Tale of Nanak’s two gurdwaras in Pakistan with same name — one forgotten, other restored

Divya Goyal
Gurdwara Mal Ji Sahib in Kanganpur in Kasur. (Pakistan historian Imran William)

Far from the Kartarpur Darbar Sahib gurdwara spotlight, Guru Nanak’s legacy continues to live in several hidden corners of Pakistan. Part of this legacy are two gurdwaras with the same name — Gurdwara Mal Ji Sahib. While one among them at Nankana Sahib recently got a quiet makeover, the other with same name at Kanganpur in Kasur continues to lie forgotten since Partition. Both gurdwaras are in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The one at Kanganpur is now a crumbling structure with ‘Ik Onkar’ and ‘1939’ still visible on its intricate door carvings, but increasingly threatened by cracks developed due to weathering.

A Pakistan-based historian working on Sikh legacy told The Indian Express that with no Sikh sangat living in Kanganpur now, Sri Mal Ji Sahib is in immediate need of repair. Since Partition, there has been no Guru Granth Sahib Prakash here and now some local Muslim families even live inside the gurdwara building.

The Gurdwara Mal Ji Sahib at Nankana Sahib (Express Photo)

Guru Nanak’s legacy

While Mal Ji Sahib at Nankana Sahib is linked with Guru Nanak’s childhood, the one at Kanganpur was visited by him with his companion Bhai Mardana.

It is believed that as a child, Guru Nanak was sleeping under a tree at this spot after grazing his animals in Nankana Sahib, when shade of tree moved and a huge cobra spread its hood over his face so that his sleep is not disturbed. The ‘miracle’ was witnessed by a rich Muslim, Rai Bular Bhatti, who then became Nanak’s devout disciple even before Bhai Mardana and later donated half of his land (750 murbas) to Guru Nanak.

There are different versions to why this gurdwara was named ‘Mal’ Ji Sahib. Paramvir Singh, professor, Department of Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Punjabi University, Patiala, said, “Mal refers to a tree also called peelu under which Guru Nanak was sleeping and when a cobra gave him shade.”

But Pakistan-based historian Shahid Shabbir says that ‘mal’ (pronounced as maal) here refers to Guru Nanak’s animals he was grazing. “Maal in Punjabi refers to grazing animals and even now there is a pond, which a part of gurdwara, where animals come for water. The name refers to Guru Nanak’s love for nature,” he says.

At Mal Ji Sahib in Kanganpur of Kasur, it is believed that Guru Nanak came here with Bhai Mardana but the locals pelted stones at them. Seeing their behavior, Nanak gave them a blessing, “Wasde raho (stay united and settled here).” They moved ahead to another village where people welcomed Nanak and he said, “Khind jao” (Get scattered). When Bhai Mardana asked him the reason, Nanak said, “Good people will spread virtue wherever they will go while others will spread evil.”

Sri Malji Sahib gurdwara in Kanganpur has been lying closed since Partition. (Photo: Pakistan historian Imran William)

It is believed that the tree under which Guru Nanak and Mardana sat was called ‘Mal’ after which the gurdwara was named. Both spots near Mal Ji Sahib gurdwaras still have the trees where Guru Nanak sat according to Sikh beliefs.

Imran William, a historian from Pakistan, says, “I have visited the (Kanganpur) gurdwara twice. It is in an extremely bad condition. There is no Sikh population in Kanganpur and I am not sure if Sikhs now even know about it. This gurdwara is lying closed, no symbol of Guru Nanak — either any fresco or anything is left here.”

“Families living there are not so financially strong that they could get the structure renovated or restore it. However, they are aware that the structure is related to Guru Nanak’s legacy. The one at Nankana Sahib has been renovated because it is the hotspot for Sikh yatris but gurdwaras in streets and villages are not being taken care of,” he adds.

The gurdwara's state of disrepair is apparent. (Photo: Pakistan historian Imran William)

The Evacuee Property Trust Board (ETBP) of Pakistan, recently inaugurated the renovated Mal Ji Sahib gurdwara at Nankana Sahib where the renovation was done from January to October. A senior ETBP official said, “Guru Granth Sahib was already installed there and we have renovated the entire premises without disturbing its original architecture. Its intricate carvings have been restored.”

Asked about the other Mal Ji Sahib at Kanganpur, he said, “We are currently unaware of this other Mal Ji Sahib and focus remains on gurdwaras where Sikh sangat is there. There is hardly any Sikh population in Kasur so it must be lying closed. As of now, there is no plan to reopen it.”