Whenever there is decline of righteousness, whenever there is oppression and chaos in the land, whenever the faith of the people in God wanes, great men or saints appear from time to time to enrich sacred literature, to protect Dharma, to destroy unrighteousness and reawaken the love of God in the minds of the people. It was the time when Bharat (Indian continent) was invaded and ruled by foreign invaders. There was wholesale massacre everywhere; the kings were cruel and tyrannical and the people were cunning, selfish and greedy. There was religious persecution. The real spirit of dharma was crushed by ritualism. At such a time, Guru Nanank came to the world with a message of peace, unity, love and devotion to God. Nanak was born in 1469 in the Punjab province of Bharat (India). His father, Kalu, was an agriculturist and accountant of the village.
Soon Nanak started going to school. But he was really not interested in gaining materialistic knowledge. His teacher, Gopal Pandha, insisted him to learn mathematics and accounts. He asked Gopal Pandha, “what is the extent of your knowledge? Does it help me to obtain salvation?” Gopal Pandha was struck with wonder. He could not give any satisfactory answer to Nanak’s question. But Nanak learnt mathematics and accounts anyway!
Nanak would not chant anything without understanding it’s meaning. Once his sanskrit teacher, Pandit Brij Nath, asked him to write and chant – OM. Nanak asked him first, “Guruji! What is the meaning of OM? You did not teach me the meaning yet. How can I chant it if I don’t know the meaning?” Teacher Pandit Brij Nath was very astonished at his words and a also little angry. He himself did not know the meaning of OM. Then Nanak replied, “let me explain you the meaning” and he himself explained Pandit Brij Nath the meaning of OM.
Nanak had a mystic disposition since childhood. He had a contemplative mind and a pious nature. One day, when Nanak was fifteen years of age, his father Kalu gave him twenty rupees (Indian currency) and said, “Nanak, go to the market and purchase some profitable commodity”. Kalu sent his servant Bala also to accompany Nanak. Nanak and Bala, while going to market, met a party of Sadhus (saints). Nanak thought: “Let me feed these Sadhus now. This is the most profitable bargain I can make”. He purchased provisions immediately and fed them sumptuously. Then he came back to his house. The servant Bala informed his master of his son’s bargain. Kalu was very much annoyed. He gave a slap on Nanak’s face. The father thought that Nanak did not like sedentary work. Therefore he said to Nanak, “O dear son! Ride on a horse and do traveling business. This will suit you nicely”. Nanak replied, “Revered father! My trade is divine knowledge. The profits are the purseful of good deeds with which I can certainly reach the domain of the Lord”. This event indicates Nanak’s divine nature and inclination towards God. Nanak began to spend his time in meditation and spiritual practices.
Nanak got married to Sulakhani. He had two sons. Nanak discharged his duties very satisfactorily. He spent a small portion of his earnings for his own maintenance and distributed the rest to the poor. Even after the marriage, he continued practicing severe austerities and intense meditation. He used to go to the forest and lonely places for his meditation.
Nanak became a public preacher at the age of thirty-four. He began to preach his mission through his songs and bhajans. When Nanak sang songs, his faithful servant Mardana used to accompany him on the rebeck. Nanak and his servant Mardana wandered from place to place to carry the message of peace and love for everybody. He preached the universal brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God to all people. He asked people to take God’s name with every breath. Nanak was a reformer too. He attacked the corruptions in society. He strongly protested against formalism and ritualism. He said, “Ritualism is not necessary while worshipping god”. His preaching produced a deep impression on the minds of the public. Soon people started calling him – Guru Nanak!.
Guru Nanak’s songs are collected and preserved in the Granth Sahib or Adi Granth—the sacred book of the Sikh community. This book is in Gurumukhi language. Guru Nanak invented the Gurumukhi characters by simplifying the Sanskrit characters. The compositions of Guru Nanak are extensively described in this Granth Sahib Book. The Granth Sahib begins with the following: “There is but one God whose name is true— the Creator”. It contains a code of high morals. Purity of life, obedience to Guru, mercy, charity, temperance, justice, straightforwardness, truthfulness, sacrifice, service, love and abstinence from animal food are among the virtues on which great emphasis is laid; while lust, anger, pride, hatred, egoism, greed, selfishness, cruelty, backbiting and falsehood are vehemently condemned.
Guru Nanak lived in this world for sixty nine years. He spent all his life in worshipping god and preaching people. Because of his rigorous meditation in order to realize God quickly, he became weak and sick. He felt that his time had come! He gave up food He became wholly absorbed in divine contemplation. He observed perfect silence and at the age of sixty nine, took his last breath.