Guru Nanak Dev Ji (Gurmukhi: ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕ), the founder and first Guru of Sikhism, was born in the year,1469, in village Talwandi of the Punjab province in the Indian subcontinent. The village, now known as Nankana Sahib, is situated near the city of Lahore in present day Pakistan. Sikhs over the world celebrate the auspicious occasion of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birth on the Pooranmashi (full moon) day in the Lunar month of Katak (October-November), which falls on a different date every year.
Guru Nanak was born in the house of father Mehta Kalu ji, a village accountant, and mother Mata Tripta ji, a simple and very religious woman, and was a cherished younger brother for sister Bebe Nanki ji. From an early age, it was evident that Nanak was an extraordinary child, marked out with divine grace. Blessed with a deeply contemplative mind and rational thinking, young Nanak would often astound his elders and teachers with the sublimity of his knowledge, particularly on divine matters. Growing up, he refused to partake in traditional religious rituals, and often spoke out against several prevalent societal practices such as the Caste System, idolatry, and the worship of demi-Gods. By the age of 16, Guru Nanak had mastered multiple existing religious texts and languages (Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi), and was writing what many believed were divinely inspired compositions.
In the year 1487, Guru Nanak was married to Mata Sulakhni ji, and they had two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. The family, accompanied by Bhai Mardana, a Muslim childhood friend of Guru Nanak, then moved to the town of Sultanpur Lodhi, where Guru ji took the job of an accountant in charge of the stores of the local Governor. Here, Guru Nanak worked during the days, but during the early mornings and late nights, he meditated and sang hymns accompanied by Bhai Mardana on the rabab (a stringed instrument). During one of those early mornings while bathing in “Vain Nadi” (a small river), Guru Nanak heard God‘s call to dedicate himself completely to the service of humanity. The very first sentence which he uttered then was, “There is no Hindu, no Musalman (Muslim)”. Stating that he had been taken to the God’s court and given a divine mission, Guru Nanak then began the next stage of his life, to preach his unique doctrine (Sikhi) to the entire world.
For the next 30 years, accompanied by Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak undertook four major spiritual journeys, running across India, South Asia, Tibet and Arabia, covering about 30,000 kilometers. In these journeys, he preached the new concept of God as “Supreme, All powerful and Truthful, Formless (Nirankar), Fearless (Nirbhau), Without hate (Nirvair), the Sole (Ik), the Self-Existent (Saibhang), the Incomprehensible and Everlasting creator of all things (Karta Purakh), and the Eternal and Absolute Truth (Satnam)”. Guru ji taught people that the ‘One’ God dwells in every one of his creations, and that all human beings can have direct access to God without the need of any rituals or priests. Setting up a unique spiritual, social and political platform based on equality and fraternal love, Guru Nanak attacked the citadel of the Hindu Caste System, and condemned the theocracy of Mughal rulers. He described the dangers of egotism, falsehood, and hypocrisy, and called upon the people to engage in worship through the “Naam” (the name of God). He rejected the path of renunciation (Tyaga), emphasizing a householder’s (family) life based on honest conduct, selfless service (Sewa), and constant devotion and remembrance of God’s name. Guru Nanak promoted the equality of all mankind and upheld the causes of the downtrodden and the poor, laying special emphasis to assert the equality of women.
In the later years of his life, Guru ji founded and settled down at the township of Kartarpur (“creator’s town”), on the banks of river Ravi in Punjab. Here, he donned the robes of a peasant, earning his own honest living by cultivating the lands. Followers came from near and far to listen to the Master. He introduced the institution of Langar (free communal kitchen) at Kartarpur, establishing the basic equality of all people regardless of their social and economic status. In the year 1539, knowing that the end was drawing near, Guru Ji, after having tested his own two sons and some followers over the years, installed Bhai Lehna ji (Guru Angad Dev Ji) as the Second Nanak, and after a few days passed into Sachkhand.
Guru Nanak’s writings, in the form of 974 spiritual hymns comprising the Japji Sahib, Asa di Var, Bara Mah, Sidh Gosht and Dakhni Onkar were incorporated in the scripture Guru Granth Sahib by the fifth Guru Arjan Dev ji. All the Sikh Gurus after Guru Nanak continued to identify themselves as Nanak while penning down their sacred writings. Thus, Sikhs believe that all the Gurus possessed the same divine light and further strengthened the same doctrine as was propagated by Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
Among people of various faiths and traditions, Guru Nanak Dev Ji is variously revered as Satguru Nanak, Jagat Guru Nanak, Baba Nanak, Nanak Shah Faqir, Bhagat Nanak, Nanak Kalandar.