November 12, this year, marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of Sikh religion. Guru Nanak Jayanti is one of the most sacred festivals of Sikhism, and Sikhs all over the world celebrate it with great enthusiasm and a variety of colourful festivities. To mark the 550th birth anniversary of the great sage, The Teenager Today brings you a special feature on Guru Nanakji and Sikhism by DR NAVNIIT GANDHI, a devout Sikh herself and one of the close associates of the magazine.
He was eleven years old. His father decided it was time to perform the thread ceremony, customary as it was for Hindu boys of his caste to start wearing the sacred thread. The boy, however, refused. He told his father that people should be identified and known by what they do or did not do and by their distinctive qualities and not by a thread.
The young boy was Nanak. Born to Mata Tripta and Kalyan Chand Das in the town of Nankana, about 40 miles from Lahore (in the undivided India) in 1469, Nanak showed signs of depth in thinking and conduct and a very different bent of mind from a young age. So, he was often at the receiving end of his father’s ire for something or the other. Whenever his father asked him to take cattle for grazing, Nanak would slip into deep meditative trances and get into trouble when the cattle wandered into the fields and ate up the crops of the neighbours!
The constant complaints from the neighbours would upset his father who scolded Nanak severely for what he thought was sheer laziness. Nanak was very fond of his elder sister Nanaki. After her marriage (Nanak was only six years old), he went to live with her and her husband in Sultanpur.
Nanak studied Hinduism and Islam extensively and the argumentative streak in him led him to frequent debates with both Hindu and Muslim sages, and the common folks. He strongly believed that it was wrong to focus on external actions like pilgrimages and penances; and that what really mattered was one’s effort to bring about internal changes in him/her.
He felt that people should be made to realise the true nature of God, blinded and obsessed as they were with only the superficial. He also believed that the ways to attain spiritual growth were meditation and music. He was convinced, and wanted also others to realise, that the divine streak was present in every human being.
On 24 September 1487, Nanak married Mata Sulakkhani in the town of Batala. In 1496, Nanak set out on his quest and embarked on a series of spiritual journeys, throughout India, Tibet and Arabia. He travelled for 30 years and met a lot of learned men all along the way. He studied along with them and discussed and debated with them and thus his ideas began to take shape. He travelled with his Muslim companion Bhai Mardana — to all four directions from his home village. During the years 1500-1524, he travelled almost 28,000 kms.
Once, Guru Nanakji and his disciples reached a village where the villagers were ill-mannered and abused everyone. When Guruji tried to stop them from abusing, they made fun of him. When he saw his teachings were of no use to them, he planned to leave the village. The villagers mocked him saying, “Mahatma, we have served you so much; bless us before leaving.” So, he blessed them saying, “Stay together in one place.” After some time they went to another village where the people were pious, pure and loving. They took good care of every guest, and served everyone well. While leaving, they too asked for his blessings, and he blessed them saying, “May all of you get dispersed.”
The disciples asked Nanak the reason for his different blessings. He told them: “Remember, good people always carry their goodness wherever they go. Wherever they live, they create an atmosphere of love and harmony around them. So I asked the village with so many good people to disperse.”
Dr Navniit Gandhi is an academic, author, and a trainer/counsellor based in Kuwait. She has authored nine books and has written more than 300 feature articles till date, and is presently on the editorial board of The Teenager Today.