The Source Book On Sikhism


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Baber took Nanak to his tent and offered him a glass of wine. “My cup is full,” said Nanak. “I have drunk the wine of His love!”

And these winged words of Nanak carried Baber away to the celestial Realms. The would-be emperor of India saw in His presence the true Empire of Pure Beauty. Never did a prince or a peasant meet Guru Nanak in vain!


Mardana was his Mohammedan minstrel. He first met Guru Nanak at the time of the latter’s marriage. Mardana came and asked the bridegroom for a gift. The Master gave him the gift of Divine song, and said, “Wait until I call you.” Mardana was called, and he never left the presence of the “Bridegroom.” When he died, his children took his place in the service of the Guru. To this day his offspring sing the Master’s songs in the Sikh temples. But old love is passing; its place is not filled!

Mardana is the Master’s rebec player and companion, with all the wit and humour of the Panjabi Minstrel. Mardana is a blunt philosopher “O Guru! You live on Heaven’s breath and whispers, but we men need food and raiment. Please leave these forests, and let us go to the haunts of men, where we may get something to cure hunger.” The daily accounts of his hunger and thirst, related with all the confidence of his supreme love for the Guru, are genuine items of prayer which a child of man can utter to his God. After all we need no more than a loaf of bread now and then. The name Mardana was so much on the Master’s lips that we cannot think of Guru Nanak apart from Mardana, playing by his side on his rebec. “Mardana play the rebec, the music of heaven cometh.” This is the first line of almost every hymn of Guru Nanak.

Under the stars, under trees, on the roadside, in forests, and on the eternal snows of the highest mountains in Central Asia, the Guru sang his hymns. In his discussions with the countless varieties of Indian and Eastern mystics and faquirs, the Hindu and the Moslem, the Yogi and the ascetic, the royal and the poor, in a thousand different studies of man and nature, in a deep association of silence with life and labour and love with death, the Guru sang his soul out, as the rebec of Mardana played trembling beyond itself.

When Mardana is afraid, Nanak smiles and says, “Mardana! Have faith. Keep calm; see the works of the Beloved! Wait and thou shalt see what God does!”


Guru Nanak started wheat farms at Kartarpur, the town of Kartar (Creator) as he called it. His people came and worked with him in the fields. The Guru took keen delight in sowing wheat, and reaping the golden harvests: he was of the people. Once again his stores were open to them. The bread and water were ready for all at all hours of the day, and crowds came and freely partook of the guru’s gifts. All comers were filled from the Guru’s treasury of thought and love and power; the diseased and distressed were healed by him.

He was an old man then; and he loved to see the crowds of God’s disciples coming from the distant Kabul and Central Asia and Assam and Southern India - all the places where he had been in his younger days.

In the trackless world of that time, the old Father of his people travelled on foot, singing his Hymns of Nam, and gathering every trace of love. The Afghan and the Biloch, the Turk and the Tartar, the Sufi and the Brahman, the white and dark races, mingled in his great heart. The disciples, both men and women, came from all directions, and took part freely in the song of the Guru.

So great was the reverence of his own country for him, that Pir Bahauddin, the great Sufi teacher who counted his followers by thousands, one morning suddenly turned his back on Qaaba (which no Moslem would do), and began bowing, in his Namaz, in the direction of Kartarpur, “Why so?” cried his faithful followers, in alarm. “This morning I see the light of God in this direction, my friends!” said he.


(Lehna in our vernacular means “the dues to be collected,” and it also happened to be the name of a great man of Punjab.)

Lehna was a flame-worshipper. There was a flame within his soul, so he loved nothing but flame - the flame of the volcano: called, by the primitive villagers, the Goddess Durga, i.e., the lion-riding goddess of the great Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. The flame, as it came up from the volcano, seemed to leap into his soul; he burned more than ever with love of the Divine Flame. He was beautiful and godlike, a leader of the Durga-worshippers in those days. He would light for himself, while in the privacy of his sanctuary, a little lamp of ghee, and would watch the little flame for hours devotedly, and then, slowly rising, go round it in sacrifice, and suddenly begin to dance in rapture round the little flame. One day he heard of Guru Nanak, and the name fascinated him. He was on his way to Kangra, when he stopped to see the Master at the Town of God. Nanak asked him his name; and, when he replied that his name was Lehna, the Guru said: “Welcome, Lehna! You come at last, I am to pay your Lehna.” After that Lehna never left Nanak. His companions, worshippers of goddess, went on their way, beating their cymbals and ringing their bells as usual. The flame of his little lamp in the silver plate waited for him at home, and departed with the night.

Beyond all expression was the love on each side between Lehna and Guru Nanak. The heights Buddha attained by his almighty struggle, Lehna attained through love. Lehna entered Nirvana in his love of the Master. Everything else can be thought or seen was very small for Lehna beside his love for the Guru. Nanak in this divine statue of love, chiselled his own image. He saw in it his eidolon, his transfigured self and bowed down to it.


Lehna was the son of a very rich man, and he used to dress in yellow silk of Bukhara. One day he came from his native place to see the Guru, and went to the field where the Guru was working. The Guru put a heavy load of wet grass on the head of Lehana; who then followed the Guru home, the mud dripping from the wet grass and staining his silken clothes. As they entered the house, the Guru’s wife said with great concern: “Sire! See how his fine clothes are stained with mud!” Guru Nanak looked back and said, “Mud! Seest thou not, good lady! He bears the burden of suffering humanity. They are not mud stains, they are the sacred saffron-anointings! The Heaven anoints him, he is a Guru.”


The disciples and saints assembled. Bright was the day and beautiful the hour of his departure.

“Assemble, ye comrades,

And sing the Song of His praise!

Anoint the Bride

And pour oil on her forehead,

And pray together,

The Bride may meet her Lord!”

“Guru Nanak left the earth amid a chorus of song:

They search for the Master in vain who search him on this earth,

The old father of his people is not to be found,

Neither in the grave nor in the cremation flame;

He is in the heart of Guru Angad.”

Brother Gurudas, a disciple sang:

“Heaven heard at least the prayers of the people,

Guru Nanak descend on earth!

The Disciples meet him and drink the nectar of his lotus-feet!

In Kaliyuga (this dark age) we realize the Divine

All the people are the people of God,

Guru Nanak makes all the castes one caste of man!

The rich and the poor combine in one brotherhood.

From this Founder of Humanity, a new race of love goes forth;

Nanak bows down to his disciple,

The master and the disciple are one!

He is the Father of His people,

His song of Nam is our life for ages!

Nanak comes, the worlds are lighted.

Wherever the Guru goes, the golden temple of worship follows him!

Whatever mound of earth he puts his foot on is our Shrine.

The tree he sits under is our Temple.

The far-famed seats of Sidhas (Yogis and adepts) change their names, and the yoga-houses become the Guruhouses!

The temples of all the creeds seek refuge in him!

Humanity resounds with his hymns, and all is divine!

The Guru goes in all directions, seeking his own, all over the face of the earth;

He makes our hearts his gardens of love and peace,

And rivers flow in us singing his song!”

Another says:

“The dead rose out of their graves

As they heard the song of Guru Nanak.

He healed us all by showering on us the sparks of Divine Fire!

The veils were lifted up, and the disciples went freely in and out of the door of death, in concourse of song with the Immortals!”

Nanak the Master, sowed the seed of Nam in the hearts of men:

And the fields are ripe with the golden corn,

The harvests shall come, and the harvests shall pass,

But the seed is of God and is growing!

He gave Him His own love, His own face and name and soul,

He gave Him His own throne in the hearts of men,

This is Nanak the Master; the Spirit of God, that fashions Himself forever in the image of man!

The harvests shall come, and the harvests shall pass,

But the seed is of God and is growing.

Chapter Three

Guru Nanak Dev Ji

(For Children)

Shamsher Singh &

Narinder Singh Virdi

Birth of Guru Nanak

It was at an hour of calamity for India that Guru Nanak appeared on the scene. He was born on April 15, 1469, at Talwandi, in the Sheikhupura District of West Pakistan. The place later came to be known as Nankana Sahib.

His father Kalyan Dass, popularly known as Mehta Kalu, was a village Patwari in the service of a local Muslim landlord, Rai Bular, a Bhatti Rajput, who was kindly disposed towards him. Mehta came of a long line of kashatryas of the Bedi clan and wielded a considerable influence in the village. Guru Nanak’s mother, Triptan, was a pious and gentle lady.

There was great rejoicings at the birth of Nanak. People flocked to shower good wishes on the happy parents.

The family priest, Hardyal, predicted that the new-born would be a great seer and prophet and his fame would ascend to the stars.

The parents were happy that their son would occupy a position of power at the court and would be a source of comfort and solace to them.

From his very birth Guru Nanak was a symbol of peace and good-will on earth. Holy men from far and near came to have their fill at this fountain of bliss everlasting.

Guru Nanak and Nanaki

Guru Nanak was named after his sister Nanaki who was by five years his senior. The love of an Indian sister for her younger brother is proverbial. It is all the more exalted by sentiment when they happen to be namesakes too. Nanaki, therefore, not only loved her brother, Nanak, but also adored him as a superior being. She could not bear to part from him even for a moment. They always went about and played together. Their parents were exceedingly glad to find them love each other so dearly.

Although the astrologers had predicted that Nanak would be a great man, none realized the truth of this prediction so early as Nanaki. She was fully convinced that Nanak was destined to achieve great things in the world.

When Mehta was sometimes cross at what he considered his son’s lapses and wasteful ways, it was Nanaki who shielded him against his wrath.

And, again, when Mehta gave him up for lost, it was she who summoned him to Sultanpur and through the good offices of her goodly husband Jai Ram, got him employed at the government granary. It was she again who, in order to retrieve him from other-worldly thoughts, had him bound in wedlock.


From his very early life Guru Nanak was rather unusually inclined towards the life of the spirit. He was hardly five when he would gather around him children of his own age and make them think on God. On other occasions he would slip into the company of holy men and listen intently to their words of wisdom.

Mehta Kalu did not take kindly to his son's otherworldly ways. He desired that his son should grow into a man of the world. So, when Nanak was seven years old, his father took him for education first to a village Brahman named Gopal Dass and then to a Sanskrit scholar, Brij Nath. Nanak proved to be an uncommonly bright and promising student. His teachers were surprised at his uncanny ability to grasp things. Soon they told Mehta that they had taught his son all that they could and were unable to teach him any further.

After this Nanak relapsed into his former ways. This worried Mehta beyond measure. Rai Bular came to know what disturbed Mehta’s thought and he assured the latter that if son could attain proficiency in Persian, he would find him a suitable job at the court.

Thus assured, Mehta took his son to Rukan-ud-din, a noted Persian scholar. Here, too, Nanak completed his studies soon enough and took again to the company of holy men.

Guru Nanak And The Hooded Cobra

It was a hot summer day. As usual, Nanak had gone out to the woods with the cattle. Leaving the cattle to graze there about, he retired to the cool, sheltering shade of a nearby tree and abandoned himself to the soft caresses of nature.

Soon, overtaken by languor, he fell into a nap. The sun slowly rose to the zenith and the shade of the tree retreated westwards, leaving the sleeping figure of Nanak exposed to the direct rays of the hot mid-day sun.

It so happened that a cobra came out of a hole nearby and spread its hood so as to cover Nanak’s face against the sun.

Precisely at this dramatic moment, Rai Bular happened to pass by. He saw the awesome cobra poised in a menacing posture near the sleeping Nanak. He was scared lest it should strike. So, cautiously he advanced his steps. But no sooner did the snake see him than it slunk away into the hole.

The incident confirmed Rai Bular's faith in the divine credentials of the boy Nanak and he told Mehta not to regard his son as an ordinary child.

Next to Nanaki, it was Rai Bular who was aware of the divine in Nanak and, whenever Mehta was unpleasantly involved with his son, Rai Bular invariably came to the latter’s rescue.

Ceremony Of The Sacred Thread

Among the Hindus the ceremony of the sacred thread is considered a momentous event in the life of a person. Thus, when Guru Nanak was 12 years old, an auspicious day was chosen for this ceremony. All the neighbours, friends and kinsmen were invited on the occasion.

When all had gathered and the ceremonial prayers were over, the family high priest, Hardyal, who was summoned to conduct the ceremony, advanced his hand to put the thread around Nanak’s neck. Seeing this, the Guru respectfully said, “May I know, Holy Sir, what this thread is for and why need I wear it?”

The priest replied, “My son, it is the sacred thread. It delivers its wearer from the bondage of life and death.”

Nanak said, “But, Sire, it would soon get soiled, wear away and snap. What good a thread, so frail, can do to a man?”

The priest had no answer to this query, Nanak, then, continued, “I tell you, it is the virtuous deeds that deliver the soul and not this cotton thread.”

Not only the high priest but also the gathered throng was convinced about the truth of the Guru’s observations. They all returned home wiser and saner than before.

Nanak The Cowherd

Nanak’s attitude during the last few months had sorely perplexed his father. He thought to himself, “What would he do when he grows old, for neither the Hindu nor the Muslim priest has anything to teach him. If at all we talk of tradition, he is out to defy it. After all, what would it lead to. His whole life is before him yet. Must he not do anything to carve out for himself a decent living!”

Thinking thus, he summoned his son into his presence and said, “My son, education seems to be denied to you by your stars. I do not relish your loafing about either. You had better do something to busy yourself with. Why not take to cattle-grazing.”

Nanak hearkened to his father’s suggestion. From now on he daily drove the cattle to the woods and, leaving them graze at will, he would either retire to an obscure nook for meditation or contemplate some beautiful scene of nature for hours together. And in the evening he would return home, his face flushed with joy ineffable.

One day, however, filled with the thoughts of beauty, he fell into a nap. By an ill chance, the cattle strayed into a neighbour’s field and began lustily to devour the verdurous growth. The owner of the field, red with rage, went straight to Rai Bular with his complaint. The latter told Mehta to make good this loss. But Nanak said, “Kind Sir, wouldn’t it be proper first to verify the extent of the damage?”

Accordingly, Rai Bular sent his men to assess the damage. They soon returned with the report that the corn stood absolutely untouched. This impressed all those present there.

The True Bargain

Soon after, Nanak gave up cattle-grazing, for an acute fit of “existential sadness” overtook him. It was widely believed that he was taken by an evil spirit. A physician was summoned to effect his cure, but to no avail.

After a couple of months, however, he recovered on his own and his worrying parents were much relieved. One day Mehta called Nanak into his presence and said, “My son, you are grown up now. It is about time that you should stand on your own feet. Here is some money. Go to the market and try your hand at some gainful bargain.”

Obedient to his father’s behest, Nanak set out to Chuharkana, a market town some twenty miles from Talwandi. Bala, an attendant of his father, accompanied him. They had just reached the outskirts of the market town, when they met some ill-clad and ill-fed sadhus. Their sad plight excited Nanak’s pity. “What is more gainful” thought he,

“than to feed the hungry and clothe the naked!”

So, he purchased food and distributed these among the sadhus and returned homewards.

On the way back some misgivings arose in his mind about his father’s expected reaction to this bargain and he considered it prudent to stay outside the village till the storm blew over. Bala went home alone to report the matter.

When Mehta knew what actually had transpired, his anger broke all restraint. He rushed to the spot where Nanak sat, and dragged him home.

Call Of Duty

After his marriage, Nanak continued the old routine. In the small hours of morning he would go to the stream. The quiet of the wood, the silence of the stars and the music of the flowing waters brought him a message from the Unknown. Full of bliss, he would return to his daily tasks.

Two sons were born to him at Sultanpur - Sri Chand in 1494 and Lakshmi Chand in 1497.

The spiteful tongues were soon busy wagging and poisoning the ears of the Nawab against Nanak, alleging that, at the rate he was squandering the government stores, nothing would be left of them soon. But when the stores were checked, these were found in order. The Nawab sternly rebuked the people who made complaints against Nanak.

Nanak was now 28 years old and he had served in the granary for 13 years.

One morning, as usual, he went to the stream but failed to return in time for his daily preoccupations. His relations and friends were much perturbed. A wide search was made but there was no sign of him anywhere. It was generally believed that he had been accidentally drowned. The whole town was plunged in gloom.

But great was the people’s joy, when on the third day, he was seen returning homewards. His face shone like the morning and there was a strange lustre in his far-away look.

In the silence of the forest he had intently listened to the call of duty that clearly told him to go out into the world and bring the erring humanity back to the path of righteousness.

Travels Of Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak travelled on foot towards all the four global directions across the intractable deserts and the high seas, the impassable mountain ranges and the desolate wilds. He cared not for sun or rain, or other trials of travel in his zeal to do good to mankind. He left no place important to his mission unvisited. More especially he singled out centres of the Hindu and the Muslim religions for the propagation of his ideas.

His first journey was to the East during which he visited such cities as Kurukshetra, Hardwar, Aligarh, Mathura, Brindaban, Kanpur, Lucknow, Kanshi, Patna, Bodh Gaya, Dacca, Gohati, Puri, Bhopal, Jhansi, Gwalior, Agra, Gurgaon, Rewari, etc. This was his longest journey and it lasted 12 years (1497-1509).

His second journey was to the South. In the course of this he visited Zira, Bikaner, Ajmer, Abu, Indore, Ujjain, Hyderabad, Bidar, Madras, Pondicherry, Cudappa, Rameshwaram, Trincomalee, Matala, Cochin, Baglore, Poona, etc. It took him 5 years (1510-1515).

His third journey was to the mountain regions of the North. During this, he visited Jawala Mukhi, Mandi, Kulu, Jammu, Srinagar, Kailash, Mansrover. Besides these, he visited some cities of Nepal, Tibet and South China. This journey lasted two years (1515-1517).

His last journey was to the West. During this, he visited the great centres of Islam like Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad, Mashed, Bukhara, Samarkand, Balkh, Kabul, Peshawar and Hassan Abdal. This journey lasted four years (1517-1521).

At Hardawar

Visiting places like Kurukshetra and Delhi, the Guru reached Hardawar. It is situated on the banks of the Ganges, the river most sacred to the Hindus.

On account of a fair, people had gathered there in large numbers. They were bathing in the sacred river and throwing water towards the rising sun. They believed that the water so thrown reached the souls of the dead.

The Guru knew that the people were mentally too lazy to think for themselves and were reluctant to forgo the beaten track. The Guru wanted to teach them that right action inspired by right thought alone could lead to truth.

So, tucking up his sleeves, he went knee-deep into the river and began to throw water towards the West instead. This strange sight aroused the curiosity of his fellow pilgrims. They said, “We all throw water to the rising sun which is to the East. But wherefore are you throwing water to the West?”

The Guru replied, “To my fields in the Punjab, which is to the West.”

The people laughed and said, “What a simpleton you are! How can this water reach your fields hundreds of miles away?” This was exactly the reply the Guru was awaiting. He retorted, “Then tell me, friends, how you can expect this water to reach the Sun which is millions of miles away?”

They had never thought of this before. They hung their heads in shame for doing an act which really had no meaning!

Prayer In The Mosque

After this great awakening, the Guru remained in trance for the whole day. When he opened his eyes, the words, “There is no Hindu and no Mussalman” were on his lips. When the Qazi heard of it he was indignant. He complained of it to the Nawab.

The Nawab summoned the Guru to the court and asked him most respectfully, “I cannot vouch for the Hindus but how can you say that there is no Mussalman when the whole country is teeming with the Faithful!”

The Guru recounted the attributes of a true Mussalman and said, “Where is such a one to be found?” Interrupting him, the Qazi said, “Are you a Hindu or a Mussalman?” “I am neither,” said the Guru, “I am but a simple man of God!”

Meanwhile it was time for the afternoon prayer. The Nawab suggested, “If you are a man of God, why not go the mosque and join us in prayer?”

The Guru readily agreed and accompanied the courtiers to the mosque. The Qazi led the prayer. The Guru looked at him and laughed. The Qazi was very much discomfited and, when the prayer was over, he said, “Did you come here to pray or make us a butt of your mirth and ridicule!”

The Guru replied, “How could I have joined you in prayer when you were concerned more about the safety of the new-born colt at home than the thoughts of God?”

The Qazi was abashed. Likewise the Nawab, too, was exposed. He realized now that the Guru was the person who knew.

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