On Guru Nanak’s 551st Birth Anniversary, A Tribute to the Mard-e-Kaamil
“The land in which Chishti delivered the message of truth
The garden in which Nanak sang the song of oneness
That homeland is mine, that homeland is mine”
“Chishti ne jis zamin mein paigham-e-haq sunaya
Nanak ne jis chaman mein wahdat ka geet gaaya…
Mera watan wahi hai mera watan wahi hai”
(Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Hindustani Bachon ka Qaumi Geet, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil)
The founders of the Bhakti Movement had preached prem with God and man with great devotion, but their movement could never become so powerful in the Ganges-Yamuna valley that it could change the structure of political and social life of the country with its influence. Kabir, Rai Das, Dhanna, Saeen, Dadu and other bhagats were undoubtedly desirous of social reform with a true heart. But in their opinion the differences of zaat paat, chhoot chhaat, puja paat and class hierarchy are artifices of pandits and maulvis. If people become the devotees of prem and abandon ostentatious rituals, the veils between God and man would be lifted; walls of hatred would fall; Hindus and Muslims, Brahmins and untouchables, rulers and ruled, great and small, everybody will become like brothers; and all the problems of society will be removed. Obviously these well-intentioned bhaktsdid not have the consciousness of the economic nature of differences of caste and the great and the small (maybe it was not even possible); and neither was bringing about social revolution by means of class struggle their objective (social revolution was not possible because revolutionary conditions were not even present). They were not even in favour of fighting the ruler of the day and the upper classes for social reforms, but they were certain that the hearts of opponents could be changed through prem bhakti.
But the upper-caste people were not prepared to try this prescription of bhakti because it would deal a blow to their social rights. Consequently, the upper and middle classes of the Ganges-Yamuna valley collectively remained aloof of the Bhakti Movement; even this movement did not become popular among the ordinary cultivators. Neither the Hindus abandoned their religion, nor the Muslims left Islam; although relations of compromise were strengthened between both.
But this plant of bhakti adopted the shape of an energetic popular movement upon reaching the land of Punjab, and its roots spread among the agricultural settlements. After some time, the political conditions of the country took such a turn that people affiliated with this movement became a unique Sikh nation. The founder of this movement was Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak was born today, 551 years ago, in 1469 in village Talvandi (Nankana Sahib) of Gujranwala. In those days, Sultan Bahlul Lodhi was the king in Delhi. Nanak’s father Kalu Chand was a khatri by caste and the munim of the Rajput sardar of the village. The jotshi (astrologer) named the child Nanak which like the name of Kabir was prevalent among both Hindus and Muslims. Nanak’s early education was conducted in a paathshaala. At the age of nine or ten, he was admitted to the madrasa of Mulla Qutbuddin; but Nanak’s heart was not drawn towards education. So initially his father entrusted the work of cultivation to him, then shopkeeping, but the result was not successful. Then Nanak was sent to live with his sister who was married to the divan of Nawab Daulat Khan Lodhi. This is the same Daulat Khan Lodhi who had invited Babar to invade India after being upset with the anti-Pathan attitude of his relative Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi. He was the subedar of Lahore and Multan. Nanak found a job in the charity house of the nawab and he began to live in comfort. During this time, he married a girl named Sulakhan and had two sons named Sri Chand and Lachhmi Das.
But it was a time of great unrest and anarchy. The invasion of Timur (1398) had broken the back of the sultanate. Delhi had become desolate. The subedars of Bengal, Deccan, Sindh, Malwa, Gujarat, Khandesh, Mewar and Kashmir had become independent in their own right. There were frequent rebellions in the remaining regions. Today this nawab refused to obey; tomorrow that raja became insurgent. The sultan’s forces remained busy in subduing the rebellions and the blood of the sinners flowed along with that of the sinless. The disputes between the Turk and Pathan emirs had separately destroyed the administration of the country. Sultan Bahlul Lodhi tried a great deal to support the falling wall of the sultanate, but no Balban or Allaudin Khilji was born among his successors, who could strengthen the foundations of the sultanate. Hence every person was harassed; there was uncertainty everywhere; and people’s morals were descending daily.
Nanak’s heart used to wrench at this decline. He was born in a Hindu household but he was not interested in Hindu religion. His entire youth was spent among Muslims and he used to respect Islamic teachings a great deal; but was greatly saddened by witnessing that the Muslims were as worldly, worshippers of status, as selfish as the Hindus; and the maulvi was also detached from the reform and progress of the people as the pundit. Nanak’s heart drew away from the world. He left his job and adopted asceticism, leaving his household. A Muslim mirasi of Talvandi Mardana and Bhai Bala supported him and Nanak set out to search for truth. He would sit in the company of sadhus, sants, pirs and fakirs and learn matters of understanding from them. He became familiar with the Bhakti Movement during this journey. He also benefitted for a long period of time from the company of sufi Sheikh Sharaf of Panipat; Sheikh Ibrahim, the khalifa of Baba Farid Shakarganj in Pakpattan; and the pirs of Multan.
It is said that Nanak had also travelled to the holy places of Iran, Iraq and Arabia. After his return from the journey, he began to emphasize upon his religion in the villages of Punjab. Because Muslims had established their rule here for 500-600 years, and there was hardly a settlement where 3 or 4 houses did not belong to Muslims. So Hindu ears had also become accustomed to the important facts of Islam. Therefore Guru Nanak mostly used Islamic terminologies while inviting people towards the new faith. He was himself very much influenced by Islam, especially the philosophy of unity of God; and accepted Muhammad (PBUH) as an ideal personality. Therefore he adopted the person of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) as a model for himself, rather than Kabir and Namdev (Dr Tara Chand, pp. 169)
Guru Nanak’s strong faith was that the reform of society cannot happen without ending religious disputes. In his opinion organised religions had failed.
“Both have failed. Then God sent a lot of messengers to join the hearts of people but they could not unite. You are my son. Go into the world. People have strayed from the true path. Bring them on the right path. Establish the religion of truth. Remove evil. And whoever of the two approaches you, accept it. Refrain from killing the living. Protect the poor. Remember that God’s person is living in 84 lakh of the created.”
Guru Nanak used to think of himself as a prophet of God, to whom “ayats, surahs and hadiths have been granted from the court of God. God is One. There is no other God except Him and Nanak the khalifa of God speaks the truth”.
Guru Nanak used to give the message of intermingling, peace and amity therefore both Hindus and Muslims respected him, and took influence from his teaching. When he passed away at the age of 70 (in 1539) it is said that that the same dispute rose over his corpse which had happened over the corpse of Kabir. Muslims wanted to bury him according to Islamic rituals and Hindus insisted on burning him but when the corpse was uncovered there was nothing there except a few flowers. Hindus built the Samadhi of Guru Nanak there and the Muslims built a mazar but the flood of the river Ravi swept both away.
It would be fitting to end this tribute with Rakhshanda Jalil’s luminous translation of Iqbal’s now-proverbial ode to Nanak, the Mard-e-Kaamil (Perfect Man):
“Our people paid no heed to the message of Gautam
They didn’t recognise the worth of that jewel of supreme wisdom
Oh you unfortunate ones who have remained heedless of the voice of truth
Like the tree that remains unaware of the sweetness of its own fruit
It was he who made manifest the secrets of life
But still Hind stayed proud of its imaginary philosophy
It wasn’t an assembly that could be lit with the lamp of truth
The rain of mercy fell but the earth was not deserving
For the shudra Hindustan was a place of sorrows
And the brahman was intoxicated with the wine of conceit
The lamp of Gautam was burning in the assembly of others
But after a long time the temples have been illuminated
The light of Abraham has lit the house of Aazar once again
Once again the call of unitarianism has rung out from Punjab
A perfect man has again awakened Hind from deep slumber”
“Qaum ne paigham-e-Gautam ki zara parva na ki
Qadr pahchani na apne gauhar-e-yak-dana ki
Aah bad-qismat rahe avaz-e-haq se be-khabar
Ghafil apne phal ki shirini se hota hai shajar
Aashkaar us ne kiya jo zindagi ka raaz tha
Hind ko lekin khayali falsafa par naaz tha
Sham-e-haq se jo munavvar ho yeh woh mahfil na thi
Barish-e-rahmat hui lekin zamin qabil na thi
Aah shudar ke liye hindostan gham-khana hai
Dard-e-insani se is basti ka dil begana hai
Barhaman sarshar hai ab tak mai-e-pindar mein
Sham-e-Gautam jal rahi hai mahfil-e-aghyar mein
But-kada phir baad muddat ke magar raushan hua
Nur-e-Ibrahim se aazar ka ghar raushan hua
Phir uthi akhir sada tauhid ki Punjab se
Hind ko ik mard-e-kaamil ne jagaya khvab se”
Note: All the translations from Urdu and Hindi are by the writer, unless otherwise stated.
Featured image: A Painting by Aparana Caur
The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator based in Lahore. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: [email protected]