Guru Nanak & the Fish: left (Guler Pahari style); right (Murshidabad, West Bengali style)

WHat IS IT? 

This illustration is a page from the manuscript of the Janam-Sakhi ( Life Stories). While both illustrations above depict the same story, they are believed to find their origins in different artistic schools – Pahari (Guler), and Murshidabad and dates back to 1755-1770.  In view of the size of the following that Nanak attracted, numerous anecdotes concerning the deeds of the Guru began to circulate within the community soon after his death. Many of these were borrowed from the current Hindu and Muslim traditions, and others were suggested by Nanak’s own works. These anecdotes were called sakhis, or “testimonies,” and the anthologies into which they were gathered in rough chronological order are known as Janam-Sakhis. The interest of the narrators and compilers of the Janam-sakhis has largely concentrated on the childhood of Nanak and above all on his travels.


One Janam Sakhi story tells how Guru Nanak’s companion Mardana was nearly swallowed by a giant fish as he, together with Guru Nanak and Bala, another companion, attempted to cross the ocean. Guru Nanak engaged the fish in a conversation and discovered that the creature had been condemned to his present condition as a result of his bad actions in a previous life. Guru Nanak granted the monster fish salvation and in return received the treasures of the ocean. The pile of circular objects shown near Guru Nanak in this painting may be intended to represent this gift.


The unpainted one : Govt.Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh
Painted Version: Asian Art Museum

Resource Credit : Govt. Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh / Asian Art Museum /

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