"Nothing, but the thought of my beloved, finds a path into my heart.

The song of love echoes,through every particle of my being".

In the 17th century, Bhai Nand Lal, an Afghan poet, poured out his profound feelings and emotions for his celestial love, a love transcending the mundane and the temporary. After a lifelong quest for fulfillment, Bhai Nand Lal found solace and balance in the early 1680s, when he was 50 years old, at the lotus feet of Guru Gobind SinghJi in Anandpur, the City of Bliss.

While many recognize Bhai Nand Lal as a Persian-writing court poet in Anandpur, few today are familiar with the titles of his numerous works or the stories from his remarkable life. 

Bhai Nand Lal’s inspiring story 

Bhai Nand Lal's journey is captivating. Once serving the Mughal Emperor in opulent palaces, he made a remarkable decision to relocate to the lesser-known Anandpur. There, he dedicated himself to serving the underprivileged in the langar halls. What drew Bhai Ji to Anandpur remains a question. 

A  charity based in the UK, called Turiya, has begun to make a difference by launching the website www.bhainandlal.com. This site offers detailed articles about Bhai Nand Lal and his writings, along with sections on arts, kirtan/katha, translations, and e-books.

His works hold significant value in Sikh heritage and are regarded as canonical in the Sikh faith.

The website's main focus isn't on historical stories but rather on the poet's writings. They explain that Bhai Nand Lal's Persian poetry is filled with deep love and intense mysticism regarding his longing for his beloved. Through the website, they delve into these Persian writings, including famous ghazals like the Zindaginama and the Ganjnama. The editor suggests that this demonstrates how the poet envisions the Guru and Sikhi through his comprehensive background in Sufi and Islamic learning. They further mention that Bhai Nand Lal's approach is exceptionally unique, highlighting the multi-ethnic dimensions of the Sikh path.

Tales of love

In original Sikh historical literature, stories abound  the close bond shared between the Guru and Bhai Nand Lal. Rising before dawn, Bhai Nand Lal would trek through the mountainous terrain of Anandpur just to be the first to greet the Guru each morning. Their relationship blossomed with laughter and warm embraces, especially during joyous occasions like Holla Mohalla, where they celebrated together.

Life of the Poet

Bhai Nand Lal, also known as Goya, was a renowned 17th-century poet from the Punjab region. His poetic prowess and scholarly abilities earned him recognition as one of the wisest scholars of the Mughal empire in 16th-century India. Later, he became known as the ‘crown jewel’ of Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s court, owing to his profound knowledge of Hindu, Sanskrit, and Persian teachings, religious texts, and poetry.

Bhai Nand Lal Ji's devotion to the teachings of the 10th Sikh Guru elevated him to the esteemed position of ‘Court Poet Par Excellence’ among the 52 scholarly poets in Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s court. He beautifully documented the divine bliss he experienced under Guru Gobind Singh Ji's guidance in his works, many of which were penned in Persian. Despite his Hindu origins, Bhai Nand Lal embraced Sikhism during Guru Gobind Singh Ji's era, leaving a lasting legacy in the Sikh community through his spiritually enlightening poetry and literary contributions, most of which are still recited in Gurudwaras today.

Early life 

Born in Ghazni, Bhai Nand Lal's roots traced back to a family deeply intertwined with Sikh history. His father, Diwan Chajju Mal, served as the chief secretary to Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan. Chajju Mal's association with Shikoh led him to Afghanistan, where, in the city of Ghazni, Bhai Nand Lal came into the world.

From a young age of 12, Lal embarked on his journey of literary pursuits, delving into Persian poetry under the pen name of Goya. His father, a well-versed scholar himself, became Lal's tutor in languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic, and Persian. Lal's knowledge extended beyond languages; he delved into Islamic studies, despite never formally embracing Islam.

Tragedy struck young Lal as he lost his mother at 17 and his father at 19. Settling in Multan province in 1652, Lal embraced married life and continued his career within the Mughal Empire.

Within the Mughal court, Bhai Nand Lal emerged as a beacon of wisdom, revered by all for his unparalleled intellect. Despite his Hindu heritage, his scholarship in Islamic matters earned him acclaim, even leading him to instruct the emperor's son, Muazzam.

An incident arose when the emperor sought counsel on a letter from the Persian King. Muazzam turned to Bhai Nand Lal, whose interpretation proved most fitting. However, the emperor's acknowledgment of a Hindu surpassing Islamic scholars incited his anger.

So, in 1687, Bhai Nand Lal left the court because he was about to convert to Islam. He found safety with the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who was beyond the control of the Mughal emperor's cruel rule.

Bhai Nand Lal, renowned for his wisdom and upbringing in imperial luxuries, held esteemed status in the Mughal empire. Acknowledged as the wisest man in the entire empire, his journey took an unexpected turn when the 10th Sikh Guru aimed to humble him. Initially shocked, Bhai Nand Lal accepted the Guru's directive to wash dishes at the rural shrine, a task deemed essential at the time.

Despite the disparity between his former life and the humbling task, Bhai Nand Lal diligently washed dishes, displaying unwavering devotion. His dedication and selflessness didn't go unnoticed, and he gradually ascended to oversee one of the Guru’s free kitchens. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, discerning the depth of Bhai Nand Lal's humility, tested his ego and found him to be the epitome of humility, a rare virtue.

Only after proving himself as the most humble did Bhai Nand Lal ascend to the esteemed position of being the crown jewel of the Guru's court. He acknowledged that the years spent as a selfless servant of the 10th Sikh Guru yielded more knowledge than his entire lifetime. In 1687, Bhai Nand Lal arrived at the Guru’s Shrine, The Majestic City of Bliss Anandpur Sahib, marking the beginning of his profound journey.

In December of 1695, he penned the Rehatnama as narrated by Guru Gobind Singh on the banks of the River Sutlej. In 1705, he composed the Zafarnama, narrated by Guru Gobind Singh, and dispatched it to the Mughal emperor. Bhai Nand Lal's depiction of Guru Gobind Singh Ji transcended conventional perceptions, portraying him as a manifestation of universal light.

Becoming a courtier in the darbar of Guru Gobind Singh, Bhai Nand Lal emerged as one of the fifty-two poets of the court, his wisdom and humility shaping his remarkable journey alongside the revered Guru.

Bhai Nand Lal ji in Guru ji’s court 

One early morning, Guru Gobind Singh Ji decided to disguise himself as a ragged beggar. Despite his towering height of 7 feet and muscular build, he managed to conceal his identity, which turned out to be a surprise to many.

As the food preparations were underway in the Kitchen Halls, Guru Ji went around begging for food. He encountered rejection in the first and second kitchens, where the cooks insisted that the warriors (Singhs) should eat first before him. Undeterred, Guru Ji continued his search until he reached Bhai Nand Lal’s Kitchen (Langar Hall).

Expressing his hunger and weakness, Guru Ji, disguised as a beggar, asked Bhai Nand Lal if there was any food available. Bhai Nand Lal informed him that the beans were still cooking and suggested waiting for the food to be ready. However, the disguised beggar insisted he couldn't wait and asked if there was anything immediate. Bhai Nand Lal quickly rolled out some bread (roti) for him.

Surprisingly, the disguised beggar requested raw dough, claiming he didn't have time to wait. Astonished but obliging, Bhai Nand Lal passed him some half-cooked beans and raw dough, which Guru Ji accepted before disappearing into the night.

Later that day, during Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s court sessions, he mentioned being rejected from Bhai Nand Lal Ji’s Kitchen Halls. Bhai Nand Lal Ji was then summoned to the court. Before the court, Guru Ji revealed that it was he who had appeared as a hungry beggar before Bhai Nand Lal and had been fed by him. The revelation astonished everyone present.

This incident warmly welcomed Bhai Nand Lal into the Guru's Court of Poets, where he eventually became the crown jewel of the court.

Bhai Nand Lal Ji’s life in court 

Bhai Nand Lal's journey into the heart of Mughal politics began as the secretary to Prince Muazzam, eventually elevating to the prestigious position of chief secretary to Bahadur Shah I, the son and Prince of the Mughal emperor.

One perplexing day, a letter arrived from the Persian king, carrying a verse from the Quran that puzzled Emperor Bahadur Shah I. Despite exhaustive efforts, neither the emperor nor his courtiers could decipher its meaning.

In a bid to resolve the mystery, Prince Muazzam turned to Bhai Nand Lal, requesting him to interpret and respond to the King’s Letter. Bhai Nand Lal's interpretation impressed the emperor greatly. However, upon realizing that the interpreter was Hindu, the emperor urged him to convert to Islam.

Upon learning of the emperor's demand, Prince Muazzam arranged for Bhai Nand Lal's safe passage out of the emperor's jurisdiction. Fleeing to Anandpur Sahib overnight, Bhai Nand Lal sought refuge with Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who resided there until 1704.

In 1695, Bhai Nand Lal penned the Rehatnama, while in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh initiated the Saint Soldier philosophy and founded the Khalsa.

In 1704, as the Mughal army besieged Anandpur Sahib, Bhai Nand Lal expressed his desire to fight alongside the defenders. However, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, recognizing his talent as a poet, urged him to remain within the court, proclaiming, "oh Bhai Nand Lal! Thousands will become Sikh and pick up the sword of honor. You must remain a poet of my court."

In the freezing cold weather of 1704-1705, Guru Gobind Singh Ji made the difficult decision to evacuate Anandpur Sahib. As the Sikh warriors marched near river Sarsa, they faced a sudden attack by the Mughals. Despite the adversity, they displayed remarkable courage and strength in the face of the enemy.

Bhai Nand Lal, after leaving Anandpur Sahib, returned to his home in Multan. Shortly after, he joined Bhai Mani Singh and the women of Guru Ji's household for safety. Among them were Mata Sundari, the wife of Guru Ji, and Mata Sahib Kaur, revered as the mother of the Khalsa. Bhai Mani Singh led them to Delhi, beyond the reach of Wazir Khan, where Nand Lal's connections with liberal-minded members of the Mughal Court proved instrumental in ensuring their safety.

In 1705, Bhai Nand Lal penned the Zafarnama, a letter narrated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The Zafarnama reached Aurangzeb in 1707, coinciding with the emperor's death shortly after receiving it in March.

During the same year, Bhai Nand Lal allied with Prince Muazzam, later Emperor Bahadur Shah I, to invite Guru Gobind Singh Ji to aid in Bahadur Shah's claim to the Mughal throne. This collaboration marked the beginning of a reconciliation between Guru Gobind Singh Ji and the Mughal Empire.

Following Bahadur Shah's ascension to the throne in June 1707, efforts were made to reconcile with Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Despite Guru Ji's appeals for the restoration of his lands, Bahadur Shah deferred any significant action, reluctant to offend either Guru Ji or the hill rajas.

In 1712, after the death of Muazzam, Bhai Nand Lal returned to Multan and established a school of Arabic and Persian. Remarkably, this educational institution continued its operations until 1849 when the British annexed Punjab. Bhai Nand Lal passed away in 1713 in Multan, leaving behind a legacy of scholarship and service.

For Sikhs of today, Bhai Nand Lal represents the spiritual aspect of Guru Gobind Singh. While much emphasis has been placed on Guru Gobind Singh's warrior aspect, little has been written about his saintly side. Bhai Nand Lal's poetry embodies this loving and compassionate aspect of Guru Gobind Singh. As a man of piety, with non-Indian origins, and exceptional talent in mystical writing, Afghan born Bhai Nand Lal deserves global recognition similar to his predecessors, Rumi and Hafez. 

*Based on an article by Gurinder Mann, published in Bhai Nand Lal on 13th February 2013


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