Me, the bard out of work, the Lord has applied to His service. In the very beginning, He gave me the order to sing His praises night and day. The Master summoned the minstrel to His True Court. He clothed me with the robe of His true honour and eulogy. Since then the True Name had become my ambrosial food. They, who under the Guru’s instruction eat this food to their satisfaction, obtain peace. By singing the Guru’s hymns, I, the minstrel spread the Lord’s glory. Nanak, by praising the True Name I have obtained the perfect Lord.” (Guru Nanak Pauri)
The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in 1469 in the Western Punjab village of Talwandi to a simple Hindu family. His father, Mehta Kalian Das was an accountant employed by the local Muslim authorities.
From an early age, Guru Nanak made friends with both Hindu and Muslim children and was keen to learn the larger meaning of life. At the age of six, he learnt Hindi, mathematics, Muslim literature, Persian and Arabic. He was an unusually gifted child who learned quickly and often sought clarifications from his teachers.
Guru Nanak created a sensation when he refused to perform the ‘sacred thread ceremony’ at the age of 13 according to the Hindu custom. He sang the following poem: “Let mercy be the cotton, contentment the thread, Continence the knot and truth the twist. O Priest! If you have such a thread, do give it to me. It will not wear out, nor get soiled nor burnt nor lost. Says Nanak, blessed are those who go about wearing such a thread.”
As a young man herding the family cattle, Guru Nanak would spend long hours absorbed in meditation and in religious discussions with Muslim and Hindu holy men who lived in the forests surrounding the village. Thinking that if bound in marriage, he may evince interest in household affairs, his parents arranged his marriage with Sulakhani, daughter of a pious merchant. Guru Nanak did not object as he felt that married life did not conflict with spiritual pursuits.
Guru Nanak was happily married and sired two sons-Sri Chand in 1494 and Lakshmi Chand three years later. He was persuaded by his parents to take up the job of an accountant in charge of the stores of the Muslim governor of Sultanpur Daulat Khan Lodi. Guru Nanak agreed and was joined by his family and an old Muslim childhood friend Mardana, a musician by profession.
Guru Nanak would work during the days but meditate and sing hymns accompanied by Mardana on the rabab (a string instrument) during early and later hours of each day. These sessions attracted attention and following.
Oneness of God
According to records, God appeared before Guru Nanak and enlightened him.
In praise of the Lord, Guru Nanak uttered: “There is but One God, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, He fears none, he is without hate, He never dies, He is beyond the cycle of births and death, He is self illuminated, He is realised by the kindness of the True Guru. He was True in the beginning, He was True when the ages commenced and has ever been True, He is also True now.”
These words are enshrined at the beginning of the Sikh Holy Scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak did not believe in a Trinity of Gods or the belief that God can be born as a human being.
Accompanied by his Muslim rabab player Mardana for company, Guru Nanak undertook long journeys to convey his message to the people in the form of musical hymns. Wherever he travelled, he used the local language to convey his message to the people. The story is told of his visit to Saidpur in West Punjab, where he chose to stay with a low-caste carpenter. He incurred the wrath of the local chieftain, preferring the simple meal to his banquet.
When asked why he did not join in the feast, the Guru sent for the meal served by the chief and the simple meal served by poor man. Holding these in separate hands he squeezed them, blood appeared out of the rich food of the rich man, while milk oozed out of the simple fare.
The chieftain realised that his riches had been amassed by exploiting the poor, while that of the poor man was through honest work.
On an eastern journey Guru Nanak visited Gorakhmata where he discussed the true meaning of asceticism with some yogis; “Asceticism doesn’t lie in ascetic robes, or in walking staff, nor in the ashes. Asceticism does not lie in the earring, nor in the shaven head, nor blowing a conch.
“Asceticism lies in remaining pure amidst impurities. Asceticism does not lie in mere words; He is an ascetic who treats everyone alike. Asceticism does not lie in visiting burial places; it lies not in wandering about nor in bathing at places of pilgrimage. Asceticism is to remain pure amidst impurities.”
On his fourth great journey, Guru Nanak, dressed in the blue garb of a Muslim pilgrim travelled to the west and visited Mecca, Medina and Baghdad.
Arriving at Mecca, Guru Nanak fell asleep with his feet pointing towards the Holy Kabba. When the watchman on his night rounds noticed this, he kicked the Guru, saying, “How dare you turn your feet towards the house of God?”
Guru Nanak said, “Good man, I am weary after a long journey. Kindly turn my feet in the direction where God is not.” When pilgrims and the holy men of the shrine gathered to hear Guru Nanak and question him, he sang in Persian:
“I beseech you, O Lord! Pray grant me a hearing. You are the Truthful, the Great, the Merciful and the Faultless Creator. I know for certain, this world must perish, And death must come, I know this and nothing else. Neither wife, nor son, nor father, nor brothers shall be able to help. I must go in the end; none can undo what is my fate. I have spent days and nights in vanity, contemplating evil. Never have I thought of good; this is what I am. I am ill-starred, miserly, careless, short-sighted, and rude. But says Nanak, I am yours, the dust of the feet of your servants.”
Tablet in Baghdad
In 1916, a tablet with the following inscription was uncovered in Baghdad:
“In memory of the Guru, the Holy Baba Nanak, King of holy men, this monument has been raised anew with the help of the seven saints.” The date on the tablet 927 Hijri corresponding to AD 1520-1521.
After having spent a lifetime of traveling abroad and setting up missions, an aged Guru Nanak returned home to Punjab. He settled down at Kartharpur with his wife and sons. Pilgrims came from far and near to hear the hymns and preaching of the Master. Here his followers would gather in the mornings and afternoons for religious services. He believed in a casteless society without any distinctions based on birthright, religion or sex. He institutionalised the common kitchen called ‘langar’ in Sikhism. Here all can sit together and share a common meal, whether they were kings or beggars.
While working the fields one day in 1532, Guru Nanak was approached by a new devotee who said, “I am Lehna,” Guru Nanak looked at him and replied, “So you have arrived Lehna, the creditor. I have been waiting for you all these days. I must pay your debt.”
The latter soon became a devotee.
On an occasion, Guru Nanak blessed Lehna with his ang (hand) and gave him a new name, Angad, saying ‘you are a part of my body.’ Guru Nanak placed five coins and a coconut in front of Guru Angad and then bowed before him. He then had Bahi Budhha anoint Angad with a saffron mark on his forehead.
When Guru Nanak gathered his followers for prayers, he invited Angad to occupy the seat of the Guru. Thus Guru Angad was ordained as the successor to Guru Nanak.
Feeling his end was near, Guru Nanak said; “You place flowers on either side, Hindus on my right, Muslims on my left. Those whose flowers remain fresh tomorrow will have their way.” He then asked them to prey and lay down covering himself with a sheet. Thus on September 22, 1539 in the early hours of the morning Guru Nanak merged with the eternal light of the Creator.
When the followers lifted the sheet, they found nothing except the flowers, which were all fresh. The Hindus took theirs and cremated them, while the Muslims took their flowers and buried them.
Thus having spread the words of reform throughout his lifetime, Guru Nanak successfully challenged and questioned the existing religious tenants and laid the foundations of Sikhism.
Source: Sikh Organisation