Guru Nanak Created Sikhism After Being Dismayed By The Rituals, Caste System And Inequality Between Men And Women

By Zile Singh


Guru Nanak – “Jo tum prem khelan ko chaho, Sir  dhar tali gali mori aao.”



Guru Nanak found that Hinduism had become more a matter of outer rituals than inner experience.  The women once treated with respect and equal status had been utterly down-graded.  The caste system was at its peak.  It had divided so much our race and society that even after a hundred years after Guru Nanak, the priestly class was not prepared to anoint Shivaji, the great Maratha hero.  Nanak, for the first time, laid the foundation of a ‘composite culture’ by compiling the Banis of Farid, Kabir, Raidas and many other saints of his time into his Pothi.  Later, Guru Arjun Dev inducted the Banis of these Saints, or popularly known as ‘Bhagats’, in Sri Guru Granth Saheb.  On the other hand, the high caste, especially the   Rajputs could not digest that Rani Mira Bai of Chittor accepts Raidas as her Guru.  She was poisoned and Raidas was humiliated by calling him a low-caste.  In a jittery situation, Raidas started addressing himself repeatedly as ‘chamar’.  Later, stories were invented that Raidas had a ‘janaew’- the pious thread under his skin.   It was also was established that Kabir was an illegitimate child of a Brahmin woman devotee who abandoned him on the bank of a pond.  Kabir was picked up and raised by a Muslim couple of liberal values. During Nanak’s time, the great Hindu epic Ramayana written by Balmiki, a lower caste saint was also replicated by Hindu saint Tulsidas as Tulsi Ramayan.  Nanak’s incarnation at such a time was a turning point in the history of northern India.


My family and I personally were influenced much by Nanak’s life.  My grandfather had a very small landholding, but he was a share-cropper.  Once, along with a roaming Aryasmaji baba he went up to Lahore and came in connect with some followers of Guru Nanak.  He returned after a month.  It was early April in 1947.  He was part of a farmers group who were sowing sugarcane for a big landlord in the village.   A sumptuous lunch was being served.  The owner served the low-caste labourers including my grandfather in inferior quality vessels.  He had heard the story of Nanak taking food at Bhai Lalo’s  home instead of at Bhago’s.   Inspired by Nanak’s message,  in disgust, he threw the vessels.  The sound echoed into empty space.  He   vowed, “Henceforward I will not take food from your house and will not participate in any function where anyone would show a caste-based discrimination with your co-workers.”  After about two years the same landlord donated him one acre of land at the outskirts of the village where he made a hut and lived   throughout his life keeping his promise. It had a great effect on the higher castes.  Later the villagers started calling him “Bhagatji”.  In return, he used to call them “Ramji”.


After The Buddha, Nanak took the ignorant masses from the outer world of hate and inequality to an inner kingdom of harmony and ecstasy.  When asked who he was, Nanak said, “I am lowest of the low.  For God’s Grace is only where the lowly and the lost are cared for.”   The only exception was that Buddhism founded the institution of ‘monks’ whereas Nanak emphasized on a pure and honest householder’s life.  Guru Nanak exhorted people that if they really want to love God, they have to shed their old dogmatic and ritualistic thoughts and practices.  The truth is that the masses have earned a degree of ‘cleverness’.   History has taught them ways and means of evasion. We have put our saints, bhagats and great masters on pedestals and altars and settled the issue with the following declaration:  “You are our God.  We are your devotees and worshippers.  Your place is in our religious places made by us.  You will be provided with all the amenities.   We will half- heartedly sing your prayers too.  Do not interfere in our daily life.”  The matter ends here.  Guru Nanak does not agree with this declaration.  He, instead, is asking for a ‘complete transformation’.  Unless you take a risk in a positive direction,  it is difficult to realize God.


Nanak was a poet par excellence.  He wrote and sung in a language which is not often Punjabi, but a mixed language called Sadhu Bhasha which was understood by the general masses of his time.  His sentiments are essentially Indian.  He has hardly used the name of Punjab in his writings and utterances. He practiced a democratic spiritual temper which emphasizes not only to tolerate, but also to appreciate and integrate another’s point of view. In fact, he synthesized the Hindu and Islam points of view.


In the present context I would like to mention that last week I visited a space owned by a foreign government in Vancouver.  A portrait by a famous artist was hung on the wall.  Under the portrait, it is written, “I can take out the truth from your lies.   Your freedom of race, religion or even language is making you less controllable.”  I am surprised; an artist might be watching our day-to-day activities and reading the newspapers’ stories related to us.


“If your heart is in your prayer, God will know it.”

Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca


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