Guru Nanak

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Guru Nanak
ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ
Mural painting of Guru Nanak from Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai
19th century mural painting from Gurdwara Baba Atal depicting Nanak

15 April 1469 (1469-04-15)
Died22 September 1539 (1539-09-23) (aged 70)
Resting placeGurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartar Pur, Kartarpur, Pakistan
SpouseMata Sulakhani
ChildrenSri Chand, Lakhmi Das
ParentsMehta Kalu and Mata Tripta
Known forFounder of Sikhism
Religious career
SuccessorGuru Angad

Guru Nanak ([gʊɾuː naːnəkᵊ], About this soundpronunciation, IAST: Gurū Nānak) (15 April 1469 – 22 September 1539), also referred to as Baba Nanak[1] ('father Nanak'), was the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. His birth is celebrated worldwide as Guru Nanak Gurpurab on Kartik Pooranmashi, the full-moon day in the month of Katak, October–November.[2]

Nanak travelled far and wide teaching people the message of one God who dwells in every one of His creations and constitutes the eternal Truth.[3] He set up a unique spiritual, social, and political platform based on equality, fraternal love, goodness, and virtue.[4][5][6]

Nanak's words are registered in the form of 974 poetic hymns in the holy text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, with some of the major prayers being the Japji Sahib, the Asa di Var and the Sidh-Gosht. It is part of Sikh religious belief that the spirit of Nanak's sanctity, divinity and religious authority descended upon each of the nine subsequent Gurus when the Guruship was devolved on to them.[7]


The Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan, commemorates the site where Nanak is believed to have been born.

Nanak was born on 15 April 1469 at Rāi Bhoi Kī Talvaṇḍī village in the Lahore province of the Delhi Sultanate (present day Nankana Sahib, Punjab, Pakistan),[8][9] although according to one tradition, he was born in the month of Kartik (November).[10]

Most janamsakhis – the traditional biographies of Nanak – mention that he was born on the third day of the bright lunar fortnight, in the Baisakh month (April) of Samvat 1526.[10] These include the Puratan Janam Sakhi, Sodhi Meharban's Janam Sakhi, Bhai Mani Singh Janam Sakhi, and the Vairowalwali Janam Sakhi.[11] The Sikh records state that Nanak died on the 10th day of the Asauj month of Samvat 1596 (22 September 1539 CE), at the age of 70 years, 5 months, and 7 days. This further suggests that he was born in the month of Baisakh (April), not Kartik (November).[12]

As late as in 1815, during the reign of Ranjit Singh, the fair commemorating Nanak's birthday at Nankana Sahib was held in April.[11] However, subsequently, Nanak's birth anniversary – the Gurpurb – came to be celebrated on the full moon day of the Kartik month in November. The earliest record of such a celebration in Nanakana Sahib is from 1868 CE.[13]

The only Janam Sakhi that supports the Kartik birth tradition is that of Bhai Bala, which states that Nanak was born on the full moon day of the Kartik month. Bhai Bala is said to have obtained Nanak's horoscope from Nanak's uncle Lalu, and according to this document, Nanak was born on a date corresponding to 20 October 1469 CE. However, Bhai Bala's Janam Sakhi was actually written by members of the Handali sect, and attempts to depict the founder of their sect as superior to Nanak. According to a superstition prevailing in contemporary northern India, a child born in the Kartik month was believed to be weak and unlucky, which explains why the work states that Nanak was born in that month.[14]

There may be several reasons for the adoption of the Kartik birth date by the Sikh community. It may have been the date of Nanak's enlightenment or "spiritual birth" in 1496, as suggested by Dabestan-e Mazaheb. Bhai Gurdas, writing on a full-moon-day of the Kartik month several decades after Nanak's death, mentions that Nanak had "obtained omniscience" on the same day, and it was now the author's turn to "get divine light".[15] According to Max Arthur Macauliffe, in the 19th century, a Hindu fair held on Kartik Purnima at Ram Tirath in Amritsar attracted a large number of Sikhs. The Sikh religious leader Giani Sant Singh did not like this, and therefore, started a fair at the Sikh shrine of Golden Temple on the same day, presenting it as the birth anniversary celebration of Guru Nanak.[16] Macauliffe also notes that Baisakh (March–April) already saw a number of important festivals – such as Holi, Rama Navami, and Baisakhi, and the people would be busy in agricultural activities after the harvest festival of Baisakhi. Therefore, holding Nanak's birth anniversary celebrations immediately after Baisakhi would have resulted in thin attendance, and therefore, smaller donations for the Sikh shrines. On the other hand, by the Kartik full moon day, the major Hindu festival of Diwali was already over, and the peasants – who had surplus cash from crop sales – were able to donate generously.[17]

Family and early life

Nanak's parents were Kalyan Chand Das Bedi, popularly shortened to Mehta Kalu, and Mata Tripta.[18] His father was the local patwari (accountant) for crop revenue in the village of Talwandi.[19] His parents were both Hindu Khatris and employed as merchants.[20][21]

According to Sikh traditions, the birth and early years of Nanak's life were marked with many events that demonstrated that Nanak had been marked by divine grace.[22] Commentaries on his life give details of his blossoming awareness from a young age. At the age of five, Nanak is said to have voiced interest in divine subjects. At age seven, his father enrolled him at the village school as was the custom.[23] Notable lore recounts that as a child Nanak astonished his teacher by describing the implicit symbolism of the first letter of the alphabet, resembling the mathematical version of one, as denoting the unity or oneness of God.[24] Other childhood accounts refer to strange and miraculous events about Nanak, such as one witnessed by Rai Bular, in which the sleeping child's head was shaded from the harsh sunlight, in one account, by the stationary shadow of a tree[25] or, in another, by a venomous cobra.[26]

Nanak had one sister, Nanaki, who was five years older than he was. In 1475 she married and moved to Sultanpur.[2] Nanaki's husband Jai Ram was employed at a modikhana, a storehouse for revenues collected in non-cash form, in the service of the Delhi Sultanate's Lahore governor Daulat Khan. Jai Ram helped Nanak get a job at this modikhana in Sultanpur.[27] Nanak moved to Sultanpur, and started working at the modikhana at the age of around 16 years.[2]

As a young man,[28][29] Nanak married Sulakhani, daughter of Mula[30][28] (Mūl Chand[citation needed]) and Chando Rāṇī[citation needed]. They were married on 24 September 1487,[when?][29] in the town of Batala.[citation needed] The couple had two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Chand[27] or Lakhmi Das[31] Nanak lived in Sultanpur until c. 1500:[27] this was a formative time for him, as the Puratan (traditional) Janam Sakhi suggests, and in his numerous allusions to governmental structure in his hymns, most likely gained at this time.[32]

Journeys (Udasis)

The 4 Udasis and other locations visited by Guru Nanak
The abandoned Gurudwara Chowa Sahib, located near the Rohtas Fort in Pakistan, commemorates the site where Guru Nanak is popularly believed to have created a water-spring during one of his udasis[33]

During first quarter of the 16th century, Nanak went on long journeys for spiritual pursuits. A verse authored by him states that he visited several places in "the nine regions of the earth" (nau-khand), presumably the major Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage centres.[27]

Some modern accounts state that he visited Tibet, most of South Asia and Arabia starting in 1496, at age 27, when he left his family for a thirty-year period.[22][34][35] These claims include Guru Nanak visiting the Mount Sumeru of Indian mythology, as well as Mecca, Baghdad, Achal Batala and Multan, in these places he debated religious ideas with competing groups.[36] These stories became widely popular in the 19th and 20th century, and exist in many versions.[36][37]

The hagiographic details is a subject of dispute, with modern scholarship questioning the details and authenticity of many claims. For example, Callewaert and Snell state that early Sikh texts do not contain these stories, and after these travel stories first appear in hagiographic accounts of Guru Nanak centuries after his death, they continue to become more sophisticated over time, with the late phase Puratan version describing four missionary journeys (udasis), which however differs from the Miharban version.[36][37] Some of the stories about Guru Nanak's extensive travels first appear in the 19th-century versions of janam-sakhi in the Puratan version. Further, stories about Guru Nanak's travel to Baghdad is absent from even the early 19th-century Puratan version.[36] These embellishments and insertion of new stories, according to Callewaert and Snell, closely parallel claims of miracles by Islamic pirs found in Sufi tazkiras of the same era, and these legends may have been written in a competition.[36][38]

In 1508, Nanak visited the Sylhet region in Bengal.[39] The janamsakhis suggest that Nanak visited the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya in 1510–11 CE.[40]

Another source of dispute has been the Baghdad stone inscription in a Turkish script, which some interpret saying Baba Nanak Fakir was there in 1511–1512, other interpret it stating 1521–1522 (and that he lived in the Middle East for 11 years away from his family), while others particularly Western scholars stating that the stone inscription is from the 19th century and the stone is not a reliable evidence that Guru Nanak visited Baghdad in early 16th century.[41] Further, beyond the stone, no evidence or mention of Guru Nanak's journey in the Middle East has been found in any other Middle Eastern textual or epigraphical records. Claims have been asserted of additional inscriptions, but no one has been able to locate and verify them.[42] The Baghdad inscription remains the basis of writing by Indian scholars that Guru Nanak journeyed in the Middle East, with some claiming he visited Jerusalem, Mecca, Vatican, Azerbaijan and Sudan.[43]

Novel claims about his travels, as well as claims such as Guru Nanak's body vanishing after his death, are also found in later versions and these are similar to the miracle stories in Sufi literature about their pirs. Other direct and indirect borrowings in the Sikh janam-sakhis relating to legends around Guru Nanak's journeys are from Hindu epics and Puranas and Buddhist Jataka stories.[37][44][45]

Last years

Around the age of 55, Nanak settled in Kartarpur, and lived there until his death in September 1539. During this period, he went on short journeys to the Nath yogi centre of Achal, and the Sufi centres of Pakpattan and Multan. By the time of his death, Nanak had acquired several followers in the Punjab region, although it is hard to estimate their number based on the extant historical evidence.[46]

Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as the successor Guru, renaming him as Guru Angad, meaning "one's very own" or "part of you". Shortly after proclaiming Bhai Lehna as his successor, Guru Nanak died on 22 September 1539 in Kartarpur, at the age of 70.[47]

Guru Nanak's handprint is believed to be preserved on a boulder at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, Pakistan.
Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartar Pur in Narowal, Pakistan marks the site where Guru Nanak is said to have died.[48]


Nanak is considered the founder of Sikhism.[49][50] The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, unity of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder's life.[51][52][53]

The Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped as the Supreme Authority of Sikhism and is considered the eleventh and final guru of Sikhism. As the first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak contributed a total of 974 hymns to the book.[54]


Bhai Mani Singh's Janamsakhi

The earliest biographical sources on Nanak's life recognised today are the Janamsākhīs (life accounts). Bhai Gurdas, a scribe of the Gurū Granth Sahib, also wrote about Nanak's life in his vārs. Although these too were compiled some time after Nanak's time, they are less detailed than the Janamsākhīs. The Janamsākhīs recount in minute detail the circumstances of the birth of the guru.

Gyan-ratanavali is attributed to Bhai Mani Singh who wrote it with the express intention of correcting heretical accounts of Guru Nanak. Bhai Mani Singh was a disciple of Guru Gobind Singh who was approached by some Sikhs with a request that he should prepare an authentic account of Guru Nanak's life.

One popular Janamsākhī was allegedly written by a close companion of the Guru, Bhai Bala. However, the writing style and language employed have left scholars, such as Max Arthur Macauliffe, certain that they were composed after his death.[23] According to the scholars, there are good reasons to doubt the claim that the author was a close companion of Guru Nanak and accompanied him on many of his travels.


Fresco of Guru Nanak
Coin from 1747 CE depicting Guru Nanak
Coin from 1747 CE depicting Guru Nanak with his two disciples, Bhai Mardana and Bhai Bala waving a chaur (fly-whisk) as a mark of respect.     

Nanak's teachings can be found in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib, as a collection of verses recorded in Gurmukhi.

There are two competing theories on Guru Nanak's teachings.[55] One, according to Cole and Sambhi, is based on hagiographical Janamsakhis,[56] and states that Nanak's teachings and Sikhism were a revelation from God, and not a social protest movement nor any attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam in the 15th century.[57] The other states, Nanak was a Guru. According to Singha, "Sikhism does not subscribe to the theory of incarnation or the concept of prophethood. But it has a pivotal concept of Guru. He is not an incarnation of God, not even a prophet. He is an illumined soul."[58]

The hagiographical Janamsakhis were not written by Nanak, but by later followers without regard for historical accuracy, and contain numerous legends and myths created to show respect for Nanak.[59] The term revelation, clarify Cole and Sambhi, in Sikhism is not limited to the teachings of Nanak, they include all Sikh Gurus, as well as the words of past, present and future men and women, who possess divine knowledge intuitively through meditation. The Sikh revelations include the words of non-Sikh bhagats, some who lived and died before the birth of Nanak, and whose teachings are part of the Sikh scriptures.[60] The Adi Granth and successive Sikh Gurus repeatedly emphasised, states Mandair, that Sikhism is "not about hearing voices from God, but it is about changing the nature of the human mind, and anyone can achieve direct experience and spiritual perfection at any time".[55] Guru Nanak emphasised that all human beings can have direct access to God without rituals or priests.[22]

The concept of man as elaborated by Guru Nanak, states Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, refines and negates the "monotheistic concept of self/God", and "monotheism becomes almost redundant in the movement and crossings of love".[61] The goal of man, taught the Sikh Gurus, is to end all dualities of "self and other, I and not-I", attain the "attendant balance of separation-fusion, self-other, action-inaction, attachment-detachment, in the course of daily life".[61]

Guru Nanak, and other Sikh Gurus emphasised Bhakti, and taught that the spiritual life and secular householder life are intertwined.[62] In Sikh worldview, the everyday world is part of the Infinite Reality, increased spiritual awareness leads to increased and vibrant participation in the everyday world.[63] Guru Nanak, states Sonali Marwaha, described living an "active, creative, and practical life" of "truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity" as being higher than the metaphysical truth.[64]

Through popular tradition, Nanak's teaching is understood to be practised in three ways:

Guru Nanak emphasised Nam Japna (or Naam Simran), that is repetition of God's name and attributes, as a means to feel God's presence.[65]


Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak's message was divinely revealed. Sikhs give the utmost importance to the writings of the gurus in Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book that is revered as the 11th and perpetual guru. Guru Nanak's own words in Guru Granth Sahib state that his teachings are as he has received them from the Creator Himself. The critical event of his life in Sultanpur, when he returned after three days with enlightenment, also supports this belief.[66]

Many modern historians give weight to his teachings' linkage with the pre-existing Bhakti, Sant and Sufi saints. [67][68][69] Scholars state that in its origins, Guru Nanak and Sikhism were influenced by the nirguni (formless God) tradition of Bhakti movement in medieval India.[67] However, some historians do not see evidence of Sikhism as simply an extension of the Bhakti movement.[70][71] Sikhism, for instance, disagreed with some views of Bhakti saints Kabir and Ravidas.[71][72]

The roots of the Sikh tradition are, states Louis Fenech, perhaps in the Sant-tradition of India whose ideology grew to become the Bhakti tradition.[68] Furthermore, adds Fenech, "Indic mythology permeates the Sikh sacred canon, the Guru Granth Sahib and the secondary canon, the Dasam Granth and adds delicate nuance and substance to the sacred symbolic universe of the Sikhs of today and of their past ancestors".[73]

Role in the Bahá’í Faith

In a 27 October 1985 letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India, the Universal House of Justice, stated that Guru Nanak was endowed with a "saintly character" and that He was "inspired to reconcile the religions of Hinduism and Islám, the followers of which religions had been in violent conflict.... The Bahá'ís thus view Guru Nanak as a 'saint of the highest order'".[citation needed]

See also


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  71. ^ a b Singha, HS (2009). Sikhism : A Complete Introduction. New Delhi, India: Hemkunt Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-81-7010-245-8.
  72. ^ Pruthi, R K (2004). Sikhism and Indian Civilization. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-81-7141-879-4.
  73. ^ Louis Fenech (2014), in The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies (Editors: Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199699308, p. 36, Quote: "Few Sikhs would mention these Indic texts and ideologies in the same breadth as the Sikh tradition, let alone trace elements of their tradition to this chronological and ideological point, despite the fact that the Indic mythology permeates the Sikh sacred canon, the Guru Granth Sahib and the secondary canon, the Dasam Granth (Rinehart 2011), and adds delicate nuance and substance to the sacred symbolic universe of the Sikhs of today and of their past ancestors."


Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Sikh Guru
20 August 1507 – 7 September 1539
Succeeded by
Guru Angad
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