Guru Nanak and the Monster Fish

Guru Nanak and the Monster fish is a story that teaches us the values of Sikhism – that of having your faith and focus on God, of hard work, and of sharing with others. Read on to know about this adventure that Guru Nanak, Bala and Mardana embark upon!

The Janamsakhi

This illustration is a page from the manuscript of the Janam-Sakhi ( Life Stories of Guru Nanak). 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.


Guru Nanak and the Fish

This Janam Sakhi story recounts an episode where Guru Nanak decides to travel across the ocean to an Island. His childhood friend and companion Mardana, upon seeing the vast ocean, wonders if there is an island at all, and asks how they would travel across the ocean.  To his surprise, Guru Nanak mentions they’d be traveling on the back of a fish. This again, takes Mardana by surprise as he just couldn’t imagine a fish that big.

After traveling for 3 days and 3 nights on the back of a Giant fish, Mardana finally caught a glimpse of the fish’s face as they reached the shore. On seeing the fish open its mouth, he started to tremble in fear and shared his apprehensions with Bala – worrying that they would be swallowed by the huge fish! Bala rebukes him, and reminds him of the importance of trusting God. He further assures him that while they are with Nanak, nothing should deter them and that they should trust him completely.

The giant fish then emptied its belly and out came lots of food for Guru Nanak and his companions. Guru Nanak then asked the fish as to who it really was and discovered that the creature had been condemned to his present condition as a result of being lazy in his previous life. According to the fish, it used to be in Nanak’s service and used to shirk work. On one occasion, Nanak had compared his torment (on receiving work-instructions) to that of a Fish out of water and so, in this birth he was born a fish, and waited all this while to serve Nanak in the hope to attain salvation.

Nanak frees the soul of fish, and proceeds ahead with Bala and Mardana, the latter being apologetic for allowing doubt to overcome his faith. To this, Nanak pacified Mardana by reminding him that he accepts Bala and Mardana the way they are, and that they are his companions on his journeys.


The unpainted image : Govt.Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh
Painted Version: Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.


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