NANAKPANTHIS IN BIHAR
Joginder Singh Jogi
1. In his writing, -"Khulase-ulI-Twarikh", Sujan Rai has defined the terms "Nanakpanthi", or "Nanakshahi" as follower of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikh faith. Some other Persian writes have also used the word "Nanakpanthis" with same connotation.
2. Sikhism is one of the greatest religions of the world. The teachings of Guru Nanak and other Gurus went deep in the heart of mankind, irrespective of where they belonged. This universality is the hallmark of all the great philosophies which man has discovered so far. Adequate efforts have not, however, been made to locate and identify the vast branches of Sikh faith, spreading out over different parts of India and the world. There is not enough knowledge about the other Sikhs, generally called "Nanakpanthis" who had embraced this faith in Bihar, Bengal, Assam, etc. This writer has attempted a brief Article, on the basis of scanty information available, of the Nankpanthis in Bihar.
3. Before the advent of Guru Nanak on the Indian scene, Brahminism, Buddhism and Jainism were the principle religious faiths dominating the Indian society. In the vast canopy of Hindu religion, several other faiths, such as Shaivism or Vaishnavism, also had a great deal of influence over the people. Guru Nanak wanted to visit the important centres of all these religions and meet the religious leaders of his time for a reorientation of the spiritual and ethical outlook.
4. "Guru Nanak's advent was marked by the resurgence of the true religious spirit in India. Before he arrived on the scene man's mind had been enslaved in the rigid framework of rituals and ceremonies. Groups and factions based on different sets of dogmas and creeds had emerged. Divisions had arisen between various classes of people. Religion, which was supposed to bring out the best and the noblest in man, had produced the contemporary. No wonder many had become skeptical, if not contemptuous of all that religion stands for. Guru Nanak came and revived the faith of man, in man and the faith of man in God."
5. Guru Nanak travelled mostly on foot and had to pass through deserts, cross rivers and streams and walk through fertile plains. There is sufficient evidence to show that large number of people became his followers and created memorials in various parts of India. Handwritten birs of Guru Granth Sahib are preserved in the most of the places.
6. In "Travels of Guru Nanak" (punjab University 1969) Suriender Singh Kohli states that during the course of his first journey, Guru Nanak entered Bihar at Buxar (the old Sidh Ashram) and passing through Arrah and Chapra, he reached Patna (The old Pailiputra). He attended the fair of Harihar Kshetra of Sonepur and is recorded to have a dialogue with people at Hajipur. It is said that sermons of Guru Nanak were so impressive and appealing that number of sangats were established in the area of Hajipur and Lalganj. By efforts of late Sri Keshri, a Nanakpanthi sangat and a Girls School were established in Lalganj (now in the district of Vaishali). Lalganj has the distinction of having a century-old rich Library - Shri Sharda Sadan Pustkalya.
7. It was at Patna that Salas Rai the Jeweller, offered one hundred rupees, as Darshanbhata (having a look) of the gem brought by Mardana (companion of Guru Nanak) for sale Mardana was directed not to accept the amount. Salas Rai came to meet the Guru and became his disciple. Guru Nanak stayed at the 'Haveli (house) of Salas Rai for about four months and this became the first centre of "Nanakpanthi" in Patna. This Sangat was followed by the birth of Guru Gobind Singh and was later declared as a Takht - a seat of Sikh religious authority, yet the shrine is most revered by Nanakpanthis who visit it frequently. At one time, Rakabganj, situated at a distance of about five miles from Takht Sahib was another Nanakpanthi Sangat
8. According to a Survey of Nanakpanthis (1969) conducted by Giani Fauja Singh, a renowned Sikh missionary, and reported in 'Singh Sabha Patrika' New Delhi (Dec. 83 -Jan -84), "Almost one half of the population of Bihar was at one time Nanakpanthis. During the visit of Guru Nanak to Bodhgaya he had a detailed discussion with Devgiri, the Mahant of this great Buddhist Shrine (Guru Nanak Chamatkar, New Delhi 2006). His third successor, Bhagatgir renounced Buddhism alongwith 360 of his followers, came to Punjab and adopted Sikhism and was blessed by Guru Har Rai. Guru Har Rai renamed him as Bhagat Bhagwan and appointed him as a chief missionary of Sikhism in Bihar. Bhagat Bhagwan also met Baba Sri Chand (Gaini Ishar Singh Nara - New Delhi 2008)
As- a result of visit of Guru Nanak to various parts of Bihar, Nanakshahi Sangats were established which were managed by Mahants. These sangats got recognised during the visit of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru. It is a historical fact that at one time there were about three hundred and sixty Nanakshahi Sangats situated in Bihar and the people connected with these Sangats were called Nanakpanthis.
On account of indifferent attitude toward these institutions, most of them have by now vanished. Even otherwise, it is difficult to mention in detail, all the existing ones, in this short write up. This writer had the occasion to visit some of the Nanakpanthi shrines in October 2006 and this brief Article is based on the study made at that time.
The largest institution of this denomination is situated at Rajouli while other institutions are spread over Patna, Darbhanga, Muzzafarpur, Sopnepur, Arrah, Munger and other places of Bihar. Rajauli Sangat is situated in Nawada District on Patna-Ranchi Road (NH-30). It contains the Khapar of Bhagat Bhagwan, which is said to have been presented to him by Hingraj Devi. At the time of visit of this writer, in October 2006, Mahant Ramratabus Das was managing this Sangat. The Sangat associated with the name of Guru Nanak is situated in an area of about 4 acres. There are about fifty residential rooms in this two-hundred-years-old building. In the Pooja Room of the Sangat is kept hundred year old handwritten bir of Guru
Granth Sahib and a few pictures of Hindu deities. There are certain samadhis & gates in the complex wit name of Baba Sadbux Das written in Gurumukhi, Mahant Ramratanbux Das, claimed to be the seventh successor of Mahant Nanakbux Das. Mention may also be made of some other existing Nanakpanthi institutions, namely, Akbarpur (District Nawada), Sangat Paijawa and Sangat Mughai Kuan in the city of Biharsharif on the said NH-30.
Another important sangat is situated at Gaya. According to Surinder Singh Kohli, when Guru Nanak was asked by Pandits to perform the ceremony of Pilris, the Guru told them that his earthen lamp was the Name of the Lord and admonished them for fruitless practices. The Pandits realised the truth of what Guru Nanak had said and sought his blessings. The place sanctified by the visit of Guru is situated at Deoghat near Bishnupad Mandir on the bank of Falguni Nadi. In the Central hall of the building, a Hindi version of Granth Sahib has been placed on a raised platform along with Gila & Ramqyana. The last Mahant Baba Satnam Das having died in early 2006, his father vaid Anant Das was managing the shrine. A large number of Nanakpanthis visit this place daily.
The other important sangat is situated at Rajgir, the old Rajgraha said to be the oldest city of India and had been capital of Jarasandh. According to one tradition it is considered sacred because it had long association with Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira. At the time of his visit, Guru Nanak had a long discussion with Buddhist and Jain monks and impressed upon them the importance of devotion to One God. The city was surrounded by hot springs and cool drinking water was not available to the people. On the pointing out of the Guru, people dug a place and cool water gushed out. The place is now known as, Nanak Kund, where a Gurdwara has been constructed. Some local writers denied the existence of this Kund. But Patna Gazette (1991) Page 101 refers to this Kund recorded at Kbata No. 332 of Khatauni No. 7690 of Mauza Rajgir District Patna (Now District Nalanda). A fair is organised here every year which is participated by Nanakpanthis.
The population of Bihar comprises of large number of Kayasthas. Several Kayasth families, have adopted the discipline ordained by Guru Nanak and worship Guru Nanak before religious and social functions. However, these Nanakpanthis, who have for centuries, been keeping their faith alive in Guru Nanank and Guru Granth Sahib, are a part of Sikh Brotherhood. By paces of time, the Sikh traditions, once prevalent amongst them are fading and, in absence of comprehensive preaching, their faith may be losing ground. Big tracts of lands attached to these institutions have either been sold away by the respective Mahants or usurped by unscrupulous people. Thus a rich heritage of Sikhism in Bihar is at the verge of extinction. There is need to identify and locate these Nanakpanthis. They symbolise the universal nature of Sikh faith. In Bihar, these Nanakpanthis, whose population comprises of few lakhs, are getting culturally and socially isolated and economically weak. Neither the Government, nor any other authority or institution has so far given any attention to their lot.
It is necessary, first of all, that some agency should take up the task of finding them out by a detailed survey. Thereafter their problems should be studied and tackled. Government is already committed to the uplifting of religious minorities. As part of the Sikh community, the Nanakpanthis also deserve special treatment
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