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7.10.3 Prayer Book of Rani Jindan

Illustration from prayer book

British Library

Prayer Book of Rani Jindan, 1828-1830, MS Panj D4, British Library.

This painting is an illustration in a prayer book made for Rani Jindan Kaur, one of the wives of the first Sikh king, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. (Rani means queen, and maharaja means king.) The illustration represents Guru Nanak as a young man. A servant is fanning him, and he is speaking to Hindu ascetics. How does this illustration emphasize Guru Nanak’s importance? The prayer book contains excerpts from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, which contains the poetry of Guru Nanak and the other Gurus. Besides the Guru Granth Sahib, there are many stories about Guru Nanak. In these stories, Guru Nanak often traveled with his close friends, Bhai Bala, a Hindu, and Bhai Mardana, a Muslim. Bhai Mardana composed the music for Guru Nanak’s poetry. What point does this illustration and the stories about Guru Nanak’s friends make about Guru Nanak and other religions? Why do you think it has been important for Sikhs to remember their founder as a friend to Hindus and Muslims? Guru Nanak’s teaching was, “There is neither Hindu nor Muslim.”

In the Sikh tradition, as well as in his own writings, Guru Nanak is often associated with figures from other religions. The stories told about his life are popular, but they do not have the religious authority of the poetry and other writing in the Guru Granth Sahib, the written Sikh scripture. While the stories are probably largely fictional, it is notable that Sikhs remember Guru Nanak as having friends who practiced other religions, especially after relations between Sikh communities and Muslim Mughal rulers and Hindu religious authorities deteriorated. The illustration emphasizes Guru Nanak’s importance by seating him on an ottoman, while the ascetics are on the floor. Only Guru Nanak is being fanned by a servant, and both the servant and he are larger in size than the ascetics. The body language of the people in the illustration suggests the ascetics are learning from, and venerating, the Guru. Remembering Guru Nanak as open and friendly to other religions underlines the words of Guru Nanak himself. As the next source shows, he was quite critical of Muslim and Hindu practices, but he also thoroughly engaged with devout Hindus and Muslims in seeking religious truth.