In Uganda and in East Africa, people firmly believe that Baba Guru Nanak Devji had visited a place called as ‘Bamu Nanika’ close to Uganda’s capital kampala. Large number of Sikhs and Hindus from East Africa visit there for worship
Has Guru Nanak Devji also travelled to Uganda in East Africa? Yes. This is what both locals and Sikhs there believe without an iota of doubt. While indigenous population say that a seer visited a place called ‘Bamu Nanika’ many centuries ago, Sikh Immigrants in Uganda and other parts of East Africa strongly believe that the seer was none other than Baba Guru Nanak Devji. Both revere that seer greatly. A small settlement, a hundred miles from Kampala is known as Bamu Nanika. For both, it is a place of pilgrimage, while Africans say that a holy man, not one of their own, sat on a certain spot there and meditated.
The entire Bamu Nanika is arid with no fresh water for miles. But only a few meters away where the Seer sat, there is a small spring of fresh water. The water is somehow used for ‘giving amrit’ to devotees. After Sikhs were brought there by the Britishers to build Railway network in Uganda from 1895 to 1930, they too came to know about this place. Avtar Singh Sohal Tari, who has played for Kenyan hockey side in four Olympic games, says that during Guru Nank Devji’s birthday Bamu Nanika is thronged by very large number of Sikhs from East Africa. It may be recalled that mostly Sikhs were brought on three-year contracts, with the aid of Imperial British contractor Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee to build the Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kisumu by 1901, and to Kampala by 1931. Some died, while others returned to India after the end of their contracts, but few chose to stay. Later, Sikhs were joined by Gujarati traders. They were both Hindu and Muslim.
Annie Kaur, who manages the Uganda Sikh facebook page and is based in Kampala, says that “Sikhs and Indian origin population of Uganda and East Africa visit ‘Bamu Nanika’ in hordes. They consider this place as holy one as it is their strong belief that Baba Nanak visited there.”
A former Sikh MP from Uganda, Paramjit Singh Marwaha once said that Ugandans believe that Guru Nanak Devji visited Bamu Nanika. It is hardly a matter for Sikhs and Indians in Uganda that there is no proof to establish Babaji’s visit. Who cares for proofs in matters of faith?
Says Tari, “It was the Africans who used to say that the seer not one of theirs. But he had some great spiritual power when he visited our place.”
Annie Kaur says that now number of Sikhs from India too visit the Bamu Nanika for both pilgrimages as well as to find whether Guru Nanak Devji had really visited there. A Gurudwara is also there.
Bamu Nanika is at a distance of about 12 miles from the Tapora Railway Station. There is a small gurudwara there in honour of the visit of Guru Nanak in the hilly forests. Bamu Nanika is about 24 miles from Kampala. Annie says that the name of this place is named after Baba Nanak ji. Bamu may be a short form of Baba Mungu. Mungu means God in Swahili, the national language of Uganda.
It is the unshakable belief of locals that long back a holy man came there. He was not a local. He blessed them with a spring. They claim that there had been no water source in the vast area but for this one. The water of the spring is sweet like a sugar. Meanwhile, Harjinder Kanwal, a London based expert on Sikhs issues of East Africa, says that he has been hearing about the Bamu Nanika since long. However, I do not believe that Babaji had ever visited there. “However, I have to respect the beliefs of people as faith cannot be debated.”
Quoting Puratan Janamsakhi, Balbir Singh Vivek Vihar, a Sikh scholar and ex-Secreatary of Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee said that Guruji undertook five missionary journeys to faraway places like Sri Lanka, Mecca, Baghdad, Assam and Tashkant etc. Apart from that Guruji had also travelled far and wide to spread the words of Gurbani and covered most of India, present day Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, South West China, Afghanistan and Iran. Puratan Janamsakhi is considered as one of the oldest account of the life history of Guru Nanak. He adds that it is very much possible that Babaji had visited there too.
According to Tari, who visits India very often for Sewa in different gurudwara, says, “Visiting Bamu Nanika on regular basis is an article of faith for all Sikhs as well as Hindus of Uganda. They visit very often. They do not need any proof of Babaji’s visit. They strongly believe that he had travelled there. An avid Gurdas Mann fan, Tari visits Golden Temple during his Indian visits without fail.
Uganda has around 1,000 Punjabi families with 12 gurudwaras. Most of the gurudwaras are located in Kampala. There most of the Sikhs originally hail from Jalandhar. They belong to Ramgarhia community. And if you count the total number of Indian origin people, then it would be not less than 30-35 thousand.
When Indians set foot in Uganda, they worked as workers. They grew to become business people and politicians. In the previous Parliament of Uganda, two Indian origin MPs were there.
Meanwhile, Bamu Nanika is all set to celebrate the Guru Nanak birthday with lot of devotion.
(The writer is senior journalist and Former Editor, Somaiya Publications, New Delhi)