Guru Nanak's Natal Month

by
Pritpal Singh Bindra


Pritpal Singh Bindra

 

Pritpal Singh Bindra, Author & Columnist,
Winner: Akali Phoola Singh Book Award '98
3292 Bethune Road, Mississauga, Ontario, L5L 4R1 Canada,
Tel: 905 569 0515 Fax: 905 569 9997
 Email:bindra@rogers.com
WebPage: www.bindra.net
Published Books in English:
"Thus Sayeth Gurbani" - Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle,
Ludhiana "Chritopakhyan of Dasam Granth" -
Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh,Amritsar
"Persian Hakayaat from Dasam Granth" -
Chatar Singh Jiwan Singh Amritsar (In Print)
"Poetry of Bhai Nand Lal Goya" - Institute of Singh Studies,
Chandigarh (In Print)
"Muklawa & Other Stories" - Asia Vision, Ludhiana

 

Rai Jee,
Inspired by the article on Guru Nanak’s 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.
**************

Guru Nanak's Natal Month
Pritpal Singh Bindra
bindra@rogers.com

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 Sikh Chronology.
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 Parampara.'
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 Puranmashi:
(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 instead.
(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 Baisakh.
(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.
References:
*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

 

Any reader who writes about ten lines (150word) as a critique on this
fiction and sends it to the Author, will receive the Author's book, MUKLAWA & OTHER STORIES, containing his 20 stories free of cost. This applies to his first story published in this site as well. [bindra@rogers.com]

 

e-mail:
ilKfrI
Likhari
likhari2001@yahoo.co.uk


likhari: Punjabi Likhari Forum-2001-2003