NANAK—FOUNDER OF THE SIKH RELIGION
Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion of India, was born in the Punjab in 1469. He was devotionally inclined from his early youth and passed most of his time in religious contemplation and practices, in spite of some parental objections. At one time, his parents feared for his health and sent for the doctor, whom Nanak greeted with this mystic outburst: "The ignorant physician knoweth not that it is in my mind that the pain is. Physician, go home: take not my curse with thee. I am imbued with my Lord; to whom givest thou medicine? The body is weeping, the soul crieth out, 'Physician, give none of thy medicine; go home, few know my malady. The Creator, who gave me this pain, will remove it.'"
Nanak married and lived a life of worldly service for some time, but soon left his home and position to take up his abode in the jungle and assumed the garb and manner of life of a holy man. Here he practiced all the austerities of his calling and began to give utterance to those inspired songs, afterwards collected and preserved in the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs. His sole companion was his faithful servant and disciple, the musician Mardana. Later Nanak became a wanderer and preached his gospel in Northern India, Bengal and Ceylon, returning to his native town after an absence of twelve years. Toward the end of his life, he laid aside the habits and garb of a wanderer, and settled down with his family at Kharatpur. Large numbers of followers gathered round him. He organized them and taught them by word and precept in the new faith. He built almshouses and was active in other charitable works. He died in 1538, when his fame for saintliness and wisdom had grown very great. His line is preserved to this day and is still held in much veneration by all Sikhs, trusted and protected in stormy times of war out of regard for their holy ancestor.
Many beautiful miracles are attributed to Nanak. One story goes that he once lay with his feet, instead of his head, toward a nearby mosque. The indignant priests came up to him and pointed out that such a position was sacrilegious. When Nanak did not move, they forcibly turned him around. As they did so, the whole mosque moved too ...so that his feet were still facing it!
Sikhism numbers both Hindus and Mohammedans among its followers, who are unswervingly loyal to their simple faith. When enough Sikhs get together ...even in a foreign land, a Sikh temple soon rises. There are such temples in Vancouver and California and other places in America.
The Sikh religion is very beautiful in its simplicity. Nanak taught perfect equality and brotherliness, and his followers are among the most democratic in the world. He condemned superstitious rites and laid stress on prayer, love and virtue as the true road to salvation. He gave a high place to ethics and morality, and set forth purity of life as the highest object of human endeavor. The daily practice of cleanliness, almsgiving and of abstinence from animal food is strictly enjoined, and obedience to the guru is demanded of every Sikh as his first duty.
Nanak had no political aims and taught peace and good-will. He took care to prevent his followers from contracting into a narrow sect or into monastic divisions, and to this end, excluded his own son, a meditative ascetic, from the ministry after him. His religion would have been a quiet and quaker-like faith were it not for the persecution it received at the hands of the Mohammedans. On this account it developed a sharp military character, and under competent religious and martial leadership the Sikhs were welded into a strong and powerful nation and made possible the establishment of a small but historic republic whose men have the name for extreme courage and heroism.
The following poem, Japji, composed by Nanak in his old age, and still sung by every Sikh at day-break, conveys Nanak's ideas of Godhead and true worship, and is majestic and elevating in style.
The extracts from the translation of Nanak's "Japji" are from the pen of Dr. C.C. Caleb.)
Return to Index