Guru Nanak Initiated Social Reforms

&  continued thereon...

  Satgur Nanak Pargatya, mite dhund, jag channan hova

Nanak’s era (1469-1539) made the beginning of vital transformations of social order toward making earth for better living. In this process, initially Nanak could attract only a few people around him as society during that period was greatly divided on the basis of social status, culturally, religion wise, caste creed, and gender dimensions etc.  Further, common man was living in a grip of terror and suffering from fear psychosis. Nanak passionately began working for social harmony and uplifted their moral thereby people (one after the other) started appreciating his wisdom by joining him as his disciple (Sishya-Guru Ka Sikh).

Guru Ka Sikh is one who abides by and lives on the Sikh philosophy lay down by Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji, that was ably carried forward by all the successive Gurus (Nanak 2- Guru Angad Dev Ji to Nanak 10-Guru Gobind Singh ji). These well laid guiding principles and Gurus Banis, subsequently formed the basis of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS)-the XIth eternal Sikh Guru. Thus, the basic Nanak’s philosophy has become eternal and bindings on every Sikh.

Society- under the grip of miseries

Baba Nanak, right from his childhood had a spiritual bent of mind. He remained deeply upset and distressed to see lot of ills in the society which was completely camouflaged by blind faith. There was complete Hindu, Muslim divide. Society by and large was deeply engrossed in blind faith, idol worshiping (murti- puja), bhoot- prêt, jadu- tona, witch hunting, illusion and many other meaningless rituals including fasting. People living in fear and many factitious babas/sufi/ mahatma/ magicians/ dhongi pundits/ were taking advantage during distressing situations and extracting money and wealth by terrorizing the masses and even made them slaves. Women were made dasis (household kept) by rich and so called dhongi Gurus and all forms of atrocities/ sexual abuse showered on them. Fake Vaids/ quacks were adding fuel to the fire. There were clear distinctions between upper caste from down trodden, poor and low caste people.  There were atrocities and suppressions all around on the weak and low caste group.  Further, to place women at a lower status, these virtually were made universal rules/ laws. Women were made to live under lot of restrictions and suppression. Many religious and social acts/ functions were kept out of bond for women.  Girls from childhood were made to believe (even by household women) that they are made inferior to men by GOD himself. In event, a woman becoming widow had been a lifelong curse on her. She had to either sit on the fire or get Satti along with husband’s dead body or else she is placed as a social condemn. She was made to sit/ sleep on the floor in house or outside the temple/ churches. All rubbish and abuses were thrown at her even by own close ones. Seeing a widow in the morning was taken a bad omen. Man on the other hand, continues to enjoy all social privileges even by getting remarriage again and again.

Nanak initiated social transformation

Even, as a child, Nanak could muster a courage to stand against the wide spread myths/ ills and uncalled for rituals in the society. To make a dent in that prevailing situation of ANDHKAR all around, Nanak took it as a challenging lifelong mission. Common man was virtually blinded with falsehood and fearing GOD’s wreath would fall on him and his family in event of not towing in the line of social stigma.

 Nanak’s refusal to wear Janeu (considered scared thread) in a ceremony organized for this purpose by his family, where Pundits, Brahmins, influential people, his friends relations were present, though, was considered a letdown of the family, but he left a meaningful message to the society that the janeu is merely a thread which will wear away of its own (self distraction) than how could it become a protective tool for life to an individual? Another valued demonstration made by Nanak was when he saw people splashing water to sun in a bid to feed their ancestors (deceased parents/relatives) during SHARAD in Ganga at Haridwar. He wanted to prove to the pilgrimage that bathing in Ganga is the absurdity of making offering to dead ancestor. Another classical example during Nanak’s fourth Udasi towards West to Muslim land, where he made Muslims to understand that ALLAH or GOD resides in all directions and everywhere, rather than their belief that Allah resides in west-in the direction of Macca. The AARTI, which he showered on to the society on his first Udasi while visiting famous temple of Jagannathpuri, finds its place as Universal AARTI for the entire universe. There are many more examples where Guru Nanak dispel the doubts on ill conceived ritual (based upon false belief) prevailing in the society. Nanak spent over 20 years and travelled over 25 to 30,000 KM (mostly on foot using wooden sandal) across not only in all the 4 directions of Indian Sub-continent but to adjoining countries up to Ceylon, Leh Ladhak Sikkim Nagaland towards north and to Arab Countries in the West to Macca-Medina and up to Iran, and in South on sacred mission to spread holy message of peace, compassion, truthfulness, brotherhood, love and equality of rights etc. Besides, he travelled to Punjab and spent 2 years as a last (fifth) phase of his Udasi. He did not restrict his teaching within one religious boundary but choose to embrace the wisdom of all other faiths and propagated widely. Bhai Mardana –a muselman became the first Sikh of Nanak.  The chief task of Guru Nanak was to awaken people of the treasure within. Baba Nanak is acclaimed to be the best man of the GOD!

‘Baba Nanak Sah Fakir,
Hindu Ka Guru, Muselman  Ka Pir’

The useful lesson, the society could draw and imbibe from the life of Guru Nanak was from his swift transition from a life of spiritual Guru (for over 20 years) and shading his Udasi garb (chola) by wearing normal cloth and entered into temporal lifestyle an ordinary person at Kartarpur. He, though, used to have Kirtan Durbar in morning and evening at Dera Baba Nanak while during the day he used to spend in rearing cows, to plough agriculture land and doing household chorus including upkeep of his family.

Compilation/ Documentation of Gurus teachings
The teachings/ Banis/ Shaloks of the first 5 and the 9th Gurus have been ably documented in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Tenth Guru Sri Gobind Singh, the main architect in giving final shape to the Adi Granth that was initially composed by the fifth Guru Arjun Dev ji and installed in the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar in 1604.* In the process of revision of the holy Granth, Guru Gobind Singh, though added Banis of IXth Guru Tegh Bahadur and also removed certain inconsistencies (surfaced in the Adi Granth in the intervening period by certain disgruntled Sikhs), however, he kept his own writings/composition out of this holy book-the SGGS. His lifelong mission, philosophical approach, his teachings in forms of Banis/ hymns, his heroic deeds and sacrifices made by him have been presented in Dassam Granth. He elaborated his biography in Bachitra Natak. The Dasam Granth was later on compiled and given final shape by Bhai Mani Singh on the request from  his wife,Mata Sundri ji, on the basis of Sri Guru Gobind Singh’s writings and records available at different places and with different sources.

*Guru Granth Sahib is the Central religious scripture of Sikhism, which, Sikhs regard as final, sovereign and eternal living Guru. It contains besides, Banis of the 6 Sikh Gurus; hymns from  Bhagats, sufis, Bhatts and Sikhs.

 Guru Gobind Singh ji, through his spiritual teachings on one side, and his temporal way of life to safeguard the community against the oppressive rulers on the other, have become an integral part of daily routine the Nitname, Ardas and most of the significant rituals attached to SIKHISM. Morning Prayer includes Jaap Sahib, Amrit Savaviya and Chopai Sahib and evening path has Banti Chopai from Dasam Granth of Sri Guru Gobind Singh. The frame work of Ardas (first 9 lines and concluding part forms the unaltered component of Ardas)) has also been composed by Sri Gobind Singh.

 Sikh Philosophy-compelled for temporal transformations

Guru Nanak delineated a path of truthfulness and made people to realize and adapt to ‘KIRT KARO NAAM JAPO, WAND CHAKO’ meaning thereby to do hard work, earn honestly, pray to Almighty to express his gratefulness and learn to share with fellow brothers/ community.

 The successive Gurus religiously and faithfully carried forward his laid down mission for life.         All successive Gurus while adhering to the Nanak’s mission, worked for the casteless social build up, worked to uplift social stature, open entry to Gurdwara and Sikh shrines for all caste & creed of people, sharing langar together while sitting on common floor, shielding weak, poor, women and children from the atrocities showered on them. Though, all gurus followed langar pratha but the third Guru Amar Das opened langar halls in most of the Gurdwara and started a tradition of ‘PHELE PANGAT PHIR SANGAT’.  It was also Guru Amar Das who vehemently opposed SATI PRATHA, FASTING, WORSHIPPING IDOLS, SHAVING HEAD ON THE DEATH OF ELDERS etc. All Gurus carried cradle against illusion, social ills, and atrocities against women and provided them equal treatment. Unlike in some other communities, Sikh shrines were kept open for women and they are equal participant in all religious activities.  Guru Arjun Dev kept 4 entry doors to Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib to enable all class of people to enter this holy temple. He also introduced the concept of DASVANDH THAT REMAINED HANDY IN CONSTRUCTION OF HARMANDIR SAHIB AND MANY MORE GURDWARA. Kar sewa, donations, langar and service have gone deep in Sikhism that has earned this community the highest global respect and value. The brutal killing of Sri Guru Arjun Dev-a true monument of a saintly figure in the history, by Emperor Jahangir, created wide spread hatred towards the rulers which made people in large number to get attracted to join Sikhism. Arjun’s blood became the seed of the Sikh Gurdwara as well as spread awareness for a Punjabi Nation.

Transformation of a peaceful Sikhs movement towards militancy made the beginning thereon. Sixth Nanak- Guru Hargobind Singh merely 11, was made to change the conventionally saintly attire (used by earlier Gurus) and dressed himself as a warrior. Sensing  the changes in political environment, he felt the need to strengthen defense force and thus girded two swords around his waist, one symbolizes spiritual power (Piri) and other temporal (Miri) and thus rightly called as a MIRI-PIRI DA BADSHAH. He raised his military strength and rigor-sally imparting training in modern use of arms and raised horse constabulary. Despite, all reasons for him to raise his head against Mughals to take revenge on killing of his father Guru Arjun Dev, yet he never shown aggression at any stage, bur successfully defended 3 wars showered on him. It is well documented that THE SIKHS HAVE NEVER BEEN AGGRESSORS but gallantly defended most of the battles showered on them. Sikh had preferred to be killed and become martyrs in the battle field than to run away or back tract.

Preaching’s on the philosophy of Guru Nanak and organizing regular Kirtan Durbar were effectively carried forward by 7th and 8th Nanak. Guru Harkrishan personally attended patients at his tender age of 7-8 by serving them medical aid, feeding food and water when there was severe outbreak of small pox without caring for him to get infection. He himself got engulfed by the same disease. His sacrifice has been inspirational strength for Sikhs. ‘HARHRISHAN THIYAE, JIS DETHEY SUB DUKH JAYE’ has been made as a integral component of daily Ardas.

9th Nanak -Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur was a man of retiring habit with a spiritual bent of mind. Tegh Bahadur ji spent 20 years of his early part of his life at Bakala with his wife (Mata Gujari) and mother (mata Nanaki). Most of time he spent was in meditation though, not in recluse. During his Guruship he played a productive and protective role for community especially poor, down trodden. He acted as a shield to both Hindus and Sikhs against forceful conversion to Islam. To protect a religion (not only of his own), he preferred to be be-haded than to get converted to Islam. He is the first and the only Prophet in the history to have sacrificed for the sake of other religion.

The tenth Nanak -Sri Guru Gobind Singh despite, a heavy windfall fallen on him at his young age of 9, where he had to cremate the severed head of his beloved father, he delineated his life mission soon at an early age. Right from his childhood, he very effectively carried forward the peaceful mission of Guru Nanak and subsequent Gurus. In addition he felt the necessity for Sikhs to pick up arms to protect the society from the evil deeds. His ideal taught him Dharm Yudh. His mission in life became very clear.

 One of the phenomenal creations in religious and social orders in the history of mankind has been the birth of the KHALSA PANTH. It has been the most vital mission accomplished of Guru Gobind Singh. Panj Pyare; inducting 5 people irrespective of caste, creed, sect, social status, (4 of the 5 were from lower strata-nai-barber ,Ghumar- water carrier, Chhimba- tailor, Jat-farmer etc.) from across the country (Lahore, Meerut, Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa) were baptized (Khande Di Pahul) into Khalsa Panth. By virtue of this, they became first 5 beloved (supreme) of Khalsa Panth. Thereafter, Guru Gobind Singh sought blessings from Panj Pyare in getting baptized to the Panth. He, thus became sixth Khalsa in chronological order. This act of his, has been beautifully described in a hymn. ‘Waho Waho Gobind Singh; Ape Gur Chela…………

He thus created the nucleolus of a castles and democratic continuing society. He has become the father and Bibi Sahib Kaur, his second wife, the spiritual mother.

Persona of a Guru Ka Sikh

Seed of Sikhism though, sown by Baba Nanak and nurtured by subsequent Gurus, however, Swaroop (identity) to Sikhs (External- Physical appearance and internal- acquisition (inner purity) of real value of life was delineated by Sri Guru Gobind Singh. Subsequently, to add more value to the guiding principles- REHAT MARYADA has been up- scaled over the times by the SGPC.

(i) Physical Swaroop - unique identity-A turbaned Sikh with full beard and hairs and adhering to 5 K’s emblems (Kara, Katch, Kesh, Karpan and Kanga). A Sikh who gets baptized (Amrit Ckakana) and adopts to Rehat Meryada (including religiously doing Nitname) as his lifelong mission is Amritdhari- THE KHALSA.

(One may refer SGPC Sikh sites to understand appropriate definition of SIKHS and shall be able to rightly differentiate between Sahajdhari, Keshdhari or Amtitdhari Sikhs). Women in sizable number are getting baptized to Khala Panth and faithfully adhering to Rehat Maryada.) 

(ii) Internal Value (Core Character-inner purity) For Sikhs,

  • Integral component of daily Ardas reads as; ‘SIKHA DA MAAN NIWA, MAT UCHI, MAT PAT DA  RAKHA…’  (Sikh is sober/ humble by nature without ego and snobbishness, high morality on spiritual principle, and protector and follower of right path
  • He is fearless and keeping enmity, grudge, jealousy or hatred towards none
  • Respect for all religion but have complete faith in Guru Granth Sahib and imbibe teaching in daily life
  • Earn living following path of truthfulness
  • Possess capacity to stand against adversaries and inhumanity.

KHALSA’ is an enlightened form of a SIKH who sought self-purification by undergoing AMRIT SANSCHAR (KHANDE DI PAHUL),in a ceremony performed in front of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and commit to follow lifelong commitments towards Rehat Maryada and  recite Nitname (mandatory path) religiously. He has allegiance for 5 K’s (emblem) that categorizes him as a true disciple of Sri Guru Gobind Singh-a SAINT SOLIDER.

Khalsa Mahima a title of two poetic compositions written by Guru Gobind Singh in praises of Guru Khalsa in poetic form in Dhasam Granth. The relevant hymn from Sarbloh Granth and Amrit Keertan is the true reflection of Khalsa (‘KHALSA MAERO ROOP HAI KHHAS; KHALSA MEHI HO KORO NIVAS………’)

Thus, a true Sikh is one he who possesses a composite personality well within built-in characteristics of both physical swaroop (appearance) and internal morality of high order, free from illusion, blind faith and deceit (duel character). He also stands against immorality, obsession and falsification. Further, he is firm of belief in ONENESS and adheres to of the entire natural phenomenon of life and death.

Dr. Jitendra Singh Bhatia
Email – [email protected];
Mobile - 9316612588
(Former ADG (Edu) ICAR and Prof. Veterinary Physiology, RAU, CCHAU, ACVM and KCVAS, Amritsar)


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