BAGHDĀD (33º-20'N, 44º-30'E), capital of Iraq, situated on the banks of Dajalā (Tigris) River, has a historical shrine dedicated to Gurū Nānak, who visited here on his way back from Mecca and Madina early in the sixteenth century. Here he held discourses with some local Sūfī saints. A memorial platform was raised on the spot where the Gurū and his companion, Mardānā, the Muslim bard, had stopped. A few years later, a room was constructed there and a stone slab with an inscription in Ottoman Turkish was installed in it. Translated into English it would read :
Look what was wished by the Glorious Lord in His majesty -
That a new establishment be built for the saint Bābā Nānak -
The Seven gave help and there came this chronogram:
The blest disciple performed a meritorious work.
May He then recompense it!
The year which is now read as 917 Hijrī was in earlier photographs of the inscription read as 927. It seems the figure "2" has since been mutilated and now reads more like the figure "1".
In the literature relating to the life of Gurū Nānak the tradition about his visit to Baghdād is strong and persistent. The earliest testimony is that of Bhāī Gurdās who was born twelve years after Gurū Nānak and lived through the times of the five of the succeeding Gurūs. He was, throughout, in close touch with them and with some of the disciples from the time of Gurū Nānak himself. In his Vārāṅ, I. 35, Bhāī Gurdās wrote about Gurū Nānak's visit to Baghdād and said:
ਫਿਰਿ ਬਾਬਾ ਗਿਆ ਬਗਦਾਦ ਨੋ,
ਬਾਹਰ ਜਾਇ ਕੀਆ ਅਸਥਾਨਾ l
Translated into English the lines say, "The Bābā, i. e. the Gurū, journeyed on to Baghdād and made his seat outside the town. " This writing dates to about 60 years after Gurū Nānak. It is by one who had direct access to Sikhs of Gurū Nānak's time and to the tradition coming down from him. The statement is clear and unambiguous and the words that the Gurū sat outside the town are specially meaningful in this context. The Janam Sakhīs also refer to his visit to Baghdād. Mention has been made of Gurū Nānak having met Shaikh Abdul Qādir Jilānī and Bahlūl Shāh. These references are obviously anachronistic. Maybe, Gurū Nānak met the disciples or descendants of these Sūfī saints. But the very fact that Baghdād and the names of the Sūfī saints are connected with the tradition, indicates that there was some firm basis for the story which became current soon after Gurū Nānak's passing away.
The inscription was first discovered by Sikh soldiers going to Iraq, then Mesopotamia, during World War I and has since been a topic of much spirited speculation and scholarly discussion.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)