Bhai Kaliana was one of the few Sikhs who were assigned by Guru Arjan with the great responsibility of going out to various places educating people about Gurmat. The population of Amritsar was increasing day-by-day during that period and timber was in great demand for the construction of houses. Bhai Kaliana was also entrusted with procuring timber for the requirements of Amritsar.
Bhai Sahib was sent to the hill areas of the Mandi state in the north of Punjab. Whenever he went there, he would associate with the local people, providing discourses on the principles of the Sikh faith and sing Gurbani kirtan to them. People looked forward to his visits because they loved to sit with him and listen to Gurbani recitations from him.
Bhai Kaliana Visits Mandi
Once Bhai Kaliana arrived in Mandi the day before the occassion of Krishna Janmashtami, also known Janam Ashtami, Krishnashtami, Saatam Aatham, Gokulashtami, Ashtami Rohini, Srikrishna Jayanti, Sree Jayanti or sometimes simply as Janmashtami. This is an annual celebration of the birth of the hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Some hindus celebrate Janmashtami by fasting, worshipping Krishna and staying up until midnight on the 8th day of the dark half of the month of Bhadon (August/ September).
In the evening, a drummer announced that the local Raja was ordering all of the people to hold a rigid fast during the next day and not sleep the following night, but keep vigil and occupy their time uttering 'Krishan, Krishan'. In the morning they should visit the temple to behold the salagram (a black stone idol); and there they might break their fast by drinking water in which the salagram hard been bathed. Those disobeying the order would be punished. This was a technique adopted by the hindu brahmans to control and collect money from the innocent people of the city.
Bhai Kaliana was the only one who did not bother with his fast or the stone idol worship as Sikhs do not believe in such rituals. Bhai Kaliana cooked his food as usual and shared it with the local people. He did not fast, or go to the temple, or drink the water in which the idol had been bathed.
In reply to several questions as to the cause of his disobedience, Bhai Kaliana replied, "My God is a living being who speaks and confers great happiness on people. Vain is the worship of a lifeless stone which neither eats, nor speaks, nor confers favours. It is true that you occasionally fast, but at the same time you do not stop from committing grievous sins. The Sikhs of my Guru eat little and therefore are ever fasting. They restrain lust and wrath, and apply their hearts to God's worship."
Bhai Kaliana then repeated the following hymn of Guru Arjan;
ਭੈਰਉ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ਘਰੁ ੧
Bẖairo mėhlā 5 gẖar 1
Bhairao, Fifth Mehl, First House:
ੴ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
Ik▫oaŉkār saṯgur parsāḏ.
One Universal Creator God. By The Grace Of The True Guru:
ਸਗਲੀ ਥੀਤਿ ਪਾਸਿ ਡਾਰਿ ਰਾਖੀ ॥
Saglī thīṯ pās dār rākẖī.
Setting aside all other days, it is said,
ਅਸਟਮ ਥੀਤਿ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਜਨਮਾ ਸੀ ॥੧॥
Astam thīṯ govinḏ janmā sī. ||1||
that the Lord was born on the eighth lunar day. ||1||
ਭਰਮਿ ਭੂਲੇ ਨਰ ਕਰਤ ਕਚਰਾਇਣ ॥
Bẖaram bẖūle nar karaṯ kacẖrā▫iṇ.
Deluded and confused by doubt, the mortal practices falsehood.
ਜਨਮ ਮਰਣ ਤੇ ਰਹਤ ਨਾਰਾਇਣ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Janam maraṇ ṯe rahaṯ nārā▫iṇ. ||1|| rahā▫o.
The Lord is beyond birth and death. ||1||Pause||
ਕਰਿ ਪੰਜੀਰੁ ਖਵਾਇਓ ਚੋਰ ॥
Kar panjīr kẖavā▫i▫o cẖor.
You prepare sweet treats and feed them to your stone god.
ਓਹੁ ਜਨਮਿ ਨ ਮਰੈ ਰੇ ਸਾਕਤ ਢੋਰ ॥੨॥
Oh janam na marai re sākaṯ dẖor. ||2||
God is not born, and God does not die, you foolish, faithless cynic! ||2||
ਸਗਲ ਪਰਾਧ ਦੇਹਿ ਲੋਰੋਨੀ ॥
Sagal parāḏẖ ḏėh loronī.
You sing lullabies to your stone god - this is the source of all your mistakes.
ਸੋ ਮੁਖੁ ਜਲਉ ਜਿਤੁ ਕਹਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰੁ ਜੋਨੀ ॥੩॥
So mukẖ jala▫o jiṯ kahėh ṯẖākur jonī. ||3||
Let that mouth be burnt, which says that our Lord and Master is subject to birth. ||3||
ਜਨਮਿ ਨ ਮਰੈ ਨ ਆਵੈ ਨ ਜਾਇ ॥
Janam na marai na āvai na jā▫e.
God is not born, and God does not die; God does not come and go in reincarnation.
ਨਾਨਕ ਕਾ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਮਾਇ ॥੪॥੧॥
Nānak kā parabẖ rahi▫o samā▫e. ||4||1||
The God of Nanak is pervading and permeating everywhere. ||4||1||
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Arjan, Ang 1136
On hearing this some people laughed and began to criticize Bhai Kaliana's words. In response, Bhai Sahib recited Gurbani quotations which meant that to please God, we should love and respect people instead of worshipping stones. Further, fasting has no religious value.
Bhai Kaliana's words were repeated throughout the city, and the matter was brought to the notice of the Raja, Hari Sen. The Raja was informed that there was a stranger who spoke about the salagram and called it a stone, and who did not fast on the holy anniversary of Krishan's birth. Hari Sen sent an orderly to summon Bhai Kaliana appear before him to explain hiself for disobeying the instructions of the Raja.
Stone Idols Neither See, Nor Hear, Nor Speak
So Bhai Kaliana was brought before the Raja. Burning with anger, the Raja asked several questions in imperious tones, he asked Bhai Kaliana to tell his place of residence, his religion, and the name of his Guru. Bhai Kaliana humbly replied, "On the throne of the holy Guru Nanak, who was very famous in the world, now sits the holy and perfect Guru Arjan. We who are his disciples obtain the object of our desires from him. He gives us instruction, which confers happiness here and hereafter. We read his Gurbani."
Bhai Kaliana continued, "My Guru has said that all days are equal. God was not born on any particular day, God is beyond birth and death. I believe God is the life within us all. Like all my Guru's followers, I recite only hymns in praise of God and have no faith in stone idols which neither see, nor hear, nor speak. How can a stone be pleased, and what can we gain by worshipping it?"
Bhai Kaliana went on the say, "It is God, who is the life within our lives, by whose support we exist, and who is ever bounteous to us all - that God you suppose to be a stone. God who pervades in the sea and the land, who confers happiness here and hereafter, who is contained in animate and inanimate nature, who is in the past, present and future, who is supreme in the three worlds and to whom none is equal - that God you imagine to be an inanimate object. How can God be pleased with you when you treat God with such utter indignity?"
The Raja was mad with anger, he ordered Bhai Kaliana to be put into prison. The next day, Bhai Kaliana was ordered to seek forgiveness and bow down to the Raja's stone idol but Bhai Kaliana refused. The Raja could give no arguments to challenge the statements of Bhai Ji, and said, "I agree with your comments in principle, but you must be punished for disobeying my orders." He passed an order to sever one of the legs of Bhai Kaliana and be expelled the country. God did not wish Bhai Kaliana to undergo such a harsh punishment. After the pronouncement of the order, the Raja suffered a fit and fell down unconscious.
Bhai Kaliana Offers His Prayers
The Raja's physicians administered many remedies but none had any effect. The Raja did not regain consciousness. The wise men at the royal court frankly said that this was all the result of the annoyance inflicted upon the holy stranger. Instead of being punished, he ought to have been received with hospitality and respect. Finding no other way, the Raja's courtiers held consultations among themselves, they untied Bhai Kaliana's hands and begged him to pray to God so that their Raja may regain consciousness.
Bhai Kaliana said, "I am very sorry for the Raja, but I have done nothing to him. I have no power to help him either. All such power lays with God. I can offer my prayers but only on the condition you promise to encourage the Raja to believe in Guru and become one of his Sikhs." The Raja's courtiers made their promises on behalf of the Raja that he would act as Bhai Kaliana desired.
Bhai Kaliana stood up and folded his hands and asked the others to join him. He prayed to God to save the life of the Raja. The prayer was accepted at the door of the Lord. The Raja regained consciousness. The Raja, on being told everything by his courtiers, asked forgiveness of Bhai Kaliana and asked him for an audience with Guru Arjan. He ordered that Bhai Kaliana should be received into his palace, and treated with all possible courtesy and distinction.
The Raja, who was suffering under the influence of controlling brahmans and was practicing meaningless rituals, was awakened. He decided to become a Sikh. He accompanied Bhai Kaliana Ji to Amritsar and received the blessings of Guru Arjan. Wherever we go, we must practice the Sikh faith and educate people about the greatness of the principles of the Sikh faith.