Know All About Guru Nanak Jayanti

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Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurpurab, also known as Guru Nanak's Prakash Utsav and Guru Nanak Dev Ji Jayanti, celebrates the birth of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak. This is one of the most sacred festivals in Sikhism, or Sikhi. The festivities in the Sikh religion revolve around the anniversaries of the 10 Sikh Gurus.

Guru Nanak's Birthday is a celebration in Sikhism, an independent faith that developed during the fifteenth century in India. The word Sikh comes from the Sanskrit word shishya, which means disciple or student.

Sikhs believe that God was the original guru (guru means divinely inspired prophet or teacher) and that he chose to reveal his message to Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru. Sikhs believe that their gurus were prophets sent by God to lead people into truth. They emphasize equality among people of different castes, practice Kirat Karni (a doctrine of labouring), and follow the precepts of charity.

Sikhism resembles both Islam and Hinduism but is not directly associated with either. Similar to Hindus, Sikhs believe that the human soul progresses through a series of births and rebirths and that its ultimate salvation occurs when it breaks free from the cycle. Sikhs, however, reject the Hindu pantheon and do not participate in bathing rituals. Instead, they worship one God who they believe is the same God of all religions, including Allah of Islam. Unlike Muslims, however, they shun fasting and pilgrimages.

The Sikh holy scriptures are called the Guru Granth Sahib (Guru means divinely inspired teacher; Granth means book; Sahib means revered). A more ancient name is Adi Granth, which means first or original book. The Guru Granth Sahib was compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Arjan, and revised by Gobind Singh, the tenth guru. It contains hymns composed by the gurus.

Sikhs do not have an established priesthood. Although individual gurdwaras may employ specially trained people to care for the Guru Granth Sahib, all Sikhs are free to read from their holy scriptures either in the temple or in their homes. In addition, there is no one person to whom all Sikhs look for guidance in religious matters.

The Sikh community is called the Panth, and collective decisions may be made by the Panth for the entire community. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhad Committee, whose members are elected, provides guidance for all the gurdwaras in the Punjab. Individual local gurdwaras elect their own committees to oversee local matters.

Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh religion. He was born in 1469 at Talwandi, a small village about forty miles from Lahore, now located in Pakistan. According to legend, his birth was accompanied by flowers falling from heaven and by musical instruments that started playing on their own.

Although he was born into a Hindu family, Nanak was influenced by Islamic teachings, particularly those of the Sufis, a mystical Islamic sect. His curiosity about spiritual matters was evident at a very young age, and by the time he was thirty, he had experienced a mystical encounter with God. Legend says that he was taken to God by the angels and that he stayed in God's presence for three days.

His absence from the village triggered rumours that he had drowned in a stream where he was last seen bathing. After learning that he had been chosen as a prophet, Nanak reappeared on earth and set off on his mission to spread God's word. He went to Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Bangladesh, and Mecca, proclaiming his message to both Hindus and Muslims, whom he hoped to unite.

He wanted to abolish caste distinctions and to promote more liberal social practices, encouraging his followers to work hard and pursue normal family relations. His teachings, in the form of poems and hymns, are preserved in the Holy Book known as the Guru Granth Sahib. Those who followed him became known as Sikhs, from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘disciple’.

When Guru Nanak died in 1539, a quarrel arose among his followers. Those who were Hindu wanted to cremate him, but his Muslim followers wanted to bury him. The next day, his body disappeared-Nanak's way of showing them that the way of God was neither Hindu nor Muslim but included both. He was succeeded by nine other gurus who carried on his work. Sikhs believe that although these ten prophets were different individuals, they all shared the same spirit.

The development of Sikhism was influenced by the Bhakti movement and Vaishnava Hinduism.

Bhakti Movement

An important landmark in the cultural history of medieval India was the silent revolution in society brought about by a galaxy of socio-religious reformers, a revolution known as the Bhakti Movement. This movement was responsible for many rites and rituals associated with the worship of God by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Indian subcontinent.

For example, Kirtan at a Hindu Temple, Qawaali at a Dargah (by Muslims), and singing of Gurbani at a Gurdwara are all derived from the Bhakti movement of medieval India (800-1700). The leader of this Hindu revivalist movement was Shankaracharya, a great thinker and a distinguished philosopher. And this movement was propounded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Namadeva, Tukaram, Jayadeva. The movement's major achievement was its abolition of idol worship.

The leader of the bhakti movement focusing on the Lord as Rama was Ramananda. Very little is known about him, but he is believed to have lived in the first half of the 15th century. He taught that Lord Rama is the supreme Lord, and that salvation could be attained only through love for and devotion to him, and through the repetition of his sacred name.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was an ascetic Hindu monk and social reformer in 16th century Bengal. A great proponent of loving devotion for God, bhakti yoga, Chaitanya worshiped the Lord in the form of Krishna.

Sri Ramanuja Acharya was an Indian philosopher and is recognized as the most important saint of Sri Vaishnavism. Ramananda brought to North India what Ramanuja did in South India. He raised his voice against the increasing formalism of the orthodox cult and founded a new school of Vaishnavism based on the gospel of love and devotion. His most outstanding contribution is the abolition of distinctions of caste among his followers.

Followers of Bhakti movement in 12th and 13th Century included saints such as Bhagat Namdev, and Saint Kabir Das, who insisted on the devotional singing of praises of lord through their own compositions.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continued to witness the rise of many religious reformers. The exponent of the Rama cult and the Krishna cult among the Vaishnavas branched off into a number of sects and creeds. The leading light of the Rama cult was saint-poet Tulsidas. He was a very great scholar and had made a profound study of Indian philosophy and literature. His great poem, 'Ramacharitamanasa', popularly called Tulsi-krita Ramayana is very popular among the Hindu devotees. He set before the people the image of Sri Rama as all virtuous, all powerful, the Lord of the World, and the very embodiment of the Supreme Reality (Parabrahma).

The followers of the Krishna cult founded the Radha Ballabhi sect under Hari Vamsa in 1585 A.D. Sur Das wrote 'Sursagar' in Brajbhasha, which is full of verses of the charm of Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha.

Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru and founder of the Sikhism, too was a Nirguna Bhakti Saint and social reformer. He was opposed to all distinctions of caste as well as the religious rivalries and rituals. He preached the unity of God and condemned formalism and ritualism of both Islam and Hinduism. Guru Nanak's gospel was for all men. He proclaimed their equality in all respects.

However, Sikhism was not simply an extension of the Bhakti movement. Sikhism developed while the region was being ruled by the Mughal Empire. Two of the Sikh gurus – Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, after they refused to convert to Islam, were tortured and executed by the Mughal rulers. The Islamic era persecution of Sikhs triggered the founding of the Khalsa, as an order for freedom of conscience and religion.

Celebrations

This holy occasion is observed on the full moon day in the month of Kartik as per the Hindu calendar. The Guru Nanak Jayanti begins with the reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs in the Gurudwara non-stop for 48 hours. This recitation of the Guru Granth is known as Akhand Path and this recitation ends on the day of the festival. Day prior to Guru Nanak Jayanti, a religious procession or Prabhat Pheri is carried out in the early morning that is led by the Panj Pyares, the five-armed guards.

These guards head the procession carrying the Sikh flag known as the Nishan Sahib. They also carry the Guru Granth Sahib that is well set in a Palki (Palanquin) ornamented with flowers. The procession starts from the gurudwaras and proceeds towards the nearby localities.

The guards are followed by local bands playing brass bands and a team of singers singing Shabads (religious hymns). While the procession passes the local homes, the devotees sing the chorus and offer sweets and tea to the people in the procession. ‘Gatka’ teams (martial arts) display mock-battles with the traditional weapons.

The route of the procession is decorated with flags, flowers and religious posters. Banners are also posted depicting various aspects of Sikhism. On the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, celebrations begin early in the morning at around 4 or 5 a.m. Morning hymns, known as Asa-di-Var, and hymns from the Sikh scriptures are sung, which are then followed by Katha, or the exposition of the scripture.

This includes religious and historical lectures and recitation of poems to honour the Guru. The Gurudwara hall also conducts the Kirtan-Darbars and Amrit Sanchar ceremonies followed by a special community lunch, or Langar. This lunch is organized by the volunteers at the Gurudwara.

The Sikhs consider distributing free sweets and lunch as a part of seva (service) and bhakti (devotion). The food is served to all people irrespective of caste or religion. Special pious food or Prasad known as Kara Prasad is then offered to everyone present in the Gurudwara.

The gurudwaras and the homes are decorated with earthen lamps and candles in the evening.

Religious music played by local bands, enthusiastic Bhangra dance (Punjabi dance form) and the colourful folk drum players add to the colour of the festival. The guards perform fighting skills and marital arts. Golden Temple in Amritsar is the main attraction during this festival that is celebrated with pomp and fare. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in 1469 A.D. in a Bedi Kshatriya family in the village of Rai Bhoi di Talwandi now known as Nanakan Sahib near Lahore in Pakistan.

Guru Nanak ji used to sit with holy men, pandits and mullahs and spend hours with them in long discussions. Nanak was a great seer, saint, mystic, prolific poet and unique singer of God’s laudation. His only message was to spread love, peace, truth and renaissance. Even today, Sikhs across the world practice Guru Nanak’s preaching to reaffirm their belief in the founder’s teachings. Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated with pride, honour and great respect.

Celebrations take place on large scale over the Sikh communities and Food forms are the main attraction of this festival. The essential part of any Gurudwara is the Langar or Free Kitchen. Here the food is cooked by the sevardars or volunteers and is served to all without discrimination. The practice of serving food to all was started with Guru Nanak’s Sikhs at Kartarpur.

The Guru’s Langar is always vegetarian, and traditionally is made up of simple, nourishing food. Strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness are important when preparing the Langar (i.e., washed hands, never tasting it while cooking). Individuals with communicable diseases should not participate in the preparation of Langar. It is also suggested that Gurbani be recited during the preparation.

The entire Sikh community gets engaged in the true festive mood. Delectable delicacies are also prepared on this holy occasion and distributed like the Atte ka Seera, Malai Ladoo, Jabeli and Kaju barfi. Atte ka Seera: Atte ka Seera or wheat flour halva. It’s such a simple and earthy dessert.

The sweet aroma that wheat flour emanates when you are roasting it in ghee will put you in the right mood to enjoy this special occasion. Malai Ladoo is a north Indian snack made of paneer and milk. Kaju Barfi is made with cashew nuts soaked in water overnight (it is not prepared using milk) and ground the next day; then sugar, saffron (kesar) and other dried fruits are added. It is usually white/yellow in color. If pistachios are used in the preparation, it can be green in colour.

Guru Granth Sahib

The Guru Granth Sahib is the Sikhs' Holy Book. It is 1,430 pages long and includes all the hymns of Guru Nanak, other hymns and teachings added by Arjan (the fifth guru), and the final additions of Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth and last guru, who died in 1708). It was the latter who placed a volume of the Holy Book before a gathering of his followers, laid five coins and a coconut in front of it, and bowed his head, declaring that there would be no more human gurus; from now on, the Granth was to serve as their spiritual leader.

During the first two days of the festival surrounding Guru Nanak's birthday, a ceremony called an Akhand Path begins. This is a continuous, uninterrupted reading of the entire Guru Granth Sahib, timed so that it ends on the birthday anniversary.

Sikhs treat the Guru Granth Sahib with even more reverence than Christians show for the Bible, because it is not only a religious document but enjoys the same status as a guru. It is kept on a platform under a richly decorated canopy and covered with a special cloth.

Sikhs must bow before the Guru Granth Sahib whenever they enter the prayer hall, and they must never turn their backs to it. All those who read it must wash their hands before touching it, and it is customary to place an offering of food or money in front of it. Next to the Granth Sahib is what is known as a chaur. Similar to a fly whisk or brush, it is waved over the Holy Book as a sign of respect.

Sikhism preaches that people of different races, religions, or sex are all equal in the eyes of God. It teaches the full equality of men and women. Women can participate in any religious function or perform any Sikh ceremony or lead the congregation in prayer.

In this very spirit, we, at Apeksha News Network, wish you a very Happy Guru Nanak Jayanti!


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