Bhai Nand Lal

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A portrait of Bhai Nand Lal

Bhai Nand Lal (c. 1633-1713), was a poet famous in the Sikh tradition and favourite disciple of Guru Gobind Singh. His poetry, all in Persian except for Joti Bikas, which is in Punjabi, forms part of the approved Sikh canon and can be recited along with scriptural verse at Sikh religious divans. Nand Lal adopted the pen-name of "Goya," though at places he has also subscribed himself as "Lal," the word being the last part of his name. He was a scholar, learned in the traditional disciplines of the time, and his image in Sikh history is that of a man who loved and venerated Guru Gobind Singh and has been in turn loved and venerated by generations of Sikhs.

It is thought that he was born in a town called Ghazni in Afghanistan and was 33 years older than Guru Gobind Singh. By caste he was a Khatri, a class distinguished in Mughal times, like the Kayasthas, for its proficiency in learning and using Persian, which at that time was the language of official business. His father, Munshi Chhajju Mall, an official in the secretariat of Shah Jahan's eldest son Prince Dara Shikoh, accompanied the Prince on an expedition to Ghazni in 1639 and was assigned to an army unit stationed there at the end of the operation. He summoned his family from India to join him in Ghazni where Nand Lal spent his childhood and early youth.

After his father's death in 1652, Nand Lal was offered a minor post in Ghazni, but he decided to return to India. He returned to Multan, his ancestral family seat, and settled in an area of the town known as Agha Mohalla where Hindu families who had served in the Mughal government were housed. Agha was an honorific title for Hindus who had acquired the trappings of the ruling Muslim culture.

Wasaf Khan, the Subadar of Multan, who had known Nand Lal's father well, offered the talented youth the post of munshi (secretary). Soon by dint of his ability and hard work, Nand Lal rose to be the Mir Munshi (principal secretary). He was also posted to administrative appointments and is stated to have become deputy governor of the province. Nand Lal continued in the service of the Mughal State, securing eventually an appointment on the personal staff of Prince Mu'azzam, Aurangzeb's eldest son.

When he left the service of Prince Mu'azzam, cannot be determined exactly. The premise that he was dismissed by Aurangzeb owing to his father Chhajju Mall's having been a favourite of Dara has been proven false by the fact that he continued long in service under Prince Mu'azzam. There is a story that Aurangzeb had been dissatisfied with the meaning or interpretation of a verse from the Koran and had given the matter over to the Ulama. No one was able to settle the Emperor's mind on the subject when Prince Mu'azzam asked Nand Lal to take a try at giving an interpretation that might satisfy Aurangzeb. Nand Lal's version was sent to the Emperor who was, it is said, delighted with his interpretation, but when he noticed the name was a Hindu name, Aurangzeb is said to have become upset that an non-believer should have a better mastery of the Koran than his own court theologians. However, he was given a robe of honor and a monetary reward, but the Emperor is said to have thought that such a scholar should be persuaded to accept Islam. As a member of the court he was never forced to convert, but when the Prince was arrested, Nand Lal lost his position at court and his immunity from the Emperor's wishes.

Some doubt the story that he stood in fear of being forcibly converted to Islam as a number of non-Muslims continued to serve under Aurangzeb and forcible conversion did not affect the court or the official class. Aurangzeb in any case left Delhi in 1680 to campaign in the Deccan, never to return to the capital.

Nand Lal was married to a Sikh woman whose family was from the area around Multan so they moved away from Delhi and any possibility of conversion. She daily recited Gurbani and knew Gurmukhi. A very religious man himself, he like Guru Angad was caught by the beautiful prose. Soon he learned to read and write in Gurmukhi and was reciting Gurbani himself. Longing, as Lehna had so many years before, to meet the Guru, it wasn't long till his mystical cast of mind led him to Anandpur where Guru Gobind Singh was inculcating faith in One Supreme God, called by him Akal Purakh.

The Guru was engaged in arousing the downtrodden Hindus to seek a life of self-respect and dignity. As a protector of dharma, Guru Gobind Singh was known far and wide, being the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, who had become a martyr to freedom of conscience when Aurangzeb's persecution of non-Muslims was at its height. According to Guru kian Sakhian, Nand Lal arrived in Anandpur on the Baisakhi day of 1739 Bk/29 March 1682 and received Guru Gobind Singh's blessing. He spent his days with the Guru in mystical contemplation and composing poetry in which his spiritual experience is the preeminent element. He is said to have kept a good langar or free kitchen at Anandpur which was commended by the Guru as a model for others to follow.

His poetry in Persian, of this period, has passed into the Sikh religious tradition and is held in great reverence. Besides Nand Lal, a number of other poets kept Guru Gobind Singh company. These others wrote mostly in Braj Hindi, which was acquiring the status of a classical medium. Nand Lal appears to have been Guru Gobind Singh's sole Persian poet.

Nand Lal's name as the favourite disciple of Guru Gobind Singh has passed into the Sikh tradition and his devotion is commended as an ideal to be followed. A Rahitnama (code of conduct) for Sikhs is ascribed to him, besides another called Tankhahnama, or a manual of penalties for infringement of the religious discipline. Doubt has been expressed as to whether these two are of Nand Lal's composition. Both are in the usual contemporary Braj idiom in Sikh religious literature. In each Nand Lal is represented as being the seeker eliciting information from the Guru as to the right doctrine and the right conduct for a Sikh.

The Rahitnama, as the text shows, was composed in Samvat 1752 Bk corresponding to 1695 of the current era, while the Tankhahnama was composed after the formation of the Khalsa Panth. Therein occur some of the famous affirmations attributed to Guru Gobind Singh, as to one Sikh hero combating one and a quarter lakhs and the hope that the Khalsa shall one day hold sway.

Not much in detail is known about Bhai Nand Lal's life with the Guru at Anandpur. After the Guru evacuated Anandpur in the winter of 1705 and the Battle at the Sarsa, Bhai Nand Lal went to his home at Multan, but soon he joined Bhai Mani Singh and the women of the Guru's household, the Guru's wife Mata Sundri along with the mother of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Devi, who, Bhai Mani Singh had taken to the safety of Delhi which was beyond Panipat - the limit of Wasir Khan's reach. It is said that Nand Lal's contacts with the more liberal-minded members of the Mughal Court were helpful in providing for their safety.

Later he returned to Multan where he occupied himself with preaching the Guru's word and teaching Arabic and Persian. For the latter purpose he opened a regular school which was in existence until the occupation of the Punjab by the British in 1849. Among his writings may be mentioned:

  • Gazliyat arthath diwan-e-goya
  • Zindagi nama
  • Tauseef-e-Sanaf
  • Ganj Nama
  • Dastoor-ul-insha
  • Arzul alfaaz
  • Khatimaat
  • Jot Bigaas
  • Rahit Nama
  • Tankhah nama
  • Rubdiydt


Nand Lal died in Multan in AD 1713.


His Work

Zindginama:

The author called it Bandginama (Book of Prayer) and composed it in Persian. Guru Gobind Singh Sahib changed its title to Zindginama (Book of Life). Its theme is the ‘love of God and devotion to Guru;’ God is described as Creator of Universe and as One who has imparted life to all creatures. It contains 510 verses and is believed to be his first piece of work, which he wrote after he shifted to Anandpur to join Guru Sahib Ji. At places the verses echo those in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Sample of text:
Hiding you are (like) the sun, behind the clouds,
Come, from behind the clouds, and reveal your moon-like semblance.(5)
This, body of yours, epitomises clouds, behind which the sun is hiding.
Retain the remembrance of the Almighty, this only is the purport of the life.(6)
(Translation by Sardar Pritpal Singh Bindra)

Divan-e-Goya:

It is a collection of 63 ghazals. This work contains his personal spiritual experience and in many ways explains the spirit of Gurbani. Some scholars have translated this particular work in Punjabi.

Tausif-o-Sana:

It is in prose, but contains a few verses at the end. It is in praise of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib. This work is full of Arabic and difficult Persian words.

Ganjnama:

(Treasure book) It renders homage to Gurus whom the poet recalls in his deep personal devotion and veneration. It is both in prose and in poetry. The poet calls Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the supreme dervish and all his successors being One with him in spirit, embodying the same message. The book concludes with his humble supplication to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib that his life may be dedicated to Guru and that he may forever remain attached to his feet.
Sample of Text:
Guru Nanak, the perfect mentor, is the sustainer of the earth and inhabitant of all hearts.
He is kind and potent, and redeemer of sinners
My mind and being, at down and dusk,
My head and forehead, in all reverence,(1)
(Translation by Sardar Pritpal Singh Bindra)

Jot Bikas (Punjabi):

It contains 43 couplets. It is mainly devoted to the explanation of Guru Arjan Sahib’s Jaitsri ki Vaar, with special reference to Ten Gurus being of One spirit, on life. This is often deemed as an exposition of the Persian works in Punjabi but that is not the case, this is an entirely independent piece of work.
Sample of text:
From his resplendence, the world has attained beauty, handsomeness and prominence,
And its inhabitants have gained the benefits.(71)
In his hands, two pearls sparkle like the sun;
One represents the kindness and the other is the sign of affliction.(72)
(Translation by Sardar Pritpal Singh Bindra)

Jot Bikas (Persian):

It contains 175 couplets and is a laudation of Ten Gurus and their spirit being One. This composition is in deep reverence of Gurus and depicts how the spirit of Guru Nanak Dev Ji passed on to his successors. He calls Guru Gobind Singh Sahib a "complete man."
Sample of Text:
Nanak passed on the Guruship to Angad,
Then Amar Das served Hari, the Almighty.(27)
Then Ram Das to Arjun,
And then Hargobind worshipped the Almighty.(28)
So the Almighty blessed Har Rai,
Who made Har Krishna, infinite and inaccessible.(29)
Then Tegh Bahadur who was the epitome of veracity was blessed.
As was Guru Gobind Singh, the embodiment of Hari.(30)
All are one and one into all,
And there exists no distinction among them
(Translation by Sardar Pritpal Singh Bindra)

Rahit Nama:

It is in the traditional form of poetry where the composition is in the form of a dialogue between a guru and his disciple. Here it is in the form of a dialogue between Bhai Nand Lal Goya and Guru Gobind Singh Ji during which Guru Gobind Singh Ji expounds the rules of conduct laid down for a Gursikh. This discourse took place at Anandpur on 5 December 1695, i.e. before the creation of the Khalsa and is written in Punjabi.

Tankhah Nama:

'Tankhah,' a Persian word, means salary, reward or profit, and 'Nama,' also Persian, denotes an epistle or a code. It was composed in Punjabi after the creation of Khalsa. In Sikh usage, however, Tankhah stands more for a religious penal code. Any Sikh, who received Pahul (nectar of the double-edged sword) for initiation into the fold of the brotherhood of Khalsa, if s/he commits a breach of Rahit and is found guilty of Kurahit (misconduct) is subject to be fined and is called a Tankhahi. This concept of Tankhah is based on the concept of forgiveness. Once a Sikh admits and seeks forgiveness for his mistake in front of Panj Piare he is 'rewarded' with a particular seva. After the seva as decided by Panj Piare has been performed, that Sikh is once again considered a member of Khalsa Brotherhood. The last verse of Tankhahnama, which the Sikhs usually recite in unison after Ardas, contains the well-familiar verse, Raj karega khalsa ...
Sample of Text
One should comb the hair and put around the turban twice a day,
Should clean the teeth and, Lal Jee, this way one will never suffer.
(Translation by Sardar Pritpal Singh Bindra)

Dastur-ul-Insha:

It is a collection of letters in Persian prose written to his relatives and friends. These serve as a model for letter writing and contain invaluable historical information regarding the political, social and economic conditions of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib's time.

Arz-ul-Alfaz:

It is in Persian and contains the praise of Almighty along with Gurus. In this composition Bhai Nand Lal also gives his interpretation of Sikh concepts. Alexandar Von Humbolt who has translated some of Bhai Nandlal Goya's work in "The Pilgrims Way" has this to say about him: "Goya was among the masters who could put in verse what he felt deep within, and like the entirety of his self laid at the sacred feet of the great Guru, the Beloved. And no doubt, those who surrender the self, master the world." The common theme in his verses is presented in the below mentioned poem:


Give me my beloved, the Cup of life, in which I may colour my heart,
and my eyes become clear for solving the riddle of riddles.
On my way to the beloved every footstep jingles with happiness,
the bells calling for the night’s halt have no meaning, nor the temptation of the Resting-place.
God is present.
Look! Here is Holy Light! Neither the whirlpool bars the lover's way or the torrent, or the shore.
Why, O heart, are you vainly wandering round the desert and the wood,
the queen of beauty resides in your own eyes.
Wherever I look, I find nothing else but Holy Presence.
Then, O Goya, where can I go, if I leave the world and its trappings?

See also

References

  • 1. Ganda Singh, ed., Bhai Nand Lal Grant`havali. Malacca (Malaya), 1968
  • 2. Santokh Singh, Bhai, Sn Gur Pratap Sura] Granth. Amritsar, 1927-35
  • 3. Padam, Piara Singh, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji de Darban Ratan. Patiala, 1976
  • 4. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1909
  • 5. Harbans Singh, Guru, Gobind Singh. Chandigarh. 1966

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