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Guru Nanak - The founder of Sikh religion

Guru Nanak was the first Sikh Guru (1469 - 1539) who laid the foundation and tenets of Sikhism in the fifteenth century. During that period India was in a bad plight owing to the tyranny of the Mughal rule and inter-faith differences among the people. 

Guru Nanak summarised the basis of Sikh philosophy on honest and diligent living, meditation and devotion to God's name (Waheguru), equality of all, and sharing fruits of labours with each other.

His birthplace was the village of Talwandi, now in Pakistan and known as Nankana Sahib - a famous pilgrimage of the Sikhs near Lahore. His Hindu parents belonged to the merchant caste. His father Mehta Kalian Das was an accountant in the employment of the local Muslim authorities. Guru Nanak was an unusually gifted child and he learned Persian and Arabic at an early age.

As a young child, Nanak had little interest in worldly things and was more fascinated by spirituality and religion. He despised the caste system and blind rituals. When he was 13, he refused to accept the traditional Hindu sacred thread (Janeyu) from the Hindu priest, much to the disappointment of his family. He then sang this poem:

"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)

One morning, when he went as usual to bathe and meditate in the river, he disappeared. After three days when he reappeared at the same spot, he was filled with the glory of God and his eyes were resplendent with divine light. It is believed that during these three days, while Guru Nanak was beneath the water, God Almighty revealed Himself to Guru Ji and enlightened him. When Guru Nanak finally broke his silence, he uttered the famous words "There is no Hindu, no Muslim".This was the vision he received in order to preach the way to enlightenment and God. Thus began his quest to preach about equality of all. This also marked the beginning of his missionary work. Accompanied by his Muslim rabab player Mardana for company, Guru Nanak undertook long journeys to convey his message to the people in the form of musical hymns.

Guru Nanak travelled and preached from India to the Middle East, including pilgrimage sites at Mecca and Baghdad. He spoke strongly on issues like empty religious rituals, the caste system, and sacrifice of widows and equality of women. Soon he came to be respected by both Hindus and Muslims alike. Guru Nanak never asked anyone to follow him or leave their religion. His followers exalted him to the level of Guru (teacher) and his disciples came to be known as Sikhs for the first time. He also constituted the first community meal, where people of all castes and status sat to eat together.

Guru Nanak did not encourage people to forsake their homes for the sake of religion. According to him, there were to be no priests or hermits. He taught a doctrine of strict monotheism, forbade idol worship and the Hindu caste system. His message of equality, brotherhood, peace and unity was welcomed by all.

The first Sikh temple was built by Guru Nanak and his followers (Panth) at Kartarpur.

During his lifetime Guru Nanak was able to successfully challenge the existing religious systems and lay the foundations of Sikhism. 


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