Guru Nanak Dev (ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ ਦੇਵ, (गुरु नानक گرونانک Gurū Nānak (15 april 1469, Nankana Sahib, Punjab, (now Pakistan) - 22 September 1539, Kartarpur, Punjab, India), is the central figure in Sikhism, and named as the first of the ten Sikh Gurus.
His father, Kalidas Chandarana , later known as Kalyan Das Bedi, also known as Mehta Kalu, was the patwari (accountant) of crop revenue for the village of Talwandi under the Muslim landlord of the village, Rai Bular, who was responsible for collecting taxes. Guru Nanak's mother was Tripta Devi and he had one older sister, Nanaki.
The most popular Janamsākhī are said to have been written by a close companion of the Guru' Bhai Bala' before Nanak died. However, the writing style and language employed have left scholars such as Max Arthur Macauliffe certain that they were composed after his death.
Bhai Gurdas, purported scribe of the Gurū Granth, also wrote about Nanak's life in his vārs. Although these too were compiled some time after Guru Nanak's death, and are also less detailed than the Janamsākhīs, modern sikh ideologues tend to hold them in higher regard.
The Janamsākhīs recount in minute detail the circumstances of the birth of the guru.They claim that at his birth, an astrologer who came to write his horoscope insisted on seeing the child. On seeing the infant, he is said to have worshipped him with clasped hands. The astrologer then remarked that he regretted that he should never live to see young Guru Nanak as an adult..
At the age of five years Nanak is said to have voiced interest in divine subjects. At age seven, his father Mehta Kalu enrolled him at the village school as per the norm. Notable lore reccounts that as a child Nanak astonished his teacher by describing the implicit symbolism of the first letter of the alphabet, which is almost straight stroke in Persian or Arabic, resembling the mathematical version of one, as denoting unity or oneness of God. Other childhood accounts refer to strange and miraculous events about Nanak such as a poisonous cobra being seen to shield the sleeping childs head from the harsh sunlight.
Nanak's teachings come down today foremostly in the Guru Granth, a vast collection of revelatory verses recorded in sloaks.
From these some common principles seem discernible. Firstly a supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible manifests in a variety of religious forms, the Singular 'Doer' and formless source of all forms. It is described as the indestructible or timeless form and in both impersonal and personal forms. Salvation or liberation depends on the grace ('nadir'- glance) of God alone and although outside the power of the individual, manifests through the individual whom is seen to be unceasing in their efforts. Religious awakening is compared to undergoing a living death.
Nanak describes the dangers of the self (haumai- 'I am') and calls upon devotees to engage in worship through God's name and singing of God's qualities, discarding doubt in the process. However such worship must be selfless (seva)- which could be said to be similar in principle to the nishkaam worship elaborated in the Bhagavad Gita. God's name cleanses the individual to make such worship possible. This is related to the revelation that God is the Doer and without God there is no other. He warns that hypocrisy and falsehood are pervasive in humanity and that religious actions can also be in vain. However the practice of satsang is considered exalted. It may also be said that ascetic practices are disfavoured by Nanak who suggests remaining inwardly detached whilst living as a householder.
Through popular tradition, Nanaks teaching is understood to be practiced in three ways:
Nanak put the greatest emphasis on the worship of True Name (naam japna). One should follow the direction of Awakened individuals rather than the mind (state of manmukh- being led by the mind)- the latter being perilous and leading only to frustration.
In the context of his times, reforms that occurred in the wake of Nanak's teachings and the bhakti movement at large included bhakti devotion being open to all castes, women not to be marginalised from its institutions, and both Godhead and Devotion transcending any religious consideration or divide, as God is not separate from any individual.
Common errors today are to understand Nanak as a mere reformer or intellectual thinker. People tend to think of him as someone who attempted to reconcile Hindu and Muslim differences, and consequently of Sikhism as a thoughtful and conscientious attempt to combine elements of Hinduism and Islam. However, a close study of even a few of his sloaks quickly dispel this false notion. Nanak spoke from direct understanding as an Awoken personality and not as a scholar, utilising the language of panjab at the time as a person of Hindu background living in a highly Islamicised state. He encouraged people to worship within their own traditions, but to keep the focus on God's names rather than egotistic considerations.
In this hymn Guru Nanak uses the metaphor of the marriage party, describing the march of Babur and his army of dogs, ravaging through beautiful Khorastan and coming to defile the jewel-like bride Hindustan (India). The ironic use of terms associated with marriage customs seems to be a subversion of the populist and widespread archetype of 'the beloved' that preoccupied Northern Indian religious and artistic thought at the time.
Nanak puts this event up to the prospect of a merciful yet all-powerful God, describing powerfully yet with muted economy the state of events and how this related to questions of suffering and oppression, and the transcience of life.
However, Nanak is not viewed as a Bhagat by Sikhs; rather, these individuals exmply the uniqueness and astonishing nature of the devotes' state. To Sikhs Nanak is a manifestation whereby God was revealed, hence the title Guru. This explains his travel as stated in the previous paragraph. He moved from place to place in order to seek out the devoted, in answer to their religious yearning. As per the janamsakhis, Nanak mysteriously took up the religious form recognisable to different religious groups as he ventured into their different territories - amongst the Shivaites in the south he became like a Shivaite, amongst the Muslims in the west he seemed like a Muslim holyman.
Nanak proclaimed Lehna as the successor Guru, renaming him Angad, meaning 'limb' or 'one's very own'. This successorhood wasn't a mere gesture. Via a transformation, compared in Sikh tradition as the passing of a flame from one candle to another, the Guru-aspect of Nanak descended upon Angad. Angad became Nanak. In the Guru Granth Sahib this is described as having even a physical manifestation whereby Angad in person suddenly appeared to look like Nanak.
(To Sikhs, although there were ten separate Gurus in physical form, there was actually only one single Guru whose metamorphosised light moved from one successor or vessel to the next, granting a kind of rebirth to those personalities on their initiation. Hence they all held the original name of 'Nanak'.)
Shortly after proclaiming Lehna as the next Guru, Nanak announced that the time of his death had arrived, and retreated to a tree whereby he sat in the lotus position and the praan (life-force) was guided upwards and outwards from his body. The date was said to be 22 September, 1539 according to the western calendar.