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by Smt. Anjali Ambekar
Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartika, and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore in Kshatriya (warrior) family. Guru Nanak came to the world with a message of peace, unity, love and devotion to God.
The anniversaries of Sikh Guru's are known as Gurpurabs (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication. This is done by a team of Sikh men and women, each reading for 2-3 hours over 48 hours, beginning two days before and ending early on the morning of the birthday. On the penultimate day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, a procession takes place in the morning, which is more commonly known as the 'Prabhat Pheri'. Five armed guards, who represent the Panj Pyares, head the procession carrying Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag). Local bands playing religious music form a special part of the procession.
The celebrations also include the three-day Akhand path, during which the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib is read continuously, from beginning to end without a break. On the day of the festival, the Granth Sahib is also carried in a procession on a float, decorated with flowers, throughout a village or city. Five armed guards, who represent the Panj Pyares, head the procession carrying Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag). Local bands playing religious music form a special part of the procession.
Free sweets and langar or community lunches are also offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. Men, women, and children, participate in this karseva as service to the community, cook food and distribute it in the 'Guru ka Langar', with the traditional 'Karah Prasad'.
Houses and gurdwaras are lit up to add to the festivities. Guru Nanak Dev's life served as a beacon light for his age. He was a great seer, saint and mystic. He was a prolific poet and a unique singer of God's laudation. A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, he was centuries ahead of his times. His universal message is as fresh and true even today as it was in the past and Sikhs all over the world, practice what Guru Nanak Dev preached, to reaffirm their beliefs in the teachings of their founder.
Life of Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak Dev picked up the wooden plank in school that served as his slate, and wrote on it an acrostic using all 35 alphabets to compose verses that questioned the meaning of learning without understanding, a verse that forms part of the Granth Saheb., he studied Hinduism and Islam. He got married but then he abandoned his family and became an ascetic. Wandering for many years he came under the influence of both Hindus and Muslims (especially Sufi).
Nanak settled down at Khartarpur towards the close of his life. His whole family lived there together for the first time. Houses for the dwelling of Nanak’s family and a Dharmashala were also built. Mardana also lived with the Guru. Every day the ‘Japji’ and ‘Sohila’—the morning and the evening prayers composed by Guru Nanak—were recited in his presence. Guru Nanak died in the year 1538 A.D. at the age of sixty-nine. Guru Angad succeeded Guru Nanak. After him was to follow a succession of nine Gurus, before Guru Gobind Singh decreed that thereafter there would be no living Guru, but the Granth Saheb would be considered the embodiment of the Guru, since it contained their collective wisdom.
Teachings of Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak felt that it would be improper to postpone Nama Smarana or remembering the Name of the Lord, even by a single breath, because no one could tell whether the breath that had gone in would come out or not. Nanak says, "We are men of one breath. I know not a longer time-limit". Guru Nanak calls him alone a true saint who remembers the Name of the Lord with every incoming and outgoing breath. The ideal is practical and within the reach of every man. He tells the people not to lose any time but to begin at once. He also says that there are no barriers of race, class, caste, creed or colour which check the progress of any in reaching the goal. He realised the great truth of the brotherhood of religions. He preached the universal brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God to all people.
Guru Nanak was a reformer. He attacked the corruptions in society. He strongly protested against formalism and ritualism. He carried the message of peace and of love for everybody. He was very liberal in his views. He did not observe the rules of caste. He tried his level best to remove the superstitions of the people. He preached purity, justice, goodness and the love of God. He endeavoured to remove the moral putrefaction that was prevalent amongst the people and to infuse real spirit in the worship of God and true faith in religion and God. He introduced the singing of God’s praise, along with music, as a means of linking the soul of man with God. Wherever he moved, he took Mardana with him to play on the rebeck while he sang. He said, "Serve God. Serve humanity. Only service to humanity shall secure for us a place in heaven". Guru Nanak had great reverence for women. He allowed them to join all religious gatherings and conferences and to sing the praises of God. He gave them their full share in religious functions.
Guru Nanak clearly says: "The road to the abode of God is long and arduous. There are no short cuts for rich people. Everyone must undergo the same discipline. Everyone must purify his mind through service of humanity and Nama Smarana. Everyone must live according to the will of the Lord without grumbling or murmuring. How to find Him? There is one way. Make His will your own. Be in tune with the Infinite. There is no other way". The first stage in making the divine will one’s own is attained through prayer for divine grace or favour—Ardas for Guru Prasad. Guru Nanak attaches very great importance to prayer. He says that nothing can be achieved by man without divine favour. He says: "Approach God with perfect humility. Throw yourself on His mercy. Give up pride, show and egoism. Beg for His kindness and favour. Do not think of your own merits, abilities, faculties and capacities. Be prepared to die in the pursuit of His love and union with Him. Love God as a woman loves her husband. Make absolute unreserved self-surrender. You can get divine favour and love".
The beautiful composition of mystic poems uttered by Nanak is contained in ‘Japji’. It is sung by every Sikh at daybreak. The ‘Sohila’ contains the evening prayers. In ‘Japji’, Guru Nanak has given a vivid and concise description of the stages through which man must pass in order to reach the final resting place or abode of eternal bliss.
There are five stages or Khandas. The first is called Dharm Khand or "The Realm of Duty". Everyone must do this duty properly. Everyone must tread the path of righteousness. Everyone will be judged according to his actions.
The next stage is Gyan Khand or "The Realm of Knowledge" where the spirit of divine knowledge reigns. The aspirant does his duty with intense faith and sincerity. He has the knowledge now, that only by doing his duty in a perfect manner, he can reach the abode of bliss or the goal of life.
The third stage is Sharam Khand. This is "The Realm of Ecstasy". There is the spiritual rapture here. There is beauty. The Dharma has become a part of one’s own nature. It has become an ingrained habit. It is no more a mere matter of duty or knowledge.
The fourth stage is Karam Khand or "The Realm of Power". The God of power rules over this realm. The aspirant acquires power. He becomes a mighty hero. He becomes invincible. The fear of death vanishes.
The fifth or the final stage is Sach Khand or "The Realm of Truth". The formless One reigns here. Here the aspirant becomes one with God. He has attained Godhead. He has transmuted himself into Divinity. He has attained the goal of his life. He has found out his permanent resting place. Now ends the arduous journey of the soul.
Guru Nanak again and again insists thus: "Realise your unity with all. Love God. Love God in man. Sing the love of God. Repeat God’s Name. Sing His glory. Love God as the lotus loves water, as the bird Chatak loves rain, as the wife loves her husband. Make divine love thy pen and thy heart the writer. If you repeat the Name, you live; if you forget it, you die. Open your heart to Him. Enter into communion with Him. Sink into His arms and feel the divine embrace".
"Vahe Guru" is the Guru Mantra for the followers of Guru Nanak. The other important Mantra for repetition is: "Ek Omkar Satnam Karta Purkh Nirbhav Nirvair, Akalmurat Ajuni Savai Bhang Gur Parsad—God is but one, His Name is true, He is the Creator, He pervades the whole universe, He is without fear, He is without enmity, He is immortal, He is birthless, He is self-born and self-existent, He is the remover of the darkness (of ignorance) and He is merciful". The Lord is eternal. He has no beginning and no end.
The Granth Sahib
Guru Nanak invented the Gurumukhi characters by simplifying the Sanskrit characters. The holy Granth of the Sikhs is in Gurumukhi. It is worshipped by the Sikhs and the Sindhis. Every Gurudwara has a Granth Sahib. The holy Granth, popularly known as Adi Granth, contains the hymns of the first five Gurus. They were all collected, arranged and formed into one volume called Guru Granth Sahib by the fifth Guru. It contains a few selections from the hymns of Kabir and other contemporary Vaishnavite saints. Later on, the hymns of the ninth Guru were incorporated in the holy Granth by the tenth Guru. The compositions of Guru Nanak are very extensive.
The Granth Sahib begins with the following: "There is but one God whose name is true—the Creator". It contains a code of high morals. Purity of life, obedience to Guru, mercy, charity, temperance, justice, straightforwardness, truthfulness, sacrifice, service, love and abstinence from animal food are among the virtues on which great emphasis is laid; while lust, anger, pride, hatred, egoism, greed, selfishness, cruelty, backbiting and falsehood are vehemently condemned.
In 1699 Guru Govind Singh introduced the Initiation Rite, drinking sugared water ("amrt"), and abolished caste distinctions. Sikhs were to be distinguished by their name, always with the suffix Singh (lion), and by the five K's: unshorn hair and beard ("kes"), comb in the hair ("kangh"), steel bangle on the right wrist ("kara"), short drawers ("kacch") and steel dagger ("kirpan").
Guru Nanak's Philosophy And Teachings
Let no man in the world live in delusion. Without a Guru none can cross over to the other shore.
Philosophy & Teachings.
Guru Nanak philosophy & teachings can be summarized as:
• There is only one God, who is known by different names in different religions.
• Strive hard and make a whole hearted effort to help others, because service to mankind is the biggest service to God.
• Follow the path of honesty.
• In the eyes of God, all are equal, irrespective of the caste, age, creed or sex.
• Be compassionate towards all living beings. Lead a simple life.
• Don't get scared of anything and just keep performing good deeds.