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Five hundred years ago, Guru Nanak was born in a world plunged in medieval ignorance, feudal tyranny, and religious and cultural oppression. He dispelled ignorance with wisdom, slavery by giving a call for freedom and equality, oppression by condemning social and political tyranny. He exalted the poor and down-trodden, and made them sovereigns of their own mind, body and souls. He broke the barriers between one creed and another, between higher and lower castes, between nations and countries. Humanity was one world and one family to him. His doctrines, his faith, his philosophy was for every man who was in search of Truth.

Guru Nanak’s life was a continuous journey. Wherever he went he inspired sensitive souls with ardent, inextinguishable fire and with burning and undiminished ardour. His words inflamed unforgettable ideals and sowed in human souls the germs of truth and heroic vocation. He did not give a message of sorrow but of blissful joy. He did not promise any future paradise but earthly serenity and spiritual enlightenment. He did not show a path of fasts, penance and austerities for the few but gave a way of life within the easy reach of all men.

He seldom spoke in temples and mosques. The open sky was the dome of his temple. The open fields, the soothing river sides, and imposing mountain slopes and rocks were his pulpits. Nature, reflecting the splendour and divinity of God was his altar. His manner of speaking suited the mental makeup of his hearers. His speech was simple and alive with comparisons drawn from daily life, but when he spoke to Yogis, Sufis, Darshanacharyas, his eloquence reached unparalleled heights. He adopted a style and manner suited to the type of culture of his listeners. He has preserved his vitally important discourses and sermons in his own writings, many of which are quoted in this book. All of them have a historical base for which adequate source references are given.

Guru Nanak ushered an ecumenical epoch with the whole world as its base. He showed us how the Churches of East and West could not only come close to each other, but could unite and co-operate in the spirit of Justice and Truth and thus create unity in diversity. He could sit with a Muslim and pray with him. He could sit with a Vaishnava Hindu and sing with him. For him prayer was communion with the Divine, conceived and felt within one’s heart and soul, and singing divine songs was a glorification of God as He has manifested in Nature and humanity. The difference of language and the pattern of belief in Godhead did not prevent-him from friendship, and spiritual and cultural cooperation with saints and divines of other faiths.

Wherever he went he met people of all shades and all types. He oriented human passions with tender kindness. He corrected, rejuvenated and sanctified the proud, the sensual, the slothful, the hypocritical and the wicked characters. Wherever he went he lifted such people from the degenerating depths into which they had fallen and elevated them to divine heights.

Though Guru Nanak’s message was simple and profound, it demanded self-consecration and morality of a very high order. Man cannot comprehend God with his intellect, yet with his love he may understand Him and possess Him. Love is the easiest way to God. It is the essence of perfection. He who loves the divine Guru and God loves Truth, Beauty and Perfection. Unstruck Music and the Light of His Presence is the myrrh of His consolation and the incense of His gratitude. It is the most fortifying spiritual solace.

There never was a time in Sikh history, when Sikhs were more cut off from the Nanak of history and the Sage Nanak of Adi Granth, than ours, nor one which needed Him more. This grim realization came to me over fifteen years ago, when I started collecting the oldest Manuscripts of Janam Sakhis and other records, and critically studying and analysing all that was available on Guru Nanak. After spending fifteen years and thousands of rupees from my own precious earnings, what I have achieved is now in. the hands of the readers. Little did I dream that it would be completed and published in the Quincentenary of Guru Nanak. Collecting and studying the oldest Manuscripts of Janam Sakhis and sifting material out of them has been the most agonising work, which can exhaust the patience of the most patient man. That is perhaps the reason why after Kavi Santokh Singh wrote his great work “Nanak Prakashs no Sikh scholar has ever critically analysed and used in his biography of Nanak such Janam Sakhis as Bhai Mani Singh's Janam Sakhi and old authentic Manuscripts of Bala's Janam Sakhis originally called Paide Mokhe di Janam Sctkhis. What I have to say about Janam Sakhis and the way our present day scholars have used them and commented on them has been already said in Appendix II of this book. It is sufficient to state here that the Janam Sakhis are not life-stories of Guru Nanak, but very much like the Gospels they are stories about Nanak. Apart from taking a few dates from Puratan Janam Sakhi which I have proved wrong, Macauliffe gave a capsule translation of Nanak Prakash of Kavi Santokh Singh. Bhai Vir Singh fictionalised the stories of Nanak Prakash as he frankly states in his Introduction to Guru Nanak Chamatkar. Of all the scholars and historians of our period, Bhai Vir Singh alone was competent to produce a real biography, but as he started his literary career with fiction and epic poetry, his epic imagination has produced a wonderful fictionalised story of Guru Nanak, adding here and there some very useful footnotes. But Bhai Vir Singh shuns and avoids taking decisions on controversial issues so much that, he does not say a word about the date of birth and death of Guru Nanak. As a matter of fact he completely avoids giving the date of birth in his voluminous work of very high literary merit, Guru Nanak Chamatkar.

There are the following three types of biographies and books on Guru Nanak that have appeared recently (i) Those written by orthodox plagiarists for the orthodox (2) Those written by agnostics, and so called scientific historians, making much of their methodology, for non-believers, the ignorant readers, and for the skeptics. (3) Those written by literary romancers suffering from nostalgia of literary style, and vainly believing that because they are excellent writers of English language among the Sikhs, they can become outstanding historians by ill-digested plagiarism of other people’s labours, and also become renowned translators by revising other people’s translations. This last category of writers, banking on political and official patronage is the worst and the most mischievous section of exponents of Sikh history and scriptures, because they do all this without ever reading a single line from the scriptures and without ever opening a single Janam Sakhi old and new.

This biography does not belong to any of these categories. Although the author has spent fifteen years on this work and his life’s fortune, he considers it to be a modest attempt to clear the way to the understanding of the historical, as well as the Sage- Nanak, we know from his writings. I have attempted to take future scholars out of the confusion created by negative writers on Janam Sakhis and Nanak. They have learnt this art from those rationalists who have proved that Christ was a myth and they have tried unsuccessfully to liquefy Nanak of history. In these negative works written with a declared purpose, there is as Giovanni Papanni would say, “an odour of burnt out lamp wick, a smell of stale incense and of rancid oil that sticks up in the throat. You cannot draw a long and free breath. Such hack work dressed in literary trot of eloquence, neither serves the cause of history, nor of literature.” After reading these ill-conceived biographies, we find that we are told next to nothing in them of Guru Nanak’s inner and outer development, of his personality, and his impact on the regions he visited and the people he met.

The historical Nanak cannot be understood or interpreted without understanding the Sage-Nanak which emerges from his writings. Nor can the Sage- Nanak be understood through a purely provincial, theological and literary approach. I have tried to present the historical Nanak as a personality, laying stress in every chapter on his inner and outer development and his- responses to the social, cultural, and political challenges, in the context of the political and cultural environments of the place and period. I have tried, and I cannot say with how much success, a synthesis between history as it happened and the interpretation of history, between Nanak the Man, and his developing poetry and philosophy of life. I once more repeat that this is only a modest attempt, the first one in the last hundred years or more, and I shall welcome suggestions, healthy and constructive criticism to make changes in every edition as long as I live in the light of new discoveries, based on facts and truth.

I have something to say about legends and miracles. I not only disbelieve in legends, but from my studies of these legends in Indian history and literature I have been able to trace their origin. I will discuss them in a separate book on the Janam Sakhis, how and when were these interpolated and who was originally responsible for this mischief. Sikh scholars have failed to interpret some of the paradoxical statements in Adi Granth and it is Adi Granth that I take as my guide on miracles. I do not believe in the legends associated with death but as they are firmly entrenched in tradition, I have put them on record giving their sources and also my own opinion on them.

The Sikh Gurus were against renunciation and asceticism, but they repeatedly stress the need for ascetic virtues. They were against going to places of pilgrimage unconnected with moral and spiritual elevation or as means to mukti, yet they left us the type of places of pilgrimage they considered essential. They were against miracles performed through occult powers like riddhis and siddhis, but in the Adi Granth they not only state that God protects his saints from harm many times through supernatural intervention, but have given autobiographical hymns of Nam- deva, and Kabir as historical example of such miracles. These miracles are again referred to in the writings of the Guru. These are the miracles of God. The Gurus never performed any miracles to show their powers or to save their life from danger, but God did sometime perform a miracle to save them from some serious dangers. Guru Arjan thanks God for saving him from serious crisis through supernatural intervention but when death came through call for martyrdom, and when he had to lay down his life for freedom, justice and truth he accepted the Will of God. So did Christ. So did Guru Tegh Bahadur. Thus the miracles of God which show that God acts and reveals by active participation through perfect men, are not only accepted but recorded in Adi Granth. I firmly believe in the miracles mentioned by Bhai Gurdas who spent nearly forty years of life with two great contemporaries of Nanak, his son Sri Chand and his High-priest Bhai Buddha, who had firsthand information on these matters.

There is one more point, Guru Nanak, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed were human beings, but they were human beings with a difference. They did not belong to the type of human beings we are. The difference is on two points. They were gifted human beings who at certain moment in their life received a call which brought them into direct contact with the eternal spirit of Truth and God. Secondly, they were human beings, who after receiving illumination remained constantly in inner communion with the eternal spirit of God. They were not merely inspired men. They were men who had a clear and vivid vision of reality, society and life. To judge such men as something lesser than the intellectuals we- pose to be, as historians and scholars, is like closing our eyes and describing the colours of a rainbow. To reduce them to something most ordinary, which our short sighted imagination can imagine is to do grave injustice to these greatest men in human history. They were not Gods, but God has revealed Himself to earth only through such men, and while one civilization is built on the ruins of the other, it is the word of these great men which is still fresh, alive and eternal.

I have no words to adequately express my grateful thanks to my esteemed friend Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, National Professor of India, in Humanities. President of the Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters) and well known all over the world as Asia’s most eminent linguist, philosopher, orientalist and educationist, for kindly going through the book and writing the Foreword in an unbelievably short time. I also thank Dr. V. Raghavan the doyen of Sanskrit studies, formerly Head of the Sanskrit Department, Madras University for his Introduction.

I must express my grateful thanks to Bakshi Gurcharan Singh an Advocate of Supreme Court and also a learned theologian but disbeliever in miracles, for spending over a month of his precious summer holidays and making editorial suggestions and discussing with me the presentation of many historical facts. I accepted most of his suggestions. It is to Jathedar Santokh Singh’s suggestion that I owe the impetus to write this book, on which I wished to spend a few more years of research work. As the far-sighted Secretary of Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, he tempted me to work on it and extended all facilities for printing and publishing. The burden of getting the book through press and printing difficulties fell on the genial Sardar Gurdial Singh Manager, and his staff-member Sardar Narinderpal Singh Gill, who spared no pains to see the book through. I also thank other members of this committee, particularly, Sardar Gyan Singh, President, Sardar Avtar Singh Kohli, Sardar Harbans Singh Frontier, Dr. Randhir Singh, Sardar Harcharan Singh for their encouragement and active co-operation.

Many thanks are due to the eminent historians and archaeologists of Ceylon Dr. W.S. Karanaratno and Dr. S. Paranavitana for the precious informations sent on Guru Nanak’s information on Ceylon, to Dr. W.H. McLeod for going through the proofs of first eight chapters and making valuable suggestions and to Captain Bhag Singh, Managing Editor of Sikh Review for the historical plates of Baghdad inscriptions on which I have given views quite different from those published in the Sikh Review. They are very precious guidelines for further research work, and I have no doubt the libraries of Middle East will someday yield surprising material on Guru Nanak’s visit to Middle East.

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Trilochan Singh