By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, November 10: The 550 th. anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, a 16 th.Century Indian saint who founded Sikhism, was celebrated all over the world on November 9. Today, Sikhism is the fifth largest organized religion with 30 million followers across the globe.
The anniversary was marked by the historic opening of a corridor across the India-Pakistan border to link a famous Sikh shrine in Kartarpur in Pakistan with another in Dera Baba Nanak in India.
The opening ceremonies, which were held in India and Pakistan separately, were presided over by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and his Pakistan counterpart, Imran Khan.
Heaping fulsome praise on Imran Khan, Modi said: “I thank Pakistan Prime Minister Sriman Imran Khan Niazi. He understood India’s feelings on the Kartarpur corridor issue, gave respect and, keeping in view those feelings, worked accordingly.”
Guru Nanak was a poet, a religious teacher, and a social reformer who preached that God is one, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and beyond all form and name. His thought that ‘All men are equal’ led to a social doctrine which was against discrimination based on caste, religion, race, color or financial status.
Stayed In Lanka For More Than Two Years
Guru Nanak spread his faith through incessant travels. He was not stationary, expecting devotees to come to him. He reached out to the common man in their fields and humble abodes, eschewing existing places of worship.
Apart from traversing the length and breadth of North India, the Guru, who hailed from the present-day State of Punjab, had visited South India and then crossed over to Sri Lanka also.
It is believed that he stayed in the island of “Singhla Deep” for almost two and half years as a guest of the Kotte King Dharma Parakramabhu IX and his co-regent Vijayabahu VII whose given or original name, according to Sikh chronicles, was Shivnabh or Shivnabin.
According to the renowned South Indian historian, Dr.V.Raghavan, there was at least one epigraphic evidence to show that Guru Nanak had visited Sri Lanka in the fifteenth year of the reign of Parakramabahu IX. The saint’s name is given as “Jnanakacharya”, which could well be “Nanakacharya”.
Writing in 1969, Dr.Raghavan said that although most of the names mentioned in the Sikh accounts did not find a place in actual historical records, the possibility of Guru Nanak having come to Sri Lanka could not be ruled out. Religious leaders and traders from various parts of India, including the Punjab, were visiting South India and Sri Lanka regularly at the time. And Sinhalese kings were in close touch with India, following many Indian customs and practices, and being open to Indian influences in various spheres.
The epigraphic evidence Dr.Raghavan was alluding to, was given in 1969 by Dr. Saddamangala Karunaratna, an Assistant Commissioner of Archeology in Sri Lanka. In his paper, “Guru Nanak and Ceylon” presented at the International Seminar on the Life and Teachings of Guru Nanak at the Punjabi University, Patiala held in September 1969, Dr. Karunaratna referred of an original writing on a slab numbered “M-111” which was kept in the Archeological Museum at Anuradhapura. The writing mentions Nanakacharya’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Quoting from Dr.Karunaratna’s paper in his article in sikhnet.com, Dr. Dalvinder Singh Grewal, says that the writing contains a passage in Sanskrit which is said to have been written on the orders of the Jayavardana Kotte King Dharama Prakrambahu IX. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Dharama Parkarambahu IX, Jnanakacharya, a divine person from abroad, had visited Jayavardhana Kotte.
The saint was propagating a new faith. He met the ruler and explained to him the tenets of his faith. The king is said to have promised to embrace the new faith, provided he defeated his Sangharaja, Dharamakriti-sthavira in a debate on a religious doctrine.
A public meeting was arranged in front of the palace, where a debate on Ishvara and the Soul was held between Jnankacharya and Dharamakriti-sthavira. Guru Nanak defeated the Sangharaja. After the defeat of Dharamakriti-sthavira, Jnanankacharya asked the King to keep his promise to accept the new faith. But the king said that he would be able to give a reply only after confirming the result of the debate.
Meanwhile, the powerful Brahmins in the royal court found out that the faith of Jnanakacharya emphasized monotheism and rejected idol-worship and the caste-system. The Brahmins, whose religion was wedded to the caste hierarchy, did not relish the idea of their King embracing Jnanakacharya’s new faith. They approached Dharamadhvaja-Pandita, a scholar of Sanskrit, Pali, Hinduism and Buddhism, and got him to challenge Jnanakacarya for a debate.
A public debate was again arranged. The subject was idol worship. At the end of the debate the customary voting took place. But the result was manipulated to make Dharamadhvaja-Pandita the winner. Jnanakacarya had no option to leave left Jayavardhanpura. According to Dr Karunaratna Jnanakcarya was none other than Nanakacharya or Guru Nanak.
The story about how Guru Nanak decided to come to Sri Lanka is quite interesting. Mansukh, a trader from Lahore in Punjab, who was a follower of Guru Nanak, had visited Sri Lanka earlier on trading missions. King Shivnabh was very impressed by the trader’s devotion to the Guru and was eager to pay his obeisance to the Guru himself. It was at the request of this trader, that Guru Nanak visited Sri Lanka, Dr.Grewal writes.
According to another legend, King Shivnabh used to observe fast on Ikadashi (first of each lunar month) and forced his citizens to follow the practice. Those who did not were punished. Trader Mansukh did not fast. Instead he used to sing Nanak’s hymns and distributed Prasad. The king arrested him and asked him to explain his conduct.
In his defense, the Punjabi trader said that his Guru had taught him those who ate less and worshipped God, observed lkadashi every day. Intrigued, wanted to know who the Guru was. The trader said he was Nanak from Kartarpur. The king then said, “I wish to see Guru Nanak. How can I see him?” The trader said, “You pray to the Lord, construct a place for the Guru to stay and serve visiting saints. Guru Nanak will be seen by you.” The king made a place for the Guru in a dried up garden and started serving visiting saints.
Back in Punjab, Mansukh narrated King Shivnabh’s eagerness to meet Guru Nanak. “Listen to this”, Guru Nanak told his companion Mardana: “It is important that we go there.” Mardana agreed.
According to Janamsakhi Parampra edited by Dr Kirpal Singh mention of Guru Nanak to Sri Lanka (Sangladeep) is there in all the compiled Janamsakhis.
Dr Surinder Singh Kohli, in his “Travels of Guru Nanak” (Sikh Book Club 1969)] mentions Nagapatnam (India), Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Dibar, Kurukalmadam, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Adam’s Peak, Pussalawa (Pushalpur), Ramboda, Badulla, Kotte (Colombo), Anuradhapura, Jaffapatnam, Nainativu island and Mannar as places visited by the Guru in Sri Lanka.
In Jeevan Charit Guru Nanak Dev Dr Trilochan Singh (Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Board 1972) mentions Guru Nanak’s boarding a ship from Rameshwaram for Jappapatnam (Jaffna) and visiting Seetwaka, Kurukalamadam, Nainativu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Kurukalmadam, Kalmunai, Tirukoil, Pottuvil, Panama, Katargama ( Kartik Swami temple), Manik Ganga, Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Mannar and Rameshwaram (India).
Kurukkal Madam (Abode of a Guru) in Batticaloa district in Eastern Sri Lanka is named after Guru Nanak it is believed. Writing in sikhnet.com, Dr.Grewal says that Guru Nanak along with Bhai Mardana and other Sikhs visited and stayed at this place for over three months. The people of the village told Dr. Kipral Singh of Punjabi University, Patiala, who had visited the place in September 1968, that about 450 years ago a Siddha Baba from Northern India, had visited this place. The village of Kurukkalmadam was established in memory of the Siddha Baba. He was, in all likelihood, Guru Nanak.