Bebe Nanaki was the elder sister of Guru Nanak and has a special place in Sikh history. She was the first disciple of Guru Nanak and is considered one of the most well-known women in the Sikh history. Bebe Nanki was born in 1464 to Mata Tripta and Mehta Kalu who lived at Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. She was bought up in a lovely atmosphere in the house of her father who was a well to do revenue officer in the village. Her sharp features, round mouth, cheerful face and most importantly her sweet tongue made her popular with everybody she came in contact with.
Bebe Nanaki was five years old when her brother, Nanak, was born in 1469. He was named after her and people said ‘Nanak of Nanki’. She was overjoyed to have a baby companion and started babysitting in the absence of her mother. As Nanak grew, she played with him and looked after his comforts. Right from his childhood, Nanak’s keen mind would not accept all groundless rituals and superstitions. Bebe Nanki was the first who recognized that Nanak was not an ordinary child, but a man of God. She was the first follower of Guru Nanak and stood between Nanak and her parents when they got angry with him and told them to recognize the true worth of Nanak. For her, Nanak was not only her brother (Veer) but also her Guru (Peer).
At the age of eleven in 1475, Bebe Nanki was married to Bhai Jai Ram, a revenue officer at Sultanpur under Nawab Dault Khan Lodhi. Early marriage was the custom then. Five years after her marriage, when she started living with her husband, Nanak felt her separation. He did not take interest in worldly affairs and remained busy in meditation. Bebe Nanki was also longing for the company of her brother, Nanak. She asked her husband to find some job for Nanak at Sultanpur so that she could enjoy his company again. Consequently, Bhai Jai Ram got Nanak employed as storekeeper under the Nawab of Sultanpur in 1485. She took her role as an older sister very seriously and helped Nanak when ever possible.
Now Bebe Nanaki and her husband planned to get Nanak married to give him an independent life. They were successful in finding a suitable match for Nanak and with the consent of all concerned.
Nanak was married to Mata Sulakhni inn 1487. After the wedding, he lived with his wife at Sultanpur. Nanki had a very good and cordial relation with her sister in law, Mata Sulakhni, and helped her to bring up her sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand - she looked after her necessities and ensured Mata Sulakhni did not feel lonely while Nanak was a way on his missionary work.
It is important to remember Bebe Nanaki’s role in spreading Sikhi. She removed many obstacles which hindered Guru Nanak from preaching his message. When Guru Nanak planned to start his missionary work to spread his teachings around the world, Bebe Nanki assured him that she would look after his family in his absence. Nanak was going to spread his devotion to God in musical notes which was inspired by Bebe Nanaki. She recognised Nanak’s musical talent and persuaded Bhai Mardana to accompany him. She also bought him a Rubab (musical instrument with strings). This tradition of recitation of hymns with the help of musical instruments played a substantial role in preaching the faith through time and is still prevalent today.
At the end of his second tour when Guru Nanak returned to Sultanpur, Bebe Nanki was not feeling well and asked him to stay for a few days. In these few days she breathed her last breaths and Guru Nanak performed her funeral rights.
Bebe Nanaki was selfless and concerned for all around her. As well as being a good daughter, a good sister and wife she was also a good neighbour and helped her fellow villagers however she could. On her instruction a well was constructed in Sultanpur and a tree was planted which to this day provides shade to the people there.
Bebe Nanaki was a truly inspirational role model and shows what it means to be a sister. She was the first one to perceive Guru Nanak’s holiness and consequently his first disciple. There is no doubt that the first Gursikh was none other than Bebe Nanki. Like a wise daughter, she explained the Guru’s mission to her parents and sheltered Guru Nanak from their anger. She treated her brother like God and played an important role in Guru Nanak’s mission.