Guru Nanak and the Sikh Noblemen

Guru Nanak Dev was the first of the Sikh Gurus and one of the greatest spiritual leaders. He was born in a Hindu household, but was conversant with Islamic traditions. His teachings, disseminated through songs and poetry promoted religious and social harmony. The unity of the Godhead is at the core of Sikhism and the Sri Japji Sahib, a prayer at the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib points to Guru Nanak’s belief. His guidance and the principles of equality, brotherhood and peace are relevant even to this day.

In this 19th century painting, kings and devotees pay homage to Guru Nanak Dev.

On the top part, you will notice the ‘ten kings’ seated in a line, starting from Guru Nanak Dev on the top right to Guru Gobind Singh on the left.

Detail from the painting.

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Sikh Noblemen featured in this painting:

1. Several mentions of Bhai Vasti Ram (1708-1802) can be found across the painting.

He was son of Bhai Bulaka Singh, who is said to have accompanied Guru Gobind Singh to the South in 1707 from where he returned with his blessings to settle in Lahore. Bhai Vasti Ram lived through the long period of Sikh-persecution and their eventual rise to political power in the Punjab. He devoted himself to the study of medicine, and became famous for his skill in the use of indigenous herbs. He was deeply religious and treated his patients free of charge. Stories of his healing power and of his piety spread far and wide, and he came to be credited ‘with supernatural powers’. The presence of blind and leprosy stricken men in the bottom right possibly showcases the patients who may have come to Bhai Vasti Ram to heal their ailments.

Bhai Vasti Ram was also visited by important Sikh chiefs who came to seek his blessings.

2. Maharaja Ranjit Singh features in the right side of this painting

The Maharaja himself became an ardent devotee of Bhai Vasti Ram early in his career. He often attributed his success in the Battle of Bhasin (1800) to the saint’s blessings. It is this victory that gave Maharaja Ranjit Singh the possession of Lahore. Bhai Vasti Ram died in 1802 at the age of 94. A marble samadhi was raised near the Lahore Fort at the spot where he was cremated. Maharaja Ranjit Singh used to visit the site on the occasion of his death anniversary.

3. On the top right side, an Englishman is seated in a car carried by four angels. It is possibly a representation of Sir Donald Friell McLeod, who was the Lt. Governor of Punjab from 1865 to 1870.

Kings and other devotees paying homage to Guru Nanak, as food and drinks are organised and served to a number of people. Gouache painting by an Indian painter. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain

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