the Hindus. Arriving here on the auspicious day when Hindus celebrate the arrival of Lord Jagganath’s arrival, Guru Nanak watched the priests pray and offer rituals in obeisance to the Lord. Guru Nanak did not join them, instead looked up and began chanting the Shabad Dhanasri Mohalla 1.

The local priest quizzed Guru Nanak questioning his actions. The Guru responded by explaining the difference between deity and God.

He spoke of the omnipresent presence of the only God, who was formless and existed over everything else. It left an impact on those who listened to his spiritual words.

Puri is said to be the last stop in the First Udasi of Guru Nanak. Some say he returned home from here in 1506, while others believe he travelled southward as part of his Second Udasi.

Second Udasi

Second Travel

Source : Sikhwiki.org


Sri Lanka

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At the age of 30, Guru Nanak left home to travel and spread his message of Ik Onkar or One God and took upon himself to enlighten people of the word of the real God. He traveled widely within India and to distant countries, covering a distance of 28,000 km spread over five journeys or Udasis.

Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak’s Muslim childhood friend, accompanied Guru Nanak in all his journeys, playing the Rebab, a musical string instrument.

In all places and along the journey, Guru Nanak would enlighten people through his divine Shabads (Hymns) the existence of Ik Onkar or One God, and to give up existing superstitions and futile rituals in their pursuit for salvation.

Well-read in several religious scriptures, the Guru would engage in healthy debates with priests and religious scholars as he went along, winning them over with logic and rational reasoning.

uru Nanak began his Second Udasi (1506-1513) at the age of 37 years and traveled for seven years.

There is some debate among Sikh scholars whether Guru Nanak returned home after the First Udasi or whether he proceeded southwards after Puri in Odisha.

During the Second Udasi, Guru Nanak visited the following places:

The Second Udasi (1506-1513)

 Khandwa: Guru Nanak and the Dakhni Oankar

Guru Nanak traveled to Nagpur and then moved to Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. In Khandwa, he visited the famous Omkareshwar Temple in the Narmada Valley. It’s a beautiful location with the Vindhya Range of hills to the North and Satpura Range on the South.

The temple is one of the nine installed Lingas of Lord Shiva. Guru Nanak met the Chief Priest of Omkar Temple, and the holy discourse between the two is recorded as Ramkali Mahala 1 Dakhani Oankaru and is part of the Guru Nanak’s Bani in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

The composition comprising 54 Pauri or stanzas, and one Rahaoo (Pause), is recorded in pages 929 to 938 of the Holy book.

Guru Nanak debates the Pandit explaining the Akal Purkh (One and Only God) exists as an Eternal Entity, and the word OMKAR represents the Eternal One.

 However, since OM – represents the Trinity of Lords – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, it cannot equate with Omkar since Omkar is Akal Purkh – the creator of Lord Brahma who is himself viewed as the creator in Hindu mythology.

Bidar: Guru Nanak and the Miracle of Jhira

On departing from Omkareshwar Temple, Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana traveled to Nanded in Maharashtra. It is here the last of the 10 Sikh Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, spent his last years, 200 years after Guru Nanak’s historic visit.

From Nanded, Guru Nanak reached Hyderabad before traveling to Golconda on the outskirts of Hyderabad. From here, Guru Nanak reached Bidar, the beautiful hill-top city in Karnataka.

The Janamsakhis record a fascinating story marking Guru Nanak’s visit to Bidar, where he would meet several Muslim Pirs, including Pir Jalaluddin and Yakoob Ali, and other scholars.

Weary from a long journey, Guru Nanak stayed on the outskirts of Bidar, where several Muslim Fakirs were living in makeshift shelters. Curious, they gathered to hear Guru Nanak sing his Shabads and were interested to know his ideas. Soon word spread of a mysterious saint who spoke words of wisdom.

At the time, Bidar was facing an acute water shortage. Wells dug yielded poor quality water, and people were miserable. As per Janamsakhis, Guru Nanak uttered Sat Kartar and, using his wooded sandal, removed some stones and rubble. Miraculously, a Jhira or spring opened up, and clean, freshwater began to gush out.

The Gurdwara Sri Nanak Jhira Sahib came up at the site to mark the Guru’s miraculous act. The crystal clear stream still flows. Sikh historians record this place as the second miracle after Gurudwara Punja Sahib in present-day Pakistan, and some even refer to it as the Second Punja Sahib.

Junagarh: Guru Nanak Helps out King Bharthri

King Bharthri of Junagarh in Gujarat gave up his royal life and was living in Takhtupura in Moga, Punjab. But he faced a dilemma. He had to return to Junagarh to marry a princess within a day, failing which she would die, and the King would have to return to Junagarh again to marry another princess, and this would keep repeating until he married.

King Bharthri turned to the Jogis to use their Riddhi Siddhi powers (occult powers) to help him get to Junagarh. When they refused, he turned to Guru Nanak.

Janamsakhi Bhai Bala records how Guru Nanak used his special powers to reach Junagarh along with King Bharthri in time for the wedding. Post-wedding, they headed back to Moga.

The Gurdwara in Takhtupura commemorates this incident.

Somanth: The Guru Debates Superstition and Rituals

Guru Nanak visited Somnath Temple in Gujarat, one of the holiest sites of Shiva worship. Arriving here, Guru Nanak watched people following the age-old tradition of Shiva-ling worship.

Guru Nanak questioned the rationale behind the rituals saying it did not serve devotion to Ik Onkar, the one and only God. He educated people on giving up superstitions and caste-based divisions. He spoke of all humans being equal before the only God.

Guru Nanak was able to convince many devotees who gave up the age-old traditions in favour of service to God through service to humanity. Many followed Guru Nanak’s teachings after that.

Dwarka: Guru Nanak speaks against Idol Worship

From Somnath, Guru Nanak traveled to Dwarka, the city where Lord Krishna spent his last years. People here had been worshipping Lord Krishna’s idol for centuries.

Guru Nanak debated with local priests, religious scholars, and other devotees, that Lord Krishna was Lord Vishnu’s human avatar, and therefore, not God. He spoke against idol worship and continued to spread the message of Ik Onkar, through Gurbani (Guru’s holy word; Gospel).

In the Guru’s words where all are equal before God,

Sab mein jot, jot hai soi,

It is the same Spirit that pervadeth all.

Tisde chanan, sab mein chanan hoi.

It is His light that illuminates every being.

 Many became followers of Guru Nanak.

Sri Lanka: Guru Nanak wins over Raja Shiv Nabh

His journey to South India saw Guru Nanak visit several southern cities, including Chennai and Rameshwaram, in the southern tip of India. From Rameshwaram, Guru Nanak traveled by boat to reach Singhaldweep or Ceylon, Sri Lanka’s former names.

There are several accounts regarding the timing and actual events of Guru Nanak’s visit to Singhaldweep.

Guru Nanak met Raja Shiv Nabh, who had heard of Guru Nanak’s spiritual powers from Bhai Mansukh, a disciple of Guru Nanak and a trader by profession.

Though eager to meet the Guru, Raja Shiv Nabh was skeptical whether this person was indeed Guru Nanak. He sent a message to the Guru saying if the dry garden where he was staying turned green, the King would meet him. As per Jansakhi’s accounts, the garden turned green, and the King and Queen rushed to pay their respects.

Another account describes the Queen had given birth to a daughter and hid the truth from her husband. She went to beg Guru Nanak to turn the girl into a boy. Guru Nanak complied, and after that, both Raja Shiv Nabh and his wife became Guru Nanak’s disciples.

Guru Nanak is said to have written 40 stanzas called Pran Sangali for the Raja Shiv Nabh which he left behind with the Raja. Later, Guru Arjan Dev tried to retrieve this document but it could not be traced. It remains a reference in Sikh history.

Guru Nanak travelled to Batticaloa, Sita Eliya – the place where Ravana held Sita in captivity, Kataragama, and Matiakalam before beginning his return journey.