Guru Nanak Dev was the founder of the Sikh religion. He was the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. All subsequent Gurus possessed Guru Nanak’s divinity and religious authority. The name ”Nanak” has been used by all subsequent Gurus who wrote sacred text in the Sikh Holy Scripture called the Guru Granth Sahib.
He realised God by singing virtues of God and following a life of true deeds. Guru Nanak did not practice normal Hindu austerities, meditation or yoga. He only sang in the beautiful poetic forms. As a householder, the Guru continued the mission of his life to lead people on the true passage to the God, to dispel superstition, to bring people out of ritualistic practices, to lead them directly to follow Gurbani (Hymns) without the need for priest and to restrain and guard against the five thieves within ( Pride, Anger, Greed, Attachment and Lust).
Guru Nanak was born in the village Rāi Bhōi dī Talwandī, now called Nankana Sahib, Shekhupura, Pakistan on October 20, 1469 (the full moon night).
His birthplace is marked by Gurdwara Janam Asthan.
His father, Mehta Kalyan Das Bedi, popularly known as Mehta Kalu was the patwari (accountant) of crop revenue for the village Talwandi. Mehta Kalu was the employee of Rai Bular Bhatti, a Muslim landlord of that area. His mother was Tripta Devi. She was a simple, pious and extremely religious lady.
He had an elder sister named Bibi Nanki. She was deeply attached to her younger brother Nanak.
Nanak married Sulakhni at the age of about 16 years. The marriage took place at Batala, Gurdaspur, Punjab.
The couple had two sons named Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das
Nanak was an extra-ordinary child. He had a rational and inquisitive mind. He mastered the Vedas and the Sanskrit language at an early age. When he was seven years old, his father enrolled him at the village school. Child Nanak astonished his teacher by describing the implicit symbol of the first letter of the alphabet in Persian and Arabic. This alphabet resembles mathematical version of one. Nanak said that it denoted the oneness of the God.
When it was the time for Nanak to be invested with the sacred thread called the Janeu according to Hindu custom. It is akin to baptism amongst the Christians, signifying the spiritual rebirth of the Hindu child. Hardyal the family priest, was invited to perform the ritual in the presence of relatives and friends. Nanak refused to take part in the ritual. When the priest insisted that the young Nanak should done the string he went into a trance and sang:
“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.
It will not wear out, nor get soiled, nor be burnt, nor lost.
Says Nanak, blessed are those who go about wearing such a thread”.
One day, Rai Bular witnessed a miraculous event. He saw young Nanak in deep meditation in a field and a poisonous cobra snake towering over him to shield his face from the severe summer sunlight. This was the first indication given by the nature that Guru Nanak was the blessed soul.
Nanak was persuaded by his father to engage himself in some profitable pursuit. He was given suitable money at his disposal. His friends Mardana and Bala were assigned the task to assist him. It was decided that they would go to Chuhrkana, a wholesale market to make a profitable bargain. Nanak did go to Chahrkana and struck a profitable bargain.
On the way back, they encountered some sadhu’s (saints), who had not eaten for several days. Nanak spent the complete money to provide them food and clothing. Thus, Nanak and his companions returned without money. When his father learnt about this incident, he got upset. Nanak tried to explain that he had made a profitable bargain and he could not think of a better deal than proving food and clothing to the needy saints, but, Mehta Kalu was not convinced by his argument. However through this incident, Guru Nanak clearly demonstrated that there is no better deal than helping the needy people.
Mehta Kalu noticed that Nanak was not interested in worldly affairs. Therefore, he decided to give the care of the cattle to Nanak. Nanak started taking his cattle for grazing every morning and brought them back in the evening. Over the period of time the cattle got tamed. As Nanak sat under the tree and sang hymns, the cattle grazed. One day, an agitated farmer complained to Rai Bular that Nanak’s cattle had destroyed his entire crop while he was sleeping under a tree. Rai Bular decided to verify the damage to the crop. He found Nanak lying under a tree in deep meditation, but, there was no damage to the crops. The peasant was also surprised, but Rai Bular was convinced that Nanak was a blessed soul.
Thereafter, Nanak started avoiding the company of his friends and remained deeply absorbed in meditation. He would not eat for days. He appeared to be suffering from some ailment. Mehta Kalu decided to get him treated by a vaid (doctor). Hari Das, a leading physician of the area was consulted.
As the old doctor was feeling Nanak’s pulse, he went into a trance and started reciting a hymn meaning that Nanak certainly suffered from an ailment whose cure was beyond the capabilities of the physician. Through this incident, Guru Nanak proved that the ailment of separation from the God is beyond the cure of the worldly doctors.
The earliest biographical sources on the life of Guru Nanak recognised today are the Janamsākhīs (life accounts). The Janamsākhīs were written by a close companion of the Guru, Bhai Bala.
The vārs (expounding verses) written by Bhai Gurdas are also universally accepted. These vars contain less detail as compared to the Janamsākhīs.
Bibi Nanki was married to Jai Ram. Jai Ram was the steward (modi) to Daulat Khan Lodi at Sultanpur Lodhi. In November 1504, Bibi Nanaki took Nanak to Sultanpur Lodhi. Her husband Jai Ram arranged a Job of storekeeper for Nanak at the Modikhana (Godown) of the Nawab, Daulat Khan Lodhi.
Once, early in the morning, Nanak and Mardana went to a nearby river called Kali Bain for their routine bath. Nanak plunged into the water he and did not resurface. Mardana waited for a long time. Finding helpless, Mardana ran to the town to seek assistance.
People believed that Nanak had either drowned or was washed away by the strong current of the river. Nanwab Daulat Khan used divers to search his body. It was not found.
Three days after disappearing, Guru Nanak reappeared from the river. He was filled with the spirit of the God. The first sentence which he spoke after coming out of the river was:
“There is neither Hindu nor Mussulman (Muslim), so whose path shall I follow?
God is neither Hindu nor Muslim; I shall follow the God’s path”.
Guru Nanak told that he had been taken to the God’s court. At that place, he was offered a cup full of amrit (nectar) and given the command:
“This is the cup of the adoration of God’s name. Drink it. I am with you.
I bless you and raise you up. Whoever remembers you will enjoy my favour.
Go, rejoice of my name and teach others to do so.
I have bestowed the gift of my name upon you. Let this be your calling.”
The quazi in the Nawabs court was not convinced. He said that if Guru Nanak was not a Hindu then he should join the quazi in his prayers. Guru Nanak agreed to the proposal. But, when the quazi commenced his prayers, Guru Nanak stood aside. As soon as the prayers were over, the annoyed quazi asked the reasons why Guru Nanak did not join him in his prayers. The Guru replied politely that he did not join quazi because while the latter was reciting his prayers, his mind was focused at his horse, which was let loose in his house. He further informed that the quazi feared that it might fall into the well in his courtyard. The quazi was surprised at Guru Nanak’s reply since it was true. Guru Nanak conveyed that the feelings and devotion to meditation are more important than the rituals.
Thereafter, Guru Nanak was a changed person. He stopped talking to the people. He decided to quit his job and distributed his belongings to the poor. Accompanied by his childhood Muslim friend named Mardana (who had always played the Rebab while Guru Nanak sang), they left the town.
Leaving Sultanpur, Guru Nanak came to Saidpur a small town now in Pakistan. Guru Nanak chose to stay with Lalo, a poor carpenter.
Malik Bhago, the local head, who had amassed wealth by wrong means, also lived in that Town. He decided to hold a feast to which all holy men of the area including Guru Nanak were invited. Guru Nanak decided to turn down the invitation and preferred the simple meal of his host. When Bhago came to know about it, he was annoyed. He called Guru Nanak asked him the reason for refusal of the invitation to the feast. The Guru called for the meal from Lalo’s house. He took some chapatties from Lalo’s dish in one hand and those from Bhago’s in the other and squeezed. Lalo’s food dripped milk but from Bhago’s dripped blood. Malik Bhago felt ashamed. It was evident that his wealth had been amassed by exploiting the poor and needy while Lalo offered the milk of hard earned wages. This incident changed the life of Malik Bhago. He distributed his wealth to the poor and devoted rest of his life to their service.
After some time, the Guru and Mardana left Saidpur to proceed on his mission. After several days of journey through jungles and wilderness, they arrived at a resting place maintained by a saintly looking man called Sujjan. The resting place had comfortable rooms for travelers. The place had both mosque and mandir (temple) for the prayers Muslim and Hindu travelers. This was however a cover for Sujjans misdeeds. He was in fact a robber and murderer. He would loot the travelers stayed at his resting place and if needed even kill them. Sujjan usually attacked his victims at night while they were asleep. Noticing the glow on Guru Nanak’s face he mistook him for a prosperous trader. He waited that night but Guru Nanak Dev did not retire. Guru stayed awake throughout the night singing the holy hymns. Guru Nanak’s hymn touched the core of Sujjan’s heart. He came out of his hiding place and fell at the Guru’s feet confessing his misdeeds. Thereafter, the den of the assassins was turned into a dharamsala (holly inn). It was the first major centre that Guru Nanak had set up for the congregation of his disciples.
Guru Nanak made four great journeys, travelling to all parts of India and Arabian Peninsula visiting Mecca and Baghdad. He spoke to Hindus, Jains, Budhists, Parsees, and Muslims. He spoke in the temples, mosques and at various pilgrimage sites. Wherever he went, he spoke against the rituals, pilgrimages, the cast system and Sati (burning of the widow on the pyre of the dead husband). He never asked his listeners to follow him. He suggested the Muslims to be true Muslims and the Hindus to be true Hindus. During the four journeys, Guru Nanak visited different religious places preaching Sikhism. He went to the following places:-
Gorakh Matta (Nanak Matta)
Thereafter he went to he went to Tawang
He entered Tibet
He reached Menchukha in Arunachal Pradesh. He meditated at this location for some time.
Thereafter he passed through Gelling
In Kampur (Assam) they encountered Nur Shah who practiced black magic. Nur Shah heard about Guru’s arrival and sent her scouts to show their black magic. They charmed Mardana, who had gone to the town in search for food and made him behave as a lamb with their hypnotic power. After a while, the Guru went and rescued his disciple. The women tried their magic on Guru Nanak Dev but failed. Nur Shah also tried her magic power on the Guru and failed. She got impressed by the spiritual power of the Guru and apologised for her behavior. Thereafter, The Guru and Mardana went to the following places
From Dacca he went to the famous temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Guru Nanak found that the priests attached more importance to rituals then to true faith in God. They had made elaborate arrangements with trays of candles, flowers and perfumes for arti, an ode to God. He left the congregation, went out and started reciting his own arti with Mardana accompanying him on the rabab. The priests and pilgrims collected around Guru Nanak to hear him sing the praise of the God. His melody and the feelings touched their hearts. His Arti has been praised by famous poet, Nobel prize winner Rabinder Nath Tagore as universal Arti. He also visited the following places:
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Rai Bhoi di Talwandi (Nankana Sahin)
After some time he went on his the second mission to North via Bilaspur
When he arrived at Lake Manasarover he came across a large contingent of Yogis (The ascetics called Siddhas). They entered into a long discussion with Guru Nanak. It started with prayers to the Almighty. It followed a dialogue on how to attain union with the God. Guru Nanak recorded his discourse with the Siddhas in the Siddha Gosht, a long composition in the form of a dialogue in verse. It is an interesting record of the intricate metaphysical issues discussed by them.
Thereafter he went toNimu, Ladakh
Guru Nanak also paid visit to Muslim holy places. In this regard he went to Mecca, At Mecca, Guru Nanak was found sleeping with his feet towards the Kaaba mosque. Kazi Rukan-ud-din, who observed this, angrily objected. Guru Nanak replied that it is not possible to turn his feet in a direction that did not have the God or a house of the God. The Kazi understood that the Guru was saying that “The God is everywhere”.
He also visited Medina,
When the Guru visited Multan, it was an important centre for sufi’s. As the Guru camped outside the town, the dervishes sent him a bowl of milk filled to the brim, indicating that the place was already overcrowded with holy people. Guru Nanak Dev placed a jasmine flower in the bowl and sent it back. The bowl did not overflow and the flower floated on the milk, indicating that Guru Nanak would adjust with them and spread perfume of spirituality like a Jasmine flower.
He also visited Peshawar
On their way they met Walli Qandhari, a dervish whose home was on a hilltop at Hasan Abdal near Taxila. At midday in the wilderness, Mardana felt thirsty. Guru explained that there was no water in the barren rocky plateau, but, Mardana grew impatient. Guru told him that the nearest place he could find water was on the hilltop at the home of Walli Qandhari. Mardana went up the hill and asked the Muslim dervish for water, but the dervish discovering that he was a disciple of Guru Nanak refused to give him water. Guru advised Mardana to go again and make repeated request with full humility but Walli Qandhari taunted that if Nanak was Guru then he would arrange water for his disciple. Mardana returned fully exhausted. Guru Nanak lifted a slab of stone which lay nearby and clean water gushed out.
A little later, when Walli Qandhari needed water he went to his well and found that the water level was receding. He knew that it was due to Guru Nanak. He got angry and rolled a boulder down the hill to crush Guru Nanak Dev. As the boulder approached near, the Guru stopped the rolling boulder with his hand.
The hand print of Guru Nanak Dev Ji can still be seen at the place now known as Punja Sahib.
Guru Sahib also visited Dubhai
Tehran (the present capital of Iran).
From Tehran Guru Sahib set out on the caravan route and covered Kabul
Therafter, the Guru went to Saidpur (present day Eminabad). By this time Babur had already entered Punjab. Guru Ji advised the people to leave the town to escape the tyranny of the Mughals. Some people believed the Guru while others did not. The town was sacked by the invading forces and the Guru witnessed the massacre. He spoke against killing of innocent people. Guru Nanak Dev and Mardana were imprisoned by the Barbur. When the jailer heard the divine hymns sung by the Guru. He reported the matter to the Emperor. Babur came and listened to the holy hymns of the Guru and realized that he was an enlightened soul. He apologised for his mistake. Guru Nanak Dev told him to leave all the prisoners and advised him to be tolerant and to provide justice to his subjects. Babur promised to follow the Guru’s advice.
He also visited the following places in Pakistan:-
Baoli Sahib Sialkot
Ber Sahib Sialkot
Among many philosophical foundations laid by Guru Nanak, his characterization of God is most impressive. It forms the opening lines of Guru Granth Sahib. The translation of the same is:
There is but One God, The Supreme Truth;
The Ultimate Reality, The Creator, without fear, Without enemies,
Timeless is His image, Without Birth, Self Created,
By His grace revealed.
Guru Nanak’s teachings can be found in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, as a vast collection of revelatory verses recorded in Gurmukhi. According to Guru Nanak there is only one supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions, the Singular “Doer” and formless. It is described as the indestructible (undying) form.
Guru Nanak describes the dangers of the Egotism (haumai- ”I am”) and calls upon devotees to engage in worship through the word of God (Naam, implies God, the Reality, mystical word or formula to recite or meditate upon (shabad in Gurbani), divine order (hukam) and at places divine teacher (guru) and guru’s instructions) and singing of God’s qualities, discarding doubt in the process. However, such worship must be selfless (sewa). The word of God, cleanses the individual to make such worship possible. This is related to the revelation that God is the Doer and without God there is no other. Guru Nanak warned against hypocrisy and falsehood saying that these are pervasive in humanity and that religious actions can also be in vain. It may also be said that ascetic practices are disfavored by Guru Nanak who suggests remaining inwardly detached whilst living as a householder.
Guru Nanak founded and formalised the three pillars of Sikhism:
1. Naam Japna. Guru led the Sikhs directly to practice Simran (Naam Japna) i.e. meditation on the God through reciting, chanting, singing and constant remembrance followed by deep study & comprehension of God’s Name and virtues. In real life to practice and tread on the path of Dharma (righteousness) – The inner thought of the Sikh thus stays constantly immersed in praises and appreciation of the Creator and the One Eternal GOD Waheguru.
2. Kirat Karo. He expected the Sikhs to live as honourable householders and practice Kirat. Kirat means to honestly earn by ones physical and mental effort while accepting both pains and pleasures as GOD’s gifts and blessings. One is to stay truthful at all times and, fear none but the Eternal Super Soul. Live a life founded on decency immersed in Dharam (life controlled by high spiritual, moral and social values).
3. Vand Chakna. The Sikhs were asked to share their wealth within the community by practicing Vand Chakna (Share and Consume together). The community or Sad Sangat is an important part of Sikhism. One must be part of a community that is living the flawless objective values set out by the Sikh Gurus and every Sikh is required to contribute (Ten percent of his earnings) in whatever way possible to the common community pool. This spirit of Sharing and Giving is an important message from Guru Nanak.
In addition Guru Nanak brought the following reforms in the society:
Equality of humans. During Guru Nanak’s time slavery, varna (class) and race discrimination was at a peak. Guru Nanak preached against discrimination and prejudices due to race, caste and status. He urged all the peoples of the world to conquer their minds to these evil practices. He informed that all human beings possess the light of the Lord.
Equality of women. During Guru Nanak’s time no status or respect was given to the women. Guru Nanak improved the respect of women by spreading this message:
From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived;
to woman he is engaged and married.
Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.
So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.From woman, woman is born;
without woman, there would be no one at all.
O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman. (Guru Granth Sahibpage 473).
Universal message for all people. Guru Nanak preached Universal Brotherhood. To the Muslim he said:
And when, O Nanak, he is merciful to all beings,
only then shall he be called a Muslim. (Guru Granth Sahib page 141)
To the Hindu, he said:
O Nanak, without the True Name, of what use is the frontal mark of the Hindus,
or their sacred thread? ( Guru Granth Sahibpage 467)
To all he preached:
To take what rightfully belongs to another is like a Muslim eating pork,
or a Hindu eating beef. (Guru Granth Sahibpage 141).
Guru Nanak founded Kartarpur, on the banks of the river Ravi (now in Pakistan) in 1522 and spent the rest of his life at that place (1522-1539).
Apart from daily Kirtan (singing of hymn)
The institution of Langar (free kitchen) was introduced by Guru Nanak at this place.
He visited the following places near Kartarpur:
Dera Baba Nanak
As the end approached Guru Nanak frequently tested the devotion of his sons and nearest followers. There were numerous such occasions and one particular devotee, Bhai Lehna, rose to eminence because he never faltered in his faith.
Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as the successor Guru, renaming him as Guru Angad, meaning “one’s very own”.
On September 22, 1539 at the age of 69, he took his daily bath, performed his prayers and lay down covering himself with a Shawl. The light that showed the path to millions merged into the eternal light and became one. Guru Nanak also called Satguru Nanak, Baba Nanak, Nanak Shah Faqir, Bhagat Nanak, Nanak Kalandar etc. by different people of religions and Cults. His followers some formerly Hindu and others formerly Muslims argued whether his body should be cremated as Hindu rituals or buried as per Islamic tradition. The Shawl covering the body of Guru Nanak Dev was divided into two parts by Hindu and Muslim.
The Hindus burned their part of the Shawl
Muslims buried their part of the Shawl.