Thursday, 11 August 2016

Guru Nanak Dev ji

Guru Nanak Dev ji (1469 - 1539)

 


Artist Bodh Rai's immpression of Guru Nanak Dev ji Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji was born in 1469 in Talwandi, a village in the Sheikhupura district, 65 kms. 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 Muslim minstrel (Mirasi) who was senior in age. Gurdwara Nankana Sahib
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. Gurdwara nankana sahib In addition, it emphasised, simultaneously the inalienable spirituo-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 untouchability 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. 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. Gurdwara Sacha Sauda
When Guru Nanak Dev ji were 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 preachings 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 preachings. 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 prophethood and that his mission was God-ordained. During his preachings, 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 priestcraft. 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). Twentyfive years of his extensive preparatory tours and preachings 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 Guruship. 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.
The above 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 twentyfive years of extensive touring can be understood only as a major organizational 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 Organizational 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 langar 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. Secondlys it provided food to the needy. This institution of langar 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 low caste 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 emphasized 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. Ihis 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. I hirdly, 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 breathforces; I am not intuitive intelligence (buddhi). Far from wife and son am 1, 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 individualized, 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 lifestages. 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 intellectualized 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 spirituo-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 died 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 fulfill 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 upto the Fifth Guru (and probably subsequent Gurus too) earned his livelihood by a separate vocation and contributed his surplus to the institution of langar 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 organization 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 sociopolitical 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 dialouge 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 officialss 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 dignity.
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 Ihey 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 Puniabi 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 spirituo- 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 Punjab."
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 langar. 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 inspired.
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.
Read biography of Guru Angad Dev ji

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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  • Guru Nanak Dev ji

    Guru Nanak Dev ji (1469 - 1539)

     


    Artist Bodh Rai's immpression of Guru Nanak Dev ji Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji was born in 1469 in Talwandi, a village in the Sheikhupura district, 65 kms. 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 Muslim minstrel (Mirasi) who was senior in age. Gurdwara Nankana Sahib
    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. Gurdwara nankana sahib In addition, it emphasised, simultaneously the inalienable spirituo-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 untouchability 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. 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. Gurdwara Sacha Sauda
    When Guru Nanak Dev ji were 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 preachings 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 preachings. 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 prophethood and that his mission was God-ordained. During his preachings, 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 priestcraft. 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). Twentyfive years of his extensive preparatory tours and preachings 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 Guruship. 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.
    The above 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 twentyfive years of extensive touring can be understood only as a major organizational 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 Organizational 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 langar 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. Secondlys it provided food to the needy. This institution of langar 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 low caste 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 emphasized 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. Ihis 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. I hirdly, 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 breathforces; I am not intuitive intelligence (buddhi). Far from wife and son am 1, 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 individualized, 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 lifestages. 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 intellectualized 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 spirituo-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 died 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 fulfill 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 upto the Fifth Guru (and probably subsequent Gurus too) earned his livelihood by a separate vocation and contributed his surplus to the institution of langar 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 organization 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 sociopolitical 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 dialouge 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 officialss 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 dignity.
    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 Ihey 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 Puniabi 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 spirituo- 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 Punjab."
    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 langar. 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 inspired.
    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.
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  • Guru Angad Dev ji

    Guru Angad Dev ji (1539-1552)


    Artist Bodh Rai's immpression
of Sri Guru Angad Dev ji Guru Angad invented the present form of the Gurmukhi script. It became the medium of writing the Punjabi language in which the hymns of the Gurus are expressed This step had a far-reaching purpose and impact. First, it gave the people who spoke this language an identity of their own, enabling them to express their thought directly and without any difficulty or transliteration. The measure had the effect of establishing the independence of the mission and the followers of the Guru. Secondly, it helped the community to dissociate itself from the Sanskrit religous tradition so that the growth and development of the Sikhs could take place unhampered and unprejudiced by the backlog of the earlier religious and social philosophies and practices. This measure, as shown by the subsequent growth of Sikhism, was essential in order to secure its unhindered development and progress as it required an entirely different approach to life.
    Dr Gupta feels that this step, to a certain extent, kept the upper classes among Hindus, to which the Guru belonged, away from Sikhism, partly because they were steeped in the old religious and Brahminical tradition and partly because the Sanskrit tradition fed their ego by giving them a superior caste status to that of the other castes. But, the idea of equality of man was fundamental to the Sikh spiritual system. Thc Guru knew that its association with traditional religious literature would tend to water it down. The matter is extremely important from the point of view of the historical growth and study. Actually, the students of Sikh history know that over the centuries the influence of these old traditions has been very much in evidence. It has sometimes even given a wrong twist to the new thesis and its growth. The educated persons were almost entirely drawn from the upper castes and classes. They had a vested interest, visible also in their writings, in introducing ideas and practices which helped in maintaining their privileges and prejudices of caste superiority, even though such customs were opposed to the fundamentals about the equality of man laid down by the Gurus. For example, the Jats, who were themselves drawn from classes branded as low by the Brahminical system, started exhibiting caste prejudices vis-a-vis the lower castes drawn from the Hindu fold.
    Earlier, the Punjabi language was written in the Landa or Mahajani script This had no vowel sounds, which had to be imagined or construed by the reader in order to decipher the writing. Therefore, there was the need of a script which could faithfully reproduce the hymns of the Gurus so that the true meaning and message of the Gurus could not be misconstrued and misinterpreted by each reader to suit his own purpose and prejudices. The devising of the Gurmukhi script was an essential step in order to maintain the purity of the doctrine and exclude all possibility of misunderstanding and misconstruction by interested persons.
    The institution of langar was maintained and developed. The Guru's wife personally worked in the kitchen. She also served food to the members of the community and the visitors. Her devotion to this institution finds mention in Guru Granth Sahib.
    The Guru earned his own living by twisting coarse grass into strings used for cots. All offerings went to the common fund. This demonstrates that it is necessary and honourable to do even the meanest productive work. It also emphasises that parasitical living is not in consonance with the mystic and moral path. In line with Guru Nanak's teaching, the Guru also declared that there was no place for passive recluses in the community.
    Like Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and the subsequent Gurus selected and appointed their successors by completely satisfying themselves about their mystic fitness and capacity to discharge the responsibilities of the mission.
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    1. Copyright © Harbans Singh "The encyclopedia of Sikhism. "

    Sri Guru Amardas ji

    Sri Guru Amardas ji (1552-1574)


    Artist Bodh Rai's immpression of Sri Guru Amardas ji Sri Guru Amar Das, though born in 1479, became the Guru in 1552 when he was in his seventies. Guru Amardas ji were born as Bhalla Khatri at village Basarke about 13 kms south-west of Amritsar. His father was Tej Bhan Bhalla,, a local petty trader. They were all staunch sanatanists, and vegetarians. Guru Amar das had a wife, two sons and two daughters. He often went to Haridwar and Jwalamukhi on pilgrimages and strictly observed all religious rites and ceromonies. Before coming into contact with Sikhkism Guru Amar Das had crossed sixty years of age. His brother Manak chand lived nearby his house, Manak Chand's wife Bibi Amro use to sing Guru Nanak's hymns. Bhai Amar Das (Later Guru) must have heard her singing many times before. He engquired whose hymns she was singing and immediately made up his mind to call on Guru Angad. It was in 1541, when Amardas was 62 years old. Guru Amardas ji were on Guruship from 1552 to 1574, he moved to Goindwal from Khadur to avoid conflict with Guru Angad's son's., elder of whom named Datu had declared himself as a Guru. Gurdwara Baoli Sahib at Goindwal , Got constructed by Guru Amardas ji
    All the same he took many significant steps. He established new centres for conveying to the people the message of Guru Nanak. Guru Amardas ji, condemnned Hindus for Sati, allowed widow remarriage and against Caste systems he started Guru Ka Langar. He passed on his Guru Ship to his son in law, Ramdas Sodhi, who was his most devoted disciple. Guru Amardas ji organised the proleystaion of Sikh faith into Manjis. He divided the area into 22 branches called Manjis and appointed a local Sikh preacher at each place. The preacher sat on a Manji (a cot) while the congregation all around it. Here are the name of the people he appointed to preach Sikhism.

    in the are of Majha (Amritsar, Lahore, Sialkote)
    
     1.  Manak Chand Jhinwar (Water Carrier) at Variowal in Amritsar.
     2.  Sada ram, a Blacksmith near Amritsar.
     3.  Hindal at Jandiala near Amritsar.
     4.  Gangu Shah banker at Lahore.
     5.  Mutho-Murari, a devoted couple, at Chunian in Lahore Dist.
    
    In Jalandhar Doab
    
     1.  Paro Julka at Jalandar.
     2.  Mahesh Dhir at Sultanpur Lodi.
     
    In Kangra Hills.
    
     1.  Sawan mal, Nephew of Guru Amar Das, at Haripur Guler.
     2.  Name not given, at Dharamsala.
    
    Kashmir Hills.
    
     1.  Phirya at Mirpur.
     
    Malwa (Area of Patiala, Ludhiana, Bhatinda)
    
     1.  Kheira at Firozpur.
     2.  Mai Das Bairagi in charge of Ludhiana dist.
     3.  Mai Bhago at village Wayun, tehsil Kharar, dist. Rupar.
     4.  Mai Sewan at Village Gardnoh in Patiala District.
     5.  Sachna Shah in charge of Ambala distt.
    
    Sind
     
     1.  Lalu in chage of some area in Sind.
    
    He started the system of holding two annual gatherings of his disciples from all over the country. At his headquarters, he undertook the construction of a baoli (a well with a perennial source of spring water). For the Sikhs the headquarters of the Guru and this baoli became a holy place of pilgrimage.
    Guru Angad had collected the hymns of Guru Nanak. To these Guru Amar Das added the hymns of the former as well as his own. Guru Amardas appointed three women as preachers was a unique contribution of Amardas. Guru Amardas ji were highle pleased with one of his disciple named Bhai Jetha, first Guru Amardas ji married his daughter Bibi Bhani to Bhai Jetha, and then delighted with the couple's devotion, he passed on the Guruship to Bhai Jetha as Guru Ramdas. In his devotion to Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, God and his Sikhs Guru Amardas was as firm as a rock. He departed from this world on September 1, 1574. They administered both to the religious and the temporal needs of the disciples; for, in the Guru's system legitimate temporal needs were included in the religious needs. They collected offerings from the disciples and sent them to the Guru for the common use of the community. The Guru himself earned his living as a small tradesman. Langar during early sikh times as painted by Bhai Vir Singh
    As an anti-caste and anti-pollution measure, he made it incumbent that no one, irrespective of his status or caste, could see him unless he had first partaken, along with others, of the food cooked at the common kitchen. Emperor Akbar had also to dine at the langar before he met the Guru.
    In his time, ascetics and recluses again made an attempt to enter the Guru's flock. But the Guru issued a final injunction that no recluse or ascetic could be a Sikh. He also denounced the system of sati and of purdah among women.
    According to the Guru, the human body was the temple of God. He, therefore, laid emphasis on keeping it healthy and sound to the end. For the same reason, he denounced the ascetic practices of torturing the body. The Guru felt that the health of the body could not be divorced from moral and spiritual well-being.
    Read biography of Guru Ramdas ji

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    1. Copyright © Harbans Singh "The encyclopedia of Sikhism. "

    Guru Ram das ji

    Guru Ram das ji (1574- 1581)

    Artist Bodh Rai's immpression of  Sri Guru Ramdas  ji Sri Guru Ram Das ji are known to be the Chauthi Patshahi or the Fourth Guru as well as Guru who established the city of Amritsar. Sri Guru Ramdas ji kept alive the tradition of first three Gurus.
    Guru Ramdas was born in Lahore into a Sodhi Khatri family residing in Mohalla Chuna Mandi. By all accounts, the date of his birth was the second day of the dark half of the month Karthik in the Bikrami Samvat (1591 (24 September 1534). His parents Har Das and Daya Vati were known for their honest and pious living. Ram Das was popularly addressed as Jetha, being the first-born of his parents (Sanskrit word Jayeshth means the first). In the words of Macauliffe, "He was of fair complexion, handsome figure, pleasing and smiling face and not disposed to weep or cry in the manner of ordinary children". From the beginning his outlook was other wordly, and he felt the happiest when he happened to be in the company of holy people.
    The village Basarke (now in the district of Amritsar) which was the native place of the third Guru Guru Amardas was also the place to which Jetha's mother Daya Vati belonged. Like other children he too had immense fascination for his Nanake (the house of his maternal grandparents) and was a frequent visitor to it. During his stay at Basarke, it was his usual practice to go round the countryside hawking boiled grains. With his charming looks and winsome manners he soon won admiration from the men and women of Basarke and the villages nearby. Guru Amardas felt so much impressed with him that he decided to marry his second daughter bibi Bhani, to him.
    A very interesting story is narrated by almost all writers, old and new. One day the Guru's wife seeing Bibi Bhani playing about remarked to her husband that as Bhani as grown up, they ought to search for a husband for her. The Guru agreed and ordered the search for a husband for her. Bibi Bhani's mother saw a boy outside her door hawking some articles of food. On carefully observing him, she said "Search a youth like him". Hearing this Guru exclaimed "He is his own parallel, for God has made none other like unto him". Saying this Guru called the youth and enquired from his about his whereabouts. After that he sent him with marriage presents to his father Har Das in Lahore and had the betrothal ceremony performed (1545).
    Bibi Bhani served Jetha not merely as her dear husband but also as a rare saint. The couple lived happily and in due course three sons were born to them. In order of seniority the were Prithi Chand (1547 A.D), Mahadev (1551) and Arjan Dev (1553). No precise information is available as to the exact time when Bhai Jetha assumed his permanent residence along with his family at Goindwal, but the probability cannot be dismissed that it was done soon after Guru Amar Das having been selected as the third Guru had set up his headquarters at that place. Goindwal had been founded several years back in the time of Guru Angad Dev, and soon after its foundation Amar Das with the whole of his family had shifted his residence here from his native place Basarke. After that whenever Jetha and Bhani felt like meeting them, they naturally had to come to Goindwal.
    Punjab was attacked by Mirza Hakim, the ruler of Kabul, in 1565 in a bid to dislodge his half-brother Mughal Emperor Akbar from power. To meet the challenge Akbar Left Agra for Punjab in November 1565 and reached Lahore in February 1566. Mirza Hakim lost heart and beat a hurried retreat to Kabul. Akbar decided not to pursue him and stayed on at Lahore for more than a Year. He left for Agra in March 1567. When the Emperor was encamped at Lahore, a small representative of hostile Brahmins and Khatris proceeded to Lahore and lodged a serious complaint against Guru Amar Das The substance of the complaint as follows: "Thy majesty is the protector of our customs and the redresser of our wrongs. Every man's religion is dear to him. Guru Amar Das of Goindwal hath abandoned the religious and social customs of the Hindus, and abolished the distinction of the four castes. Such heterodoxy hath never been heard of in the four ages. There is now no twilight prayer, no gayatri, no offering of water to ancestors, no pilgrimages, no obseques, and no worship of idols or of the divine salagram. The Guru hath abandoned all these, and established the repetition of Wahguru instead of Ram; and no one now acteth according to the Vedas or the Smritis. The Guru reverenceth not jogis, jatis, or Brahmans. He worshippeth no gods or goddesses, and he orderth his sikhs from refrain from doing so for ever more. He seateth all his followers in a line and causeth them to eat together from his kitchen, irrespective of caste - whether they are jats, strolling minstrels, Muhammadans, Brahmans, Khatris, shopkeepers, sweepers, barbers, washermen, fishermen or carpenters. We pray thee restrain him now, else it will be difficult hereafter. May thy religion and empire increase and extend over the world!" On receiving the complaint, the Emperor sent a special messenger to Goindwal asking Guru Amardas to see him. The Guru did nor agree to go personally on account of his old age but commissioned Bhai Jetha to wait upon the Emperor and to answer the allegations made against him at the court. Before Jetha set out for Lahore, the Guru is said to have spoken to him thus: "Thou art in mine image; Guru Nanak will be with thee, and none shall prevail against thee. The Khatris and Brahmans who have complained are ignorent and false. Answer truly all the questions put to thee. Be not abashed and fear nobody. If any difficul questions be put and thou art at a loss for an answer, then think of the Guru, and thou shalt be able to give a suitable reply. Vindicate before the court the true teaching of Guru Nanak. Falsehood cannot contend with truth".
    Jetha appearing at the Mughal court answered all the charges contained in the complaint to the entire satisfaction of the Emperor. Greatly pleased with the skill and confidence with which he had trounced the adversaries, the Emperor dismissed the complaint outright and requested the Jetha to convey his deep respects to the Guru.
    Jetha was a paragon of love, devotion, service and resignation. He looked upon Guru Amar Das not merely as his father-in-law but also as his most revered beau ideal i.e. The Guru. He served him in a spirit of complete self-surrender. He along with his wife Bibi Bhani used to shampoo him, draw water, cook, serve meals from the kitchen and then wash the dishes. The more he served the Guru the more his love for him and for all mankind increased. Gruadually his disposition became divine just as they say iron is turned into gold by the contact of the philosopher's stone. Later on, when the construction of the Baoli (a well with stairs) was undertaken, Ram Dass became conspicuous for his tireless and unremitting labour. He carried baskets of earth on his head like everybody else and paid no heed to the banter or reproaches of his companions of his kith and kin. Once when his relatives were returning from a pilgrimage to the river Ganga, they halted briefly at Goindwal on their way to Lahore. When they saw Jetha working like a common labourer, they were furious and said to him. "Thou hast shamed the family by performing menial service like Shudra in thy father-in-law's house. Couldn't thou not obtain suitable maintenance to draw water, scrub daity vessels, and shampoo the Guru". Jetha was much displeased at this language and replied, "In your estimation the Guru is my father-in-law but in mine he is God in person." On hearing this they went to the Guru and complained to him about what he had made of his son-in-law. To this Guru's reply was : "I had not made him carry filth on his head, but I have put filth on the heads of his slanderers, and I have caused the umbrella of true sovereignty to wave over him. If he had not been born in your family, you would all have been damned. It is he who hath saved the whole of your tribe."
    The final and supreme test of Jetha's spirit of service and sacrifice when Guru Amar Das wanted to select his successor just like the first two Gurus (and all the Sikh Gurus starting from the Guru Nanak Dev). The Guru asked both of his sons-in-law, Rama and Jetha to make him two platforms beside the Baoli at Goindwal. He held out the promise without telling them about the Guruship that he who did the better work in his eyes should receive the greater honour. When they completed their platforms, the Guru went to inspect them. Both the platforms were declared to be defective and they were asked to throw them down and rebuild them. In obedience to his command, new platforms were erected. These were also disapproved and ordered to be dismantled. On this Rama the elder son-in-law refused to build it a third time. He demurred, "The Guru hath grown old and his reason faileth him". Jetha's work was subjected to the same rigorous standard. He continued to build platforms which were then dismantled each time pronouncing it faulty by the Guru. This process was repeated seven times. Ultimately, Jetha clasped the Guru's feet and humbly addressed him :" I am a fool; pray have regard for thy duty (bird) to me as thy son. I am erring and of mean understanding, while thou possessest all knowledge." On hearing this Guru smiled and embraced him affectionately saying, "Jetha is a perfect being who hath become incarnate and the world following him shall be saved" The Sikhs were astonished on witnessing Jetha's marvellous devotion and obedience, and henceforth began to recognize him as the image of the Guru.
    In 1574 A.D. Bhai Jetha succeeded Guru Amar Das as the fourth Sikh Guru under the name Ram Das. His pontification lasted up to 1581. Like his father-in-law he too had to deal with the hostile and perverse attitudes of Brahmans, Tapas and Jogis. Both Mehma Prakash and Suraj Prakash are replete with descriptions of such categories of people coming and holding long discussions with him on such subjects as observance of caste discipline, performance of rites and ceremonies, pilgrimage, reading of old religious texts, etc. One illustration will suffice to make it clear. Once a company of Jogis called upon him and questioned him as to why the atached no importance to the practice of Yog (celibacy) among his Sikhs. The Guru's reply to this was that a man may wear a Yogi's garb and keep chanting god's name and test himself to various tests,but without devotion in his heart God will not enter it". (Asa measure in Guru Granth, O Yogi).
    Guru Amar Das had devoted much of his time to the problems of definition and organization confronting the young emerging Sikh panth (called nirmal panth by sarup das bhalla). Lest the Brahmanical influence should reassert themselves over his followers, he had all along endeavoured to make the Sikh position in the matter of religious beliefs and practices as well as in social behaviour as definetive as possible. Simaltaneous he had made efforts to improve the organizational setup of the Sikh Society. The introduction of the annual Baisakhi day, the construction of the Baoli, and the distinction drawn between sachi (authentic) and kachi (unauthentic) Bani (sacred compositions) were a few of the measures taken by the Guru in this connection. Guru Ram Das went ahead with the work thus begun by his master. Through his words as well as deeds he underscored the essential features of the Sikh teachings and repeatedly warned his followers against the pitfalls involved in the Brahman's emphasis on pilgrimage, ritualism or formal reading of Vedas and Shastars. He also left no opportunity to caution them against the futile practices of the Udasis, Yogis, Naths, Tapas and Sidhs (all ascetis of one kind or another. A good number of these ascetics fell under his spell and adopted his creed.
    Before he was appointed as Fourth Guru, just after completing the Boali at Goindwal, third Guru Guru Amardas ji had sent him to a magical place in the vicinity of the villages of Sultanwind, Tung, Gumtala and Gilwali, all at the pargana of Jhabal in the Taaluqa of Patti, which formed a part of the Suba of Lahore ruled by the Mughals. Guru Amardas ji wanted him to establish and create another Sikh center apart from Goindwal. Guru Ramdas was so immpressed with this place that he started visiting it every Sagrand (The first day of the Punjabi month) and Amavasaya (the dark moonless night of the month). Bhai Jetha purchased this area with wild shrubs(Ber trees) and jungles on the payments of Rs 700 to the Zamindar of village Tung., later villagers of Sultanwind presented more land to Guru out of regard and reverence for the Guru. Earlier, Emperor Akbar also had gifted a tract of land in the vicinity to the daughter of Guru Amardas ji Bibi Bhani, Guru RamDas's wife. After obtaining land for the purpose of creating the Sikh center, he was told by Guru Amardas ji to excavated a tank (now called Santokhsar at Baba Atal) that he did, as well as created a small house for himself. Thus he founded the town of Ramdaspur (later Amritsar) which continues to be the centre of Sikhism till today. Just then Guru Amardas ji were nearing his end and thus Amritsar project had to be put on hold for some time. Guru Ramdas ji decided to start it again in 1577 and thus year 1577 has gone down in the history as the foundation year of the Amritsar. Guru Amardas ji had again told him to excavate another tank about 1 km down from the old one. This is the current Sarovar of the Golden Temple. He dug a tank which became the principal place of pilgrimage. Traders and artisans were invited to settle at the town so that its growth could be rapid. In due course it became the largest commercial centre in northern India. Phrase came to be associated with the tank dug at Amritsar which was "Ramdas Sarovar Nahate, Sab uttre paap kamate", "I bath in the tank of Ramdas and all my sins were washed away" . It was a landmark in the life of the community, because the Guru established a central place that was quite distinct from that of the Hindus and the Muslims. Since then Amritsar is for the Sikhs what Mecca is for the Muslims. All this indicates that the Guru had a distinct sense of his mission and did everything to establish it as a separate religious system and entity.
    Guru Ramdas was not merely a constructive genius who planned and founded a new city and instituted an original missionary order but also a poet of great sensitivity and tremendous effect. He composed 679 hymns in varying musical measures, which were incorporated into Adi Granth by his son and successor, Guru Arjan Dev. His whole life was embodiment of love, devotion, dedication and service. All these noble sentiments are abundantly reflected in his writings. His straight and simple message went straight to the heart and evoked the most sensitive chords of one's consciousness. There was only a modocum of metaphysics in his compositions and almost the entire emphasis was laid on life of self-less service rendered in a spirit of total devotion to the Guru and God. For example:
    O my beloved, I live by meditating on thy name; Without the name I could not live, O my satguru, implant it in me. The Name is a priceless jewel; the perfect satguru possesseth it. By applying myself to the service of the Satguru, he bringeth forth and displayeth the jewel of the Name. Blest are the very fortunate who come to the Guru and meet him. (Adi Granth, Sri Rag).
    The momentous career of the Guru came to its end on September 1, 1581 (Bhadon Sudi 3, 1638 BK) after a pontification of 6 years, 11 months and 18 das. He was succeeded by his youngest son, Arjan Dev. The eldest son Prithia created many obstacles and tried his level best to influence the decision in his own favour, but the Guru was as firm in regard to the issue of succession as he had been all through his life in dealing with the detractors of Sikhism.
    Gurdwara of Guru Ramdas ji at Lahore
    Read biography of Guru Arjan Dev ji

    BIBLIOGRAPHY
  • Copyright © Fauja Singh "The city of Amritsar "
  • Copyright © Harbans Singh "The encyclopedia of Sikhism.