Guru Nanak in Azerbaijan

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Gurmukhi Inscription at Ateshgah at baku

In early history, Azerbaijan was called the “land of the sacred fire”. Although the “everlasting fire” mentioned by early travelers such as Alexandre Dumas was due to the gas and oil deposits erupting from the earth, the fire became surrounded by legend and mystery.

Some 2,600 years ago, Zarathustra was formulating Zoroastrianism, one of the first major monotheistic religions. His idea to use fire as a metaphor for the mysteries of God probably came from witnessing the spontaneous flames that rise so eerily from Azerbaijan's Absheron Peninsula, some of which still burn today. The most notable is Yanar Dagh near Mammedli, where a small hillside is constantly and naturally aflame.

On Absheron there were many temples of Fire as well. From their variety the most famous is the well-preserved temple Ateshgah ("the Fire Place") in Surakhany, located 20 kilometers east of the town center. The temple was built over a pocket of natural gas that fuelled a vent providing an 'eternal' fire. The use of such natural flames led to Zoroastrian temples being referred to as Fire Temples.

The Fire Temple Ateshgah

Historians, archaeologists, and theologians have argued over the construction date of the temple. Some defend that there was a Zoroastrian temple in Surakhany since the 6th century, others delay that event for another seven centuries. As the introduction of Islam to the region to the area resulted in the destruction of almost every Zoroastrian temple and documents, this claims are hard to assess.

After Azerbaijan was Islamised some Zoroastrians escaped to India. But trade links with India in later centuries, led to renewed contacts with the fire-worshippers, who had migrated from to Northern India. During 17th and 18th Century, the site was rebuilt by Indian merchants and masons, who had established in Baku their settlement. More photogenic is a fortified 18th century stone fire temple built on the site of original at Surakhany Ateshgah.

This fire temple, with a mixture of Indian and Azerbaijani architectural styles, is a surviving proof of age old relationship between the two countries. The pentagon shaped building is surrounded by a wall with a guest room over the gate ('balakhane'). There are still some wall inscriptions in Sanskrit and Gurumukhi, including poems. Cells for pilgrims line the wall inside and surround the the main altar in the center of the temple - a quadrangular pavilion with the fire on the altar inside.

Surakhany remained a popular destination for Indian pilgrims until the end of XIX century. The natural gas vent has been exhausted and in 1880 the last pilgrim returned to India.

The temple was last restored in 1975. Today the low, dark cells for monks and pilgrims in the Ateshgah Temple at Surakhany, house an interesting museum that is used to introduce the rudiments of Zoroastrianism to the uninitiated.

Baku

The Ateshgah monument, also called the fire worshippers' temple, traces its origins to Zoroastrianism, which took root in ancient Azerbaijan. "It is Azerbaijan which is the mother of Zoroastrianism. This was the base from where this religion spread overseas," an Azeri diplomat said.

The temple complex has evolved over several centuries. Its outer rectangular parameters house a row of rooms, added in several phases. Between the late 17th and mid-19th century, Indian traders funded the establishment of a guest room, stables and prayer rooms.

Apart from Sanskrit, inscriptions in Hindi and Gurmukhi can also be found along the monument's outer periphery. One of them refers to the site as Sri Jwalaji (temple of fire). Another seeks divine blessings from Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith.

Commencing verse Of Ad Granth

Inscription above main entrance

Browsing through the Internet for some information about the travels of Guru Nanak in the Middle East, I came across an article originally written by Ervad Shams-Ul-Ulama Dr Sir Jivanji Jamshedji Modi [5]. While reading through his travel in Azerbaijan I found an inscription in Gurmukhi script. Nothing has been written by Dr Modi about this inscription , he only refers to it as ‘Yet another inscription’. Besides this there is another inscription in Devnagri script that simply refers to as ‘Another inscription’. The locations of both the inscriptions have not been disclosed. However, it is believed that these inscriptions are somewhere in that temple he calls Atash-Kadeh, which is situated in Baku, Azerbaijan.

History of Atash Kadeh

According to Dr Modi the Atash Kadeh was in a place called Surkhani on the road from Baku about 30 to 45 minutes by car. The origin of this word, Surkhani, may have come from “SHO-E-LE-KHANEH” meaning the house (“KHANEH”) of the fire balls (“SHO-E-LE”). Among the ocean of these petroleum wells is situated this alleged Atash Kadeh. Not just him but any Parsee who is a little familiar with Hindu religion, their temples and their customs, after examining this building with its inscriptions, architecture, etc., would conclude that this is not a Parsee Atash Kadeh but is a Hindu Temple, whose Brahmins (priests) used to worship fire (Sanskrit: Agni).

According to Dr Modi this temple might have been built by the Hindu traders visiting Baku. But he has also mentioned that he has examined the small living rooms (cells), adjacent to the main square of this building, which resembled the Indian Buddhist monasteries cells for their monks. I think, however, it could also be possible that this building was originally built by Buddhists during the time when Buddhism was all over India, Iran and adjoining areas up to Baku, Azerbaijan. Later this place was taken over by Hindus from India during the fall of Buddhism. It is also possible that Guru Nanak during his long stay of 11 years in Middle East might have stayed at this place also to preach in the Central Asia.

Links to the Hindu faith

Entrance Fig 3

According to Dr Modi the inscription on the main entrance is in Nagrik (Devnagri) script, which in the beginning invokes the Hindu God, Shree Ganesha. The building is referred to in the inscription as “JWAALAAJEE” (meaning volcanic), that means some burning substance building. And the installation date is mentioned as the Hindu Vikramaajeet calendar year 1866 (equivalent to 1810 CE). This inscription contains nine lines and the figures drawn in this inscription are as follows: the first row has a flower first, then a bell (“GHANT”), then the sun, then a fire ball, and again a fruit. The second row below this has a flower first, then the trident of Lord Shiva (“TRISHOOL”), then the Swastika symbol (Hindu style), then a second trident and then a flower.

If we compare another picture of the main entrance of Baku Temple, we don’t find the inscription shown. We also do not find two parallel ridges between which this plaque of inscription is fixed. It shows that there are two main entrances. Moreover, the wall of the entrance in Fig. 3 is full of black smudges of weathering agencies and has another storey added at the top at the later date. But the wall of entrance in Fig 2 is less smudged and the plaque is free from any such smudges.

It looks like that date, 1810 CE, on plaque on the entrance in Fig 2 does not indicate the date of construction of the Temple since the entrance in Fig. 3 looks much older than 810 CE when the inscription in Devnagri was inscribed as shown on the entrance in Fig. 2. Moreover, it appears to be newer than the background wall of the entrance. It also appears that the inscription on the entrance is much newer than that of the Commencing Verse as shown in Fig. 1.

Azerbaijan's historical ties with India

On the other hand Atul Aneja writes that: “The temple of Ateshgah, 15 km from the Azeri capital, is among the several reminders of India's close ties with the region straddling the Caspian Sea. An inscription in Sanskrit above the narrow arched entrance to this monument is the first striking assertion of Azerbaijan's historical ties with India.”

The Ateshgah monument, also called the fire worshippers' temple, traces its origins to Zoroastrianism, which took root in ancient Azerbaijan. "It is Azerbaijan which is the mother of Zoroastrianism. This was the base from where this religion spread overseas", an Azeri diplomat said.

Atul Aneja further said that the temple complex has evolved over several centuries. Its outer rectangular parameters house a row of rooms, added in several phases. Between the late 17th and mid-19th century, Indian traders funded the establishment of a guest room, stables and prayer rooms.

Apart from Sanskrit, inscriptions in Hindi and Gurmukhi can also be found along the monument's outer periphery. One of them refers to the site as Sri Jwalaji (temple of fire). Another seeks divine blessings from Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. It appears that what Dr Modi calls ‘Atash Kadeh’ is the same as ‘Ateshgah’ of Atul Aneja since both are talking about same Sanskrit writing on the entrance and also other inscriptions in Hindi (Devnagri) and Gurmukhi found along the monument's outer periphery. The Inscription in Gurmukhi in Fig. 1 given by Dr Modi seems to be the same which Atul Aneja is talking about as “Another seeks divine blessings from Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith.”

Sikh inscriptions

In the temple were found two inscriptions made ​​by adherents of the Sikh religion. Both inscriptions are made in Punjabi Gurmuki letter, composed of seven lines. The rows are separated by horizontal lines. The inscriptions contain the introductory formula of Japji sahib, the Sikh daily prayers[1], [2]

First inscription

Transliteration:

l. Om. Satinĝma karatĝpurukhu nirabhĝ

2. ii niravaira [a-] Kalamurati ajuni

3. saibham gurap [r] asadi || Vahuguruji sahai

4. baba [Та] gadasa Bamgevale ka chela Mela

5. rama jisaka chela [karatarama] udasi ||

6. [Sa]va [laji] dharatna [ki] jaga banĝi gayi

7. dha „ guru „ vara „ buja„


Translation:

1. Om. There is Only One God

2-3. Truth is His Name He is the Creator, Protector, Without Fear, No Enmity, The First Entity, Without Incarnations, Self-perpetuating; With the Guru’s grace:

4. There was Baba (Ta) Gadasa, Bamge resident, whose pupil was Melarama,

5. whose pupil was Karatarama Udasi.

6. This sacred place called Javalaji

7. was built...


Second inscription

Second inscription from Baku Ateshgah

Transliteration:

1. Om safinama karatapurakha nlrabhaii

2. niravai fra] akalamurati ajuni saibham

3. guraprasadi || japn adi [sa] chu jugadisa—

4. chu hai bhi sachu nanaka hosi bhi sachu || satiguru [pra?]—

5. sadi bava Jadusahs [sukha] jisaka chela

6. bava Kagusa (a) ha ji [sa*] ka chelaba (a) va Bamkesaha jiska chle]—

7.  !a „ rasaha dharama ki jagaha bana (a) i


Translation:

1. Om. There is Only One God

2-3. Truth is His Name He is the Creator, Protector, Without Fear, No Enmity, The First Entity, Without Incarnations, Self-perpetuating; With the Guru’s grace:

4. O Nanak! Think about (this) forever infinite reality (which) is true (and) will always be true!

So be merciful Guru is merciful!

5-6. (A) Bava Jadusaha, whose pupil was bava Bamkesaha,

7. whose pupil was ... rasaha built this sacred place.

The names of the persons mentioned in the inscriptions do not end with -"Singh", as usual Sikhi names. Probably, these persons were monnas, who adhered to the Sikh religion, but do not comply with external rituals prescribed by Sikhism.


--Farroukh 03:00, 9 April 2012 (CDT)

Gurbani text

The inscription as it appears in Fig. 1 is rewritten line by line exactly the same way as follows:

ੴ  ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮ੝ ਕਰਤਾ ਪ੝ਰਖ੝ ਨਿਰਭਉ  
ਨਿਰਵੈਰ੝ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਆਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ  
੝ 
ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ ਜਪ੝ ਅਦਿਸਚ੝ਜ੝ਗਦਿ ਸ- 
ਚ੝ ਹੈ ਭੀ ਸਚ੝ ਨਾਨਕ ਹੋਸੀ ਭੀ ਸਚ੝ ॥ ਸਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰ- 
ਸਾਦਿ ॥ ਬਾਝਾ ਜਾਟੂਸਾਰਕ੝  ਥਾ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਚੇਲਾ 
…  ਤਾਰੂ। ਸਹਬਿ ਕਾ ਚੇਲਾ …ਵਾਬ ਕੇ ਸਾਹ ਜਿਸ ਕਾ ਚੇ- 
ਲਾ ੳਹੋਸਾਹ ਧਰਮ ਕੀ ਜਗਹ ਬਨਈ 


There are seven (7) lines in total. The first three lines up to gur pRswid (Gur Parsad) are representing exactly the same ‘Commencing Verse’ as is found in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) [1]. The Aad Guru Granth Sahib is commonly written as ‘Adi Granth’ in Sikh literature, and the ’Commencing Verse’ is commonly called as ‘Mool Mantra’.

The last part of third line starting with word jpu (JAP) is the title of the next Bani (verse) of Guru Nanak. It is followed by a Sloka and ends at scu (sach) in the fourth line as follows:

 ੝ ਸਚ੝ਜ੝ਗਦਿ ਸ- ਜਪ੝ ਅਦਿਪਲੲ. 
 ਚ੝ ਹੈ ਭੀ ਸਚ੝ ਨਾਨਕ ਹੋਸੀ ਭੀ ਸਚ੝

The fourth line ends with siq gur (Sat Gur) and the pRswid (parsad) is its part which flows over to the next (fifth) line.

The use of phrase, siq gur pRswid, means that a new subject starts from here onward. But this phrase is not complete unless a logo, < , is used in the beginning. Its complete form, which has been extensively used in the AGGS, is as follows:

 ੴ  ਸਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥

If we compare the first four lines of the inscription with that found in the AGGS, there is hardly any difference except that:

ਅਜੂਨੀ is written as ਆਜੂਨੀ (Kanna has been added),   
ਆਦਿ is written as  ਅਦਿ (without kanna). and  
ੴ  ਸਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥  is  written as  ਸਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥  (without ੴ  ). 

The use of siq gur pRswid (Sat Gur Parsad) means a new subject starts from here onward on the fifth, sixth, and seventh lines. Unfortunately all these lines are very badly damaged and cannot be deciphered easily. I hope these lines contain some information about this inscription. until the last three lines are deciphered and interpreted, nothing definite can be said about the theme of the last section which starts with ਸਤਿ ਗ੝ਰ ਪ੝ਰਸਾਦਿ.

ਟਹ ਟਹ
Last Section of Inscription (5 -7  line)

A wild guess from the words deciphered so far indicates that the words ijs kw cylw (the disciple of whom) have been used at least two times. Then at the end there is Drm kI jgh bneI {place of dharam (Religion) is built). Just possible there may be two disciples or only one disciple, who is indicating that this religious place was built for preaching Sikhi (Sikhism) .

However, it is quite apparent that it is quite old inscription, may be of the time when Guru Nanak was in Middle East from 511 to 1521 CE, specially when he was around Baghdad and Tehran that he might have visited this place where from he preached his philosophy and later some of his ਚੇਲਾ (disciple/Sikh) got inscribed the ‘Commencing Verse’ or the Mool Mantra [4]. However, it is obvious that this ਚੇਲਾ (disciple) has left his message but it is damaged so much that no clear cut information is obtained.

The ‘Commencing Verse’ (Mool Mantra), which is followed by next Bani jpu (JAP) and a Sloka, in the present Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) printed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar are as follows [1]:

1 < 2 siq nwmu krqw purKu inrBau inrvYru Akwl mUriq AjUnI sYBM 3

] 

gur pRswid ]jpu] 1 uuu2 3 4 5 scu jugwid scu ] hY BI scu nwnk hosI BI scu ] 1 ] Awid

It has been interpreted by Chahal [3] as follows: 1

The One and Only, Oh, the Infinite Exists; Creator; Without fear (Not governed by any other – Not under any Law of Universe); Without enmity; Timeless (Without effect of time and space); Neither takes birth nor dies; (Never comes into any anthropomorphic form) 2

Created by Itself 3 . Enlightener; and Bounteous

The above scientific and logical analysis of the ‘Commencing Verse’ of the AGGS clearly indicates that it is not a mantra or Mool Mantra in any respect but a precise and concise definition of the Transcendent (Abstruse / Abstract) Entity. Although the God of Guru Nanak is Transcendent still It exists (sat/sach) hence the word 'Entity' has been used. Again It is a unique Entity and there is no other like It, therefore, It is designated as '1' (One and Only). Since there is no descriptive name for the God of Guru Nanak, therefore, It is addressed as 'It'.

According to Dr Sahib Singh and Bhai Kahn Singh a phrase (Isht) in which the poets often have full confidence or faith is called Manglacharan in Punjabi. In other words it means a definition in English. Therefore, if the ‘Commencing Verse’ is to be identified for any purpose, it could be called Manglacharan, or it may be called simply the ‘Commencing Verse’ of the AGGS. But it is definitely not a ‘Mool Mantra’ because there is no place of any type of Mantra in the Gurbani.

Then a new Bani starts with the following heading:

] jpu ] (JAP)

Thereafter, a Sloka is given before the start of the next Bani as follows: 1 uuu2 3 scu jugwid scu ] Awid 4 5

BI scu nwnk hosI BI  scu ] 1 ] 

hY

In this stanza the God has not been addressed with any specific name, like Ram Allah, Gosain, Gobind, Bhagwant, etc. This is based on the same philosophy of Guru Nanak that there is no descriptive or specific name for the God.

It is important to understand the meanings of scu (sach). scu (sach) and siq (sat) are commonly used in the Gurbani and both means 'true’ or ‘truth' and/or 'exist’ or ‘existence' depending on the context these words have been used. Here the word 'sach' means 'exists'. Dr Sahib Singh [8] and Giani Harbans Singh [6] also interpreted 'sach' as 'exists'. This ‘sach’ represents that Entity, which has no descriptive/specific name, but exists. Therefore, it is interpreted as follows [3]: 2

before the beginning of the time and 

Was in existence 1

space 3

Is in existence in the

Was in existence in the past 4

present 5 (in the future)." Will remain in existence forever

Conclusions

  • The ‘Commencing Verse’ (Mool Mantra) and heading of the next Bani, jpu (JAP) followed by a Sloka can easily be deciphered.
  • This portion of the inscription is very similar to that found in the AGGS with very minor differences in the spelling and missing of < in the fourth line.
  • This portion has been fully interpreted in English in the text.
  • The second part of inscription starting from fifth line to the end of seventh line is damaged very much and is not easy to decipher.
  • It is a mere guess work from a few words which are easily deciphered that some disciple or disciples have built this religious place. In this portion of inscription neither the name(s) of the disciple(s) nor the inscribing date are available.
  • The dates of this inscription may be quite earlier th century rather than that of 19th century around 16 as indicated by Modi [5] found in the inscription on th century is the the main entrance (Fig.2). The 16 time when Guru Nanak was in the Middle East around 1511-1521 CE [4].
  • Only complete deciphering of the last three lines can reveal the real message of that cylw (disciple/Sikh) who got the ‘Commencing Verse’ inscribed.

External links

References

  1. ^ В. С. Воробьёв-Деѝѝтовѝкий. Заметка по индийѝкой ѝпиграфике, Эпиграфика Воѝтока, IX, 1954 г.
  2. ^ С. Ншурбейли. Об иѝтории ѝураханѝкого храма огнепоклонников.
  • Baku
  • Prof Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD, Institute for Understanding Sikhism
    • AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint). Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Nanak, p = Page of the AGGS. M is replaced with the name of Bhagat or Bhatt with their Bani.)
    • Aneja, Atul, 2007. India, Azerbaijan rediscover ancient bonds. http://www.hindu.com/2007/04/13/stories/2007041318011600.htm
    • Chahal, D. S. 2003. Jap: The Essence of Nanakian Philosophy. Institute for Understanding Sikhism, 4418 Martin-Plouffe, Laval, Quebec, H7W 5L9, and Singh Brothers, S.C.O. 223-24 City Centre, Amritsar – 143 006.
    • Chahal, D.S. 2007. How long was Guru Nanak’s travel towards Middle East? Understanding Sikhism, Res. J. 9(2): 34-36,26.
    • Modi, Jivanji Jamshedji. 1924. My Travels Outside Bombay, Iran, Azerbaijan, Baku. http://www.avesta.org/modi/baku.htm
    • Singh, (Giani) Harbans. 1988. Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Punjabi) Vols. 14. Gurmat Seva Parkashan, Patiala. India.
    • Singh, (Bhai) Kahn. 1981. Mahan Kosh (Punjabi). Bhasha Vibhag, Punjab, Patiala, India.
    • Singh, (Prof) Sahib. 1972. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan. (Punjabi). Vols 10. Raj Publishers (Reg.), Jallandhar, India.
    • В. С. Воробьёв-Деѝѝтовѝкий. Заметка по индийѝкой ѝпиграфике, Эпиграфика Воѝтока, IX, 1954 г.
    • С. Ншурбейли. Об иѝтории ѝураханѝкого храма огнепоклонников.