Leaves from the Life of Guru Nanak

Many famous anecdotes and tales from the life of Guru Nanak are told in different versions. There are variations in each version too. Different narrators and biographers mix and re-mix their ideas. The imagination plays an important role in shaping the incidents differently, often with differing conclusions. But the essence invariably remains the same.

1. Dunichand

The time and life during that period was definitely not what it is now. The wealthy and strong had their own peculiar ways of showing their wealth and might.

Lahore was not an exception. The wealthy there used to hoist flags to show their wealth. The variety and number of flags determined the richness of the person.

There was a rich merchant Dunichand in Lahore who had prospered well, accumulated immense wealth and had numerous colourful flags which fluttered high at the top of his large mansion. His prosperity was calculated in crores but the compassion, sympathy and kindness in him were at their lowest ebb. It was one way flow of wealth. He was getting and accumulating. He was not helping others and spending the money. He was a miser, not a charitable figure.

Once Guru Nanak was there in Lahore. He saw the attractive flags majestically showing their ego high up in the air. He was apprised of Dunichand's nature, wealth and miserliness. He wanted to teach him a lesson. He sent a letter with a piece of needle to Dunichand. The letter said that they were of the same age and were expected to die within a decade or so. As he was an honest and wealthy man so he was sending a pious needle for safe keeping. It must be returned to him [Nanak] when they meet in heaven after death.

Dunichand read the letter and looked many times at the smooth, bright and sharp needle. The question that cropped up in his mind was simple, "How can he carry that tiny needle to the heaven after death?" But he had no answer. He brooded over the matter. He was unable to concentrate on anything else. He could not throw the needle out of his mind. He thought and thought but found no answer. It was not easy to take a decision.

Along with the letter and the needle, as expected, he came to the Guru. He bowed to the saint and declared his inability to carry the needle to heaven, and returning it to the saint, he said, "I'm a merchant. I don't know whether I'll be accepted in to heaven or sent to hell, whether I'll meet you or not but one thing is clear, I can't carry the needle after death. No-one can. You know it, and yet you sent it to me. What should I do with it?

Guru Nanak was prompt in his reply, "Dunichand, if you can't carry a simple and small needle after your death, then how can you carry all of your wealth after death? What will happen to it?"

Dunichand got the meaning. He readily prostrated before the saint, "Now I realize what you mean? Please tell me what should I do? I think I have wasted my precious life in accumulating wealth."

The Guru suggested, "Give ten percent of your earning in charity and ten percent of your time and labour to social work." Dunichand agreed and immediately announced 'Guru Ka Langar." It went on for months without break. Dunichand was a changed man now.


From then on it became an unwritten law for his disciples to give ten per cent of their earning and time in charity and to social service. It is still practised in the same honest vein. The service is done, the langars are arranged where people from all religions, castes and sects dine together without inhibition. The wish of the first Guru is honoured and being fulfilled. 

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