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Guru Nanak as Pioneer of Interfaith Dialogue

Interfaith dialogue is made to buckle one faith with another, by identifying commonalities between them. It implies efforts on the part of leaders of different faiths to come close to each other by recognizing the principles of Unity while ignoring superficial differences and dissimilarities which arise at the ritualistic level.  

Guru Nanak is the pioneer of interfaith dialogue in the history of the world. His revolutionary thought, outlook and efforts to reconcile men and philosophies may be seen in the social backdrop of his time, as depicted in the Adi Granth (Page 469). Adi Granth was the first Holy Scripture, which established the tradition of interfaith dialogue.  Guru Nanak like earlier prophets, spoke out of his revelations and not from other’s experiences. 

During his 25 - year long and intensive encounters with yogis, saints and religious men of all hues, Nanak insisted: “Religion must join the life current of humanity and should be socially and spiritually consistent.” He rejected burdensome legalism, wasteful rituals and meaningless ceremonies in order to keep their essential practice close to the pure religion of man.

Guru Nanak participated in interfaith dialogues with his message: Sabna jian da eko data, so mein visar na jaye. Raha dovai, khasam eko jano. No body is high, no body is low … I am the lowest of the low. No body is Hindu, no body is Muslim, said Guru Nanak. His emphasis on God’s Grace, Gur Prasad and the ultimate trust in righteous deeds were widely acclaimed.

Infact, the original text of the Holy Scriptures and the intention of the prophets were not aimed at creating rigidified communities, who would encounter each other with hatred and anger. Adi Granth was the first holy scripture which established the tradition of interfaith dialogue at the religious level, and it never degenerated into any kind of dispute. Six Sikh Gurus and 30 saints , bhagats and Muslim divines contributed their spiritual messages to Guru Granth Sahib. The saints and bhagats, who contributed in the text of Holy Granth Sahib belonged to different religions and castes. However, all messages are an integral part of the Holy Bani and are equally revered. The composition of Guru Granth Sahib is the best example of ecumenism and the spirit of interfaith.

There is only one God and there is only one religion i.e., the religion of Truth. In the 14th stanza of Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak says: A wise man would not tread the path of communalism, because his real relation is with dharma. Guru Nanak’s message is the best Scripture of ecumenism, reconciliation, communal harmony and world peace. The foundation stone of the Gold Temple, Amritsar, was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim divine. Its structure with four entrances symbolize its acceptance to members of all religious communities and castes. Whosoever is truthful is pure and is dear to Nanak.

In his interfaith dialogues, Guru Nanak did not say a word against Vedas, Puranas, Quran or other holy scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are not wrong but it is people who are wrong, said Nanak. He never rejected Hinduism or Islam or their institutions in their original or pure form, but he rejected the evil practices of exploitation of the poor by the clever and greedy Brahmins and Mullahs. He said, people are unable to take advantage of the teachings of Vedas and Puranas. It is like loading a donkey with sandalwood, who can’t avail himself of its perfumes.

Guru Nanak was the mediator between antagonist cultures and civilizations. He set out on missionary travels, covering far off places like Cylone, Tibet, Middle East and others. Prof. Teja Singh says: Nanak traveled over a greater part of the land than any other prophet had ever done in the world.  Notwithstanding the difficulties of moving from one place to another, hardness of times, diversity of political, social and religious regions, Nanak made his whole life, a life of message. Prof. Sher Singh said: “He went to these places to preach his mission and convert people to his faith.” He gave the message of brotherhood, peace, unity and love. Guru Nanak pronounced: The whole world for me is a sacred enclosure. Whosoever loves truth is pure. If you don’t know God, it hardly matters whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or a Sikh.

The Journeys

In 1499, at the age of 30, Nanak left his home to interact with leaders of different faiths. He undertook long and arduous journey for 25 years in every nook and corner of the country.  The last journey (1519 -21) was towards the Middle East countries.

First Udasi (1500-1506), Nanak went to the East upto Bengal and Assam, mainly to visit the holy places of the Hindus , Buddhists and Jains. It lasted about 7 years and covered the following towns and regions, Sultanpur, Tulamba ( modern Makhdumpur, zila Multan), Panipat, Delhi, Banaras, Nanakmata (Zila Nanital), Tanda Vanjara (Zila Rampur), Kamrup (Assam), Asa Desh (Assam), Saidpur, Pasur and Silkot (Pakistan).  He interacted with the religious leaders over there.

Second Udasi (1506-13) was to the South. It lasted for 7 years and covered the following towns and regions, Dhanasri Valley, Sangladip (Ceylon). This time Nanak was accompanied by Sihan and Hassu, a washerman and a blacksmith. He went as far as Ceylon and visited holy places of the Hindu’s and the Buddhists.

Third Udasi was to the North (1514-18) into the snowy Himalayas - the home of yogis and siddhas. It lasted for 5 years and covered the following towns ad regions- Kashmir, Summer Parbat, Nepal, Tashkand. He successfully exposed the Hindu rituals at Haridwar. He held discussions with many followers of Gorakhnath and Machhandarnath. He traveled as far as Tibet and left a great impression on the followers of Mahayana Buddhists. It is believed that they preserved the wisdom of Nanak and called him a precious teacher. They believed that Nanak was the 8th incarnation of the Buddha. Nanak was accompanied by two jat followers namely Saido and Gheho.. On this occasion, he wore a different dress. He tied a long rope on his head as turban and had a thick staff in one hand and a begging bowl in the other. He tackled controversial questions in a remarkable manner, while explaining the difference between Hindu cremation and Muslim burial.

 Fourth Udasi (1519-21) was to the West in the Middle East countries. It lasted about 3 years. He was accompanied by Mardana, a Muslim Mirasi. Here, Nanak went to Macca. Some interesting incidents took place there.  Nanak could present his viewpoint and convinced others that God is on all sides and that it is wrong to believe that God is present only in the West. Nanak is believed to have visited Baghdad and Afghanistan on his way back to Punjab. At Syaddabad, Nanak was upset to see brutalities and acts of inhumanity committed on women, mostly of rich Muslim landlord families. He dauntlessly questioned Babar for the acts of inhumanity by his soldiers. Nanak had also publicly exposed the brutalities of Sikander Lodi. He even raised a loud voice before the Lord to answer why the lions were let loose on innocent men and women. The rajas did not deserve to be rajas. They were kasias (butchers), said Nanak.

Fifth Udasi (1523-24), Nanak covered some towns and regions in the Punjab.The 25-year long journeys, the longest and unprecedented in the history of the world, never ever earlier undertaken by any missionary prophet, are replete with experiences of interfaith dialogue and intensive encounters with yogis, saints and religious men of all hues. Guru Nanak insisted: Religion must join the life current of humanity and should be socially and spiritually consistent . God is one. He is timeless. He is fearless. He has no parents. He is neither born nor does He die.  He is formless. You can’t see him.  You can only remember him. He is truth. And He is the highest. But higher still is the truthful living. You can only  reach God through a true Guru and his grace.   Nanak professed: Naam , Dan, Ishnan, Kirat and Simran. A pure heart, righteous deeds, genuine service to mankind, harmony, love, peace and human brotherhood. Naam Simram and righteous deeds constitute the quintessence of Guru Nanak’s message and the basis of all interfaith dialogues he had had with religious men of all hues. Traditions of Sangat and Langar were started for communal harmony and interfaith interactions.

Revolutionary Message

Guru Nanak was unhappy to see pandits and Mullahs exploiting the ignorant folk of their respective communities. They would use Sanskrit and Arabic to befool the credulous masses. They tried to hide their own ignorance behind these clichés. Nanak said religious language should be a language, which people can understand. Apart from this, bitterness prevailed between the two major communities in the country. Infact, true religious spirit was conspicuous by its absence.  The people were lost in wasteful rituals and meaningless ceremonies. The Hindu folk had taken to idol worship and fasting. They had drifted away from the true spirit of religion. The general religious atmosphere was far from satisfactory. The yogis, tantriks and sadhus were wandering without having the true religious spirit. Splitting of ears, smearing ashes on body, physical self-torture, begging food from door to door, were hypocritical and pretentious acts, said Nanak. He had started defying the baseless rituals of the Hindus, right from his childhood. He had the courage to defy even his own parents at the age of eight in the case of  Jineo ceremony.

Reconciliation

Guru Nanak felt responsibility towards both the Hindus and the Muslims. His mission was reconciliation.  He sought to reconcile religions of his day. Guru Nanak frequently used the Sufi terms. Guru Nanak used freely the Islamic names of God in his compositions : Allah, Allah Agan Karta,Karanhar Karim, Sab Duniya Awan Javani Muqam Ek Rahi, said Nanak.

Garb of Nanak was usually of a composite nature. A long loosely stitched robe of red brownish colour. He wore on his head a Qalander -the head dress of a Persian Moslem Order of Fakirs or Darwashes. On forehead, a saffron tikka mark of the Hindus. A necklace of human bones. A mango-coloured jacket.  A loosely draped white sheet. A string of beeds and a pairof chappals of two different colours/designs. His costumes in traveling were symbolic of his mission, since garb was considered generally as a means of identifying teachers of religions.

In fine, Guru Nanak’s philosophy, prayers, robe, language, besides several other evidences, show that he labored earnestly to reconcile Hinduism and Islam and insisted strongly on tenets on which both parties could agree by subordinating the points of difference. Every religion at its spiritual best mingled with the religion of Guru Nanak. He appeared to the people of every faith at their own best. Ecumenism and reconciliation constitute the quintessence of Guru Nanak’s message which runs undercurrent all interfaith dialogues. “Guru Nanak is samdarshi”, said Guru Amardas. “Nanak is a great emancipator”, said Guru Arjun Dev.  Swami Vivekananda praised Nanak’s   love for the whole world.

 
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