Guru Nanak Dev (Born in Nankana Sahib, Punjab, (now Pakistan) on 20th October 1469 – 7 May 1539, Kartarpur, Punjab, India), was the founder of Sikhism, and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus.
Beside followers of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev is revered by Punjabi Hindus and Sindhi Hindus across the Indian subcontinent. His primary message to society was recorded to be “devotion of thought and excellence of conduct as the first of duties”.
Guru Nanak was born on 13 April 1469 in a Hindu family of the Bedi Khatri clan, in the village of Rai Bhoi di Talva??i, now called Nankana Sahib (after the Guru), near Lahore, Pakistan. Today, his birth place is marked by Gurdwara Janam Asthan. His father, Mehta Kalyan Das Bedi, also known as Mehta Kalu, was a Patwari—an accountant of land revenue in the government. He worked for the Muslim landlord of the village, Rai Bullar. Guru Nanak’s mother was Tripta Devi and he had one older sister, Nanaki.
The Janamsakhis recount in minute detail all the circumstances of the birth of the guru. They claim that at his birth, an astrologer who came to write his horoscope insisted on seeing the child. On seeing the infant, he is said to have worshipped him with clasped hands. The astrologer then remarked that he regretted that he should never live to see young Guru Nanak’s eminence, worshipped as he should be alike by Hindus and Muslims, and not merely by Hindus.
At the age of five years Nanak is said to have begun to discuss spiritual and divine subjects. At age seven, his father Mehta Kalu enrolled him at the village school. Nanak left school early after he had shown his scholastic proficiency. He then took to private study and meditation.
All the Janamsakhis are unanimous in stating that Nanak courted the retirement of the local forest and the society of the religious men who frequented it. Several of them were profoundly versed in the Indian religious literature of the age. They had also travelled far and wide within the limits of ancient India, and met its renowned religious teachers. Nanak thus became acquainted with the latest teachings of Indian philosophers and reformers.
Sikh tradition states that at the age of thirty, Nanak went missing, and was presumed to have drowned after going for one of his morning baths to a local stream called the Kali Bein or the Humber Bain. Three days later he reappeared and would give the same answer to any question posed to him: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim” (in Punjabi, “na koi hindu na koi musalman”). It was from this moment that Nanak would begin to spread the teachings of what was then the beginning of Sikhism. Although the exact account of his itinerary is disputed, he is widely acknowledged to have made four major journeys, spanning thousands of kilometers. The first tour was east towards Bengal and Assam, the second south towards Ceylon via Tamil Nadu, the third north towards Kashmir, Ladakh and Tibet, and the final tour west towards Baghdad and Mecca.
Nanak was married to Sulakhni, the daughter of Moolchand Chona, a rice trader from the town of Batala. They had two sons. The elder son, Sri Chand, was an ascetic and he came to have a considerable following of his own, known as the Udasis. The younger son, Lakshmi Das, on the other hand was totally immersed in worldly life.
History states that Guru Nanak Dev made four great journeys, traveling to all parts of India, and into Arabia and Persia, visiting Mecca and Baghdad. He spoke before Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, and Muslims. He spoke in the temples and mosques, and at various pilgrimage sites. Wherever he went, Guru Nanak Dev spoke out against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system, the sacrifice of widows, of depending on books to learn the true religion, and of all the other tenets that were to define his teachings. Never did he ask his listeners to follow him. He asked the Muslims to be true Muslims and the Hindus to be true Hindus.
After the last of his great journeys, Guru Nanak Dev settled and established the city of Kartarpur (meaning: The City of God) (in Punjab) on the banks of the Beas River, where he preached for fifteen more years. The city is considered the birth place of Sikhism and is one of the holiest cities in Sikhism. During this time, although his followers still remained Hindu, Muslim, or of the religion to which they were born, they became known as the Guru’s disciples, or Sikhs.
It was here his followers began to refer to him as teacher, or guru. The Guru told his followers that they were to be householders and could not live apart from the world—there were to be no priests or hermits. Here is where Guru Nanak Dev instituted the community meal or Langar, requiring the rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, high caste and low caste, to eat together. Here is where Lehna, later to be Guru Angad, came to be with Guru Nanak Dev.
Joti Jot Samaye
Guru Nanak spent last fifteen years of his life in Kartarpur. The Guru would wake at dawn and recite his daily prayers. At daybreak, he would address his followers. He worked in the field and earned his livelihood. He worked in Langar; or community kitchen, where food would be partaken by Nanak’s followers irrespective of their caste or creed.
On 22 September 1539, aged 70, Guru Nanak met with his demise, after he had requested his disciples to sing the Sohila (the praise of God).
According to Sikh history it says that upon the death of Guru Nanak Dev, his Hindu followers wanted to cremate the remains while the Muslim followers wanted to bury the body following Islamic tradition. However on raising the cloth under which the Guru’s body lay, some fresh flowers were found which were shared between his followers. The Hindus cremated their flowers whereas the Muslims buried theirs.