From OM to OANKAAR: Guru Nanak’s Perspective – For Hindus, primarily the worshippers of Shiva, there are 12 most sacred places on earth (all in India) where Shiva created Jyotirlingas (Jyoti means radiance and linga means male organ – a symbol of Shiva). Two of such places are in the vicinity of Indore city in Madhya Pradesh state – Mahakaleswar temple in Ujjain, and Omkareshwar temple in Omkareshwar town. These 12 sights are considered among the most holy places among Hindus and a large number of pilgrims visit them every year.

Guru Nanak, the founder the Sikh religion (called Sikhi or Sikhism), had traveled extensively in Asia for 40 years and visited many of the sacred and pilgrimage sites of the Hindus, Muslims, Yogis, Budhists, Jains and Jews in modern day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Iran, Iraq and other middle east countries. During one of his excursions around 1530 A.D., he visited both Ujjain and Omkareshwar cities, stayed near the main temples and had detailed discussions with temple priests and pilgrims alike. Beautiful Sikh Gurdwaras have been constructed later at both the sites where he thought to have been stayed.


Omkareshwar Island – surrounded by Narmada river

Omkareshwar is an island in the shape of Hindu symbol Om, formed by Narmada river, which flows around it. The town is believed to be founded in the fifth century by the local king and mainly consisted of temples and priest residences. Currently, it is one of the crowded towns like many others in India and has lots of shops and houses on the island, in addition to the temples.



Guru Nanak’s Gurdwara

During my stay in Indore in Feb-Mar 2017 to do volunteer work, I visited the Omkareshwar town, the main temples and Gurdwara on Mar 18th. The main town is now adjacent to the old island that is connected by two bridges. We parked our car just outside and walked on foot to the island. The old town is relatively well maintained and clean for an Indian city, its main street is lined up with shops selling various types of offerings to the temples and souvenir items for tourists. The Sikh Gurdwara is easily accessible and has relatively ample space. I first went there to pay my obeisance to the place where Guru Nanak visited some 500 years back. There was no one in the Gurdwara, except one Garanthi (care taker). I asked him how many Sikh families lived in the town and how much they frequent the Gurdwara. He said his is the only Sikh family in the town but many Sikhs come and visit from nearby towns during main Sikh festivals such as Baisakhi and Gurupurabs. He explained Guru Nanak’s visit and said he had many discussions with temples priests and the people visiting the temples and camped at the site where now Gurdwara is built. Here, Guru Nanak, composed and recited a “bani” (poem) called “Oankaar” in Raag Ramkali Dakhni (a raag from Carnatic classical music system), which is written on pages 929-938 of Sikh scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib.

In the Oankar bani, Guru Nanak addresses the temple priests but really gives a message to his followers as to what to believe and what not to believe. Bani’s central idea is that there is only one formless God whom you can call by any name and he lives in every atom of the universe – both inside us and outside. The God can only be realized by truthful living and not by performing various rituals or by trying to please other deities as go-between. Guru Nanak’s concept is essentially what modern day philosophers call panentheism (a belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space).

As with many other Banis in Guru Granth Sahib, the Oankaar bani is written in the form of a long poem (rather song) with 54 verses and a chorus (Rahao part). The chorus contains the main idea and is as follows:

ਸੁਣਿ ਪਾਡੇ ਕਿਆ ਲਿਖਹੁ ਜੰਜਾਲਾ ॥ ਲਿਖੁ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗੋਪਾਲਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ {ਪੰਨਾ 930}

“Listen o priest! Why write about worldly affairs (after starting with Om)?

Write only about God, both on the slate and in your heart.”  (page 930)

Guru Nanak’s Gurdwara


Inside Guru Nanak’s Gurdwara

The bani ends with the following couplet:

ਸਚੀ ਪਟੀ ਸਚੁ ਮਨਿ ਪੜੀਐ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁ ਸਾਰੁ ॥

ਨਾਨਕ ਸੋ ਪੜਿਆ ਸੋ ਪੰਡਿਤੁ ਬੀਨਾ ਜਿਸੁ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਗਲਿ ਹਾਰੁ॥੫੪॥੧॥ {ਪੰਨਾ 938}

“The true slate and words are those which touch your heart

Oh Nanak! Educated or pundits are only those who live by the Truth.” ॥54॥1॥ {page 938}


  • Davinder Singh Garcha, March 20, 2017