From a versified account of a 17th Century bureaucrat who was a contemporary of Shahjahan, Surat Singh, known variously as Tazkira-i Shaikhul Khadam, or Tazkira i Pīr Hassu Taili, which survives in form of two manuscripts, both at Aligarh, it becomes apparent that Gurū Nānak’s religious status was widely accepted in 17th century Punjab; and he was popular among both Hindus and Muslims. From the Tazkira references to Guru Nanak and the power and popularity of his verses, it is clear that Sūrat Singh held him to be a great teacher and a master of “Hindi verses” (f. 142b). He writes that at a time when his brother was removed from the post of revenue collector (‘āmil) at Jahangirpur, his mother took him to the “village of Bābā Nānak” where they visited him “mari” (marhī, funeral shrine). A translation of this portion, Aligarh MS, ff. 122b-123a, is offered below. From this it becomes clear that at least till 1647 a shrine and a tomb of the Guru was extant on the banks of the River Ravi at Kartarpur. The popular Sikh legend that both these monuments were washed away providentially so as to avoid idolatrous worship of the Guru’s last resting-place, may be correct; but the event would seem to have taken place after 1647, for had the shrine disappeared by the time Sūrat Singh was composing his work, he would probably have referred to the fact.
According to the Sikh traditions, Gurū Nānak did not leave behind two bodies, as related to Sūrat Singh by the shrine’s attendants. Rather, when the time for Guru Nanak’s parting from this world arrived, and the Muslims wanted to bury him and the Hindus to cremate him, Guru Nanak told them: “Let the Hindus place flowers on my right and the Musalmans on my left. They whose flowers are found fresh in the morning (after my death), may have the disposal of my body”. The Guru then drew a sheet over himself and departed from this world. When the sheet was removed the next morning it was found that the Guru’s body had miraculously disappeared and the flowers placed on both sides were in bloom. The blooms were then divided and partly cremated and partly buried. (See Macauliffe, Sikh Religion, I, pp.190-91).
At most of the places in his Tazkira Sūrat Singh generally refers to Gurū Nānak as ‘Baba Nanak’. It is only at one place (f.142b) that he refers to him as “Guru Nanak”.
Sūrat Singh’s work is an important historical document for understanding how the message of Guru Nanak was looked at by the mystically inclined in the Punjab. It is one of the first statements in Persian on the Sikh message, it belongs to just about the time the author of the famous account in the Dabistān-i Mazāhib was collecting his material on Sikhism. For this reason it should surely be of interest to students of Sikh history.
Translation of the account of the author’s visit to Gurū Nānak’s shrine (Tazkira, Aligarh MS, ff. 122b-123a).
“My mother took hold of my hand and started the journey; we went to the village (deh) of Baba Nanak.
“The attendants of the Blessed Shrine (harīm) gave the intelligence about him that beneficent one came by one [the true] path and never came by another.
“When we bowed our heads for pilgrimage to [the shrine of] the Baba, [we saw that] there was a marī [marhī, funeral shrine], and by the side of the marī, was his tomb (mazār).
“Who can come between the pure body (jism-i pāk) and its frame (man) (lit. house) of dust? For the life of those whose hearts have life, an arrow turns into a mere thorn!
“They become bodies of air when they are reduced to dust [if they are buried on death] and acquire the form of water, if they are thrown into fire [i.e. are cremated].”
Account of the Death of Baba Nanak
“How from the house do you take the warp? [It is] from the shrine of the spiritually-sighted ones, [that] the collyrium for the eyes [comes].
“From their presence, the dust becomes collyrium, and they leave in poor state, who draw their skirt through that dust like wind or smoke.
“I sought from those serving the marī, the mystery of the shrine of the Baba. A narrator of the tradition gave me an account of it.
“That when he [Gurū Nānak] died, leaving this for another abode, Hindus and Muslims gathered around the Bābā’s head.
“The Hindus said that he was a Hindu, and thus he ought to be cremated. The assemblage of Muslims desired to make a grave for him.
“Two bodies of his thereupon came to view: One they took and cremated; and the other was put in front for the [Muslim] funeral prayer.
“[But] he left both his bodies and went across to the other side of River Ravi. There an Afghan disciple (murīd) had the privilege of a sight of him.
“He [Nānak] laid out before him a floor-cloth containing a variety of eatables. The Afghan ate his fill from that laid-out meal.
“As is the convention of old, he [the Afghan] spoke and cried out about the ordeal of his journey. In soldierly talk that night.
“When that traveller crossed over to this side of the river, he saw the grave and the flames of cremation.
“He asked, “Why are these people making all this noise”? [Someone] replied: “Nānak has passed away from the world!”.
“The amazing thing is,” [he was told,] “that after his death, there came to be two bodies. One is being buried and the other is being cremated”.
“[The Afghan] said that both [Muslims and Hindus] have done wrong: “I have seen him well settled on the other side of the river”.
“I have eaten food and fruits and have talked with him and I have seen him well settled on the other side of the river”.
“I have eaten food and fruits and have talked with him and I have come to side after taking leave from him”.
“All became astonished on hearing this and the report of his [Nānak’s] moving himself to another place became well known.
“Having taken the benefit from the dust of his pure tomb, whose name is shukr (thanksgiving), we returned contented to our home.”
• Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
Extracts based on my notice “A Visit to the Tomb of Guru Nanak From Surat Singh Tazkira-i Pir Hassu Taili”, in Irfan Habib & JS Grewal (ed), Sikh History From Persian Sources: Translations of Major Texts, Tulika, 2001, pp. 85-89