Guru Nanak: A Saint of Soil

Nanak displayed extraordinary qualities in early years that demonstrated that God had chosen him for something very special. It is also believed that he had been guided towards the spiritual path by some mystical power. 

Every year thousands of Sikhs from all over the world visit Nankana Sahib to celebrate the birth of their first Guru. Previously Nankana Sahib was a tehsil of the Sheikhupura district, Punjab, but in May 2005, the Punjab government decided to make Nankana Sahib a district. The government of Pakistan accorded the status of ‘holy city’ to Nankana Sahib in 2012.

Nankana Sahib is one of the most revered pilgrimage destinations for Sikhs around the world.

A significant number of Sikh pilgrimages come from India. Never has Pakistan refused visas to the Indian Sikhs even when India and Pakistan have had hostile relations marked by exchange of fire across the Line of Control.

Like other Sikh religious sites across the Pakistan, the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) manages Gurdwara Janam Asthan, Nankana Sahib. For the promotion of religious tourism, the Punjab government, such as the establishment of International Guru Nanak University, housing schemes, hospitals and shopping malls, proposed some projects. The privately built Nankana Resort has appeared as a good attraction for Sikh pilgrims and others visiting the holy city.

Guru Nanak’s Gurdwara has been expanded recently. As we enter the main gate, the view of the Janam Asthan greets. On one side, the still waters of ‘Sarovar’ rest. To take a dip in the holy water, women pilgrims can now approach it through a separate section built especially for them. On the left along the boundary wall, 2,000 rooms have been constructed for the pilgrims coming from the US, Canada, and Europe, etc. The old rooms on the right are reserved for pilgrims from India and local Sikhs.

Shoes are taken off, and heads are covered as a conventional protocol when one enters the Gurdwara. Men are offered caps called Siropa, usually saffron in colour, which is considered sacred in Sikhism. Feet are dipped in running fresh water just before stepping into the domed gallery leading into the inner courtyard. The walls are adorned with writings about Baba Guru Nanak Sahib, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and Sikhism’s history. From domes, Jharokas, corridors and balconies, the whole compound represents the distinctive Sikh architecture.

Around 15,000 Sikh pilgrims congregate in Panja Sahib, Hasan Abdal, Pakistan every year because of the presence of rock believed to have the handprint of Guru Nanak embossed on it. During the festival, pilgrims recite their central religious scripture of Sikhism, the ‘Guru Granth Sahib for almost 48 hours to celebrate the founding of the Khalsa order. The Sikh community living anywhere in the world celebrates Baisakhi by participating in special prayer meetings and processions.

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was the founder of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated by Sikhs on April 14th by the Nanakshahi calendar. (The date according to the lunar calendar changes annually but is usually in November).

Nanak had taken inspiration from both Hindu and Islamic thought, but we find his teaching far more than just a synthesis of these two religions. Nanak was an original spiritual thinker and expressed his thoughts in extraordinary poetry that forms the basis of Sikh scripture.

Whatever the world today knows about Guru Nanak is drawn from a set of stories or Janam Sakhis, which relate various incidents from his life, and include many of his essential teachings.

Nanak was born about 40 miles from Lahore (now in Pakistan) in 1469. According to the Sikh lore, Nanak displayed extraordinary qualities in early years that demonstrated that God had chosen him for something very special. It is also believed that he had been guided towards the spiritual path by some mystical power.

He was born into a Hindu family, but owing to his keen interest in comparative religion, he studied Islam and Hinduism extensively. As a child, he demonstrated great ability as a poet and philosopher.

When he was eleven, Guru Nanak broke away with his fellow Hindu friends on their insistence to wear a sacred thread to distinguish them. Nanak rejected the idea saying that a person should be characterized not by material things they wear but by their individual qualities.

Nanak would delve into long debates with Hindu and Muslim sages to convince them that the road to a successful life passes through spiritual nourishment and not by following religious rituals such as prayers, pilgrimage or by offering penance or by becoming rich.

For a while, Nanak worked as an accountant, but he was more interested in spiritual matters. A powerful spiritual experience that gave him a vision of the true nature of God lends credence to his idea that the way to spiritual growth was through meditation and through living in a way that reflected the presence of the divine within each human being.

Nanak left his married life for the spiritual journey through India, Tibet, and Arabia that lasted nearly 30 years. Throughout his journey, he studied different religious thoughts and debated them with people of high ideals and learning. Eventually, he reached the point where he began to have the sense of a new route to spiritual fulfilment and a good life.

The last part of his life was spent at Kartarpur in the Punjab, where many disciples attracted by his teachings joined him.

The thrust of Guru Nanak’s religious teaching is that there is only one God and that people do not need any intervening power such as a priest or ritual to connect to the God. He denounced caste system to uphold the fact that all men were born equal and should be regarded as such.

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