A Sikh saint’s shrine

Dubby Bhagat


An easily overlooked sign on the road to Balaju says Guru Nanak Math. A stairway climbs the small hill beyond and leads, under trees and bamboos, to the small Sikh temple that owes its beginning to the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (1469-1533). The shrine is built around an immaculately clean courtyard two sides of which are apparently original. Up steep narrow stairs is a dark, discreetly lit room in the middle of which under a canopy is an altar draped in red.

Here reposes the holy book of the Sikhs known as the “Granth Sahib” which, the ageing priest says, was written by Nanak himself in letters of gold. If this is correct then this almost forgotten shrine possesses a unique relic because it is known that the “Granth Sahib” was written by the Guru’s disciple.

Strangely, the priest who is a Nepali, wears none of the well-known symbols of Sikhism: beard, turban, steel bracelet, dagger or comb. One realises with excitement that the absence of these symbols marks him as belonging to the earliest unreformed order of Sikhs who are often unrecognisable from Vaishnavite Hindus.

Beyond the courtyard is a delightful garden where under an old peepul tree, on a small platform are impressions of Guru Nanak’s feet upon which votive blossoms always rest. A reach away is a small shrine built by a Malla king and the story that attaches to it is incredibly romantic.

It seems a Malla King of the early 16th century the priest doesn’t know his name – suffered a disturbed mind. His brothers, alarmed by his behaviour, banished him to India. Roaming forlornly through the holy city of Benares he came upon the renowned Saint Nanak and begged him to cure his affliction. After many visits and much beseeching, Guru Nanak advised the king to return at once to his kingdom where his health would be restored. This was done by the king and was welcomed back to his throne. Miraculously the saint had preceded the king, for there he was meditating under a peepul tree on a wooded hill beside a river. The king visited him at once and begged the Guru to return with him to the palace. This Nanak refused to do, saying that in this serene spot he had all he wanted. So the king built a small temple for the saint and a small shrine for himself where he often came to meditate with his Guru and when he died the king’s ashes were interred in the shrine. Eventually Guru Nanak journeyed on into Tibet where he was absorbed into Mahayana Buddhism.

A later king, Rana Bahadur Shah, also of unsound mind used to find solace at the Guru Nanak Math. He gifted considerable land to the temple and I like to think that the sylvan peace of the Math inspired the king to have the nearby water garden of Balaju built. Here the splash of 22 carved fountains and bird song and forested calm and a figure of Vishnu sleeping on a bed of snakes to which kings pay homage, tell of the peace which Rana Bahadur sought and found.