Guru Nanak Dev Ji
(1469 - 1539 & Guruship: 1469 - 1539)
Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion, was born in 1469 A.D. in the village of Rai-Bhoi-di Talwandi (now called Nankana Sahib, named after the Guru), in the Sheikhupura district, 65 km. west of Lahore (in Pakistan). Guru Nanak Sahib's birthday according to the tradition is celebrated on Kartik Puranmashi i.e. full moon day of the month Kartik. His father, Mehta Kalyan Das, more popularly known as Mehta Kalu, was an official in the town's local revenue administration. His mother was Mata Tripta Ji, a simple, pious and extremely religious woman. He also had an elder sister called Bebe Nanki, who always cherished her younger brother.
The life and activities of Guru Nanak were remarkable from early childhood. His father was keen that his son should adopt a respectable and lucrative profession. At the age of 12, his father wanted him to be a trader and thus gave him 20 rupees and asked him to use the given money to strike some good and profitable bargain. Instead of doing so, Guru Ji, bought food with the money he had, and distributed everything among the sadhus, who had not eaten anything for days. When his father asked him what happened to the money? He replied that he had done a "True business" by feeding the hungry holy men. His father was angry that his son had wasted the money, but his elder sister, Nanki, stood by her dear brother and strongly defended his actions.
At the age of seven, He learnt Hindi and Sanskrit. He surprised his teachers with the sublimity of his extra-ordinary knowledge about divine things. At the age of 13, He learned Persian and Sanskrit and at the age of 16, He was the most learned man in the region. Guru Nanak was married in 1487 to Sri Sulakhani Ji, daughter of Mul Chand. Guru Ji was blessed with two sons, Baba Sri Chand Ji born in 1491 and Baba Lakhami Das Ji born in 1496.
In November 1504, Guru Nanak's elder sister Nanaki ji took him to Sultanpurlodhi where her husband Jai Ram ji got him the Job of storekeeper in the Modikhana of the local Nawab, Daulat Khan Lodhi. It is there that he came into contact with Mardana, a low caste (Mirasi) Muslim minstrel who was ten years senior in age.
At the age of 38, in August 1507, Guru Nanak Sahib heard God's call to dedicate himself to the service of humanity after bathing in "Vain Nadi" (a small river) near Sultanpur Lodhi. The very first sentence which he uttered then was, "There is no Hindu, no Musalman". He now undertook long travels to preach his unique and divine doctrine (Sikhism). After visiting different places in Punjab, he decided to proceed on four long tours covering different religious places in India and abroad. These tours are called Char Udasis of Guru Nanak Sahib.
During the four journeys, Guru Nanak Sahib visited different religious places preaching Sikhism. He went to Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Joshi Math, Ratha Sahib, Gorakh Matta (Nanak Matta), Audhya, Prayag, Varanasi, Gaya, Patna, Dhubri and Gauhati in Assam, Dacca, Puri, Cuttock, Rameshwaram, Ceylon, Bidar, Baroach, Somnath, Dwarka, Janagarh, Ujjain, Ajmer, Mathura, Pakpattan, Talwandi, Lahore, Sultanpur, Bilaspur, Rawalsar, Jawalaji, Spiti Valley, Tibet, Ladakh, Kargil, Amarnath, Srinagar and Baramula.
Guru Nanak Sahib also paid visit to Muslim holy places. In this regard he went to Mecca, Medina, Baghdad via Multan, Peshawar Sakhar, Son Miani, Hinglaj etc. Some accounts say that Guru Sahib reached Mecca by sea-route. Guru Sahib also visited Syria, Turkey and Tehran (the present capital of Iran). From Tehran Guru Sahib set out on the caravan route and covered Kabul, Kandhar and Jalalabad. The real aim of the tour was awakening the people to realize the truth about God and to introduce Sikhism. He established a network of preaching centres of Sikhism which were called "Manjis". He appointed able and committed followers as its head (preacher of Sikhism). The basic principles of Sikhism were willfully conceived by the people from all walks of life. The seeds of Sikhism were sown all over India and abroad in well-planned manner.
Apart from conveying his message and rendering help to the weak, he preached, both by precept and practice, against caste distinctions ritualism, idol worship and the pseudo-religious beliefs that had no spiritual content. He chose to mix with all. He dined and lived with men of the lowest castes and classes. Considering the then prevailing cultural practices and traditions, this was something socially and religiously unheard of in those days of rigid Hindu caste system sanctioned by the scriptures and the religiously approved notions of untouchables and pollution. It is a matter of great significance that at the very beginning of his mission, the Guru's first companion was a low caste Muslim, called Mardana. The offerings he received during his tours were distributed among the poor. Any surplus collected was given to his hosts to maintain a common kitchen, where all could sit and eat together without any distinction of caste and status. This institution of common kitchen or langar became a major instrument of helping the poor, and a nucleus for religious gatherings of his society and of establishing the basic equality of all castes, classes and sexes.
Despite the hazards of travel in those times, Guru Ji performed four long tours all over the country to visit religious places and preach. He explained and exposed through his preaching the incongruities and fruitlessness of ritualistic and ascetic practices. Guru Ji was against all outward show of religion and all superstitions.
In the year 1520, Babar attacked India. His troops slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians of all walks of life. Women and children were made captives and all their property looted at Amiabad. Guru Nanak Sahib challenged this act of barbarity in strong words. He was arrested and released, shortly after making Babar realizing his blunder. All the prisoners were also released.
He spent 25 years preaching from place to place. Many of his hymns were composed during this period. They represent answers to the major religious and social problems of the day and cogent responses to the situations and incidents that he came across. Some of the hymns convey dialogues with Yogis in the Punjab and elsewhere. He denounced their methods of living and their religious views. During these tours he studied other religious systems like Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Islam. At the same time, he preached the doctrines of his new religion and mission at the places and centres he visited. Since his mystic system almost completely reversed the trends, principles and practices of the then prevailing religions, he criticized and rejected virtually all the old beliefs, rituals and harmful practices existing in the country. This explains the necessity of his long and arduous tours and the variety and profusion of his hymns on all the religious, social, political and theological issues, practices and institutions of his period.
Guru Nanak Sahib settled down at Kartarpur city (now in Pakistan) which was founded by him in 1522 and spent the rest of his life there (1522-1539). There was daily Kirtan and the institution of Langar (free kitchen) was introduced. Knowing that the end was drawing near, Guru Nanak Sahib, after testing his two sons and some followers, installed Bhai Lehna ji (Guru Angad Sahib) as the Second Nanak in 1539, and after a few days passed into Sachkhand in September, 1539.
This ended the worldly journey of this God-gifted Master (Guru). He rejected the path of renunciation Tyaga or Yoga, the authority of the Vedas and the Hindu caste system. Guru Nanak Sahib emphasized the leading of householder's life (Grista), unattached to gross materialism. The services of mankind Sewa, Kirtan, Satsang and faith in 'One' Omnipotent God are the basic concepts of Sikhism established by Guru Nanak Sahib. Thus he laid the foundations of Sikhism. He preached new idea of God as Supreme, Universal, All-powerful and truthful. God is Formless (Nirankar), the Sole, the Creator, the self-existent, the Incomprehensible and the Ever-lasting and the creator of all things (Karta Purakh). God is infinite, All knowing, True, All-giver, Nirvair, and Omnipotent. He is Satnam, the Eternal and Absolute Truth.
As a social reformer Guru Nanak Sahib upheld the cause of women, downtrodden and the poor. He attacked the citadel of caste system of Hindus and theocracy of Muslim rulers. He was a born poet. He wrote 947 hymns comprising Japji Sahib, Asa-Di-Var, Bara-Mah, Sidh-Gosht, Onkar (Dakhani) and these were included in Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan Sahib.
He was also a perfect musician. He, with the company of Bhai Mardana, composed such tunes in various Indian classical Ragas that charmed and thawed wild creatures like Babar, subdued saging kings, raved bigots and tyrants, made thugs and robbers' saint. He was a reformer as well as a revolutionary. God had endowed him with a contemplative mind and pious disposition. Guru Arjan Sahib called him "the image of God, nay, God Himself".
"EK ONKAR" - There is one and only God Almighty, the Creator. All men are equal before him whether they are Hindus or Muslims. Only good and noble actions count, not showing piety or visits to holy places, if these are not performed with sincere devotion. This was Guru Nanak's message to the world.