The Holy Gurus and their Commandments
A new chapter was to commence in the history of mankind. A new psychology was to be initiated amongst men and women. A dynasty of illuminated prophets was destined to come into being in order to impress on mankind that superb actions could only be born out of pure thoughts.
This world has been, through the ages, torn by superstition and conflict . The precise period in India’s history with which we are here concerned had, however, its own peculiarities. For ages, the Muslim invaders had been suppressing the religions of the inhabitants of this country and there was a scene of conflict.
It was in this world torn by hate and religious strife that a Divinely- ordained event took place. In 1469, a child was born, radiating light . Nanak Dev was the name given to him by his Hindu parents, Mehta Kalyan Das the father and Mata Tripta the mother. The parents must have been repositories of exceptional gifts. Their child was destined to be a teacher with an abiding message.
The ancestry of Guru Nanak Dev was traceable to "Suryavanshi" Kshatriya clan, which had at one time nursed great scholars who used to expound the Vedas to the congregations that collected to learn the true meaning of religion.
From the very outset, Nanak, the harbinger of Divine glory, displayed the holy spark in all his doings. The place where he was born in April, 1469 was at that time called Talwandi which, following the pattern of his name, later came to be known as Nankana Sahib. It is presently in Pakistan. His advent was amongst people whose moral and physical strength was constantly declining. Apart from wealth in various forms, young women used to be carried away by the plundering armies. It is stated that at one time, Indian females were sold as cheap slaves in the markets of Ghazni and Kabul. Why had the Indian people been brought to such a state of demoralization? Blind superstition ruled everywhere. There was no consciousness of the strength which the people still had.
As the child Nanak Dev progressed in life, the day came when the ceremony for his wearing the Brahminical sacred thread was to be performed. The Divinely- guided child, revolting against empty rituals, threw up his arms and persistently refused to wear the thread. The Sikh Scripture, the Holy Granth Sahib, has it recorded on this event :
Nanak tagg na tuttaee je tag hovai jore". (Saith Nanak, the thread would not snap or be torn if it had everlasting strength in it)
He sought to prescribe for his followers that they would not wear any thread, but that they would always have inside them the true thread, inspiring them to truth and devotion.
Around the time that Guru Nanak began his great mission, another important development began in the history of India. Babar, founder of the Mughal State, established his rule over the country. Simultaneously, Guru Nanak Dev established what has come to be recognized as the "Sachi Patshahi" (steadfast truthful kingship). This was the title where with all the Sikh Gurus were to be addressed.
The Guru undertook the mission to bring about a revolution in men’s minds. Four times, he set out on long journeys in different directions in order to spread his new mission. He embodied his vision in the sacred word, Gurubani. In Japuji, his immortal composition, it is affirmed:
"The Supreme is One and Sole;
His name is true;
He is the Creator;
He has no enmity with anyone;
He is free from the bondage of life and death.
He is self-existent Out of graciousness;
He inspires blissful worship;
He truthfully existed at the commencement;
He shall continue to be the truth throughout the ages;
He verily is in existence;
Nanak says, he shall verily evermore continue to exist"
The first commandment was that it was to be accepted as a matter of firm faith that the supreme Lord of the Universe, being the creator was fearless, bore enmity towards none, was self-existent and He alone was to be worshipped.
By establishing the faith in the existence of the supremacy of one God, Guru Nanak Dev sought to demolish all false worship, superstition and the hegemony of priests with conflicting theologies.
The second commandment was that, there being one God, all His creatures were to be treated as equal.
The Guru’s aim was to cut through the shackles of caste and creed. Mankind was to be liberated from the imposition of false divisions. All were equal in the eyes of the Creator, be they high caste or low caste Shudras.
Guru Nanak’s parents were very careful in looking after his education. His teacher, Gopal, taught him the current languages, and the Gurubani discloses that he was well versed in Sanskrit lore as well as the Muslim tradition. He also was endowed with the gift of music, and his hymns were set to the various musical measures, as is evidenced by the Granth Sahib, the holy Scripture of the Sikh faith.
His soul being always in tune with the Divine, Guru Nanak Dev became the source of the dissemination of God’s Word to mankind. As he advanced in years, Guru Nanak noticed that preachers of religion, whether Hindus or Muslims, were indulging in seeking satisfaction of their own greed. They were not interested in teaching true religion and uplifting the people. The Guru’s aim was to change the way of life of all mankind by spreading the truth. True religion did not require renunciation of the world. God was present with man in all situations. Guru Nanak, discarding the idea of mendicancy in religion, decided to pass his life as a family man. While engaged in service to God. He sought to inculcate the truth that it was necessary to work in order to earn one’s living, and not to subsist on religious charities.
His brother-in-law, Jai Ram, to whom his sister Nanki was married, had persuaded him to come to Sultanpur where they resided. By that time, Guru Nanak Dev and his wife Sulakhni had got two sons, who had been named Siri Chand and Lakhmi Das. By evolving a happy family devoted to God, Guru Nanak had, by personal example, provided guidance to all his followers, that they were to live as normal human beings, performing life’s appointed tasks with firm faith in God.
The Master’s commandment was that all people should earn their livelihood by self-exertion. Each one was to be a worker, and was to endeavor to attain divine bliss by performing duty with faith and honesty.
At Sultanpur the Governor there, Daulat Khan Lodhi, appointed him the Modi, that is, keeper of the State Granary. There Guru Nanak stopped all corruption and the appropriate quantity of provisions began to be weighed out to all.
He was loved and venerated far and wide. While at Sultanpur, he acquired the companionship of Bhai Bala as well as of his permanent companion, Mardana, who used to play on the Rabab (rebeck). Mardana acquired the knowledge regarding various Ragas and would produce the appropriate strains while the Master sang the Gurubani.
It was reported to the Nawab that Nanak was freely disbursing the provisions of the granary without keeping an account and that it might soon become empty. When the stock was checked, it was found that the provisions had not diminished and that all was in order.
The stay of Guru Nanak at Sultanpur was ever an event of great historical importance, because it was there that he took a dip in the stream flowing nearby. It was on the third day after disappearance that he came out . As recorded by his early biographers, he had ascended to the celestial regions and reached the Divine Presence. The Lord Creator blessed him, and conferred on him the title of Guru (Teacher) than which there is no higher title. Coming out of the waters with his self absorbed in heavenly peace, he delivered the crux of his message with the words:
"There is no Hindu and no Mussalman", implying that these were false distinctions and did not hold good in the eyes of God who had made all mankind. This was the beginning of a new era. Hindus and Muslims gathered around him. Mardana playing on the rebeck, Guru Nanak started singing, melting hard hearts with his sweet strains and instilling love of God in all.
After some time, he began the "Udasis", that is, the journeys to spread his teachings far and wide. Accompanied by Bhai Bala and Mardana, Guru Nanak traveled to distant places in order to preach to the people that they were to believe in the existence of one God, discarding all other objects of worship. It became clear that at all moments God was present in him. He set an example to the others by living abstemiously and devoting himself to the service of God and man. On one occasion, a great congregation assembled at the house of a rich man Malik Bhago where delicious food was to be served. Guru Nanak preferred to go to a poor man Lallo’s house where he got only coarse food. When asked about it, he told Lallo that God’s word was being spontaneously revealed to him. The Mughal invader was proceeding from Kabul to Hindustan in order to conquer and plunder. Suffering was the result of a godless way of life. Muslim and Hindu women were both to suffer at the hands of the ruthless invaders. Guru Nanak Dev, who witnessed this cataclysmic event, expressed his anguish over the sufferings of the Indian people, and awakened his countrymen and mankind, in general, against living selfishly, forgetful of God. Such a life would bring suffering like what the invasion of Babar had brought on.
The great teacher went to Hardwar when the Baisakhi, or Indian New Year’s Day, was being celebrated there. He entered the Ganga for a bath. He found people throwing up water towards the rising Sun in the East. He was told that they were offering the water to the Sun so that it could benefit the souls of their ancestors. Guru Nanak began to throw water in the opposite direction. When he was questioned, he told the persons gathered around him that he was trying to send water to crops growing in his fields. They laughed at him and told him that the water which was falling back in the river could never reach his fields hundreds of miles away. Guru Nanak, with the Divine glow on his face, commented that if the water was not to travel a few hundred miles, how could it travel millions of miles to reach the Sun, and be of benefit to their ancestors?
Guru Nanak’s life is full of illuminating acts which educated the people’s mind to acquire faith in God. His teaching dispelled superstitions. His visits took him to far-off Kamrup in Assam. The legend regarding that place was that Kamdev, the God of Love and Passion who had suffered destruction on account of a fiery glance of Lord Shiva, had regained life in that part of the country. Witchcraft prevailed in Kamrup. The women there were credited with casting spells on men. It is stated that they practiced magic which turned their victims into birds and beasts. Historians state that there was a woman called Padma, who later on came to be known as Nur Shah. She was the queen of the sorceresses there. Mardana, who used to wander away often, was captured and produced before Nur Shah. In her presence, he praised Guru Nanak. Nur Shah felt offended. By her magic, she turned Mardana into a ram. Mardana remained under her spell, and did not return to Guru Nanak The great Guru having intuitive knowledge of what had happened to Mardana, proceeded to the place where Nur Shah was. It is stated that as soon as the Guru appeared, his presence caused a revolutionary change in the atmosphere. Nur Shah felt the impact of his spiritual power. She became a changed person. In the presence of the Guru, all those who had been captured by her obtained their release. There are a number of anecdotes associated with Guru Nanak, showing that spiritual power transcends so as to destroy evil and change the evil-doers.
Kauda, a cannibal, was converted to a man of religion.
Guru Nanak went to far-off places in hills where he had conversations with great yogis sitting in meditation. He convinced them that the service of mankind could be accomplished by them only by bringing their teaching to the common folk, who at present, were without spiritual guides. This touched the Yogis who were living in mountain caves, away from the concourse of mankind. Such was Guru Nanak’s reaction to the occult practices of Yoga all through.
Guru Nanak, in order to spread his teachings, visited Banaras, Puri and other religious centers to which the people were attracted. After a brief stay at Puri, he went to places like Bahrampur and Ramaghat He also went to the present site of Calcutta and Cuttack.
Moving westward, he crossed the deserts and reached Mecca. There he preached to narrow-minded theologians the message of universal humanity, and he pointed out the immanence of God in all spots and directions. Like the Yogis earlier, he convinced the Muslim theologian too, of the error of a narrow conception of religion, which should be widely humanitarian and inspire man to serve all fellow beings.
Guru Nanak also crossed over into Ceylon (Lanka) and made a unique impact on the people there.
It is chronicled that on his return, he visited Golconda and Bidar. To him all men and women being equal, he vested in that area the shrine associated with Pir Yakub Ali and another Muslim saint. In that area, the people used to suffer because there was shortage of drinking water. Guru Nanak caused the discovery of a spring which began to supply fresh water in abundance. After his name, the people named the spot ‘Nanak Jheera’. These days, a temple exists at the spot. In the North, he went into Kashmir and Ladakh.
Before closing the narrative, it may be mentioned that in Baghdad and other places in the Middle East, there exists evidence of his visits. There is a shrine in Baghdad which commemorates his stay. There he preached the doctrine of the brotherhood of man and tolerance to a people who were exclusive in their religious views. He came to be known amongst people there as "Hazrat Baba Nanak Shah".
After a life of travels, he settled down at Kartarpur, on the banks of river Ravi, in the Punjab. There he kept a small farm, and in the community that grew, were developed the principles and practice of service to God and man. Here many stray travelers would come and be fed. Thus did he pass his last days in bringing to larger and larger groups his teachings of love to God and service to humanity.
Time had now arrived for him to find a successor to carry on his mission.
A noble youth bearing the name Lehna had originally been living in the present district of Ferozepur, and later shifted to Khadur, now in the district of Amritsar. He was a great worshipper of the Goddess Durga. He came into contact with Bhai Jodh who was living in Khadur. This person followed a way of religion distinct from his neighbors. Lehna made enquiries and came to know that Bhai Jodh was devoted to Guru Nanak. It was a matter of chance that he happened to listen to the recitation of Japuji, Guru Nanak’s great spiritual text, from Bhai Jodh. He was chained to the spot. Lehna was very deeply impressed. While going to Kangra for worship of Durga, Bhai Lehna, accompanied by his followers, decided to visit Guru Nanak at Kartarpur. At the outskirts of the colony, he saw a divine personage wearing simple clothes, standing in the fields. He enquired if it could be possible to guide him to the place of Guru Nanak. While Bhai Lehna was riding a horse, his companion walked on with him and after some time indicated the place where Guru Nanak was living. Bhai Lehna stopped to collect the presents which he wanted to offer to the Guru. When he went inside, he found that his guide had been no other than the Guru himself. The event caused a spontaneous illumination in him. Bhai Lehna fell at the feet of the Master. Guru Nanak asked him his name. The answer was "Lehna" (one who is to receive). Guru Nanak immediately observed, "Then you being ‘Lehna’, you will receive whatever I can give." The smiling face of the great Guru lighted in the new disciple an eternal flame.
Bhai Lehna turned to his companions and told them that he was not going to worship the flame at Kangra any more and was going to remain with Guru Nanak.
The process of imparting the light of one personality to another was going to be initiated.
Bhai Lehna possessed the God-given quality of obedience. He was the embodiment of divinity in thought, word end deed and without hesitation accepted the following commandments of the Master:
GOD IS, AT ALL TIMES, ONE. GOD ALONE IS TO BE WORSHIPPED AT ALL TIMES. THE CREATOR IS PRESENT WITH ALL BEINGS AND IN ALL SITUATIONS. THAT IN BEING DEVOTED TO GOD ALMIGHTY, NO ONE SHOULD INCUR ANY FEAR OF ANY KIND. NO ONE SHOULD THINK OF DOING ANY EVIL ACT AND CAUSE ANY INJURY TO ANYONE. ALL MUST EARN THEIR LIVING OUT OF SELF-EXERTION. IN ORDER TO ATTAIN ETERNAL BLISS AND PARDON AT THE HANDS OF GOD ALL MUST PRACTICE FORGIVENESS. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO TAKE FOOD EARNED OUT OF ONE’S OWN EFFORT. IT IS EQUALLY ESSENTIAL TO SHARE IT WITH OTHERS. ALL MEN AND WOMEN ARE TO BE TREATED AS EQUALS. FOOD IS TO BE TAKEN TO SUSTAIN LIFE AND NOT TO SATISFY GREED OR LUST.
Guru Nanak felt convinced that it was Bhai Lehna who was to be imparted the light contained in the Guru himself. Bhai Lehna was to be the torch-bearer after him. It is stated that Bhai Lehna had to pass through several hard tests. It is recorded that one day, something had fallen into a ditch. Guru Nanak in turn asked his sons Sin Chand and Lakhmi Das to take the article out of the dirty ditch. They pleaded their inability. Their attitude depicted that they were proud of being his sons. When the Guru asked Bhai Lehna, he did not have a second thought and at once dived into the ditch and brought out the article. There were similar other tests to find out the disciple’s degree of humility and obedience, without which no one can be expected to set himself up as a teacher of mankind. Guru Nanak, on being convinced of his fitness, embraced Lehna He conferred on him the name ‘Angad’ (born of his limb) and told him that he had become a limb of his body. Thus the Guru had selected his successor. The moment arrived when Guru Nanak in the presence of all his followers collected for the occasion, bowed before Bhai Lehna and pronounced that he had become Guru Angad Dev, the second Master. Guru Angad was now to be venerated as Guru Nanak’s other self.
After some days, Guru Nanak’s light blended with the universal light. This happened in 1539. Evermore he was to be present with those who loved him. As the spiritual guide of his devotees, Guru Angad Dev, the Second Nanak, assumed Guruship.
The process of preaching the Sikh gospel was continued by the new Guru.