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What happened at Kartarpur Sahib?

Guru Nanak Sahib founded a new settlement


What happened at Kartarpur Sahib?

Guru Nanak Sahib founded a new settlement

⟵ Back to articles

What happened at Kartarpur Sahib?

Guru Nanak Sahib founded a new settlement


I have a morning ritual: I drop my daughter to her school, turn on NPR (National Public Radio in America), and listen to it for about 7 minutes, return home, to make sure that my son catches his school bus. Several weeks ago, I caught the tail-end of coverage from “Kartarpur Crossing” around 8:26 am in New Jersey, USA. It was pretty good. It nuanced the politics of India and Pakistan, with Sikh affairs in the middle of it. But, like all global news coverages so far, it also missed the original impetus of Kartarpur Sahib. So, here it is!

Let’s first start with Kartarpur as presented in the Guru Granth Sahib -- the Sikh constitution, the charter or the manifesto -- which is generally only presented as scriptural canon. Guru Arjan Sahib, Nanak V, in Bilaval Rag reveals Kartarpur is all about musical-lyrical intermix to invoke happiness, uniqueness, 1-ness. Witness the interplay recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib (816) between the people and the source that exemplifies why this space was necessary in the first place:

Remembering, remembering, perfect Divine, all tasks will be completed.
Creator lives in Kartarpur (Creator-ville), amongst the Truth-Exemplars.
No obstacle persists, supplicate to the Infinite-Wisdom.
Earth-Force is the protector, the wealth of the devotees.
No deficiency ever enters at all, treasures are full.
Divine, Transcendent, Infinite’s lotus-feet (humility) lives in mind and body.
All live, earn, are comfortable; no shortage is seen-experienced.
With Truth-Exemplar’s grace, find-meet Perfect, World-Owner, Divine.
Everyone praises; beautiful, eternal, space.
Nanak: Recite Nam-Identification, the treasure of comforts,
attain perfect Infinite-Wisdom.

In Sikhi, the Guru refers to Sabad (Infinite Wisdom). The Guru is honorifically used for the ten founder Gurus who revealed that Infinite Wisdom, their jot-jugat (light-method) was same, hence considered Nanak I-X. By the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the Guru’s jot-jugat was transferred to the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth. The Guru is enthroned in Guru Granth Sahib where the Infinite Wisdom is treasured as the guiding light. The Guru is enthroned in the Guru Khalsa Panth where the Infinite Wisdom is interpreted as the sovereign practice.

Now, let’s go back to the early 1500s.

In 1515, Guru Nanak Sahib founded a new settlement on the western banks of river Ravi and named it Kartarpur. This was after the Guru’s second journey. The Guru would sit next to the river and recitation would start. People heard and came: some to see, others to learn. Puratan Janam Sakhi records (Sakhi No. 40, 140-141):

Then, in Nanak’s home, “One Nam-Identification is voiced.” Much praise started, and much repute began. Hindus, Muslims, yogis, anchorites, celibates, ascetics, Digambars (Jains), Vaishnavites, renunciates, householders, recluses, chieftains, nobles, kings, queens, courtiers, peasants, landlords, whoever came, tested [the Guru]. All people rendered praise [to the Guru].

By 1518, Kartarpur had become the center for learning the Guru’s way. It served as an exemplar of the Guru’s new lifestyle. People came to listen and learn IkOankar’s (1Force, 1-ness) paradigm, some came for a mere sight. The Guru’s presence was felt by all. Many developed a new understanding, few entered the new fold. They returned to their homes to practice the Sikhi they had learned in their daily occupations. Kartarpur was bringing new freedom to numerous lives. It was the hub of Tisar Panth’s (the third culture, the other two being Semitic and Indic) activities, a new Nam-culture was borne amidst the Hindu and the Muslim confrontation.

The Guru settled and farmed in Kartarpur. At Kartarpur’s community hall and kitchen, people from all walks of life and all corners of the continent came as seekers.

Bhai Gurdas (1551-1636), a Sikh theologian who is considered the ‘key’ to understanding Sikhi, lists the first eleven Sikhs who served Guru Nanak Sahib with their physical, intellectual, and financial endurance, as such: Taru, Mula, Pritha, Kheda, Mardana, Prithimal, Rama, Daulat Khan, Malu, Manga, and Kalu. (Var 11, Pauri 13). The list continues in next Pauri (akin to a verse in Ode) Pritha and Kheda are mentioned as the ones who “lived in effortless-joy once in Guru’s Feet-Humility sanctuary.”

Bhai Pritha and Bhai Kheda first met the Guru at Kartarpur. When they arrived, Guru Nanak Sahib was sharing wisdom-reflection with the Sangat (fellowship). They sat down and listened attentively for they had come for the Guru’s darshan (vision). When the Guru enquired their visits purpose, Bhai Mani Singh (1644-1737), a Sikh scholar and martyr who accompanied Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, in Sikhan di Bhagat Mala (p 25) elaborates:

They said: Revered, Patron of the Poor!  Give us sanctuary at Your feet-humility, and grant us this gift – we shall ask for nothing realizing the world is insubstantial.

Utterance Occurred [the Guru spoke]:  You are always in the sanctuary of my feet-humility, my body is tangible, and Sabad-Wisdom is my heart, it is an intangible form, if [you] unite with the body, then will also separate, and if [you] unite with the Sabad-Wisdom, then will not separate.

Many were coming to see the Guru. Many were testing the Guru in their own ways. A Sikh becomes the Guru. Mahakavi Santokh Singh (1787-1843), a Sikh poet who wrote magnum opus Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth in 51,820 Braj language verses, captures the gist in Sri Gur Nanak Prakash as such (p. 1122):

Here and there [the Guru] started Sikhi practice.
Then [the Guru] settled in Kartarpur.
When [the Guru] tested Sikhi of Sikhs,
Granted the throne to revered Angad. (Stanza 81, Chapter 1)
[The Guru] brought awakening in Kartarpur.
Granted greatness to revered Angad.
[The Guru] self-returned to Eternal-abode
Light-form transformed into the body [of Guru Angad]. (Stanza 6, Chapter 2)

Revered Divine [Guru] spoke, this is the way of my path:
Go and always remain in the Eternal-fellowship.
Work to distribute, then consume.
This is how to earn feet-humility Sanctuary daily.
This is how one sees the Guru!

First, the Guru freed the world during his journeys at Baghdad, Mecca, Madina and his dialogues with eighty-four assemblies of the Sidh (‘proven ones’) yogis. “The Muslims and the Hindus bowed before the Guru.” Then, the Guru started his seat of authority at Kartarpur. There, the Guru started training the congregation so their ignorance be removed via Sabad’s Infinite-Wisdom. In the Panjab, the Guru imparted the IkOankar paradigm of 1Force. And when the Guru’s sons also didn’t realize IkOankar, the authority was transferred to Bhai Lahina for he had become like IkOankar.

In Var 1, Pauri 38, Bhai Gurdas details what Guru Nanak Sahib did after reaching Kartarpur:

Then Baba came (back) to Kartarpur, removed all attires of a pilgrim.
Wore worldly clothes, alighted to sit on the throne.
Reversed Ganges’ flow: Angad was anointed as the Guru.
Sons didn’t obey the command; counterfeit minds became hostile and deserters.
[Guru’s] mouth uttered inspired-words: to bring light-wisdom to dispel darkness-ignorance.
Wisdom-discourses and discussions forever, rose tune of unstruck infinite-wisdom.
Sodaru and Arti were sung (in the evening), Japu was recited at the immortal time (early morning).
Guru-oriented (Guru Nanak Sahib) freed (people) from Atharban Veda (people started believing in Infinite Wisdom).

Kartarpur is where the Guru started the Raj (rule), a new system of governance. This is where the Guru’s policies were implemented. While the dialogue legacy continued in all domains, Kartarpur was the Guru’s domain where other political-spiritual systems weren’t the law. IkOankar paradigm was now translating into tangible governance model which addressed concerns of people, from hunger to liberation.

Guru Nanak Sahib’s succession plan was implemented while he was at Kartarpur. The culture of Nam (Identifying with the One) was established; the Panth’s sovereignty was proclaimed. It was declared to not differentiate between the bodies of the Guru for their wisdom (jot) and methodology (jugat) were the same. In Var 1, Pauri 45, Bhai Gurdas details when Guru Nanak Sahib transferred the sovereignty at Kartarpur:

After Multan journey, then [the Guru] came (back) to Kartarpur.
[Impact] increased day by day, Nanak focused on Nam-Identification in ignorance-era.
Asking for anything other than Nam is inviting the pain among pains.
Struck the coin-sovereignty in the world, Nanak started the filth-free Panth.
Anointed Lahina while [the Guru was] alive, Guruship’s canopy was waved on the head.
Combing a light with the Light, Eternal-Guru Nanak transferred his form.
Nobody comprehended [this secret], awe’s awe was shown:
[Bhai Lahina’s] body transformed into [the Guru’s] perfect-form.

Bhai Gurdas very clearly describes the only successor of Guru Nanak Sahib appointed at Kartarpur (Pauri 46, Var 1):

That mark, that canopy overhead, that eternal throne occupied.
Guru Nanak’s hand-seal is now proclaimed to be of Guru Angad.

Kartarpur is where the Panth’s vision, mission, values were institutionalized. Bhai Gurdas so emphatically records these governing mechanisms were for time immemorial (Pauri 1, Var 24):

Kartarpur as Principle-Sanctuary,
[the Guru] populated the Eternal-Realm with Sage-Companions.
Imparted the perfect infinite-wisdom of Vahiguru – Awe-Perfection!

Dr. Harbans Singh in Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith captures the Sangat formation, ‘people coming together to be moved’ as such (pp 178-79):

The fraternity coming into being at Kartarpur was marked by faith, charity, equality, affirmation, trust, mutual help and service. It was no monastic order, but a fellowship of ordinary men engaged in ordinary occupations who believed in the Guru and made his word the support of their lives. They came to Kartarpur and then returned to their homes filled with ardour and hope and devoted to the practice which they had witnessed and shared. Devotion was laicized and the rewards of the religious way were shown to be accessible equally to all. Kartarpur signified a complete rule of life based not on any elaborate code of conduct, but on living a moral ideal informed by deep faith in the God and Guru. Thus was exemplified in practice what the guru had taught through the years.

At Kartarpur, the kirtan (musical glory) of IkOankar became the lifestyle. Bhai Mardana played the Rabab; a few years later, his son Shahzada, joined too. The Guru’s love-songs from his voice of 1-ness in Rags Vadhans and Tukhari Barahmah were revealed in the vastness of Kartarpur. There were many more love-songs revealed at Kartarpur: Sidh Gosti’s collective freedom not just personal salvation, Oankar’s joy in a creator-creation relationship, Patti’s acrostics and alphabets for the people’s vocals, and Thiti’s transcending numbers and exact methods.

In the wheat farms of Kartarpur, people heard the love-songs. Prof. Puran Singh in The Book of Ten Masters (p. 43) captures it so beautifully:

In the trackless world of time … singing his Hymns of Nam, and gathering every trace of love. The Afghan and the Biloch, the Turk and the Tartar, the Sufi and the Brahman, the white and the dark races, mingled in his great heart. The disciples, both men and women came from all directions, and took part freely in the song of the Guru.

At Kartarpur, the Langar (nourishment) was availed to all. Langar of Wisdom and langar of Food; both were to free people, make them independent. At Kartarpur, langar was served to those who stayed at the headquarters. On special occasions, it was served to the entire people of Kartarpur.

At Kartarpur, the transformation en-masse started. Bura came to be known as Bhai Buddha; Lahina left Durga goddess and eventually became Guru Angad. Now, personal transformations were many.

The Guru was born in the Panjab. The Guru grew up in the Panjab. The Guru worked in the Panjab. The Guru was married in the Panjab. The Guru raised a family in the Panjab. The Guru declared IkOankar from the Panjab. The Guru returned to the Panjab. The Guru founded the new society in the Panjab. The Guru left this earth in the Panjab.

Sirdar Kapur Singh in Guru Nanak’s Life and Thought captures how the Guru presents his Panjab in Guru Granth Sahib (pp 1107-10):

One of his very last revelations is Tukhari Chant. In it, Guru recalls with a rare, chaste passion, in a diction at once sophisticated and simple, the seasonally changing face of the land where he was born, a land which, before it is seen through the eyes of the poet and the prophet Nanak, is a barren dry alluvial plain, studded with stunted monotonous shrubbery. Guru Nanak reveals the hidden beauties of this land changing face in response to the changing seasons of nature, month by month, in the literary tradition and genre of the baramaha, ‘the Twelve Months!’ In the background of these changing moods of nature in the land of his birth and childhood, Guru speaks of his passionate love of God, the restlessness of the soul, in search of its true nature and its yearning for unison with its original source and ultimate base, the abiding significance of human life and actions on this earth and now this life and human actions may be coordinated to the totality of these forces, as sustain the universe. He speaks of the totality of these forces, as a Person (Purakh), and how the varying moods of nature provide an aid to the endeavors the individual soul of union with this Person. (p. 18)

Nanakshahi 551 year is around the corner, it starts on March 14. Nanakshahi 550 is marking the advent of Guru Nanak Sahib which traditionally is celebrated in Kattak (Oct-Nov) though some historically place it in Vaisakh (mid-April). The real question is this: Are you ready to proclaim Guru Nanak Sahib as your Ruler? Do you to feel the arrival of spring in Cet on March 14 as the Sikh New Year? Here’s how the Guru sings and shares (Guru Granth Sahib 1107):

Cet and spring are glorious,
the bumble-bees look beautiful
Vegetation is blooming in the fields;
is my Beloved coming home?
How can the being have comfort if the Beloved doesn’t come,
body breaks in separation-strife?
Kokil (nightingale) sings on the mango tree, beautiful!
How can [the separated] one bear pain inside?
The bumble-bee hovers over the flowering branches;
how can I live, I’m dying, O’ Mother!
Nanak: comfort comes naturally in Cet,
if the being finds the 1-Beloved in house.

In 1539, at Kartarpur in Panjab, South Asia, Guru Nanak Sahib left this Earth. He anointed Guru Angad Sahib to continue the development of new Nam Culture. When the Sabad enters the consciousness, the Guru reflects: “Nanak, the Self uttered the words; doubts departs for the one who receives the gift.” And the Guru continues in next Pauri to unveil in Rag Majh in Guru Granth Sahib (150):

I, the bard, was jobless; [the One] gave me a job.
Night and day sing Var-Ode, the Origin commanded.
I, the bard, was called to Eternal Mansion by the Owner.
Eternal Praise Glory, dressed clothes (trained).
Eternal Immortal Nam, is to be the food-sustenance.
Eat-experience fully with Perfection’s wisdom, attain comfort.
Bard expands-progresses, playing the Sabad-wisdom.
Nanak: by Eternal Praise, Perfect is found.

Kartarpur signified a complete Raj-Jog (Rule-Connection) based on love, living ideals informed by a deep faith in IkOankar. It was exemplified in behavior what the Guru taught.

Kartarpur forever became Kartarpur Sahib, not just in Sikh or Panjabi psyche, but on the global map.

Today, Kartarpur Sahib can’t be understood through the Panjab-India-Pakistan political games. Be it a captain of cricket or army, or now in the prime or ministerial positions invoking the corridor. Their gestures are welcomed, their reverence will only come when Kartarpur Sahib is not reduced to a footnote. Do even Sikhs realize Kartarpur Sahib was the initial Sikh control and command center, and how its endurance scored five and half centuries of reverence?

Only the Truth-exemplars can do justice to Kartarpur Sahib. Let’s unveil Creator-ville!


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Written By

Senior Fellow, Research & Policy

Harinder Singh is the Senior Fellow at the Sikh Research Institute. He holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from Wichita State University, an MS in Engineering Management from the University of Kansas, and an MPhil from Punjab University in the linguistics of the Guru Granth Sahib. 

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