GURU NANAK 1469-1539

Guru Nanak at his advent found his nation in the depths of degradation. The Punjab, which had once been the land of power and wisdom, had, through successive raids of the foreigner, become utterly helpless and ruined, and lay like a doormat at the gate of India. Its people were physically and morally bankrupt. They had no commerce, no language and no inspiring religion of their own. They had lost all self-respect and fellow feeling. It has become a maxim now to call the Punjabis brave, social, practical, and so forth; and we found them recently fighting, thousands of miles away from their homes, for the honour of the men and women of France and Belgium; but we forget that the same people, before the birth of Sikhims, were content to see their wives and children being led away as so many cattle, without daring to do anything in defense of them. They had no sense of unity or organization. When Baba Budha (He was one of the first Sikhs of Guru Nanak and lived up to the time of the Sixth Guru) asked his father to drive away the invader, who was destroying his fields, the later could only shake his head and confess his inability to do so. This is how Guru Nanak describes the political condition of the people in Asa-di-Var.

Looking at the helplessness of his countrymen, he discovered that moral degradation was at the root of it all. When asked by his companion why such a suffering had come to the people, he replied "it is ordained by the Creator that before coming to a fall one is deprived of his virtue" (Asa, 1) He felt sure that, so long as men were steeped in ignorance and corruption, nothing could be done for them. He began the work of education first: "Truth is the remedy of all. Only truth can wash away the sins" (Asa-di-Var, 1) Guru Nanak tried to free the people from the bondage of so many gods and godlings, and let them to accept one Supreme God as the creator and sustainer of all, no matter by what name they called Him. "One should not recognize any but the one Master" (Maru, 1). There were no incarnations, no special revelations. Rama, Krishna, Mohammed, Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva and all other terrible names of yore were, as it were, exercised by the Guru. Losing all charms of superstition about them, they came to yield only the plan meaning for which they had been made. There were, also, no books directly revealed by God. All religious books were human creations: Some good, other not so good. They were the results of human attempts to interpret the ways of God to man. In this way, he placed all existing religions on a footing of equality. No particular nation was to arrogate to itself the name of God's elect. All were God's people. He was the common Father of all. Men were to love one another as children of the same father.

He severely condemned the artificial divisions of the caste system, which prevented people from loving one another as equal.

Guru Nanak was the first prophet of India who stepped beyond the Frontier in defiance of the caste rules.

In pursuance of the same object, the Guru condemned similar other customs as those of wearing the sacred thread, offering food to the Brahmins for the benefit of the departed souls, and choosing special forms of dress or programmes of life that made invidious distinctions among men and led them to hate one another. He also exposed the superstitious ideas about personal purity.

His general rules of conduct were very simple and salutary, in as much as they did not forget any new shackles in place of the old ones, and left the people to work out their social conscience themselves.

The same simple rule is given about dressing, riding etc.

The principles laid down by Guru Nanak were excellent and just suited to the needs of the people. But the preaching of principles however lofty does not create nations.

Guru Nanak's way of preaching was such that whatever he said became widely known in to time. The earnest manner in which he delivered his truths, coupled with the strange habiliments in which he often wrapped himself, made him a striking figure in the commonplace surroundings of every day life. He became universally known as a man of God. His verses were taken up by wandering faqirs and sung to the accompaniment of feeds.

Best of all, he enjoined upon his followers to open elementary schools in their village so that wherever there was a Sikh temple there was a centre of rudimentary learning for boys and girls this system continued up to very recent times, and may be seen even now in certain villages.

In order to give a practical shape to his ideas, Guru Nanak set a personal example of pure life lived in the midst of the world. In his youth he was a store keeper under the government; and in spite of daily charities discharged his duties with a most scrupulous honesty. At the same time, he was a perfect householder, a good husband, and the best of brothers. At last, after several years spent in traveling and preaching, he settled down as a successful farmer at Kartarpur.

He had done all this. But much had still to be done before a people morally and physically degraded could lift up their heads and come into their own again. He had provided them with the best of spiritual out lift, which was abundantly sufficient to enlighten and sustain individuals on the path of duty but the religion which he had founded was not to remain content with the salvation of a few individuals. It had far nobler potentialities in it. It was to organize itself as a world force and evolve a living and energetic society for the work of saving the whole of mankind. Guru Nanak had provided a strong and broad foundation, but the edifice had to be raised with the material of time and experience which was yet to come.

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