Guru Nanak in Baghdad

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Gurdwara in Baghdad

After having travelled to Madina, Guru Nanak Dev ji soon arrived in Baghdad and took up a position, along with Mardana, outside the city. Guru Nanak Dev ji shouted the call to prayer, on which the whole population became wrapt in silent astonishment – the Guru omitted the usual words Muhammad ar Rasul Allah, and substituted Arabic words of a similar sound to express his own ideas, hence the astonishment.

In Iraq, it is said that "Even today there are several disciples of Guru Nanak in Iraq. These people live on the banks of the Tigris river, partiuclarly 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."

Al Basrah

In Karkh, even a tomb for the founder of the religion of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, could be found where 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, Iraq, or alternatively, the western shore of the river Tigris as it ran through Baghdad. The eastern shore is known as Al-Rasafa.[1] Today, it is also a neighborhood between the international zone and the Tigris. Karkh is one of nine administrative districts in Baghdad.

The pir (saint) of Baghdad, Bahlol Dana on meeting face to face 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 recognise 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 Quran, 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 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 alone 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."

(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 there are so many planets like ours that harbor oceans and continents. Guru Ji speaks of limitless religious texts and saints (like Buddha) throughout the entire expanse of the cosmos. Yes there is life out there and many more religions than we can imagine! and read Japji 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.

Possible location of Gurdwara in Baghdad from the air. (image from

Bhai Gurdas Ji's Var

Guru Nanak Dev ji's Shrine, Baghdad

Bhai Gurdas Ji says the following of Guru Nanak Dev ji's visit to Baghdad:

Read at SikhiToTheMax

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 wonderstruck.

Observing minutely he found (in the form of Baba Nanak) an exhilerated faquir.

Pir Dastegir asked him, which category of faquir you belong to and what is your parentage.

(Mardana told) He is Nanak, who has come into kaliyug, and, he recognises God and His faquirs as one.

He is known in all the directions besides 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 ji's Shrine in Baghdad

Map of Baghdad in 1931 shows the location of Guru Nanak's shrine. It is one mile to the right of river Tigris and a mile-and-half from Baghdad Railway Station West, between two railway lines.Image rotated 90 degree form source document

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 verandah), wherein you find the tomb and the raised platform. In the courtyard there are a few trees, mostly pomegranates.

The room that has the tomb and the platform, has two doors, one of which is open whilst the other is barred. As you enter the room, you come face to face with the platform, which is roughly 2 to 2.5 feet high and about 3' by 4' in dimensions. It is now covered with handkerchiefs of various colors presented by Sikhs. In the center close to the wall you find a picture of Sri Guru Nanak, presented by some energetic Sikh, above which you find the slab with the writing which I reproduced in this letter for you. The name of the man in charge is Sayed Yusuf."

To the northwest is an old and extensive graveyard, extending from the town of Zubaida Khatum. To its east stands a magnificent edifice (118 feet by 55 feet) commemorating the famous Jewish saint, Nabiullah Usha, and to the northeast is the shrine of Sheikh Ibrahim forming a square of 27 feet. It is believed that during his stay in Baghdad Guru Nanak had a large following including the successors of Sheikh Bahlol Dana (the Wise) and those of Sheikh Muhy-ud-din Abdul Qadir Jilani.

A front view photograph of the shrine was taken in December 1931. On the platform where the Guru sat is a plaque in Arabic. The tomb of Bahlol is toward the west. Another tomb is in the center and the platform is 7 feet by 4 feet. In the mausoleum of Bahlol is a small rectangular garden (26 feet 5 inches by 12 feet 5 inches) in the center of the courtyard with a masonary pavement round it. There are a few tut (mulberry) and palm trees.

The plan of the Guru’s shrine shows that it is situated within a walled square, with the gateway in the southeast corner. It measures 54 feet and 4 inches on the east and west; 54 feet, 6 inches on the north and 56 feet, 7 inches on the south.

Floor plan of the shrine

The platform on which the Guru sat is in the northeast corner with a plaque on which some words were written in Arabic. The tomb of Bahlol Dana stands to the west. Another tomb is in the center and the platform is about 7 feet by 4 feet to the east with an inscribed slab in the wall to the north about 4 feet above the ground. The slab made of sandstone, measures 21 inches by 15 inches.

People of Baghdad depend on river Tigris for water. Wells, in and around Baghad, are brackish. It is said that the Guru’s disciples together with others who visited the takia complained to the Guru about the difficulty in procuring drinking water. Guru Nanak got a well dug in the southeast corner and it produced sweet water. Even now, it is the only well with sweet drinking water.

Its diameter is about 21 feet and the date of its construction is 917 Hijri as given on the plaque. The well and the compound were reinforced in 1320 A.H. (1942 AD) by Qasim Pasha, Beg-Bashi, son of Mohammad Beg.

The inscribed stone slab was found in 1931. It measures 21 feet 14 inches. Its inscription was slightly damaged during the collapse of the building after 1920. The text of the inscription, is:

"Behold! How a wish has been fulfilled by Holy and High Providence. That the building of Baba Nanak has been newly built with the help of seven autat (great valis). That the happy murad of God (Baba Nanak) has started a fountain of grace issuing new water in the land. 917 Hijri"

The date given as 917 is supported by the Abjad system. 917 Hijri is equivalent to 1511 A.D. and 1568 Sammat Bikarmi. [To Convert Hijri to Gregorian]

The mutvali in charge of the shrine told Sardar Kartar Singh Kartar that he had an old Arabic manuscript containing an account of Guru Nanak’s visit, but unfortunately it was stolen in 1920. In the same year, another stone inscription related to the Guru’s visit was found in the wall to the east of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani’s shrine near Baghdad Railway Station East. It had been seen by many, but was missing in 1926, when the wall collapsed. It is possible that similar relics may be found there. It is also quite possible that Swami Ananda Acharya saw these inscriptions.

A small quantity of poetry was sent by S. Kartar Singh to S.S. Khazan Singh and these contain a statement by one Rukan Din about “Nanak Fakir”. This statement, which The Sikh Review had got independently translated gives a portrayal of the Guru that is strikingly in keeping with his popular historical image. As per Professor Masoumi’s translation, the statement reads :

“He acquired different sciences. In particular he acquired proficiency in Islamic lore, the interpretation of the Holy Quran, the knowledge of religious cults and Arabic and Persian literature. He made remarkable headway in these. He carried on a struggle to end oppression and repression that prevailed in different countries. He raised the banner of justice and destroyed untruth and hypocrisyl; so long as the weak did not obtain their right he stood by them and regarded the powerful who lost their head in their arrogance as dastardly. He was the best specimen of piety and hunger for travel.”

The author of this statement, quite obviously knew Guru Nanak intimately. In fact a statement in Arabic, ostensibly by Guru Nanak, which was printed with its translation as part of the Oct. 1969 article indicates that Guru Nanak and Rukun Din left Baghdad for Hindustan together.

"Behold! How a wish has been fulfilled by Holy and High Providence. That the building of Baba Nanak has been newly built with the help of seven autat (great valis). That the happy murad of God (Baba Nanak) has started a fountain of grace issuing new water in the land. 917 Hijri (1511 AD)"

Bahlol Dana’s tomb and other buildings were in a sad state of disrepair, but in 1120 Hijri, Qazim Pasha practically rebuilt the tomb. The roof and verandah of Guru Nanak’s shrine had also collapsed.

On 6 August 1932, Sardar Kartar Singh Kartar, the late president of Central Sikh Committee, Baghdad wrote to S. Manjeet Singh:

“Sikhs desired to rebuild [the shrine]. Once the Central Sikh Committee applied to the Auqaf Department for repair of the shrine but no reply was received. At last the Central Sikh Committee, Baghdad again sent an application to His Excellency the High Commissioner of Iraq in 1931, who, I have come to know from a very reliable source, has very kindly given sanction to carry out the repairs at the expense of the Committee.”

Again on 1 February 1952, S. Kartar Singh wrote to S. Manjeet Singh:

“The Sikh Committee, Baghdad was very anxious to repair Guru Nanak Dev’s shrine as early as possible, but it was not an easy job to approach the Iraqi Government for the purpose. All such buildings are under the control of Ministry of Auqaf whose sanction was absolutely necessary to carry out the necessary repairs. At last the Iraqi Government was kind enough to give the sanction during 1934 and repairs were done."

"In addition to the repairs of the existing building a room is also added in front of the room where Bahlol Dana’s tomb exists. It is really gratifying to note that the Sikh community in Iraq has done a splendid job in repairing the shrine of their Guru who is well known among Arabs as Baba Nanak or Hindu Pir."

"I returned from Iraq early in 1932. As I was much interested in this matter, I therefore had to remind the Central Sikh Committee, Baghdad a number of times to accomplish this work as early as possible. At last in 1934 I was glad to receive the information that repairs to the Guru’s shrine in Baghdad had been completed. The Central Sikh Committee, Baghdad was kind enough to allow me to publish this news in the papers. I did this work with the greatest pleasure."

Swami Ananda Acharya's visit

This worn out inscription was on the outside of the gurastahn

In 1917, Macmillans published a collection of Swami Ananda Acharya's poems under the title 'Snow Birds'. In this collection there was a poem entitled: "On reading an Arabic inscription in a shrine outside the town of Baghdad, dated 912 Hejira" and is as below:

Upon this simple slab of granite did thou sit, discoursing of fraternal love and holy light, O Guru Nanak, Prince among India’s holy sons.

What song from the source of Seven Waters thou didst sing to charm the soul of Iran!

What place from Himalaya’s lonely caves and forests thou didst carry to the vinegroves and rose-gardens of Baghdad?

What light from Badrinath’s snowy peak thou didst bear to illumine the heart of Bahlol, thy saintly Persian disciple?

Eighty-four nights Bahlol hearkened to thy words of Life and the Path and Spring Eternal, while the moon waxed and waned in the pomegranate grove beside the grassy desert of the dead.

And after thou hast left him to return to thy beloved Bharat’s land, the fakir, it is said, would speak to none nor listen to the voice of man or angel;

His fame spread far and wide and the Shah came to pay his homage, but the holy man would take no earthly treasures nor hear the praise of kings and courtiers.

Thus lived he - lonely, devoted, thoughtful - sixty winters, sitting before the stone whereon thy sacred feet had rested.

And ere he left this house of Ignorance he wrote these words on the stone: “Here spake the Hindu Guru Nanak to Fakir Bahlol, and for these sixty winters since the Guru left Iran, the soul of Bahlol has rested on the Master’s word, like a bee poised on a dawnlit honey-rose."

It is generally believed that Acharya visted the site before November 1914, and that we was probably led there by anecdotes from the local people.

The story Ananda Acharya relates in his poem is not found on the tablets in existence, and so it's possible that he either saw on some other tablets, or was told the story by local people according to their tradition.



Maskeen Ji visited the place in 1966 as is described on site link placed below.Photograph of their witness to site is reproduced alongside.

Quotes from News Items

  • News from April 2003 - It was reported that the Shrine in Baghdad had been damaged in the military hostilities of Iraq.
  • As reported in punjab heritage news on 25.05.2007
  • Guru Nanak Meets Bahlol

See also

External Links


  • 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 ': .
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