Turning to Nanak in troubled times

Friction between different communities and colliding concepts of salvation are not new to our country. In every period a certain segment of the society has run the writ, while the other has silently nursed grudge.

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 17:11 PM IST

Akrita Reyar Friction between different communities and colliding concepts of salvation are not new to our country. In every period a certain segment of the society has run the writ, while the other has silently nursed grudge. Hindus have borne bitter centuries, the lower castes even more. Indians together suffered a long eon of humiliation as an enslaved colony. And now, in modern India, minorities are sore. Today the social fabric of the country is yet again under tremendous strain. What is more unsettling is that events nowadays are inevitably followed by a Rashomon effect, where different segments view the same reality through divergent yet pertinent prisms. Take the Batla House shootout or the Biharis ordeal in Maharashtra as some recent cases in point. Conflicts today run at several strata and have varied dynamics. But that is not the issue here. The point that I am trying to make is that the answers remain same. And these solutions were subscribed to us by a herald, who centuries ago illuminated vast lands of this country and much beyond, who held up the light for us to experience the truth. It was Guru Nanak (1469-1539). I shall refrain from introducing him as the founder Guru of the Sikhs, for he belongs to all. And it is in these trying times that Nanak seems more relevant than ever before, as he brought out the irrelevance of the differences and stuck to the underlying and unifying fundamentals of humanity. The emergence of Nanak showcased the beauty that confluence can produce. The evolution of Sikhism should be seen as a by-product of the interaction of Hinduism and Islam. The Guru Granth Sahib is unique in encompassing a breadth of thought and writings of Saints from different faiths and religions. Urdu is another fine example of the splendour that is capable in the embrace of different languages – Hindi and Arabic in this context. The trouble today is in our rigidity of our stances. It is this dissonance that hurts and in turn hardens those holding polemical views even more. Plurality and Peaceful Co-existence In taking every community along, Guru Nanak proved that peaceful co-existence of divergent viewpoints is possible. It is well known that the two disciples, who accompanied Guru Nanak through all his travels, were Bala, a Hindu, and Mardana, a Muslim. While Bala is known to have recorded an account of Guru Nanak’s life, Mardana played the rebec when the Guru sang divine hymns. The story goes that it was Mardana, who once requested the Guru for a visit to Mecca. When the people in Mecca recognized Guru Nanak as a realized soul, they asked him which between the Muslims or Hindus was superior. The Guru replied, "Without good deeds, both will repent. Superiority lies in deeds and not in mere creeds." It is this very thought that he had revealed when he first began to preach. Once in 1497 in the city of Sultanpur Lodhi, Guru Nanak went for a bath in River Baeen. Although the people saw him enter the river, he however failed to come out from its waters. The news soon spread that Nanak had drowned, but miraculously he emerged again after 3 days. It is said that during that period he had gone into God`s presence where he was entrusted with the task of preaching the Divine Name to the world. It is believed that when he reappeared from the river people saw a halo around his head. His first sermon was supposed to be, "Na Koi Hindu Na Musalman.(Neither is one Hindu nor a Muslim)" This declaration made Nawab Daulat Khan and his Qazi extremely angry. The Nawab then confronted Nanak asking him to join them for Namaz (Muslim prayer) if he genuinely felt there to be no difference in the communities. The Guru gladly agreed but when Namaz was offered, while the Qazi and the Nawab stood, kneeled and bowed the Guru remained only standing. After the Namaz was over, the Qazi reproached him for not participating in prayers. The Guru replied, "I did take part in the prayer, but both of you did not." Then he explained, "While the Qazi performed the service, he remembered that there was a well in his courtyard, and his mind was filled with apprehension lest a newly-born filly should fall in the well. The Qazi`s mind was, therefore, not present in the prayer. Also while the Nawab was pretending to pray, his mind was set on purchasing horses in Kabul." Both admitted to the truth of Guru`s statements. Baba Nanak emphasized that prayer should be from our hearts and not merely ritualistic. It is for this reason that when he was being administered the Janeau(thread worn by Hindus) at the age of 9, he questioned whether wearing it would make him a better human being. "Let mercy be the cotton, contentment the thread, continence the knot and truth the twist. O priest! If you have such a thread, do give it to me. It`ll not wear out, nor get soiled, nor burnt, nor lost. Says Nanak, blessed are those who go about wearing such a thread" (Rag Asa). In India today when religion has become a matter of dispute, it is spirituality in the true sense that will relieve us from our parochial trappings and make us more accommodative. Guru Nanak and all the following Sikh Gurus refused to paint any community in one brush alone. While in later years there were disputes with several Moghul kings, there was no quarrel between the Sikhs and the Muslims per se. The fact that the foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid by a Muslim – Mian Mir, itself was in keeping with the Guru Nanak’s tradition of tolerance and goodwill towards all. Shunning of Caste and Dynasty Politics A similar convention of non discrimination against all Castes was a revolutionary idea in times when untouchability was widely practiced. The concepts of community kitchen and four doors at the Golden Temple are meant to indicate the equality of all people. Simple lessons from these examples can go a long way in removing our prejudices against certain castes or communities. Similarly it makes way for better polity where voting and ticket distribution are based on merit and real issues of development rather than ethnic/caste considerations. Many professions, especially Indian politics suffer from a phenomenon that is known as “sonstroke”, whereby every politician wants to leave his constituency to his children. Guru Nanak by handing over the Guru Gaddi(Guru’s Seat) to an unrelated disciple Guru Angad Dev, rather than giving it to his own sons, showed that suitability to a particular post should be the only criterion for selection. Crusade against Corruption & Exploitation Guru Nanak empahised on three fundamentals. Kirt Karo (Earn through endeavour and honest means), Vand Chhako(Share your earnings/food – thus the concept of community eating) and Naam Japo(Sing the praises of the Lord). In our quest to earn ever more, we are often compromising on our means of livelihood. We rank at an extremely ignoble position of 85 on the corruption index of the world, forgetting that wealth acquired through illegitimate means is not acceptable to the Higher Power even if we were to present it as an offering. Similarly we adopt exploitative means especially when it comes employing manual labour. People from poorer states are hired at Rs 80 per day against local people who are given Rs 115 appx for the same work. Honesty and fair play should be a part and parcel of the work culture of this country. Once Guru Nanak made a stop at the town of Saidpur, now known as Eminabad, and there he met a poor carpenter named Lalo and accepted his hospitality. The news reached Malik Bhago, the chief of the town. Bhago was a corrupt man and had amassed wealth through unfair means. He too invited the Guru; however Nanak did not accept his invitation saying he could not eat food that is ill-begotten and has been made with money sucked from the poor through unfair means, while Lalo`s bread is made from the hard-earned money. An agitated Malik Bhago asked the Guru to prove his point. The Guru then sent for a loaf of bread from Lalo`s house. In one hand the Guru held Lalo`s bread and in the other that of Malik Bhago`s, and when he squeezed both, milk came out from Lalo`s bread and blood dripped from Malik Bhago`s bread. Malik Bhago was completely shaken by his guilt and asked for forgiveness. The Guru asked him to distribute his ill-gotten wealth among the poor and henceforth live an honest life. Dialogue resolves Conflicts No event than the wrapping up of his journey on earth brings out the need for dialogue. When Guru Nanak passed on, a dispute broke out between Hindus and Muslims, each claiming him to be their own. While the Muslims wanted to bury him, the Hindus wanted to cremate him. Till the time the two parties were entangled in conflict, no solution seemed in sight. Finally, the two parties opened a dialogue so as to find a reasonable way out. It is said when the two parties removed the sheet that covered the Guru’s body, to their utter surprise they found nothing but sweet scented flowers. Both Hindus and Muslims divided the flowers between themselves and performed last rites as per their faith. In his death as in his life, Nanak built bridges between communities urging them to introspect and engage in dialogue rather than wasting their energy in hostility. Showing that finally dialogue does indeed bring forth answers. Finally, by giving us the Mool(Root) Mantra, Guru Nanak focused on the underlying unity in thought between the Allah of the Muslims and Par Brahm of the Hindus. Ikoankar God is One Sat Nam His Name is True Karta Purakh
He is Creator Nirbhao He is without Fear Nirvair He is Inimical to None Akal Murat He Never Dies Ajuni Saibha`n He is Self Illuminated Gur Parsad He is Realized through the Grace of a Spiritual Master