Did Guru Nanak Dev ji also travel 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 Nankie’ many centuries ago, Sikh immigrants in Uganda and other parts of East Africa strongly believe that the seer was none other than Guru Nanak Dev ji. For both, the seer is venerable.
Avtar Singh Sohal Tari, who has played for Kenyan hockey side in four Olympic games, says “ During Guru Nank Dev ji’s birth day Bamu Nanike is thronged by very large number of Sikhs from East Africa. Interestingly, it was the Africans who used to say that the seer is not one of ours. But he had some great spiritual power when he visited in our place.”
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 Nanike 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 like ‘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.
Sikhs journey to East Africa
Mostly Sikhs were brought on three-year contracts 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.
Avtar Singh Sohal, says “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 Dev ji had visited Bamu Nanika.
Now number of Sikhs from India too visits the Bamu Nanika for both pilgrimages as well as to find whether Guru Nanak Dev ji 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. Sohal 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.
Quoting Puratan Janamsakhi, Jitender Singh Shunty, a Sikh scholar and social worker, said that Guru Ji undertook five missionary journeys to faraway places like Sri Lanka, Mecca, Baghdad, Assam and Tashkant etc. Apart from that Guru ji had also travelled far and wide to spread the word of Gurbani and covered most of India, present day Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, South West China, Afghanistans 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 Baba ji had visited there too.
According to Sohal, who visits India very often for Sewa in different gurudwars, says, “Visiting Bamu Nanke on regular basis is an article of faith for all Sikhs as well as Hindus of Uganda and Kenya. They visit very often. They do not need any proof of Babaji’s visit. They strongly believe that he had travelled there.”
Uganda has around 1,000 Punjabi families with 12 gurdwaras. Most of the gurdwaras 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 30,000-35,000.
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 Nankie is all set to celebrate the Guru Nanak birthday with lot of devotion.
(The author is an eminent bi-lingual writer and columnist. He is based in New Delhi)