Guru Nanak in Baghdad
After travelling to Madina, Guru Nanak Dev soon arrived in Baghdad and took up a position, along with Mardana, outside of the city. Guru Nanak Dev Ji shouted the call to prayer, a gesture upon which the whole population became wrapped in silent astonishment as the Guru had omitted the usual words Muhammad ar Rasul Allah, and substituted Arabic words of a similar sound to express his own ideas.
In Iraq, it is said, "Even today there are several disciples of Guru Nanak in Iraq. These people live on the banks of the Tigris river, particularly in the cities of Al Kut and Baghdad. They are called Sobi and generally they are gold-smiths by occupation. They are experts in their trade. They keep long hair and do not cut their beards and remember the Guru by names of Baba Nanak or Baba Nana."
The Guru's visit and shrine
The shrine of Guru Nanak the founder of the Sikh faith is located in Karkh District in Sheikh Maaruf Neighbourhood. This shrine can be reached from a road that goes from Sheikh Maruf Cemetary towards 14 July Road. In the shrine, the following inscription is engraved: "Guru Nanak headed for Baghdad as a traveler, and there he took a house for himself at its gates." On the 23rd of November, 1969, his followers celebrated his 500th birthday by erecting a memorial statue at his tomb.
Karkh, or Al-Karkh, is historically the name of the western half of Baghdad in Iraq, or, alternatively, the western shore of the Tigris River as it runs through Baghdad. The eastern shore is known as Al-Rasafa. Today, it is also a neighborhood between the international zone and the Tigris. Karkh is one of nine administrative districts in Baghdad.
Meeting Bahlol, the Pir from Baghdad
The Pir (saint) of Baghdad, Bahlol Dana, on a face-to-face meeting with the enthusiastic stranger, inquired who he was and to what sect he belonged. The Guru greeted him with his customary ‘Sat Kartar’ and replied, “I have appeared in this age to indicate the way unto men. I reject all sects, and only know one God, whom I recognize in the earth, the heavens, and in all directions.”
Upon this the Guru began to repeat the Japji. As the pir listened to his doctrines, he said, “This is a very impious fakir. He is working miracles here, and informing us, contrary to the authority of our Holy Qur'an, that there are hundreds of nether and upper regions, and that at last men grow weary of searching for them.” Guru Ji spoke:
"There are nether worlds and more nether worlds below them and hundreds of thousands of skies above them. The Vedas (religious texts) pronounce that people are tired of searching Gods limits and boundaries. The saints, puranas, religious texts of Christians and Jews conclude that God is limitless. If there is any account of God, then a lone mortal can write the same. His account does not finish but the mortal succumbs to death, Nanak says that only the Almighty knows his limits."
Pir Bahlol is impressed
(This was well before Galileo looked into the night sky. In other sections of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak speaks of infinite brahmands (universes/galaxies), planets, suns, moons, oceans, and continents. One does not have to wonder if there are earth-like planets, but that in fact there are so many planets like ours that harbor oceans and continents.)
Guru Ji speaks of limitless religious texts and saints (like the Buddha) throughout the entire expanse of the cosmos, countless languages, and earth-like regions. Yes, there is life out there and many more religions than we can imagine! (www.sikhs.org , Japji Sahib translation)
The pir then called upon the Guru to give a manifestation of his power. Upon this, it is said, the Guru laid his hand on the high priest’s son and showed him the upper and lower regions described in the Japji.
Bhai Gurdas Ji's Var
Bhai Gurdas Ji says the following of Guru Nanak Dev ji's visit to Baghdad:
From Mecca, Baba went to Baghdad and stayed outside the city.
Firstly, Baba himself was in the form of Timeless and secondly, he had his companion Mardana, the rebeck player.
For namaz (in his own style), Baba gave call, listening to which the whole world went into absolute silence.
The whole city became quiet and lo! to behold it, the Pir (of the town) also got wonder-struck.
Observing minutely he found (in the form of Baba Nanak) an exhilarated fakir.
Pir Dastegir asked him, which category of fakir you belong to and what is your parentage.
(Mardana told) He is Nanak, who has come into kaliyug, and, he recognizes God and His fakirs as one.
He is known in all the directions besides just earth and sky.
Who is Pir Dastgir? The Persian word “Dastgir” literally means holder of hand but is interpreted as “one who rescues or leads by the hand.” This was the appellation applied to Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani by which his successors would not unnaturally be referred to.
Guru Nanak Dev's Shrine in Baghdad
- Main article: Gurudwara in Baghdad
During the Great War, when the British and Indian armies conquered Baghdad, they discovered the place where Guru Nanak had his discourse with Bahlol. It lies to the west of the town and between the old graveyard to the north and the present Baghdad-Samara railway line to the south. Dr. Kirpal Singh, then a Captain in the Indian Medical Service, also saw it during the war, and he, in his letter, dated October 15, 1918, described it as follows:
"It is really a humble looking building and known to very few people except Sikhs. To some Arabs it is known as well by the name of tomb of Bahlol. You enter the building by a small door, on which something is written in Arabic, not visible to a casual visitor. Even with attention it is difficult to read. I could not read it hence could not copy it. I have taken the photograph of the outside, which I shall forward to you in due course. Entering the building, you come to a brick paved passage going to your right straight into the room (with a veranda), wherein you find the tomb and the raised platform. In the courtyard there are a few trees, mostly pomegranates.
- Macauliffe, M.A (1909). The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus Sacred Writings and Authors. Low Price Publications. ISBN 8175361328.
- Singh, Manjeet (Oct-Nov 1969). "Past and Present and Guru Nanak's Visit to Baghdad". The Sikh Review ': .
- "Gurdwara in Baghdad." New light on Guru Nanak's Visit to Baghdad (Prof.Kulraj Singh). Accessed on May 22, 2005.
- Bhai Bala (Sandhu) (2010). Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji Janamsakhi Pages: 671-675. CSJS- Chittar Singh Jeevan Singh. ISBN 81-7601-000-6.