The 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak kicked off in style all across the world. Here, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor marked a definite step towards a meeting of minds and hearts.
Guru Nanak laid a solid foundation of a socio-religious order which drew inspiration from universal principles of equality, fraternity and mutual co-existence. He outrightly rejected the orthodox notions prevalent at the time and the pinnacle of his teachings revolve around three vital themes.
Firstly, he was a rationalist to the core. Secondly, he endorsed that the process of seeking out the divine is not limited to the rich and wealthy but belongs to every human being. He junked the idea of caste-based segregation. Thirdly, he articulated that the road to salvation lies not in ostentatious living but in a simple life and dismissed following of penances and a reclusive lifestyle to bring oneself closer to God. He also quite significantly gave an interpretation of God as the “formless” one which was truly path-breaking.
Guru Nanak led a life based on a rational interpretation of the Divine. He preached the same to everyone he came across. Accounts of his early life (Janamsakhis) and travels highlight an important dimension of his worldly outlook. He based his teachings on scientific and a very practical understanding of life and its requirements.
Once he was given a sum of money by his father Mehta Kalu to trade and deal in profit. Instead, he fed hungry people he met down the road. This episode of his life became famous as the “Khara Sauda” (a genuine or candid deal) episode. He argued that this is rightful trade and what better way to spend money than to feed hungry people? This episode indicates his spiritual bent of mind, divorced from greed and plain profit.
In another episode, he questioned the reason guiding a priest from Haridwar who was offering water to the Sun God. He stood in the opposite direction and offered water to his fields. He was called a fool by the priest who was of the opinion that water should be offered facing the Sun. Guru Nanak replied that he was indeed, watering his fields which lay in the opposite direction.
On hearing this, the priest is said to have laughed and observed, “How can water reach the fields of Nanak?”
Guru Nanak gave a wondrous reason, saying, “If the water you offer can reach the Sun God million of miles away then why can’t the water which I am offering to my fields right across me not reach?”
Upon hearing this,the priest was left speechless. Guru Nanak underlined the importance of earning through the sweat of the brow through this episode.
Such episodic life events demonstrate the high point of his simple yet profound philosophy. He was essentially as a traveller. His travels, under the nomenclature of “Udasis” (long journeys), are full of wise nuggets on life and simple living.
Guru Nanak was a critic of orthodoxy and the charade of superstitions which plagued the organised Hindu religious system during his time. He was never impressed by elaborate religious procedures and ritualistic indulgences. He connected with nature and advised everyone to seek salvation in immutable cosmic play.
His idea of sharing food while sitting along with fellow human beings irrespective of their social status is remarkable. The langar (community kitchen) concept served well to obliterate caste differences. Commensality was thus, promoted for ushering in an equal societal order.
He also gave the precept of “Kirat karo, vand chhako, naam japo.” Translated from Gurmukhi, this meansit means, “Earn a livelihood through hard work and honest means,share selflessly with those who are less fortunate and always remember God who is formless and immutable.”
Sociologist Adrian Meyer in his work Caste and Kinship in Central India writes about caste status through commensality, “The commensal hierarchy is based on the theory that each caste has a certain quality of ritual purity which is lessened or polluted by certain commensal contacts with castes having an inferior quality. Commensal contacts include the cooking of food and its consumption. A superior caste will not eat from the cooking vessels nor the hands of a caste which it regards as inferior, nor will its members sit next to the inferior people in the same unbroken line (pangat) when eating.”
Guru Nanak achieved a great victory to start with by introducing the concept of langar or community kitchen.
In the estimation of Guru Nanak, the path towards salvation and deliverance from worldly life lay not in penance, but in leading a righteous life based on performing worldly duties with elan. He never preached that one should run to forests or give up clothes and food for achieving the state of Nirvana.
He advocated the life of a householder who leads a good social life by doing hard work, remembering the name of God and doing charity. He should also be credited with removing obstacles from the path of the supposed ‘lowly born’ as per Hindu orthodoxy, towards offering prayers and obeisance to the Divine.
His compositions, called “Aarti” (a ceremony involving obeisance to deities as a form of worship) showcases his pre-eminence as a poet extraordinaire.
Apparently, he is said to have composed it after he came out of the Jagannath Temple at Puri unimpressed with the chants and mode of prayer adopted by priests. In his composition, he invokes the power and glorious avatar of celestial bodies like the sun and the moon to offer prayer to a formless and the timeless ideal of God.
“Gagan mein thaal, rava chanda deepak bane,” means, “Who are we to worship you, when the sun and the moon are doing aarti for you?”
The first stanza, translated from Gurmukhi, means:
“The sky the salver, the sun and moon the lamps,
The stars studding the heavens are the pearls,
The fragrance of sandal is the incense
Fanned by the winds, all for thee
The great forests are the flowers
What a beautiful aarti is being performed
For you, O destroyer of fear!”
Later on, compositions of Saint Ravidas, a cobbler by profession, barber Bhagat Sain, weaver Kabir and farmer Bhagat Dhanna were also included in “Aarti.”
Guru Nanak transcended religious and sectarian boundaries to spread the message of peace, rightful living and conduct. His philosophy is rooted in universal principles of equality and fraternity and serve as a fountain source of knowledge and wisdom for all times to come.
In these conflict-ridden times, his teachings gain greater relevance. Without doubt, he remains foremost a social reformer. He rejected fuzzy logic and an abstruse understanding of God. He preached against ignorance and blind superstition.
One of his most notable observations remain, “Sidh chhapi baithe parabati kaunu jagat kau par utara,” meaning, “The wise siddhas had escaped into the remote caves and mountains — who would then redeem the world?”
This observation sums up the essence of his life’s philosophy, rooted in wise thought and righteous conduct.