By Swami Harshananda
Guru Nānak lived in A. D. 1469-1539. He is the founder of Sikhism, the youngest of the great religions of the world. Whether Sikhism is an offshoot of the religion or a completely independent religion, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Sikhs, under their inspired Gurus, fought bravely with the alien hordes, many of them laying down their lives too in the process to protect the society and save religion.
Guru Nānak was born in A. D. 1469 at Talwandi which is now known as Nānkānā Sāhib. It is 48 kms. to the south-east of Lahore, now in Pakistan, as the only son of Mahitā Kāu and Tṛptā. Nānak proved to be a precocious child, exhibiting such powers as speaking about various subjects of religion and philosophy at the age of five, and learning all the alphabet in just one day. He was also composing poems at an early age of seven. Even as he was being invested with the yajñopavīta, he composed a poem that expounded the spiritual significance of the same.
He was married at the tender age of 14, as was the custom during those days, to Sulakkhaṇī, daughter of Mulcand Coṇā of Baṭālā. He had two sons from her, the first one being Srīcand, the founder of the Udāsī sect. All efforts by his father to get him settled in the life of this world failed. His brother-in-law, living at Sultanpur took him under his care and got him employed as a store-keeper of the Muslim head, Daulat Khān. Though he performed his allotted duties very well and won the confidence of his boss, he used to distribute most of his salary among the poor people.
During this period, he suddenly disappeared into a nearby forest and spent three days in deep meditation. He heard a divine voice that commanded him to show compassion to the suffering humanity and appointed him as the Guru or spiritual guide for the same. At Sultanpur, Nānak was joined by Mardānā, an old friend of his boyhood days, from his native village. He was a good musician and thenceforward, became an inseparable companion of the Guru, singing his compositions to the accompaniment of rabāb, a stringed instrument similar to violin.
Soon after his return from the forest hide-out where he had had a high mystical experience, he gifted away all his belongings, wore the dress of a mendicant and started on a journey of the country to spread his spiritual message that could bring about the union of hearts of all, irrespective of their religion and beliefs. Apart from the various important centers of pilgrimage in India, Nānak visited Mecca, Medina and Baghdad too. Nānak spread his teachings mostly through devotional and didactic songs, all his own compositions, to the accompaniment of rabāb played by Mardānā. Some of the extra ordinary doings attributed to him by his biographers are:
- Conversion of a robber Mardan Shekh to Sikhism after he repented for his sins due to Nānak’s teachings
- Teaching some brāhmaṇas the futility of dry and meaningless rituals
- Vanquishing quite a few pundits in philosophical disputations
- Boldly refusing to cow down before the Mughal emperor Babur’s threats ordering him to become a Muslim
After appointing Aṅgad, earlier known as Lenā, as his successor, Guru Nānak left for his heavenly abode in A. D. 1538. When the shroud covering his body was removed, the body had disappeared, leaving a heap of flowers. The Hindus and the Muslims shared the same and built separately a temple and a mausoleum in his honor.
Guru Nānak’s teachings are contained in the Japjī, comprising the Mulmantra followed by 38 stanzas, all composed by him. The Mulamantra describes God as the Only One, the Infinite One, the Eternal, the Spirit, the Creator. He is All-pervading, the Sovereign Lord, the Harmonious, the Immortal, the Un-incarnated and the Self-existent. He is worshiped by the grace of the Guru. The Japjī deals with five stages through which an individual soul has to pass, on its way to the realization of God. Meditation on God at dawn and the importance of God’s grace are also stressed greatly. Guru Nānak seems to have attempted a balanced combination of the best teachings of the religion and Islam and make his religion simple and also practicable for the common masses. His eldest son Śrīcand who was also a highly evolved spiritual soul, started his own monastic sect in the name of Udāsī sect.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore