Nanak’s estate flourishes in Pakistan
The Bhattis of
Nankana Sahib in Pakistan are keeping alive their 500-year-long
family tradition of strengthening Sikh-Muslim ties. Naveen
S. Garewal visits the Muslim family, whose ancestor
Rai Bular Bhatti was the second disciple of Guru Nanak
Rai Bular Bhatti’s haveli in Nankana Sahib was frequented by Guru Nanak during
by Baba Nanak, the Bhatti family of Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib)
has been a shining example of Muslim-Sikh brotherhood for over
half a millennium. Rai Bular Bhatti, a contemporary of Guru
Nanak Dev and a devout Muslim, became Guru Nanak’s second
disciple. After Bibi Nanki, Guru Nank’s sister, he was the
second person to recognise that Guru Nanak was no ordinary
mortal and that he was a divine soul.
Blessed by Baba
Nanak, the Bhatti family of Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib) has
been a shining example of Muslim-Sikh brotherhood for over half
Rai Bular Bhatti,
a contemporary of Guru Nanak Dev and a devout Muslim, became
Guru Nanak's second disciple. After Bibi Nanki, Guru Nank's
sister, he was the second person to recognise that Guru Nanak
was a divine soul.
Rai Saleem Bhatti with his father Rai Akram Bhatti at their home in Nankana Sahib. Both have strong faith in Sikhism and regulary participate in Sikh functions
One of the objectives of the now defunct Nankana Sahib Foundation was to spread Guru Nanak’s
pertaining to the life of Guru Nanak, feature Rai Bular
repeatedly. In the sakhi where villagers are furious about
Nanak's cattle eating their crop, it is Rai Bular who got the
crop surveyed and found it to be undamaged. In yet another sakhi,
Rai Bular is said to have spotted a hooded cobra providing shade
to the sleeping Guru Nanak. This strengthened his belief that
Guru Nanak was no ordinary mortal.
The blessings the
Bhatti family received have seen them prosper through 19
generations in five centuries.
Today when the
world is getting divided on religious basis, the children of Rai
Bular Bhatti continue to carry on the tradition of the Bhatti
clan. An important functionary of the now defunct Nankana Sahib
Foundation, the late Rai Bashir worked hard to build an
institution on the 10 acres donated by his nephews Rai Sarwar
Khan and Rai Ahmed Khan. He laid the foundation stone of the
complex in June 1994.
Even though Rai
Bular's family is today scattered all across the world, his
descendants are actively involved with the promotion of
Muslim-Sikh brotherhood. The family has kept alive their
ancestral links with Gurus. Despite being devout Muslims, the
family has emotional and spiritual attachment with Sikhism for
the past several generations.
The Adi Granth translated
into English from Gurmukhi by Dr. Ernest Trumpp finds repeated
references to Rai Bular. Members of the Bhatti family make
special efforts to participate in all Sikh celebrations. They
especially came from Pakistan to take part in the tercentenary
celebrations of the birth of Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib some time
ago. They are bestowed the honour of leading the religious
processions held at Nankana Sahib each year to celebrate the
birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
historians, originally, the Rais were Bhatti Rajputs and Rai
Bular, a contemporary of Guru Nanak, was the ruler of Rai Bhoe
di Talwandi where Nankana Sahib is now located. Mehta Kalyan Das
(Kalu), a well-read person of Bedi caste, was an employee of Rai
Bular. Nanak was born to Mehta Kalu and his wife Mata Tripta in
1469, at a place now known as Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib
town, which is now also a district.
According to the
ancient revenue records in possession of the family, Rai Bular
gave 247 murabas of land to Gurdwara Janam Asthan along
with an annual jagir of Rs 9996. He also gave another 220
murabas to Gurdwara Bal Lila and extended an annual jagir of Rs
31 and another 290 muraba and annual grant of Rs 50 to Gurdwara
Mal Sahib. This entire land of Nanakana Sahib given to Guru
Nanak by Rai Bular amounts to 757 murabas (approx. 18,750 acres)
and is now controlled by the Evacuee Trust Property Board of
Pakistan and leased out to the people of Nankana Sahib.
Rai Bular chose to
give his most fertile agricultural lands to Guru Nanak after he
discovered Guruji's divine powers. It is on this land, and on
the exact spot where Guru Nanak was born, that Gurdwara Janam
Asthan was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Singh, incidentally, also had the same lineage as the Bhattis,
who were direct descendants of Raja Rai Bhuni Khan — whose one
son Rai Sanspal was the ancestor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, while
the other son Raja Manpal was the ancestor of the Bhatti clan.
This fact finds mention in Tarik-e-Bhattian, a book on
the history of the Bhatti family.
Today the Nankana
Sahib Estate consists of about 16,962 acres, mainly leased to
farmers and residents of Nankana Sahib. Almost all houses in
Nankana Sahib are built on the property donated by the Bhatti
family. "Babaji" (as Guru Nanak is affectionately
called by the Bhatti family), says Rai Mohammad Saleem Akram
Bhatti, the 19th generation descendant of Rai Bular, "is
revered by all of us as our father."
The family had
directly managed and looked after this property on behalf of
Guru Nanak many years after him by the successive heads of the
Bhatti family. Father-son duo Rai Rehmat Khan and Rai Anayat
collected revenue after the Partition and deposited it with the
Gurdwara Management, which was in turn used for the welfare and
development of local Sikhs and the seven gurdwaras in Nankana
The Rai Bular
family has maintained the highest traditions of Muslim-Rajput
culture. It is said that during the Partition, Rai Hussain,
father of Rai Bashir, personally escorted to safety over 1,000
Sikhs during the Partition. Heartbroken by the Partition and the
massacre of thousands of lives, he passed away in 1948.
historical reference to the city of Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib)
is found in ballads. There’s mention of the first siege of
Jaisalmer that occurred during the reign of Alla-ud-din Khilji
(1295-1315). Khilji's Army had attacked Jaisalmer, a state in
Rajputana, to avenge raids by Rajputs. It is said that after a
bloody battle, one of the Bhatti Rajput prince who survived was
taken hostage. He was sent to exile somewhere north of Punjab,
near Kotli (about 40 miles from the present-day Lahore).
Folklore has it
that Alla-ud-din Khilji was so touched by this boy's bravery
that he paid a tribute to the young prince by giving him about
1,50,000 acres of Punjab's most fertile land as compensation for
his loss and also as an enticement to keep him from rallying
troops and building a new Rajput Bhatti Army. This exiled prince
is said to have named the place Raipur and later Rai Bhoe di
Talwandi (after his son). Nankana literally means Nanak da
ana or the coming of Nanak.
In early 1994, a
move was initiated to set up the Nankana Sahib Foundation. The
purpose of the trust, which was to come up at Kot Hussain Khan,
about 5 km from Nankana Sahib, was to generate revenue for the
maintenance Nankana Sahib. The Bhatti family donated 10 acres
for the same, but the Pakistan Government of Benazir Bhutto did
not give permission for the trust and today the place has only a
gate at the site.
Since almost all
houses of Nankana Sahib are built on the property given to Guru
Nanak by the Bhattis, the Nankana Sahib Estate is the property
of the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara (Gurdwara Janam Asthan) and it
cannot be sold to anyone. Today, about one lakh people reside on
Though all members
of the family have always been close to the Sikh community, Rai
Hadayat Khan Bhatti, the 17th descendant of Rai Bular, deserves
a special mention as he devoted a lot of time to strengthening
Sikh-Muslim relations. He led the Sikh procession on the
occasion of the 500th anniversary of Guru Nanak. He inculcated
the spirit of service in his two sons, Rai Aslam Bhatti and Rai
Akram Bhatt, who conducted Sikh pilgrims to the gurdwara and
invited them for food at their house.
Rai Akram Bhatti,
a practising lawyer at Nankana Sahib welcomes Sikh pilgrims with
open arms to his house. His faith in Sikhism is so strong that
he says that he owes the birth of his elder son Rai Mohammad
Saleem Akram Bhatti to the blessings of Baba Nanak. Saleem, a
young criminal lawyer at the Lahore High Court, says: "It
is because of Baba Nanak that I am in this world. For us Babaji
has a special place in our lives and our family is blessed
because of the grace bestowed upon us by Baba Nanak."
Talking about the
Muslim-Sikh ties the family has upheld over the centuries, Rai
Akram Bhatti says that Rai Hussain Bhatti was awarded the
highest honour for his generosity, leadership, public service
and vision by Queen Victoria at the golden jubilee celebrations
of her coronation in 1887.
Singh, too, had acknowledged the role of this extraordinary
family and its immense contribution to Sikhsm. Ranjit Singh
bestowed upon Rai Issa Khan (15th generation) the title of Rai
Bhadur and he was made the in charge of a sub-jail in Thatta
Issa village. He was also He was also appointed honorary
magistrate and given the duty to collect the revenue.
Punjab in the 1980s had a direct impact on the pilgrim flow to
Nankana Sahib. We are happy that with the return of peace, the
number of pilgrims has risen, giving the Bhattis an opportunity
to serve them," says Rai Akram Bhatti.
— Photos by the writer