Life of Guru Nanak Ji


Life of Guru Nanak Ji

Life of Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak was born on the 3rd of Vaishakh, Samvat 1528 (April 1469 as per the English calendar) at Talwandi Rai Bhoe, Nankana Sahib of today, near Lahore, now in Pakistan. His father Kalu Mehta (Kalian Das Mehta) belonged to a simple Hindu Khatri family. His mother Tripta Devi was a true picture of a traditional Indian housewife. His father was an accountant (patwari) with the local Muslim authorities.

Guru Nanak's childhood was different as he was totally indifferent to childhood activities. He had no liking for games, toys, clothes or food. He preferred to remain alone and liked spending time amidst Nature. He would sit idle and contemplate something unknown. That 'something' was not clear even to Nanak, but people suspected that the child had magical powers. He disturbed none for he was not like other children. He revolted against anything said or done to him which was not approved by his own heart and mind. The only 'objectionable' activity was his bold, ruthlessly logical answers to pandits, maulvis and elders. He would pose wise, witty, powerful and difficult questions with poise and quiet confidence. It was his poise that forced the elders to take his words seriously. They were not angry. In fact, a big, formless and colourless banyan tree was growing fast, spreading its roots and blooming in the heart of the future Guru "undetected and unclaimed", which caught the people unawares.

As a five-year-old boy, Guru Nanak raised serious ethical and religious questions. The elders were unable to answer these questions. He condemned superstitions at that early age and others simply looked at him in amazement. The dreamy child spent more time wandering from field to field or garden to garden, or walked with animals. He was restless and unable to remain inside the house or play with children of his own age group. Naturally, he had very few friends but they came from both Hindu and Muslim families, high as well as low caste. But he had no close friend. He was a lonely child. Naturally, he was unable to find a better companion, except enchanting Nature.

Guru Nanak was sent to the school of a pandit to learn Hindu scriptures and Arithmetic. Later, he was sent to a maulvi to learn Persian and Arabic. He had a sharp memory and agile mental faculties and usually learnt lessons fast and raised doubts wisely. Often, he questioned the very knowledge and authority of the teacher.

Guru Nanak was growing well in accordance with the prediction of Pandit Gopal, who foresaw his future greatness at the time of his christening ceremony. His name was borrowed from the name of his sister Bibi Nanaki, according to the tradition prevalent at their Nana's house (home of the maternal grandfather, termed nana ka or nanka). So, he became Nanak.

His father, Kalu Mehta, worked under Rai Bular who was a descendent of Rai Bhoe. Incidentally, he was the founder of Talwandi. They were direct descendents of Bhatti Rajputs. Rai Bular was treated as a nobleman of the place. It was just coincidence that Rai Bular himself became witness to many strange incidents related to young Nanak and also heard his highly spiritual statements. He developed a liking and respect for young Nanak. It was Rai Bular who suggested Kalu Mehta to treat the child differently. It all began when Nanak was asked to tend to the cattle. Once when he was with the cattle, they destroyed the crop, and a snake was later seen with its hood spread over Nanak's head. On another occasion, the shadow of the van tree did not move away from the sleeping Nanak. Rai Bular was a witness to all these incidents. The crop site is the present site of the Kiara Sahib Gurudwara, while the van tree is preserved near Malji Sahib.

Janeu Ceremony

Another important incident was reported at the time of the sacred thread (janeu) ceremony, when Nanak was just 13. During this ceremony, three sacred threads knotted at one point are worn by a boy. It is invariably put on the ears at the time of Nature's call so as to control the nervous system and save one from paralysis.

This ceremony was attended by common people and the elite alike. In the presence of the gathering young Nanak refused an ordinary thread and demanded the sacred thread. He sang the following verse or Rag:

Let mercy be the cotton

And contentment the thread,

Continence the knot and Truth the twist;

O priest! If you have such a thread,

Do give it to me.

It will not wear out

Nor get spoiled, nor burnt, nor lost.

Says Nanak, blessed are those

Who go about wearing such a thread.

(Asa di Var, M.L shloka 15.4)

It was the metaphorical explanation that Nanak solemnly gave his family priest Har Dayal. He knew he had to mingle both among Hindus and Muslims; so how could he be baptised in one faith?

From thereon, Nanak began meeting saints and Sufis. But he was neither very close to them nor very far from them. He maintained a balance.

Ways of Life

Now his father, Kalu Mehta, was a worried man. His only son was breaking away from ancient family traditions. He thought over the matter seriously and decided to engage him in some business. Giving Nanak Rs. 20, he asked him to do business by buying and selling merchandise. Nanak enthusiastically headed for the market but at Chuharankhana he met some tired and hungry sadhus. He fed them well with the money and returned home empty handed but filled with inner happiness. When his father enquired about the business, he narrated how he had done khara sauda (perfect purchase) by feeding hungry sadhus. Gurudwara Khara Sauda is living proof of this.

It was too much for the father to bear. He punished Nanak for this act of kindness towards the sadhus. The site of the punishment is represented by Tambu Sahib Gurudwara. Despite the harsh family reaction, Nanak did not change his emotional longing and refused to be a man of the world.

Kalu Mehta had no option but to send Nanak to his sister Nanaki at Sultanpur. Nanaki was married to Lala Jai Ram, who was Diwan to Nawab Daulat Khan Lodi of Sultanpur Lodi. Lala Jai Ram used his influence and had Nanak appointed as a Modi to Nawab Daulat Khan Lodi. He was to look after a store. Even here, he behaved according to his usual loving, compassionate nature. He would freely distribute grain from the store. Once he could not count more than terah or thirteen (tera also means yours) when wheat was being measured. This enraged the Nawab and he was kept in confinement. Gurudwara Kothari Sahib stands as proof.


Nanak returned to Talwandi. At the age of 16, he was married to Sulakhani, the daughter of Mulchand. The venue of the marriage is famous as the Gurudwara of Batala. He was happy with the marriage as he did not find it an obstruction in the way of his spiritual quest. The couple had a son Sri Chand in July 1494 and another son Lakshmi Chand (Das) in 1497. Another version claims he was married first and then went to Sultanpur.

In any case, Nanak had a fixed daily routine. Early in the morning, he would sing hymns in praise of God, assisted by his childhood Muslim friend Mardana, who accompanied him on the Rabab, a string instrument. Incidentally, Mardana remained closely associated with Nanak throughout his life and accompanied him wherever he went.

During the day Nanak would work for a living and in the evening he would sing hymns, while Mardana played the Rabab. 'People liked his songs and they became popular. Others now began joining the morning prayers and the evening ritual. He was on the right track and fast closing the distance between him and the Lord.


There are two different versions about the revelation of Guru Nanak. One claims he went to a forest and remained there for three days. He had a revelation, returned back but could not speak a word. After a day, he suddenly announced: ''Nako Hindu, nako Musalman." (There is no Hindu and no Muslim).

The other version claims that one morning he went to the river Bein with Mardana to take bath. He plunged into the river and did not surface. It was reported that he must have drowned as he was completely traceless.

After three days, he appeared at the same spot from where he had disappeared. He was a changed man now. He had had the revelation. He was in communion with God for three days. His eyes emitted the divine light and his face beamed with something strange and magical. He was in a divine trance. He did not speak a word for about 24 hours, then suddenly declared: "There is no Hindu and no Muslim. "

To make his revelation clear, he praised the Lord:

There is but one God

His name is Truth,

He is the Creator,

He fears none,

He is without hate,

He never dies,

He is beyond the cycle of births and death,

He is self-illuminated,

He is realised by the kindness of the True Guru.

He was True in the beginning,

He was True when the ages commenced

And has ever been True,

He is also True now.        

(These words are enshrined at the beginning of the Holy Scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib).

It is the essence of the teachings of Guru Nanak. The Japji begins with an assertion that there is only one God whose name is Truth, who is devoid of fear and enmity, who is immortal, unborn, self-existent, the great and the bountiful. 'Omkar eva idam saruam' proclaims the Chhandogya Upanishad whose assertion became the basis of the religious philosophy of Nanak.

Spiritual Master

Now Nanak was a complete spiritual master. He decided to travel and propagate his revelation at the age of 30. It's a coincidence of sorts that three of India's founders of different religious, all based on love, compassion, equality and brotherhood, began their spiritual journey around the age of 29 and travelled to distant lands. They were Buddha (Buddhism), Mahavir (jainisrn) and Guru Nanak (Sikhism).

All of them had their revelations in the lap of Nature. They had a very long life and Purnima (full moon night) has a special place in their lives. There are other similarities too which arouse curiosity.

Nanak took to extensive travelling. He would return to his place for a brief period and again go on to different places. There are numerous interesting events which took place at different places. At all places he was accompanied by Mardana with his Rabab. They never missed their morning prayers and recitals of Sakhis (hymns) in the evening.

He travelled to Amritsar via Goindwal. His halt there is testified by the Dukhbhanjani Sahib Gurudwara and the Ber Sahib Gurudwara. On the way he met a thug named Sajjan who later became his disciple. At Amenabad he stayed with the carpenter Lago.

Along with Mardana, Guru Nanak was arrested by Babur. Later, Babur heard their hymns and released them. On his eastern journey, he visited Gorakhmata. In 1529, he visited Achala Batala and in 1530 he went to Haridwar. These four great journeys are known as Udasis. After 1531, he settled at Kartarpur, the abode of the Lord, and undertook no more arduous journeys.

By then, he had established 30 manjis. These were local cells where his followers could gather to recite hymns and meditate. All such places later became Gurudwaras, which are now substantial in number.

At Kartarpur, pilgrims came from far and near to hear the hymns and preachings of the Guru. They rendered religious service in the mornings and in the evenings.

Guru Angad

In 1532, his new disciple Lehna approached him. Lehna in Punjabi means debt or creditor. Nanak heard his name and spontaneously said: "So you have arrived Lehna, the creditor.

I have been waiting for you all these days. I must pay your debt." Lehna was a great devotee of Goddess Durga. After meeting the Guru, he became his ardent disciple.

Later, Guru Nanak blessed Lehna with his ang (a part of the body), his hand, and gave him a new name Angad and said, "You are a part of my body." Then he placed five coins and a coconut before Angad and bowed before him. He asked Bhai Buddha to anoint Angad with a saffron mark on his forehead. When his followers gathered there, he invited Angad to occupy the seat of the Guru. Thus, Lehna became Guru Angad - the successor to Guru Nanak.

Guru Nanak spent his last days in Kartarpur. He worked in the fields to earn his living. He would give free food to all, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, who dined together. Known as Guru ka langar, it's still very popular and practised in every part of India on many occasions by the Gurudwaras and the combined effort of others.

Fragrance of Flowers

When Guru Nanak had grown old and weak, a debate began between Hindus and Muslims as to whether the body of Guru Nanak would be buried or cremated. When Guru Nanak felt that his time of departure had come, he asked his disciples to place flowers on both sides of him - Muslims on the left and Hindus on the right. He said that whose flowers remained fresh in the morning would get the right to dispose of his body according to their faith.

They readily agreed and flowers were placed on both sides of the Guru. Then he asked them to recite Sohila, the praise of the Lord.

Sing the praise of my Lord,

My fearless God,

Whose song of praise brings everlasting solace,

The appointed hour of marriage has come.

Come my mates and duster around me.

Anoint me,

Pour oil on the threshold

And bless me

That I may meet my Lord.

After listening to the divine verse, he asked them to cover him with a sheet.

On the morning of September 22, 1539, when they went up to him and took off the sheet, there were only flowers. The body of the Guru was missing. Hindus took their flowers and cremated them; Muslims took their flowers and buried them.


Thereby began a great religion Sikhism and a lively tradition of the Gurus. 

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