Birth Place - Nanakana Sahib, Punjab, Pakistan - Guru Nanak (1469-1539)
Renaissance was the rebirth of the modern age (1400-1700) and its teachings were felt in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion and other aspect of intellectual inquiry. In South East Asia teachings of Guru Nanak and of the other nine Gurus subsequently had the same impact. Renaissance commenced at the time of religious turmoil. It was also the period that gave birth to Sikhism in the sub- continent.
The West had its Renaissance based on humanism but in the subcontinent Guru Nanak taught on the basis of truth and love.
The advent of Guru Nanak brought light to the modern world from the dark night of medieval ignorance, religious intolerance, inequality and corruption.
Guru Nanak narrates the gruesome period as follows:
‘Kal kaathe Raajae Kaasaaee dharam pankh kar Oddariaa’
The world is like a drawn knife In the dark age
The Kings are butchers
In the gloom of falsehood
The moon of truth is never seen. (Page 149 AD)
Martin Luther (1483) is well known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and was a seminal figure in bringing Reformation.
He taught that salvation and consequently eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God's grace contrary to Church stand that faith and good deeds were needed for salvation.
Luther challenged papal authority and perceived corruption in selling indulgencies particularly with respect to instances of solid indulgencies. His 95 thesis led to the Reformation, fractionalising the Catholic Church.
On the other side, Nanak gave a pure and special message for the whole mankind that by communion with the WORD (Shabad) shall be attained the vision unattainable – the personal realisation of god and salvation irrespective of gender.
Nanak gave his message in simple language in the Mul Mantar, the Prologue to the Sikh scripture.
There is but One Reality- Manifest and Unmanifested One The Eternal all-pervading Divine Spirit,
The Creator, the Supreme Being,
Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent
Without fear, without enmity, Immortal reality, Unborn Self Existent. By His Grace made known to men
Guru Nanak’s Reformation in terms of religion was absolute:
He preached that salvation was to be achieved while living thus giving rise to a new social order; other civilizations anticipated salvation after death.
Muiaa jit ghar jaieeaai tit jeevadhiaa m ar maar
To reach your true home after death, you must conquer death while you are still alive ( P21.AG)
This gave rise to the essence of Sikh mysticism, and it is today the 4th largest monotheistic faith in the world.
For the first time in South East Asia, Guru Nanak brought reformation of the polytheistic society by introducing monotheistic Indian religion in line with Semitic faiths to its indigenous people in the form of Sikhism. The people of sub-continent were polytheistic in their outlook and beliefs, other than those impacted by external Islamic influence in the 11th century. The worship of gods, animals, idols was an integral part of that society. Superstition and idol worship were rampant and caste systems the norm of the society resulting in most advanced ‘apartheid’ practiced in any culture and the corresponding divisions in the society:
Ghar naraain sabhaa naal.
‘In your home, is the Lord God, along with all your other gods. You wash your stone gods and worship them.’(Page 1204 AG)
Nanak preached that everyone had the right to practice and chose his/her religion or beliefs:
Young Nanak refused to be initiated into Hindu faith and rejected the baptismal ceremony of wearing the sacred thread- janeu as being futile, superstitious and spiritually meaningless.
His rebellious behavior is indicated in the following verse in the Sikh scripture:
Dhiaa kapaeh satokh soot jat ganndee sat vat
When making the sacred thread, the janeu,
See that the following rules you pursue:
Out of the cotton of compassion Spin the thread of tranquility; Let continence be the knot
And virtue the twist thereon.
O pundit, if such a sacred thread there be.
Around our neck, we shall wear it willingly,
A thread so made will not break,(Asa M1 p 471 AG)
It will not get dirty, or burned or lost. O Nanak, thou shall see,
Those who wear this shall be blessed.
The ninth Guru (9th Nanak- Guru Tegh Bhahdur) also advocated to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb that every individual had the right of freedom to practice his /her religion and that the Hindus should be allowed to wear their sacred thread. He was beheaded at Sis Ganj Gurdwara in Old Delhi in 1675 for advocating freedom of religious practice for the Kashmiri Pundits.
Sis Ganj Gurudwara Delhi- where the 9th Guru was beheaded in 1675 for advocating freedom of religious practice.
Nanak’s reformation of religion loudly echoed freedom to practice and choose one’s religion irrespective of one’s beliefs and this fundamental human right is now enshrined in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.
In the 15th century Nicholas Bacon (1510) after graduating from Corpus Christi College Cambridge joined the Gary’s Inn and subsequently became Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. He gave modern science its first-born son, in the days when Elizabethan England flourished at its peak. That son Francis Bacon (1561) after graduating from Trinity College Cambridge became Lord Chancellor, the highest law officer in England. He was already recognised the philosopher. He was endowed with the wisdom of universal thought. He then laid the foundation of modern science.
The great Renaissance of learning began with Roger Bacon in the 14th century. The torch of genius was then taken up by Leonardo da Vinci who was a polymath artist, made observational drawings of anatomy and nature. Da Vinci’s contributions during this period include machines designed to saw marbles and lift monoliths and discoveries in acoustics, botany, geology, anatomy and mechanics.
Nanak taught in his Prologue to the Sikh Scripture Adi Granth – ‘Nanak’s code’, the Mul Mantar -that God was the first Uncaused First Cause of everything. He is therefore the cause of big bang, the black holes, the dark matter and inertia which keep the rockets far flung into the deep skies and the cause of expanding and contracting universe.
Kaee baar pasrio paasaar
So many times, He has expanded is creation.(P276 AG)
Renaissance was thrown into the sky by Galileo (1564) and Copernicus (1473). Galileo had believed Copernicus theory that planets orbit the sun. For his views Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition – Holy Office of Rome.
Galileo defied directives delivered to him by the Church not to hold or defend the idea that he earth moves and the sun stands still at the centre. His book “Two New Sciences” was to be the genesis of modern physics.
Nanak gave the distance to the moon as stated in his Janam Sakhi (Biography). He stated it was 52000 Yojan or 236363 miles which is about the same as NASA distance to the moon of 225742 miles. The difference is due to the fact that this distance keeps changing because the orbits of the earth and moon are eclliptical. The distance of moon from us at its farthest point is about 52000 miles.
Nanak stated that there were universes after universes, galaxies after galaxies and even further more spheres after spheres which our Hubble telescope has not observed yet.
Thithae khand mandal varpand
There are planets , solar systems and galaxies If one speaks of them there is no limit no end,
Thitae loh loh akaar(Guru Nanak Japji stanza 37)
Jiv jiv hukan thevai tiv kaar.
There are worlds upon worlds of His creation
As He commands, so they exist.
Kae kot akaas brahmand
Many millions are the fields of creation and the galaxies Many millions are the etheric skies and the solar systems(P 276 (12) AG)
Nanak described the endless twinkling stars as the suns like our sun around which the planets rotate and were not flat. The earth was round, and there were earths and still more and more earths which were propped by their own force which the scientist call gravity.
Dharti hor praiee hor hor
So many worlds beyond this world and many more beyond. What power holds them and support their weight(p3 Adi Granth)
There is life on other planets of earth which is similar to ours.
Kaetheeaakaram bhoome maer kaethae kaethae dhoo oupadhaes So many worlds and lands for working out our karma.
So many lessons to be learned.(Guru Nanak Japji Stanza 35)
When Guru Nanak was challenged in Baghdad about life on other planets, he took Dastgir Pir’s son to endless universes by soul travel and even brought sacrament as proof from one of the nether worlds where Nanak was also worshipped.
Whilst Columbus(1451) was voyaging the seas, Vascoda Gamma (1469) voyaged to the East and died in Kochi, India ((1524 ). Guru Nanak walked the land like Jesus, only difference is Nanak walked much further distances, in fact he walked enough to circle the earth covering some 28000 kilometres. While Columbus and Vascoda Gamma did their explorations for trade and for the empire, Guru Nanak did this to preach the glory of God’s Name. He visited every religious centre in the world - Mecca of the Muslims, the Benares of the Hindus, Jerusalem of the Jews, Buddhist centres in Tibet and the Sadhus in Himalayas.
Prince Niccoll Machiavelli (1469 ) an Italian statesman, and political writer showed an acute understanding of human nature, with such genius which was regarded as the work of the devil.
Guru Nanak was a wise statesman and forged peace. At Emnabad he was herded with dozens of innocent people and imprisoned by Babur, the First Mughal Emperor. All the inmates were asked to grind corn. But Nanak’s grinding wheel moved by itself. On learning this, Babur summoned Nanak for an audience before him. Nanak advised Babur to act righteously with justice. All the prisoners were released.
The research of William Gilbert (1544) found science of magnetism. Vesalius (1514) gave a new confidence to the role of dissection, observation, and mechanistic view of anatomy and called out the slumbering genius before reformation days, and then came Francis Bacon to call the training school of Europe.
Sikh scriptures had disclosed that there were 72000 nerve channels in the body and must have added value to the medical field.
Dhas Bairaagan Mohi Bas Keenhaee PanhahuKaa Mitt Naavo Satar dhoe pare Amritsar Beekh ko Maar Kadaaeve sins.
I have brought the ten sensory organs under my control and erased all the venial sins(P 693 Adi Granth)
I have filled the seventy two thousand nerve channels with Ambrosial Nectar , and drained out the poison
Isaac Newton (1643) an alumni and Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Cambridge University worked on gravitational forces as well as centripetal forces and laws of Motion.
However, Nanak taught that to control forces of the material world we must begin with mind control.
‘Conquer the mind and you conquer the world’(Guru Nanak - Japji Stanza 27)
Scientists’ have shown that electricity is one substance into which all other substance resolve themselves, everything ending at last in protons, electrons, neutrons, Fermions, bosons, quarks and leptons.
By gaining complete control over the mind we can then direct it towards prana- breath or vital energy/ vital force in the body. By controlling prana, we can compel it to manipulate lowers substances which we have to deal with and visible in its manifestation such as electricity. Gaining that we may play with nature’s forces as we desire – secret of all science and miracles!
It was a time of general awakening from dark night of medieval ignorance. Guru Nanak and Kabir, Savonarola and Luther, John Knox and Wesley, came into the general stir not so much, as to inculcate science but to awaken the stupefied spirit.
The music of the 15th century Burgundian school defined the beginning of renaissance in music and the polyphony of the Netherlands, formed the core of the first true international style in European music. At the end of 16th century Italy became a centre of musical innovation.
The 1430 pages of main Sikh scriptures the Adi Granth, compiled in 1604 by Guru Arjan, the 5th Sikh Guru, is divided according to 60 Indian classical rags or musicals.
Each hymn is sung according to its emotive nature corresponding to the specific time of the day. The devotional singing of these mystic hymns forms the Sikh mode of worship.
It is said that the mode of these musicals evokes therapeutic and mental solace to its listeners..
William Shakespeare (1564) England’s national poet and writer had profound influence on language, literature, and culture in the 15th century
The poetry in the Holy Adi Granth used by Nanak and other Gurus as well as other saints like Kabir was a medium of communication. Their mystic poetry is expressed by use of metaphors such as bride and bridegroom to express relationship between soul and the creator as well metaphor rooted in images of life and nature which take one to mystic heights. It clearly had huge impact on the Punjabi language, literature and above all its spiritual culture.
The language of the poems and the music they evoke identifies Nanak as the greatest mystic poet of all time.
Guru Nanak was a married man with 2 sons. He showed that a loving family made a strong family and a great nation and was necessary for one’s spiritual development. He condemned the Sadhus who became recluse and left home and retired into the forests or Himalayas and refused to make any contributions to the society.
Guru Nanak emphasised that every individual and family must praise the glory of God’s Name; and must earn honest day’s bread for an honest day’s living and donate ten percent of their income or dasvand for charitable purposes – Naam Jaapo, kirit karro , vand chakko.
Guru Nanak ensured that individuals or groups of individuals are not treated differently or less favourably, on the basis of their specific protected characteristic, including areas of race, gender, disability, religion or belief, age and in diversity is reflected the same light of got. It is the same light of god in everyone that makes us equal.
On the social front Nanak challenged the Indian caste system that is akin to ‘apartheid’. It is the corner stone of Hindu civilisation. He promoted education for all men, women and children by introducing Gurumukhi script that became accessible to all and sundry- it is the script of the Holy Adi Granth and the vehicle of written communication for the most glorious Punjabi language in the Indian Union. However, Nanak’s schooling itself was short-lived at Patti Sahib school as he was too clever to be taught by anyone. He was removed from the school and assigned the task of grazing his father’s cattle in the farm where he would meditate in the scorching heat of the sun. The trees would move to provide him shade at the site of Kiara Sahib and dangerous snakes( cobra) would wide open their hood over the young boy's head to protect him from the heat. This site is venerates as gurdwara Malji Sahib.
The four doors of the Golden temple were designed and built in 1589 to embrace equality irrespective of caste, creed, religion, colour, race or gender.
He endorsed women’s rights and became a pioneer in championing the cause of women’s equal rights in the society. He encouraged and allowed women to worship together with men in the Sikh temples which broke barriers of inequality.
Women were cursed in all the religious scriptures as being unclean at menstruation or child birth and incompatible or incompetent with the roles played by men. Nanak removed this myth and condemned such conduct first scriptures ever to do that in human history in the Sikh scriptures, and the
Of a woman are we conceived,(Asa Di Var Page 471 AG)
Of a woman are we born
To a woman we are betrothed and married,
It is a woman who is friend and partner for life,
It is a woman who keeps the race going,
Another companion is sought when the life partner dies, Through woman are established social ties
Why should we consider woman cursed and condemned? When from woman are born kings and prophets
From woman alone is born a woman
Without woman there can be no human birth
Without woman, O Nanak,, only the True One exists.
The world celebrates Women’s Day each year. Guru Nanak remains an unsung hero who had founded the women’s liberation.
Nanak’s biggest spiritual contribution to mankind was the teaching of Science of the Word ( Naam) which unlike other science disciplines is a perfect science which forms the subject matter of 1430 pages of the Adi Granth compiled and composed by the Sikh prophets- Nanaks
Nanak ke ghar kewal naam.
In the House of Nanak dwell on the Word (Shabad) only.(P1136 AG)
Guru Nanak’s teachings reveal a personal experience of the Divine, the Almighty – the Creator. It takes one beyond the realms of time and space and all its attendant evils. It destroys all sorrow and suffering and brings salvation before dying.
Guru Nanak reached height of spiritual exaltation unparallel in any age. A glimpse of Nanak’s mystic teachings will be an eye opener for all those who genuinely wish to enquire the meaningful purpose of individual life and aspirations for God realisation with a wish to return to their true home – “Sach Khand,” the Kingdom of God.
Muiaa jit ghar jaieeaai tit jeevadhiaa m ar maar
To reach your true home after death, you must conquer death while you are still aliveP21.AG
Nanaak jeevtiae mar raheeai aisaa jog kamaaa ee ai
Remain dead while yet alive, practice such a yoga.(p730 AG)
Peace and Reconciliation
Guru Nanak introduced an agenda of peace, reconciliation and community cohesion to make an inclusive society and a just world possible. He believed that integrity, respect and trust between different communities would lead to dignity for all people.
The impact of Islam in North Western India in the 11th century had been through military conquest and sword. This naturally slated reactions in the polytheistic and sensitive Indian mind mainly Hindus, that resulted in impassable barriers of hatred and prejudice, between world culture currents. Their mutual contacts have therefore left irritating and unfortunate monuments of bigotry, and misunderstanding, spiritual and physical, that still mark the Indian scene. The new born Sikhism was to be the common meeting ground between these two world culture streams .A prominent Muslim Sufi divine Mian Mir was therefore honoured to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple jointly with Nanak VI, which in the embrace of the waters of Immortality, thus was intended to be a profound symbol of future confluence of world culture into a universal culture for the mankind.
The Golden temple and its complex is the home of Sikh civilisation and a living example of humanity, equality, inclusiveness, tolerance, mutual respect, peace, serenity and love.
Nanak was LOVE and his message was love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, equality and mercy. He attracted followers from all streams - the Muslims , Hindus, and the Buddhists.
But at his death in Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan – the Medina of the Sikhs – it created a precarious situation. The Muslims demanded their rights to bury him and the Hindus insisted on cremation. It was mutually agreed that both sides would lay flowers on his body covered in white sheet and those flowers that remained fresh the next morning would take the body. To everyone’s surprise both flowers blossomed evermore with freshness but the body beneath had ascended to high heavens where Nanak had his home - the Sach Khand.
Each side received half the sheet which they disposed of at the site of death as a token of last rites.
Violence was thus averted. Peace and reconciliation has been maintained to this day where a temple and a tomb were erected at the site of death. The Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus pay their homage side by side the temple and the tomb in a spirit of community cohesion, and reconciliation with absolute peace and love for each other.
Guru Nanak’s contribution to the modern world in every aspect of human life was true renaissance of the people in the subcontinent. It was reformation of a new nation consolidated by the creation of Khalsa Order by the tenth Guru. It is reflected in his followers, the Sikhs, which means in Pali Language Winners of life and in Sanskrit students of life.
About the author:
(Justice Anup Singh Choudry is a Sikh writer and a retired High Court Judge who served in Uganda)
© Copyright Justice Anup Singh Choudry
Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the author