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Guru Nanak (1469-1539) promulgated a unique and universal philosophy of humanism in the Indian sub-continent as the renaissance was taking place in Europe (14th to 16th centuries) and scientists were challenging illogical religious concepts and beliefs. Guru Nanak carried his message far and wide to South Asia and the Middle East. He held discussions with religious leaders: Hindus—(Brahmans, Sidhs and Jogis), Muslims—(Sufis, mullahs and Qazis), Jains and Buddhists in India, the Middle East, Tibet and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
During his travels (odysseys, Udasis) Guru Nanak challenged the ancient mythology, wrong religious concepts and rituals with which the peoples of South Asia and Middle East were shackled for centuries. People were unable to express their freewill in any aspect of their lives because their lives were controlled by their religious and political authorities. Guru Nanak launched his movement to liberate the masses form ignorance and religious and political tyranny. His philosophy, termed as ”Nanakian Philosophy‘, is embodied in his Bani (Word), which has been incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS).
Nanakian Philosophy was further explained and strengthened by the Sikh Gurus who succeeded to the ”House of Nanak" in their Bani, which is also incorporated in the AGGS. A critical study of Nanakian Philosophy demonstrates all characteristics of universal acceptability and compatibility with the current Age of Science. Although there are many gaps in the travels of Guru Nanak, Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh, Sikh historians, have collated the information from various sources into three major travels as follows:
- From Talwandi to Sultanpur to Benaras to Dhubri to Assam to Dacca to Ceylon to Ujain to Mathura to Talwandi.
- From Talwandi to Kailash (Tibet) Parbat to Talwandi.
- From Talwandi to Hinglaj to Mecca to Baghdad to Kabul to (Talwandi) Kartarpur.
Besides the above travels there are many short ones in Punjab and adjoining areas. Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh have also mentioned that according to ”Janam Sakhis‘ (biographies of Guru Nanak) by Meharban and Bhai Mani Singh. Guru Nanak had also travelled to Palestine, Syria and Turkey, although there is no definite supporting evidence. Some writers of Janam Sakhis have extended his travels even to some countries in Central Asia.
Nonetheless,it is evident from the information collected by Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh that the complete travels of Guru Nanak are still to be discovered. Moreover, research on the discourses held between Guru Nanak and the heads of various religious centres also need to be described, although some discourses, e.g.Sidh Gosht, Arti,and Onkar Bani are found in the AGGS and some isolated verses of Guru Nanak are linked to some travels in some Janam Sakhis.
I was attending an International Conferenceon Bioenergy in Istanbul, Turkey in 1994 where I also presented my research work on the ”Production of Ethanolas a Source of Energy from Wood". On the last day of the conference all the participants went on a cruise in the Straits of the Bosporus (lit. cattle crossing), which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora (about 32 km) long. The Straits of the Bosporus divide the East (the Mainland of Turkey in on the Asian Continent) and the West (Istanbul is situated on the European Continent).
On my return from the cruise, when I was walking towards the bus waiting for us, I discovered a big monument. This monument is about 15 ft high and about 6ft wide constructed in mortar. It is situated in a public park at the shore of the Straits of Bosporus towards Istanbul, Turkey. It has an inscription in Arabic/Persian script. When I looked at the inscription on this monument I found very clearly "Nanak" inscribed at the end of the first line of its inscription. The bulk of the inscription is not legible because of the effects of weathering. There are some small and big cracks which have been filled with cement.
Moreover, it is in the old Turkish language in an Arabic script which is difficult to decipher. However, I was able to make out the word — "Nanak" for sure, since I know the Arabic alphabet. I decided to take a picture of the monument with its inscription for further investigation later. Next morning I returned home to Canada. On my return I consulted a student of mine from Turkey to decipher the inscription. She was, however, unable to decipher the inscription because the severe weathering had rendered it unlegible. Then I consulted a couple of more people from Turkey, again without any success. Further research to decipher its inscription remained dormant for 12 years until I visited Lahore, Pakistan to participate in an International Conference on "Guru Nanak Heritage for Peace" on February 18,2006
I found the importance of the monument only when Mr. Iqbal Kaiser, the author of a book, "Sikh Shrines in Pakistan", and Mr. Syed Afzal Haider, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, who is the author of a book, Baba Nanak, helped me to decipher the first line of the inscription, which is in the Turkish language. It seemed to clearly indicate that it was dedicated to Guru Nanak. The first line deciphered by them is as follows:
In Turkish language (Transliterated in Gurmukhi Script):
ਜਹਾਂਗੀਰ ਜਮਾਂ ਹਿੰਦ ਲਤ ਅਬਦ ਅਲ ਮਾਜੀਦ ਨਾਨਕ ।
(Jehangir jaman hind lat abd al majid Nanak.)
Meanings in Punjabi:
ਜਮਾਨੇਦਾ ਮਾਲਕ, ਹਿੰਦ ਦਾ ਬੰਦਾ,ਰਬ ਦਾ ਨਾਨਕ ।
(jamanay-da malik, hind dabanda, rab da Nanak)
Meanings in English:
The Lord of the time, resident of India, Nanak the man of God.
The rest of the long inscription is not legible and is still to be deciphered.
The above new discovery of a monument of Guru Nanak may connect the travel of Guru Nanak from Mecca to Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey and then to Baghdad rather than directly to Baghdad from Mecca as is generally accepted. The general accepted travel of Guru Nanak, entirely based on the information given by Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh, is drawn in solid lines. According to them, Guru Nanak started his travel from Talwandi to Sultanpur to meet his sister before proceeding to a long travel.
From Sultanpur he went to Pakpattan (Ajodhan) to renew his old contacts with Sheikh Ibrahim Farid II. From there he proceeded to Multan to meet Baha-ud-Din, a descendant and successor of famous Sheikh Baha-ud-Din Zakria, founder of Suhrawardhy Sufi Silslah in India. From Multan, Guru Nanak proceeded to Uch (Deogarh). Here Guru Nanak had a meeting with Sheikh Haji Abdulla Bukhari (d.1526 CE), a successor of Kalal-ud-Din Bhukhari.
From Uch to Sukkur to Lakhpat (Basta Bander) probably by boat (in river Sind?). There is an old Gurdwara here in the memory of Guru Nanak's visit. From here he proceeded to the sea shore where at Kuriani, he visited old temples of Koteshwar and Narayna Swami. From there he proceeded further to Sonmiani(or simply Miani). Before boarding a boat to Mecca he visited a Hindu temple in Hinglaj. There is a Nanak Dharamsala (inn) in this town.
According to Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh, Guru Nanak boarded a boat which sailed from Sonmiani through Gulf of Eden and Red Sea to Jeddah (Al Aswad),a port near Mecca. They say that after visiting Mecca and Medina, Guru Nanak travelled directly to Baghdad in Iraq then to Tehran and Kabul and finally back to (Talwandi) Kartarpur. They argued that Guru Nanak followed direct and shortest route to Baghdad than that of long route through Palestine, Syria, and Turkey as mentioned in some Janam Sakhis.
However, Dr Trilochan Singh has reported that there are some indications that Guru Nanak visited Cairo(Egypt) where during the war Sikh soldiers were shown a place on the out skirts of the town where there was a stone memorial (Captain Bhag Singh, Founding Managing Editor of the Sikh Review, was told about the existence of this monument when he was at Cairo during World War II. Unfortunately he could not go there and see. Dr Trilochan Singh has also reported from the work of Sydney Nettleton Fisher that in Egypt or in Istanbul(Turkey) Guru Nanak had met the Emperor of Rum Salim (1511-1520CA). Dr Trilochan Singh further says that Guru Nanak might have visited Jerusalem.
Because of a lack of any solid evidence, Fauja Singh and Kirpal Singh further strengthened their views that the shortest route from Baghdad to Mecca was first marked and prepared for Khalifa Harun Rashid's wife, Zubaida Begum, for Hajj (the pilgrimage) to Mecca. And then during 14th century Ibn Batula adopted the same route for his journey from Baghdad to Mecca. They have ignored the fact that the passage to Palestine, Syria, and Turkey and then to Baghdad might be easier than that of direct route proposed by them.
They have also ignored another fact that while in Mecca, Guru Nanak was very close to the center of ancient civilization in Cairo (Egypt) and the center of the Jews, Jerusalem (Israel), and a Sufi center established by Hazrat Moulana Jallaluddin Rumi in Konya (Turkey), whose philosophy was very prevalent not only in the Middle East but also in India and now in the West.
Since Guru Nanak has not left any place connected with Sufism, and religious centers, therefore, there is every possibility that Guru Nanak might have visited the ancient civilization in Cairo(Egypt), Wailing Wall of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem, Sufi center started by Sufi Rumiin Konya (Turkey) and might have met the Emperor of Rum, Salim, in Istanbul(Turkey). If the inscription on the newly discovered monument confirms that it is a memorial to Guru Nanak then it will confirm that Guru Nanak did not proceed from Mecca directly to Baghdad but went to Cairo, Jerusalem, Syria, and Konya and Istanbul in Turkey and then to Baghdad
Dr Trilochan Singh has reported that Qazis and Hajjis addressed Guru Nanak as ”Nanak Hindvi" or ”Nanak Hind ki". The first line of the inscription clearly indicates that it is related to Guru Nanak who has been addressed as "hind da banda, rab da Nanak". Therefore, it becomes imperative for scholars and the Sikhs at large to decipher rest of the inscription to find out:
- Is this inscription about Guru Nanak‘s visit to Turkey?
- If the inscription is about Guru Nanak then what is the complete message?
- Is it a memorial constructed in commemoration of Guru Nanak? And soon.
The Institute for Understanding Sikhism has taken up this research project to study the history of this discovered monument dedicated to Guru Nanak on the following lines:
- To relocate the site of the monument and the importance of that site to the tourists visiting Istanbul.
- To discover the original inscription of that monument and deciphering it into English and Punjabi.
- To discover any information related to the visit of Guru Nanak in Turkey.
- To visit various shrines of Hazrat Moulana Jallaluddin Rumito discover the possibilities of discourse of Guru Nanak with the then religious leaders of those shrine of that time.
- To search for evidence of meeting of Guru Nanak with the Emperor of Rum, Salim in Istanbul.
- To discuss the matter with the Archaeology Department and the Municipality of Istanbul about the future maintenance of this monument and to discuss the possibilities to erect similar monuments with English and Punjabi translations of the original inscription of Turkish.
- To deliver a talk on ”Travels of Guru Nanak in India and the Middle East to the faculty and students of the Department of Archaeology, University of Ankara.
- To discover the return route followed by Guru Nanak after visiting Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
- Finally to publish a Report about the findings of research conducted and then writing a book, Travels of Guru Nanak, with special reference to discovery of this monument.
I am already in contact with Mr. Tugrul Biltekin, First Secretary in the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Ottawa,Canada. He is ready to help me to conduct research on this project and allow me to consult the concerned documents in the Department of Archaeology in Ankara and its branch in Istanbul and also the municipality of Istanbul. Meeting with the religious leaders of shrines of Sufi Rumi in Konya, Turkey will also be arranged by him to discover the possibility of visiting this shrine by Guru Nanak.
Deciphering of the whole inscription on this new discovered monument will confirm the visit of Guru Nanak to Turkey.
- The confirmation of connection of this monument with Guru Nanak will further strengthen the possibilities of visits of Guru Nanak to Cairo (Egypt), Jerusalem (Israel), Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey (dotted lines) covering the whole Middle Easts in the visit to Mecca, Baghdad, Tehran, and Kabul(solid lines) has already been confirmed.
- The location of the Monument on a public park on the shore of the Straits of Bosporus towards Istanbul, Turkey on European Continent enhances its importance for the tourists of the world.
- The above achievements, on completion of this research project are going to prove the travel of Guru Nanak to the end of Middle East (Turkey) and beginning of the Europe (Istanbul) and establishment of a new shrine (A place or structure esteemed for its importance or centrality in Sikh history and as a memorial to Guru Nanak) - - A pride for every Sikh.
The original monument is to be preserved as such with its damaged inscription. A similar monument is to be constructed with the original inscription, which would be clearly legible. Still another such monument is to be constructed on which the translation of the original inscription in Punjabi to be in scribed on one side and English translation on the other side. This will become an historical pilgrimage for the Sikhs in Istanbul on the shore of Straits of the Bosporus on the European Continent where the West meets the East. The role of UNESCO in maintaining this monument as World Heritage will be explored after deciphering the inscription on the newly discovered monument of Guru Nanak.
The estimated funding required to complete the first phase of this research project is about $50,000. The devout Sikhs and Gurdwaras are requested to mail their checks (in the name of ”Institute for Understanding Sikhism") to the Institute for Understanding Sikhism, 4418 Rue Martin-Plouffe, Laval, Quebec, Canada H7W 5L9. The Institute for Understanding Sikhism is charitable organization federally incorporated in Canada. Receipts for donations are issued for Income Tax deductions.
The author is grateful to Drs Avtar Singh Dhaliwal, Sarjeet Singh Sidhu, Balbir Singh, Baldev Singh, Teja Singh, Kulbir Singh Thind and Dr (Mrs) Khushdev Thind for their helpful suggestions to improve its presentation. My special thanks are due to Dr Parminder Singh Chahal, my son, for preparing Figures.
Update(5th Jan 2007)
Since the ‘Discovery of Monument of Guru Nanak in Istanbul’ was announced and published in various magazines and newspapers in India and Canada, it has created a great curiosity among the Sikhs all over the world. Now every Sikh wants to see this monument. In continuation of our further research, we are proud to inform you that the Monument has been relocated in collaboration with Mr. T. Sibia of London, UK and Mr Jatinderpaul Singh of Ramtex Exports. Ludhiana.
We are glad that the monument is still in very good conditions after 12 years when it was discovered in 1994. To my surprise the relocation has indicated that there is also some inscription on the back of this monument. The full size pictures of the monument with front side and back sides are shown as follows. Calligraphic writing at the top with gold is BISM-ALLAH (Starting in the Name of Allah).
CONTINUATION OF RESEARCH
Our research for deciphering the inscription and to find out the background history of this monument is going on. Here is an update on the discovery of monument of Guru Nanak:
Our initial research after consulting a number of scholars indicates that there is a need for hard and serious efforts to work with scholars not only experts in Arabic and Persian but also in Turkish, and who are familiar with the status of these languages of that time. However, we have discovered through the help of scholars from Montreal and Istanbul in coordination with Mr. T. Sibia the following:
First Deciphering Attempt
I found the importance of the monument only when Mr. Iqbal Kaiser, the author of a book, ‘Sikh Shrines in Pakistan’, and Mr. Syed Afzal Haider, Senior Advocate of Supreme Court of Pakistan, and the author of a book, ‘Baba Nanak’, helped me to decipher the first line of the inscription, which is in Arabic/Persian/Turkish language (Fig. 1. Front view). It clearly indicates that it is dedicated to Guru Nanak. The first line deciphered by them is as follows:
In Arabic/Persian/Turkish languages (Transliterated in Gurmukhi Script):
ਜਹਾਂਗੀਰ ਜਮਾਂ ਹਿੰਦ ਲਤ ਅਬਦ ਅਲ ਮਾਜੀਦ ਨਾਨਕ । (Jehangir jaman hind lat abd al majid Nanak.)
Meanings in Punjabi:
ਜਮਾਨੇ ਦਾ ਮਾਲਕ, ਹਿੰਦ ਦਾ ਬੰਦਾ, ਰੱਬ ਦਾ ਨਾਨਕ । (jamanay da malik, hind da banda, rab da Nanak)
Meanings in English:
The Lord of the time, resident of India, Nanak – the man of God.
The rest of the long inscription is not legible and is still to be deciphered. However, the date, 1267 Hijri (1850 CE), in the crown and at the bottom line of the monument is quite legible.
When we examined the inscription on the other side of the monument (Fig. 2. Back side) it appears that the inscription was engraved either in 1217 or 1267 Hijri, which is equivalent to 1802 or 1850 CE. The later date (1850 CE) appears to be correct since the Emperor of the Ottoman Empire (1839-61 CE) was Abd-al-Majid (1823-61 CE).
It is also assumed that the name of the inscriber is also Abd-al-Majid, which appears above that date. Abd-al-Majid is a very common name among Muslims. And ‘Abd-al-Majid’ is also written before ‘Nanak’ at the end of the first line on the front side of the monument. Then ‘Abd-al-Majid’ is also appearing at the end of the first line on the back side of the monument. Now the question is:
Who is ‘Abd-al-Majid Nanak’?
Although the word ‘Nanak’ was not found in common Arabic and Persian Dictionaries, however, it cannot be ignored that ‘Nanak’ is the family or last name of some persons. On the other hand we have also noticed that ‘Hazrat Rab Majid Baba Nanak Faqir’ is found in an inscription on a stone in Baghdad dated 917 Hijri which is equivalent to 1511 CE. This further forces us to look into these inscriptions seriously and also along with other related writings to find the truth that:
Who is this ‘Nanak’ in the inscription on monument discovered in Istanbul?
Further study on its history indicates that this monument was built in the name of Ottoman Empire Sultan Abd-al-Majid in 1267 Hijri (1850 CE). A port was established in that area (Kabata) in order to save the boats of Sultan from heavy winds and this stone monument was put there at that time. On back side of the monument the benefits of the port are written and on front side facing the Straits of Bosporus there is prayer for the Sultan. If it is so then: Is this prayer connected to Guru Nanak?
The place of the monument was changed from it's original place when there was road construction and on 1987-1988 it was restored by government, now it is located in the same area which is called Kabata (near dolmabahçe palace)
At present it seems that until the whole inscription on both sides of the monument is deciphered it is difficult to draw any inference to relate it to Guru Nanak.
Since the date (1850) on the monument indicates that it was constructed more than 300 years after Guru Nanak (1469-1539 CE), it creates another curiosity as to why someone would erect a monument with an inscription containing the name of Guru Nanak well after his passing?
Serious research is also needed to look into the history of Sufism in the Middle East and any interaction with Sufism in India since in the Muslim world Nanak is recorded as a Sufi named ‘Baba Nanak’, Baba Nanak Fakir, and even as ‘Hazrat Rab Majid Baba Nanak Faqir’ on the stone at Baghdad.
Besides a new line of research, “To study the interaction of the philosophy of Guru Nanak from an angle of his Sufism as related to that of Middle Eastern Sufism” has also become an important research project for the IUS.
- Fisher, Sydeny Nettleton.Year? The Middle East: A History. p20639. J.M.S.(LI)281.
- Singh, Fauja, and Singh,Kirpal. 1976. Atlas:Travels of Guru Nanak. Punjabi University, Patiala.
- Singh, Trilochan. 1969. Guru Nanak:Founder of Sikhism. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Sis Ganj, Chandi ni Chowk, Delhi.