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Foundation of the Sikh Church Kartarpur

Guru Nanak identified his undying mystic personality, wherever he went with the Word of God, the Wisdom and Light of the Supreme Being. He toured all over the world to plant the seeds of eternal Truth in the hearts of all seekers of divine knowledge, and to establish the centres of his faith which he called manjis side by side with the centres of all other faiths. Thus he founded, in a well-planned way, a community of his New Faith, and this community of inspired men became the body of Sikh Church which he called Sangat. There was a Sikh Church now all over India and outside India in Ceylon, Tibet, and Middle East. No founder of any religion had built such a vast organisation, breaking all provincial, national and cultural barriers, during his own life time. Guru Nanak knew that unless it was centralised, and unless he found a fully disciplined successor, whom he could make as perfect as he was, he could not expect this noble faith to survive. It was otherwise likely to meet the same fate which uninstitutionalised creeds of Kabir, Namdev, Ramananda met. The Sikh Church was established to be a light-shedding and evolving institution, enduring as granite and consistent in her belief in divine guidance. It was to be the herald of God’s Word down the length of centuries.

The Sikh Church was made a free association of those who were united by common faith, common ideals and identical spiritual ideals. Unlike the Churches of other faiths, the Sikh Church was to be embedded in secular society. When Guru Nanak went on his missionary tours he put on the robes of the religious orders of the holy places he was visiting. Holiness in these centres was inseparable from the holy garb. Without them it was impossible for him to gain access to the holy shrines of either Benaras or Mecca. No Hindu or Muslim divine considered it worthwhile to hold religious discussion with a layman wearing worldly dress. He was looked down upon with contempt by all holy orders. No sooner Guru Nanak stimulated discussion and doctrinal encounter he courageously declared in Hindu centres that he was not a Hindu and in Muslim centres that he was not a Muslim. He boldly established his own centre of faith in the hearts of seekers of truth who kept the torch of his wisdom burning for centuries to come. Now when he was establishing his own Central Church, he gave up all robes of holiness and put on ordinary worldly dress of the Punjabis of those days.1

Sikhism was not to be a holy order of ascetics and mendicants judged for piety by their formal renunciation and their robes of piety. It was to be union of those who professed their faith in God and Truth as universally as Nanak saw it. It had to discharge manifold temporal and spiritual functions down the centuries. In this temple was to be the mediator between man and God. No caste or class was to be a privileged class. No rites or sacraments were to be invested with magical efficacy. Priestly class was eliminated. Any Sikh, man or women could conduct services, if he was competent to do so. The emphasis in the organisation of the Sikh Church was to be on freedom, human brotherhood, and inwardness of personal piety. Holineness was not to be distinguished by dress, but by character, enlightenment and spirituality. The Sikh Church was not to be an infallible institution. Its only and fundamental duty was to keep the Light of Truth burning in its pristine glory through the Word of God, and its doors were to remain open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs, believers and non-believers, men and women, the rich and the poor, the native and the foreigner. It was to be the prayer House not only for a community of Faith but for a world - community of the seekers of truth.

Guru Nanak gave a spiritual and religious discipline to his initiated followers. The daily prayers of morning, evening and night, the Japji, the Rahirns, the Kirtan-Sohila, were fixed.2 In the day time discussions were held, and the Master delivered sermons on the basis of questions asked him. Everyone worked for his living, and gave a part of his earning for the free community kitchen. In this caste ridden land of untouchability this was the first Church, where a langar (free kitchen) was attached to every temple. The Brahmin and the parhia, the king and the pauper, the Muslim and the Hindu had to sit together and eat their meals to their satisfaction. It was the temple of bread and service attached to the temple of worship. The scribes wrote down the compositions of the Guru, and many devotees copied the daily prayers and hymns. These collections were called Bani-pothis (Book of hymns). Kirtan, in enchanting musical modes was performed in the early hours of the morning and after the evening prayers. Professional musicians played on a number of musical instruments, rabab being Guru Nanak’s favourite. The seat of pontificate, manji or takhat as it was called was established.3 People came from distant lands to pay homage to the Master. Guru Nanak devoted the last twenty years (1519-1539 A.D.) to the consolidation of the Sikh Church which he had founded.

At this period came to him many new disciples who were to play a significant role in carrying the torch of his faith to the next generation. Many of his devotees left their homes and hearths to settle at Kartarpur and dedicate their lives to his mission. Guru Nanak disciplined them and taught them a new lesson every day. Around this oasis of divine knowledge sat many seekers of Truth, eagerly drinking deep and picking pearls of wisdom to enrich their lives and to enrich humanity. Now and then Guru Nanak went for a short trip to some nearby villages to meet the people who could not come but were eager to have a glimpse of him.

Buddha the Toung Sage

On the outskirts of Kathunangal village, Guru Nanak saw a young peasant boy of about ten years grazing cattle at some distance. As the Guru and his companions rested under a tree, the boy felt that they were either holy men or musicians and singers. He milked one of his cows and carried a jug full of milk to the Master. Placing the milk before the Guru the boy said, “You must be thirsty, Master. Accept this milk as my humble offering”. "God bless you my child. What is your name?” “My name is Booda (later changed by the Guru to Buddha). I live in that village Kathunangal. My father5s name is Sugha Randhawa and my mother5s name is Gauran.”

“What can I do for you my child? Ask for any gift, any boon, anything you like most, and I shall get it for you.” “O Master”, said the boy, “You seem to be a very great Saint. Exalted one, tell me what is life and what is death?” Taken aback by such a question coming from so young a boy, Guru Nanak said, “You are yet a child my lad; you have a long life to live. You will know much about these things when you grow old. Why should you worry about these serious problems at such a tender age?”

“Master,” said the boy sadly and seriously, “the king’s army camped here in our fields. I saw them and reflected over all they did. They trampled and destroyed ripe crops as well unripe ones. They destroyed even little sampling in our fields which father had tilled with such great labour. If death could overtake in one sweep the oldest and the youngest crops, will it spare me at this age. Since that day, I have been constantly brooding over the mystery of life and death. I ask every holy man, the same question. Either they do not know, or they do not want to impart the secret knowledge to a poor peasant boy like me.”

“You are not- Booda, my child,” said Guru Nanak, “You are Buddha the awakened one, a Sage mature in wisdom. I will sing a simple song about life and death. Listen to it and carry with you the fragrance of divine words which will start unfolding within you the mystery of life. When you understand life you will understand death.”

With wrapt meditative attention the child listened to the song, every word of which had some sweetness and light. In the mental darkness of his heart the soul stirring words of the Master shed strange light. The song was stranger than life and deeper than death. When the song ended his heart was still yearning for more music and more light. Booda, whom the Master had named Buddha, had found the path which would lead him to know life and death. He felt that he must listen more and more to the Word of the Guru. He must hear more and more of his songs. Each song, each sermon of the Guru would reveal to him the mystery of life and death. He must live in constant communion with him. He must seek his presence every day. “It is getting late my child,” said the Guru, “Your cattle are moving away. Go home now. Your parents must be waiting for you.” Silently and respectfully Buddha bowed before the Master and went away.

He got up early next morning and quietly took some butter, sugar and bread, and came to the Guru. When he offered them to the Master, Guru Nanak said, “I will not accept this butter and sugar-cake my child? You have brought these things without the permission of your parents. You will get a beating when you go home.”

Buddha began to weep. Tears rolled down his eyes and he sobbed helplessly. “Why do you weep my child? If you take them home your mother will not beat you,” said Guru Nanak. “I do not know Master, whether my mother will beat me or not, but you have beaten me as my mother has never beaten me before,” said Buddha. “But we did not hurt you my child. We did not beat you,” said Guru Nanak, a little surprised. “By refusing to accept this butter and sugar you have hurt me more than my mother’s beating could hurt me.” said the boy still sobbing, “I did not steal it. I just brought it from home while everyone was asleep.”

Guru Nanak quietly accepted the butter and sugar-cake. Buddha remained with the Guru the whole day. After noon his father and mother came searching for him. They found him sitting near Nanak, the well-known Guru of Kartarpur. They bowed to him and felt blessed. Guru Nanak asked Buddha to go home and then meet him again at Kartarpur. On the third day Buddha was at Kartarpur. “I have come, Master, to stay in the sanctuary of your holy feet,” said Buddha, “Bless me that I may never leave this haven of peace. I may ever live in thy service till I understand the mystery of life and death.” Guru Nanak blessed him and initiated him as his disciple. During the last days Guru Nanak installed Bhai Buddha the High priest of the Sikh Church, and in this position he lived upto the time of Guru Hargobind as the bearer of the spiritual Regalia of the Guru and Master of ceremonies, when the new Guru was installed. He lived upto the ripe age of about 135 and became the first High Priest of the Golden Temple.4

Lehna of Khadur

In the village Khadur there lived Lehna, the religious leader of Durga worshippers of Punjab. He had migrated from Mate-ki Sarai in Ferozepur district to Khadur, the home village of his wife Khivi. To Lehna the flame in the Kangra hill, the flame of a dying volcano, was the light of flaming Durga. “There was a flame within his "heart also, so he loved nothing but the flame. The flame as it came from the Kangra volcano seemed to leap into his soul. He burned more than ever with the love of divine flame, which he felt within him but could not see. He was beautiful and god-like, a leader of the Durga worshippers in those days. He would light for himself, while in the privacy of his sanctuary a little lamp of ghee, and would watch the little flame for hours devotedly and then slowly rising, go round it in sacrifice, and suddenly begin to dance in rapture round the little flame.”5

The whole of Khadur came under the spell of his teachings about Durga, the supreme Shakti the Mother Spirit of Nature. But there was one man in Khadur, Bhai Jodh who neither believed in Durga, nor in any of the Hindu rites, nor in any other god and goddess. People complained about him. Was he an atheist? No, the people said he was disciple of Guru Nanak. The name of Nanak had a mysterious effect on him. He had heard of it from so many people. He had heard of it from his illiterate aunt Mai Virai who lived in a village close by. She always talked of Nanak. But he failed to understand why had Nanak parted from all that was best in Hinduism. He did not offer allegiance to the Vedas. He did not worship any god or goddess. He did not believe in the four-fold order of the Hindu society. He had revolted against age old traditions. He was attracted by the popularity of Nanak but subconsciously repelled by some of his strange beliefs.

Early one morning when he was going out for a stroll, he heard a melodious voice reciting a strange prayer. Everyone in the village recited verses from Durga Saptasi, but this prayer was the strangest he had ever heard. It was Bhai Jodh the disciple of Nanak reciting the Japji. He went to Bhai Jodh and asked him to recite the Japji again. He asked him to recite other compositions of Baba Nanak. The mystic depths of these prayers touched his soul. He made up his mind to meet Guru Nanak on his way to Kangra when he went there on the annual pilgrimage to homage to Durga.

Dressed in glamorous holy robes of the high-priest of Durga worshippers, Lehna rode his horse and accompanied by a number of his disciples, marched towards Kangra. He made up his mind to stop at Kartarpur and see for himself what type of man was Nanak. In the fields outside Kartarpur stood a divinely looking man wearing ordinary dress. He asked him where the great Guru Nanak lived. “I will guide you to his place,” said the man humbly. Lehna asked his followers to camp outside the city, while he will meet Baba Nanak and come back. The man who promised to guide him conducted his horse by its reins. Little did Lehna know that it was the gentle and humble Nanak guiding him to his own place. Lehna was riding a horse while the great Nanak was on foot respectfully leading his royal guest. When people on the way bowed to Nanak, Lehna wondered how great must be Nanak whose disciples living an ordinary life were so profoundly respected.

When Lehna entered the shrine of Baba N anak with offerings of fruit and sugar cakes he was stunned to see the same humble man who guided him sitting on the pontific seat {manji) of the Guru. Tears welled into his eyes when he bowed before him and begged forgiveness for coming riding on a horse while he was on foot. “What is your name?” asked Nanak, “Lehna”, replied the high priest of Durga worshippers. Guru Nanak brooded over the word “Lehna” which in native Punjabi means to collect what is due, and then said Baba Nanak, “If you are Lehna, (Receiver) then we shall give you what is due to you and what we owe you.”

Lehna went back to his followers who were camping outside and said to them: “Uptil today I have been your Master. Today I have become the disciple of the great Baba Nanak. His presence to me now is the sanctuary of all. gods and goddesses. Tell my wife Khivi when you return from the pilgrimage that I will come when my Master permits me to do so. For me meeting Baba Nanak has been a spiritual rebirth, a new way of life, a new discipline. I will not go one step backward but will walk on this path which Baba Nanak says is sharp as the sword-edge.” Lehna became an exemplary disciple and later the only choice of Guru Nanak to be his successor.6

Walk humbly in the Service of God

Bhai Jodh and Bhai Phirna Khehra entered the Guru’s path. “We are not learned, Master,” they said, “Give us instructions which may help us to mould our lives according to your noble ideals, and which we can practise without much difficulty”, said Guru Nanak: “The first lesson every Sikh has to learn is to walk on this arduous path in utter humility. Rise early in the morning, take your bath and contemplate His Presence by meditating His divine Name. But never be proud of your virtues and piety. Learn humility. Know God alone to be your Master. Serve Him sincerely by serving all God fearing people. Serve Him by visualising Him in every heart and soul. Seek wisdom, enlightenment and inspiration in the company of the holy. Live ever in the communion of His Word (bani manan karna).

Discard the Ways of the Self-Centred

Bhagta Ohri and Japu Vansi came to meet the Guru. They were delighted to see the Master but prayed to the Guru: “Those who are educated and learned can enjoy your divine songs, your philosophy and drink deep from the founts of wisdom which we see all round us. But we are unlettered men.

How are we to seek enlightenment? How are we to attain truth? Baba Nanak said: “Discard the evil ways of the self-centered men (manmukh)” “What are the evil habits of self-centered men which we must discard,” asked the two devotees. “Firstly,” said Guru Nanak, “never be jealous and never talk ill of others. Do not think you alone are able to do good in the world; you alone are right in all matters; you alone should get praise for all you do. But if someone else achieves something, do not be unhappy about it as self-centered men are, and do not be jealous about it. Consider all people to be your friends, particularly the people who are noble and virtuous. Secondly, do not be vain and proud without rhyme or reason. Do not laugh at a person less intelligent than you and do not hesitate to impart knowledge to him. Never think that no one is wiser than you, no one is better than you. Thirdly, do not talk ill of others. A self-centered man cannot tolerate the praise of others who are nobler and wiser than him. On the other hand when he hears him praised he will cook scandals against him saying ‘I know him what he really is.’ He boasts of his own imaginary virtues and achievements and refuses to acknowledge the greatness of any other. Give up this habit and show reverence to all noble persons and deem yourself the lowliest of the low. Fourthly, give up dogmatism and fanaticism of all types. If a person refuses to listen to words of wisdom do not try to push them down his throat. Do not compel others to accept your views. To do so is an evil habit of the self-centered. Give all these and you will receive the light of God in your heart. Serve all who need some service. Thus were they enlightened.

The Mystic Word Vah-Guru

Shihan and Gajjan were uncle and nephew. They came to meet Guru Nanak at Kartarpur and prayed: “Master, teach us how to attain the four ends of life: kama, artha, dharma, and moksha (personal, I enjoyment, material satisfaction, righteous living and liberation).

Said Guru Nanak: “Contemplate with deep mental and spiritual devotion the Guru’s Mystic Word: Vah-Guru. “May we know” said they, “what is the meaning and the spiritual significance of the Word Vah-Guru? Baba replied : “Vah means wonderful, spectacular, exalting. It is an expression which sums up the mystery as well as revelation of life and God. It visualises the riddle and meaning of all that is. It is Man’s true and profoundest response to God’s majesty and splendour. While Vah reveals Him objectively, Guru reveals Him subjectively. Gu means darkness and ru means Light. So Guru means “He who reveals Light in inner in darkness, he who reveals the Spirit in the body and mind.”

Thus he who contemplates the true Name Vah-Guru understandingly and with a single-minded devotion will achieve the four ends of life. He who walks in righteousness and treads the path of truth acquires the blessedness of life. God fulfils all his wishes. Material wealth becomes for him the dust of his feet. The Yoga of divine Name reveals within us the knowledge and experience which books cannot teach but have to be acquired by spiritual discipline only. String the divine Name to your very breath. When you breath in, say Vah along your inhaling vital air (prana)., when you breath out, say Guru with your exhaling vital breath. Thus you will attain communion with your own Self and with Eternal One within you after meditative practice. Consider all that you have to be the gracious gifts of God and never hesitate to feed the needy in the name of God.”7

Shihan was once preparing for the wedding of his daughter. The wedding party had to be entertained for three days. Suddenly a day before the wedding, a party of pilgrims going to Kartarpur to meet Baba Nanak arrived. His wife thought that if the pilgrims were entertained what would be left for the wedding party. “Let us not worry about the wedding party for the moment. The pilgrims must be fed said Shiban. He entertained them for a night. When the wedding party came, he was able to entertain them for four days. He thanked Baba Nanak for the abundance of the gifts. What he thought would not be enough was more than enough.

Notes and References

  1. Baba aya Kartarpur bhekh udasi sagal utara, pehar sansari kaptfe manjl baih kia avatara. (Bhai Gurdas Farr 1: 38)
  2. pita di agya man ke udasi bhekh utarya ar, sanaarlan da bhekh pehrya, manji te bhai$h ke sikhan nu dargan devan te banyia ucarian. ar jo jo ban! sune usede man vie gyan da ujala hovai, parmesar dl partit vadhe. (J.M.S. (LI) 458)
  3. bani mukhon ucariai hoe ru^nai mitai andhara, gyan go£t carca^sada anhad Sabad uthe dhunkara, sodar arti, gaviai amrit vele jap ucara. gurmukh bhar atharban tara. (Bhai Gurdas, Vnr I : 38)

Sandhya vele sodar gavan, amrit vele jap padan ar sava pehar din cade aratl gavan ar aratl sun ke degh Prasad varte…. ath pehar gyan gosht carca hundl rahe. ((LI) 458)

  1. S.B. p 60. N.P. Ut, adh: 46; J.B. (MSS) 215

“Once when Nanak was staying near a village, a peasant boy, Boora by name, was attracted with sincere devotion and honest faith towards the enlightened and detached Baba Nanak and presented to him offering what he had, with him and took to serving him. Pleased with his manner of speech and good behaviour Baba Nanak looked upon him with kindly favour and honoured him with the title of Bhai Buddha and raised him from the rank of a servant to the position of a venerable High Priest. Knowing to be worthy of honour in every way, he, in his kindness blessed him saying, “Whosoever shall become my successor, shall do so with your advice. (Khushwaqt Rai: Tawarikh-i-Sikhan (MSS))

  1. All the sermons in this chapter and the next two are taken almost verbatim from the text quoted. As they are very popular and known to every Sikh the originals are not quoted.
  2. N.P. Ut adh: 47, J.B. (mentioned in the end of all versions) J.M.S. (LI) 459
  3. Vah-guru: is the divine Name, the Mystic Word which was first introduced by Guru Nanak. In the Adi Granth allusions such as satnam (True Name) gurmukh nam (Divine Name) Sabad (Word), mahamantar (supreme Mystic Word) gurmantar (Word inspired by the Guru) all refer to Vah-Guru which literally means Wonderful Light that dispels darkness. This Word is a doctrinal affirmation of the Sikh Faith and its significance can be understood only when it becomes an inner spiritual excercise in daily meditation. Then it begins to confer light and grace ex opere operato.

The historical facts of this story are given in N.P. Ut ad 43 and S.B. p 50-51.