Guru Nanak was an Indian saint who founded Sikhism and became the first of the Sikh Gurus. A visionary and a great soul, he was an original spiritual thinker. His religious ideas draw on both Hindu and Islamic thoughts, but are also unique in their own right. Born into a Hindu family in 15th century India, he started displaying signs of his greatness early on in childhood. Even as a boy he used to spend long hours in meditation and was deeply spiritual. He questioned the meaningless rituals his family performed in the name of religion and refused to participate in them. His radical spirituality shocked his parents and they tried to involve him in worldly matters. The kind-hearted young boy distributed his father’s money to the poor and needy thus greatly angering his pragmatic father who hoped that his son would one day become a businessman. Even an arranged marriage at an early age did not prevent Nanak from venturing further on the spiritual path. Eventually he went on to found Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that advocates the concept of the oneness of God. He traveled far and wide, mostly on foot, spreading the message of oneness of God who dwells in all living beings.
The celebration is generally similar for all Gurpurabs; only the hymns are different. The celebrations usually commence with Prabhat Pheris. Prabhat Pheris are early morning processions that begin at the Gurudwaras and proceed around the localities singing hymns. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path(a forty-eight-hour non-stop reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs) is held in the Gurdwaras.
On the day of the Gurpurab, the celebrations commence early in the morning at about 4 to 5 am. This time of the day is referred to as Amrit Vela. The day begins with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns). This is followed by any combination of Katha (exposition of the scripture) and Kirtan (hymns from the Sikh scriptures), in the praise of the Guru. Following that is the Langar, a special community lunch, which is arranged at the Gurudwaras by volunteers. The idea behind the free communal lunch is that everyone, irrespective of caste, class or creed, should be offered food in the spirit of seva (service) and bhakti (devotion).
Night Prayer sessions are also held in some Gurudwaras, which begin around sunset when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited, followed by Kirtan till late at night. The congregation starts singing Gurbani at about 1:20 am at night, which is the actual time of birth of Guru Nanak. The celebrations culminate at around 2 am. Guru Nanak Gurpurab is celebrated by the Sikh community all over the world and is one of the most important festivals in the Sikh calendar. The celebrations are especially colourful in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh and many more locations. Even some Sindhis celebrate this festival.
Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji was born in 1469 in Talwandi, a village in the Sheikhupura district, 65 kms. west of Lahore. His father was a village official in the local revenue administration. He had one sister, Bebe Nanaki, who was five years older than he was. In 1475 she married and moved to Sultanpur. Nanak was attached to his sister and followed her to Sultanpur to live with her and her husband, Jai Ram. At the age of around 16 years, Nanak started working under Daulat Khan Lodi, employer of Nanaki's husband. This was a formative time for Nanak, as the Puratan (traditional) Janam Sakhi suggests, and in his numerous allusions to governmental structure in his hymns, most likely gained at this time.
According to Sikh traditions, the birth and early years of Guru Nanak's life were marked with many events that demonstrated that Nanak had been marked by divine grace. Commentaries on his life give details of his blossoming awareness from a young age. At the age of five, Nanak is said to have voiced interest in divine subjects. At age seven, his father enrolled him at the village school as was the custom. Notable lore recounts that as a child Nanak astonished his teacher by describing the implicit symbolism of the first letter of the alphabet, resembling the mathematical version of one, as denoting the unity or oneness of God. Other childhood accounts refer to strange and miraculous events about Nanak, such as one witnessed by Rai Bular, in which the sleeping child's head was shaded from the harsh sunlight, in one account, by the stationary shadow of a tree or, in another, by a venomous cobra.
On 24 September 1487 Nanak married Mata Sulakkhani, daughter of Mūl Chand and Chando Rāṇī, in the town of Batala. The couple had two sons, Sri Chand (8 September 1494 – 13 January 1629) and Lakhmi Chand (12 February 1497 – 9 April 1555). Sri Chand received enlightenment from Guru Nanak's teachings and went on to become the founder of the Udasi sect.
Guru Nanak founded and formalised the three pillars of Sikhism:
Guru ji led the Sikhs directly to practise Simran and Naam Japna – meditation on God through reciting, chanting, singing and constant remembrance followed by deep study & comprehension of God’s Name and virtues. In real life to practice and tread on the path of Dharam(righteousness) - The inner thought of the Sikh thus stays constantly immersed in praises and appreciation of the Creator and the ONE ETERNAL GOD Waheguru.
He expected the Sikhs to live as honourable householders and practise Kirat Karni – To honestly earn by ones physical and mental effort while accepting both pains and pleasures as GOD's gifts and blessings. One is to stay truthful at all times and, fear none but the Eternal Super Soul. Live a life founded on decency immersed in DHARAM - life controlled by high spiritual, moral and social values.
The Sikhs were asked to share their wealth within the community by practising Vand Chakna – “Share and Consume together”. The community or Sadh Sangat is an important part of Sikhism. One must be part of a community that is living the flawless objective values set out by the Sikh Gurus and every Sikh has to contribute in whatever way possible to the common community pool. This spirit of Sharing and Giving is an important message from Guru Nanak.
During his his time on Earth Guru Nanak was revered by both Hindus and Muslims and even today many, outside of the Sikh faith, revere him. It is related that as he lay dying, his followers some formerly Hindu and others formerly Muslims argued whether his body should be cremated as Hindu tradition dictated or buried as in Islamic tradition. It is said that when they removed the sheet which had covered the Guru they found only beautiful flowers. The Hindus burned theirs, the Muslims buried theirs.
Following are highlighted contribution of Guru Nanak:
When in the middle east, the west and the rest of asia slavery, varna/class and race discrimination was rife and respect between the different classes and caste was at a peak, Guru Nanak preached against discrimination and prejudices due to race, caste, status, etc. He said:
"See the brotherhood of all mankind as the highest order of Yogis; conquer your own mind, and conquer the world." (SGGS page 6);
"There is one awareness among all created beings." (page 24)
"One who recognizes the One Lord among all beings does not talk of ego." (page 432)
He urges all the peoples of the world to "conquer" their minds to these evil practises. All human beings had the light of the Lord and were the same -- only by subduing one's pride and ego could one see this light in all.
In about 1499 when the world offered low to no status or respect to women, Guru Nanak sought to improve the respect of women by spreading this message:
"From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman." (page 473)
In so doing, he promoted women's rights and equality.
It had been a custom at the time for religious leaders to address only their own congregation and for segregation of the different religions, but Guru Nanak broke with tradition and spoke to all of humanity.
To the Muslim he said:
"And when, O Nanak, he is merciful to all beings, only then shall he be called a Muslim" (page 141)
To the Hindu, he said:
"O Nanak, without the True Name, of what use is the frontal mark of the Hindus, or their sacred thread?" (page 467)
and to all he preached:
"To take what rightfully belongs to another is like a Muslim eating pork, or a Hindu eating beef." (page 141)
On Asu sudi 10, 1596 Bikrmi (Monday September 22, 1539 AD) Guru Nanak breathed his last breath at Kartarpur. The Sikh, Hindu and Muslim devotees returned the following morning. They carefully lifted and removed the sheet which had been placed over the guru's body. All were amazed and astonished to discover that no trace at all remained of Guru Nanak Dev Ji's mortal body. Only fresh flowers remained, for not a single bud had wilted of any blossom which had been left by either Sikhs, Hindus, or Muslims, the night before.
The Muslims then buried the flowers, while the Hindus and Sikhs cremated them. Therefore, both a samadhi (Hindu traditional monument of remembrance) and a grave (according to Muslim traditions) were created by each community. A gurudwara now stands there, near the banks of river Ravi, next to a small village named Kothay Pind (village) on the West bank of the Ravi River in Punjab, Pakistan.
This Gurudwara is also visible from the Indian side of the border, from a Gurdwara at the historical town of Dehra Baba Nanak in India. Both sites are considered to be some of the holiest places in Sikhism.