Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurab
Gur means Guru/Master and Purab means Day. Gurpurab is the day dedicated to the Guru, and centers around the birth celebration of the Guru. Today, Sikhs around the world celebrated the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Nanak was born in 1469, in the village of Talwandi, Punjab which is now called Nankana Sahib- and located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The first in a lineage of ten living Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak laid the foundation of the Sikh faith by asking followers to build upon three pillars: Naam Japo (Meditate on the name of the One), Kirat Karo (Earn an honest living), and Vand Chako (Share with others.) Through the Guru’s teachings, a new way of life, the Sikh faith, emerged amongst the backdrop of the majority Hindu and Muslim communities of the region.
A revolutionary, Guru Nanak challenged the then Mughal ruler, for his tyrannical rule and was imprisoned for it. Guru Ji also challenged the injustices promoted by religious zealots in power, who divided the masses on religion, caste, and social status. Guru Ji furthermore denounced rituals reserved for religious elites, and instead encouraged all to connect with the Divine through love and service of others.
A humanitarian, Guru Nanak started the first ever Langar (Community kitchen,) a concept that is at the heart of every Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship.) Across South Asia, and in many Gurdwaras across the world, Langar is served 24/7, 365 days a year- and open to anyone regardless of race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, etc. To this day, hundreds of thousands are fed daily around the world, all are seated equally, and no preferential treatment is given to any individual- be they housed, homeless, politicians, common folk, or otherwise. The only requirements that remain are that shoes are removed, heads are covered, and a peaceful atmosphere maintained.
A poet, Guru Nanak composed nearly 1,000 hymns of the almost 6,000 hymns found in the 11th and final Sikh Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture.) Along with many of the ten living Sikh Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib also includes hymns from Hindu and Muslim saints/mystics. The Guru Granth Sahib itself is an ode to the One creator, and begins with the most important composition of Guru Nanak, the Mool Mantar:
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
(One Universal Creator God. The Name Is Truth. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Undying, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent. By Guru’s Grace)
An activist, Guru Nanak challenged the prevailing customs, and instead elevated women to equal status in society- drawing criticism from religious elites. Walking thousands of miles, Guru Ji travelled across the Middle-East, East Asia, and even Europe. Guru Ji also visited the holy sites of other religions and engaged in common sense debates and conversations to promote interfaith dialogue and challenge religious elites who sought to limit access to the One. Notable stories include Guru Ji’s visiting Hardiwar (a holy city for Hindus) and Mecca (a holy site for Muslims.) The Guru’s travel companion was Bhai Mardana, a Muslim by birth, and widely considered one of the first followers of the Sikh faith. During these journeys, Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana would perform Kirtan (singing of the composed hymns) with Bhai Mardana playing the Rabab (a stringed instrument originating from what is now Afghanistan) and amplifying Guru Nanak’s voice.
551 years later, Guru Nanak’s legacy lives on with the Sikh faith having grown to almost 30 million followers worldwide, its Gurdwaras visible from miles with Nishan Sahibs (orange or blue flags) signifying sovereignty and refuge to all who seek it- nourishing anyone who visits with Langar, Kirtan, and love.
For more information on the Sikh faith, I urge you to follow Basics of Sikhi.
Happy Gurpurab to all.