Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji was born in 1469 in Talwandi, a village in
the Sheikhupura district, 65 km's. west of Lahore. His father
was a village official in the local revenue administration.
As a boy, Sri Guru Nanak learnt, besides the regional languages,
Persian and Arabic. He was married in 1487 and was blessed
with two sons, one in 1491 and the second in 1496. In 1485 he
took up, at the instance of his brother-in-law, the appointment
of an official in charge of the stores of Daulat Khan Lodhi,
the Muslim ruler of the area at Sultanpur. It is there that
he came into contact with Mardana, a (Mirasi)
Muslim minstrel who was ten years senior in age.
By all accounts, 1496 was the year of his enlightenment
when he started on his mission. His first statement after his
prophetic communion with God was "There is no Hindu, nor any
Mussalman." This is an announcement of supreme significance it
declared not only the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of
God, but also his clear and primary interest not in any
metaphysical doctrine but only in man and his fate. It means
love your neighbour as yourself.
In addition, it emphasised,
simultaneously the inalienable spiritual moral combination of
his message. Accompanied by Mardana, he began his missionary
tours. Apart from conveying his message and rendering help to
the weak, he forcefully 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 Muslim.
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 hangar 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.
Guru Nanak Dev ji was 12 years old his father gave him twenty rupees
and asked him to do a business, apparently to teach him business. Guru
Nanak dev ji bought food for all the money and distributed among saints,
and poor. When his father asked him what happened to business? He replied
that he had done a "True business" at the place where Guru Nanak dev
had fed the poor, this gurdwara was made and named Sacha Sauda.
Despite the hazards of travel in those times, he performed
five long tours all over the country and even outside it. He
visited most of the known religious places and centres of
worship. At one time he preferred to dine at the place of
a low caste artisan, Bhai Lallo, instead of accepting the
invitation of a high caste rich landlord, Malik Bhago, because
the latter lived by exploitation of the poor and the former
earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. This incident has
been depicted by a symbolic representation of the reason for
his preference. Sri Guru Nanak pressed in one hand the coarse loaf
of bread from Lallo's hut and in the other the food from Bhago's
house. Milk gushed forth from the loaf of Lallo's and blood from
the delicacies of Bhago. This prescription for honest work and
living and the condemnation of exploitation, coupled with the
Guru's dictum that "riches cannot be gathered without sin
and evil means," have, from the very beginning, continued to be
the basic moral tenet with the Sikh mystics and the Sikh society.
During his tours, he visited numerous places of Hindu and
Muslim worship. He explained and exposed through his preaching's the incongruities and fruitlessness of ritualistic and ascetic
practices. At Hardwar, when he found people throwing Ganges water
towards the sun in the east as oblations to their ancestors in
heaven, he started, as a measure of correction, throwing the
water towards the West, in the direction of his fields in the
Punjab. When ridiculed about his folly, he replied, "If Ganges water
will reach your ancestors in heaven, why should the water I throw
up not reach my fields in the Punjab, which are far less distant ?"
He spent twenty five years of his life 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 criticised 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.
Finally, on the completion of his tours, he settled as a peasant
farmer at Kartarpur, a village in the Punjab. Bhai Gurdas, the scribe
of Guru Granth Sahib, was a devout and close associate of the third and
the three subsequent Gurus. He was born 12 years after Guru Nanak's death
and joined the Sikh mission in his very boyhood. He became the chief
missionary agent of the Gurus. Because of his intimate knowledge of the
Sikh society and his being a near contemporary of Sri Guru Nanak, his writings
are historically authentic and reliable. He writes that at Kartarpur Guru
Nanak donned the robes of a peasant and continued his ministry. He
organised Sikh societies at places he visited with their meeting
places called Dharamsalas. A similar society was created at Kartarpur. In
the morning, Japji was sung in the congregation. In the evening Sodar and
Arti were recited. The Guru cultivated his lands and also continued with
his mission and preaching's. His followers throughout the country were known as
Nanak-panthies or Sikhs. The places where Sikh congregation and religious
gatherings of his followers were held were called Dharamsalas. These were
also the places for feeding the poor. Eventually, every Sikh home
became a Dharamsala.
One thing is very evident. Guru Nanak had a distinct sense of his
prophet hood and that his mission was God-ordained. During his preaching's,
he himself announced. "O Lallo, as the words of the Lord come to me, so do
I express them." Successors of Guru Nanak have also made similar statements
indicating that they were the messengers of God. So often Guru Nanak
refers to God as his Enlightener and Teacher. His statements clearly show
his belief that God had commanded him to preach an entirely new religion,
the central idea of which was the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood
of God, shorn of all ritualism and priest craft. During a dialogue with
the Yogis, he stated that his mission was to help everyone. He came to
be called a Guru in his lifetime. In Punjabi, the word Guru means both
God and an enlightener or a prophet. During his life, his disciples were
formed and came to be recognised as a separate community. He was accepted
as a new religious prophet. His followers adopted a separate way of
greeting each other with the words Sat Kartar (God is true). Twenty five
years of his extensive preparatory tours and preaching's across the
length and breadth of the country clearly show his deep conviction
that the people needed a new prophetic message which God had commanded
him to deliver. He chose his successor and in his own life time
established him as the future Guru or enlightener of the new
community. This step is of the greatest significance, showing
Guru Nanak s determination and declaration that the mission which he
had started and the community he had created were distinct and should be
continued, promoted and developed. By the formal ceremony of appointing
his successor and by giving him a new name, Angad (his part or limb),
he laid down the clear principle of impersonality, unity and indivisibility
of Guru ship. At that time he addressed Angad by saying, Between thou and
me there is now no difference. In Guru Granth Sahib there is clear
acceptance and proclamation of this identity of personality in the
hymns of Satta-Balwand. This unity of spiritual personality of all the
Gurus has a theological and mystic implication. It is also endorsed by
the fact that each of the subsequent Gurus calls himself Nanak in his
hymns. Never do they call themselves by their own names as was done by
other Bhagats and Illyslics. That Guru Nanak attached the highest
importance to his mission is also evident from his selection of the
successor by a system of test, and only when he was found perfect,
was Guru Angad appointed as his successor. He was comparatively a
new comer to the fold, and yet he was chosen in preference to the
Guru's own son, Sri Chand, who also had the reputation of being a
pious person, and Baba Budha, a devout Sikh of long standing, who
during his own lifetime had the distinction of ceremonially installing
all subsequent Gurus.
All these facts indicate that Guru Nanak had a clear plan and
vision that his mission was to be continued as an independent
and distinct spiritual system on the lines laid down by him, and that,
in the context of the country, there was a clear need for the
organisation of such a spiritual mission and society. In his
own lifetime, he distinctly determined its direction and laid
the foundations of some of the new religious institutions. In
addition, he created the basis for the extension and organisation
of his community and religion.
in brief is the story of the Guru s life. We shall now note the chief features of his work, how they arose
from his message and how he proceeded to develop them during his lifetime.
(1) After his enlightenment, the first words of Guru Nanak
declared the brotherhood of man. This principle formed the foundation
of his new spiritual gospel. It involved a fundamental doctrinal change
because moral life received the sole spiritual recognition and status.
This was something entirely opposed to the religious systems in vogue
in the country during the time of the Guru. All those systems were,
by and large, other-worldly. As against it, the Guru by his new
message brought God on earth. For the first time in the country,
he made a declaration that God was deeply involved and interested
in the affairs of man and the world which was real and worth
living in. Having taken the first step by the proclamation of his
radical message, his obvious concern was to adopt further measures to
implement the same.
(2)The Guru realised that in the context and climate of the
country, especially because of the then existing religious systems
and the prevailing prejudices, there would be resistance to his message,
which, in view of his very thesis, he wanted to convey to all. He, therefore,
refused to remain at Sultanpur and preach his gospel from there. Having
declared the sanctity of life, his second major step was in the planning and
organisation of institutions that would spread his message. As such, his twenty
five years of extensive touring can be understood only as a major organisational step. These tours were not casual. They had a triple
object. He wanted to acquaint himself with all the centres and
organisations of the prevalent religious systems so as to assess
the forces his mission had to contend with, and to find out the
institutions that he could use in the aid of his own system.
Secondly, he wanted to convey his gospel at the very centres of the old
systems and point out the futile and harmful nature of their methods and
practices. It is for this purpose that he visited Hardwar, Kurukshetra,
Banaras, Kanshi, Maya, Ceylon, Baghdad, Mecca, etc. Simultaneously, he
desired to organise all his followers and set up for them local centres
for their gatherings and worship. The existence of some of these
far-flung centres even up-till today is a testimony to his initiative
in the Organisational and the societal field. His hymns became the sole
guide and the scripture for his flock and were sung at the Dharamsalas.
(3) Guru Nanak's gospel was for all men. He proclaimed their
equality in all respects. In his system, the householder's life became
the primary forum of religious activity. Human life was not a burden
but a privilege. His was not a concession to the laity. In fact,
the normal life became the medium of spiritual training and expression.
The entire discipline and institutions of the Gurus can be appreciated
only if one understands that, by the very logic of Guru Nanak's
system, the householder's life became essential for the seeker.
On reaching Kartarpur after his tours, the Guru sent for the members
of his family and lived there with them for the remaining eighteen
years of his life. For the same reason his followers all over the
country were not recluses. They were ordinary men, living at their
own homes and pursuing their normal vocations. The Guru's system
involved morning and evening prayers. Congregational gatherings of
the local followers were also held at their respective Dharamsalas.
(4) After he returned to Kartarpur, Guru Nanak did not rest.
He straightaway took up work as a cultivator of land, without
interrupting his discourses and morning and evening prayers. It
is very significant that throughout the later eighteen years of
his mission he continued to work as a peasant. It was a total
involvement in the moral and productive life of the community.
His life was a model for others to follow. Like him all his disciples
were regular workers who had not given up their normal vocations
Even while he was performing the important duties of organising a
new religion, he nester shirked the full-time duties of a small
cultivator. By his personal example he showed that the leading
of a normal man's working life was fundamental to his spiritual
system Even a seemingly small departure from this basic tenet
would have been misunderstood and misconstrued both by his own
followers and others. In the Guru's system, idleness became a
vice and engagement in productive and constructive work a virtue.
It was Guru Nanak who chastised ascetics as idlers and condemned
their practice of begging for food at the doors of the householders.
(5) According to the Guru, moral life was the sole medium
of spiritual progress In those times, caste, religious and social
distinctions, and the idea of pollution were major problems.
Unfortunately, these distinctions had received religious
sanction The problem of poverty and food was another moral
challenge. The institution of hangar had a twin purpose. As
every one sat and ate at the same place and shared the same
food, it cut at the root of the evil of caste, class and religious
distinctions. Besides, it demolished the idea of pollution of food
by the mere presence of an untouchable. Secondly it provided
food to the needy. This institution of hangar and pangat was
started by the Guru among all his followers wherever they had
been organised. It became an integral part of the moral life of
the Sikhs. Considering that a large number of his followers were
of low caste and poor members of society, he, from the very
start, made it clear that persons who wanted to maintain caste
and class distinctions had no place in his system In fact, the
twin duties of sharing one's income with the poor and doing away
with social distinctions were the two obligations which every Sikh
had to discharge. On this score, he left no option to anyone,
since he started his mission with Mardana, a Muslim,
as his life long companion.
(6) The greatest departure Guru Nanak made was to prescribe
for the religious man the responsibility of confronting evil
and oppression. It was he who said that God destroys 'the evil
doers' and 'the demonical; and that such being God s nature and
will, it is man's goal to carry out that will. Since there are
evil doers in life, it is the spiritual duty of the seeker and
his society to resist evil and injustice. Again, it is Guru Nanak
who protests and complains that Babur had been committing tyranny
against the weak and the innocent. Having laid the principle and
the doctrine, it was again he who proceeded to organise a society.
because political and societal oppression cannot be resisted by
individuals, the same can be confronted only by a committed
society. It was, therefore, he who proceeded to create a society
and appointed a successor with the clear instructions to develop
his Panth. Again, it was Guru Nanak who emphasised that life is
a game of love, and once on that path one should not shirk
laying down one's life. Love of one's brother or neighbour also
implies, if love is true, his or her protection from attack,
injustice and tyranny. Hence, the necessity of creating a religious
society that can discharge this spiritual obligation. This is
the rationale of Guru Nanak's system and the development of the
Sikh society which he organised.
(7) The Guru expressed all his teachings in Punjabi,
the spoken language of Northern India. It was a clear indication
of his desire not to address the elite alone but the masses as
well. It is recorded that the Sikhs had no regard for Sanskrit,
which was the sole scriptural language of the Hindus. Both these
facts lead to important inferences. They reiterate that the
Guru's message was for all. It was not for the few who, because
of their personal aptitude, should feel drawn to a life of a
so-called spiritual meditation and contemplation. Nor was it
an exclusive spiritual system divorced from the normal life.
In addition, it stressed that the Guru's message was entirely
new and was completely embodied in his hymns. His disciples
used his hymns as their sole guide for all their moral, religious
and spiritual purposes. Thirdly, the disregard of the Sikhs for
Sanskrit strongly suggests that not only was the Guru's message
independent and self-contained, without reference and resort to
the Sanskrit scriptures and literature, but also that the Guru
made a deliberate attempt to cut off his disciples completely
from all the traditional sources and the priestly class. Otherwise,
the old concepts, ritualistic practices, modes of worship and
orthodox religions were bound to affect adversely the growth
of his religion which had wholly a different basis and direction
and demanded an entirely new approach.
The following hymn from Guru Nanak and the subsequent
one from Sankara are contrast in their approach to the world.
"the sun and moon, O Lord, are Thy lamps; the firmament
Thy salver; the orbs of the stars the pearls encased in it.
The perfume of the sandal is Thine incense, the wind is Thy fan,
all the forests are Thy flowers, O Lord of light.
What worship is this, O Thou destroyer of birth ? Unbeaten
strains of ecstasy are the trumpets of Thy worship.
Thou has a thousand eyes and yet not one eye; Thou host a
thousand forms and yet not one form;
Thou hast a thousand stainless feet and yet not one foot;
Thou hast a thousand organs of smell and yet not one organ.
I am fascinated by this play of 'l hine.
The light which is in everything is Chine, O Lord of light.
From its brilliancy everything is illuminated;
By the Guru's teaching the light becometh manifest.
What pleaseth Thee is the real worship.
O God, my mind is fascinated with Thy lotus feet as the bumble-bee
with the flower; night and day I thirst for them.
Give the water of Thy favour to the Sarang (bird) Nanak, so that
he may dwell in Thy Name."3
Sankara writes: "I am not a combination of the five perishable
elements I arn neither body, the senses, nor what is in the body (antar-anga: i e.,
the mind). I am not the ego-function: I am not the group of the vital breath
I am not intuitive intelligence (buddhi). Far from wife and son am I, far
from land and wealth and other notions of that kind. I am the Witness,
the Eternal, the Inner Self, the Blissful One (sivoham; suggesting also,
'I am Siva')."
"Owing to ignorance of the rope the rope appears to be a snake;
owing to ignorance of the Self the transient state arises of the individualised,
limited, phenomenal aspect of the Self. The rope becomes a rope when the false
impression disappears because of the statement of some credible person; because
of the statement of my teacher I am not an individual life-monad (yivo-naham),
I am the Blissful One (sivo-ham )."
"I am not the born; how can there be either birth or death for me ?"
"I am not the vital air; how can there be either hunger or thirst for me ?"
"I am not the mind, the organ of thought and feeling; how can there be
either sorrow or delusion for me ?"
"I am not the doer; how can there be either bondage or release for me ?"
"I am neither male nor female, nor am I sexless. I am the Peaceful One,
whose form is self-effulgent, powerful radiance. I am neither a child,
a young man, nor an ancient; nor am I of any caste. I do not belong to
one of the four life stages. I am the Blessed-Peaceful One, who is the
only Cause of the origin and dissolution of the world."4
While Guru Nanak is bewitched by the beauty of His creation and sees
in the panorama of nature a lovely scene of the worshipful adoration of
the Lord, Sankara in his hymn rejects the reality of the world and treats
himself as the Sole Reality. Zimmer feels that "Such holy megalomania
goes past the bounds of sense. With Sankara, the grandeur of the supreme
human experience becomes intellectualised and reveals its inhuman sterility."5
No wonder that Guru Nanak found the traditional religions and
concepts as of no use for his purpose. He calculatedly tried to wean
away his people from them. For Guru Nanak, religion did not consist
in a 'patched coat or besmearing oneself with ashes"6 but in treating
all as equals. For him the service of man is supreme and that alone
wins a place in God's heart.
By this time it should be easy to discern that all the eight
features of the Guru's system are integrally connected. In fact,
one flows from the other and all follow from the basic tenet of his
spiritual system, viz., the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of
man. For Guru Nanak, life and human beings became the sole field of
his work. Thus arose the spiritual necessity of a normal life and
work and the identity of moral and spiritual functioning and growth.
Having accepted the primacy of moral life and its spiritual
validity, the Guru proceeded to identify the chief moral problems
of his time. These were caste and class distinctions, the
institutions, of property and wealth, and poverty and scarcity
of food. Immoral institutions could be substituted and replaced
only by the setting up of rival institutions. Guru Nanak believed
that while it is essential to elevate man internally, it is equally
necessary to uplift the fallen and the downtrodden in actual life.
Because, the ultimate test of one's spiritual progress is the
kind of moral life one leads in the social field. The Guru not
only accepted the necessity of affecting change in the environment,
but also endeavoured to build new institutions. We shall find
that these eight basic principles of the spiritual moral life
enunciated by Guru Nanak, were strictly carried out by his
successors. As envisaged by the first prophet, his successors
further extended the structure and organised the institutions
of which the foundations had been laid by Guru Nanak. Though
we shall consider these points while dealing with the lives
of the other nine Gurus, some of them need to be mentioned here.
The primacy of the householder's life was maintained.
Everyone of the Gurus, excepting Guru Harkishan who went to God at an
early age, was a married person who maintained a family. When Guru
Nanak, sent Guru Angad from Kartarpur to Khadur Sahib to start his
mission there, he advised him to send for the members of his family
and live a normal life. According to Bhalla,8 when Guru Nanak went
to visit Guru Angad at Khadur Sahib, he found him living a life of
withdrawal and meditation. Guru Nanak directed him to be active as
he had to fulfil his mission and organise a community inspired by
his religious principles.
Work in life, both for earning the livelihood and serving the
common good, continued to be the fundamental tenet of Sikhism. There
is a clear record that everyone up to the Fifth Guru (and probably
subsequent Gurus too) earned his livelihood by a separate vocation
and contributed his surplus to the institution of hangar Each Sikh
was made to accept his social responsibility. So much so that Guru
Angad and finally Guru Amar Das clearly ordered that Udasis, persons
living a celibate and ascetic life without any productive vocation,
should remain excluded from the Sikh fold. As against it, any worker
or a householder without distinction of class or caste could become
a Sikh. This indicates how these two principles were deemed
fundamental to the mystic system of Guru Nanak. It was defined and
laid down that in Sikhism a normal productive and moral life could
alone be the basis of spiritual progress. Here, by the very
rationale of the mystic path, no one who was not following a normal
life could be fruitfully included.
The organisation of moral life and institutions, of which
the foundations had been laid by Guru Nanak, came to be the chief
concern of the other Gurus. We refer to the socio-political martyrdoms
of two of the Gurus and the organisation of the military struggle by
the Sixth Guru and his successors. Here it would be pertinent to
mention Bhai Gurdas's narration of Guru Nanak's encounter and
dialogue with the Nath Yogis who were living an ascetic life of
retreat in the remote hills. They asked Guru Nanak how the world below in the
plains was faring. ' How could it be well", replied Guru Nanak, "when the so-
called pious men had resorted to the seclusion of the hills ?" The Naths
commented that it was incongruous and self-contradictory for Guru Nanak to be a
householder and also pretend to lead a spiritual life. That, they said, was like
putting acid in milk and thereby destroying its purity. The Guru replied
emphatically that the Naths were ignorant of even the basic elements of
spiritual life.9 This authentic record of the dialogue reveals the then
prevailing religious thought in the country. It points to the clear and
deliberate break the Guru made from the traditional system.
While Guru Nanak was catholic in his criticism of other religions, he was
unsparing where he felt it necessary to clarify an issue or to keep his flock
away from a wrong practice or prejudice. He categorically attacked all the evil
institutions of his time including oppression and barbarity in the political
field, corruption among the official class and hypocrisy and greed in the priestly
class. He deprecated the degrading practices of inequality in the social field.
He criticised and repudiated the scriptures that sanctioned such practices.
After having denounced all of them, he took tangible steps to create a society
that accepted the religious responsibility of eliminating these evils from the
new institutions created by him and of attacking the evil practices and
institutions in the Social and political fields. T his was a fundamental
institutional change with the largest dimensions and implications for the future
of the community and the country. The very fact that originally poorer classes
were attracted to the Gurus, fold shows that they found there a society and a
place where they could breathe freely and live with a sense of equality and
Dr H.R. Gupta, the well-known historian, writes, "Nanak's religion
consisted in the love of God, love of man and love of godly living. His religion
was above the limits of caste, creed and country. He gave his love to all,
Hindus, Muslims, Indians and foreigners alike. His religion was a people's
movement based on modern conceptions of secularism and socialism, a common
brotherhood of all human beings. Like Rousseau, Nanak felt 250 years earlier
that it was the common people who made up the human race they had always toiled
and tussled for princes, priests and politicians. What did not concern the
common people was hardly worth considering. Nanak's work to begin with assumed
the form of an agrarian movement. His teachings were purely in Punjabi language
mostly spoken by cultivators. Obey appealed to the downtrodden and the oppressed
peasants and petty traders as they were ground down between the two mill stones
of Government tyranny and the new Muslims' brutality. Nanak's faith was simple
and sublime. It was the life lived. His religion was not a system of philosophy
like Hinduism. It was a discipline, a way of life, a force, which connected one
Sikh with another as well as with the Guru."'° "In Nanak s time Indian society
was based on caste and was divided into countless watertight Compartments. Men
were considered high and low on account of their birth and not according to
their deeds. Equality of human beings was a dream. There was no spirit of
national unity except feelings of community fellowship. In Nanak's views men's
love of God was the criterion to judge whether a person was good or bad, high or
low. As the caste system was not based on divine love,
he condemned it. Nanak aimed at creating a casteless and classless society
similar to the modern type of socialist society in which all were equal and
where one member did not exploit the other. Nanak insisted that every Sikh house
should serve as a place of love and devotion, a true guest house (Sach
dharamshala). Every Sikh was enjoined to welcome a traveller or a needy person
and to share his meals and other comforts with him. Guru Nanak aimed at
uplifting the individual as well as building a nation.
Considering the religious conditions and the philosophies of the time and
the social and political milieu in which Guru Nanak was born, the new spiritual
moral thesis he introduced and the changes he brought about in the social and
spiritual field were indeed radical and revolutionary. Earlier, release from the
bondage of the world was sought as the goal. The householder's life was
considered an impediment and an entanglement to be avoided by seclusion,
monasticism, celibacy, sanyasa or vanpraslha. In contrast, in the Guru's system
the world became the arena of spiritual endeavour. A normal life and moral and
righteous deeds became the fundamental means of spiritual progress, since these
alone were approved by God. Man was free to choose between the good and the bad
and shape his own future by choosing virtue and fighting evil. All this gave
"new hope, new faith, new life and new expectations to the depressed, dejected
and downcast people of Punja.
Guru Nanak's religious concepts and system were entirely opposed to those
of the traditional religions in the country. His views were different even from
those of the saints of the Radical Bhakti movement. From the very beginning of
his mission, he started implementing his doctrines and creating institutions for
their practice and development. In his time the religious energy and zeal were
flowing away from the empirical world into the desert of otherworldliness,
asceticism and renunciation. It was Guru Nanak's mission and achievement not
only to dam that Amazon of moral and spiritual energy but also to divert it into
the world so as to enrich the moral, social the political life of man. We wonder
if, in the context of his times, anything could be more astounding and
miraculous. The task was undertaken with a faith, confidence and determination
which could only be prophetic.
It is indeed the emphatic manifestation of his spiritual system into the
moral formations and institutions that created a casteless society of people who
mixed freely, worked and earned righteously, contributed some of their income to
the common causes and the hangar. It was this community, with all kinds of its
shackles broken and a new freedom gained, that bound its members with a new
sense of cohesion, enabling it to rise triumphant even though subjected to the
severest of political and military persecutions.
The life of Guru Nanak shows that the only interpretation of his thesis
and doctrines could be the one which we have accepted. He expressed his
doctrines through the medium of activities. He himself laid the firm foundations
of institutions and trends which flowered and fructified later on. As we do not
find a trace of those ideas and institutions in the religious milieu of his time
or the religious history of the country, the entirely original and new character
of his spiritual system could have only been mystically and prophetically
Apart from the continuation, consolidation and expansion of Guru Nanak's
mission, the account that follows seeks to present the major contributions made
by the remaining Gurus.
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." ("Lehna" in Punjabi means debt or
creditor.) Lehna was a great devotee of the Hindu God Durga. One day having
hearing about Guru Nanak and his teachings, he decided to visit and see the Guru
for himself. Once Lehna met Guru Nanak he left his previous beliefs and became
an ardent disciple of the Guru. Lehna's devotion to Guru Nanak was absolute,
when he was not working on the farm, he would devote his spare time to the
contemplation of God. Over time he became Guru Nanak's most ardent disciple.
Guru Nanak put his followers to many tests to see who was the most faithful.
Once while accompanied by Lehna and his two sons Guru Nanak came across what
looked like a corpse covered with a sheet. "Who would eat it?" asked Guru Nanak
unexpectedly. His sons refused, thinking that their father was not in his
senses. Lehna though agreed and as he removed the cover he found that it was a
tray of sacred food. Lehna first offered it to Guru Nanak and his sons and then
partook of the leftovers himself. Guru Nanak on seeing this replied;
"Lehna, you were blessed with the sacred food
because you could share it with others. If the people use the wealth bestowed on
them by God for themselves alone or for treasuring it, it is like a corpse. But
if they decide to share it with others, it becomes sacred food. You have known
the secret. You are my image." (Janamsakhi)
Guru Nanak then 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 together 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, the Hindus said we will cremate you, the
Muslims said we will bury you. 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.