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Guru Nanak - His Life & Teachings
From The Backcover Of The Book 'Guru Nanak - His Life and Teachings' By Roopinder Singh
GURU NANAK, founder of the Sikh religion, was born in 1469. He declared that there was only one God. He travelled far and wide to spread the Word of God. In his own inimitable way, he used subtle persuasion, humour, sarcasm and even admonition to spread the message that everyone, the rich and the poor, man and women, had equal status in His court.
He fought a tireless battle against ritualism. He dismantled the manmade barriers of caste and creed and established a religion that has twenty-three million followers worldwide. This book studies the life and teachings of Guru Nanak, as reflected in his compositions. Special stress has been laid on discussing the morning prayers, Japji, the establishment of the institutions of sangat and langar and the Guru's message for improving the status of women. Reproductions of rare eighteenth century miniature paintings and line drawings, and of a series from a nineteenth century Janamsakhi that has never been published before, have been used to illustrate the life of Guru Nanak. Maps depicting the travels of Guru Nanak help give a clearer picture of his travels.
About The Author 'Roopinder Singh' Of the Book 'Guru Nanak - His Life and Teachings'
Roopinder Singh studied Philosophy at St. Stephen's College, Delhi. He earned a Master's degree in Philosophy from Delhi University, and studied Journalism in New York University. He edited the India Observer in New York, and wrote for a number of publications in the USA.
Roopinder is now an Assistant Editor with The Tribune, Chandigarh.
He is also the author of Arjan Singh DFC, Marshal of The Indian Air Force.
Preface Of The Book 'Guru Nanak - His Life and Teachings' By Roopinder Singh
Grateful and thankful. These words express, somewhat inadequately, my feelings as I write the preface of the second edition of the book which has been received so kindly by readers and scholars.
As I said earlier, any reader who picks up a copy of this book is justified in asking: "Why another book on Guru Nanak?" Some people write to dispense knowledge. I am in no position to make such claims. This book is a small window to the world of Guru Nanak Dev and his teachings, and there are many reasons why Guru Nanak needs to be read about and understood.
Guru Nanak founded the youngest religion in the world. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Islam all predate Sikhism. The religion that he founded is studied as a discipline in many a university in India and abroad and his followers have made the world their home. Two per cent of the Canadians today are Sikhs.
The Guru's message was original and unambiguous. He, however, also reached out and interacted with saints of various persuasions, showing a remarkable openness when bigotry had closed the minds of people. He practised what he preached, and was willing to engage in dialogue with the learned, constantly enriching himself and the environment he was in.
At that time when the world was opening up, Guru Nanak spread his message by engaging the minds of thousands of people. He travelled to various sacred centres of pilgrimage that were important to Hindus and Muslims within India and abroad. He went to Baghdad and Mecca, both important Islamic centres of the time; visited important Hindu places of pilgrimage such as Kurukshetra, Hardwar and Jangannath Puri. He even climed Mount Sumer (now called the Kailash Mountain) and held discussions with the sidhs (accomplished yogis) who had renounced the world.
One looks in wonder at how Guru Nanak revelled in meeting new people and exchanging ideas. The Guru came across the poor and the rich, saints and robbers. he interacted with the prevailing cultures even as he preached his new way. Guru Nanak did not hide behind the abstractions of mere metaphysics. Much of Guru Nanak's writing has references to contemporary events. While he drew upon various cultural metaphors in conveying his statements on the oneness of God and universal brotherhood, the message that he gave was unique in its depth and vision.
Anyone who has worked on Guru Nanak knows that while his compositions have been meticulously recorded, the same fidelity cannot be obtained from various biographical accounts, especially the Janamsakhis, which do not follow a strict chronological order, so beloved of the historian. That the Janamsakhis, which are placed by scholars in the early seventeenth century, are hagiographical accounts is stating the obvious, but the accounts therein have been tempered by the compositions of Bhai Gurdas (1544-1637), who gives an authoritative, though brief, account in his Vars.
What is being presented here is a simple account, which has been based both on scholarly works, most of which have been listed in the bibliography, and on absorbed oral tradition which is very much a part of a Sikh's life.
Visuals form a prominent part of this book because they enhance, in many ways, our understanding. There is no contemporary likeness of Guru Nanak that has survived. What we have are idealised renderings envisioning Guru Nanak. They were created about a century and a half after Guru Nanak in the style of Indian miniature then in vogue.
Most of the paintings of Guru Nanak and other Gurus are from the early eighteenth century and are stylised versions heavily influenced by various schools of art, such as Pahari, Sikh and Late Mughal. Many of the miniatures being reproduced in the book are from the family workshop of Nainsukh of Guler, who is described by Prof. B. N. Goswamy, a leading authority on Indian art, as "a great Indian painter from a small hill-state". Prof Goswamy's work, especially in the area of Pahari painting, has deeply influenced modern scholarship, and I have been very fortunate in getting his guidance. The sketches in the book are, according to him, from a Guler series and were evidently used as master designs.
This series of sketches------all brush drawings on uncoloured paper------from the Guler family, and some paintings based on them, in opaque watercolour, are in the collection of the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh. I am grateful to Mr V. N. Singh, Director of the museum, for his cooperation and help.
Another series of Janamsakhi paintings given in the book are dated Samvat 1781 (1860 AD), according to the colophon. These previously unpublished works which are in the Late Provincial Mughal style are from a Janamsakhi that is with the Bagrian family, which traces its roots back to the times of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru. They have been reproduced here through the courtesy of Sikandar Singh Bhayee.
Giani Gurdit Singh and Sardarni Inderjit Kaur, my parents, are both scholars and devout Sikhs. I have drawn heavily upon their generosity and help in many ways during the writing of the book. The patience of many friends who read the manuscript as it developed was also tested, and I am grateful for their advice and help. After the book was published, I received valuable input from readers and scholars who commented on various aspects of the book. I thank them, and I have incorporated their suggestions in this revised edition.
The illustration on the cover is from my personal collection. Many of the pictures used to illustrate the chapter on Japji are from the collection of Giani Gurdit Singh, who has spent the last sixty years researching manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib.
The maps used in the book are based on the pioneering work done by Prof Fauja Singh and Prof Kirpal Singh in Atlas: Travels of Guru Nanak. It was published by Punjabi University, Patiala, in 1976, and has an introduction by my mother, who was then Vice-Chancellor of the university. I also gratefully acknowledge their pioneering work, and the help rendered by Vijay Kumar and Ramneek Singh from KBK Infographics, New Delhi, who have made the new maps.
Numismatics, or the study of coins, has its own impact on how history is perceived. All Sikh coins which remained in circulation from 1710 to 1856 were in the name of the Gurus and the Almighty. Sikh coins did not have any pictorial representation of the Gurus, though auspicious tokens did, and the book has some illustrations based on such tokens, both from my personal collection and that of Dr Surinder Singh, a keen Sikh numismatist.
The writing of this book has been a great learning experience for me. I hope that, to a certain extent, it has succeeded in making the life and the teaching of the founder of the Sikh religion more accessible, and in, hopefully, whetting the reader's appetite for more.
Table of Contents of the Book 'Guru Nanak - His Life and Teachings' By Roopinder Singh
|GURU NANAK'S MESSAGE||1|
|A GURU IS BORN||7|
|SPREADING THE WORD||23|
|THE FIRST JOURNEY : THE SKY IS THE SALVER||27|
|THE SECOND JOURNEY : A MAN OF GOD ONLY ADDS FRAGRANCE||37|
|THE THIRD JOURNEY : OUR LORD AND MASTER IS SO BEAUTIFUL||45|
|THE FOURTH JOURNEY : DID YOU NOT FEEL COMPASSION, LORD?||49|
|ESTABLISHING A RELIGION||55|
|JAPJI, THE MORNING PRAYER||63|
|DISSOLVING DIFFERENCES : SANGAT AND PANGAT||71|
|SPEAKING OF WOMEN||77|