Knowing Guru Nanak Sahib Ji
Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston).
Eminent Sikh scholar Bhai Gurdas Ji – a contemporary of Guru Arjun Dev ji, and in whose hand the first copy of Granth Sahib as narrated by the fifth Guru was written – describes the coming of Guru Nanak Paatshah in the following verses:
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਿਆ ਮਿਟੀ ਧੁੰਧ ਜਗ ਚਾਨਣ ਹੋਆ॥
Satgur Nanak Pargetiya Mitee Dhund Jug Chanan Hoa
ਜਿਉਂ ਕਰ ਸੂਰਜ ਨਿਕਲਿਆ ਤਾਰੇ ਛਪੇ ਅੰਧੇਰ ਪਲੋਆ॥
Jio Kar Suraj Nikelya, Tarey Chupey Andher Paloa.
Bhai ji says the advent of Guru Nanak’s spritituality was like the rising of the morning sun whose rays cut through the mist of dawn and lighted the skies, within which brightness, the mighty stars disappeared together with the darkness within which these stars reigned.
In spiritual terms Bhai ji is saying that Guru Nanak’s spirituality is one of enlightenment. It is an enlightenment that is as bright as the rising sun. It is an enlightenment that cuts through the mist of the existing (even if much bigger and older) spiritualties of ritual and superstition. It is a spirituality that is meant for the entirety of mankind.
Some 400 years later, one of India’s most illuminated minds – Sir Ullama Mohamad Iqbal, PhD (Ludwig, Germany) – the son of a Kashmiri Brahmin who converted to Islam and the author of India’s national song Tarana-e-Hind – writes in his Urdu language book Bang-e-dra regarding the coming of the spirituality of enlightenment as follows:
Butkdaa Fir Baad Mudat Sey Roshan Hua
Nuur-e Ibrahim Se Aazar Kaa Ghar Roshan Hua
Once again, after an age, the Temple became radiant.
Once again, the house of God shone with the glory of God.
Shama-e Huq Se Jo Munavar Hai Ye Voh Mehfil Na Thee
Barshey Rehmat Hue Lekin Zamee Kabil Na Thee.
The enlightenment manifested itself
but the audience was not one which prized illumination – it was blind.
The rain of mercy poured from the heavens,
but the land was not one which cherished rains – it was utterly barren.
Aaah Budkismat Rahey Awaaze Huq Se Bekhabar
Ghafil Aapney Ful Kee Sheereene Sey Hota Hai Sazar.
Poor wretched people – they never did awaken to the call of Truth.
Just like a mighty tree that is dead to the awareness of the sweetness of its own fruit.
Ullama Dr Iqbal’s lament is a painful, but accurate depiction of the Sikh psyche in relation to knowing and understanding Guru Nanak. Put plainly: The Sikh psyche is blind to the enlightenment of Guru Nanak and the Sikh heart is barren to the blessings of Guru Nanak.
Put even more plainly, the Sikh heart and mind is incapable of appreciating Guru Nanak. Put even more plainly – the coming of Guru Nanak is a waste to the people of India. Dr Iqbal captures this waste in the following verse:
Hind Ko Lekin Khyalee Falsafey Pur Naaz Thaa.
But the people of India were content to hold on,
with (false) pride to their empty and imaginary spiritualties.
Powerful words. Equally powerful a slap to the spiritual face of Sikhs of Guru Nanak. Powerful but true. Necessary even.
For how much does the average Sikh know about Guru Nanak? Much of what we know is narrated through some 2,000 odd largely concocted stories that we euphemistically call Sakhis, and are repeated by our clergy – parcharaks, preachers, kirtanias, dhadees as well as our writers and historians. The source of these so called sakhis is NOT the writings of Guru Nanak.
The origin of these sakhis are a variety of books called Janam Sakhis – the oldest being composed in 1733 by Dya Raam (writer) and illustrated with pictures by Alam Chand Raj (painter / artist). This Janam Sakhi – also called the B40 Janam Sakhi, (after its Accession Number assigned by the India Office Library in London) is thus written 264 years AFTER Guru Nanak’s advent.
The most popular Janam Sakhi amongst Sikhs is Bhai Bala’s Janam Sakhi – purportedly narrated by Guru Nanak’s Hindu companion Bala. Bhai Bala is a fictitious character. He did not exist. Guru Nanak’s companion was Mardana. How many Sikhs know of this basic untruth – that their entire story of Guru Nanak is narrated by a non-existent character, and written by an anti-Sikh individual?
Viewed collectively, these Janam Sakhis paint Guru Nanak as: a mystic, a miracle performer, a faith healer, a magician, a purveyor of superstitious beliefs, a practitioner of super-natural powers, a recluse, an ascetic, an unproductive child, a neglecting father, demanding blind faith and so much more.
Snakes come over to shade him as he slept while his cows ate the fields of others. His father slaps him for wasting his hard-earned money. In the wink of an eye he brings back to life fields eaten by his cows. Elsewhere he drowns in a river and comes back to life three days later. He brings dead people back to life, and stops a mountain of a stone hurled at him with his palm, depression engraved in stone. He flies over the mountains to meet Yogis and Sidhs residing there. He orders his son to hang out clothes to dry in the middle of the night and tells his disciple Bhai Lehna to eat a corpse.
This is the Guru Nanak that Sikhs seem to know. The non-existant one, of course.
This is perhaps what Dr Iqbal meant when he said “Hind Ke Lekin Khyalee Falsafey Pur Naaz Thaa”. We wanted to stick to our “khayalee” beliefs and reject Guru Nanak’s real, practical and absolute enlightenment. To make our khyalee beliefs acceptable, we wanted to paint and portray Guru Nanak himself to be a practitioner and purveyor of our wrong beliefs.
So instead of wanting to stand in the divine enlightenment that was Guru Nanak, we pulled the Guru into the shadows of our own “khyalee” darkness. For this is exactly what the authors of much of 2,000 sakhis have succeeded in doing.
At its most basic level, the Janam Sakhis changed Guru Nanak’s birth date from Vesakh 1469 to Kathik 1469. In accordance with the Vedic believers who were complicit in changing the date, Vesakh is the month of celebration fit for events belonging to the upper Brahmin classes, while Kathik is the month fit for the celebration of the lesser castes. In the minds of the Janam Sakhi writers, Guru Nanak’s parkash could not be allowed to sit in Vesakh because he was not a Brahmin. They falsely determined Kathik Dee Puranmashi as the specific day for Guru Nanak’s birthday. In accordance to Vedic beliefs of auspiciousness – this day is the MOST inauspicious.
Sikhs have no such beliefs about auspiciousness or otherwise of man-made constructs, but Sikhs ought to object to the distortion, and REVERT to the reality.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru knew of Guru Nanak’s birth in Vesakh, which is why he too chose Vesakh 1699 to create the Khalsa. It was supposed to be one complete circle. It was supposed to stamp the completion of Guru Nanak’s Sikhi. When Sikhs celebrate Vesakhi – they would celebrate BOTH – the birth of their FOUNDER Guru Nanak and their OWN birth as Khalsas. Sikhs obviously did so, until the Sakhi writers infiltrated into the Sikh psyche almost in total and changed Guru Nanak’s birth date to Kathik.
Guru Nanak wrote a great deal of banee – all of which is contained within the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Nine hundred and forty-seven shabds and saloks of his are contained in the Guru Granth Sahib. How many of these shabds have Sikhs read? How many have we understood? How many have we shared with the rest of humanity – for whom Guru Nanak’s spirituality was intended. How many do our ragis, –parcharaks, dadhees and kirtanias preach – without resorting to some half-cooked sakhi to distort its meaning? How many have we attempted to apply his banee in our lives? These 947 shabds are the real Guru Nanak. These 947 shabds are the divine enlightenment of Guru Nanak and the Godly rain of blessings that he brought.
Will we continue to be blind and barren so as to ignore these 947 shabds that tell us of the real Guru Nanak and instead link with what are mostly half baked, half cooked, patently false, semi-false stories called sakhis that are plagiarized/stolen from others – especially from the bigger stars (Tarey Chupey) that Bhai Gurdas ji is talking about?
Let us just take one verse of Guru Nanak:
ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥ ੧ ॥
Hukum Rajayee Chalna, Nanak Likhiya Naal.
It is on page 1 of the Guru Granth Sahib. It captures the essence of Guru Nanak’s enlightenment for all of humanity – Hukam. Guru Nanak’s Sikhi is about Hukam – about attempting to know and understand the Will of the Creator; about wanting to abide by (chalna) and live one’s life within the confines of this will; about wanting to be part and parcel of this will (likhiya naal), and about making the will of the Creator as the object of our spiritual life (rajayee).
Should one apply the message of just this one SINGLE verse of Guru Nanak, 90 percent of the sakhis of the Janam Sakhis would crumble because they show Guru Nanak going against the Will of the Creator. How can a Guru tell us Sikhs to know, understand, and abide by the Hukam of the Creator, while he himself destructed the Hukam at every step of the way, in every sakhi?
If we had read the Banee of Guru Nanak, we would know that his companion is Mardana who is placed in the SGGS by Guru Nanak at three places. We would know that Bala did not exist because in the 947 shabds (and 40 Vaars of Bhai Gurdas ji), Bala is not mentioned even once.
We Sikhs need to cure the blindness that Islamic luminary Dr Iqbal is pointing out for us. The cure is within the enlightenment of Guru Nanak’s 947 shabds and the rest of Gurbani. We also need to transform our barren hearts and souls so that we can contain the blessing that Guru Nanak brought for us. The way to irrigate these barren hearts and souls is again to connect with the messages of Gurbani.
Is there hope for us Sikhs? What hope can there be when Sikhs cannot even get the birth date of their founder right. What hope can there be when Sikhs have more faith in the non-existant Bhai Bala who falsified Guru Nanak’s birth date to Kathik, than they have in Bhai Gurdas who tells us it was in Vaisakh? What hope can there be when educated but foolish Sikhs tell us that the birthdate does not matter, what matters is that we follow his messages. What hope can there be when it is clear as daylight that his messages are not being followed.
The year 2024 will celebrate the 555th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak our Guru. One can almost hear the soul of the Guru cry out from the pages of the GGS: Enough of darkness and barren-ness; come to the enlightenment that Guru Nanak is:
ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਇਸੁ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਕਰਮਿ ਵਸੈ ਮਨਿ ਆਏ ॥ ੧॥ SGGS 67.
Gurbani Es Jug Mein Chanan, Karam Vasei Mun Aiye.
Gurbani is the enlightenment (Chanan) within which the divine blessings (Karam) will fill the heart of the enlightened.
It is up to us Sikhs if we will celebrate the 555th birthday as enlightened persons. It is up to us if we will continue with our blindness and resort to barren and meaningless ways of lighting 555 lamps, presenting 555 roses to the SGGS, doing 555 Akhand Paths, affixing 555 diamonds to the palkee, or having 555 helicopters fly over the Darbar Sahib or Nankana Sahib to rain flowers from 555 different varieties. The list for barren ways is long, varied, wasteful meaningless and endless. Most of all, it is not what Guru Nanak would want.
This essay is a revised version of the one that first appeared in The Sikh Bulletin, USA Vol 1 2019. The author is now the Editor in chief of the publication. He can be contacted at email@example.com.