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Religious Environment
Salient Features
Concept of God
Garb of Nanak
Summing Up
Paper on
Guru Nanak as Pioneer of Interfaith Understanding

A Paper presented at the National Seminar on

Relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib for Interfaith Understanding
Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, March 7-8, 2013
- Dr M M Verma

Pluralism in Guru Granth Sahib

The original text of the Holy Scriptures and the intention of the prophets were not aimed at creating rigid communities, who are encountering each other with hatred and anger. Adi Granth was the first Holy Scripture, which established the tradition of interfaith dialogue.

Guru Granth Sahib is a unique Spiritual Scripture – unique in so many ways. It is unique in its composition, consisting of the choicest thoughts and poetry of Six Sikh Gurus and 30 Saints from different parts of India, coming from different religious traditions, castes, professions and social background.

Guru Granth Sahib is the best example of pluralism, interfaith, inter-caste and inter-profession spiritual philosophy. It is a unique complete unity in thought and perspective of the Sikh Gurus and the 30 Saints. All messages are an integral part of the Holy Bani and are equally revered.

It is a unique ecumenism – reflecting the best of every religion. Guru Granth Sahib is a unique Scripture of mankind, uniting all religions - focusing on the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Guru Granth Sahib establishes the tradition of interfaith at religious level. Till date, no disagreement between the poetry of two contributors has ever been pointed out.

Guru Granth Sahib is more than a spiritual guide, a world teacher for honest living, uniting people, upholding dignity of all castes, creeds and gender. It is a unique treasure for the protection of Indian civilization, classical ragas, historical events, and inspiration to people, religions and the country. Guru Granth Sahib is a unique literary collection, which serves as a guidance and inspiration to depressed lot of the mankind. It is a source of inspiration to people to meet multifarious challenges of life.

Guru Granth Sahib is a universal scripture of mankind, preaching a unique science of life, uniting all religions, fatherhood of God and brotherhood of human beings. A Guru, who imparts Sikh teachings through its prescribed syllabus to lead a good life, is not to be worshipped. There is no need to worship anyone and there is no priestly class. It’s a revelation of the guru.

Composition of Guru Granth Sahib

The beauty of Guru Granth Sahib is that it starts with the unique name of God as numerical “1” one. It also continues the one line description of His concept, which is called “Mangla Charan.” Mul Mantar is recorded in abbreviated form as “Ik Onkar Satgur Parsad”. It is written 525 times before beginning of Chapters and Ragas.

The chapters of Guru Granth Sahib are arranged in 31 Indian Classical Ragas. It consists of 1430 pages of large size. The verses of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, were added to it in the year 1705, before conferring Guruship to Guru Granth Sahib in 1708. Guru Granth Sahib has a unique numbering system for every hymn and chapter, giving the total number with the headings of names of different contributors. In all editions available, the line and page number is the same.


Guru Nanak (1469-1539) the first Sikh Guru, started collecting the revelations and teachings of the pious souls in their original folk languages. These luminaries had passed away 250 years earlier than Guru Nanak. For examples, Baba Sheikh Farid (1175-1265), a Muslim Pir from Punjab; Bhagat Jaidev (1201-1245), a Brahmin from Bengal; Bhagat Namdev (1270-1350) and Bhagat Tirlochan (1267-1335) - untouchable Saints from Maharashtra; Bhagat Ramanand (1366-1440), an untouchable Saint from UP, Bhagat Sain (1390-1440), an untouchable Saint from MP; Bhagat Dhanna (1415), a jat from Punjab; Bhagat Pipa (1426), a Rajput king of Rajasthan; Sant Kabir (1398-1495), a Muslim weaver from UP. The dates of Bhagat Sadna, a butcher from Sind and Bhagat Sadna Beni are not known. Probably, they were of the earlier period. Namdev describes in his own hymns that he was denied entry in Hindu temples. However, Sant Ravi Das (a Chamar), and Bhagat Sadana, a Muslim butcher from Sind, are also seated in Guru Granth Sahib, irrespective of their professions.

The first five Gurus continued the process of compiling and collecting the material for 135 years from (1439-1604) for inclusion in this Scripture. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru, got it inscribed under his personal supervision in 5 years. Out of 36 contributors, six are Sikh Gurus, seven Muslims Divines, two untouchables Saints, and the remaining are Hindu Bhagats of different denominations.

Guru Granth Sahib is a revelation of the Guru. The Shabad reflects transcendentalism of the Gurus and the Saints. Guru Granth Sahib was reedited by Guru Gobind Singh. There is one God, one bani and one shabad. In the beautiful words of Guru Ramdas: The Guru is bani, and the bani is Guru.

Interfaith Philosophy and Practices of Guru Nanak Socio-Religious Environment

Bitterness prevailed between the two major communities in the country. 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.

Guru Nanak was distressed to see Pandits and Mullahs of his time exploiting the ignorant folk of their respective communities. They would use Sanskrit and Arabic to befool the credulous masses and hide their own ignorance behind these clichés. Nanak asserted, religious language should be a language, which people can understand.

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.

The Guru Nanak is the pioneer of interfaith dialogue. Guru Nanak said: “Religion must join the life current of humanity and should be socially and spiritually consistent.” Ecumenism and reconciliation constitute the quintessence of Guru Nanak’s teachings, which are the basis of interfaith dialogue. 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 felt responsibility towards both Hindus and Muslims. His mission was to reconcile the religions of his day. He made efforts to reconcile men and religious philosophies of his time. Every religion at its spiritual best mingles with the religion of Guru Nanak. He appears to the people every faith, at their own best.

Salient Features of Guru Nanak’s Philosophy & Ways of Reconciliation

Guru Nanak’s philosophy, prayers, robe, language, besides several other evidences, show that he tried his best to reconcile Hinduism and Islam and insisted strongly on tenets on which both the parties (Hindus and Muslims) could agree, by subordinating the points of difference. He was the mediator between antagonistic cultures and civilizations.

  1 Concept of God.

  2 Concept of Religion.

  3 No discrimination between a Hindu and a Muslim.

  4 Prayer can be offered anywhere. He went to a Mosque to offer prayers.

  5 He used to sit at burial places to sing the glory of God.

  6 He used a composite Garb.

  7 He used simple language.

  8 Persian words and Sufi terms.

  9 He discarded baseless rituals and ceremonies of Hindu religion in which he was born. He wanted to free the people from the grip of the   Pandits and the Mullahs.

  10 His emphasis was on Naam-Simran and good deeds.

  11 He undertook extensive journeys to all directions – East, South, North and West. Prof. Sher Singh says: Nanak visited these places to   preach his mission and convert people to his faith.

  12 During these 25 years, Nanak had encounters with yogis, saints, and men of all hues, including the followers of Gorakhnath and   Machhandernath.

Concept of God

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 censured the misleading, ignorant and motivated Pandits and Mullahs, yet he was not interested in an open confrontation between Brahmins and Shudras. However, Nanak did not criticize Hindu and Muslim Scriptures. He did not say a word against the Vedas. He was opposed to Pandits and Mullahs because they kept religion away from the people by using Sanskrit and Arabic, which were not the languages of the common people. Although he rejected the filthy rich landlords, yet he was not interested in a class war between the rich and the poor.

Guru Nanak proclaimed: “No body is Hindu,” “No body is Muslim.” Such distinctions were rejected outright. Further, “Rah dovai khasam eko jano…” This thought was earlier beautifully expressed in the universally acclaimed words of Kabir: Awal Allah nur upai Kudrat de sab bande, Ek nur te sub jag upje, kaun bhaley kaun mande.

Journeys (Dates according to Prof. Hari Ram Gupta)

In 1497, at the age of 28, Nanak set out on missionary travels, covering far off places like Ceylon, 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.”

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. Whosoever is truthful is pure and is dear to Nanak.

In his interfaith dialogues, Guru Nanak did not say a word against Vedas, Puranas, Qur’an 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 cannot avail himself of its perfumes.

First Udasi (1497-1509): Nanak went to the East upto Bengal and Assam, mainly to visit the holy places of the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

Second Udasi (1509-15): Nanak went to the South. He went upto 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 (1515-18): Nanak went to the North upto the snowy Himalayas - the home of yogis and siddhas. He covered the following towns and regions- Kashmir, Summer Parbat, Nepal, Tashkent, Tibet. He 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. In Tibet, he 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. He tackled controversial questions in a remarkable manner, while explaining the difference between Hindu cremation and Muslim burial. He held discussions with many followers of Gorakhnath and Machhendarnath. He successfully exposed the Hindu rituals at Haridwar.

Fourth Udasi (1518-21): Nanak went 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 Mecca. 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 Kasais (butchers), 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 Darwashis. 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 pair of 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.

Summing Up

Sikh religion is the best example of pluralism and interfaith. It is reflected in the following:

  1 Composition of Guru Granth Sahib.

  2 Foundation stone of Golden Temple.

  3 Architectural Structure of Gurudwaras.

  4 A Composite Sangat.

  5 Langar for all.

  6 Use of simple language.

  7 No intermediary priestly class.

  8 No baseless rituals of any kind.

Guru Nanak gave a message of peace, unity and love. Nanak said: The whole world for me is a sacred enclosure. Whosoever loves Truth is pure. If you do not know God, it hardly matters whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim. Guru Nanak’s teachings represent ecumenism, pluralism, humanism, secularism and eclecticism. “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. Guru Arjan Dev said: “Koi bole Ram Ram, Koi Khudai……..” Guru Gobind Singh said: Mandir, Masjid, Church and Gurudwara are the same. Prayer, Namaaz, Mass and Ardaas are the same.

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