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Bibi Nanaki (1464 - 1518)

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Singing the hymns of Nanak is a favorite pastime with Sikhs.

Bibi Nanaki encouraged musical expression of devotion. Singing the hymns of Nanak is a favorite pastime with Sikhs.

Photo © [S Khalsa]

Sister of Guru Nanak:

Bibi Nanaki was the elder sister of Guru Nanak Dev. She was born in the home of her mother's parents in the village of Chahal, a part of Punjab which is located in Lahore, Pakistan. Her maternal grandmother and grandfather were very fond of her and so named her Nanakian which means "residence of the maternal family". Bibi is a term of respect meaning "elder sister". Bibi Nanaki was about five years old when her brother Nanak was born and named after her.

Early Life:

Nanaki and Nanak lived in the village of Talwandi with their mother Tripta, and father Mehta Kalu who was formally known as Kalyan Chand Das Bedi of the Hindu Katri clan. As was customary they shared a with their father Kalu's family and the children were raised with their uncle Lalu, grandfather Shiv Ram, and grandmother Banaras. Mehtu Kalu worked as the chief accountant of his village. The family had a farm and herd of cows and buffalo. Nanaki had a sweet temperament and kind nature. She helped with house hold chores and her brother Nanak was given the job of herdboy.

Role of Protector:

Nanaki developed a close relationship with her younger brother Nanak Dev. She played with him and helped her mother care for him. Nanaki was the first to recognize Nanak’s devout disposition and mystic temperament. She perceived her brother's character to be exceptionally spiritual in nature. She acknowledged Nanak as her guru and became his first disciple. She acted his protector, placated her parent’s misgivings, and intervened on many occasions when her brother's detachment from the world incurred their father's anger. Nanaki stood by her brother Nanak Dev, supported and encouraged him steadfastly all of her life.

Marriage:

Nanaki's parents arranged her marriage to Jai Ram, of Sultanpur, in present day Kapurthala. Nanaki's husband was in charge of overseeing the collection of revenues in the court of the Nawab Dault Khan Lodhi. Nanaki was only about 11 years old at the time of her marriage and remained with her father's family until she became of age before joining her husband in Sulatanpur when she was about 16. After Nanaki left home to be with her husband, Nanak immersed himself in meditation. Nanak's father became very frustrated that his son showed no inclination towards business. Their relationship became strained with Nanaki gone.

Sultanpur:

Without Nanaki to intervene on his behalf Nanak took the brunt of his fathers anger at his lack of interest in worldly affairs. The chief of Nanak's village, Rai Bular, revered Nanak as a saint. He proposed to the family that Nanak should go to Nanaki's house in Sultanpur and live under the guardianship of his brother in law. Jai Ram arranged for Nanak to work as a shopkeeper and accepted him into his household. Nanaki and her husband had arranged her brother's marriage with Sulakhni and helped them establish a home of their own. Nanaki had no children of her own and helped her sister-in-law care for Nanak's two sons.

Steadfast in Faith:

Nanaki fully supported Nanak's quest for a spiritual life. She fostered her brother's disciple, the Muslim minstrel Mardana, and gifted him with the rebab, a stringed instrument. She encouraged Nanak and Mardana to express their devotions through the medium of music and to share their message with those thirsting for truth. When Nanak disappeared into the River Beas for three days, Nanaki remained steadfast in her faith and was instrumental in proclaiming him Guru when he resurfaced. When Nanak and Mardana set out on their travels, Nanaki took over the care of Nanak's eldest son Siri Chand adopting him in to her home.

Lifelong Bond:

Though separated by distance, Nanaki and Nanak always remained close at heart. The bond they formed lasted their entire lives. Nanak traveled extensively for 25 years but made sure to visit his sister upon his return home between journeys. He promised her that he would would come to her if she should need him. At their final reunion Nanak arrived at Nanaki's home and informed her he could stay with her only three days. Nanaki fell ill the second day, and breathed her last on the third in the arms of her beloved brother as he recited the hymn of Japji. Nanaki's husband, Jai Ram, took his final breath three days later.

Important Dates and Corresponding Events:

Dates have been adjusted to correspond to the Western Greogian calendar.

  • Birth: Chahal – 1464 A.D. Nanaki is born in the home of her maternal grandmother and grandfather.
  • Marriage: Talwandi – 1475 A.D. Nanaki is wed at the age of about 11 to Jai Ram of Sultanpur.
  • Wedded Life: Sultanpur - 1480 A.D. Nanaki joins joins her husband to take up housekeeping.
  • Spiritual Mother: Sultanpur - 1499 A.D. Nanaki takes over the care of her brother Guru Nanak's eldest son Siri Chand when Nanak departs on his travels.
  • Death: Sultanpur – 1518 A.D. Nanaki takes her final breath in the presence of her brother Guru Nanak.

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