Guru Nanak: The founder of Sikhism

The Full Moon day in the month of November is a memorable one as on this day is celebrated Guru Nanak’s Birthday. Actually Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Gurus of the Sikhs, was born in the village of Talwandi in Punjab on the third day of the light half of the month of Baisakh (April-May) in the year 1469. However, this auspicious event is celebrated by the Sikhs on the full moon day in November which falls this year on 17th November (Sunday)

Nanak’s father’s name was Kalayan Das Mehta, also known as Mehta Kalu and his mother was Mata Triptaji. Nanak from his childhood was of saintly nature and would always spend his time in meditation and thinking of God..But it was his sister Bebey Nanki who was the first to recognize him as an enlightened soul. Nanak from his early age was of questioning and enquiring mind. Nanak was put under a Hindu teacher for schooling but he would ask such questions to the teacher that would baffle him.

Once he asked the teacher the meaning of “Om” but the Sanskrit teacher was upset for such an enquiry from such a tender age. Then Nanak himself explained fully the significance of it to the utter surprise of the teacher. Nanak soon mastered Vedas and Sanskrit, and also Persian and Arabic being enrolled in a madrasa school. He surprised his teacher by composing an acrostic on the Persian language. When it was time for Nanak to be invested with ‘Janavu’, the sacred thread, he refused to take part in the ritual and told the priest “Let mercy be the cotton, contentment the thread, continence the knot and truth the twist. Oh priest if you have such a thread, do give it to me. Says Nanak, blessed are those who wear such a thread!”

Nanak was married off to Sulakhani daughter of a Mulla by whom they had two sons named Srichand and Lakshmichand. Nanak’s father tried to fix him with a job to divert his mind from spirituality but Nanak gave away everything in charity. It seems one morning at the age of 28 he went to the river to bathe and meditate but did not return for three days. When he did return he was completely a changed man. He quit his job and distributed all his possessions to the poor.He did severe austerities and intense meditation and wore the garb of a Fakir. It was from now on that Nanak began his missionary work and travels.

Guru Nanak founded and formalised the three pillars of Sikhism,viz. Naam Japna that is meditation on God through reciting, chanting, singing and concentration on Him. To follow the path of Dharma or Righteousness. The inner thought, thus to stay constantly immersed in praises and appreciation of the Creator and the One Eternal God –Waheguru.

Second, Kirat Karam that is he expected the Sikhs to live as honourable householders , earn honestly, to stay truthful always and fear none but the Eternal Super Soul. To live a life controlled by high spiritual, moral and social values. Third, Vand Chakna where the Sikhs were asked to share their wealth within the community. According to the objective values set out by the Sikh gurus, every Sikh should contribute to the common community pool. This spirit of sharing and giving is an important message.

Nanak’s other main contributions were Equality of Humans and Equality of Women. Guru Nanak preached against discrimination and prejudices due to race, caste, status etc. He said “See the brotherhood of all mankind as the highest order of yogis, conquer your own mind, and conquer the world.” Again he said “All human beings had the light of the Lord and were the same – only by subduing one’s pride and ego could one see this light in all” He promoted women’s right and equality – a first for the 15th cent .He preached for the cause of women saying “From woman man is born, within woman man is conceived,, through her future generations come. In fact throughout the life he is bound to her – without woman there would be no one at all “

He travelled to all parts of India and into Arabia and Persia, Mecca etc and preached to all religious sects. He spoke against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system, sacrifice of widows, of depending on books to learn the true religion. When addressing different religious sects, he asked them to stick to their own religion truthfully and never asked them to follow him.

Last stride of his life Nanak built a town at Kartapur, from a large tract of land donated by his wealthy follower where he taught for another fifteen years. It was here that his followers began to refer to him as ‘Guru’. Though people of different sects assembled there, they came to be known as Guru’s disciples or SIKHS. Guru Nanak told his followers that they should remain as householders and should not live apart from the world. He did not believe in priests or hermits. Here is where Guru Nanak instituted the common meal, requiring the rich and poor, high and low caste, all religious sects, to sit together while eating. To this day in Gurudwaras in Punjab and all over the world people of all religions and creeds can participate in the common meal

Guru Nanak had it is learnt a melodious voice and he mostly preached by singing his songs which he composed extemporarily. His childhood friend a Muslim named Mardana always accompanied him and played the instrument Rabab when he sang. Japji contains beautiful mystic poems of Nanak, which it seems are sung by every Sikh at daybreak. Likewise, Joshila contains the evening prayers.

“Vahe Guru” is one of the important Mantras given by Guru Nanak to his followers. The word SIKH is the Punjabi form of the Sanskrit word, Shish meaning a disciple. Vahe Guru denotes the Creator or God, the blessed teacher and the entire mankind being His “Shishya”. The Holy Granth or Granth Sahib contains hymns of not only Sikh Gurus but of Kabir and other Muslim saints.

The sacred book the Holy Granth is in Gurumukhi the script invented by Guru Nanak by simplifying the Sanskrit characters. Guru Nanak’s life was also full of miracles. To mention one, during his visit to Mecca, it seems he was found sleeping with his foot towards the Kaaba before which the Muslims prostrate during their prayers. Kazi Rukan-ud-din who noticed this got furious and told him how dare he slept like this. Nanak patiently asked him to turn his feet where the place of God was not there.

The Kazi moved Nanak’s feet and Lo! In whichever direction he moved them, the Mosque also began to move. The Kazi realized the greatness of Nanak and asked his pardon.

Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated with great pomp and enthusiasm. For two days and nights preceding the festival, the Granth Sahib is read continuously and on the festival day, the Holy Granth is taken out in an impressive procession through the streets. At Kartapur Guru Nanak died in the year 1538 A.D. at the age of sixty-nine .Before Guru Nanak left his mortal body, he appointed Lahina, a Khatri by caste as his successor and Guru and initiated him as “Angad” meaning limb of his body.

When Guru Nanak breathed his last at Kartarpur, both Hindus and Muslim followers wanted to deal with the earthly remains according to their own methods viz. to cremate or to bury. Finally it was decided that flowers should be placed on the body by each group. Whosover’s flowers were found withered the next morning would lose the claim. But to everybody’s surprise the next morning when the cloth sheet was removed, the Guru’s body was missing and both sets of flowers were found as fresh as the previous day!

The two communizes then decided to divide the cloth sheet along with the flowers; one buried it and the other consigned it to the fire. Both Hindus and Muslims erected a Samadhi and a grave on the premises as a joint claim to Guru Nanak. Even today, Guru Nanak is remembered as “Guru Nanak Shah Fakir Hindu ka Guru, Musalman ka pir.”

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