The festival of Guruparb falls on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Kartik (October-November) and is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder Guru of Sikhism.
Guru Nanak's life served as a beacon light for his times. He was a great reformer, preacher and a saint. He was a prolific poet and a unique singer of God's laudation. A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, he was centuries ahead of his times.
The anniversaries of Sikh Gurus are known as Guruparb (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication. The second Guruparb commemorating Guru Govind Singh is celebrated in the month of Paush (December-January). Guruparb marks the culmination of prabhat pheris, the early morning processions that start from the gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and then go around localities singing shabads (hymns).
The celebrations also include the three-day Akhand path, during which the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is read continuously, from beginning to end without a break. On the day of the festival, the Guru Granth Sahib, decorated with flowers is carried in a procession on a float through the village or city. Five armed guards, who represent the panj pyara (five loved ones), head the procession carrying nishan sahib (the Sikh flag). Local bands playing religious music form a special part of the procession. At Nankana sahib there is a beautiful Gurdwara, and a holy tank or sarovar. On Guruparb, a grand fair and festival is held here, and Sikhs in thousands congregate here from India and abroad.
Sikhs also visit gurdwaras where special programs are arranged and kirtans (religious songs) are sung. Houses and gurdwaras are lit up to add to the festivities.
Guru da Langar
Free sweets and langar (community lunches) are also offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. In the guru da langar, the traditional sweet made with wheat flour, ghee and sugar called kada prashad is distributed. One important thing about this sweet: the flour is roasted, very slowly, in a substantial quantity of ghee in an enormous kadai. During the entire period of cooking a sacred verse is recited. As this recitation ends, so does the cooking process of the kada prashad, which is then ready to be distributed to the devotees.
Volunteers of all age groups gather to prepare the community lunch. Men, women and children participate in this service which is called karseva. It is a close feeling of brotherhood that they all gather to chop vegetables, cook on huge fires and roll out countless number of rotis. The food is simple with dal, fresh seasonal vegetables and the piping hot rotis. The food is free flowing and whoever comes for langar is sure to go back satiated. A list of tasty recipes follows…
Coming of mankind's benefactor
Guru Nanak's life served as a beacon light for his times. He was a great reformer, preacher and a saint. He was a prolific poet and a unique singer of God's laudation. A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, he was centuries ahead of his times. His universal message is as fresh and true even today as it was in the past and Sikhs all over the world practice what Guru Nanak preached, to reaffirm their beliefs in the teachings of their founder.
In praise of the Lord, Guru Nanak uttered:
"There is but one God, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, He fears none, He is without hate, He never dies, He is beyond the cycle of births and death, He is self illuminated, He is realized by the kindness of the True Guru. He was True in the beginning, He was True when the ages commenced and has ever been True, He is also True now."
These words are enshrined at the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scriptures. Guru Nanak did not believe in a Trinity of Gods, or the belief that God can be born in human form. In Sikhism he tried to harmonize both Hinduism and Islam. He never believed in caste-distinctions and liberalized social practices. A true Sikh strives not for salvation or paradise but always loves to see God. Many of Guru Nanak's hymns, which form a part of the Guru Granth Sahib, reflect clearly how the sight of God and his love itself is supreme.
Life and times of the Guru
The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak was born on November 2, 1469 in the western Punjab village of Talwandi, about forty-five kilometres away from Lahore (now known as Nankana sahib).
Guru Nanak was born to a simple Hindu Kshatri family. His father Mehta Kalian Das was an accountant in the employment of the local Muslim authorities. From an early age Nanak made friends with both Hindu and Muslim children and was very inquisitive about the meaning of life. His outlook was saintly and he had no love for worldly affairs.
At the age of six he was sent to the village school teacher to learn reading and writing in Hindi and Mathematics. He then studied Muslim literature and learnt Persian and Arabic. He was an unusually gifted child who learnt quickly and posed a lot of questions to his teachers.
At the age of thirteen, it was time for young Nanak to be invested with the sacred thread according to the traditional Hindu custom. At the ceremony, which was attended by family and friends, the young Nanak refused to accept the sacred cotton thread from the Hindu priest to the disappointment of his family.
As a young man herding the family cattle, Guru Nanak would spend long hours absorbed in meditation and in religious discussions with Muslim and Hindu holy men who lived in the forests surrounding the village. Thinking that if bound in marriage Guru Nanak might start taking interest in household affairs, a suitable match was found for him. At the age of sixteen, he was married to Sulakhani, the daughter of a pious merchant. Guru Nanak did not object as he felt that married life will not conflict with his spiritual pursuits. Guru Nanak was happily married; he loved his wife and eventually had two sons Sri Chand in 1494 and Lakshmi Chand three years later.
Now that he had a family of his own Guru Nanak was persuaded by his parents to take up a job as an accountant in charge of the stores of the Muslim governor of Sultanpur, Daulat Khan Lodi. Guru Nanak agreed and was joined by his family and an old Muslim childhood friend Mardana, a musician by profession. Guru Nanak would work during the days, but early in the mornings and late at nights; he would meditate and sing hymns accompanied by Mardana on the rabab (a string instrument). These sessions attracted a lot of attention and many people started joining the two.
Incarnation of Guru Nanak
Early one morning accompanied by Mardana, Guru Nanak went to the river Bain for his bath. After plunging into the river, Guru Nanak did not surface and it was reported that he must have drowned. The villagers searched everywhere, but there was no trace of him. Guru Nanak was in Holy Communion with God. The Lord God revealed himself to Guru Nanak and enlightened him.
After three days Guru Nanak appeared at the same spot from where he had disappeared. He was no longer the same person he had been, there was a divine light in his eyes and his face was resplendent. He remained in a trance and said nothing. He gave up his job and distributed all of his belongings to the poor. When he finally broke his silence he uttered "There is neither a Hindu, nor a Muslim: only man".
Guru Nanak was thirty years old at this time in 1499. The next stage of his life began with extensive travels to spread the message of God. Accompanied by Mardana, Guru Nanak undertook long journeys to convey his message to the people in the form of musical hymns. He chose this medium to propagate his message because it was easily understood by the population of the time. Wherever he travelled he used the local language to convey his message to the people. He travelled throughout the Indian subcontinent and further east, west and north to spread his mission. Wherever he went he set up local cells called manjis, where his followers could gather to recite hymns and meditate.
His first long journey over, Guru Nanak returned home after twelve years of propagating his message. He then set out on a second journey travelling as far south as Sri Lanka. On his return north he founded a settlement known as Kartharpur (the Abode of God) on the western banks of the river Ravi. It was here that Guru Nanak was to settle down in his old age.
On his third great journey Guru Nanak travelled as far north as Tibet. Wherever he travelled he always wore a combination of styles worn by Hindu and Muslim holy men and was always asked whether he was a Hindu or Muslim. On his return journey home he stopped at Saidpur in western Punjab during the invasion of the first Mughal Emperor Babar. On seeing the extent of the massacre by the invaders, Mardana asked Guru Nanak why so many innocent people were put to death along with those few who were guilty. Guru Nanak told Mardana to wait under a banyan tree and that he would return in a while to answer his question. While sitting under the tree Mardana was suddenly bitten by an ant. In anger Mardana killed as many ants as he could with his feet. Guru Nanak said to him, "You know now Mardana, why do the innocents suffer along with the guilty?"
After having spent a lifetime of travelling abroad and setting up missions, an aged Guru Nanak returned home to Punjab. He settled down at Kartharpur with his wife and sons. Here his followers would gather in the mornings and afternoons for religious services. He believed in a casteless society without any distinctions based on birthright, religion or sex. He institutionalized the common kitchen called langar in Sikhism. Here all can sit together and share a common meal, whether they were kings or beggars.
Feeling his end was near, the Hindus said they would cremate him, the Muslims said they would bury him. Guru Nanak resolved by saying: "You place flowers on either side, Hindus on my right, Muslims on my left. Those whose flowers remain fresh tomorrow will have their way." He then asked them to pray and lay down covering himself with a sheet. Thus on September 22, 1539 in the early hours of the morning Guru Nanak merged with the eternal light of the Creator. When the followers lifted the sheet they found nothing except the flowers which were all fresh. The Hindus took theirs and cremated them, while the Muslims took their flowers and buried them.