By Pradeep Singh
The five hundred and fifty first birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev comes on the eve of the closing month of the calender with early frost and misty morns across the Doon Valley. The founder of Sikhism was a saint for all seasons, always relevant and accessable. On his auspicious birth anniversary it is natural to turn to him and his uplifting message for all mankind.
Nanak thirsted to understand the will of the almighty and in that yearning he turned not only within himself to see if he could see the Almighty’s presence but he at the same time sought out those who similarly were seekers of this same quest. Not satisfied with one, he undertook five separate long journeys, unique in being referred to as his five ‘udasis’. He looked about for every shade of spiritual opinion by walking for months across all manner of terrain, often harsh and hostile, to discourse with those who like him wanted to unravel the mysteries of the inner and outer world .
Nanak’s aching quest took him to the doors of acclaimed holy-men and dwellings of hermits, ashrams of ascetics and yogis and the dargahs and khanqas of Sufis and Pirs where he met both true men of God but also charlatans and fakes that helped Nanak to hone and refine his own evolving understanding of the essence of God’s will ( hukum).
He sought the light that would be forever bright and not a meteor that burned and blinded before blending in darkness.
Much like Kabir and Dadu and so many other saints and sages of the medieval times Nanak too believed that search for religious or spiritual bliss was essentially internal to each person which required thorough cleansing of the heart before pouring in intense adoration and devotion to the one and ultimate God and then awaiting his grace : bakshis, kripa, daya, karam, prasad etc. Through this one could endeavour to merge one’s atma or self with the universal paramatma which is none else but the Almighty itself.
And this wisdom acquired through immense meditation, contemplation and self analysis Nanak placed at the service of the world in his collective corpus of bani, shabads, shalokas and dohas and all set in classical Indian ragas suited to each mood or even to the social composition of his listeners .
Nanak’s abiding message to everyone who sought his guidance was to seek the lord and his light in their own hearts : ” In thy Mansion Lives the Infinite, Unfathomable God; But, he alone Attains the Nectar, who is cultured in the Jewel of the Lord’s Name. And looks alike upon pain and pleasure, and on the good and bad of the world;…… Through the Guru, one is ushered into the Mansion of God and God Meets with him. ” Malhar M1, Guru Granth Sahib, p.1256.
While Nanak is a most appealing and accessable source for individual seekers of spiritual comfort and was a balm to the tortured medieval Indian psyche that suffered the turbulence of the Delhi Sultanate in its death throes and the birth pangs of the Mughal Empire. Nanak made a very fundamental contribution to the preservation and revival of the beauty and essence of Indian culture and tradition. This Indian culture and social fabric had over the centuries been begrimed by hardening of essential tenets of Hinduism through vested interests and insularity that kept away from any serious reforming breeze.
The reformative and regenerative injection of impeccable but simple logic and reason by Nanak unshackled the rigid grip of Brahmanical normative behaviour and rituals over much of Punjab and north India. While his successors, the nine Sikh Gurus, steered the new faith with unmatched devotion and skill, in this process Sikhism itself gave a fillip to the reform of time ossified Hindu faith.
Much like Pokh or Poh, the peak of winter, in the verses of Indian poets and in Nanak’s famous rendition called the Barah Maah( twelve months) the ritual driven faith had become frozen like the winter sap in the trees and bushes. The Sikh faith and the message of its founder had likewise come as Chet, the month of spring to gladden the despondent of the heart . Nanak sang :
” Pokh tukhaar parai van trin ras sokhai….. ( As in the month of of Pokh, Snow freezes the sap in the tree and bush, So does Thy absence kill my body and mind. O Lord, why comest Thou not ?) Chet basant bhala bhavar suhavde… ( In this month of Chet, its spring. All is vibrant.) Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1107 – 1109.
(Pradeep Singh is the author of “Sals of the Valley A Memorial to Dehra Dun”).