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Spirit Rebellious

At the age of ten, Nanak sang passionate songs of the love of God, and talked like a sage. His subtle mind, illumined in the light of indwelling truth, took delight in deflating dogmas, puncturing presumptions, with the sharp point of questions, exhibiting the rare union of sharp logic with the Pythian enthusiasm of a poetic vision of life. His intoxicating mixture of music and philosophy, poetry and the rebellious spirit, flavoured with jest and irony, baffled the priests, the pundits, the mullas, and the traditionalists. His playful but stimulating arguments, his lively battle against hypocrisy, formalism, and lifeless ritualism, made him appear to be a strange and wayward boy, who talked neither like orthodox Hindus, nor like pious Muslims but was searching a new path, and giving expression to a new outlook. Thus, very early in life, he set his mind in decomposing the decaying age, and fearlessly forging a realistic and practical path of truth.

Nanak refused to bow before any idol and image, or to pay homage to any Hindu deity. He sang heartrending songs of the One God, who for him was a living presence, in association of Hindus and Muslims. By freely mixing with the saints and sages of every creed, he tried to gain a perspective of thought in which every extreme was seen as half-truth, and the various aspects of divergent faiths blended into a universal experience of justice, the good, and truth. He set aside caste prejudices, and mixed freely with low-caste people. He disregarded the artificial cultural gap between the Muslims and Hindus. He joined the Muslims in their silent prayers in the mosques, and participated in the Kirtan of the Hindu congregations.

Kalu Chand was extremely happy when the village priest Hardyal1, fixed a Sunday for the initiation of his son, Nanak, into the Hindu code of conduct, at which ceremony he would also receive the sacred thread, and be reborn as the twice-born Kshatriya. Finding him unusually gay and cheerful, Rai Bular asked Kalu Chand, what made him so happy. “Well Sir,” said Kalu Chand, “the day for Nanak’s initiation into the Hindu faith according to Vedic rites has been fixed. I have now to make elaborate arrangement to feed the Brahmins with vegetarian diet, and the Kshatriyas with meat, for which some goats shall have to be slaughtered. I wish I could get some hunted animals for the occasion which the people relish.” “I will go out hunting tomorrow,” said Rai Bular “and will hunt some deer for you,”2 Kalu Chand was overwhelmed. He was sure, that when the village priest initiates Nanak into the Hindu code of conduct, the wayward habits of his son would change. The Hindu social laws and ethics would become ingrained in his mind.

Elaborate arrangements were made for the entertainment of all types of people. The Brahmins and Kshatriyas were given special treatment and food. At the request of Nanak, food was served to hungry fakirs, sadhus, mendicants, and even low-caste people, though the Brahmins resented such people being treated as their equals. The courtyard had been plastered, and on a raised platform the village priest Hardyal spread a carpet, and drew a circle around it. In the centre of the platform he placed his stone-god, Saligrama.3

The priest then informed the audience that he was going to initiate Nanak into the Hindu rituals of worship. He would, after reciting certain Vedic mantras, impart the bijaksras (seed letters), sandhya- varidham (worship of the sun as savitr) navgrah tarpana (oblation of water to non-Vedic deities)} and other obligatory rites, like imparting the mulmantra (gayatri) and investing the boy with the sacred thread.4 The priest asked every Brahmin and Kshatriya to bless Nanak before the initiation.

Hardyal then asked Nanak to sit opposite him for the initiation ceremony. Nanak sat there and asked the priest what was he supposed to do. “First pay homage to the deity, Saligrama (stone-god),” said the priest, “and be prepared to receive the mahtram, (ritual formula) from me. I will be your guru, and you will be my disciple from this day onward.” “Why should I bow to this little stone?” asked Nanak. “Because,” explained the priest, “this is the manifest image of God.” Guru Nanak picked up the stone and said, with a sharp irony, “How on earth can this lifeless stone be image of manifest God? What do you think God is? A mountain or a pile of stones?” “How is it possible to worship the Unmanifest, without conceiving some form of His Presence?” retorted the priest. “The whole of humanity is His manifestation, and the whole of living Nature is His manifestation. Would it not be better to serve His manifest form in humanity? What can you get out of these stones picked out of a river?” remarked Nanak.5

Kalu Chand was getting uneasy. “Why argue with him”? He said to the priest, “the boy has his own strange convictions. There is no need to worry about them. Proceed with the ceremony. Impart the Gayatrl mantram to the boy, and invest him with the sacred thread. Explain to him the rituals.6 If you once get entangled with him in his arguments, there will be no end to it.”

The priest then recited some ritual formula, and coming close to Nanak, uttered the Gayatrl in his ear and asked Nanak to repeat it after him:7 Tat Savitur varam rupam jyotih parasya dhimahi yannah sateynah dipayet.” (Let us meditate on the most auspicious form of savitri (solar deity), on the supreme light which shall illumine us with truth.) “You who wish to initiate me into the mystery of spiritual life, are you yourself enlightened? Have you realised truth? Have you realised what the supreme Spirit and Light is ? What spiritual change will I experience if I wear the sacred thread, and submit to all these rituals?” asked Nanak.8 “I am doing, what it is my duty to do as a Hindu priest,” said Hardyal. “By accepting this mantram, and by wearing the sacred thread you will become an initiate Kshatriya, able to go to the kitchen of the high caste, and be entitled to all the privileges and dharma of the twice born. Without this initiation and the sacred thread, you will not be deemed a pious and virtuous Kshatriya, and will not be entitled to the special privileges of the high-caste people,” added the priest.

Nanak listened to the arguments of the priest and with the convictions of a spiritually illumined rational mind he again asked: “Is it the sacred thread which makes a Brahmin or a Kshatriya perfect in his dharma, or are his acts and deeds responsible for it? If a Brahmin or a Kshatriya tells lies, cheats people, exploits and swindles the poor, and commits such sins that are harmful to society, will the sacred thread entitle him to purity and perfection of dharma? How can such a man be considered better than those who are virtuous, humane, and noble, but do not wear the sacred thread, because they do not belong to the higher caste?”9

The priest was dumbfounded. He stammered for a reply, looking sometime at the other learned Brahmins sitting there, and sometime at Nanak’s father, hoping that Kalu Chand might at least stop him from upsetting the ceremony by such pertinent and dangerous questions. The radiant face of Nanak glowed with the wisdom of a sage. There was a compassionate smile on his lips indicating that he could show the way. “Give me”, said Nanak, “a sacred thread that would never break.” The Brahmin was happy and hopeful that Nanak had at last agreed to wear a strong sacred thread, and before he had chance to assure him that the cotton thread chosen by him was durable and strong, Nanak burst into the following song:

Countless thieveries, countless sensual exploits, Countless falsities, countless abuses,

Countless deceptions and countless sins abide with man day and night.

Yet for spiritual initiation of such a man,

A Brahmin twists thread spun from cotton,

A goat is slaughtered for the ceremony,

It is cooked and eaten as feast,

Everyone then blesses the wearer.

When the thread becomes old,

The wearer will throw it away;

And seek another one to replace it.

Sayeth Nanak : A sacred thread can never break,

If the thread is made of moral strength.

(Guru Nanak: Asa-ki-Var, 15)

Expecting to catch Nanak in the game of his own arguments, Pundit Hardyal asked: “What, may I know, is the sacred thread of moral strength, which will last all life? Have you acquired it, and how is it possible for us to spin and wear it?” “I will tell you how to spin the sacred thread”, said Baba Nanak, “which may help you, and remain with you in life and death. By the grace of God I have acquired it and that is the only thread I will keep in life. I will never wear this cotton thread worth a penny. This is how you can prepare a lasting sacred thread:

Out of the cotton of compassion, Spin the thread of contentment;

Tie the knot of continence, Give it the twist of truthfulness;

Make such a sacred thread O Pundit for your inner self. Such a thread will not break,

Nor, get soiled, be burnt, or lost;

Blessed is the man O Nanak Who makes it a part of his life.

You buy this cotton thread for a penny Then sit in a square mud-plastered And put it around the neck of others.

In the ears some words you whisper, O Brahmin,

And claim to be a spiritual preceptor.

With the death of the wearer falls the thread.

Thus without the thread he leaves the world.

With faith and communion with the Name, Honour and esteem is attained;

Make praise and glorify Truth Thy real sacred thread.

You can wear it even in His presence,

Such a pure thread can never be destroyed.

(Guru Nanak: Asa-ki-Var. 15)

Nanak thus refused to enter the four-fold order of Hindu society. He refused to acknowledge the superiority of one caste or class over the other. He refused to believe that rituals, formulas, and symbols deprived of ethical significance can ever be useful for religious or spiritual life. He was so clear in his mind about his philosophic and religious outlook that he refused to subscribe to any religious views, which did not conform to his experience of truth, even when it came from the religion of his parents. Even at such a young age, he not only denounced the religious practices of traditional faiths, but tried to show the right path in the light of his inner illumination. The pundits and the society elders were seriously upset at Nanak’s refusal to undergo the initiation ceremony, and wear the sacred thread; and many of them grumbled and remonstrated with Nanak, for showing disrespect, for what the Hindu rishis and sages had been practicing since ages. But, Hardyal had some secret faith in the prophetic wisdom of Nanak, ever since his birth. “You are right,” said Hardyal; “young Master, I have been initiating people without any divine knowledge. Give me the light and peace that reigns in your soul.” Nanak instructed and blessed him. The aged priest Hardyal received the inspiration which lifted his soul to the joy of communion with Spirit Divine. His mind felt inwardly, the moral fervour of the young prophet’s sermons, the like of which he had never experienced.10

Rai Bular was surprised to learn that Nanak had refused to bow before the stone-god and other Hindu deities. He had refused to accept the Brahminical mantram, and he had even refused to wear the sacred thread, which alone could entitle the boy to acquire a privileged position in the Hindu society. Everyone wondered what this boy would do, when he grew up and his strange thinking assumed some definite form and content.

Notes and References

1. J.M.S. gives the name as Brijnath which seems to be an error of the copyist. All other Janam Sakhis and historical records give his name as Hardyal as the village priest.

2.  hor samagrl mai sabh tyar kar ayan han ik, mrig dl tuca hath nahi lagdi, tan Rai Bular kehia mai bhalke sikar cadhon ga ar mrig mar lyavan ga, tan Kalu kehya kal bhalke naucanda aitvar hai arthath pancml hai so mai bhalke Nanak ko janeu pavanga tusan mrig jarur lyavna. (J.M.S. (MSS, LI), f 98.)

3. Salagrama: A Stone held sacred and worshipped by the Vaishnavas, because its spirals are supposed to contain or to be typical of Vishnu. It is an ammonite found in the river Gandak and is valued more or less according to the number of its spirals and perforations. J. Dawson: Hindu Mythology

4. Brahmin cauke de kar laga devne; prat sandhya, mandhya, trikal sandhya, tarpan, gayatri, lage, Brahmin sikhlane, ar, sikha sut dhoti, ar janeu mala k suci, laga sikhlavnei; sastar bed kl marjada laga sikhalne; khat karam, laga batavne; Salagram ki seva laga sikhalne, Nanakji, nhavai cauke upar baitha, janeu laga pavne. (J.Mb. p. 20)

5. These arguments are given in a number of other places in the Janamasakhis. J.M.S. indicates that the last verse of 14th Canto of 2sa-di- Vdr was uttered here.” sil-pujas bagal samadhajfi...”

6. Kalu akhya, he prohit, Guru Nanak nu gayatri mantar devo, ate janeu bhi pao; tan prohit laga Guru Nanakjl de kanan vie, gayatrl mantar phukan, tan Babe Pundit nu kahaya, tun ap mantar sikhya hoya hai jo sanu sikhavada hai. (J.M.S. (MSS; LI) p.99)

7. prohit laga Guru Nanakji de kan vie gayatrl mantar phukan” (J.M.S. f: 99)

8. “tan Babe Nanak nu kahya, tu ap mantar sikhya hoya hain jo sanu sikhanvda hain.” Ibid

gaytri tarpan sandhya seva kare, bhall jugat mai rahe, is namit karan khatri brahmin ko janeu padta hai bina janeu te khatri Brahmin ka dharm rehta nahi” (J.Mb. p. 20)

“tail Hardyal ji bole is janeu ke na pehre bina apvitar honda hai cauke ka adhikari nahi hota, jab ved ki bidh purab khatri brahmin is janeu ko pehrte hai tab sabh karm dharm ka adhikari hota hai.” (J.B. (L) I. p. 29)

9. “eh Pundit, khatri ka dharm janeu sion rehta hai, ki karm kar kar dharm rehta hai”? jab eh bat Nanak ne kahi tab jitne lok ikatr bhae the sabh hairan bhae”

“suno Pundit ji, khatri Brahmin hoe kar janeu gal paya ar bure karm karne thi na talya; khote karm karda rehia, tan Brahmin Khatri janeu pse ke bahrle dharm nu kya kare ga; dhan vaste hinsa, dhroh, adharm ant pryant duita, jhuth, cugli kiti tan oh Brahmin khatri nahi candal hai. (J.B. (L) I p. 29)

10. eh updes’ Hardyal ne man mai dharan kla ar Guru Nanak ji nu dhan dhan kehia. (J.B. (L) I p. 32)

tab un pandit ar sabhno namaskar kia, je vah Nanak, dhan Nanak, Sat Nanak.” (J.M.B: 22)