Bhai Mardana

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Painting shows Bhai Mardana with a Rabab

Bhai Mardana (1459-1534), Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s longtime Muslim companion throughout his extensive journeys across the country and abroad, was born as the son of a Mirasi couple, Badra and Lakkho, of Talvandi Rai Bhoe, now Nankana Sahib, in the Sheikhupura district of Pakistan. The Mirasan were a caste of hereditary minstrels and genealogists. Bhai Sahib was ten years older than Guru Ji and was his childhood friend and companion.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Bhai Mardana were both born and raised in the same village. The Miharban Janam Sakhi describes the latter, who was ten years senior in age, as the Guru's companion since his childhood days and as one who sang to him songs from the Bhagats (Kabir Ji, Trilochan Ji, Ravidas Ji, Dhanna Ji, and Bern Ji). According to Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, as a small boy, gave Bhai Mardana a string instrument improvised from reeds to play on while he sang the hymns.

As Guru Nanak was employed to take charge of the granaries and stores of the Nawab of Sultanpur Lodhi, the stories of his generosity and hospitality spread far and wide. Mardana, already a married man and father of two sons and a daughter, wanted to visit Sultanpur and seek his bounty. Meanwhile, he was charged by Guru Nanak's father Mehta Kalu, to go to Sultanpur and bring news of the welfare of his son. Mardana went to Sultanpur, never to part company with Guru Nanak again. His occupation was playing the rabab or rebeck as Guru Nanak recited God's glory.

When Guru Nanak prepared to go forth into the world to preach his message, he invited Mardana to accompany him. Mardana hesitated, for he did not wish to leave his family until his daughter had been married off and for this he did not have sufficient means. One of Guru Nanak's disciples, Bhai Bhagirath, bought the needed provisions and Mardana was able to give away his daughter in marriage. He was then ready to accompany Guru Nanak on his travels.

To relieve the rigour of the journeys, the biographers have described several humorous situations relating to Mardana's touchy behaviour links with desire for food. It is said that he displayed panicky behaviour when prospects of getting the next meal seemed less than certain. He was not easily convinced when Guru Nanak told him to be patient and have trust in something turning up, and wished always to have a reserve of food ready beforehand so that there was certainty that he would not have to endure hunger. The prospect of being without rations created a major problem for Bhai Mardana - hunger-phobia! As the Puratan Janam Sakhi narrates, Guru Nanak and Mardana had not traveled very far from Sultanpur when the latter complained that he felt hungry and needed something to eat immediately.

The Guru pointed to the village they had passed and said that, if he went there, he would be well entertained by Khatris of the Uppal caste who lived in that village. Mardana turned his footsteps in that direction and, arriving in the village, he found everyone more than hospitable. He was fed sumptuously and given ample alms. As he saw him return loaded with a bundle, Guru Nanak, as says the Janam Sakhi, rolled on the ground laughing. Mardana realized the oddity of what he had done and did not know how to get rid of what he had collected. He threw the bundle away when the Guru pointed out to him that those articles would be more of a burden to him.

The Janam Sakhi also contain many anecdotes picturing Mardana in despair out of agonizing hunger or petrifying fear and Guru Nanak or Nature coming to succour him somewhat miraculously. Once the two were passing through a remote wilderness when suddenly a violent storm overtook them. So severe was the tempest that the trees of the jungle began to fly about. Mardana, trembling with fear, thus spoke to the Guru, "True sovereign, thou hast brought me to my death in this forest. I shall not here get a shroud nor a grave." The Guru asked him to remain calm, but Mardana moaned, "I have not faced a calamity like this in my life. What is going to befall my poor soul today?" Then Fire broke out. Smoke was all over and the blaze on all four sides. Mardana covered up his face and laid himself down on the ground saying, "Farewell, life." Then came water. Thick clouds gathered and poured water in torrents. "Raise thy head, Mardana," spoke the Guru, "and take thy rebeck." Mardana tuned the strings and Guru Nanak sang: "If the fear of God is in the heart, all other fear is dispelled..."

According to Puratan Janam Sakhi, Mardana and the Master were taken prisoner by the Mughals at Saidpur. The Guru was given a load to carry on his head and Mardana to lead a horse holding its rein. Mir Khan, the Mughal commander, saw that the Guru's bundle was floating a cubit above his head and Mardana's horse was following him without the reins. He reported the miracle to Sultan Babar, who remarked, "Had there been such faqirs here, the town should not have been struck." Mir Khan asked him to see for himself.

There is some dispute amoung the historian about the place where Bhai ji died but it is believed that in 1534 fell ill and died in Baghdad on the return journey (udasis) from the east. With a heavy heart Guru ji performed the obsequies of Mardana with his own hands. A humble monument was erected in memory of Mardana.

Within an enclosure on a wall an inscription in mixed Turkish and Arabic marks the site. Mardana was called Murad by the residents of Baghdad and being older than Nanak by ten years was considered Guru. Consequently the inscription which was put up after Guru Nanak's departure said:

"Guru Murad died. Baba Nanak faqir helped in constructing this building, which is an act of grace from a virtuous follower, 927 A.H." Mardana appears to have died in December 1534 A.D. at the age of 75. The monument lies near a graveyard, 2.5 kilometres away from the railway station.

Upon the Guru's return to Punjab, Guru ji informed and consoled Mardana's son Shahzada, and other members of his family and asked them not to weep for Bhai ji as he had returned to his heavenly home.

Mardana was a poet of some merit. One of his salok appears in Guru Granth Sahib in Bihdgare ki Var along with two others of Guru Nanak's addressed to Mardana. He is convinced that an evil body may be cleansed of sin in sangat (GG, 553).

Four Gursikhs whose Bani is included in the Guru Granth Sahib
Baba SundarBhai MardanaRai BalvandBhai Satta


*1. Gurmat Sangeet da Pehla Rababi Bhai Mardana - Dr. Harbhajan Singh Sekhon

  • 2. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1969
  • 3. Vir Singh, Bhai, ed., Puratan Janam Sakhi. Amritsar, 1982
  • 4. Kirpal Singh, ed., Janam Sakhi Parampara. Patiala, 1969
  • 5. Gian Singh, Giani, Panth Prakash [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
  • 6. Satbir Singh, Puratan Itihasik Jivanian. Jalandhar, 1969
  • 7. Harbans Singh, Guru Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith. Bombay, 1969
  • 8. McLeod, W. H., Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion. Oxford, 1968

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