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Guru Nanak

Early in his life, Nanak showed signs of knowledge and intelligence beyond his years. At the age of six he was placed with PanditBrijlal to learn Hindi and Sanskrit; later at the age of thirteen, to learn Persian and Arabic from MaulviQutub-ud-Din. To each of his preceptors, he displayed extraordinary sagacity, not only in mastering his instruction but in the questions which he asked. He asserted that without comprehending the essence of knowledge, even a literate person would remain ignorant. His questions confounded his teachers. His homilies impressed others.


From an early age Nanak thought only of the Creator and expressed remarkable insight into the role of the divine power on this earth. Incidents recorded about his childhood reveal unusual characteristics which the boy possessed. Among the first to recognize his extraordinary qualities were his sister and RaiBular.


When Nanak was about eleven, his father arranged the customary rite of investing him with the sacred thread (worn by upper caste Hindus, particularly Brahmins). When the family called PanditHardyal (priest) recited the appropriate mantras (orisons) and tried to place the thread over the boy’s head, he caught the pandit’s wrist and questioned him about the purpose of the thread and its efficiency. He effectively refuted the pandit’s explanations and declined to wear a symbol which sought to differentiate between man and man on the consideration of caste. He expounded on its ephemeral nature and propounded his own understanding of what is required of human beings. These thoughts were expressed in a shabad (hymn) included; woven from the cotton of compassion and the yarn of contentment with the knot of continence and the strength of truth. “O Pandit, if you have such a janeou for the soul then put it on. This will not break or be soiled; it will neither burn nor perish”.


Mehta Kalu became reconciled to the fact that formal education was not for his son. So he tried to guide him into adopting some calling, in order that he could settle down in life: cattle herding, farming, trading, shop-keeping, accountancy … but to no avail. Nanak was totally imbued with his spiritual proclivities. This was manifested in several incidents recorded in the janamsakhis (biographies).


Nanak’s unusual demeanor (he was aloof, moody, lacked interest in play) and general behavior, not normal in the young, greatly perturbed his father. He thought that the boy may be mentally or physically ill. So, he sent for a vaid (physician practicing the ayurvedic system of medicine) who when he came, began his examination by feeling his patient’s pulse. He could not detect any ailment. Nanak expressed his reaction which he later embodied in a couplet included in the AdiGranth on page 1279. When the vaid examined, he began by feeling the pulse. The simpleton does not realize that the pain is in the heart.


At this point, he was sent to his elder sister in Sultanpur where he was employed by a local Nawab (governor) to work as his store keeper. He started his morning with meditation, prayers before meal and on to work. A childhood friend Mardana and Bala also joined him at Sultanpur and remained with him for long.


Nanak was married in 1487. His wife Sulakhni bore him two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das – both born at Sultanpur. While at Sultanpur at his thirty, Nanak had a mystic experience. One morning, he did not return from his morning bath. Those who went to look for him found his clothes on the banks of the stream. It was feared that he had drowned. The Nawab had the stream dredged to recover the body, but in vain. Everyone was distraught. Only Nanki was unperturbed. She was convinced that he would return.


The JanamSakhis vary on details but are agreed that Nanak had a communion with the creator. He is believed to have been conducted into the presence of the Almighty and given a bowl to drink. He was told that it was amrit (nectar) which would give him extraordinary powers. He was blessed and given the gift of His Name (Naam), then commanded to return to the world and to propagate the Name of the True One. Nanak reappeared after three days. He failed to respond to any questions. The following day he declared there is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman.


After this divine message he decided to part from his family in accompany of Bala and Mardana. During his travels, he is said to have gone as far afield as Assam, Dhaka, Puri, Mecca, Baghdad, Kabul, Rameshwaram, Lanka, Kailash and Badrinath, of course many places on the way. This was in addition to constant travel nearer home for more than twenty years. A formidable display of stamina, determination and sense of mission to preach against intolerance, myth and magic, barriers of cast system. Wherever he went he spread his message of love, compassion, truth, righteous living and the Supreme Majesty of the One God.


By 1522 Nanak finally returned home, not to Talwandi but to Kartarpur, the town he had earlier founded on the northern bank of the river Ravi. He was then fifty-three years old when he settled down with his family. Both his parents died the same year and he attended to their last rites. The Master began to collect a following people from near and far, hearing of his life and preaching, came to Kartarpur to see him and hear him. They came to be known as Sikhs from the Sanskrit word shishya, meaning student or disciple.


In the village of Khadur, near TaranTaran, lived Lehna. Like his father, BhaiPheru, before him, he was a pujari (who leads the parayer) at the village temple dedicated to Devi, the goddess Durga. Again as did his father earlier, he conducted an annual pilgrimage of devotees from the village to Vaishno Devi. Setting out on one such journey, he heard about the Guru at Kartarpur and took a detour. The day he spent in the congregation made him decide that he need go no further. He parted company with his group and stayed back. He dedicated himself to the service of the community and of his Guru. Finally, he became an ardent devotee and Guru named him Angad to signify that he was an ang (limb) of his own body and on 15 June 1539 Guru named Angad his successor. On 7 September that year, about two weeks before Guru Nanak’s demise – he elevated him to be his equal as Guru.