Guru Nanak's Odysseys
– Travels to Holy places in the Himalayas –
apostle of love of God and humanity, Guru Nanak, the Founding
Prophet of the Sikh Faith, travelled extensively to spread
his gentle gospel of truth, the unity of God and the brotherhood
of man. He was accompanied by Mardana, a Muslim minstrel
friend, who played the rabab, a stringed instrument, for
the captivating divine hymns he sang rapturously in praise
of the Lord and equality of mankind.
Guru Nanak undertook four marathon journeys called udasis.
He was motivated to undertake these after his enlightenment.
He had a deep mystical communion with God during a dip in
River Bein. When he emerged, his telling statement was “Na
Koi Hindu, na Mussalman” – there is no Hindu,
no Mussalman. They are all human beings created by God and,
despite their distinctive religions and beliefs, they are
equal before the Creator who equally abides in everyone.
The call came to him to propagate this truth and put humanity
on the righteous path.
Nanak was in his twenties when he made the peregrinations.
And for about twenty six years from 1498 to 1524, he travelled
far and wide with a missionary zeal, unmindful of the inhospitable
terrain. In the words of the learned Sikh poet, scholar
and historian, Bhai Gurdas, “Baba traversed the nine
regions of the earth as far as the land stretched”.
He travelled throughout India and went to many neighbouring
countries and regions, including Tibet, China, Mount Kailash,
Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Mecca and Baghdad
in West Asia. He visited several pilgrimage centres, monasteries,
temples and mosques, fairs and festivals. He met people
of different cultures and religions. He forged a bond of
love and respect among people of diverse faiths.
Atop Mount Kailash
Guru Nanak set out on his third udasi (1513-1518) to the
north up to Tibet and China. Eventually, he made his way
to the holy places of pilgrimage in the Himalayan mountain-range,
a trek both difficult and arduous. At last, he found himself
on top of Mount Kailash (Sumero), a sacred place in four
religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon faith,
the indigenous religion before Buddhism became the dominant
religion in northern Tibet. It is the holy abode of Lord
Shiva. The mountain is near Lake Mansarovar and Lake Rakshastal
in Tibet. Nanak is said to have gone to Kailash from the
Gharwal region of Uttar Pradesh through Gangotri. At Mount
Kailash, Guru Nanak had discourses with the learned saints
and fakirs, the most famous of which is his meeting with
Siddhas, the descendants of the great Tantric Goraknath
who lived and meditated in mountain caves. They claimed
to possess miraculous powers. Nanak recorded the discourses
with them in the Siddha Gosht in the form of a dialogue
in verse. He was against the cults of tantric and magic,
witchcraft and sorcery.
The Siddhas asked Nanak many questions. They wanted to know
how was the World in the plains? Nanak told them that there
was a “famine of truth”. “Falsehood, sin
and corruption are rampant. The dark age is the scalpel,
the kings are butchers and righteousness has taken wings
and flown away.” He told the Siddhas to be a part
of the world like the lotus in the water that remains dry.
His religion was for the householders, not for ascetics.
He composed a hymn dissapproving of asceticism. “Ascesticism
does neither lie in ascetic robes nor in walk staff, nor
in smearing one's body with ashes. Ascesticism does not
lie in the ear rings, nor in the shaven head nor in blowing
a conch. It lies in remaining pure amidst impurities.”
The wise tantric yogis acknowledged Guru Nanak as a spiritual
visionary. However, they wanted to test his virtuosity.
They asked him to bring water from the lake. As Nanak dipped
the earthen pot to fill it, he found jewels and diamonds
in the lake which broke the pot. Nanak joined together the
broken pieces and filled it with water much to the amazement
of the Siddhas. He broke their magic spell. They became
followers of Guru Nanak and came to be known as Nanakpanthis.
This was Nanak’s first visit to the Tibetan plateau.
He visited Tibet four times. His second visit was at the
invitation of the Lamas of Sakya, a sacred monastery in
Southern Tibet. There is a legend that Guru Nanak broke
the spell of the witches that troubled the local people
by turning them into masks. Annually, Nanak’s visit
is celebrated with masks and dances. To commemorate Nanak’s
visits, some Lama temples have kept Nanak’s idols
for worship. His footprints have also been preserved.
According to mythology, many demons, witches and deities
existed before the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.
Guru Nanak came to North Sikkim from Tibet after visiting
Sakya monastry. He visited several valleys in Sikkim. Many
local legends abound about his visit, some almost bordering
on being mythical. In Chungathan valley, there is a local
legend that Guru Nanak solved the water problem faced by
the people by hitting the frozen lake (named Guru Dongman
after his visit) with his walking stick. The ice melted.
The water of the lake is “nectar” for the people.
Guru Nanak blessed the valley people who became prosperous.
A gurdwara has been constructed there known as “Gurdwara
In Lachen Gompha ( Lama temple), a lamp is lit day and night
in memory of Guru Nanak’s visit to the Gompha.
In Ladakh and Kashmir
Guru Nanak came through Chushul Pass to Leh (Ladakh) and
Kashmir from Tibet after visiting Mount Kailash. A tree
nearby Leh, where Nanak reposed and preached is held in
reverence by the local people. Local legends narrate his
visits to serveral places in Ladakh, including Skardu and
Kargil. He visited Hemus Gompha, south of Leh and held discourses
with the Lamas. Gurudwaras have been constructed at these
places. A gurudwara known as “Pathar Sahib”
stands on the Leh-Nimamu road. Legend has it that a jealous
demon rolled a boudler down the hill to kill Nanak. But
Nanak was unhurt. The boulder lies on the roadside with
deep impressions of Nanak’s body.
From Kargil, Guru Nanak proceeded to the Kashmir valley.
He visited the famous Hindu pilgrimage centre, Amarnath
and delivered sermons to the pilgrims performing the yatra.
From Amarnath he went to Mattan, east of Srinagar. He met
Kamaluddin and Brahm Dass, two learned Muslim and Hindu
friends. Kamaluddin asked Nanak how could one become a true
Muslim? Nanak replied composing a hymn that to be a true
Mussalman, one needed compassion, faith, honest living,
humility, virtuous deeds, a rosary of God’s will and
prayer for His grace. Kamaluddin felt inspired and bowed
before Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak had a long discourse with
Brahm Dass, who had been told of his saintliness by Kamaluddin.
He had brought two camel loads of books just in case Nanak
asked him questions. “But I have none to ask,”
said Guru Nanak. Brahm Dass became a follower of Guru Nanak.
In Mattan, a gurudwara has been constructed on the spot
where Guru Nanak sang hymns.
From Mattan, Nanak went to Srinagar. He visited Baramulla
and Uri before reaching Jammu from where he headed homewards.
In Kashmir, there are several gurudwaras commemorating his
It’s something to be cherished that wherever Guru
Nanak went, he left his mark as a great sage, mystic, poet
and gifted singer. People of all faiths were drawn to him
by his unique message of truth, love of God and all mankind.
Those who came to listen to him, were moved by his passionate
appeal for an understanding among people to live in peace
and harmony with one another.
Col. D S Grewal – Guru Nanak’s Travels to Himalayan
and East Asian Region.