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Some Stories from the life of Sikh Gurus
The True Bargain
Bhai Ghanaya’s ‘Red Cross’
Right from his early school days Nanak proved to be a very talented child. His teachers were very impressed with his extra ordinary intellectual ability. He always asked his teachers questions about every thing. For example, when he was nine, the family priest came round to put a sacred thread on his body according to the Hindu tradition. Nanak questioned the Pandit about the benefits of wearing such a thread, and whether his thread would make him a better person.
Some years later, when Nanak left school, his father wanted him to start a small business so that he could learn to earn his own livelihood and be able to look after his family in future. For the purpose of training, he gave him some money and asked him to go and invest in a way, which in turn could bring him some profit. His father had hoped that his son would buy some consumer goods of every day use from the near by town and sell them at their village and make some profit. A family friend accompanied him to assist.
The town was some distance away. During this journey they came across a group of Sadhus (ascetics) resting under some trees. Nanak was naturally attracted to them and struck up a conversation with them. He soon found out that they were rather hungry and were also poorly clad. They had not eaten enough for some days and were feeling weak. Nanak, immediately, thought what to do with the money his father had given to him. He decided not to waste any more time talking, but to go to the town and buy all the necessary provisions needed for the Sadhus. Apart from his love of God, Nanak was very interested in the welfare of the poor and the needy.
Later, after having distributed all the food and clothes, they had brought, among the Sadhus, Nanak felt very satisfied about the way he had spent his money. He thought he had made a very good bargain by putting the money to some good use. But, when Nanak reached home empty handed, his father became very angry and beat him for wasting his money. Luckily, Nanak’s elder sister (Nanaki) was around, and saved him from his father’s wrath, saying, “my brother is a messenger of God. He only does what God asks him to do.”
The place where Nanak fed the hungry Sadhus was reverently remembered by Sikhs. They built a magnificent Gurdwara called SACHA SAUDA (true bargain).
Later in life, when Guru Nanak was actively preaching his message to the people belonging to different trades & professions, he addressed a shopkeeper with the following message explaining the secrets of moral life:
Our transient life is our shop
And the Holy Name is the Merchandise,
With which we are entrusted.
Alertness of mind and purity of action,
Are the warehouses in which store the Holy Name;
Let your dealing be with the saints;
They are sound and reliable customers;
Take a fair profit and be happy.
One day during his travels within Panjab, Nanak reached a large village, which is now called Eminabad. His friend Mardana was with him. They were both tired and hungry and wanted to rest and have some food. Although he had never met him, Nanak knew that there was a certain person in the village named Lalo, who was an extremely humble and honest man. He was a so-called low-caste carpenter and earned his living honestly by working hard all day. Nanak went straight to his little one-room house and asked for food. Lalo too had heard about Nanak, who did not believe in caste or class, and he had once wished to visit this holy man. But he had never thought or imagined that this holy man would one day come to his house himself and even ask for food.
In the same village lived another man, named Malik Bhago. He was a high caste Hindu (Brahmin) and was the headman of the village. He was rich and had acquired his wealth by wicked means. Every year, on a certain day he used to hold a feast of exotic foods for all the people of the village, so that he could prove that he was a man of charity. In turn he expected that all the people who ate his food would pray for his health and happiness in this world, as well as, a place for him in Heaven.
Incidentally, the day after Guru Nanak’s arrival was the day of Malik Bhago’s annual feast. Rich exotic foods were prepared, and messengers were sent to bring every known holy man to the feast. When Malik Bhago heard the news that Nanak was also in the town, he felt very excited because who could be more important to honour his feast and pray for him. He at once sent his messengers to ask Guru Nanak to come to his annual feast.
But Nanak declined the invitation. Malik Bhago was surprised at this as well as annoyed. His excitement changed into anger, and he told his messengers to go back to Nanak and bring him to his house, by force if necessary.
This time when the messengers came to fetch Nanak to Bhago’s house, he did not refuse to accompany them. However, he took with him a piece of coarse ‘ROTI’ (pancake-like bread), which Lalo had prepared for him.
In the meantime, a big crowd had already gathered outside Bhago’s house to see what would happen to Guru Nanak when he reached there. Soon they saw Nanak. His face was radiant with a strange and penetrating smile. Nanak was happy to see such a large crowd, as it was a good opportunity for him to teach his message.
As soon as Nanak entered the house, Malik Bhago spoke in an agitated manner and said, “why is it that you have accepted coarse food from a low-caste carpenter, but do not wish to eat my richly-made dishes, which everybody else has enjoyed so much?” Nanak did not answer, but asked for a THAALI (a large steel plate) with food in it. This was brought immediately. Now Nanak sat down calmly. He gently picked a piece of richly greased ‘POOREE’ (a small fried pancake) from the thaali in one hand, and in the other he held the piece of ‘roti’ brought from Lalo’s house. He squeezed them both. To the amazement of everyone, drops of milk trickled out of Lalo’s roti, and to the horror of Bhago drops of blood oozed out of his pooree.
Everybody present was stunned into silence, but Malik Bhago shouted, “what trickery is this!” To this Nanak replied all the more politely, “No, Malik Bhago, no trickery, no magic, but the plain truth. Lalo’s roti is the result of his honest labour. His roti is as pure as he is himself in his living, and so white milk symbolises his truthful life. You, Malik Bhago, have not acquired your wealth by honest means. Your rich food is the result of the blood and sweat of many who work for you, and so this blood symbolises your cruelty and tyranny.”
It seemed that every word from the Guru shook Malik
Bhago to accept the truth. He could not deny what the Guru had said.
His pride was instantly humbled and he felt a sudden change of mind.
Without saying a single word, he knelt at the Guru’s feet and begged
for forgiveness. Guru Nanak lifted him up gently, embraced him and
said, “Remember Malik Bhago, your annual feast will bring you no credit
until you really mean to help the poor and the weak. Charity given out
of ill-earned wealth brings no blessings.”
During his eastward journey NANAK wanted to visit a Hindu holy place, called HARDWAR. This little town is situated on the banks of the river GANGA (Ganges). The Ganga is regarded as the most holy river by the Hindus.
One morning, as he came to the river, he saw something strange and unusual. The people were not only bathing but also throwing and offering water to the rising sun in the east.
It did not take him long to realise what was happening. But he too had a message. He quietly walked into the river near the bank and stood in the water with his back to the sun. Then he began to throw water in the opposite direction - to the west. This was unusual and strange to the other people who were throwing water to the east.
Everybody bathing nearby looked at NANAK in amazement and surprise. Some thought he was insane and took no notice; while others thought him ignorant and came near to tell him what was right. Soon there was a crowd, many watching and listening from the bank.
One wise looking man spoke to NANAK and asked him what he was doing. NANAK’s technique had worked. He had got them into talking without asking the people to stop and listen to him. Immediately but politely he asked, “May I know what you are doing? ” The man looked surprised at NANAK’s question and said, “Don’t you even know that? We are sending this water to our ancestors, now living in the other world, where the sun comes from.”
At this, Guru NANAK smiled broadly, shook his head gently and again started to throw water in the opposite direction. Now everybody was getting impatient, because NANAK did not answer their questions, and did not stop doing something, which they thought was wrong. The crowd on the bank was really big now.
The man spoke again. He seemed angry and annoyed at NANAK’s behaviour. “But you have not explained to us why you are throwing water in the wrong direction.“ By now NANAK was sure that everybody in the crowd was watching and listening. He said, “I live in Panjab which is west of this place. I have a farm there, where I had grown some crops before leaving. I have heard that there has been no rain since then. There is a drought. I am trying to save these crops from dying for lack of water. That is why I am throwing water to the west.“
Most of the people in the crowd laughed at NANAK’s reply without realising the hidden meaning and the message. The same person spoke to NANAK with even more scorn and anger. “Do you know your crops in Panjab are hundreds of miles away from here? How could this handful of water reach that far? Can’t you see that it actually falls a few feet away from where you are standing? Are you mad or just plain foolish? “
NANAK kept smiling; and when the other man had stopped his lecture, Nanak began to speak very clearly but calmly. “I can see that this water is falling back into the GANGA a few feet away, but don’t you see that the same thing is happening to the water which you throw towards the sun. If my water can’t reach a few hundred miles away in Panjab, then how can you pretend that the water, which you throw to provide for your ancestors land, in the other world, would reach there?
Everybody in the crowd was stunned to hear this
argument. But soon there were whispers. Suddenly they realised that
this man was not an ordinary man. They were repentant. They asked him
to tell them something more. NANAK in turn told them not to waste time
in rituals, which served no purpose, which did not do any good for
others, and which they did not even understand. Only the benefit of
good deeds and sincere prayer reached the souls of the departed. His
explanation was complete and so was his message.
Nanak loved both Hindus and Muslims as his friends. However, he always claimed that he was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim but the child of God. At the same time, he did not miss the opportunity of visiting both the Hindu and Muslim holy places. He used these visits to meet more people and teach them about truth.
One of his journeys, with his Muslim musician companion, Mardana, took him to Mecca, which is over two thousand miles to the west of Panjab in Saudi Arabia. It was the time of HAJJ, when Muslim pilgrims pay their respects to their Prophet Mohammed by visiting the holy shrine, KAABA in Mecca.
The journey had taken months. Most of the time Nanak walked on foot. The night he reached Mecca he was very tired. He lay down to rest and sleep close to the shrine. When he was fast asleep he was suddenly woken up by a rude shout and a kick from an angry Hajji-pilgrim. “What is the matter? O man of God, why are you so angry?” Nanak inquired.
“Don’t you see that you are sleeping with your legs stretched towards the Kaaba, the House of God?” The man shouted. “I am sorry, I did not mean to show disrespect to the house of God. I am his child too. But, brother, would you please turn my feet to the direction where God is not.”
It is said that as this man turned Nanak’s feet in another direction. To his amazement he realised that they were still facing the Kaaba. The man was totally confused. In the meantime the Guru stood up and blessed the man for tolerance and understanding.
Nanak was fast becoming well known as a preacher of
truth. Many a Muslim learned man use to gather around him. What he said
about being a good Muslim is recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib as
“Mehar maseet sidak musalla haq halal Koran.....”
Make Thy mosque of love of humanity;
Thy prayer-carpet of sincerity;
Thy Koran of honest and approved endeavour;
Thy circumcision of modesty;
Thy Ramadan fast of noble conduct -
Thus shalt thou be a true Muslim.
Make good deeds thy Kaaba;
Truthfulness thy preceptor;
Thy Names and Kalima pure actions;
Five are the prayers, five the hours to perform;
Five their different names;
What are the true prayers?
The first is truthfulness; the next honest endeavour;
The third, prayer offered to God for the good of all;
The forth is a sincere heart;
The fifth, devotion to God:
Whose Kalima is good actions is alone a true Muslim.
Saith Nanak: All who are false within,
Prove of no worth in the end.
(Var Majh, Guru Nanak, SSGS p. 140)
“Musalman kahawan mushkal.....”
Hard it is to become a true Muslim;
Only one truly such may be so called.
His first action, to love the way of the holy;
Second, to shed off his heart’s filth as on the grindstone
One professing to be a guide to Muslims must shed the illusions of life and death.
To God’s Will must he submit;
Obey God and efface his self.
Such a one shall be a blessing for all,
And be truly reckoned a Muslim.
(Var Majh, p. 141)
Anandpur, the stronghold of Guru Gobind Singh was under siege by the Mughal Armies from Lahore and Sirhind for months, the defending Sikh soldiers were engaged in bloody battles with the enemy. Naturally, on both sides there were soldiers who were killed or wounded. Although, all the followers of the Guru were ready to die for him in the battlefield, there was one named Ghanaya who was rather inclined to do service only. He was very fond of the Guru, and had a very tender and compassionate heart. He did not want to fight or kill any body, whatever the reason. But he was neither a coward nor an idler. Whenever there was a battle, he was also there, not fighting but looking after the wounded. Because of the heat and exhaustion the wounded soldiers’ first need was water. So Bhai Ghanaya always carried large leather Mashak full of water on his back with which he would serve wounded soldiers, without distinction between friend and foe.
This continued on for some time, until the Sikh soldiers realised that one of their own Sikh was serving water to the enemy soldiers and thus helping them. They were so angry with him that they came to the Guru and complained about the strange behaviour of Bhai Ghanaya. The Guru at once summoned him, while they were there. More Sikhs gathered round to hear how Bhai Ghanaya explain himself before the Guru.
Face to face, the Guru inquired, “Bhai Ghanaya, I have been told that you are going in the battle field and helping the enemy by serving water. Is this true? ”
“No my lord, not the enemy” was the humble reply.
The Sikh soldiers who had complained felt very agitated at his reply and at once shouted, “No Guru Ji, he is lying. We ourselves have seen him doing so. He is not telling you the truth, he is not a good Sikh.”
By now the Guru had realised what was happening. So to be fair to the agitated Sikhs, he put the question again to Bhai Ghanaya, with a slight smile, “Well Bhai Ghanaya, I know that you will not lie, but these Sikhs also will not lie. Be brave and tell us the whole truth.”
This time Bhai Ghanaya spoke with confidence, “ They are correct in saying that I am serving water to the enemy soldiers, as freely as to our Sikh soldiers. But really, I am serving the wounded, whether Sikh or Mughal. To me, they all need help in their suffering. You have told us that when you clothe the naked person, you clothe me; when you feed the hungry, you feed me. And so when I give water to the needy or thirsty, I only keep you in mind. To me that person is a wounded human being, not a Sikh and nor a Muslim.” He carried on. While the Guru’s face lit up with a broad smile, the complaining Sikhs felt confused and speechless.
“Well done Bhai Ghanaya, what you have been doing is good and proper. You have been acting in the true Sikh spirit. The fallen and the wounded are no longer our enemy. They are simply human being in need of help and care.” The Guru was now addressing every body present.
Guru Gobind Singh then, gave some ointment and bandages to Bhai Ghanaya and asked him if he could give the injured a bit of first aid as well.
This incident marks the beginning of the Sikh traditions thinking of treating the wounded in the battlefield and is in line with today’s world wide Red Cross Organisation, which came into being much later than the time of Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Ghanaya.
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