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Forgotten Chapter of Glorious History


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tribune India

Forgotten Chapter of Glorious History

Varinder Walia

Tribune News Service

Bhai Gurdas inscribed the first copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, but he is himself not remembered now.

Bhai Gurdas, who inscribed the first copy of Guru Granth Sahib under the supervision of his nephew, Guru Arjun Dev, is considered as a towering Hindi poet of the medieval period. However, the Sikh world, including Akal Takht and SGPC, has failed to acknowledge the contribution of Bhai Gurdas. Even the exact date or place of his birth still remains unclear.

Regarded as the first interpreter of Gurbani, his writings are considered the key to understanding the holy scriptures of Sikhs. He wrote 40 vars (ballads) and 556 kabits (a form of Punjabi poetry). These writings are considered the best specimens of Sikh literature and philosophy. He spent many years in Varanasi, where he studied Sanskrit scriptures. He extensively visited Agra, Lucknow, Burhanpur, Rajasthan, Jammu and Chamba hills to preach Sikhism.

Despite his great contribution to Sikhism and Hindi, Punjabi and Braj literature, he was not remembered during the quadri-centennial celebrations of the installation of Guru Granth Sahib. The Kashi Nagri Parcharni Sabha, Banaras, a renowned institute of Hindi literature, has prominently mentioned in its research reports the Hindi literature produced by Bhai Gurdas. It is said the Maharaja of Banaras became a follower of Bhai Gurdas and appreciated his scholarly work.

The incomplete gate at Baserke village which was to be named after Bhai Gurdas. — Photos by Rajiv Sharma

A big gurdwara in the memory of Bhai Gurdas has been raised in Varanasi, while no exclusive memorial has been constructed in Amritsar district where he spent most of his time. Only a hall of the SGPC complex has been named after Bhai Gurdas. No site of the Gurdwara Pipli Sahib (Putligarh), where Bhai Gurdas guided the Sikh Sangat, has been protected by the SGPC.

Ironically, the SGPC has never observed any day to remember Bhai Gurdas, as there is no record about his date of birth or death, though he lived for 91 years.

Jathedar Akal Takht, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, and SGPC Chief, Bibi Jagir Kaur, admitted that consensus has not been so far reached on the dates of the birth and the death of Bhai Gurdas.

According to Dr H.S. Bedi, Senior Professor, Department of Hindi, Guru Nanak Dev University, Bhai Gurdas may have written more literature in Hindi and Braj, and this literature needs to be traced by scholars.

In case proper research is done on Bhai Gurdas, the established literary myths would be broken. His writings are considered the best specimens of Sikh literature and philosophy.

“He was a man of wide learning, especially in ancient texts and philosophy, and he devoted his exceptional talents to preach the Sikh faith. His poetry, now available in two volumes — Vara Bhai Gurdas and Kabitt Savaiyye — is sung along with Gurbani at holy congregations. Guru Arjun Dev put his seal of approval on it by designating it as the ‘key’ to the Holy Scripture,†explains Dr Bedi.

Meanwhile, Jathedar, Akal Takht, has described the confusion about the date and place of birth of Bhai Gurdas as “most unfortunateâ€. Some historians claim that he was born in a Bhalla khatri family of Goindwal in 1608 Bikrami (1551 AD) and his father’s name was Ishar Das and mother’s name was Jivani. He was the nephew of the third Guru, Guru Amar Das.

Other Sikh historians say that his father’s name was Bhai Datar Chand. The Gyan Ratnawli, published by SGPC, mentioned the year of his birth as 1603 Bikrami (1546 AD). The Sikh scholar, Bhai Veer Singh, claimed that the year of his birth was between 1600 Bikrami and 1610 Bikrami. He based this calculation on the references given by Gyan Singh and Bhai Santokh Singh.

A history of Punjabi literature, written by Sant Singh Sekhon, and published by Punjabi University, Patiala, claims that Bhai Gurdas was born in 1551 AD in Gilwali village (now Guruwali), adjacent to Amritsar. When this correspondent went to Gilwali, villagers, including Sarpanch Balwinder Singh, denied that Gilwali was the birthplace of Bhai Gurdas. One Gurnam Singh of Dera Baba Sant Singh said he had never heard about this. Some of the historians mentioned Baserke (16 km from Amritsar) as the place where Bhai Gurdas was born.

A visit to Baserke revealed that villagers had only heard about their village being the birthplace of Bhai Gurdas, but no one knew the exact location of his birthplace. During militancy, the villagers tried to build a gate to commemorate the memory of Bhai Gurdas. The gate still remains incomplete. Hardip Singh, a shopkeeper in the village, said all attempts to find the exact location of the birthplace of Bhai Gurdas had so far not borne any fruit.


“We must admit that injustice is being done to Bhai Gurdas. It is a challenge for Sikh scholars to find the exact date and place of his birth. There is a dire need for the SGPC to open an institute where research could be done on Bhai Gurdas, who is one of the greatest Sikh personalities. It is a pity that the scholars were not unanimous in their opinion about the volume of Guru Granth Sahib inscribed by Bhai Gurdasji.â€

— Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti Jathedar, Akal Takht

“The Shiromani Committee would ask Sikh scholars to do research on Bhai Gurdas. He was the nephew of the third Sikh Master, Guru Amar Das, and the maternal uncle of Guru Arjun Dev. If Sikh scholars would be able to find about the date and place of his birth, the SGPC would immediately arrange for centenary celebrations of Bhai Gurdas.â€

— Bibi Jagir Kaur President, SGPC

“It is imperative to establish a Chair in the name of Bhai Gurdas in some University. The discovery of literature authored by Bhai Gurdas would force a rewriting of the history of Hindi literature.

—Dr H.S. Bedi, Senior Professor and Head, Kabir Chair, Guru Nanak Dev University

“It is most unfortunate that due honour has not been given to one of the most prolific writers of Punjabi and Hindi and Braj literature. Upset over the indifference attitude of the SGPC, the Kesh Sambhal Sanstha, a private organisation started celebrating the birth of Bhai Gurdas on August 15. The first volume of Guru Granth Sahib, inscribed by Bhai Gurdas, was completed on this date and hence the organisation decided to celebrate his birth on this date.â€

— Dr Shamir Singh, Former professor and Head, Hindi Department, Khalsa College.

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