Celebrating unity of god
Guru Nanak Jayanti, the most auspicious of the Gurpurabs celebrated by Sikh community globally commemorates the birth of its founder Guru Nanak. Sikhs remember him by celebrating Guru Nanak Jayanti with great enthusiasm on Kartik Poornima, which this year is falling on 17 November.
Guru Nanak (1469 AD - 1539 AD) was born in a village named Rai Bhoi di Talwandi, presently popular as Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in Pakistan. Biographical sources depict that from childhood he showed deep interest in matters pertaining to divinity and spirituality. Towards his later age, he completely engrossed himself in preaching the importance and power of spirituality in one’s life that ultimately gave birth to Sikhism. Guru Nanak Jayanti is also about reliving his preaching and teachings that are quoted in the sacred Sikh scripture Guru Grant Sahib, the holy book in which hymns of Sikh Gurus are quoted.
Gurpurab refers to the anniversary festivities that revolve around the lives of 10 Sikh Gurus to mark significant contributions towards Sikhism.
Festivities of Guru Nanak’s birthday starts a couple of days ahead of the specified date by decorating Gurdwaras in attractive ways and organising Akhand Path (reading of the Guru Granth Sahib without taking a break for 48 hours). A day before Guru Nanak Jayanti, devotees carry out processions holding Nishan Sahib (the Sikh flag) and singing hymns. The palanquin for Guru Granth Sahib, Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones) and ‘Gatka’ team displaying their sword skills and martial arts are some of the integral and major attraction of the event.
On the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, devotees sing hymns early morning from Sikh scriptures including Asa-di-Var followed by poems and sermons to relive the significant accounts and activities from Guru’s life symbolically in his praise. Gurdwaras on the grand celebration of Guru Nanak Jayanti serve langar (a community meal) to all for free.
Prayer sessions during the night are also held in some Gurudwaras, which begin around sunset when rehras (evening prayer) is recited, followed by kirtan till later in the night. The congregation starts singing Gurbani at about 1.20 am, which is the actual time of birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The celebrations culminate at around 2 am.
Guru Nanak Gurpurab is celebrated by the Sikh community all over the world and is one of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar. The celebrations are especially colourful in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. Even some Sindhis celebrate this festival.
Guru Nanak made a huge impact across the length and breadth of his travels across India way back in the 15th century. He toured Asia, from Mecca-Medina in the west to Burma in the east and as far down as Sri Lanka in the south, spreading his message of love and endearing himself to both Hindus and Muslims. His followers, the Sikhs of today, are known to have been drawn from both communities.
A number of legends are associated with Guru Nanak and Sikh children have grown up listening to these tales in awe and fascination. Each story comes packed with a powerful message — that God is One, belongs to everyone and loves all his creations equally.
There is this much-loved story of Guru Nanak refusing to wear the sacred thread that Hindu boys of his caste had to don to distinguish themselves from others. Nanak refused, saying that people should be distinguished by their deeds and individual qualities, and not by threads. And these pearls of wisdom came from a young Nanak, aged only 11. The boy grew up, lost in search of the true meaning of God, till he finally left home and family to find this truth. It was then that he began his crusade against the fanaticism, intolerance, meaningless rituals and discrimination of caste and sex that marked the two major religions of his time.
He taught that God is One, based on truth, and that everyone, man and woman were equal in His eyes. On this simple wisdom, the tenets of Sikhism rest. As his fame grew, Baba Nanak became Guru Nanak, and tales of his miracles reached far and wide.
On one occasion, while in Mecca, he fell asleep with his feet towards the mosque. He was woken up rudely and asked to shift his feet. Nanak asked the people to turn his feet in a direction where God did not dwell, if they thought his action was disrespectful. It is said that in every direction that his feet were turned, there was a mosque! Nanak later said: ‘To worship an image... yet to have the mind impure is all in vain.’
Another legend says that Baba Nanak disappeared underwater for three days. He went in as a seeker, and came out initiated and completely changed, a Guru.
Another tale revolves around his stay with a poor farmer named Lalo. A rich man of the area, Malik Bhago had also invited the Guru to stay with him, but the Guru chose to stay with Lalo.
When Bhago demanded an explanation for this insult, Guru Nanak asked for chapatis from both Lalo and Bhago. Then, holding them in both hands, he squeezed the chapatis. Milk dripped out from Lalo’s chapatis, a symbol of his hard work, while drops of blood fell from Bhago’s chapatis, standing for the money he made by torturing and exploiting the poor and the weak.