Rev. Raymond Raynes observed in course of a sermon in Johannesburg, “It has often happened in history that some particular person is born in whom the aspiration and the dire needs of his generation seem to be crystallized and there is a stirring of men’s hearts.’’
Such a man was Guru Nanak (1469-1539 A.D.)- the founder of Sikhism. Guru Nanak was a monotheist. He did not believe in the caste system. Spiritual urge led him to renounce the world in adolescence. His liberal outlook, born of intense spirituality of a very high order, was intolerant of all current conventions and meaningless formalities. He realised that truth cannot be the monopoly of any individual sect or book, revealed or otherwise that the Ultimate Truth is latent in every man. It has to be brought out by sincere, selfless and life-long “Sadhana’’ (endeavour). He said, “Man becomes man when the Ultimate Truth dawns upon him; when he can love truth sincerely.’’
Guru Nanak was a widely travelled man. He travelled over the whole of India and Ceylon, Tibet, Sikkam and even went to remote places like Mecca in Arabia and Persia. After long wanderings of more than 40,000 square miles in 4 Udasis spreading over a period of more than 40 years extending over many lands. Nanak came back home and settled down as a house-holder. He declared, “God is to be found neither in the Quran nor in the Puranas’’. The writers of holy books have flaunted their erudition in their works. The Shastras are full of errors. One needs not renounce the world to attain God . He (God) reveals Himself and is immanent in our every day life. The anchorite in the cave and the prince in the palace are equal in His eyes. God is concerned not with the caste, but with the doings of man. Nanak was against the superstitions and idol-worship of the Hindus and the intolerance of the Muslims. He tried hard to do away with all these.
The universalism of Baba Nanak’s teachings like Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Mankind achieved a fair measure of success in effecting a synthesis of Hinduism and Islam. The unity of God and the brotherhood of man are the burden of his message. The essential features of his system are its non-sectarian character and its harmony with secular life. True to his teachings, Guru Nanak counted Hindus as well as muslims among his disciples. Essentially a man of God, Guru Nanak was a friend of humanity as well. The institution of “Langar’’ (Community Kitchen) introduced by the Sikh Gurus bears testimony to this. None knew better than they that religious instruction sounds hollow and hypocritical to a hungry man. The institution of community kitchen has another significance too. It induced those who came to the Guru to rise above casteism, an artificial barrier between man and man.
After Guru Nanak’s death in 1539, his mantle fell on his successor. Gurus-nine in all-regarded by the Sikhs as incarnations of the master himself. Guru Gobind Singh the last of them (1666-1708), infused a new life into the Sikhism and organised the Sikhs as thoroughly as a Grecian law-giver’’ could think of. He was the friend, philosopher and guide of his folk during the most critical period in the history of the community. Propounded and propagated by the men of saintly disposition, permeated through and through with a spirit of selfless service and patriotism. Sikhism has become a most modern religion through “sacrifice, turmoil and perfection,’’ and the followers of the faith have covered themselves with glory in the process.