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The Game of Love

Guru Nanak felt that the Light of God revealed by him to the world could remain burning in full effulgence, if there was someone competent to carry the torch of his Wisdom and Word to the next generation and pass it on to successive generations in all its perfection and transmuting splendour. Sikhism, with all its basic and independent institutions, had been founded; its seeds sown all over the world; and its roots deeply fixed in the spirit of one God and eternal Truth. He had given it a Church and principles of corporate worship, in which the essence of religious worship, and homage to the eternal spirit of God was enshrined in his universal teachings, spontaneous songs, and prayers.

Yet there was nothing oppressive and rigid about the institutions Nanak built. He gave Sikhism a Church, in which, men and women, people of all castes and creeds, of all nationalities and countries could meet and worship the eternal Truth to exalt and nourish their inward piety, and live the life of truly human and spiritual religion. They could, if they wished, enter the life of an initiated Sikh, and dive deep into the mystic life unfolded by the Guru’s teachings and discipline. They could, if they wish, retain the religion of their birth, and bask in the sunshine of the ethical glow, and the warmth of spirituality of this faith, which owned all seekers of truth in fraternal co-operation and enlightenment.

In the last, seventieth year of his life, Guru Nanak realized that if Sikhism was to conserve its values, it was essential for it to preserve its continuity with the original spirit of the founders, and to show itself capable of meeting the challenges of the future. It must have a historical growth in the face of social, cultural and political challenges of a grimly uncertain future. There was a fear of the spiritual sapling of this mighty tree facing oppression, tyranny, and political disasters, leading to its possible extinction, or getting uprooted from its natural and original soil and planted in artificial environments, or even grafted to some old decaying sectarian trees, where it would have withered away, and met the tragic fate of Sufism, Bhakti movement of Ramananda, Namadev and Kabir, and of the Yoga movements which were great forces in that period.

Sikhism had to undergo a process of evolution to adapt itself to all types of situations and face the forces of fanaticism, schism, opposition, and oppression. The seeds had been sown, the doctrines had been established, the trees had been planted all over India and outside India by Guru Nanak with his own hands. Yet these saplings had to flower and the fruits had to spread and create more seeds of faith. In the spirit of God and Truth were the seeds planted, and in the sanctuary of perennial wisdom and light they were expected to grow.

The path of Sikhism was not so simple as the oversimplified facts of many historians would make us believe it. It is tough path, sharp as the sword’s edge, and narrower than hair’s breadth, on which the most cautious, the most disciplined and enlightened man can walk.1 It demands dedication of mind, spirit and body, and consecration of the self at the altar of Love. Guru Nanak calls it the most trying and exhilarating game of love:

If you desire to play the game of love,

Carry your head on your palm in complete dedication,

Then, enter the path of my Faith,

If on this path you wish to tread,

Hesitate not to sacrifice your head.

(Guru Nanak: Sloka Vadhik: 20)

Guru Nanak had to find a successor who could completely identify his will to God’s Will, lose himself in the spirit of his Being, and allow his soul to be free from the dross material snares, and be blended with the perfect Light of God. He looked for a successor, who could be another Nanak in mind, heart and soul in the eyes of God and humanity. He tested his sons; he tested his disciples; he put to test all the divines who visited him. Lehna out of all distinguished himself as the most dedicated and perfected disciple, and in the eyes of Guru Nanak, only a perfect disciple could be perfect teacher and leader2.

To discipline him and test him, Guru Nanak put Lehna to the severest trials, always allowing his sons and other prominent disciples like Buddha, Sadharan to have the first chance, to prove their worth. “Lehna’s humility and voluntary poverty won the heart of the Guru as he busied himself in sweeping the visitor’s quarters, washing their clothes and doing all kinds of other material work. Daily he used to bathe long before dawn and then sit before the Guru for three hours rapt in meditation. Again and again was he tested for patience, endurance and obedience; always he came out triumphantly through tests.”3 “Beyond all expression was the love on each side between Lehna and Guru Nanak. The heights Buddha attained by his almighty struggle, Lehna attained through love. Lehna entered Nirvana in his love for the Master. Everything else that can be thought and seen was very small for Lehna besides his love for the Guru. Nanak, in this divine statue of love, chiseled in his own image. He saw in it his eidolon, his transfigured self and bowed down to it.”4 The Janam Sakhis are full of stories in which Lehna’s self-consecration at the altar of Guru’s love is vividly described. Some of these stories have been given strange legendary colouring,- which no serious historian accepts.

One day Lehna came from Khadur dressed in silk of Bukhara. He gave the offerings he had brought for the Master to Mata Sulakhani and went to the fields where Guru Nanak was working with the peasants. The Master asked Lehna to carry a heavy load of wet grass home to the village. When he brought the wet grass home, with all his silken clothes soiled, Sulakhani, was almost in tears and asked Baba Nanak: “Why should you ask this young man from so noble a family, and uptil recently the religious leader of Durga worshippers, to undertake such menial work. All his costly clothes are soiled with mud, and look what a heavy burden he has been made to carry.” “It is not mud,” said her husband, Baba Nanak, whose strange ways she had never understood, “The Lord has anointed him with the sacred saffron of purity and spirituality. It is not heavy load. It is the burden of suffering humanity.5 I just wanted to see whether he can carry the cross of mankind groaning in fear, pain and oppression. He is strong. He must be stronger. He must be perfect.”

Every time there was heavy task for a trial, his sons disobeyed him, his other disciples shrank from the difficulty of the task, while Lehna promptly obeyed the command of the Master. His sons thought it below their dignity to do any manual work, but for Lehna all work in the service of Nanak was worship, all labour in his presence was the game of love.

One day a jug fell into a ditch. Baba Nanak asked his son Sri Chand to take it out and clean it. Sri Chand, the proud ascetic, who had taken avow of celibacy, piety and purity against the wishes of his father, was confident that he was the natural successor to his great father. He said, “Of all the people here, dear father, why should you ask me to go down to the ditch to pollute my hands, soil my clothes, and lower my prestige in the eyes of everyone, by ordering me to do unclean work. There are hundreds of servants and devotees at your disposal to do menial work of this kind. Do you think I would be considered worthy of being your successor if I stoop so low?”6

Calmly and sternly, Baba Nanak asked his second son Lakhmi Chand to take the jug out of the ditch. Lakhmi Chand felt slighted. “Surely father,” said he, “you do not wish to humiliate and insult us in the presence of all your disciples; every day you ask us to do one or the other scrubby or degrading job which we consider below our dignity to do. We would never stoop so low as to do such dirty work. Let us make it clear father, that we will not obey any such order in future.”7 ‘ When Nanak turned to Lehna he went down to the ditch, took out the jug and after cleaning it thoroughly filled it with clean water. He then humbly placed it before the Master. It appeared that Guru Nanak was training his successor to lift the lowliest of the low out of the pit of manmade suffering and give him a clean, pure and respectable inner and outer life. Sulakhani was an eye witness to this incident. In reply to her usual complaint that he was bestowing greater care and affection on his disciples like Lehna than on his sons he said: ‘‘Do you think that these boys can ever shoulder any grave responsibility? Do you think that they can ever step down from the ivory towers of their vanity and self-assumed importance and identify themselves with the poor, the sorrowful, and the oppressed and lift them out of earthly misery to equality, freedom, brotherly love? Themselves enmeshed in envy, pride, vanity, narrow-mindedness, disobedience, shirking duty and responsibility, can they ever set an example of the noble ideals of Sikhism?”8

There was trial after trial. Lehna alone stood the severest tests. A rat was found dead near the store room. Guru Nanak asked his sons to carry it away and dispose it off. Both of them refused. Lehna obeyed. Rain and storm had worked havoc one night when the roof of the house began to leak. It was Lehna who went out to repair it before greater damage was done. He was to learn how society and culture, when taken over by sudden disasters can be saved by the personal sacrifices of the leaders.

In the crucible of suffering, Guru Nanak was purifying the soul who was to symbolize his spiritual wealth and greatness. Seven times he put his gold in fire to test its inner purity. Others ran away from the scorching experiments. Lehna devotedly submitted himself each time proving the purity of his devotion, the strength of his mind and the grandeur of his soul. Two events which are reported by all Janam Sakhis and other old records ended the trials and settled the selection.

“Early before dawn during the last watch of the night, Baba Nanak everyday went to the river for bath, accompanied by Buddha, Sadharan, Bala and Angad. One morning Babaji went to the river to take his bath as usual. When he reached the river-side he took off his clothes, and waded into the water to take his bath. While bathing he passed into ecstasy. In the meantime heavy rain poured down and lashing hailstorm fell all round. All the companions of Baba Nanak took shelter under some tree or went home. Sri Angad alone remained sitting there almost buried in hail-stones. When Baba Nanak came out of the water he saw that no one remained except Angad who was sitting there in great physical discomfort. “My dear divine Man, (purkhci)”, said Baba Nanak, “why are you sitting here? You should have taken shelter somewhere.” “My gracious King, my Lord, “said Lehna, “I seek no other shelter in life except the sanctuary of your lotus feet and mercy.” “Why should you perform such austerities and penance of love, Lehna? All I have done in life is for you. All my spiritual wealth and treasures are for you.”9

In the jungle, one day, Nanak and his disciples saw a funeral pyre. On it there was something covered with a sheet, and appeared to be a dead body. “Go and eat that,” commanded Baba Nanak. “Everyone shrank from even approaching the dead body.” “Lehna climbed onto the pyre and when he removed the wood, behold, there was no corpse, but Baba Nanak himself,” says the author of Mehma Prakash. Babaji stood up and embraced Angad saying: “Blessed art thou, divine Man. I have searched the entire world and it is you I have found. Hitherto your name has been Lehna. Now your name shall be Angad or the limb of my body, as you have taken a rebirth from my spiritual being.”10

Guru Nanak openly declared that Lehna, now named Angad, was the Chosen one of all disciples, which clearly indicated he was to be the successor. He did not anoint him as his successor on this occasion but prepared for it by handing over his responsibilities to him. He seated him by his side and treated him as his equal. History records two events of future planning and organization. Guru Nanak felt that Punjabi language had no proper script of its own. In different regions of north-west India it was written in different scripts, notably, Thakuri, Sharda and Persian. He asked Angad to study all the scripts and evolve a script corresponding to the thirty five letters of his acrostic, the Patti.

It is recorded “that on the following New Year day, Baisakhi, Angad presented to Guru Nanak the Punjabi alphabet, which after consultation and discussions with the Master was finalised and ap-proved as the Punjabi script of the future.11” As the script was based on the phonetics of the Guru’s Punjabi acrostic, it was called Gurumukhl. It might have also been called gurumukhi because it was a creation of the Guru and was the script used first for recording the sacred writings of the Sikhs. When Guru Arjan started compiling the Adi Granth he asked Bhai Gurdas to simplify this script still further, and the form in which it is written now is the creation of Bhai Gurdas and approved by Guru Arjan.12 The earlier form was used by the Gurus in writing the Hukamnamas.

During this period Guru Nanak also asked Angad to compile and edit his writings into a collection which came to be known as Bani pothi. The Japji was composed at different periods. The first verse was, according to all records, composed when he received the call. Almost all the verses had been composed before settling down at Kartarpur. There is a story in old manuscripts of Bala's Janam' Sakhi in which Guru Nanak is said to have edited it and rearranged the verses in the present final order. Guru Nanak was so pleased with some of Angad’s suggestions that he said: “Well done my Child Angad these paudis and slokas fit here exactly as you have suggested. Read now from Sodar paudi to the end and I will listen to it.” Angad recited them and Baba Nanak was extremely delighted.”13 Then he said about the Japji:

This Jap is inspired by the Lord,

Nanak has revealed truth in it;

It is the Word that has descended from God,

To redeem the ignorance of the world.

Take bath early in the morning And in quiet contemplation recite Japji,

He who recites it with inward devotion,

Will be blessed in the presence of God;

He who concentrates on the Wisdom of Jap,

His bondage of birth and death will be removed.14

(Janam Sakhi Bala (L) p. 574)

According to Bhai Mani Singh's Janam Sakhi, Japji was composed as a result of the Gosht (dialogue) with the Siddhas, but some Sikhs pointed out to Bhai Mani Singh that in the older Janam Sakhi (Bala’s) it is held that Siddha Gosht was held at Sumer while Japji was composed elsewhere. Bhai Mani Singh accepts this correction.15 Asa di Var, another composition, was composed by Guru Nanak at Pak-pattan at the request of Sheikh Ibrahim before he set out for his eastern journey.16 This fact is supported by a number of other historical documents. Omkar was composed on his return from the South. Patti has been accepted as his maiden composition written during his early years and from its extreme simplicity it appears to be so. Thus all the major compositions were completed before he settled down at Kartarpur. Out of the smaller compositions Baramaha, written in reminiscent mood away from Talwandi appears to have been composed at Kartarpur, but I find it difficult to accept the suggestion of Puratan Janam Sakhi that it was composed just before his death. It contains nothing about death and its atmosphere is full of light and sunshine, heat and rain. The Bani Pothis or the Book of his sacred hymns, compiled during his life time, became the spiritual regalia which passed on from him to Angad and from Angad to the third Guru. Out of the three or four Pothis (Collections of hymns) brought by Guru Arjan from Goindwal for the compilation of Adi Granth, one was the pothi17 which Guru Nanak got compiled and edited under the supervision of Angad during the last few years of his life.

Notes and References

  1. khaiidedhar gall ati bhldl,

lekha lijai til jion pldi.

Narrow as the double-edged sword is the path,

Like the linseed passing through the press,

The Task Master puts the souls to test;

(Guru Nanak Maru Solhe 8-10)

gursikhl barik hai sil catan phikl trikhi khandedhar hai oh valoii niki.

Sikhism is extremely subtle, It is tasteless as a stone,

Its path is sharp as a double-edged sword, And narrower than a hair’s breadth.

(Bhai Gurdas, Vur 9:2)


  1. SikhI parkhi jabai kirpal,

niscal rehio sarb hi kal

yate den nyae hai tanhi,

acraj kich lakho na man mahi.

When the compassionate Baba put to test the faith of

every one, (Lehna) only remained unshaken all the time.

So it is-just and proper to give guruship to him. There

is no need to wonder at it.

(N.P. ady Ut 52)

  1. Duncan Greenleess: The Gospel of Guru Granth Sahib p Lviii.
  2. Puran Singh : Ten Masters -p 26-27
  3. Guru Nanak the treasure of virtues hearing this said: “Do not consider this to be mud that has soiled his clothes. It is the shade of the umbrella of spiritual sovereignty. There is none like him. This mud which you see, is the dust of saffron sprinkled by God’s grace. (N.P., Ut: adhy, 47-91-93)
  4. das sikh age bahu mere,

manai bacan na kareh dere.

aes deh nikase soil,

mai kadhoii mehma ghat hoi.

(N.P. Ut adhy 54-43)

  1. is prakar sunke jagnatha, bole pun dusar sut sathi, Lakhmi Das nikiso jai, manjo sue kario teh tae. sunio" sron tin bain bakhane, pit jl turn ho adhik syane, mand kam ham pai karvavo, sabh lokan mai man ghatavo. isi prakar tumaro subhau kaho ap ham kare na kau. (ibid 44)
  2. suni Sulakhani sudh as kina, hirdai upjio khob mahana; baijh samip khai as baini, sun Sri Chand-pit gun khanl, kion biprit ap man thanl.

teh vhin srigur gira ucarl, Mule-suta, pikho man haniai, eh nij sut so parsut janiai, maneh kadon na bacan kadahin, so ais anusarl sadal. jis dharni mai hoe nivana teh jai javai tikeh mahana. tiba john ucera hoi, teh jai jave tike na kou. (N.P. 52 adh 10-28)

  1. Mehma Prakash Prose and Poetry: The quotation is the translation from the prose version.
  2. Mehma Prakash Vartak. f 207

Nanak never thought that the office which he had created would become hereditary. When he saw that his last end was approaching, he named Lehna, one of his faithful disciples, his successor. The sons and other disciples envied him but he gave proof of his faith and devotion. Seeing the dead body of a man Nanak said, “Ye who have confidence in me partake of this food. “All shrank back including the Guru’s son, but simple Lehna, Nanak’s most staunch ally and follower jumped over the dead body and was about to devour the dead when he was embraced by Nanak, who declared that from that moment his own spirit had gone into Lehna’s body and he must be regarded as Nanak himself. His name he changed from Lehna to Ang-i-khud, Angad. (S.M. Latif: History of Punjab. P)

  1. Ganesh Das Badehra: Chahar Bagh-i-Punjab: on p 9, say: The Gurmukhi script is an invention of Guru Nanak.” On the margin of page 215 of one of the original Goindwal pothi from which Guru Arjan compiled the Adi Granth, now lying at Patiala the historical fact is recorded by some later scribe: Guru Angad gurmukhi akhar bande, Bdbae be age sabad bhet kita: Guru Angad coined the Gurmukhi letters and made offering of this literary creation to Baba Nanak.

Satgur Nanak ji kehio sun satpurkh matsar,

gurmukh panth har ko roco gurmat mantar ucar,

satbacan satgur mat dhara,

tab gurmukh akhar likhe sucara.

gurmukh bacan likh poth! kari,

jai gurmukh panth jag kara.

Guru Nanak asked Angad to prepare Gurmukhi letters for the use of the language of the Sikh scriptures, on which depended the foundation of the gurmukh Panth. In obedience to this command Angad coined the gurmukhi letters and write the scriptures in them. (Mehma Prakash p 207)

Mehma Prakash prose also states this fact on p. 29

  1. tan bacan hoya, Bhai Gurdas, hun tan banian nu sikh jande han, te age jo ho van ge so pachanan ge nahl jo guru ki bani kaun hai, tan te sabh banian ikathiari karke granth di bid klce, te akhar gurmukhi sugam klcai. Sabh kise de vacan vie sugam avan

Guru Arjan said: Listen Bhai Gurdas, now the Sikhs can distinguish the hymns of the Gurus from the imitation hymns of the Minus (false-prophets); the Sikhs of the future may find it difficult to do so. So collect all the original manuscripts of the hymns for compiling the Granth Sahib. Also simplify the Gurmukhi script. Make it so simple that everyone may write and read it easily. (Bhai Mani Singh: Sikhan di Bhagtmal)

  1. baca jo mere akhan dlan paudian han sodar te laike, so tun padhda jah te ras karke sunau. eh sara japji mukhvak Babe jl de hai; Angad ne padh sunay; guruji prasan hoe te kiha: sabas baca Angada. eh sloka paudl&n ith&un hi Iodide hain. ( J.B.S (LI) p 573)
  2. eh jap karte purkh ka, sac Nanak kla bakhan

jagat undharan karne dhuron hoa pharman, amrit vela sac nam jap japiai kar isnan

hit cit kar jap ko padhai so pavai dargah mUn.

Jaman mama katJai jo jap sang lavai dhyan

(ibid p. 574)

hameh sunavat jao ucara,

bandh marjada karo upkara

ham te jo janme pascata

tin sabh ko sabh kohai gata

join jahaj cagh sagar tarhl

tion teh padh samsar udharhal.

tab jap nam dhrye gunkhanl

(N.P. adh Ut 52 93-94)

  1. tan sikhan Bhai Mani Singh ji nu puchia ji eh sidhd gosht tan Sumer parbat ute Janam Sakhi voc likhi hoi hai te tusin ocal vatale kahl hai.         (J.M.S. (LI) 506)
  2. Sheikh Ibrahim kehya: tusin mere tain kai parmeswar ki var sunavo; tab Babae kehya mardanya hamare sabhi rag hain eh pir asa vaut aya hai so asa ke rag vie sunaco. (ibid p. 63)
  3. ar sabh bani sri mukhvak Babeji de bal se sabh hazur mai baithke likha. pothi tyar hoi. (Mehma Prakash f 29)

gurmukh varn likh pothi kara (Mehma Prakash (Poetry) f 207)