“We were Muslims, therefore we had to leave. It did not matter if we were rubabi. What mattered was our Muslim identity. That became our only identity.”

–A descendent of Bhai Mardana on the Partition

 

Born in 1459 in Nankana Sahib, Bhai Mardana was a Muslim companion of Guru Nanak, who travelled with Guru Nanak for a long period of 31 years. He appeared frequently in the Janamsakhis, the biographies of Guru Nanak, representing such worldly desires as hunger, fear, which would then be succored by the miracles of Guru Nanak. He would also play Rubab during Guru’s sermons and compose Guru’s sayings. One of Mardana’s salok (verse) along with two others of Guru Nanak addressed to him also appear in Guru Granth Sahib, the principal scripture of Sikhism. He died around 1534. After his death, his legacy of playing Rubab was carried on by his descendants leading to the formation of “Rababi” tradition in Sikhism. They continued performing Kirtan at the Gurdwaras till the partition of the sub-continent, which forced them for the first time to accept, prioritize their Muslim identity and migrate to Pakistani Punjab. Their hereditary, holy services were no longer required and frowned upon in the new land of Muslim majority.

Rababis are just one example of many other religiously syncretic sects, groups of the sub-continent with centuries of histories and legacies, who have been violently uprooted as a result of the partition. These histories, legacies, cultures posit uncomfortable questions: who celebrates the partition and who mourns it? Who benefitted and who suffered? These questions are important to spark the much needed discussion on the alternative, perhaps less toxic, more just understanding of the Partition.