Bhai Ghanaiya Ji : Humanitarian and Benevolent Sikh (1648-1718)Founder of Sevapanthi Sect

Dr Amrit Kaur | September 17, 2020 03:20 PM
Dr Amrit Kaur

Bhai Ghanaiya Ji : Humanitarian  and Benevolent Sikh (1648-1718)Founder of Sevapanthi Sect(302nd Anniversary of His Akal  Chalana on Sept. 20,2020)* 

 Bhai Ghanaiya Ji also  known as Bhai Kanhaiya Ji was born in a  Badhavan (Dhamman) Khatri family in  Sohdra situated on the bank of  Chandarbhaga canal near Wazirabad in  Gujaranwala district which now falls in  Pakistan. His father Bhai Natthu Ram Ji 

was a very rich trader and according to  Bhagat Singh Hira a Government  contractor who supplied arms to the army  of General Amir Singh, a courtier of the  Governor of Lahore. His father and  mother Bibi Sundri Ji were both very  religious minded. 

 The literal meaning of the  word 'Ghanaiya is 'vaheguru'. As a child  while leaving his home he would fill his  pockets with (i) kaudies (small sea shells  which at that time were used as the  smallest coin (ii) dhelas (the price of the  coin dhela was one half the price of one  paisa) and (iii) paisas and distributed these  to the needy persons. His parents  encouraged him to be benevolent. 

 At that time vagaar (forced  unpaid labour) wherein poor people were  forced to carry luggage without any  payment to them was very common. One  day a poor and weak person who had  come to Sohdra in search of labour was  unfortunately caught hold of by a Khan who  asked him to carry a heavy bundle.  Because of bodily weakness the poor man  carried that bundle for some distance and  then finding it too difficult to carry it further  started weeping. At this the Khan  mercilessly kicked him with his toes. The  labourer stared wailing profusely. On  hearing his wailing Bhai Ghanaiya Ji who  was present in a satsang at a nearby placecame rushing towards the labourer and not  only carried his luggage but also gave him  rupee one for his expenditure. The Khan 

stared at Bhai Ghanaiya Ji and asked him  'what is your relationship with this  labourer? You have carried his bundle and  also given him one rupee'. Bhai Ghanaiya  Ji replied that 'all of us are the sons of God  Almighty and as such all of us are brothers.  My relationship with him is the same as my  relationship with you. I have given him the  money because he had come out here to  earn some money for his livelihood'. Khan  was wonderstruck to hear this and vowed  not to engage anyone in unpaid labour  henceforth. 

 Even as a young child Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji was fond of meeting hermits  and sadhus and have spiritual discourses  with them. He remained away from home  for long hours in search of them. In 1660  AD he was hardly 12 years of age that he  incidentally met Bhai Nanua Ji, who  belonged to Wazirabad in the present day  Gujranwala district of Pakistan. Bhai  Nanua Ji is also known as 'Vairagi Nanua'  or 'Nanua Bairagi' because he did not have  any attachment with the worldly  possessions. According to Bhagat Singh  

Hira Nanua Ji was a very short statured  person with a hunchback who could travel  only in a palanquin. The word "nanua'  stands for a dwarfed sized hunchbacked  person. But even travelling in a palanquin  Bhai Nanua Ji wandered and visited far off  places in search of hermits to receive some  spiritual light. 

 Bhai Nanua Ji lived for some  time in Lahore and then went to Kiratpur  Sahib which is at a distance of about 10  kms from Anandpur Sahib which falls in the  present day Ropar district of Punjab. At  Kiratpur Sahib he received the rites of a  disciple at the hands of Sri Guru Tegh  Bahadur Sahib. 

 Bhai Nanua Ji's devotional songs  which are composed in different classical  measures in simple Punjabi language are  very popular among the Sevapanthi  sadhus. 

 Bhai Nanua Ji stayed at Kiratpur  Sahib for three months and during this  period everyday he had darshan (holy  glimpse) of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib.  One day Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib told  

Bhai Nanua Ji that Lahore was waiting to  receive him. Bhai Nanua Ji immediately sat  in his palanquin and left for Lahore. In  Lahore Bhai Nanua Ji reached a garden  and decided to stay there. The glowing  face of Bhai Nanua Ji attracted many  traders of Lahore who thought that Bhai  Nanua Ji was a trader and had come to  Lahore on a business tour. But Bhai Nanua  Ji told them that he was not a businessman  and that he was in search of such a great  man who would give him spiritual peace. 

 Bhai Ghanaiya Ji's meeting with  Bhai Nanua Ji became a turning point in his  life. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji's search for spiritual  peace finally bore fruit because Bhai  Nanua Ji's company eventually provided  him a chance to have darshan (holy  glimpse) of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib.  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji thus entered the fold of  Sikhism. Soon thereafter Bhai Nanua Ji left  for his heavenly abode. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  returned to his home in Sohdra. During this  time his father also left for his heavenly  abode. Being the eldest son he was  expected to carry on the duties of his 

father. As such for the management of  business affairs he was to go to Kabul  along with the routine paraphernalia. On  way to Kabul the group had not gone very  far that they had to make a stoppage for  the night. 

 During the night Bhai Ghanhaiya  Ji heard a voice from some far away place  singing the hymns of Sri Guru Tegh  Bahadur Sahib. He left his companions  and went out in search of the source of that  voice. Henceforth he roamed and roamed  in places far and near in search of spiritual  peace. During these travels sometimes he  had to go without food for days together.  After 24 days of wandering hither and  thither he heard a voice saying 'You go to  Anandpur Sahib' He was overjoyed and  asked people as to where this place named  Anandpur Sahib existed. He learnt that  everyday Sikh jathas (groups) passed by a  nearby place to go to Anandpur Sahib.  Thus, Bhai Ghanhaiya Ji finally reached  Anandpur Sahib and was blessed with the  darshan of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib.

 On having a darshan of Sri Guru  Tegh Bahadur Sahib his happiness knew  no bounds. He was overwhelmed with  spiritual peace. At Anandpur Sahib Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji became a care taker of the  stable where he took care of the horses  and supplied fodder and water to the  horses. During this time Sri Guru Tegh  Bahadur Sahib visited the stable once in a  while and thus he got some opportunities  to have his darshan. Sri Guru Tegh  Bahadur Sahib was very much impressed  by Bhai Ghanaiya Ji's spiritual discourses.  In 1674 AD i.e. after about one year of his  seva (service) in the stable, he was  blessed by Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib  who asked him to leave Anandpur Sahib  and search for a barren land and start a  dharamsala (rest house for travellers) in  the name of the Guru, where in addition to  serving community meals to the travellers  he should preach gur shabad (Guru's  teaching). Guru Sahib's direction ended his  wishful thinking of staying longer at  Anandpur Sahib and he left Anandpur  Sahib in search of a barren place. During 

the same year i.e. in 1674 going westward  he came across a village named Kavha  near a canal named Haro which was  situated on a hilly mound. This village now  falls within the city limits of Attock city in the  present day District Attock of Pakistan.  This village fell on the way to Peshawar  and was without a source of water. The  residents of this village had to walk a long  distance with a great difficulty to fetch  water from the canal Haro. This 3-4 miles  distance to and fro was very slippery in the  rainy season and very risky. In view of  these factors in the village Kavha Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji founded a dharamsala for the  travellers in collaboration with the local  people where irrespective of their religion  or caste they could stay overnight. In the  mornings and evenings reading gurbani  (Guru's preaching), katha (explanation of  gurbani), kirtan and religious discourses  were a common feature. 

 In November, 1675 he was  greatly shocked by the sad news of the  martyrdom of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur  Sahib. In 1678 AD he went to Anandpur Sahib to have a darshan of Sri Guru  Gobind Singh Ji and stayed there to serve.  During this period in view of the atrocities  impinged by the hilly chiefs and the  Mughals Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji ordered  all Sikhs to wear swords. As per these  orders Bhai Ghanaiya Ji, who was involved  in serving water to sangat also wore a  sword. One day a Sikh asked him that if  needed would he use that sword to kill the  enemy. He answered that 'I will not kill  anyone. If someone attacks me I will ask  him to kill me with my sword which is my  Guru's sword'. This dialogue reached Sri  Guru Gobind Singh Ji who felt that Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji's spiritual attainment was very  high and that he was above worldly  attractions and thus asked him to carry on  his duty of serving water. 

 Around this time the hilly chiefs,  with the help of Mughal ruler had started  invading Anandpur Sahib again and again.  During 1702-1705 in the battles which  ensued between Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji  and his enemies i.e. the hilly chiefs and  Mughals BhaiGhanaiya Ji served water to the wounded soldiers irrespective of  their religion. One day a Sikh complained  to Guru Sahib that Bhai Ghanaiya Ji was  serving water to the enemies i.e. the  wounded Muslim soldiers also. When Guru  Sahib asked Bhai Ghanaiya Ji about this,  he replied that 'in the face of every  wounded person I see only my Guru's  face'. Impressed by his spiritual attainment  Guru Sahib gave him ointment and asked  him that in addition to serving water he  should also undertake first aid of the  wounded soldiers. Thus during 1702-1705  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji continued this service  and during the battles at Anandpur Sahib  he served water and applied ointment to  the wounds of the soldiers irrespective of  their religion. As such he can be said to be  the founder of Red Cross 160 years before  it was formally founded in 1864 AD at a  convention at Geneva by Henry Dunant. 

 Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji  blessed Bhai Ghanaiya Ji and asked him to  found his own sampardai (sect) which is  now known as 'Sevapanthi' sect. When Sri  Guru Gobind Singh Ji left Anandpur Sahib Bhai Ghanaiya Ji returned to his  dharamsala at Kavha. 

 Thus Bhai Ghanaiya Ji founded  the Sevapanthi sect as per the directions of  Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. How Seva Ram  Ji happened to become the next incharge  of the Sevapanthi sect is quite interesting.  In 1683 AD at Sohdra one day a cheater  sadhu dressed in white clothes had  collected silver coins and silver ornaments  from the residents of Sohdra with the  pretext of converting them to gold. Bhai  Seva Ram Ji dressed in white clothes  happened to be walking at a short  distance. The cheater sadhu pointed  towards Bhai Seva Ram Ji and told the  villagers that his disciple is coming and will  help him in converting the silver coins into  gold coins. The cheater sadhu immediately  ran away and the people got hold of Bhai  Seva Ram Ji. The tussel ended by inviting  the local administrator who immediately  imprisoned Bhai Seva Ram Ji. Incidentally  the same evening this local administrator  had invited Bhai Ghanaiya Ji for dinner. As  soon as Bhai Ghanaiya Ji saw Seva Ram Ji dressed in white clothes like a sadhu he  asked him as to who he was and what had  brought him there. He narrated the whole  incident and said that he was in search of  him and other hermits like him. But by  pointing towards me the cheater sadhu ran  away and the people caught hold of me. At  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji's request the  administrator immediately released Bhai  Seva Ram Ji. As already mentioned above  after Bhai Ghanaiya Ji left for his heavenly  abode in 1718 AD Bhai Seva Ram Ji  became his successor. 

 In 1698 Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  established another dharamshala at  Nurpur Thal (Pakistan). Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  eagerly wanted to go on a parchar  (preaching) campaign to spread the  message of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. During  this tour he took Bhai Seva Ram Ji along  with him and over a period of six month  they covered long distances. After this tour  they returned to Kavha dharamsala. 

 How Bhai Noori Shah Ji became  the second disciple of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji is  also quite interesting. An Afghani Muslim Noori Shah was a soldier in the Mughal  army who during the battles at Anandpur  Sahib had been revived to life by Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji who had poured water into his  mouth and applied ointment to his wounds.  After becoming healthy Noori Shah started  to search for his benevolent life saver. After  many trials he finally reached the Kavha  dharamsala. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji immediately  recognized him. Noori Shah offered a very  valuable diamond to Bhai Ghanaiya Ji as a  token of his gratitude. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  resisted his offer again and again but he  finally handed over that valuable diamond  to Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  threw away that diamond in the nearby  canal Haro. Noori Shah was enraged and  asked Bhai Ghanaiya Ji to either keep that  diamond himself or return it to him. He said  that otherwise, he would kill himself with his  own sword. Seeing Noori Shah's anger  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji asked the canal Haro to  return the diamond to the Shah because he  did not want him to die. The canal got  divided into two parts and in the middle on  top of a mound a heap of valuable diamonds appeared. Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  asked Noori Shah to pick up as many  diamonds as he wanted. Noori Shah fell  down at the feet of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji and  apologized. Bhai Noori Shah Ji started  living in a hut near the Kavha dharamsala.  After Bhai Seva Ram Ji, Bhai Noori Shah  Ji became the second successor of Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji. Until 1947 AD this hut was  present and his descendents were Sikhs  and followers of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. Balbir  Singh in his book Lammi Nadar has  mentioned about a Muslim faqir (saint) who  was a descendent of Bhai Noori Shah Ji  living near Rishikesh near the bank of  Ganges who was propagating Sikh  religion. 

 In the morning of the day that  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji was to leave for his  heavenly abode, a few of his followers  were discussing the methods of eliminating  the dead body. In that discussion Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji said that the easiest method is  to immerse the dead body in some running  water because it was very inexpensive and  also the body could provide food to the water animals. The same evening when  the kirtan programme was going on Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji did not ask the musicians to  end up this programme which he usually  did. The programme continued for a very  long time and when Bhai Ghanaiya Ji did  not move even when the programme  ended, his followers, to their astonishment  found that he had left for his heavenly  abode. 

 When Bhai Ghanaiya Ji left for  his heavenly abode as per the arguments  given by him in the morning programme the  hermits immersed his dead body in the  Chandarbhaga canal flowing near Sohdra.  But thinking that relatives of Bhai Ghanaiya  Ji may dislike their action they left Sohdra  and reached the Kavha dharamsala. The  relatives became angered at the action of  the hermits because they wanted tocremate the body in the traditional manner.  They sent many chobbas upto twelve kohs  but they could not find his body. 

 When the sad news of Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji's demise reached Bhai Seva  Ram Ji he started singing a hymn of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji which is at p. 1000 of Sri  Guru Granth Sahib which includes the line  'Sewak Di Orrak Nibahi Preet' which means that 'the sevak's (servant's) love continued up to the end'. 

 It may be mentioned here that  two books Parchi Bhai Kanhaiya and  Parchi Bhai Seva Ram include information about the life of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. 

 Parchi Bhai Kanhaiya is a  biography of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji, founder of  the Sevapanthi sect. Written in Bhakha sometimes between 1728 and 1740 when  its author Bhai Sehaj Ram Ji happend to be  staying with Bhai Addan Shah Ji, another  leading Sevapanthi saint, the work was  edited by Bhai Hira Singh Mahant Ji and  published in 1966 by the Sevapanthi -Addanshahi Sabha, Patiala It includes 20  sakhis (anecdotes) relating to the life of  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. 

 Parchi Bhai Seva Ram is a  biographical sketch in Punjabi verse of  Bhai Seva Ram Ji, who led the Sevapanthi  sect after the death of Bhai Kanhaiya Ji.  Written by Bhai Sehaj Ram Ji, himself a renowned Sevapanthi saint this book  written perhaps towards the close of the  18th century was edited by Bhai Hira Singh  Ji and published by the Sevapanthi 

Addanshahi Sabha, Patiala. Bhai Seva  Ram Ji, a disciple and close associate of  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji preached the Sikh way of  life in distant parts of the country. 

 Because Bhai Seva Ram Ji and  Bhai Addanshah Ji were the prominent  followers of Bhai Ghanaiya Ji the sect  founded by Bhai Ghanaiya Ji is known as  'Sevapanthi' sect and 'Addanshahi' sect. 

 According to Parchi Bhai  Kanhaiya and other sources Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji preached bhala (do good to  everyone), bhulla, to forget the bad deeds  of others and bhana i.e. accepting the Will  of God. He preached to be merciful  towards the animals. He forbade eating of  meat. 

 At Anandpur Sahib, Distt. Ropar,  Punjab in the fond memory of Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji two Gurdwaras have been  established. (i) One of these is Gurdwara  Seva Sthan Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. 'Seva Sthan' means the place where he rendered  service. This is situated near the Railway  Station, Anandpur Sahib at the place which  was the battle field during the battles  fought by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji against  his enemies and where Bhai Ghanaiya Ji  served water and provided first aid to the  wounded soldiers. 

(ii) The second Gurdwara is Gurdwara  Baolian Bhai Ghanaiya Ji which is situated  in the village Mohiwal adjoining the city of  Anandpur Sahib. 'Baoli' means a well with  steps leading down to the water level. In  this Gurdwara the Baoli Sahib from which  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji fetched water by going  down several steps is intact and even now  there is water in it. In this Gurdwara the  large size mashak (leather bag) used by  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji to carry water from the  Baoli Sahib to the battle field is intact. In  this Gurdwara the dol (pail) with which Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji fetched water from Baoli Sahib  is intact. All these things are shown in the  five pictures being attached herewith.

 In 1998 Government of India  Issued a Rs. 2 stemp in the name of Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji. 

 During September 18-20, 2018  i.e the 300th Anniversary of his Akal  Chalana a wide variaty of religious  programmes were organized in the two  Gurdwaras situated in Anandpur Sahib.  During this period the Sikh Jathas from  different parts of India in the form of Nagar  Kirtan (marching while singing the holy  hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib) arrivedat Anandpur Sahib to pay their homage to  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji, a great benevolent Sikh. 

 This year i.e in 2020, 302nd Anniversary of his Akal Chalana is being  observed on September 20 all over the world. During September 18-20,2020 at  Anandpur Sahib, Distt. Ropar a wide variety of religious programes will be organized to pay homage to Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji, a benevolent and humanitarian Bhai Ghanaiya Ji. 


*Referances (i) The Encyclopaedia of  Sikhism part I,II,III, and IV  (1995,1996,1997,1998) published by  Punjabi University, Patiala (ii) Bhai Kahan  Singh Nabha’s book Mahan Kosh,1930 (iii) 

Bhagat Singh Hira’s book Seva te Simran  de Chanan Munare te Aman Doot 

(messenger of peace) Bhai Kanhaiya Ji  (1990).(iv)Giani Sant Singh Miskeen’s  book Bhai Kanhaiya Ji Di Jiwan Katha te  Hor Lekh (2013) and (v)Ajit Singh Aulakh’s  book Jiwan Bhai Kanhaiya Ji (2014). 


 List of  Gurdwaras 


(i) Guradwara Seva Sthan , Anamdpur  Sahib, Distt Ropar, Punjab 

 Which was the battle field and where  Bhai Ghanaiya Ji served water 



(ii) Gurdwara Baolian Sahib Bhai  Ghaniaya Ji Anandpur Sahib, Distt.  Ropar, Punjab where Bhai Ghaniaya  Ji fetched water from Baoli Sahib 


(iii) Baoli Sahib in the Gurdwara Baolian  Sahib Bhai Ghaniaya Ji, Anandpur  Sahib, Distt. Ropar, Punjab from  which Bhai Ghaniaya Ji fetched water  


(iv)The leather bag used by Bhai  Ghaniaya Ji to carry water from 


Gurdwara Baolian Sahib Bhai  Ghaniaya Ji, Anandpur Sahib , Distt.  Ropar, Punjab to the battle field 


(v) Pail used by Bhai Ghaniaya Ji for  fetching water from Baoli Sahib In the  Gurdwara Baolian Sahib Bhai  Ghaniaya Ji, Anandpur Sahib , Distt.  Ropar, Punjab  

 Dhan Dhan Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji! 

 Hail Bhai  Ghanaiya Ji! 


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