In the Punjabi language, out of respect, elder sister is called Bebe. Bebe Nanaki was the elder sister of Guru Nanak. She has a special place in the Sikh history. She played an important role in the spread of Sikhism. She was the first disciple of Guru Nanak and so she is considered one of the prominent women in the Sikh history.
She was born in 1464, five years before Guru Nanak to Mata Tripta and Mehta Kalu ji who lived at Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. She was born at the house of her maternal grandfather, Ram Ji,of village Chahal, district Lahore. Her maternal grandfather and grandmother loved her a lot and named her Nankian, which means house of maternal grandparents. Later the word Nankian was changed into Nanki.
She was five years old when her brother, Nanak, was born in 1469. He was named after her and people said Nanak of Nanaki. She was overjoyed to have a baby brother and a companion. As Nanak grew, she played with him, took him shopping and looked after his comforts. Right from his childhood, Nanak’s keen mind would not accept all groundless rituals and superstitions. Bebe Nanaki 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 She stood between Nanak and her parents when they got mad 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).
She was married at the age of eleven in 1475 to Bhai Jai Ram, a revenue officer at Sultanpur under Nawab Dault Khan Lodhi. Early marriage was the custom those days. Five years after her marriage, when she started living with her husband. Bhai Jai Ram got Nanak employed as storekeeper under the Nawab of Sultanpur in 1485. Now Bebe Nanaki and her husband planned to get Nanak married so that he may have his independent life.
They were successful for finding a suitable match, Mata Sulakhni, for Nanak and the marriage was celebrated in 1487. After marriage, Nanak started living separately at Sultanpur. Nanaki, who did not have children of her own, helped Mata Sulakhni, in bringing up her sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand. When Nanak planned to start on his missionary work to spread his message in the world, she assured him that she will look after his family in his absence and did not discourage him. In fact, the idea of depicting devotion to God in musical notes was due to the inspiration given by Bebe Nanaki. She knew of the musical talent of her brother and persuaded Mardana to accompany her brother. Knowing Guru Nanak had a melodic aptitude, She also bought a Rebab (musical instrument with strings) for him.
The last time Guru Nanak met his sister was in 1518. For Bebe Nanaki this visit was filled with joy, but also with sadness. Guru Nanak had said that he would only be visiting for three days. She begged that she should stay a little longer. After two days she suddenly fell ill. She breathed her last breath as the Guru’s sacred hymn, Japji Sahib, was being recited to her. Bhai Jai Ram himself did not live much longer. Three days later he also passed away. For Guru Nanak this was his last visit to Sultanpur.
She lived at Sultanpur for about forty years. A tree planted by her provides shade to the people still. There is also a well, which she had constructed for the people. She was the first disciple of Guru Nanak and the first one to perceive the holiness in Guru Nanak’s person. She was always dedicated to Him and His trigger. There is no doubt that the first Gursikh was none other than Bebe Nanaki.