“Me, the bard out of work, the Lord has applied to His service. In the very beginning He gave me the order to sing His praises night and day. The Master summoned the minstrel to His True Court. He clothed me with the robe of His true honour and eulogy. Since then the True Name had become my ambrosial food. They, who under the Guru’s instruction, eat this food to their satisfaction, obtain peace. By singing the Guru’s hymns, I, the minstrel spread the Lord’s glory. Nanak, by praising the True Name I have obtained the perfect Lord.” (Guru Nanak, Pauri, pg. 150)
Born on October 20th 1469 AD at Talwandi (Nankana Sahib) to a Hindu family near the city of Lahore (now a part of Pakistan), Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the founder of Sikhism. His father was Mehta Kaloo Ji and mother Mata Tripta Ji. Bhai Gurdas Ji writes about the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji,
Satgur Nanak Pargatya Miti Dhundh Jagg Chanan Hoa
“With manifestation (birth) of True Guru Nanak, the mist of ignorance and falsehood disappeared and there was the light of righteousness.”
The young Nanak enjoyed the company of holy men and engaged them in long discussions about the nature of God. Around the year 1500, Guru Nanak Dev Ji had a revelation from God, shortly thereafter, he uttered the words:
There is No Hindu, There is No Muslim
This pronouncement was substantial as it referred to the day and age in which Guru Nanak Dev Ji lived: Hindus and Muslims of India constantly and bitterly fought each other over the issue of religion. The Guru meant to emphasise that, ultimately, in the eyes of God, it is not religion that determines a person’s merits, but one’s actions. The Guru witnessed the Mughal invasion of India, and saw the horrors inflicted upon the common people by the invaders. Guru Nanak Dev Ji did not hesitate to speak up against injustice:
The kings are ravenous beasts, their ministers are dogs.
The Age is a Knife, and the Kings are Butchers
In this dark night of evil, the moon of righteousness is nowhere visible.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji laid forth three basic principles by which every human being should abide:
- Remember the name of God at all times.
- Earn an honest living as a householder.
- Share a portion of your earnings with the less fortunate.
Besides rejecting the Hindu caste system, adultery, and ritualism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached universal equality. In consistence with his message of equality, Guru Nanak Dev Ji scorned those who considered women to be evil and inferior to men by asking:
Why should we call her inferior, when it is she who gives birth to great persons?
He preached the concept of love, humility, compassion, selfless Sewa, social welfare, moral, social and spiritual values. He preached the sermon of human liberty, equality and fraternity.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji emphasised,
“Truth is high but higher still is truthful living.’
Guru Nanak Dev Ji has been documented to have travelled across India and the Middle East to spread his message. Once, at Mecca, the Guru was resting with his feet pointing toward the holy shrine. When a Muslim priest angrily reprimanded the Guru for showing disrespect to God, the Guru replied, “Kindly point my feet towards the place where God does not exist.” Among the many philosophical foundations laid by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, his characterisation of God, as illustrated by his visit to Mecca, is most recognisable. It forms the opening lines of the 1430th page of the Sikh holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The translation is as follows:
There is but One God, The Supreme Truth; The Ultimate Reality, The Creator, Without fear, Without enemies, Timeless is His image, Without Birth, Self Created, By His grace revealed.
Like all the Gurus after him, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached by example. During a time of great social conflict and religious decay, his message served as a fresh, uncorrupted approach towards spirituality and God. The Guru founded the institutions of Gurdwara, Sangat, and Pangat. He introduced the concept of suitability for Guruship by ignoring his sons and appointing Bhai Lehna Ji as the second Sikh Guru to continue spreading his teachings. He departed for heavenly abode on September 7, 1539. The message of the Guru Ji took almost 240 years to unfold, and so, in accordance with the Will of God, the soul of Guru Nanak Dev Ji merged into the souls of his nine successors.