In his book ‘Walking With Nanak,’ Haroon Khalid, a Pakistani author, retraces Nanak’s and his disciple, Bhai Mardana’s footsteps, into present day Pakistan. The travelogue narrative is part history and part fiction, the author relying in part on folk tales, passed down from generation to generation.

The Janamsakhis, the texts on Nanak’s life, have glorious accounts of his miracles. Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji along with Bhai Mardana reached Hasan Abdal in the summer of 1521 CE. Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana started reciting Kirtan under a shady tree along with their devotees. This annoyed a local saint, Hazrat Shah Wali Qandhari, who meditated atop a nearby hill.

According to legend, Bhai Mardana was sent up three times to Qandhari by Guru Nanak so that Mardana could have some water to quench his thirst. Qandhari, the egoist, refused his request; “Why don’t you ask your Master”. The Guru pushed aside a big boulder and a fountain of water sprang up and began to flow endlessly and Bhai Mardana quenched his thirst. On the other hand, the spring on top of the hill where Qandhari meditated dried up. On witnessing this, Qandhari, in rage, rolled a boulder towards the Guru from the top of the hill. The Guru stopped the boulder with his hand leaving its imprint on the boulder. Observing the miracle Wali became Nanak’s devotee. This holy revered place was named Panja Sahib by Hari Singh Nalwa, one of the most famous Generals’ of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who is credited to have extended the frontiers of the Sikh Empire Westwards and is credited for building the Gurudwara at the spot.

Another story about Panja Sahib is of Nanju, the fakir, Kamma the stone sculptor and General Hari Singh Nalwa. When Hari Singh Nalwa’s forces attacked, the city it was found to have been abandoned. Only Nanju was found in a shrine. Nanju to save his life, well knowing about the merciless General Nalwa cleverly concocted the story of the impression of Guru Nanak’s hand (Panja) as he had seen Kamma sculpturing his own hand on the stone. He said that his family has preserved that stone as they have been Nanak’s followers. Nalwa, seeing the hand impression on the boulder was convinced with the story(Pakistan Census 1961 Pg I-20 refers). Muslims were jealous of guru Nanak’s spreading influence. However, the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang in the 7thCentury is believed to have travelled to the area and reported to have observed the lake.

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was against the institutionalisation of religion. However, institution of Guru hood was formalised by Nanak conferring ‘Guru Hood’ on his most deserving disciple bypassing his two sons. The author has also embarked to explore and trace the stories within the house hold of the Gurus regarding all the happenings of the inner power struggle for the ‘Guru Gaddi’ from time to time.

Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana covered the length and breadth of South Asia on foot over 24 years. Religious places of minorities in Pakistan remain neglected as the majority Sunni Muslim state does not respect religious places of other religions. Having woken up to the potential of Sikh religious tourism and to earn revenue Pakistan has lately started renovating Gurdwaras. The anguish expressed by the author has to a large extent awakened the state to take care of such religious monuments.

The author has tried to reconstruct the world of Guru Nanak by the era of tolerance of the past and the utter intolerance of the present. Khalid, in nutshell, has managed to have successfully walked with Guru Nanak into the past and manages to take the reader along. The travelogue narration appears authentic and while reading the book, I felt that I was traveling with the author in Pakistan. A must read for scholars of Sikh history and religious studies for their further research and analysis.

Col RC Patial, SM, FRGS, PhD has served with the NSCS as a Senior Defence Specialist,with the NTRO as a Chief Editor of Open Source Intelligence and the first DD of the newly set up Training Academy. He is presently, Principal, Meritorious Residential School, Amritsar.

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