NAND LĀL, BHĀĪ (c. 1633-1713), poet famous in the Sikh tradition and favourite disciple of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. His poetry, all in Persian except for Joti Bigās, which is in Punjabi, forms part of the approved Sikh canon and can be recited along with scriptural verse at Sikh religious dīvāns. Nand Lāl adopted the pen-name of "Goyā", though at places he has also subscribed himself as "Lāl", the word being the last part of his name. He was a scholar, learned in the traditional disciplines of the time, and his image in Sikh history is that of a man loved and venerated. He is stated to have been born in 1633. By caste he was a Khatrī, a class distinguished in Mughal times, like the Kāyasthas, for proficiency in Persian, which at that time was the language of official business. His father, Munshī Chhajjū Mall, who was an official in the secretariat of Prince Dārā Shukoh, Shāh Jahāṅ's eldest son, accompanied him on an expedition to Ghaznī in 1639 and was assigned to an army unit stationed there at the end of the operation. He summoned his family from India to join him in Ghaznī where his son Nand Lāl spent his childhood and early youth.
His father dying in 1652, Nand Lāl was left to struggle in life for himself. Some minor post was offered to him in Ghaznī, but he decided to return to India. Multān was the ancestral family seat and it was here that Nand Lāl settled amid a number of Hindu families like his own that had seen service under the Mughals. That quarter of the town had come to be known as Āghā Mohallā, in association with the resident Hindu officials who were known as Āghās, an honorific employed for Hindus who had acquired the trappings of Muslim culture.
In Multān the Sūbadār, Wasaf Khān, who had known his father well, offered the talented youth the post of munshī or secretary. By dint of his ability and hard work, Nand Lāl soon rose to be the principal secretary (Mīr Munshī). He was also posted to administrative appointments and is stated to have become deputy governor of the province. Nand Lāl continued in the service of the Mughal State, securing eventually an appointment on the personal staff of Prince Mu'azzam, Auraṅgzīb's eldest son. When he relinquished service cannot be determined exactly. The surmise that he was dismissed by Auraṅgzīb owing to his father Chhajjū Mall having been a favourite of Dārā is falsified by the fact that he continued long in service under Prince Mu'azzam. The story that he stood in fear of being forcibly converted to Islam also does not seem credible, for a number of non-Muslims continued to serve under Auraṅgzīb and forcible conversion did not affect the court or the official class. Auraṅgzīb in any case left Delhi in 1680 to campaign in the Deccan, never to return to the capital. The most likely reason why Nand Lāl left Delhi and came to the shelter of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was to seek peace during his advancing years. With his mystical cast of thought he was naturally led to Anandpur where Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was inculcating faith in One Supreme God, called by him Akāl-Purakh, and arousing the downtrodden Hindus to seek a life of self-respect and dignity. As a protector of dharma, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh was known far and wide, being the son of Gurū Tegh Bahādur, who had become a martyr to freedom of conscience when Auraṅgzīb's persecution of non-Muslims was at its height.
According to Gurū Kīāṅ Sākhīāṅ, Nand Lāl arrived in Anandpur on the Baisākhī day of 1739 BK/29 March 1682 and received Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's blessing. He spent his days with the Gurū in mystical contemplation and composing poetry in which his spiritual experience is the pre-eminent element. He is said to have kept a good laṅgar or free kitchen at Anandpur which was commended by the Gurū as a model for others to follow. His poetry in Persian, of this period, has passed into the Sikh religious tradition and is held in great reverence. Besides Nand Lāl, a number of other poets kept Gurū Gobind Siṅgh company. These others wrote mostly in Brajī Hindī, which was acquiring the status of a classical medium. Nand Lāl appears to have been Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's sole Persian poet.
Nand Lāl's name as the favourite disciple of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh has passed into the Sikh tradition and his devotion is commended as an ideal to be followed. A Rahitnāmā or code of Sikh conduct is ascribed to him, besides another called Tankhāhnāmā, or a manual of penalties for infringement of the religious discipline. Doubt has been expressed as to whether these two are of Nand Lāl's composition. Both are in the usual Braj idiom current in Sikh religious literature. In each Nand Lāl is represented as being the seeker eliciting information from the Gurū as to the right doctrine and the right conduct for a Sikh. The Rahitnāmā, as the text shows, was composed in Samvat 1752 Bk corresponding to 1695 of the Christian era, while the Tankhāhnāmā was composed after the formation of the Khālsā Panth. Therein occur some of the famous affirmations attributed to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, as to one Sikh hero combating one and a quarter lakhs and the hope that the Khālsā shall one day hold sway. Not much in detail is known about Bhāī Nand Lāl's life with the Gurū at Anand pur. After the Gurū evacuated Anand pur in the winter of 1705, Bhāī Nand Lāl went to his original home at Multān where he occupied himself with preaching the Gurū's word and teaching Arabic and Persian. For the latter purpose he opened a regular school which was in existence until the occupation of the Punjab by the British in 1849. Among his writings may be mentioned Zindagī Nāmāh, Gañj Nāmah, Joti Bigās, Rahitnāmā, Tankhāhnāmā, Dastūrul-Inshā, Arz ul-Alfāz, Diwan-i-Goyā and the Rubāīyāt.
Nand Lāl died in Multān in AD 1713.
Gurbachan Siṅgh Tālib