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February - March 2005


The Birth of a Star - Guru Nanak Dev

by Vinoo Wadher

Bharat Mata, the ancient Mother of ours, which gave birth to sages of highest calibre, the land of great luminaries - seers, saints and sages who have been guiding stars of Bharat since time immemorial. Their message has been of universal brotherhood, and welfare for everyone, regarding ‘the whole universe as one family’ that belongs in the Vedic dictum of Vasudhaive Kutumbkam. One such sage was Guru Nanak Devji.

It was in this world torn by hate and religious strife that a divine event took place. On Vaisakh Sudi 3, 1526 Vikram Era (corresponding 15 April 1469) at Talwandi now called Nankana Sahib about 40 miles to the southwest city of Luv (Lahor), a child was born with radiating light. Nanak was the name given to him by his Hindu parents, Mehta Kalyan (Kalu) Das the father, and Tripta Devi the mother. The parents must have been repositories of exceptional gifts. Their child was destined to be a teacher with an abiding message. The ancestry of Guru Nanak was traceable to “Suryavanshi” Kshatriya clan, which had at times given birth to great scholars who used to expound the Vedas to the congregations keen to learn the true meaning of Dharma. They were known for their bravery, learning, wisdom, integrity and scholarship and were known as Vedis (writers of Vedas)

As a boy Nanak was not only the cynosure of his parent’s eyes but also the centre of attraction for the whole town. His radiant face, impressive behaviour, wonderful memory and love for God surprised and impressed everyone. At the age of seven, Nanak was sent to the local-Brahmin teacher from whom he learnt reading and writing Hindi, Punjabi and Sanskrit. All his teachers were immensely impressed at his intellectual brilliance and spiritual maturity even at this tender age.
Nanak the child gave the signs of ‘Nanak the Guru’ and ‘Saviour’ at a very early age. As a boy he ate little, slept little and lost himself in his own thoughts, in his own world for days and no one could understand him. From childhood Nanak was contemplative and eagerly sought the company of holy people, sadhus to tread the way to ultimate Reality.

Young Nanak was so much immersed in God and had become so ‘engrossed on the Lord’ that his mind was always fixed on Him and for some time he would do nothing but meditate on His Name and sing His praises. People around him suspected that he was suffering from some psychological disorder. Even a physician was called in to cure him of his illness. The Guru smiled at this misconception and said:

‘Physician go thy way; Few know my malady.
My body groans, because my soul is crying,
It is not a case for thy healing,
The Creator has given me this pain, He alone can remove it’.

Nanak became sympathetic towards the downtrodden and was always yearning to alleviate the sufferings of the destitute so much so that he began sharing everything with the Yogis, sadhus and the needy. He distributed his possessions to the needy and even gave away his cooking utensils, clothes, food and pocket money in charity – daridra devo bhave. His father, Kalu Chand Mehta objected to his so called ‘wasteful habits’ and frequently admonished him for his habit of spending money, but to no purpose.

He was deeply interested in Indian lore and in the writings of the contemporary bhagats (saints) in particular whose teachings he compared with his own philosophy on life. In company with ascetics and sages he learnt much about the intricacies of life.

His scholarly attainments were superb as shown by his erudite compositions like the Japji, Asa-Divar, and Onkar.

He recited the Moolmantra and sloka verses. The Moolmantra (basic concept) is:

Ek Oankar
Satnam, Karta Purakh,
Nirbhau, Nirvair,
Akal Murat,
Ajuni, Saibhang,
Guru Prasad
There is only one God,
His name is eternal truth, The all pervading Creator,
Without fear, Without hatred,
The timeless being - Immortal,
Unborn, Self existent,
The Enlightener accessible through (Guru’s) Grace. Nanak was the essence of humanity. He preached with vehemence against idol worship, hypocrisy, ritualism, dogma and superstitions and distinctions of castes of the religious leaders and that “the purpose and meaning of true human life is to worship God and God alone”.

“There is only one God; Adopt one and reject all others,

Why should one worship a second who is born and dead?”
From the beginning he had a protestant and critical frame of mind. At the age of nine, when he was asked to go through the ceremony of Yajnopavitam, he refused to wear the sacred thread saying that ‘he would rather have a thread that would neither break nor get dirty, nor be burnt or lost’.

One morning, as usual Nanak went to bathe at the nearby stream. As he dipped into the water, he disappeared into the bed of the river. The searchers presumed that he was drowned. When he returned after three days, he had gone into a trance to be with the Almighty God through the ancient Vedic Yoga called – ‘jalastambha samadhi’ (Trance into Water)- a skill that requires a teacher and is acquired only after long practice; however, Nanak Devji had inherited this gift from birth.

Divine thirst was making him unbearable. He went to Srinagar in Kashmir and thence proceeded to the solitudes of the Himalayas to meet the realised souls. To them, Nanak related his feelings thus: “I have become perplexed in my search, In the darkness I find no way, Devoted to pride I weep in sorrow. Alas, how shall peace be obtained?”.

He expounded the teachings of Lord Krishna in Gita, Nanak says: - “The heart must be purified of all egoistic and selfish tendencies and surrendered completely to the Will of Divine. Hatred, greed, lust, hypocrisy, arrogance, envy, and jealousy – these evil thoughts and tendencies are a barrier to approaching God. Love, truth, contentment, humility, mercy and purity of mind have to be cultivated to make life meaningful”.

“Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and Yoga, charity, self-control, austerity, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquillity and aversion to slander, gentleness, and absence of fickleness, courage, forgiveness, freedom from malice and pride, - these belong to him who is born with divine traits”- Gita –1/3

Dharma (righteous conduct) that is devoid of karma (action) is contradiction; it is through actions that we go near or fall apart from God.

“Words do not a saint or a sinner make; Action alone is written in the book of fate.
What we sow, that alone we take; O, Nanak, be saved or forever transmigrate”.

Like earlier saints and seers, Guru Nanak travelled thousands of miles to spread his message. He travelled for almost thirty years.

Nanak was exalted as the Guru and at the divine call; he set off on four long journeys, mostly on foot into trackless lands. In the East he visited Jagan Nath Puri, the centre of Hinduism and he reached Tibet in the north and visited Sri Lanka in the south. In the west he went as far as Mecca. He was perhaps the greatest traveller of his times. His approach was direct, scientific and convincing. At Mecca he slept with his feet towards the Kabba, which gave rise to a lot of anger and resentment. Asked to explain why he slept with his feet towards the ‘house of God’ he only said “Drag my feet away to that direction in which God has no house”. In a rage as he dragged Guru’s feet in the opposite direction, the Kabba followed the revolutions of his body.
Guru stopped at Baghdad. To mark his visit, an inscription has been made on the stone saying: “In memory of the Guru, the Divine Master Baba Nanak this building has been raised afresh with the help of seven Saints”.

When he was returning, Babar was invading India (1521AD), according to the Guru’s own words, which are part of ‘Babar-Vani’ (cf. Guru Granth Sahib, p722).

The Guru was an eyewitness to the sack of Saidpur and the wholesale massacre of its inhabitants. Seeing the arson, loot and plunder, his heart bled and in anguish he sang laments for murder and uttered some of the most touching verses which he himself calls ‘hymns of blood’: -
“God took Khurasan under His wing and Exposed India to the terrorism of Babar.
The Creator takes no blame unto himself, It was the death that made war on us.
When there was such slaughter, such groaning Didst Thou not feel the agony, O Lord?
Creator, thou belongest to all”.

He called the invading army ‘a party of sinners’. He was apalled to find them destroying art and culture and was distressed that the people of Bharat had become cowards.

He denounced the Kshatryas (warrior class) of the country as ‘merely cows’ and said,
“Kshatryas suffer from dereliction of duty And have even accepted invader’s language,
They call their fathers ‘Mean’, each and all, And have started speaking a different language”.
He appealed to the national spirit of the people and exhorted them to rise for the defence of the motherland.

“Happy indeed are the kshatriyas, O Partha, to whom comes such a war, offering itself unsought, opening the gate to heaven. But if you refuse to wage this righteous war, then, renouncing your own dharma and honour, you will certainly incur sin. Dishonour is worse than death”. – Gita 2/32,33,51.

Time had now arrived for him to find a successor to carry on his mission, Guru Nanak in the presence of all his followers, bowed before Lehna and pronounced that he had become Guru Angad Dev, the second Master, Guru.

Finally, on 22nd September 1539 at the age of seventy, Guru Nanak Devji’s soul left his mortal body at Kartarpur.

These days when antipodes have become neighbours and the human race yearns for peace on earth and is starving for lack of love, Guru Nanak’s message has a special value; it would seem most suited to our modern times. He represents humanity, not separate, divided people but to unite the brothers and sisters of the world as the citizens of mother earth, Vasudhev Kutumbkam – the whole world is one big family as prescribed in the Vedas. To bring concord, unity and harmony in the strife-torn world and to make our lives richer, fuller and more meaningful, we have to depend on a code of conduct like the one propounded by Guru Nanak. It is time we comprehend his philosophy and demonstrate its practically.

Guru Nanak’s Bani has plenty of devotional hymns in praise of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. He paints charming picture in adoration of Lord Jagannath, such as:

“Ramkatha jug jug atal, Sab koi bhakhat net,
Surag bas Raghubar, Kara Sagri puri samet”.
The story of Rama is remembered age after age, and recounted by all:
Raghubir left for swarga taking the whole town of Ayodhya with him.

Sat Sri Akal

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