Mardana gives away clothes and food

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Painting shows Bhai Mardana with a Rabab

Bhai Mardana, for forty-seven years, travelled with Guru Nanak wherever the Guru went. Whether it was in the bitter cold of the hills or the heat of the deserts, he was never far away from the Guru's side. The fear of wild animals, hunger, thirst or even the warm thoughts of a loving, comfortable home never brought the five vices - lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride to his mind for he had replaced them with the five virtues - truth, contentment, patience, humility, compassion and love. He was given the honor by the Guru of being a saint and a brother to all. The Guru also included his Bani (verses) in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Mardana who was nine years older than Guru Nanak was the son of a "mirasi" Muslim. The Mirasis were men who earned their living by entertaining others. They were known as "Bhand" (bards) or "Naqqal" (actors or jesters); they were the great story tellers of Punjab. Often very poor, some were lucky enough to find jobs in the darbars of the feudal rulers and provisional leaders to supplement their incomes.

In the days before established postal services, they often did odd jobs in the villages of Punjab. Bhai Mardana's father lived in the village of Mir Badra. He earned part of his living by taking messages from his village's people to their distant relatives and returning with their replies. This service was work of great importance. Those who used their services were very appreciative and often looked after them well. They were always on the move and so were used to bearing hardships. As they often moved alone, they made it their hobby to sing and play instruments to amuse themselves. They also took particular pride in being honest and truthful.

So for Bhai Mardana the long walks, hardships and love of playing music (he was a particularly gifted player of the Rabab - a classical musical instrument, with a hooked neck for hanging on the shoulder as one walked along) engendered by the mirasi tradition in which he was raised made him the perfect companion for the Guru.

So when the Guru, who had been working as a storekeeper at modi khana (food supplies store), gave up his job his choice of Mardana as his companion must have been an easy one. After giving away many of his possessions and arranging the welfare of his family the Guru set out with his companion starting his many years of travel to distant places to spread the word of God. As they travelled from city to city and from country to country, Bhai Mardana would play the Rabab as the they sang the hymns composed by the Guru in nineteen different melodies.

Guru Nanak teaches Bhai Mardana a lesson on Greed

Once, on the way from Sultanpur to Lahore after a long day of walking they stopped to rest and get some sleep. As was their custom they woke at dawn, bathed and afterwards Mardana played his Rabab as Guru ji recited a hymn in praise of God.

Later Mardana asked Guru ji’s permission to go to a nearby village to get something to eat and drink. Along with food the village people gave him some clothes, as well, as they often offered to the frequent hermits and fakirs who would pass through their village. When Guru ji saw Mardana returning with the bundle of clothes, he said, “Bhai Mardana, distribute these clothes among the poor, by gathering things offered in charity one becomes greedy. A greedy man entangled by the urge to accumulate possessions can never do any good for mankind.”

So acting upon the command of Guru Nanak, Bhai Mardana gave away all the clothes to the poor as well as the extra food.

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