As a revolutionary Sufi saint, Guru Nanak’s extensive travels in and outside India called Udaasis have several enlightening events associated with them prominently mentioned in the history books. But still it’s quite amazing to admit that not many actually know about Guru Nanak’s visit to Jagannath Puri (Orissa) and his rendition of the divine AARTI there, a wonderfully composed poetic explanation of the universe, that is now sung in every Gurdwara as a daily religious ritual as per the Sikh code of conduct post the recitation of Rehraas Sahib in Raag Dhanashri.
As per the various legends written about Guru Nanak’s visit to Jagannath Puri, a few write about the Guru attending the traditional Aarti being practiced inside the temple and in that ecstasy of watching the elaborate celebration, remaining seated that was not liked by the orthodox priest, who later confronted him for this questionable indifference shown. Another legend talks about the worshippers innocently assuming Guru Nanak as a Muslim faqir and droving him out of the premises, whereas the third one explains how the Guru helped Mardana quench his thirst expressed reaching the specific place. The fourth version talks about a fake brahmin exposed by the Guru and the fifth gives the reference of some stolen golden utensils from the temple found later. However the one linking the king says that the priests regretted their mistake of disrespecting the Guru when Lord Jagannath came in the dream of King Prataparudra Deva and said that he was listening to the hyms sung by Nanak. Seeing the dream, the King rushed to meet the saint and everyone apologized for their misbehavior recognizing the true Guru.
Here we might have many versions about Guru Nanak’s visit to the Jagannath Temple but one conclusion that can be easily drawn from them all is that the Guru did witness the prestigious Aarti being held inside the temple with the priests bringing in a big platter having many lighted lamps, incense, fruits, flowers, ornaments and more being offered to the deity along with musical beating of drums, bells, cymbals and continuing chanting of sacred mantras from the scriptures.
Inspired by the energetic celebration by the devotees of Lord Jagannath, Guru Nanak spontaneously came up with his own blissful version of the AARTI praising The Almighty’s beautiful creation and its continuous celebration going on every moment since eternity. All the priests and pilgrims were simply stunned to hear such mesmerizing celestial praises sung for ‘the Creator and his creation’ by the unexpected, enlightened soul and the melody touched many hearts experiencing the deeply meaningful rendition in Jagannath Puri that blessed evening.
Described in the above mentioned various versions, the two particular places related with Guru Nanak in the region are Bauli Mathh, where a water source was found in a hole dug on his instructions and Mangu Mathh where he used to sit under a tree during his stay in Puri preaching the people.
Interestingly few other lesser known links between Sikh history and the place include the compositions of Jaidev being a part of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, who was a famous spiritual poet of Orissa. And then the ninth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s visit to the Bauli Mathh where he stayed for a few days during his travels. Later Bhai Himmat Singh of Puri became one of the five people (Panj Piyaras) who came forward offering their heads to Guru Gobind Singh on the day of formation of Khalsa panth. Also Maharaja Ranjit Singh on his deathbed willed the Kohinoor diamond to the Jagannath Temple only on the suggestion given by his astrologer, but the wish couldn’t be fulfilled due to the refusal of its royal custodian.
Coming to the 20th century remembering Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, its said that once the veteran actor Balraj Sahni, who taught in Santiniketan in the late 1930’s, asked Rabindra Nath Tagore that,
“You have written the national anthem for India. Why not write an international anthem for the whole world?”
“It has already been written, not only for the world but for the entire universe. It was written in the 16th century by Guru Nanak,” replied Tagore referring to the Aarti (the ceremony of light).
In fact such was his love and respect for the verses that Gurudev Tagore personally translated it too in order to make it reach many more, not knowing the language (Gurmukhi). And shared below is the first stanza of the same which I have tried to translate in English for all interested fellow seekers on the path as beautifully expressed by Guru Nanak.
“Gagan Mai Thaal Rav Chand Deepak Baney,
Tarika Mandal Janak Moti,
Dhoop Malyanlo Pavan Chavro Kare
Sagal Banraye Phulant Jyoti,
Kaisi Aarti Hoye Bhav Khandna Teri Aarti.
Anhata Shabad Vaajant Bheri”
(Aarti – The word having its Sanskrit origin symbolizes the loving prayers performed as a ceremony, greeting and expressing gratitude towards the one supreme power. And representing the same Guru Nanak beautifully describes how the whole universe is performing an Aarti in reverence towards the Almighty through its spellbinding nature around.)
“The sky is the cosmic plate or bowl, the sun and the moon are the brightly shining lamps placed. The twinkling stars and the constellations are like jewels and pearls in it. The fragrance of sandalwood in air becomes the incense spread by the flowing wind. And all the plants (greenery) around us are the flowers offered to you.
What wonderful is this Aarti continuously happening in the universe.
O Destroyer of fear, Lord, this is your ceremony of lights, your Aarti, with the mystical music in the un-struck sound of the Shabad playing like the temple drums.
What wonderful is this Aarti continuously happening in the universe! O Lord, Your Aarti”
This original Aarti (of four stanzas) composed by Guru Nanak is included twice in Guru Granth Sahib. However the present version sung in Gurudwara’s has four more stanzas added to it penned by Bhagat Ravi Das, Sant Sain, Sant Kabir & Bhagat Dhanna along with the final touches coming from the tenth guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh.
And what better example one can find of practicing equality in humanity while remembering that supreme power, the One Almighty………Ek Onkar……through such amazingly peaceful & spiritually transforming Aarti.
Bobby Sing © April 2015