Sikh Personalities

Bhai Mardana ji (1459-1534)

Bhai Mardana was Guru Nanak's long-time Muslim companion throughout his extensive journeys across the country and abroad, he was born the son of a mirasi (a caste of hereditary minstrels and genealogists) couple, Badra and Lakkho, of Talvandi Rai Bhoe, now Nankana Sahib, in Sheikhupura district of Pakistan. Guru Nanak and Mardana grew up in the same village. The Meharban Janam Sakhi describes the latter, who was ten years senior in age, as the Guru's companion since his childllood days and as one who sang to him songs from Kabir, Trilochan, Ravidas, Dhanna and Beni. According to Ratan Singh Bhangu, Prachin Panth Prakash, Guru Nanak as a small boy gave 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 Mahita Kalu, to go to Sultanpur and bring news of the welfare of his son. Mardana went to Sultanpnr, never to part company with Guru Nanak again. His occupation was playing the Ribab 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 heen married off and for this he did not have sufficient means. One of Guru Nanak's disciples, Bhai Bhagnath, 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 biographies describe several humorous situations in which Mardana involved himself by his 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, but Mardana wished always to be prepared before travelling with the rations. As the Puratan Janam Sakhi narrates, Guru Nanak and Mardana had not come out 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 , he would he well entertained by Khattris of the Uppal caste who lived in that village Mardana turned his footsteps in that direction and, arriving in the village, he found ever more than hospitable. he was fed sumptuously and given ample alms. As he saw him loaded With a bundle Guru Nanak, says the Janam Sakhi, rolled on the ground laughing, since the bundle was very heavy. 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 when Guru pointed out to him that those articles would be more of a burden to him.

The janam sakhis also contain many anecdotes picturing Mardana in despair out of agonizing hunger or petrifying fear and Guru Nanak or Nature coming to succour him some what 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 pulled 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 his 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 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.

In 1524, at Kartarpur, Mardana, fell ill. He grew weak and hope of recovery was lost. Born of a Muslim family, he had attached himself to Guru Nanak. The Guru asked him how he wished his body to be disposed of Mardana replied that by the Guru's instruction he had overcome his pride of the body. What remained of him after death, he said, be disposed of as the Guru wished. Then the Guru said. "Shall I make thee a tomb to render thee famous in the world?" "when the Guru is releasing my soul from the body, why should he entomb me in stone?" answered Mardana The Guru asked him to fix his mind on the Creator The following morning, at a watch before day, Mardana passed away. The Guru consigned his hody to the River Ravi, hymns sung and karahprasad, the sacrament, distributed among the Sikhs. He consoled Mardana's son Shahzada, and other members of his family and asked them not to weep for him who had returned to his heavenly home.

Mardana was a poet of some merit. One of his slokas appears in Guru Granth Sahib in Bihagare 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 (GC, 553).


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