For nearly 500 years before Guru Nanak was born, Punjab had been convulsed by invasions and subjected to a restless geography.

Commencing in 999 AD, the invasions of Gazni had debilitated the Hindu Shahi rule that extended from Kabul to Lahore. It was however the Delhi Sultanates that followed Muhamad of Ghor (1193), that established a loose cantankerous rule over Punjab.

There were frequent revolts and uprisings against this ‘rulership’. At the time of the Guru’s birth in 1496 (at Nankana Sahib 77 Km West of Lahore), the Sayyids in Delhi had given way to the Afghan Lodis. They in turn would be decimated by the Turkic Babar in 1526-27.

In this turbulent cauldron, the Guru was a shining light of love, compassion, equality, and inclusive eclecticism. At the age of 36 he gained enlightenment at Sultanpur Lodi, (76 km South East of Amritsar).

His first words on enlightenment were “Na koi Hindu Na Koi Musalman”. What is enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, (p 1136-11,12), is the Bani translated as “I am not a Hindu nor am I a Muslim; My body and breath of life belongs to Allah, to Raam- the God of both.”

The Gurus gift of Japji, undoubtedly is, the most significant message of Sikhism. Its most profound declaration is in the opening stanza, the Mool Mantra, with the first line “Ikk Oankar”, being the foundation of Sikh Faith. Translated it conveys ‘elemental to the entire universe is the One Supreme Being.’ [Japjee Translation by Dr Mohinder Singh, Anita Kalra, Gurivder Singh ].

In war ravaged and socio culturally fractured Northern India, this philosophy transcended the orthodoxy of prevalent beliefs. To the polarised and splintered populace, it gave an evolved spirituality as opposed to a religion.

The inspiration of the Guru, equally revolves around his life and conduct. The Guru choose to travel extensively by land and sea on several Udasi’s, (journeys). Here he encountered numerous contrary thoughts and beliefs. Undaunted he remained centred on his own spirituality. Never arrogant or seeking affirmation by conversion, his influence and popularity spread by the simplicity and inclusiveness of his philosophy.

Enthused by travel and experience, the Guru’s last years at Kartarpur (6.4 Km North West of Dera Baba Nanak (DBN), on the Western Bank of the Ravi were to reveal his full message. Living here, in a community, he provided a model for the Sikh way of life.

At a personal level he demonstrated what he always said, that the duty of humanity was to live the life given to each and mark it with good deeds, Kirat. This echoes back to his time at Mecca, when the Hajis asked him “To search in his book whether Hindu is great or Muslim”. Guru Nanak response that mentors us through the ages was “Without good deeds both will have to weep and wail” [SGGS- The Guru Eternal- Dr Mohinder Singh].

So, for his followers there is no age, no stage, for as long as the Creator gives you life and ability, you must be engaged, Kirat Kar; you must contemplate the divine Naam Jap; and share the fruits of honest labour - Vand Shak. This is the message of His life.

His wisdom illuminated the following nine Gurus. Consequently, when the fifth Guru Arjun Dev, compiled the Adi Granth, it is unsurprising that the Granth has 36 authors. Apart from the Gurus, it includes 15 holy men including three Muslims, 12 Hindu Bhaktas, 4 honoured Sikhs, and 11 Bhatts, (court singers). Guru Nanak had clearly said that his philosophy was not exclusivist, “Just as there is one sun but it provides us many seasons, so too these is but one Creator who manifests Himself in many revelations” SGGS page 12.

So, it is appropriate that the earliest contributors to the Granth, Jai Dev and Sheikh Farid predate Guru Nanak by three centuries. Also, Kabir Das an icon of the Bhakti movement predates Nanak by almost a century.

The steadfast commitment to any forced change of belief must draw its inspiration from the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev on 30 Nov of 1606. Conversion was against the precept of choice ordained by Guru Nanak, and as Guru Arjun Dev affirmed, personal piety must have a core of moral strength. His martyrdom changed the course of Sikhism. Guru Tegh Bahadur the ninth Guru, was entreated by the Hindus of Kashmir for protection against their forced conversion.

Spearheading their cause, he gave up his life (Nov 1675), to uphold the freedom and the right to worship by choice. In his martyrdom again we see the light of Nanak being carried forward, reinforced by an ultimate stand against an oppressor. This strand of thought is so deep in our psyche, that it has been enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Guru Nanak’s life and example, apart from his Udasis, is encompassed in the geographic triangulation of, Nankana Sahib- Sultanpur Lodi - Kartarpur. As a soldier on operational reconnaissance, DBN, was a mandatory halt. Not only did one pay respects at the DBN Gurdwara, but also, we took full advantage of the fine view of the meandering course of the Ravi. We were also rewarded by a clear view of Kartarpur Sahib across the Ravi.

In later years, it was a blessing during helicopter reconnaissance, to get a Darshan, of Harmandir Sahib, DBN and Kartarpur Sahib all in a few minutes. While focussed on the military dimensions of threats from across the borders, the irony of Nanak’s geographic triangle being cleft by an International Border was never lost. Not that it would matter in the least to the Guru, since he is boundless and borderless. It however remains a rude reminder of the handiwork of an ill-informed, overworked, socio - culturally ignorant Colonial Judge, Radcliff.

As we return to Nanak, we must pay our respects to the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh. One of the finest embodiments of Kirat and Karm. A committed Protector of Dharam, when provoked He drew the sword and was never deterred by the consequences.

An extraordinary intellectual, he wrote in several languages. In his Bichitra Natak he states “Ham eh kaj jagat moh aye….dharam chalavan, sant ubaran, dusht saman ko mul utarane” . This he says was the reason he came to the world, to allow dharma to prevail, protect the vulnerable, and destroy evil. This was his Kirat.

By the time of the Tenth Guru the spiritual germination of Guru Nanak had been enshrined in the Granth. The wisdom and way of the Gurus had enhanced the numbers of willing followers of the faith. It was now a threat to established orders and polity. Under attack Sikhs had to resort to arms. After all stratagem had been unsuccessful Guru Gobind Singh drew the Sword. He has in his actions and numerous writings, given the soldiers’ creed. ‘Deh Shiva var mohe, shub karman te kaboh na taron.’ Oh God grant me this boon, to never fear to do what is right … when I go to battle let me remain resolved on victory – ‘Nischay Kar Apne Jit Karon’.

Guru Nanak in his last 20 years at Kartarpur, mentored a community, which followed a productive life embracing all that he stood for. He transcended all barriers of caste, creed, religion, and gender. His potent epistle impressed on all, the reality that merger with the ultimate was possible by the conduct of a useful and honest life, by each one. This was irrespective of where birth and circumstances had placed one.

On this Gurpurab of Guru Nanak, it would be appropriate to recall what Rabindranath Tagore has said on the Gurus

“Nanak gave a call to his disciples to be free from selfishness, religious bigotry and spiritual inertia……Guru Gobind bound the Sikhs to a particular necessity, and so that they are never forgetful of it, he imprinted it in their hearts…...”

Lt General Sanjiv Langer PVSM, AVSM (Veteran).