Sikh History & Personalities

What do you know of Bhai Mardana?

MARDĀNĀ, BHĀĪ (1459-1534), Gurū Nānak’s long-time companion throughout his extensive journeys across the country and abroad, was born the son of a Muslim Mirāsī (a caste of hereditary minstrels and genealogists) couple, Badrā and Lakkho, of Talvaṇdī Rāi Bhoe, now Nankāṇā Sāhib, in Sheikhūpurā district of Pakistan. Gurū Nānak and Bhāī Mardānā grew up in the same village. The Miharbān Janam Sākhī describes the latter, who was ten years senior in age, as the Gurū’s companion since his childhood days and as one who sang to him songs from Bhagat Kabīr, Bhagat Trilochan, Bhagat Ravidās, Bhagat Dhannā and Bhagat Beṇī. According to Ratan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Prāchīn Panth Prakāsh, Gurū Nānak as a small boy gave Bhāī Mardānā a string instrument improvised from reeds to play on while he sang the hymns.

As Gurū Nānak was employed to take charge of the granaries and stores of the Nawāb of Sultānpur Lodhī, the stories of his generosity and hospitality spread far and wide. Bhāī Mardānā, already a married man and father of two sons and a daughter, wanted to visit Sultānpur and seek his bounty. Meanwhile, he was charged by Gurū Nānak’s father Mahitā Kālū, to go to Sultānpur and bring news of the welfare of his son. Bhāī Mardānā went to Sultānpur, never to part company with Gurū Nānak again. His occupation was playing the rabāb or rebeck as Gurū Nānak recited God’s glory.

According to Bhāī Manī Singh ‘Gyān Ratnāvalī’ and other Janam Sākhīs, Bhāī Mardānā received Charan-Pahul Amrit from Gurū Nānak and was initiated into Sikhi. On receiving Amrit, Gurū Nānak instructed him:

“Firstly, you are not to cut your hair.
Secondly, you are to get up early in the morning and do practice of the Sat Nām (the True Name);
and, Thirdly, you are to serve hospitably the visiting devotees of God.”

When Gurū Nānak prepared to go forth into the world to preach his message, he invited Bhāī Mardānā to accompany him. Bhāī Mardānā hesitated, for he did not wish to leave his family until his daughter had been married off and for this he did not have sufficient means. One of Gurū Nānak’s disciples, Bhāī Bhagīrath, bought the needed provisions and Bhāī Mardānā was able to give away his daughter in marriage. He was then ready to accompany Gurū Nānak on his travels.

To relieve the rigour of the journeys, the biographers describe several humorous situations in which Bhāī Mardānā involved himself by his amiable faux pas. Weak in respect to fleshly wants, he became panicky when prospects of getting the next meal seemed less than certain. He was not easily convinced when Gurū Nānak told him to be patient and have trust in something turning up, and wished always to be prepared beforehand with the rations. As the Purātan Janam Sākhī narrates, Gurū Nānak and Bhāī Mardānā had not come out very far from Sultānpur when the latter complained that he felt hungry and needed something to eat immediately. The Gurū pointed to the village they had passed and said that, if he went there, he would be well entertained by Khatrīs of the Uppal caste who lived in that village. Bhāī Mardānā turned his foot-steps in that direction and, arriving in the village, he found everyone more than hospitable. He was fed sumptuously and given ample alms. As he saw him return loaded with a bundle, .Gurū Nānak, says the Janam Sākhī, rolled on the ground laughing. Bhāī Mardānā 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 the Gurū pointed out to him that those articles would be more of a burden to him.

The janam sākhīs also contain many anecdotes picturing Bhāī Mardānā in despair out of agonizing hunger or petrifying fear and Gurū Nānak or Nature coming to succour him somewhat 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. Bhāī Mardānā, trembling with fear, thus spoke to the Gurū, “True sovereign, thou hast brought me to my death in this forest. I shall not here get a shroud nor a grave.” The Gurū asked him to remain calm, but Bhāī Mardānā 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. Bhāī Mardānā 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, Mardānā, ” spoke the Gurū, “and take thy rebeck.” Bhāī Mardānā tuned the strings and Gurū Nānak sang: “If the fear of God is in the heart, all other fear is dispelled…”

According to Purātan Janam Sākhī, Bhāī Mardānā and his Master were taken prisoner by the Mughals at Saidpur. The Gurū was given a load to carry on his head and Bhāī Mardānā to lead a horse holding its rein. Mīr Khān, the Mughal commander, saw that the Gurū’s bundle was floating a cubit above his head and Bhāī Mardānā’s horse was following him without the reins. He reported the miracle to Sultān Bābar, who remarked, “Had there been such faqīrs here, the town should not have been struck.” Mīr Khān asked him to see for himself.

In 1534, at Kartārpur, Bhāī Mardānā fell ill. He grew weak and hope of recovery was lost. Born of a Muslim family, he had attached himself to Gurū Nānak and had become initiated into the Sikh faith. The Gurū asked him how he wished his body to be disposed of. Bhāī Mardānā replied that by the Gurū’s instruction he had overcome his pride of the body. What remained of him after death, he said, be disposed of as the Gurū wished. Then the Gurū said. “Shall I make thee a tomb to render thee famous in the world?” “When the Gurū is releasing me from the bodily sepulchre, why should he entomb me in stone?” answered Bhāī Mardānā. The Gurū asked him to fix his mind on the Creator. The following morning, at a watch before day, Bhāī Mardānā passed away. The Gurū consigned his body to the River Rāvī, and caused hymns sung and kaṛāh prashād, the sacrament, distributed among the Sikhs. He consoled Bhāī Mardānā’s son Shahzādā, and other members of his family and asked them not to weep for him who had returned to his heavenly home.

1. Śabadārth Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib. Amritsar, 1969
2. Vīr Siṅgh, Bhāī, ed., Purātan Janam Sākhī. Amritsar, 1982
3. Kirpāl Siṅgh, ed., Janam Sākhī Paramparā. Patiala, 1969
4. Giān Siṅgh, Giānī, Panth Prakāsh [Reprint]. Patiala, 1970
5. Satbīr Siṅgh, Purātan Itihāsik Jīvanīāṅ.Jalandhar, 1969
6. Harbans Singh, Gurū Nanak and Origins of the Sikh Faith. Bombay, 1969
7. McLeod, W.H., Guru Nanak and the Sikh. Religion Oxford, 1968