In the year 1521 A.D. while on an Udasi mission tour, Guru Nanak Dev and his minstrel companion Mardana stopped in Hasan Abdal of Punjab, which is now the home of historic gurdwara Panja Sahib in modern day Pakistan. This Ancient city of Hasan Abdal is in a hilly area at a distance of 45 kilometres from Rawalpindi to the west side of the mountain.
Guru Nanak and Mardana had been traveling in the heat of summer. They found a shady cool tree near the foothill. Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana started reciting Kirtan and local devotees gathered there.
This annoyed the local affulent person, Wali Qandhari but he felt helpless. Wali Qandhari had established his big camp (aka Dera) at Hasan Abdal, near a natural fountain. The dera had a specific significance for giving boon to the man of the faith and punishing the non-believers. Mardana and Sangat were thirsty in the hot Summar and the only source of water was under control of Wali Qandhari.
After singing hymns, Mardana expressed that he was thirsty. When he asked sangat where to obtain water to drink, he learned that a scarcity of water plagued the area. The only water available had been diverted by Hazrat Shah Wali Qandhari (Khandhari ), a wizer dwelling at the top of the hill who had a reservoir fed by a natural spring. Guru Nanak advised Mardana to walk up the hill, introduce himself, and request a drink from the wizer’s well.
Mardana set off on the long trek up the hill. The sun shone fiercely and his thirst increased as he plodded along the dusty track. When he reached the top he found the wizer waiting for him full of questions. “Who are you? Who are you traveling with? Why have you come?”
Mardana answered respectfully, “I am Mardana, minstrel of the Mirasi lineage. I travel with the great Guru Nanak Dev ji of the Katri lineage, a saint empowered with spiritual blessings who is greatly respected by Muslims and Hindus alike.
I play the rebab while my guru exquisitely sings in praise of the divine. We have arrived here after journeying to far places on a mission to bring enlightenment to all people of the world with my guru’s message of “Ik Onkar,” that creator and creation are one. I have come to your well with a request for water that we may quench our thirst.”
Mardana’s answer greatly annoyed the wizer, a proud man who considered himself a prominent leader and holy adviser to the Islamic people of Hasan Abdal. He had noticed that his own followers had been congregating with the new comers below and felt a passionate rivalry.
He had made it his personal mission in life to rid the area of infidel unbelievers. Hoping that Mardana and his guru would leave the area, Wali Qandhari refused Mardana’s request for a drink, taunting him, “Go back to your great guru. As he is not lacking in power, surely he is able to provide water for you himself.”
Mardana had climbed a kilometer, more than half a mile, to reach the well (map). He turned away dispirited and trudged back down the long hot dusty trail, his thirst growing with every step. When at last he reached the bottom of the hill, he told Guru Nanak all that had transpired. Guru Nanak instructed Mardana to go back up the hill and with utmost humility, to request water a second time, and to deliver a message from his guru saying “Nanak is but humble servant of creator and creation, a wanderer come hither who seeks but a drink from your well.”
Obediently Mardana again climbed the path up the long hill. The wizer in no better a mood, demanded to know why he had come back. Mardana replied, “My honorable Guru Nanak Dev ji, servant of God and minister to mankind, sends his greetings and well wishes along with his most humble request to drink from your well.”
Mardana’s attempt at humility only further enraged the wizer, who impatiently ordered him to go back to his guru and request water only from him. Scornfully, he retorted, “Let the humble servant of God humbly administer water to mankind.”
Mardana had no choice but to go back down the hill without even a drop of water. He turned slowly, the stifling heat oppressive, his feet heavy. Clumsily, he picked his way back down the track and returned to where Guru Nanak waited. He told his guru, “The holy man on top of the hill has refused me again. What more can I do?”
Guru Nanak advised Mardana to exercise utmost patience and insisted that he walk back up the hill to ask for water one more time. Mardana could not refuse his Guru. He turned around with renewed will and retraced his footsteps up the long arduous path to the wizer’s abode. Qandhari could scarcely contain his outrage when he saw Mardana approach yet again and mocked him severely. “Have you forsaken your saint and come to fall at my feet? Renounce this Nanak and acknowledge me as your master and then you shall have all the water you wish.”
A spark ignited in Mardana’s soul. He felt sorrow that a supposed man of God should be so lacking in compassion. He spoke thoughtfully. “O Wali Qandhari, renowned and learned one, can you please advise me, as to how many hearts one man has?”
“Surely the servant of so great a guru must know that a man has one heart only,” replied the wizer sarcastically.
Mardana replied, “What you say is true, O holy man of the hill. So you must also know then that because I have given my heart and soul to the service of my guru, it is no longer mine to give to you. If I bow to you for the sake of water, this body would only be going through a motion forsaken of emotion. You are correct, only my guru has the power to quench a thirst such as I have. I am very sorry to have bothered you.” Mardana turned his back to Wali Qandhari, and quickly made his way back down the hill.
When he reached the bottom of the hill, Mardana explained to Guru Nanak at all that had occurred, adding that he believed the wizer to be a lost soul with a heart of stone. Guru Nanak told his faithful companion, “Your body suffers physical thirst. Wali Qandhari has undergone many austerities and consequently acquired powers which serve only to increase his ego. He commands the people and controls all the water, yet he himself has a deep thirst which may only be quenched with spiritual refreshment. Let us see if by dislodging a single stone, such a heart might be transformed.”
Accordingly, Bhai Mardana went three times to Wali Qandhari for water. Wali Qandhari refused and even used harsh words for him. Despite all of this, Mardana still very politely stuck to his request. Wali sarcastically remarked : Why don’t you ask your Master whom you serve? Mardana returned to the holy presence of Guru in a miserable state and said, “Oh lord ! I would prefer death by this thirst but will not approach the Wali, the egoist.”
Guru Nanak said smilingly,” Oh Bhai Mardana! recite the name of WaheGuru, and drink the water to your heart’s content.” Guru ji moved aside a big piece of stone lying nearby and a fresh water fountain sprang up and started flowing endlessly. Bhai Mardana and Sangat quenched their thirst and felt grateful to the WaheGuru ji. Amazed onlookers rushed to collect more stones and form a tank to collect the pure sweet fresh water which gushed from the spring to flood the barren plain.
Far up the hill, Wali Qandhari noticed that the reservoir fed by his well had begun draining rapidly. He saw the commotion below and realized what had occurred. In a furious rage he hurled large boulder down the hill directed at Guru Nanak. The people below scattered as the boulder came clattering down the hill. Picking up speed as it rolled and bounced over the hilly terrain, the boulder launched into the air and hurtled towards the guru who sat calmly unperturbed. Lifting his arm Guru Nanak opened his fingers wide. To the amazement of all, when the boulder struck, Guru Nanak stopped it with his outstretched hand, yet remained completely unharmed. His palm and all five fingers left the imprint of his hand deeply imbedded in the rock as though the guru’s touch had caused the boulder to soften like warm wax.
Just so, the heart of Hazrat Shah Wali Qandhari also softened. He realized Guru Nanak to be a true servant of humanity blessed with divine power and protection. The wizer came down from his hill and prostrated himself before Guru Nanak’s feet. Wali Qandhari proclaimed Guru Nanak comparable to a divine touchstone. He asked to be accepted as the guru’s disciple and served Guru Nanak faithfully ever after, for as long as he drew breath.
The spring Guru Nanak opened continues to provide pure water which flows from a natural fountain beneath the boulder where his hand print is embedded. Despite attempts to remove it, the guru’s hand print adorns the boulder to this day and can still be seen at the sarovar of Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Pakistan.
Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa after conquering the Sindh province during the Sikh rule, built a huge building of Gurdwara and a sarovar there.
The control of the administration of the Gurdwara remained with the hereditery Mahant. After passing away of Mahant Mittha Singh about whom the people had grievances, a march was led by Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar, to get control of Gurdwara. The Jatha reached Panja Sahib on 18 november, 1920 and the S.G.P.C. gained possession. The local managing committee. constructed a new building of the Gurdwara and extended the existed sarai for more accomodation. The Baisakhi fair held at Panja Sahib was worth seeing.
During the peaceful morcha of Guru-Ka-Bagh, one of the jathas of the sikhs was brutally beaten by the British administrators and the capacity of the Sikhs for suffering and resisitance was put to trail. While the authorities indulged in lathi charge, the peaceful Singhs were raising the slogan : Ultimate victory belongs to the truth (Sat Sri Akal). The wounded were carried on motor vehicles to Amritsar. They were hungry for the last two-three days and were despatched to Attock jail by Rail. The Sikh Sangats at Panja Sahib received an intimation that the hungry Singhs were taken to Attock by rail. Arrangements were made for their food at Railway Station. The Jathedar requested the station master to stop the train but he refused to do so as it was not destined to halt the train. Jathedar Karam Singh argued with the station master and said that if there were any such instructions from his masters for not stopping the train, It was the ordered by his master, the Almighty, that the train must stop. After concluding an Ardasa, the Singhs lied down on the railway lines. The Jatha was being led by Bhai Karam Singh (Manager Gurdwara Panja Sahib) and Bhai Partap Singh. Thus, the Singhs stopped the train on 31st October, 1922 by laying down there lives. The train which was not destined to make halt there, made stoppage for one and a half hour and the food was duly servrd to the Singhs. Bhai Karam Singh and Bhai Partap Singh were martyred and six Sikhs received serious injuries. There stands no memorial for this incident.
The administration of this Gurdwara is now with Pakistan Waqf board. Sikh Jatha from India visits this place on the eve of the Baisakhi festival. A Singh resides in the campus of the Gurdwara from the board and maintains tha pious Maryada.