NANAK, GURU OF SIKHS

It was over 500 years back that on the night of full moon this month, a boy was born in a Hindu household in Talwandi, belonging to local chieftain Rai Bullar Bhatti, a devout Muslim, in the areas now part of Pakistan Punjab. Tradition has it that the mid wife who brought forth the baby, was struck by the glow of halo that she saw around his little smiling face. She spontaneously predicted that a holy soul has been born unto Mehta Kalu, as father of the boy, Kalyan Das, a revenue official to Rai Bullar was popularly known. The year was 1469 CE.

There are lots of stories associated with Nanak’s growing up. He was an unusual child. When he wasn’t well, the worried father called the family Vaid, physician to check him out. Instead, the child asked the physician if he had the cure for an aching heart, aching for the divine. Sent out to take care of cattle while grazing on a warm summer day, Nanak lay down in the shade of a tree and slept off. Some time must have gone by because when Rai Bullar passed by he was rather intrigued at what he saw and stopped by. Even though the sun had moved, the shade of the tree still continued to cover little Nanak. Rai Bullar quickly repaired to Mehta Kalu and told him that he had a holy personage in his young son.

Rai Bullar became his first disciple outside of the Guru’s family. He donated 19,000 acres of land in Talwandi to Nanak. The town is now known as Nanakana Sahib, after the name of Nanak. As per a TNN news item dated October 25, 2011, the 19th generation descendent of Rai Bular, 32-year-old High Court lawyer Saleem Bhatti is ready to dedicate his son, two-and-a-half-year-old Rai Waheed Bhatti, to Guru Nanak. “Despite being a Muslim, I spiritually connect with Babaji who has blessed our family for over 500 years.”

Nanak went on to found the Sikh faith. Sikhs are the fifth largest religious group in the world and quite a few of them have come to live in the state of Pennsylvania. They have a house of worship, called Gurdwara in Bethel, off of route 78. Sikh Society of Harrisburg is actively looking for a suitable site to set up a Gurdwara in the vicinity of city of Harrisburg for Sikhs living around the area.

Guru Nanak preached worship of one Divine supreme Lord who is the father of all. He spoke strongly against all institutionalized systems of discrimination like the caste system, status of women, religious bigotry and oppression of the poor. He wrote the divine inspiration that he received in poetry and sang his messages right into the hearts of his listeners. The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, that contains his compositions along with five of his successor Gurus and several Hindu, Muslim and Shudra saints, is a book of lyrics in praise of the divine with tenets of Sikh beliefs interspersed. The entire book of 1430 pages is set to Raagas.  

Guru Nanak spent more than twenty years of his life in four extended travels he undertook as part of his missionary of sharing the message of love divine. His travels took him to all parts of the Indian sub continent, Sri Lanka, Tibet and West up to Arabia and Iraq. In his later years he settled at a place he named Katarpur, city divine, where he earned his living farming and set up a dharamsal – the place to practice dharma – where his disciples gathered morning and evening for prayers and fellowship. This collective was called sangat. The triumvirate of Guru, sangat and gurdwara [the presnt version of dharamsal] define the core of Sikh religious life with kirtan – singing praises of the Creator – as the dominant mode of worship and langar – community kitchen – a practice inculcated to break barriers of all distinctions by cooking and eating together and feeding the poor and needy.  

Most Sikhs live in the Northwest part of India in the State of Punjab. Those living in areas that constitute Pakistan had to leave their homes for reasons of insecurity of life and property and take refuge in India when India was partitioned in 1947. Sikhs however have been a very mobile community. They were early immigrants from South Asia to North America and their presence in the US goes back to over a century. They can be distinguished by most men sporting facial hair and wearing turbans. It is part of their religious observance though like other faiths, the canons of observance are not followed by all the Sikhs. Their numbers are relatively small – around half a million estimated living in the US and possibly an equal number in Canada, where their history is a little older and presence more visible.

Sikhs do not believe in denials and austerities. The Gurus preached that the ultimate spiritual attainment, union with the divine, can be achieved while living as a householder and being an active member of the society, if one is prayerful, earns honest living and share what they can. Sikhs in history have resisted oppression and injustices and made sacrifices for protection of shared fundamental freedoms.

The birth anniversary of Guru Nanak falls on November 10th this year. The event is marked by fervent prayers, illuminations, exchange of greetings and gifts. In Indian towns, groups of devotees walk the streets in early hours singing Sikh spiritual songs. Sikhs from all over the world congregate at Nanakana Sahib to celebrate the holy day. Special services are held at all Gurdwaras, processions are taken out with signature Sikh custom of serving prepared food to all, in abundant measure. Sikh Gurdwaras are open to all and Sikhs welcome people of all persuasions to join them in prayer and festivities.    

Bhai Gurdas, a highly regarded Sikh theologian whose life spanned the ministries of the third to the sixth Guru wrote: dhan gur nanak pargatya, mitti dhund jag chaanan hoa – the haze [of ignorance] receded and the entire world was illumined when the true Guru, Nanak appeared. Sikhs of Central PA share their greetings and fellow feelings with all their friends, neighbors and residents of this great community on this holy day.

Nirmal Singh,

Incorporator,

Sikh Society of Harrisburg.

182, Red Haven Road,

New Cumberland, PA 17070

Contact phone: 717 763 1231 October 29, 2011

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