THE SIKH RELIGION
ITS GURUS, SACRED WRITINGS AND AUTHORS
BY MAX ARTHUR MACAULIFFE
LIFE OF GURU NANAK
The Guru, on one occasion seeing his parents and relations standing around him to consider his condition, composed a hymn in the Rag Gauri Cheti:–
Since when have I a mother? Since when a father? Whence have we come?
2 Gauri is a râgini or consort of Sri Râg, and has nine varieties, one of which is the Cheti.]
Kalu then desired that his son should embrace a mercantile life. He instructed him to go to Chuharkana in the present district of Gujranwala, and buy there salt, turmeric, and other articles to trade with. Nanak set out with a servant, and on the way met some holy men, whose vows obliged them to remain naked in all seasons. Nanak was struck with this peculiarity, and inquired of their head-priest Santren if they had no clothes to wear, or if, having clothes, they found it uncomfortable to
[1. The ancient Indian Geographers divided the earth into nine regions or continents.
wear them. Before he could receive an answer, Nanak was reminded by his servant of his more practical mission, and counselled to proceed to Chuharkana in obedience to his father’s instructions. Nanak, however, was not to be thwarted in his object. He pressed the priest for an answer. The priest replied that his company required not clothes or food, except in so far as the latter was voluntarily bestowed on them. To avoid all luxury they dwelt in forests, and not in peopled towns and villages. Nanak thought he had found what he had sought for, and said to his servant that he had already obeyed his father’s instructions, which were to spend his money to the best advantage. He therefore gave the holy men the money with which his father had provided him. Upon this they asked him his name, and he said that he was Nanak Nirankari, or Nanak the worshipper of the Formless One, that is, God. Nanak was prevailed upon to take the money to the nearest village to buy food for the holy men, who had not tasted any for some days.
When the faqirs took their departure, Nanak was censured by his servant for his reckless prodigality. He then realized the nature of his act, and did not go home, but sat under a tree outside the village of Talwandi. He was there found by his father, who cuffed him for his disobedience. The aged tree under which he sat is still preserved. A wall has been. built around it for protection. Within the enclosure are found religious men in prayer and contemplation. The tree is known as the Thamb Sahib, or the holy trunk.
Jai Ram, during his yearly visits to Talwandi at the close of the spring harvest, had ample opportunities of cultivating Nanak’s acquaintance, and appreciating his good qualities. Rai Bular, too, was no apathetic advocate of Nanak. It was agreed
between him and Jai Ram that Nanak was a saint ill-treated by his father; and Jai Ram promised to cherish him and find him occupation in Sultanpur. Nanak’s departure to his brother-in-law was precipitated by another act of worldly indiscretion. He had entered into companionship with a faqir who visited the village. Nanak told him, as he did the other faqirs, that his name was Nanak Nirankari; and a friendly intimacy sprang up between them. The faqir was probably a swindler, and coveted a brass lota, or drinking vessel, and a gold wedding ring which Nanak wore, and asked that they might be presented to him. Nanak acceded to the request, to the further sorrow and indignation of his parents. After that it was not difficult to induce Kalu to allow his son to proceed to Sultanpur to join Jai Ram and Nanaki.
The other members of Nanak’s family also unanimously approved of his decision. Nanak’s wife alone, on seeing him make preparations for his journey, began to weep, and said, ‘My life, even here thou hast not loved me; when thou goest to a foreign country, how shalt thou return?’ He answered, ‘Simple woman, what have I been doing here?’ Upon this she again entreated him, ‘When thou satest down at home, I possessed in my estimation the sovereignty of the whole earth; now this world is of no avail to me.’ Upon this he grew compassionate, and said, ‘Be not anxious; thy sovereignty shall ever abide.’ She replied, ‘My life, I will not remain behind; take me with thee.’ Then Nanak said, ‘I am now going away. If I can earn my living, I will send for thee. Obey my order.’ She then remained silent.
When Nanak asked Rai Bular’s permission to depart, the Rai gave him a banquet. The Rai then requested him to give him any order he pleased, that is, to state what favour he might grant him. Nanak replied:–
Jai Ram introduced Nanak as an educated man to the Governor, Daulat Khan, who appointed him storekeeper and gave him a dress of honour as a preliminary of service. Nanak began to apply himself to his duties, and so discharged them that everybody was gratified and congratulated him. He was also highly praised to the Governor, who was much pleased with his new servant. Out of the provisions which Guru Nanak was allowed, he devoted only a small portion to his own maintenance; the rest he gave to the poor. He used continually to spend his nights siring hymns to his Creator.
If Nanak, when weighing out provisions, went as far as the number thirteen–tera–he used to pause and several times repeat the word–which also means ‘Thine,’ that is, ‘I am Thine, O Lord,’–before he went on weighing.
The minstrel Mardana subsequently came from Talwandi and became Nanak’s private servant. Mardana was of the tribe of Dums, who are minstrels by heredity. He used to accompany Nanak on the rabab, or rebeck. Other friends too followed. Nanak introduced them to the Khan and procured them employment. They all got a living by Nanak’s favour, and were happy. At dinner-time they came and sat down with him, and every night there was continual singing. A watch before day, Nanak used to go to the neighbouring Bein river and perform his ablutions. When day dawned, he went to discharge the duties of his office.
One day after bathing Nanak disappeared in the
[1. This instrument, which was of Arabian origin, has fallen into disuse in Northern India. It had from four to six strings of goat-gut with steel strings for resonance.]
forest, and was taken in a vision to God’s presence. He was offered a cup of nectar, which he gratefully accepted. God said to him, ‘I am with thee. I have made thee happy, and also those who shall take thy name. Go and repeat Mine, and cause others to do likewise. Abide uncontaminated by the world. Practise the repetition of My name, charity, ablutions, worship, and meditation. I have given thee this cup of nectar, a pledge of My regard.’ The Guru stood up and made a prostration. He then sang the following verses to the accompaniment of the spontaneous music of heaven:–
[1. That is, were I to lead even the most ascetic life possible.]
I should still not be able to express Thy worth; how great shall I call Thy name?
Hereupon a voice was heard, ‘O Nanak, thou hast seen My sovereignty.’ Then Nanak said, ‘O Sire, what is anything that mortal can say, and what can be said or heard after what I have seen? Even the lower animals sing Thy praises.’ Upon this, the Guru uttered the preamble of the Japji:–
When Nanak had finished, a voice was heard again: ‘O Nanak, to him upon whom My look of kindness resteth, be thou merciful, as I too shall be merciful. My name is God, the primal Brahm, and thou art the divine Guru.’
The Guru then uttered the following hymn:–
[1. Sri Râg.
2 The ordinary translation of Gur parsâd, ‘By the Guru’s favour.’ does not seem appropriate here.]
After three days the Guru came forth from the forest. The people thought he had been drowned in the neighbouring river; and how had he returned to life? He then went home, and gave all that he had to the poor. A great crowd assembled, and Nawab Daulat Khan, the Governor, also came. He inquired what had happened to Nanak, but received no reply. Understanding, however, that the Guru’s acts were the result of his abandonment of this world, the Governor felt sad, said it was a great pity, and went home.
It was the general belief at this time that Nanak was, possessed with an evil spirit, and a Mulla or Muhammadan priest was summoned to exorcise it. The Mulla began to write an amulet to hang round Nanak’s neck. While the Mulla was writing Nanak uttered the following:–
When the field is spoiled where is the harvest heap?
Cursed are the lives of those who write God’s name and sell it.
The Mulla, paying no attention to Nanak’s serious objurgation, continued the ceremony of exorcism and finally addressed the supposed evil spirit, ‘Who art thou?’ The following reply issued from Nanak’s mouth:–
Some say poor Nanak is a sprite, some say that he is a demon,
Others again that he is a man.
Those who were present then concluded that Nanak was not possessed, but had become insane.
On hearing this Nanak ordered Mardana to play the rebeck and continued the stanza:–
[1. Sri Rag.]
After this, Guru Nanak donned a religious costume and associated constantly with religious men. He remained silent for one day, and the next he uttered the pregnant announcement, ‘There is no Hindu and no Musalman.’ The Sikhs interpret this to mean generally that both Hindus and Muhammadans had forgotten the precepts of their religions. On a complaint made by the Nawab’s Qazi, or expounder of Muhammadan law, the Guru was summoned before Daulat Khan to give an explanation of his words. He refused to go, saying, ‘What have I to do with your Khan?’ The Guru was again called a madman. His mind was full of his mission, and whenever he spoke be merely said, ‘There is no Hindu and no Musalman.’ The Qazi was not slow to make another representation to the Governor on the impropriety of Nanak’s utterance. Upon this the Governor sent for him. A footman went and told the Guru that the Governor had requested him to come to him. Then Guru Nanak stood up and went to the Governor. The Governor addressed him, ‘Nanak, it is my misfortune that such an officer as thou should have become a faqir.’ The Governor then seated him beside him, and directed his Qazi to ask, now that Nanak was in conversational mood, the meaning of his utterance. The Qazi became thoughtful, and smiled. He then asked Nanak, ‘What hath happened to thee, that
[1. S. colloquialism.
thou sayest there is no Hindu and no Musalman?
The Guru, not being engaged in controversy with Hindus at the time, gave no answer to the first part of the question. In explanation of his statement that there was no Musalman he uttered the following:–
The Qazi then put further questions to the Guru. The Guru called on Mardana to play the rebeck, and sang to it the following replies and instructions adapted for Muhammadans:–
[1 In the original, ‘to be called a Musalman.’ The same idiom is found in Greek.
2. Also translated–(a) Let him first of all make his religion agreeable to men; (b) let him first love his saints and his religion.
3. Also translated–(a) which bring trouble; (b) to dispel pride and worldly love is to be filed or cleansed of impurities.
4. This verse is also translated–Being resigned to God, obedient (dîn), and lowly (mahâne), let man set aside all fear of birth and death–the transmigration which so exercises the oriental mind.
5. Mâjh ki Wâr.
6. The great cube-like Muhammadan temple at Makka to which the faithful make pilgrimages.]
The Qazi became astonished at being thus lectured. Prayers had become to him a matter of idle lip-repetition of Arabic texts, while his mind was occupied with his worldly affairs.
It was now the time for afternoon prayer. The whole company, including Nanak, went to the mosque. Up rose the Qazi and began the service. The Guru looked towards him and laughed in his face. When prayer was over, the Qazi complained to the Nawab of Nanak’s conduct. The Guru said he had laughed because the Qazi’s prayer was not
[1. Literally–rights, or what is due to thy neighbour.
2. The Musalmâns abstain from the flesh of swine, and the Hindus from the flesh of kine.
3. What is not thine own.
4. This means that, if wealth be improperly obtained, a portion of it bestowed in alms will be no atonement.
5. Prayers, or rather texts from the Qurân, are repeated by strict Musalmâns at dawn, at midday, in the afternoon, in the evening, and before going to sleep at night.]
accepted of God. The Qazi asked Nanak to state the reason for his conclusion. The Guru replied that immediately before prayer the Qazi had unloosed a new-born filly. While he ostensibly performed divine service, he remembered there was a well in the enclosure, and his mind was filled with apprehension lest the filly should fall into it. His heart was therefore not in his devotions. The Guru informed the Nawab also that while he was pretending to pray, he was thinking of purchasing horses in Kabul. Both admitted the truth of the Guru’s statements, said he was favoured of God, and fell at his feet. The Guru then uttered the following:–
The whole company of Musalmans at the capital–the descendants of the Prophet, the tribe of shaikhs,[l] the qazi, the muftis, and the Nawab himself, were all amazed at Nanak’s words. The Muhammadans then asked the Guru to tell them of the power and authority of his God, and how salvation could be obtained. Upon this the Guru addressed them as follows:–
At God’s gate there dwell thousands of Muhammads, thousands of Brahmas, of Vishnus, and of Shivs;
Thousands upon thousands of exalted Rams, thousands of spiritual guides, thousands of religious garbs;
[1. Shaikhs are superiors of darweshes or Muhammadan monks, but the title has now in India a much more extended signification, and is very often adopted by Hindu converts to Islam.
2. Muhammadan jurists.
3. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiv, form the Hindu trinity, and are respectively the gods of creation, preservation, and destruction.
4. Ram Chandar, king of Ayudhia, deified by the Hindus. He and his consort Sita will be found often mentioned.]
It is said that Daulat Khan, the Musalman ruler, on hearing this sublime hymn, fell at Guru Nanak’s feet. The people admitted that God was speaking through Nanak’s mouth, and that it was useless to catechize him further. The Nawab, in an outburst
[1. The Sanyâsis are anchorets who have abandoned the world, and are popularly believed to have overcome nature. The word sanyâs means renunciation.
2. Gorakh was a famous Jogi who lived many centuries ago. His followers slit their ears, and make Shiv the special object of their worship. The name Gorakh, meaning Supporter of the earth, is often used for God in the sacred writings of the Sikhs.
3. Sidhs, in Sanskrit Siddhs, are persons who by the practice of Jog are popularly supposed to acquire extended life and miraculous powers.
4. Sâdhik, persons aspiring to be Sidhs.
5. Banno’s Granth Sâhib, An account of Banno will be found in the life of Guru Arjan.]
of affectionate admiration, offered him a sacrifice of his authority and estate. Nanak, however, was in no need of temporal possessions, and went again into the society of religious men. They too offered him their homage, and averred that he was desirous of the truth and abode in its performance. Nanak replied:–
Upon this the faqirs kissed the Guru’s feet, the Governor also came, and all the people, both Hindu and Musalman, attended to salute and take final leave of him. Some complaints had been made of his extravagance as storekeeper; but, when the Governor made an investigation, he found the
[1. A metaphor from the dyer’s trade. Clothes before the process of dyeing are steeped in alum as a base or mordant the better to retain the dye.
2. Cholra, a coat which reaches to the knees; choli, its diminutive, is a woman’s bodice.
3 That is, man will be happy if he by good works make himself acceptable to God. The hymn is from Tilang.]
storehouse full and all the Guru’s accounts correct. Nay, it was discovered that money was due to him from the State. The Guru, however, refused to receive it and requested the Nawab to dispose of it in relieving the wants of the poor.