Who is Guru Nanak Dev Ji?
Guru Nanak Dev Ji is the first Guru of Sikhs’. Guru Ji taught righteousness, compassion and equality to his Sikhs. In this article, we will briefly discuss the family background of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the three fundamentals Sikh values that Guru Ji emphasized on through the stories of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life and their Bani.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in Kattak, Sudi Puranmashi 1526 Bikrami (Full moon of the month of Kattak in the year 1526 Bikrami Year) which converts into Wednesday, 29th October 1469 AD. Guru Ji was born in Rai Bhoe Ki Talwandi, now known as Sri Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, in the Bedi lineage of the Kshatriya clan. Guru Ji’ father was Baba Mehta Kalu Ji (also known as Mehta Kalyan Chand) and mother was Mata Tripta Ji. Guru Ji had an elder sister named Bebe Nanaki Ji who was five years older than Guru Ji. The name Nanak has following two meanings that also represents the qualities Guru Nanak Dev Ji had.
N + An + Ak = The Being without pain
N + Anak = Without Diversification
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was married to Mata Sulakhni Ji of village Pakhoe ke Randhawa (Batala) and had two sons, Baba Sri Chand Ji and Baba Lakhmi Daas Ji. Guru Ji established two cities in their lifetime known as Kartarpur Sahib and Dera Baba Nanak.
Why did Guru Nanak Dev Ji come to Earth?
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was given Guruship by Vaheguru (Wondrous Enlightener). Guru Nanak Dev Ji was sent by Vaheguru Ji on a mission to spread the Truth and relieve people from suffering. Bahi Gurdas Ji states this in the following quote of their Bani.
ਸੁਣੀ ਪੁਕਾਰਿ ਦਾਤਾਰ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਗ ਮਾਹਿ ਪਠਾਇਆ।
The benefactor Lord listened to the cries (of humanity) and sent Guru Nanak to this world.
Mughal rulers during the time of Guru Nanak Dev Ji were Behlol Lodhi, Sikandar Lodhi, Ibrahim Lodhi, Babar and Humayun. In the following Bani quote, Guru Nanak Dev Ji explains the situation of people when rulers had taken away their freedom and righteousness and truth did not exist.
ਕਲਿ ਕਾਤੀ ਰਾਜੇ ਕਾਸਾਈ ਧਰਮੁ ਪੰਖ ਕਰਿ ਉਡਰਿਆ ॥ ਕੂੜੁ ਅਮਾਵਸ ਸਚੁ ਚੰਦ੍ਰਮਾ ਦੀਸੈ ਨਾਹੀ ਕਹ ਚੜਿਆ ॥
The Dark Age of Kali Yuga is the knife, and the kings are butchers; righteousness has sprouted wings and flown away. In this dark night of falsehood, the moon of Truth is not visible anywhere.
Three Fundamental Values
Guru Nanak Dev Ji established many fundamental values that Sikhs around the world still follow till today, some of which include the 3 basic principles of Naam Japna (recitation of God’s Name), Kirat Karni (earning an honest living) and Vand ke Chakna (sharing with others).
Naam Japna: Recitation of Creator’s Name
From a young age, Guru Nanak Dev Ji challenged meaningless religious rituals and idolatry prayers. Instead Guru Ji prioritized having a personal and internal connection with Vaheguru.
Given Guru Ji was born in an upper-caste, at the age of nine, their parents arranged a ceremony for Guru Ji to receive a Janeu, a sacred Hindu thread that high-caste men wear which marks the start of their formal education. When the priest, Pandit Hardayal, came to drape the thread on young Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Ji stopped the priest and asked about the purpose of wearing a Janeu. Guru Ji questioned why it was only restricted to upper-class men? Why are lower-class people and women not allowed to wear Janeu?
The Pandit explained to Guru Ji that it is not any thread, but instead a sacred Janeu which would distinguish upper-caste, encourage moral actions, and help in the next life. Pushing back against familial and societal pressure, Guru Nanak Dev Ji refused to wear the Janeu saying that the thread was temporary—easily broken and dirtied—and promoted inequality.
Then Guru Nanak Dev Ji gave an Updesh (teaching) which is recorded in the Asa Ki Vaar and is as follows.
ਦਇਆ ਕਪਾਹ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਸੂਤੁ ਜਤੁ ਗੰਢੀ ਸਤੁ ਵਟੁ ॥ ਏਹੁ ਜਨੇਊ ਜੀਅ ਕਾ ਹਈ ਤ ਪਾਡੇ ਘਤੁ ॥
Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist.
This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.
They disappeared during a morning bath in the Vain River. Days passed and everyone, except Bebe Nanaki Ji, gave up hope on finding Guru Ji again. Three days later, Guru Ji appeared from the river unharmed and uttered the words “Na koi Hindu na koi Musalman,” meaning “there is no Hindu or Muslim.” Everyone originates from the same Vaheguru. Hearing this, Sultanpur town’s Nawab Daulat Khan was shocked and decided to test if Guru Ji actually believed this by asking Guru Ji to partake in Namaz (Muslim prayer), at the mosque. Unhesitating, Guru Ji went to the mosque to participate in the Namaz. However, during the actual prayer, Guru Ji did not perform the Namaz. The Qazi (Muslim priest) later asked Guru Ji, why you did not perform the Namaz? Guru Nanak Dev Ji replied, you were not here doing the Namaz so who should I have done my Namaz with? The Qazi was simply reciting the Namaz without any concentration. Instead, he was thinking about how to protect a newborn farm animal from falling into the well. Guru Ji made him realize that one must do their prayers with love and devotion while paying full attention to what they are saying, only then they will be able to connect with the divine. In Pauri 21 of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak Dev Ji says to clean your soul through connecting to Naam.
ਤੀਰਥੁ ਤਪੁ ਦਇਆ ਦਤੁ ਦਾਨੁ ॥ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਪਾਵੈ ਤਿਲ ਕਾ ਮਾਨੁ ॥
ਸੁਣਿਆ ਮੰਨਿਆ ਮਨਿ ਕੀਤਾ ਭਾਉ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਗਤਿ ਤੀਰਥਿ ਮਲਿ ਨਾਉ ॥
Pilgrimages, austere discipline, compassion and charity. These, by themselves, bring only an iota of merit.. Listening and believing with love and humility in your mind, Cleanse yourself with the Name, at the sacred shrine deep within.
Kirat Karni: Earn a Righteous Living
Guru Nanak Dev Ji prioritized working hard. Instead of leading the life of an ascetic and disconnecting from society, Guru Nanak Dev Ji had a family life and worked in the farms.
Throughout their 70 years of life, Guru Nanak Dev Ji went on Udasis (travels) around the world, to the East, South, North (Himalayas) and to the West (Rome, Arab countries) to spread the truth. Guru Ji traveled with Bhai Bala Ji and Bhai Mardana Ji, a longtime Muslim companion, who would play the Rabab, an Afghani instrument, every time Guru Ji recited Bani (teachings). During one of these Udasis, Guru Nanak Dev Ji traveled to a village called Saidpur now known as Aimanabad, Pakistan. At this city, Guru Ji received an invitation to join a feast from a rich and high-caste man, Malik Bhago who looted and cheated poor people. Guru Ji refused and instead went with Bhai Lalo Ji to his house. Bhai Lalo Ji was a poor carpenter and was Shudra, a low-caste. Guru Ji being the Kshatriya caste, were not supposed to interact with them. However, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, rejected such caste-derived inequalities as Bhai Gurdas Ji writes in his writings:
ਚਾਰਿ ਵਰਨ ਇਕ ਵਰਨ ਹੋਇ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲਿ ਹੋਇ ਤਰਾਬਾ।
With Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s effort, all the four castes have become one. Now, they can all join together in sangat and attain liberation.
Malik Bhago got furious that Guru Ji refused his invitation and sent several more invitations to Guru Ji. Guru Ji accepted the invitation and went to his place. Malik Bhago offered them varieties of food and asked Guru Ji why they preferred the basic food of a carpenter to the elaborate feast of a well-known rich person. Guru Nanak Dev Ji replied , “Malik Bhago you take advantage of others, while Bhai Lalo Ji earns an honest living. You have done this feast to cover up your demerits whereas Bhai Lalo serves people with love and compassion”.
Guru Ji gave a teaching to everyone through this incident that one should work hard with honesty to earn a righteous living and not take advantage of others to earn that living.
Vand Ke Chakna: Sharing With Others
At the age of 18, Baba Mehta Kalu Ji gave Guru Nanak Dev Ji twenty rupees to make a profitable bargain. While traveling to the market with Bhai Mardana Ji, Guru Ji came across a group of saints who had not eaten for days. Guru Ji spent those twenty rupees to feed the saints. Upon returning home and facing Mehta Kalu’s anger, Guru Nanak Dev Ji explained that they had done a “Sacha Sauda” (True Bargain). Guru Nanak Dev Ji started the concept of Langar (community kitchen) and sharing with others regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, caste, etc. In the following GUrbani quote, Guru Ji explains that serving and sharing with others is also a way to connect to the divine.
ਘਾਲਿ ਖਾਇ ਕਿਛੁ ਹਥਹੁ ਦੇਇ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਰਾਹੁ ਪਛਾਣਹਿ ਸੇਇ ॥੧॥
One who works for what he eats, and gives some of what he has. O Nanak, he knows the Path. ||1||
Through the Udasis and Gurbani, Guru Ji was able to connect with a lot of people around the world. Guru Ji blessed Sikhs with Raag Kirtan (Classical Sikh devotional music) and the Gurmukhi alphabets. Guru Ji’s Jot (light) is contained in the next nine living Sikh Gurus and Sri Guru Granth sahib Ji. Guru Nanak Dev Ji is one of history’s leading revolutionaries. Guru Ji promoted equality in India’s inherently unequal caste system, challenged meaningless religious rituals, and interacted lovingly with everyone regardless of religion or socioeconomic status. Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Joti Jot (immersing into the Eternal Light) day falls on Assu Vadi Panchami, 1596 B which converts into 11th October 1539 AD.