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Panja Sahib: The Miracle at Hasan Abdal

Posted on January 29, 2007
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, Architecture, Culture & Heritage, History, Minorities, Religion, Travel
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Mast Qalandar

Most Pakistanis know Hasan Abdal as a town that houses the well-known Cadet College, the first to be built in Pakistan in the early 1950s. Other than that, Hasan Abdal hardly arouses any interest among Pakistanis. It is a non-descript dusty little town, 25 miles from Islamabad, situated along the National Highway, almost encroaching upon it. The town is haphazardly built like most rural towns in Pakistan. It is a town that you just pass through while going to Peshawar or Abbottabad and the Northern Areas or, if you need to, you stop at one of the filling stations and tire shops that add to the ugly clutter along the roadside. You don’t normally visit Hasan Abdal —unless, of course, you happen to be a Sikh.

For Sikhs, Hasan Abdal has special significance — and a special place in their hearts. It houses the imprint of the hand or panja believed to be that of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. This makes Panja Sahib one of the three holiest shrines of Sikh religion — the other two being the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and Nankana Sahib in Sheikhupura, Pakistan.

In April, every year, Panja Sahib attracts thousands of Sikh devotees from all over the world to celebrate the birth of Khalsa (the pure). It was on April 13, 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh gave new guidelines and a new identity, Khalsa , to the Sikh religion, at the Baisakhi (Spring) festival at Anandpur.


A couple of explanations before we proceed further: First, the word Panja is derived from panj, meaning five, and refers to the five fingers of the hand or the hand itself. Second, Sikhs use the word Sahib for the names of sacred personalities, places or books, just as Muslims use the word Sharif such as Mecca Sharif, Quran Sharif, Ka’ba Sharif etc.

I drove last week, along with a friend not through but to Hasan Abdal to visit Panja Sahib and learn something about it first hand. (2007 being officially declared the Visit Pakistan Year, I thought the least I could do was to visit some interesting sites in my neighborhood.)

Like all legends and folklore, the story of Panja Sahib sounds like a mixture of beliefs, facts and fiction – fiction to the non-believer, that is. There are different versions of the story that one hears or reads, but a distinct common thread runs through all of them.

Other than the Sikh caretaker (garanthi) of the shrine, I also talked to some locals of Hasan Abdal about the story of Panja Sahib. They all gave me a similar even if not exactly the same account; and they all seemed to believe it too. Here is the story in its essential details:

Sometime between the year 1510 and 1520 Guru Nanak is said to have traveled to the Arab lands visiting, among other places, Mecca and Baghdad. Some suggest that he even performed the hajj but there is no conclusive evidence of that. (To give the reader an idea of the time line, it was the time just before the Mughal rule began in India.) On the way back from his sojourn abroad Guru Nanak passed through Kabul and Peshawar and then, after crossing the Indus, halted at a small hamlet at the foot of a steep hill, short of the Margallas, where Hasan Abdal is located today.

Attracted by his teachings, both Muslims and Hindus of the hamlet and the surrounding area started flocking around Guru Nanak. At the top of the hill, at the back of the back of Hasan Abdal, there lived a ‘peer’ (a Muslim saint of sorts). He was called Baba Wali Kandhari. His last name referred to his origins in Kandhar, Afghanistan. Other than having a better vantage point from where he could see all that happened in the village below, Baba Kandhari also had the advantage of having a fresh water spring nearby, which was the source of water not only for Baba Kandhari but also for the people down below.

Baba Kandhari could not help noticing that many more people were flocking to Guru Nanak than were visiting him. He felt a bit of resentment towards the Guru. What could he do? If he couldn’t stem the flow of devotees to the Guru, he thought, he could perhaps stop the flow of water to the hamlet below and thus drive the Guru away. And stopped the water he did. Upset over the cutting off of their water supply, a delegation of people from the hamlet went up to Baba Kandhari to request him to be kind enough and let the water flow. But the Baba angrily sent them back, taunting them that why didn’t they ask their Guru to find water for them. When Guru Nanak heard this, he asked his lifelong disciple and companion, Bhai Mardana (a Muslim), to go to Baba Kandhari and plead with him the case of the village folks. But the Baba did not relent and Bhai Mardana came back empty handed. Guru Nanak sent Bhai Mardana again, and yet again, to beg the Baba for water, but to no effect.

Becoming desperate, the people turned to Guru Nanak asking him what should they do. According to the story, Guru Nanak told them not to despair and trust God, and then, pointing to a large stone embedded in the ground, asked them to dislodge it. When they pushed the stone aside, fresh water gushed forth from the ground, enough for the needs of the little hamlet and some more!

Baba Kandhari saw this happening from the hilltop, and was surprised at what seemed like a miracle but also dismayed at this development. But his dismay turned into shock and anger when he discovered that his own spring had meanwhile dried up. Enough was enough, he thought, and decided to do away with the Guru. He pushed a huge boulder down the hill in the direction of the Guru that, he thought, would sure crush the Guru and the people around him. The boulder rolled down, gaining speed and kicking up dirt. When the people heard the rumble and saw the huge rock hurtling down, they panicked and started fleeing. But Guru Nanak stayed calm and continued sitting where he was. When the boulder came close and it seemed it would crush him, Guru Nanak calmly raised his right hand as if to order the rock to stop. The boulder pushed against his hand — and stopped!

The Guru’s open palm sunk into the boulder as if pressed into wax and left a deep imprint. When Baba Kandhari saw this, he needed no further proof of the spiritual reach of the Guru. He came down from the hill, touched Guru Nanak’s feet, and joined the Guru’s devotees.

The rock with the hand imprint is embedded, today, in the concrete structure of the Panja Sahib building complex. Clear, fresh spring water gushes out from somewhere behind the rock and spills over the face of the rock into a very large pool. The imprint of a right hand is clearly visible underneath the thin sheet of water overflowing the face of the rock. Next to the pool, on an elevated platform, stands a beautiful small gurdawara, built in the Mughal style by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh (1780-1839). The gurdawara houses the Granth Sahib – the holy book of Sikhs. A large double storied hostel for the yatrees or pilgrims surrounds the courtyard, the pool, and the gurdwara. There are numerous plaques and signs announcing the names of the various donors as well as other directions in Gurmukhi, English and Urdu.

From the courtyard of the shrine, one can easily see the hilltop where Baba Wali Kandhari had camped and is supposed have rolled the rock. A modern communication tower sprouts from the place now. The hilltop has also become a shrine named after Baba Kandhari and attracts many devotees from the surrounding area. Even Sikhs pilgrims to Panja Sahib trek up the hill, a distance of over one mile, to visit the shrine.

The Panja Sahib shrine complex is clean and reasonably well maintained. It could do with a fresh coat paint. though, both inside and on the facade. And if I could, I would clear the cluttered street leading from the highway into the town and to the Panja Sahib building.

The caretaker of the gurdawara or garanthi, a very large and soft- spoken man, named Saddam Singh (yes, Saddam Singh! That’s what he told me), allowed us inside the gurdawara.

While visiting the Panja Sahib shrine and hearing the stories, one could not help noticing striking similarities between some of the traditions of Sikhs and Muslims. The story of the Guru Nanak divining water reminds one of the story of Hazrat Hajra desperately looking for water for her child in the Arabian Desert, and the child kicking up water miraculously from the sand. And, just as Muslims are amazed at the perpetuity and abundance of water at Zamzam, Sikhs are amazed at the perpetuity and abundance of fresh water gushing forth at their shrine in Hasan Abdal. Also the Sikhs treat the water at Panja Sahib as reverently as Muslims treat the water from Zamzam.

Note: All photographs, except the painting of Guru Nanak and the rock, are by the author.

Fathers Day at Route 66 Raceway

The Herald News – Joliet (IL) June 17, 2007 | By Dennis Yohnka JOLIET – Fathers Day comes with the tradition of giving dad ties or barbeque grill accessories. Maybe a “World’s Greatest Dad” t-shirt. At the NHRA Division III meet at the Route 66 Raceway, a more popular gift for one Lemont family would be a pair of championship trophies. Brina Splingaire, the 20-year-old Purdue University junior and defending Super Comp titlist here, would love to do just that for her dad, Jeff. He has devoted 12 years of mechanical assistance, advice and morale encouragement and Brina is a grateful young woman. site fathers day crafts

“Drag racing has shaped my life,” she said in reference to her studies in Mechanical Engineering Technology and her career goal to be a Pro-Stock driver. “Dad and I have spent a lot of weekends together. And when we’re not at the track, we’re talking about racing.” Actually, they share more than the love for drag racing that Jeff first discovered in his younger days at the Oswego Dragway. They enjoy target shooting, fishing, riding wave runners and just about anything else you can do outside. “I’m just like that,” Brina said. “I’d rather mow the yard or use the weed-wacker than do dishes or clean the house.” This should not suggest that Brina is an old-fashioned tomboy. She is a strikingly attractive coed who won’t have any trouble attracting sponsors with her driving or her image.

“It is hard dating guys, though,” she said of the drag racing schedule. “I’m never available on weekends during the summer and back at school, I don’t think guys like it when I know more about cars than they do.” Of course, there are eligible men at the track, but Brina has stuck pretty close to dad since she first tried out a Junior Dragster, when she was eight. “She went one time and then wanted to do it over and over that day. Then, she wanted to do it every weekend,” Jeff recalled. “We became a very natural team. I like to build them and work on them and I get more enjoyment watching her drive. She handles the computer side of things and she has the reaction skills.” So, from her first passes on a one-eighth-mile strip, she has progressed from 42 mph to speeds in Super Comp and Super Gas that far exceed anything her dad accomplished when he was winning those “antique” racing trophies at home. She has brought on Gas City and Rocket Brand Racing Fuel as major sponsors and seems to be inching her way toward that dream career. here fathers day crafts

“All she needs now is to get noticed, like at last week’s national event,” Jeff said. “You have to find the right sort of sponsor who is looking for a good driver. Being a woman driver is no longer a novelty. You just have to be real, real good. And she is.” Jeff’s birthday was last week, so the presents have already started coming his way, Brina said. And buying for a man – who needs nothing more than a car to work on, and maybe a new Hawaiian shirt and a cigar – is a bit of a challenge. So, is the thought of her racing without him on her professional team.

“I don’t like to think about that, but I think he might find a way so he can retire and go along,” she said.

“Oh, I”ll find a way to travel with them,” he said without hesitation.

Racing notebook There was a major delay in the Top Alcohol Dragster qualifications, when Brian Mans got his car up on the back wheels and had trouble regaining control. It wound up skidding along the wall and took out reflectors and at the finish line and the 1,000-foot marker. There was also damage to the foam blocks on the retaining walls and repair time was lengthy.

By Dennis Yohnka

49 Comments on “Panja Sahib: The Miracle at Hasan Abdal”

  1. ahmed says:
    January 29th, 2007 3:51 am

    Thank you MQ for giving us yet another moving story after Sohni-Mahiwal. Thank you, too, for reminding us of the treasures of romance and history that float on our waters and in our atmosphere, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel.

    This is a fit moment for me to acknowledge with sincere gratitude the effort of all those who invest so much of their time and effort (most importantly Adil Najam) in bringing back to us the richness of our past and the moving panorama of our present–both heart-rending and heart-warming.I can think of no better way to enrich our pakistan-iat and to reflect the inner goodness of our national character, as evidenced by the spontaneous outpouring of emotion in the Abdul Sattar Edhi post.May the Almighty grant them all greater strength to their pen, and steadfastness in their endeavor.

  2. Aqeel Syed says:
    January 29th, 2007 5:05 am

    Adil Sahab!
    Post about ‘Panja Sahib’ is an interesting one but its time to write about Imam Hussain A.S, HIS secrifies in Karbala, the greatest celebrated event in world history. Its time to write about a protest thats going on for 1200 years. Isn’t it a world record? Ashora celebration, Matam that all is not just remembring secrifies of Imam Hussain A.S its a portest against Yazeed.
    …Even still today we are facing many Yazeed’s. But where is our Hussain?

    Sorry for totally inaproprite comments. I’m a regular reader of Pakistaniat, I was expecting a post about Moharam for many days but all that is totally disapointing__ like my comments are…

  3. Samdani says:
    January 29th, 2007 10:53 am

    Mast Qalandar. Another engaging and informative post. I have passed Hasan Abdal so many times and never taken teh trouble to stop and find out more about Panja Sahab. Glad you did for us. I also did not know the exact significance of this for Sikhs and now do.

  4. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    January 29th, 2007 10:59 am

    Thank you Mast Qalandar. You are a master story teller. First Sohni-Mahinwal and now Panja Sahab. I am sorry that on my last visit to the area I did not stop at the Panja Sahab Shrine. Next time I will. I had the opportunity to work professionally with the local Sikh community in their efforts to build a community center and Guru Dawara. I find their community to be a very nice group to work with. Pakistan must do every thing possible to maintain and safeguard the Sikh religious places in the country. Good post.

  5. Samdani says:
    January 29th, 2007 11:11 am

    By the way… SADDAM SINGH!

    Really? For some reason, I keep wondering if you are pulling our legs to see if we would fall for that!!!

  6. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    January 29th, 2007 11:48 am

    MQ: What is the significance and historic background of the name Hasan Abdal. Any relation to the Durrani Chief Ahmad Shah Abdali?

  7. Ali says:
    January 29th, 2007 11:57 am

    I lived near wah cantt during early part of my life which is a town adjacent to hasan abdal. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us. Very informative indeed. I think government needs to do more to preserve these holy sites and provide more facilities to tourists visiting them.

  8. Akif Nizam says:
    January 29th, 2007 2:19 pm

    MQ, another enchanting tale recited in a most interesting fashion !

    Your comparison of Sikh and Muslim rites compelled me to look up a history of the origin of Sikhism. For anyone else interested, the following link depicting the life and travails of Baba Guru Nanak absolutely fascinated me.

    http://www.sikhs.org/guru1.htm

    It seems like Guru Nanak, originally a Hindu, was disenchanted with Hinduism and initially leaned towards Islam. Later on it seems, he sought to find a balance between the two.

  9. The Pakistanian says:
    January 29th, 2007 5:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing this nice story Mast Qalander. I have visited Hasan Abdal and the Gurdwara Panja Sahab and seen the hand print in that rock, its a very nice place.

    About the name Hasan Abdal, I don’t think it has anything to do with Ahmad Shah Abdali, I actually heard that Baba Wali Kandhari mentioned in the post was also known as Baba Hasan Abdal amongst his followers, and the town was named after him.

  10. Moeen Bhatti says:
    January 29th, 2007 7:23 pm

    It was pretty informative. I had passed Hasan Abdall multiple times, never new the story.
    Aqeel Sayed: Muharam has its significance but atleast appriciate if someone has done some hard work. Muharam doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about anything else. Thanks.

  11. bhupinder says:
    January 29th, 2007 7:30 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful post. And am especially glad that you took down the granthi’s name. Very impressed, with the post I mean :-)

  12. Adnan Ahmad says:
    January 29th, 2007 8:36 pm

    Mast has actually kicked up a notch by actually visiting the place just for the sake of a visit and then specifically writing a post about it for ATP. Other bloggers if I am not mistaken have their own blogs for initial postings..

    A fine post indeed.

    I don’t want to deviate from this post.. But a factual post (different from what we see in pakistani media) on Muharram wouldn’t hurt. It was such a towering event that the political and theological reverberations from it can still be seen today. On a flip note at ATP people made a religious mess of an issue about a husband beating his wife; I don’t know what will be in store for a post on Muharram.

  13. MQ says:
    January 29th, 2007 9:04 pm

    Samdani,
    No, I am not pulling your leg. That’s what the Garanthi said his name was. It did sound a bit intriguing to me too. The man was so soft-spoken that first I thought I didn’t hear him right. When I asked him again he repeated his name a bit sheepishly. I could see that he too was conscious of it.

    Pervaiz Alvi,
    I did try to find out the background of the name Hasan Abdal but couldn’t find a reliable explanation. As The Pakistanian has mentioned, Baba Wali Kandhari is also known as Baba Hasan Abdal. But this is a case of the town giving a name to a person rather than the other way round.

    No, I don’t think the name Hasan Abdal was named after Ahmed Shah Abdali. There was not much love lost between Ahmed Shah and the Panjab, and definitely not between him and the Sikhs. I am still looking for an explanation.

    Ahmed,
    I think one reason you find both stories — Sohni Mahiwal and Panja Sahib — moving is because of the common thread between the two. That of LOVE. In one it is love between two individuals and in the other it is love for humanity at large. While I am typing this message I am also listening to Bulleh Shah’s message of love in Pathanay Khan’s enchanting voice:

    [quote]Eeho piyaar hai dars waliyyaaN da
    Aye maslak paak nabiyyaN da
    Ee piyaar di khaatar arsh banaiN
    Ee piyaar di khatar farsh banaiN …

    Saints have been preaching love
    Prophets have been practicing it
    Heavens were made because of love
    And so was the Earth … [/quote]

    It’s mesmerizing!

    Knowing you as a Ghalib fan, I would love to hear one from Ghalib on the subject.

    Akif Nizam,
    After my visit to Panja Sahib I also did some reading on the Sikh religion and was inclined to reach the same conclusion as you did that Sikh religion is fusion of Hinduism and Islam. But I also found (I am not certain, though) that Sikhs do not approve of that suggestion. Like people of all religions they believe their religion came from God.

    And, thank you all for appreciating the post.

    MQ

  14. ahmed says:
    January 29th, 2007 10:42 pm

    MQ:
    In describing the agonies of unrequited love Ghalib has no equal. Love for him was a palpable , and how shall I put it, an earthy reality. The following two verses reflect this:–

    Ishq say tabiyat nein zeest ka maza paya
    Dard ki dwa paiyee dard be-dawa paya

    and…

    Raunaq-e-hasti hai ishq khana veeraan saaz say
    Anjuman bay shama hai gar barq khirman mein nahin

  15. Eidee Man says:
    January 30th, 2007 12:31 am

    [quote comment="32061"]
    Sorry for totally inaproprite comments. I’m a regular reader of Pakistaniat, I was expecting a post about Moharam for many days but all that is totally disapointing__ like my comments are…[/quote]

    My thoughts, exactly! We have posts on so much stuff and not a mention about this topic?
    We did have a post sometime in the past about “grieving shias” or something like that where it said that Shias mourn all the time or something absurd like that.

  16. Eidee Man says:
    January 30th, 2007 12:38 am

    [quote comment="32150"]
    Muharam has its significance but atleast appriciate if someone has done some hard work. Muharam doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about anything else. Thanks.[/quote]

    I dont think anyone implied it the way you apparently took it…it’s just that one would think that if we have posts and debates about Moin Khan’s domestic violence we’d have some mention of an event which involves around 20% of Pakistan’s population….

    Contrary to what a lot of you might have heard, Shia’s dont have a separate religion…so stop being afraid of it….”grieving shias” …come guys, seriously!

  17. ahsan says:
    January 30th, 2007 2:38 am

    Dzar MQ,
    In one of my earlier comments I told you:

    “You are a great story-teller. You make it vivid and real. Instead of dabbling in every thing just keep on telling us more of the same type. Encore, encore, encore…”

    Now, I realize that I am not the only one to appreciate your talents:

    [quote comment="32091"]Thank you Mast Qalandar. You are a master story teller. [/quote]

    [quote comment="32113"]MQ, another enchanting tale recited in a most interesting fashion [/quote]

    Also, your deep loving of LOVE keeps me imagining your use of LOVE during the hey days of your youth. This remark only concerns my twisted mind.

    The area around Hasan Abdal is pretty rich in Historical Monuments and Archeological Sites. In Wah Cantt. there is one of the wells which were built by Sher Shah along the Grand Trunk Road. Also Texila has the one of the oldest Learning Place of Budhist period. I will love to see these places through your eyes.
    I hope, one day you will have some time to make a post on Moenjodaro. Any thing seen through your eyes and presented by your pen (does it exist?) becomes more beautiful and more interesting.

    Ahsan

  18. MQ says:
    January 30th, 2007 4:43 am

    Ahsan,

    While I thank you for you complimentary, rather flattering, comments I am a bit baffled (not offended) at your following remark:

    [quote] “Also, your deep loving of LOVE keeps me imagining your use of LOVE during the hey days of your youth.”[/quote]

    First, I wonder what makes you think I am old. I am not! I like to think I am in “heyday” of my youth. And second, Ahmed’s earlier comment when he quoted Ghalib answers the rest:

    [quote]“Ishq say tabiyat naiN zeest ka maza paya
    Dard ki dwa paayee dard-e-be-dawa paya”[/quote]

    Translated by Ralph Russell it reads:

    [quote] “Love taught my nature what it is to know the zest of life
    I found a cure for sorrow in a sorrow without cureâ€

  19. Asma says:
    January 30th, 2007 5:33 am

    And when i visited Punja sahab few years back, i specially liked that clear water stream with beautifully coloured fish in it … that was so beautiful …!

    Nice post …!

  20. AZAM says:
    January 30th, 2007 10:16 am

    Do you know what other major Sikh sites are in Pakistan apart from Panja Sahab and Nankana Sahab?

    Also, what was your sense of whether the Auqaf people  are taking care of these places properly?

  21. MQ says:
    January 30th, 2007 12:38 pm

    Azam,

    I am sure there must be numerous gurdawaras, mostly abandoned, mainly in Punjab. But I am not aware of any major Sikh shrines in Pakistan other than Nankana Sahib and Panja Sahib.

    As I said in my post, the Panja Sahib shrine is reasonably well maintained but considering that it is one of the three most important shrines of Sikh religion and attracts a large number of pilgrims and visitors I would, if I could, clean up the clutter on the street leading to the shrine and give the building a fresh coat of quality paint.

  22. Fawad says:
    January 31st, 2007 2:03 pm

    Azam & MQ,

    Actually there is at least one other very significant shrine in Pakistan that is visited by Sikh yatrees and that is the “Gurdwara Dera Sahib/Maharaja Ranjit Singh Samadhi/ Guru Arjun Dev Shaheedi Asthan” complex of buildings in Lahore right next to the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort (a post on my blog if interested in a bit more detail at http://writtenencounters.blogspot.com/).

    Also Nankana Sahib has several different revered gurdwaras not just the birthplace of Guru Nanak (which is called Gurdwara Janam Asthan). Here’s a Wikipedia entry on Pakistani Gurdwaras: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurdwaras_in_Pakistan

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