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Education

At the age of five, Nanak was sent to school1. His first teacher was Gopal, who was hard-working but agnostic, and down-to-earth realist. A Sunday was selected as the most auspicious day for Nanak to begin his school education. Kalu Chand offered five rupees to Gopal, as a mark of respect and distributed sweets to all the school children2.

For three years Gopal gave elementary education to Nanak in language, arithmetic and other subjects, that were taught during those days. Nanak loved poetry, songs, and music. He easily committed to memory, everything that was taught to him. Every day he wrote his lessons on a wooden slate. After three-year education, students were taught such practical subjects which could be helpful in trade, government service, and other secular pursuits.

When Gopal gave his first lesson in a secular subject and asked the students to write it on the wooden slate (Patti), Nanak wrote some verses in the form of an acrostic, and showed them to his teacher. The teacher was taken aback by what he saw written on the wooden slate. “So, the boys are right,” said he, “when they say that you keep on humming and composing poems. You really are a Shair (poet). He found on the slate an acrostic, written in couplets of extremely simple Panjabi language. What surprised him was the profound thoughts of the poems:

(s), sasa

He who has created the universe, is the One Supreme Lord of all;

They who contemplate Him in their hearts} Truly serve the Gracious God.

Blessed indeed, is their coming on earth.

O foolish mind, why are you misled in self-deceit? Truly learned will you be deemed,

If in His Presence, you reckon for your deeds, (i)

 

(n) nana

Consider him learned Pundit, Who has attained the divine vision.

He sees the Lord, pervading all, His self-sense departs from within. (4)

 

(k) kaka

When your hair grows grey, And without soap turns silvery white,

Consider them to be messengers of death Who hold you in bondage. (5)

 

(j) jaja

Thy servant humbly begs of Thee, The gift of spiritual knowledge;

I have begged for this gift again and again In countless cycles of lives.

He alone gives the Light, He alone deprives' man of Light

No Giver, besides Him, have I heard or known. (11)

 

(n) nana

Through His grace I visualise, There is but one God, and none besides;

All places and spaces are filled with His Spirit The One God pervades the mind and soul. (13)

 

(d) dada

Blame not any one for your present state,

Blame your own deeds that have made your fate; According to my moral and spiritual efforts,

I have carved my destiny and get what I deserve, Why should I blame others for my plight and fate.

 

(a) aida

He who has created the whole cosmos, His Will is evolving it to his purpose.

Nanak, the poet (shair) sayeth: He is the cause of all that occurs.3

Guru Nanak : Asa, Patti, p 433

Teacher Gopal wondered at the depth and simplicity of Nanak’s Acrostic [Patti). One thing was clear to him. The boy would take up spiritual life and studies seriously and might turn his back on purely secular pursuits of life. He found that Nanak was gifted with a clear vision of God, but his thoughts did not seem to reflect the Hindu faith, as he knew it. Somehow, he did not like this precocious student taking religion and God so seriously at such a tender age. He made one more effort to divert Nanak’s mind from intense religious studies, and spiritual inquiries, and urged him to acquire all the education and training, necessary for the life of worldly happiness and glory saying: “My child, those who spend their life contemplating God and Truth do not even get two square meals, but those who lead a worldly life, commit sins, indulge in evils, rule others, and never think of God seem to be perfectly happy.”4

“The happiness of man,” said Nanak, “lies not in the wealth and power he accumulates, but in his moral and spiritual achievements. Kings and tyrants suffer the most ignoble end, while pious devotees of God live and die in peace. The joy of surviving the physical body is only for those, who have lived righteously. Their faces shine with the bliss of seeing God, the wonderful reward of their virtuous life. Those who live in sin and evil, hide from the glare of His presence, in the gloom that emanates from their own selfishness. True judgment on man’s moral and spiritual achievements is revealed only in the presence of ultimate Truth, that is God. Those who follow only their base desires defile their conscience and lose the grace of God. It is sheer vanity to be a slave of bodily desires, and care for things which bring certain retribution.”5

Deeply impressed by the profound and convincing thoughts of Nanak, teacher Gopal met Kalu Ghand and advised him to send his son to a learned scholar who could teach him Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures.

There was in Talwandi, Pundit Brijnath, a brilliant Sanskrit scholar of dignified mein, famed not only for wisdom and scholarship, but also for his spirituality and insight. Kalu Chand placed Nanak under his tutorship, so that he might become a great scholar of Sanskrit and adept in Vedic studies.6 While Nanak studied Sanskrit, he continued to compose poems giving his critical reflections on everything that tickled his sensitive imagination. His deep philosophic mood, his penetrating vision, tried again and again to give life and meaning to everything that seemed lifeless to others. The pen, the ink, the paper, the art of writing, the purpose of writing, were for the young poet-prophet, the ethical instruments of existential spiritual life. Once he wrote:

Burn all attachment in true knowledge, Grind it to ashes and make ink out of it;

Make thy clean mind the paper. With love as thy pen and thy heart as the writer,

Write the Name and glory of God Under the inspiration of the Guru.

Guru Nanak: Sri Rag, p. 16

Holy Place where Guru Sahib learnt Persian
Having studied some Sanskrit, Nanak one day naively asked his teacher, why he had taken the name Brijnath, an epithet of Lord Krishna, for himself.7 The teacher and the student began to argue about the etymological and theological meaning of the word. For young Nanak, every word was a message of God to man, and an instrument of man’s worship of God. The lessons which his learned teacher gave him from various Sanskrit texts became the subject of discussions between the teacher and the precocious student. He accepted One God bat not gods and goddesses. He accepted man as brother of man, but rejected the differences of castes and creeds reflected by Sanskrit scriptures. He mixed freely with the Hindu saints and Muslim darvishes and brought more knowledge of his experiences with many of them, than the narrow text of scriptural readings, which the Sanskrit teacher could teach. After two years, Pundit Brijnath informed Kalu Chand that Nanak had nothing more to learn from him. He was an embodiment of spiritual wisdom, and everyday his classmates squatted around him and listened to his melodious songs, his strange stories, and sermons. There was nothing that he could add to his knowledge of Sanskrit which he had acquired within two years. Young Nanak was anxious to know things which Brijnath could not teach. His questions were baffling and his comments on traditional Hindu thoughts extremely disturbing.

Nanak was now ten years old. Rai Bular, who loved him tenderly, advised Kalu Chand to make arrangement for teaching Persian and Arabic to Nanak, so that he could become his Kardar (administrator), when Kalu Chand wished to retire. Nanak, with his unusual talents, could even take up a higher post under the provincial governor. Persian being the court language, and Arabic being the language of Islamic scriptures, their study was important for the children of Kshatriya families8.

Kalu Chand requested Mulla Qutab-ud-din to teach Persian and Arabic to Nanak. It was on a Wednesday, Nanak started studying Persian. He applied his mind to it seriously, and surprised his teacher by his quick grasp over all the aspects of these languages, and by his prodigious memory9. Within two years he acquired sufficient proficiency in Persian and Arabic languages to enable him to read and study their literature. His free use of Koranic terminology, to express some of his theological views in his later writings, shows that it is during this early period he studied the Koran and other Islamic scriptures available to him. Even while studying under the Muslim teacher, Nanak was generally busy in stimulating religious discussions. He continued to write poems in Punjabi but now he wrote quite a few verses in Persian also, the poetic fervour and profundity of which delighted his teacher. Having studied what Mulla Qutab-ud-din had to teach,

Nanak ended his education by learning all that the teachers of Talwandi could teach him10.”

Notes and References

1. P.N. Chopra in his “Aspects of Society and Culture” (p. 129) points out that during this period Hindu children were put to school at the age of 4| while Muslim children were put to school at the age of 5. Some Janam Sakhis say Guru Nanak was sent to school at the age of five; according to others, at the age of 7. A precocious childlike Guru Nanak must have been sent quite early: tan Baba barsan panjan da hua ar mata pita ne kaha isnu Pandhe de padne paiai; tan bhale din aur naucanda aitvgr ar bhali thlt thal sakar ka bharke ar upar panj rupai rakhke Patti te budhka Babe de hath de ke pandhe pas lai gaya. (J.M.S. (MSS & L) p, 47; JB. (LI) p. 12)

2.  Ibid: only Bala's Janam Snkhis gives the name of the teacher as Gopal.

3.  I have quoted only a few verses out of the 35 stanzas of the Acrostic {Patti). These 35 stanzas and the letters of alphabet mentioned in it became the basis of Punjabi Script, now known as Gurmukhi, It was coined by Guru Angad, during the life time of Guru Nanak at Kartarpur and further reformed by Bhai Gurdas.

Meharban’s Janam Sakhi completely ignores the Patti of Guru Nanak, while other Janam Sakhis and historical records admit that it was composed during childhood. The compositions of Guru Nanak quoted by Meharban are those which Nanak is supposed to have addressed to his Sanskrit teacher, Brij Nath.

4. ch jo parmeswar ka nam lete hain, tin ko tan koi nahi janta; un ke tan rotian bhi nahi jud a vtian; ar ik je patsahl karde hain, so buryaian bh! karde hain ar parmeswar bhi nahi simarde. (JB (LI) PI 5; P.J. (MSS) f. 13)

5. ibid.

6. pandhe kaha Kalu tera putra shastran nu jagat, vie pargat kirega.. loka kahaya tusi Brijnath pundit nu jo Talwandi rvhnda hai, usde pas Babe nu padne pao. (J.B. (LI), p. 12-13; J.M.S. (LI) p. 49)

7. phir Babe kehya Brijnath tan Bhagwan da nam hai; so tun apna nam kiofi rakhya hai,( J.M.S. (MSS and I) p.52)

8. ik din Rai Bular kehia, Kalu je putar nu farsl padhae, te kam sikhe te sara kam tere havale kariai, tan Qutab-din Qazi pas age khatriyan de putar patfhde se usde pas Kalu Babe nu lai gaya, te jae ke kahya, he Mullan, tu Nanak nu padhao, tan ago Mulla ne akhya, Mehta Kaluji mai Nanakji nu padhavan ga; Subah hai budhvar hi, tusan Guru Nanak nulaiavio. (J.M.S. (LI) p. 106; J.B. (LI) p.23.)

According to some Janam Sakhis, Guru Nanak started learning Persian and Arabic at the age of nine.

Dade Kalu musalmani pa^havane ki mansa kari je, Nanak ko TorkI padhavon; tab Dade Kalu makdum sadae kar kahaya je, “Mulla ji, Nanak, kai tai padhae; tab Mulla kahaya je, “han ji, bhala hovai; subha budhvar hai, tusiii Nanak mere havalai karo, Nanak ko mai khizmat karesan. (J.Mb. p. 15)

pher kai mahine pichon Kalu Chand ne Babe nu farsi padhaun lai Kutab Din Mulla de sapurd kita, kuch din tan Baba ji padhde rahe, ik din othe bhi Padha vang carca cali. (T.K.G. 54)

sift prakas bhia, Kalu sut budh ras, parsi ilam jo kathin sikhio beg hi; ae mukh dekhai karai ilam parekhai nar, sun bain ko bisal bismai gahi;

Mridul madhur mukh bolat hai bain

mano det updes rikhi dekhg, sikhapne

pars! so mili jou nam ke bhajan sang

Gang jaisi ban! kali klimal khapane. N.P. Adhyae 8:9, 10

9. J.M.S.; J.B. (LI) p24, J.Mb p. 16.

10. Macauliffe gives the name of the Persian Teacher as Rukan- din but does not give the source of his information. One Rukan-din is said to have accompanied Guru Nanak to Mecca. The Janam Sakhis attribute a Persian Acrostic and a number of poems to Guru Nanak which are believed to have been written at this age. While the poems are found in the Guru Granth, Guru Arjan did not include the Persian Acrostic in the Holy Book, because he doubted its authenticity. But it is quoted by a number of major Janam Sakhis. The author of “The Seir-ul-Mutakherin states : He (Nanak) was son to a grain merchant of the Khatri tribe, and in his youth he had been remarkable for good conduct and a laudable character, as well as for the beauty of his face and the sensibleness of his repartees. Nor was he destitute of money. There was then in those parts a fakir or divine of note, called Sayyed Hassan, a man of eloquence as well as wealth, who having no children of his own and being smitten with the beauty of young Nanak, upon whom he chanced to cast his eyes, conceived an affection for him and charged himself With his education.

As the young man was early introduced to the knowledge of the most esteemed writings of the Muslims and early initiated in the principles of their most approved Sufis and contemplatives he improved so much in learning and became so fond of books that he made it a practice in his leisure hours to translate literally or virtually as his mind prompted him, such of those maxims, as made the deepest impression upon his heart. This was the idiom of Punjabi, his maternal language. Little by little he strung them together these lose sentences, reduced them into some order and put them into verses and by the time he had so far shaken off those prejudices of Gentlism which he had imbibed with his milk, that he became quite another man. (Seir-ul-Mutakherin Eng. : Tr. p. 8.)