Inspired by the article on Guru Nanaks Birthday by
S. Harjinder Singh Kamal, I am sending my essay on the
same issue. I take it as a historical and academic
discussion and I do believe in the words of a few great
scholars of Sikh History appended at the end of this
essay; in spite of their findings, they all impress not
to abandon the current date in Oct./Nov. P.S.B.
Nanak's Natal Month
Pritpal Singh Bindra
All over the world the
birthday of Shri Guru Nanak Dev will be celebrated on
November 19, 2002, with great zeal and enthusiasm. There
has never been any dispute regarding the year of the
birth of Guru Nanak but a controversy has been prevailing
in respect of the natal month. Overwhelming consensus
exists among almost all the eminent contemporary scholars
that he was born on Baisakh Shudhi 3 in the Bikarimi
Sambat 1526, i.e., April 15, 1469. Most of the doyen of
Sikh History, such as M.A.Macauliffe, Bhai Kahan Singh
Nabha, Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh, Principal Teja Singh,
Indubhushan Banerji, Dr.Kirpal Singh, Dr.Ganda Singh,
Dr.H.R.Gupta, Principal Satbir Singh, and etc., lend
their full support to the natal month of Guru Nanak as
Baisakh. Up to 1815, during the reign of Maharajah Ranjit
Singh, the birthday of Baba Nanak had been celebrated at
Nanakana Sahib, his birthplace, on Baisakh Shudhi 3.
Bhai Santokh Singh of Amritsar completed his Nanak
Prakash in 1823. About the middle of nineteenth century
the printed copies of this Prakash were available to the
people. Probably this was the first book easily
obtainable by the masses. Previously only the wealthy
could attain hand-written and calligraphed copies. Bhai
Santokh Singh's primary source of information was the
Janam Sakhi of Bhai Bala. On the basis of the knowledge
he acquired from this Janam Sakhi he initiated Puranmashi
of Kartik, Sambat 1526 (about November 1469 AD) as the
date of birth of Baba Nanak. Apparently, first time in
history, this caused the celebration of the Birthday at
Nankana Sahib in 1853, in the month of Kartik2.
Subsequently this became the most revered date in the
To explore Bhai Santokh Singh's above assertion, and to
study the switch over of the date of birth from Baisakh
to Kartik, it is essential that we, briefly, refer to the
Janam Sakhis of Guru Nanak written from time to time.
Dr.Ernest Trumpp, in his translation of the Adi Granth,
has been arrogant and derogatory in his estimation of the
contents and spirit of the Gurbani. But we must give him
credit for the discovery of the most authentic and
premier Janam Sakhi of Guru Nanak Dev. In early 1872, he
came across this volume on his return to Europe. This,
hand-written manuscript, was taken to England by
H.T.Colebrook in 1815. This was, later on, handed over to
East India Company's Library in London. This is popularly
known as Wilayat Wali Janam Sakhi, and this rare find
presents the most authentic and plausible account of Guru
Nanak. The year of its writing has been deciphered as
1634. Macauliffe and a few others believe that it was
written by Bhai Sewa Dass in 1588.
Nearly at the same time (i.e., 1634) Sodhi Meharban,
"a grandson of Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru,
compiled a Janam Sakhi. In spite of Meharban's endeavour
to glorify his father, Prithi Chand, and denounce Guru
Arjan Dev, he gives the most accurate account of Guru
Nanak's life. Rather this is the only book that
elaborates Guru Nanak's stay at Kartarpur."
Nearly at the same time Bhai Gurdas wrote his first var.
It gives a brief life-sketch of Guru Nanak.
On the return of Bhai Mani Singh to Amritsar, after the
death of Guru Gobind Singh, he "was appointed the
Granthi at Hari Mandir. He expanded the first var of Bhai
Gurdas, referred to the available material, and wrote the
Janam Sakhi known as Mani Singh Wali Janam Sakhi."
Incidentally Bhai Vir Singh discovered another Janam
Sakhi in 1926 to which he designated the name Puratan
Janam Sakhi. The contents of this volume nearly
correspond with that of Wilayat Wali.
All these Janam Sakhis are synonymous on one point that
Guru Nanak was born in the month of Baisakh. Before these
Janam Sakhis became to be known Bhai Bala's Janam Sakhi,
as mentioned above, had overwhelmed the Sikh mind and
thought. People were relying on its contents with full
faith and confidence. Its authors and innovators tried to
show that it was written during the lifetime of Shri Guru
Angad Dev. But its substance does not confirm to the
teachings of Guru Nanak. Its language is far more modern
than the one prevalent at the time, it is alleged to be
written. Historically there are irrefutable flaws in its
conceptual themes and the anecdotes.
According to official records, the name Eminabad was
given to the town of Sayadpur, in the reign of Akbar. At
the time of Guru Nanak's visit, it was known as Sayedpur.
Even Emperor Babar mentioned this name in his
Tuzk-e-Babri. The Wilayat Wali text refers to the town as
Sayedpur but in Bhai Bala's version it is specified as
Eminabad. Bhai Bala's account refers to Bhai Lalo as a
`tarkhan', but at the time of Guru Nanak, people from the
clan, such as Bhai Lalo's, were known as `Bahdysut' and
that is how Bhai Lalo is referred in the Wilayat edition.
As compared with Bahdysut, comparatively, Tarkhan is a
modern term that is prevalent even today.
Bhai Bala's own name is not traceable in any other Janam
Sakhis. In Bhai Gurdas's eleventh var, the names of all
the known Sikhs up to that time have been mentioned but
there is no direct reference to the name Bala. Bhai Mani
Singh has, in his Bhagat Ratnawali, repeated nearly the
same list but Bhai Bala, who could have narrated the
Janam Sakhi as such, does not exist there either. There
are a number of other anomalies, which Dr.Kirpal Singh
has explicated in his Punjabi work `Janam Sakhi
Contemplating on all the evidence available, one becomes
sceptical to accept the authenticity of Bhai Bala's Janam
Sakhi, and doubt prevails if there had ever been any
person in the name of Bala as Guru Nanak's companion.
No doubt, the publication of Bhai Santokh Singh's Sat Gur
Suraj Prakash, popularly known as Nanak Prakash or Suraj
Prakash, had great impact on the thinking of people. Long
before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, Suraj Prakash
was the only popular medium available to the Sikhs. It
was regularly read and purported in the `Dharamsals' in
the afternoons or evenings, at the time of `Katha'. Bhai
Santokh Singh highly depended on Bhai Bala's Janam Sakhi
for his magnum opus. Bhai Bala confined to the birth of
Baba Nanak in the month of Kartik. Consequently, Bhai
Santokh Singh adhered to Kartik as Baba Nanak's natal
month. (It is worth noting that Bhai Santokh Singh
accepts the age of Guru Nanak, at the time of his death,
as 70 years, 5 months and 7 days, which when worked back
brings the date of birth to Baisakh 1526 Bk.)
There are a few other viewpoints, as well, which might
have influenced the peoples' minds to cherish the Kartik
(1) At the time, during Maharajah Ranjit Singh's reign, a
Hindu fair was held at Ram Tirath at Amritsar, in the
month of October. A large number of Sikhs attended those
fairs too. A devout and ardent Sikh, Giani Sant Singh,
resented Sikhs going astray by attending Hindu
expositions. To divert their attention he devised the
celebration of Guru Nanak's birthday near about the same
time. He wanted Sikhs to attend the fare at Darbar Sahib
(2) Near about Baisakhi there were a number of festivals,
such as Holi, Hola, Durga Ashtmi, and Ram Naomi. By the
time Baisakhi came, the number of congregationalists
dwindled and caused considerable loss in revenue.
Moreover the people were eager to return to their
hometowns for the ensuing crops cutting in the month of
(3) In October-November harvesting of autumn crops was
over. The grain had been gathered and surplus disposed
off. The peasants' pockets were full and they welcomed
this month to celebrate.
(4) Guru Nanak's birthday closely follows Diwali. Both
Hindus and Sikhs overwhelmingly gathered at Amritsar to
rejoice at the festival. It was most convenient for them
to stay there a few days more to commemorate the
birthday, as well.
(5) Weather in October is better than in Baisakh. It is
neither hot nor cold but almost ideal.
(6) Macauliffe endows this change to Bhai Harbhagat Singh
of Shahidganj, Lahore who submitted the matter to the
arbitration of chance and picked up the month of Kartik.
(7) Above all, most conceivable basis is enunciated by
Dr. H.R.Gupta, "One day after his bath (in the Bein
Naddi), Nanak lay for rest in a cave in the bank of Bein
and there he fell into a trance. It was at the dawn on
the full-moon-day in Kartik, 1496, that Nanak regained
consciousness, and with it came the enlightenment....
That was the day of Nanak's spiritual birth." To
support this analogy, Bhai Gurdas's one Kabit is quoted
which says, Kartik masi rut sarad puranmashi, ath jam
sath ghari aj teri bari hai--in the cool season, of the
month of Kartik, on this day of eight watches and sixty
gharis, it is thy turn to appear. Dr. Gupta purports this
Kabit as, "Guru Nanak had obtained omniscience at
this hour and on this day many, many years ago. O Gurdas!
It is your turn to get divine light today."
About fifteen years ago, in a private seminar in
Southall, England, Principle Satbir Singh, expounding on
this subject, said that there was indisputable case in
favour of Jesus Christ being born in the month of April.
In spite of that, the Christ's Nativity has been
celebrated, all over the world, in the month of December
for the last so many centuries. It does not matter, he
added, what day and time a prominent person's birth
anniversary is observed, it is the spirit behind the
commemoration of his deeds and accomplishments that
alleviates the moral of the people.
Dr.Gupta articulates, "From religious point of view
the date of a saint's spiritual birth is as important as
his physical birth." Dr. Gopal Singh elucidates,
"In the Sikh credo, it is not the dates of birth and
death that are of prime importance, but what they signify
and impart to the historical process."
Acquiescing to Baba Nanak's ecclesiastical enlightenment
in the month of Kartik at the Banks of Bein Naddi, the
observance of the occasion in the month of October or
November is equally justified.
*The Sikh Religion by M.A.Macauliffe.
*Janam Sakhi Parampara, Punjabi, by Dr. Kirpal Singh.
*A Short History of the Sikhs by Principal Teja Singh and
Dr. Ganda Singh.
*The Adi Granth by Dr. E. Trump
*History of the Sikhs by Dr.H.R.Gupta
*History of the Sikhs by Khazan Singh (1914)
*A History of the Sikh People by Dr. Gopal Singh
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