Nankayan (Life of Nanak) by Mohan Singh \’Mahir\’ is commissioned work written at the behest of Punjabi University to mark the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. Professor \’Mahir\’ earned this distinction after he wrote Nankayan (Nankayan). He has yet another distinction of ushering in what has come to be known as modernism in Punjabi poetry. The epic tells the story of the founder of Sikhism based on several medieval sources like Puratan Janam Sakhi, Meharban di Janam Sakhi, the first var of Bhai Gurdas and others.

He has, of course, supplemented it with recent research like that of Dr. Karuna Ratan regarding Guru Nanak\’s visit to Sri Lanka of which an account has recently been discovered and preserved in Anuradhapura Bhavan in Sri Lanka. Running into 224 pages, the work is planned in six parts. The first called Talwandi is named after the village in which Guru Nanak was born and is related to the Guru\’s early life. The second part is entitled Sultanpur, again after the name of the town where Guru Nanak came to be employed as steward by Daulat Khan Lodi, the Governor.

The third, fourth and the fifth parts are devoted to the three pilgrimages that the Guru undertook towards the east when he travelled upto Manipur and then to the south via Orissa to Sri Lanka, the second being his sojourn in the north when he penetrated upto Sumer Parbat via Kashmir and then the third to the west to Mecca and Baghdad in Iraq. The sixth and last part describes Guru Nanak\’s finally settling down at Kartarpur, a new township that he had founded.

Mohan Singh had earlier translated into Punjabi verse Edwin Arnold\’s The Light of Asia, presenting the life of Gautam Buddha and in the opinion of Sant Singh Sekhon as stated in the History of Punjabi literature, “he did the job with such success that the translation is as good as the original, perhaps more lyrical at places, according to the genius of the Punjabi language.” This exercise no doubt stood him in good stead while writing Nankayan. Written in the mould earlier exploited by his illustrious predecessor, Kirpa Sagar, in his long narrative poem entitled Lakshmi Devi, Mohan Singh has improved upon Kirpa Sagar by breaking the monotony of Upma Chhand with a variety of other poetical moulds as per the requirements of the narrative.

He has also succeeded admirably in intertwining Guru Nanak\’s hymns figuring in Guru Grantha Sahib in his story. His most arduous task, however, was when he had to incorporate miracles and other supernatural happenings as recorded by the medieval biographers of Guru Nanak in their works called Janam Sakhis. Mohan Singh does it most dexterously by saying, “So says the writer of the Janam Sakhi.” In this way, he does not offend the orthodox and yet does not strain the credibility of the discerning reader. His approach remains consistently rational and modern. In his description of nature, Mohan Singh is at his best.

Writing about it in the Introduction to the work. Kirpal Singh Narang, the then Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University says: “It is through reading this work my devotion has found expression in tears.” Indeed, Mohan Singh\’s story of Guru Nanak\’s life is written with remarkable devotion and passion. He is equally successful in interpreting Guru Nanak\’s message. Some of the intricate doctrinal issues discussed in debates with the contemporary mystics and stages, become simple and easily comprehensible in the poet\’s lucid presentation, more particularly so in his scintillating diction.

Mohan Singh\’s Guru Nanak is both human and divine. Guru Nanak who started his ministry by announcing, “There is no Hindu; there is no Musalman,” thereby asserting that all are human beings; Guru Nanak who advised his followers to labour hard, earn, and share the earnings with others; Guru Nanak who maintained that an active life is any day superior to a life of sheer contemplation; Gurti Nanak who was a dutiful son, brother of a fond sister, an affectionate husband and a loving father. And yet when the time came for him to nominate his successor, he decided upon one of his devotees, Bhai Lehna.

Guru Nanak, who, as a child, would not wear the sacred Hindu thread as a mere ritual and yet in his ninth incarnation gave his life so that a Hindu\’s right to wear the sacred thread is not violated. Guru Nanak, who when asked by his father to do some profitable business with his life\’s saving, used the entire amount feeding and clothing the needy and came back home empty-handed having made a most worthwhile investment, as he put it. Guru Nanak who is said to have disappeared in the stream called Bain one morning and was not seen for three days. Every one around was worried but his sister Nanaki, in the words of the poet, said time and again: Bain dare not drown my brother Who is bom to salvage others.

Guru Nanak, who found the misguided offer of the Ganga water to the sun with a view to propitating one\’s ancestors, turned his back and started splashing the Ganga water towards the west. When asked why he did so, the Guru replied: “I water my crops in the Punjab.” His fellow-pilgrims laughed and asked, “How will your water reach your lands so far away?” The Guru silenced them by asking, “If your water can reach the sun millions of miles away, why can\’t mine travel a few hundred miles away, to the Punjab?” This is the technique Guru Nanak employed as a teacher all his life. In the hands of Mohan Singh, Nankayan presents a rich bill of spiritual fare. K. S. Duggal

References :

1. Amarjit Singh, Punjabi sahit da itihas—Qissa kal, Amritsar, 1981.
2. Kohli, S.S., Punjabi Sahit da Itihas, Ludhiana, 1955.
3. Mohan Singh, A History of Punjabi Literature, Amritsar, 1956.
4. Ramdev, Jaginder Singh (ed.), Punjabi Likhari Kosh, Jullundur, 1964.
5. Sekhon, S.S. and K.S. Duggal, A History of Punjabi Literature, Delhi, 1992.