Shri Guru Nanak Dev was born at a time when the world was plunged into the darkness of ignorance, feudal tyranny, religious & cultural strife.
Born in 1469 at Rai Bhoeki Talwandi (now known as Nankana Sahib) situated in the Punjab province of West Pakistan, he went on to lay down the foundation of Sikhism. He preached brotherhood and humanitarianism irrespective of caste, creed, colour and economic status.
According to him, love of God implied love for his creations and thus service for humanity indicates one’s love for God.
Guru Nanak was sent to the village school at the age of seven. On the very first day of his admission, he surprised his teacher by expounding a beautifully worded revelation in verse, describing the Shri Guru Nanak Dev various stages of life. The teacher then went to his father and told him that instead of teaching Nanak, he had received through his noble son, a profound lesson on how best he could function as a teacher. Nanak went on to gain proficiency in Sanskrit and Persian along with the local language.
Guru Nanak became more and more absorbed in his communion with God and was often seen in a state of trance. There is a very interesting episode in his life. One day, when he was still very young, he took a dip into the river that flowed alongside his house for his regular morning bath. But this time he disappeared into the waters for two days and nights. On the third day he reappeared with a verse on his lip which is now called the “mool mantra” and appears at the commencement of every chapter and sub-chapter in the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak traveled widely outside the country of his birth carrying the torch of truth, peace and joy for mankind and spreading the message of humanity. He went towards east, west, north and south and met people of different religions, tribes, cultures and races. He traveled on foot with his Muslim companion Mardana. His travels are called “Udasis.” Wherever he went, large crowds gathered to hear his Divine Message. These journeys gave him a keen insight of the human character and accordingly, he adopted impressive and effective methods in persuasion of his Divine mission. His attractive rationalism brought about amazing transformations in the lives of all those who came in contact with him.
It is said that during one such journey, the Guru came to the small town of Saidpur in West Punjab where he decided to stay with a low-caste carpenter. At the same time, the local chief of the town who was a very proud and wealthy man was holding a feast to which all holy men were invited. But Guru Nanak preferred the simple food served by his host to the one served at the feast. The local chief was enraged and summoned the Guru for questioning. When asked why he didn’t join in the feast, the Guru sent for the meal served by both the chief and his poor host. Holding these in separate hands he squeezed them. Blood appeared out of the rich food while milk oozed out of the simple one. The chief was put to shame and realised that his riches had been amassed by exploiting the poor, while the poor carpenter offered the milk of hard-earned honest work.
After having spent a lifetime of travelling abroad and setting up missions, an aged Guru Nanak returned home to Punjab. He settled down at Kartharpur where pilgrims came from far and near to hear the hymns and preaching of the Master. The Guru also raised his voice for the uplift and parity of the down trodden, low-caste people and the women-folk. He believed in a caste less society without any distinctions. He institutionalized the common kitchen called “langar” where all could sit together and enjoy a common meal, whether they were kings or beggars.
When Guruship was passed on to Guru Angad, people realized that the day of destiny was near. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims came from far and near to have a holy glimpse of the Guru. On September 22, 1539, Guru Nanak Dev went into Samadhi. A quarrel ensued between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Hindus wanted to cremate him while the Muslims desired to bury him. Finally, it was decided that flowers would be kept overnight on each side of the Guru’s body which was covered with a white sheet. The Hindus placed flowers on the right and Muslims on the left and the flowers of whomsoever stayed fresh would take possession of the body. However, when the followers lifted the sheet next morning they found nothing except the flowers that were all fresh. The flowers were divided, the Hindus cremated them and the Muslims buried them.
There were nine Gurus who consecutively followed his lineage. This culminated in the 11th, the last and eternal Guruship bestowed on the sacred scripture, Shri Guru Granth Sahib, which has been called “Mona,” meaning the silent Guru.
A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, Guru Nanak was centuries ahead of his times. His universal message is as fresh and true even today as it was in the past.
The Guru’s birthday is celebrated every year on the full moon night, which mostly falls within November.