Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the Janam-sakhi tradition.
The Puratan Janam-sakhis.
The term Puratan janam-sakhis means ancient janam-sakhis and is generally used with reference to the composite work which was compiled by Bhai Vir Singh and first published in 1926. Of the still existing copies of the Puratan Janam-sakhis the two most important were the Colebrooke and Hafizabad versions. The first of these was discovered in 1872, the manuscript had been donated to the library of the east India company by H.T. Colebrooke and is accordingly known as the Colebrooke or Vailaitwali Janamsakhi. Although there is no date on it the manuscript points to around 1635.According to the Puratan Jana-sakhi Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in the month of Vaisakh, 1469. The date is given as the third day of the light half of the month and the birth is said it have taken place during the last watch before dawn. His father Kalu, was a khatri of the Bedi sub-cast and lived in a village Rai Bhoi di talwandi, his mothers name is not given. When Guru Ji turned seven he was taken to a pundit to learn how to read. After only one day he gave up reading and when the pundit asked him why Guru Ji lapsed into silence and instructed him at length in the vanity of worldly learning and the contrasting value of the Divine Name of God. The child began to show disturbing signs of withdrawal from the world. He was sent to learn Persian at the age of nine but returned home and continued to sit in silence. Locals advised his father that Nanak should be married. This advice was taken and at the age of twelve a betrothal was arranged at the house of Mula of the Chona sub-caste. Sometime later Nanak moved to Sultanpur where his sister Nanaki was married. Here he took up employment with Daulat Khan. One day Nanak went to the river and while bathing messengers of God came and he was transported to the divine court. There he was given a cup of nectar (amrit) and with it came the command “ Nanak, this is the cup of My Name (Naam). Drink it.” This he did and was charged to go into the world and preach the divine Name.
The Miharban Janam-sakhi.


Of all the manuscripts this is probably the most neglected as it has acquired a disagreeable reputation. Sodhi Miharban who gives his name to the janam-sakhi was closely associated to the Mina sect and the Minas were very hostile towards the Gurus around the period of Guru Arjun Dev Ji. The Minas were the followers of Prithi Chand the eldest sone of Guru Ram Das Ji. Prithi Chands behaviour was evidently unsatisfactory as he was passed over in favour of his younger brother, (Guru) Arjun Dev, when his father chose a successor. The Minas were a robber tribe and in punjabi the word has come to mean someone who conceals his true evil intent. The Minas were subsequently execrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Sikhs were instructed to have no dealings with them. The sect is now extinct. It is said that it was due to this janam-sakhi and its hostility towards the Gurus that prompted Bhai Gurdas Ji’s account and the commission of the Gyan-ratanavali.

The first three sakhis recount the greatness of Raja Janak and describes an interview with God wherein Raja Janak is instructed that he is to return to the world once again to propagate His Name. Details of Guru Nanak’s birth are given in the fourth sakhi and his father was Kalu, a Bedi and his mother Mata Tripta. The account of Guru Ji learning to read from the pundit is also recounted here. After the interlude at Sultanpur Guru Nanak Dev Ji set out to Mount Sumeru. Climbing the mountain Guru Ji found all nine Siddhus seated there – Gorakhnath, Mechhendranath, Isarnath, Charapatnath, Barangnath, Ghoracholi, Balgundai, Bharathari and Gopichand. Gorakhnath asked the identity of the visitor and his disciple replied, “ This is Nanak Bedi, a pir and a bhagat who is a housholder.” What follows is a lengthy discourse with the siddhas which ends with the siddhas asking what is happening in the evil age of kaliyug. Guru Ji responds with three sloks :


There is a famine of truth, falsehood prevails, and in the darkness of kaliyug men have become ghouls ..1

The kaliyug is a knife, kings are butchers, dharama has taken wings and flown …..2

Men give as charity the money they have acquired by sinful means …….3

The Bala Janam-sakhi.
This janam-sakhi has had an immense influence over determining what is generally accepted as the authoritative account of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life. Throughout the nineteenth century the authority of the Bala version was unchallenged. An important work based on the Bahi Bala janam-sakhi is Santokh Singh’s Gur Nanak Purkash commonly known as Nanak Parkash. Its lengthy sequel, Suraj Parkash carries the acount up to the tenth Guru and contains a higher proportion of historical fact, this was completed in 1844.
In the first journey or udasi Guru Nanak Dev Ji left Sultanpur towards eastern India and included, in the following sequence :
  Panipat (Sheikh Sharaf)
Delhi (Sultan Ibrahim Lodi)
Kauru, Kamrup in Assam (Nur Shah)
Talvandi (twelve years after leaving Sultanpur)
Pak Pattan (Sheikh Ibrahim)
The Second udasi was to the south of India with companion Bhai Mardana.
Jagannath Puri
Sri Lanka
Vindhya mountains
Narabad River
The third udasi was to the north :
Mount Sumeru
The fourth udasi was to the west.
Bhai Mani Singh’s Janam-sakhi or Gyan-ratanavali.
The fourth and eveidently the latest is the Gyan-ratanavali attributed to Bhai Mani Singh who wrote it with the express intention of correcting heretical accounts of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Bhai Mani Singh was a Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. He was approached by some Sikhs with a request that he should prepare an authentic account of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life. This they assured him was essential as the Minas were circulating objectionable things in their version. Bhai Mani Singh referred them to the Var of Bhai Gurdas Ji, but this, they maintained was to brief and a longer more fuller account was needed. Bhai Mani Singh writes :
Just as swimmers fix reeds in the river so that those who do not know the way may also cross, so I shall take Bhai Gurdas’s var as my basis and in accordance with it, and with the accounts that I have heard at the court of the tenth Master, I shall relate to you whatever commentary issues from my humble mind.
At the end of the Janam-sakhi there is an epilogue in which it is stated that the completed work was taken to Guru Gobind Singh Ji for his seal of approval. Guru Sahib Ji duly signed it and commended it as a means of acquiring knowledge of Sikh belief.
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