On Friday, November 23, the world will celebrate 549th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev, the first of the Sikh Gurus and the founder of Sikhism.

The teachings of Sikhism, also called ‘Gurbani’, highlight the principle of equality and denies any discrimination based on caste, religion or gender. In Guru Nanak Dev’s words, “Truth is higher than anything else, higher still is truthful living.”

A Sikh is expected to give away his ego while leading a truthful family life, share his earnings with the less fortunate work for personal and social development. He gave the world the mantra of “Ek Onkar” – one God and taught the principles on oneness that are true to this day.

On the occassion of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary, we pay tribute to one of the world’s most energetic clan - the Sikhs.

The ten Sikh gurus have been enlightening the path for not only Sikhs but countless others, over generations. Their teachings have been followed by different communities worldwide.

With Guru Nanak Dev being the first Guru of Sikhism, he was succeeded by Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkishan, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh who was the 10th guru of Sikhism.

He then declared Guru Granth Sahib the ultimate and eternal Sikh guru. In his words “sab Sikhan ko hukam hai, guru maanyo granth” (Everyone is advised to learn, as now Guru Granth Sahib will be the successor guru for all).

About Guru Nanak Dev’s life:

Guru Sahib was born in 1469 at Rai Bhoeki Talwandi which is now known as Nankana Sahib and is in Pakistan. Son of an accountant Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta, Guru Sahib had an older sister, Bibi Nanki who was also the first disciple of Guru Nanak.

There are several popular tales from his young life. During his school, he explained the alphabets in terms of realisation of truth about God and humans. He was believed to be sent to different schools to study Hindu and Muslim scripture. But his messages to the world were above all scriptural knowledge. In his words, he explains that whatever he says comes to him from God.

O Lalo!

As comes the Divine Word from God to me,

So do I narrate it. (Tilang Mohalla 1, p-722)

I am saying what He commandeth me to say. (Wadhans Mohalla 1, p-566)

At the age of nine, his family persuaded him for the sacred thread (Janaeu) ceremony, one of the important rituals of Hindus. He denied putting the thread on and recited following words, which left everyone present in the assembly, astounded:

Though men commit countless thefts, countless adulteries;

utter countless falsehoods and countless words of abuse;

Though they commit countless robberies and villainies

Night and day against their fellow creatures;

The priest in utter despair asked, “What kind of sacred thread O Nanak, would you wear?

The Guru replied, 

Out of the cotton of compassion,

Spin the thread of contentment,

Tie knots of continence,

Give it twist of truth,

That would make a Janaeu for the soul,

If thou have it, O Brahman, put it on me,

Such a thread once worn will never break,

Nor get soiled, burnt or lost,

The man who weareth such a thread is blessed. (Asa di Var, Slok Mohalla 1, p-471)

In another instance, when one day he went to graze buffaloes, he fell asleep under a tree while the flock destroyed all crops of the neighbouring fields. When the owner brought an officer to show him the damage caused by guru sahib, they were surprised to see that all crops had blossomed more than before.

In a similar instance when guru sahib was sleeping under a tree on a bright sunny day, a big cobra came and covered his head to provide a shadow so that he can sleep well. When passers saw this scene, they were convinced that he was really a man of God. There are several other instances where the world started to feel the divine saint’s extraordinary energy.

He was presumed to be married at the age of 14 to 18 to Bibi Sulakhni. He was blessed with two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. But even marriage could not divert his mind from his divine mission. He believed in the fact that it’s not only our family whom we should serve but also the world. According to him, serving humanity is the real service and worship of the Lord.

Different scriptures have mentioned 1469 as the year of his enlightenment when he suddenly disappeared while bathing in Baeen River and remained underwater for three days.

When he came out he recited following words “Satguru nanak pragteya, mitti dhund jagg chaanan hoa” (With manifestation (birth) of true Guru Nanak, the mist of ignorance and falsehood disappeared and there was the light of righteousness).

It is said that Sikhism has three bodies - God, The Guru and The Gurbani (divine words). The one God sends Guru as his envoy who acts as an epitome of the divine light of knowledge and delivers gGod'smessage (Gurbani).

In his youth, he would accompany holy men and undertake long discussions about God and nature. He always upheld that: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, we are all one”, giving message of equality to the world.

He preached the concept of love, humility, compassion, selfless sewa (service), social-welfare, moral, social and spiritual values.

Guru Nanak Dev introduced three basic principles for every human being to follow:

1. Remember the name of God at all times

2. Earn an honest living as a householder.

3. Share a portion of your earnings with the less fortunate.

He also rejected the caste system, adultery and ritualism. In consistency with his message of equality, Guru Nanak Dev confronted those who considered women to be evil and inferior to men.

Other than these, he is also widely recognised for his four major divine journeys, called ‘Udasiyaan’ in scriptures. He completed most of his journeys on foot with his comrade Bhai Mardana. They walked thousands of kilometres around Bengal, Assam, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Ladakh, Tibet, Baghdad, Mecca and Medina.

He appointed Bhai Lehna as his successor and gave him a new name Guru Angad Dev. He left the world in 1539.

Guru Nanak Dev has been guiding generations with his words and insights. His life and teachings offer consistent evidence of fruitlessness of rituals. He exposed their hollowness and exhorted human beings to rise above such customs. 

Today, Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, with over 25 million followers across the globe. No matter where they are, the clan is known to come together as one, just as the great Guru taught. His teachings are followed by not just the Sikhs but of numerous other communities who regularly read his teachings and place strong faith in the power of his philosophy.