«AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION O thou that buttest the high mountain, seeking to dislodge it with thy horns, take pity, not on the mountain but on thy head ...»
If Hew Mcleod starts the drum-beating of B40 MS of India office library’land gets the Janamsakhi and translation published through the like-minded Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Guru Nanak Dev University, this endless game of promoting particular manuscripts and running down others and even condemning other manuscripts of greater historical importance, has done irreparable damage to the proper, and in the true sense, academic study of 269 Janamsakhis. The attention of young researchers has been drawn away from Bhai Mani Singh’sJanamsakhis. A study of old manuscripts of this Janamsakhi would have balanced the pulls to different extremes in Janam Sakhi Studies.
THE FIRST JANAM SAKHI AND
THE FIRST CORRUPTED JANAM SAKHIBhai Mani Singh’s Bhagatmala is one historical document of immense importance which has not suffered much corruption, though the copyists of the old manuscripts have consciously or unwittingly made some changes in few places. The oldest manuscript copy we have was written sometime between 1733A.D. Bhai Mani Singh suffered martyrdom in 1734 A.D.
There are 60 Sakhis (33-99) in which devoted and enlightened disciples ask questions of historical and theo-logical importance and Guru Arjun gives precise answers which are recorded by Bhai Mani Singh in his inimitable prose, without comments or gloss. About a dozen Sakhis throw immense light on the foundation of Amritsar and construction of the Golden Temple, the relations of Guru Arjun with his brother’s family Prithimal and with Meharban, compilation of Guru Granth and such vitally important matters.
In Sakhi 88 four Sikhs, Bhai Tirath, Bhai Natha, Bhai Bhau Mokil, and Bhai Dhili Mandal pose a question: “Mas-ter, when we hear the hymns of the true Gurus our minds are morally and spiritually exalted, but when we hear the Bani written by Prithimal and other Sodhis ending with the signature line ‘Nanak’, our mind is disturbed with thoughts of vanity, egoism and shrewdness (abhiman te chaturai vadhadihai).
Guru Arjun addressed Bhai Gurdas saying, “At present the Sikhs are able to discriminate between the true Bani and the false Bani of outsiders, but in due course it will be difficult for Sikhs to differentiate the two”. So collect all the Bani Pothis, so that an authentic Granth may be compiled. Also simplify the Gurmukhi script and make it easier for people to read and write. (akhar 270 bhi gurmukhi sugam kichai, sabh kise de vachan vich sugam avan.)”9 Then it relates how the Pothis lying in the Guru’s residence were first collected and how Baba Mohan’s Pothis were brought to Amritsar and Adi Granth compiled. It also gives a clear suggestion that all pothis or Janamsakhis written before the compilation of Adi Granth were written in the same style of earlier script in which Baba Mohan’s Pothis were written.
This script continued to be used by the Gurus in their Hukamnamas. The simplified script used in Adi Granth became quite popular and all the subsequent religious literature was written in this style of script – now in common use.
The only Janamsakhi in this script is one which Baba Prem Singh Hoti Mardan possessed, apart from other manuscripts he had.
In 1950 Dr Ganda Singh prepared a list of rare manuscripts and relics which was published by S.G.P.C., Amritsar. Amongst Baba Prem Singh Hoti’s pos-session, he found four Janamsiikhis, one of them beauti-fully illustrated, a copy of Sikhan di Bhagat Mala and one work on Ragas. Two Janamsakhis are very important.
(1) Paida Mokhe Wali Janam Sakhi f. 468. The script and writing is of the period of Guru Amar Das. The letters resemble the Biini Pothis of Baba Mohan.”l0 (2) “The letters are in the reformed script. Sakhis are brief.
It appears Bhai Gurdas based the Sakhis of his First Viir on this Janam Sakhi. It seems Bhai Gurdas has taken the Sakhis out of this Janam Sakhi. 240 folios, beautifully written.”11 (3) Beautifully written Janamsakhi. Some very fine art-ist has illustrated them in Kangra style. It appears the paint-ings are fresh. The Sakhis resemble the Janam Sakhi of Pir Sher Muhammed Khan of Mardan. f. 460.”12 All these very rare manuscripts two of which are older than Krishan Lal’s Delhi manuscript dated 1658 A.D. have been completely ignored, although Baba Prem Singh Hoti was known to Hew McLeod and all other historians who have been writing about Janam Sakhis. All these years, these Janam Sakhis have been lying in Patiala, not far away from 271 the Punjabi University campus. They have been overlooked and ignored because they are in what is known as Bala tradition and they upset the apple carts of all historians who have been writing mythical stories about the importance of Puratan or Meharban’s Janam Sakhis. These historians and scholars have already murdered Bala, the companion of Guru Nanak; they have maligned all Paida Mokha’s Janam Sakhis and condemned them as Bala tradition. But these early Janamsakhis of Bala tradition are emerging to be the oldest manuscript.
Sakhi 40 in Bhai Mani Singh’s Sikhan-di-Bhagatmala throws further light on Meharban’s Janam Sakhi. Bhai Bir Nihalu, Tusli, Bula Chandiys came to the presence of Guru Arjun and said, “Master some people say that Guru Nanak was avatar of King Janak. Some others say he was avatar of a disciple of Janak. Graciously tell us the truth about Guru Nanak’s personality. Guru AIjun replied, ‘Guru Nanak was the Perfect Embodiment of the Light and Spirit of God. There are innumerable gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva andjanaka in the universe. They all glorify and seek God whose Light and Spirit descended on Guru Nanak. The Hindu gods did not know the sublime grandeur of the Infinite Lord, who revealed Himself to Guru Nanak and infused His Light and Spirit in him. Guru Nanak was thus the Guru-avatar (Perfectly illumined Prophet) whose sole purpose in coming to the human world was to reveal the Light and Presence of God to true seekers and to awaken the consciousness of humanity to moral and spiritual truths.”13 It is the Mina-guru Meharban who if introduced the theory that Guru Nanak was avatar of King Janak, father-in-law of Rama and father of Sita. As Guru Arjun had clearly declared “I am neither Hindu nor Musalman”, Prithimal and Meharban associated themsevles with the Hindus, by first declaring that Guru Nanak was avatar of King Janak, then introducing the maximum number of Hindu myths in the Janam Sakhis.” The Minas did not only show Vaishnava leanings but even wrote a Sukhmani 272 to match Guru Arjun’s Sukhmani. In the Mina Sukhmani Ram and Krishna are glorified.
It must be noted that when Zulfikar Ardistani the Zorastrian author of Dabistan came from Iran side, he first came to Amritsar where the Golden Temple was under the control and supervision of Meharban and his son Harji Mina.
The first thing these people told him was that Guru Nanak was avtar of King Janak. They also related to him many other legends which are recorded in Dabistan which no true devotee of the Sikh Guru has believed to this day. 14 The author of Dabistan writes, “In short, after Arjan Mall, his brother, (Bratha), whom his followers name Guru Meharban (the Benevolent Guru) sat in his place. And now Guru Harji occupies his place. And these hold them as Bhagats, namely, the devotees of God.
And the followers of Guru Hargobind, the son of Arjan Mall, name them Minas, which name among them is an opprobrious term. And after Arjan Mall, and Hargobind also claimed the succession to Guruship.15 In his introductory note to hisjanam Sakhi, Bhai Mani Singh answers a question asked by his devotees, as to how
was the first janam Sakhi corrupted. Bhai Mani Singh says:
“When Guru Arjun the fifth King of Kings, prepared a systemtized and authenticated Adi Granth, the Sikhs said to Guru Arjun, that there was no authentic copy of janam Sakhi and appealed to the Guru to prepare one. The Minas and cult leaders had corrupted the original janam Sakhi by adding their own imaginary stories. Guru Arjun asked Bhai Gurdas to write a janam-Sakhi-di-Var which could give positive guidelines to those who write a biography of Guru Nanak.16 These events show that Guru Arjun had become conscious of the fact that his Mina brother and nephew had started the process of corrupting janamsakhis to attain a fixed purpose. They wanted Guru Nanak to be included in the Hindu pantheon in order to get following amongst the Hindus as devout and committed Sikhs refused even to look at Minas. They changed Guru Nanak’s place of 273 birth and dates of birth and death, because on the tradi-tional dates the Sikhs went to Guru Arjun and Guru Hargobind. The janamsakhis in which the date of birth is given by Meharban, the date of death is also wrong. The date of death of Guru Nanak is given in all the historic recensions of Adi Granth and there are no two opinions about it.
After the corruption started by Meharban and his son, other cult leaders did what suited them. But amongst the true Sikhs Paida Mokha janamsakhi was popular through-out history. Then started the corruption and preparation of different versions of Paida Mokha’s janam Sakhis mainly by Handaliyas whose sole aim was to denigrate the charac-ter and spiritual status of Guru Nanak. They placed Kabir above Guru Nanak, and Handal a disciple of Guru Amar Das above Kabir. The Jandiala Guru Handalya mahants deny that Bidhi Chand corrupted the janam Sakhis. It was they say Bisambhar Das who married a Muslim prostitute who corrupted the Bala version of Janam Sakhi. Bishambhar Das’ date is given round about 1880 AD. But all historical records Persian, Urdu and Punjabi clearly state that it was Aqil Das, the fourth guru of the Niranjanias who continuously helped Abmad Shah Abdali against the Sikhs and the Misal leaders faced a life and death struggle against them throughout early eighteenth century. Dr Hari Ram Gupta writes about 1764 invasion of Abdali Emperor, “Abmad Shah then hurried on to Jandiala where his helper Guru Aqil Das lived. When the Mghan troops reached Jandiala, the Sikhs in a body came to oppose them. A battle was fought here also in which the Mghans were defeated and Rahim Khan Bakhshi was slain.”17 Thus the corruption of janam Sakhis was organized by such cults as Handalyas who had set up parallel guruships and claimed to be direct spiritual descendents of Guru Nanak. Most of these cults became proMughal pro-Mghan to gain political prestige and money power.
COMPOSITE JANAM SAKHIS AND NEW BIOGRAPHIESTo have a janamsakhi in an Udasi or Sewa Pantht dera was an essential matter. With so many types of janam Sakhis available efforts were made to pick and choose Sakhis and prepare new versions of janam Sakhis which can be called composite janam Sakhis. There are a number of the types of what is called Puriitan tradition. The Paida Mokha tradition popularly known as Bala tradition took many forms. The most important development was that Poets and Prose writers picked up the more reliable versions of janam Sakhis and prepared the following biographies: (1) Sewa Panthi Sakhi Pothis, (2) Mehma Prakash [Prose and Poetry], (3) Sant Das Chhiber’s janam Sakhi in poetry, (4) Kesar Singh Chhiber: Bansavalinama, (5) Guru Nanak Dig Vijai Granth by Sant Rein. In the early nineteenth century there were more biographies: (1) Pundit Rattan Hari: Sri Guru Nanak Chandra Chandrika, (2) Kavi Santokh Singh: Sri Guru Nanak Prakash, (3) Ganesh Singh Bedi: Guru Nanak Suryode (4) Baba Sumer Singh: Sri Guru Nanak Pad Prem Prakash. It is worth mentioning that nearly all these scholars selected some old version of Bala tradition even though they had noticed the versions corrupted by Handalyas.
NO MYTHS IN IMPORTANT AND RELIABLE JANAM SAKHISTake any janam Sakhis other than the Meharban and Handalya version. With very few exceptions the anecdotes are about simple and common folk the type we saw almost in every Punjab village before 1946 when Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus lived together. Almost all Biographers of the eighteenth and nineteenh century have selected some janam Sakhis of Bala tradition taking care to warn their readers against corrupt Bala versions. Other Janam Sakhis which were in circulation
have been ignored. The reasons are obvious:
Firstly, the dates given in older Janam Sakhis are correct and accepted by local tradition. There are about eleven tentative dates. There are about 50 more Sakhis in older 275 manuscripts of Bala’s janam Sakhis than in other vereions and the regional history support the events of this Janam Sakhi.
!he names of villages, rivers, mountains and places given ill the janam Sakhi are generally correct. The people Guru Nanak meets at Talwandi and Sultapur are simple folks, human beings of the type always found in rural areas or in the courts. The character of Daulat Khan Lodhi, Babur. and Sufi saints whom Guru Nanak met is correctly described in these janam Sakhts.
All janam Sakhis are less informed about Guru Nanak’s travels outside Punjab, but the pointers are correct. Local history of Guru Nanak is found in research work in regional documents of different areas. Tibetan documents of the Red-cap Lamas will undoubtedly yield considerable amount of material on Guru Nanak’s visit to Tibet and Himalayan region. No research work has been carried on’ in Kabul and the Middle-East where there are shrines and memorial stones com-memorating Guru Nanak’s memory.
For fiteen years the author of this book tried to visit as many historical shrines of Guru Nanak as he could on his own, because no Sikh Institution has ever offered any financial or other help for such a project. Some universi-ties sent some individuals, but they did not spend any time with local historians and archeologists to probe into historical past, but merely published reports as a journalist does. During the first world war one Kartar Singh of Sansarpur (Jullundur district) was posted in Baghdad and sent some material which was used by Khazan Singh, with whom he had lengthy correspondence, and to Sewa Ram Singh and Bhai Vir Singh. Grandson of Khazan Singh was kind enough to give me the original letters of S. Kartar Singh (Sansarpur) which has been corroborated by local Baghdad history. Similarly abundant material including a stone inscription in Anuradhapur Museum was brought to light about many details of Guru Nanak’s visit to Sri Lanka (Ceylon).