Guru Nanak’s Vision of Multicultural Society and Peaceful Coexistence
Dr. Arvinder Singh Bhalla*
Multiculturalism and the idea of multicultural society tend to solve the problems arising out of cultural assimilation and diversities. Respect for cultural diversity and protection of the interests of people belonging to different religions, colors, sects, languages, occupations, cultures, castes and ethnicities, equal opportunities for development, prohibition of discrimination, equal rights, peaceful coexistence etc. are considered to be the essential characteristics of any multicultural, liberal, democratic and peace-loving society. Multicultural society is a society in which the interests of all religious, ethnic, cultural and social groups are taken care of. In this type of social order, they are provided with equal opportunities of development, while respecting their religious feelings, social values and rituals of the people. In this society, the mentality, behavior, and practices of the people are guided in such a way to understand the fundamental realities of multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multilingual society. They are also taught that they should accept these facts and learn to live with them by making an integral part of their lives. In multicultural society, one group of people is prohibited from imposing their will on people of another group, violating their fundamental rights or obstructing their development path. This becomes even more important in situations where different social, economic and political levels of groups live together.
Though the Medieval Indian society was not the kind of the societies that came in to being in the developed Western countries after the migration of people from backward and developing countries in 20th century yet the socio-religious, cultural, racial and ethnic diversities existed in the Medieval Indian society for variety of reasons. History bears witness to the fact that as a result of socio-cultural and religious diversities in the Medieval Indian society, there was a strong feeling of religious intolerance, mutual animosity, strife and hatred towards each other among masses even at that time. Although it is generally believed that the concept of multicultural society originated in the 20th century, but it is also a proven fact that the concept of multicultural society was introduced by Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikhism, 550 years ago in India. He advocated an idea of multicultural society to solve the socio-religious and cultural complexities of Medieval Indian society. In fact, his notion of multicultural society is more comprehensive, effective and more meaningful and relevant in the contemporary scenario than the existing Western notion of multicultural society. He gave a wide-ranging idea of a multicultural society in which people of different religions have a sense of tolerance, security, love and respect for one another; where every human being has the right to live according to his or her cultural values; where everyone has equal opportunities to develop in life without discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, language, race, region, occupation; where human rights are respected by the state; where the lower castes are treated equally and there is a sense of trust, security, harmony, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect and co-operation among the people as a whole. He advocated an idea that the culture of any group of persons is needed to be considered as a process not as any stagnant thing. Furthermore, he believed that culture of masses represents a set of certain value patterns and preferences, which in turns also demands to be analyzed in the context of some cultural processes. He pleaded that no one should have any right to violate the individual liberties, right to religious freedom and freedom of expression of others. He tried to inculcate the spirit of unity of humankind, social equality and peaceful coexistence among the masses through his Divine compositions and teachings. His urge for multicultural social order started with his famous saying i.e. ‘Na koi Hindu, Na Koi Mussalman’. In such a multicultural society of Guru Nanak, there can be no place for religious bigotry, intolerance, mutual hatred, and disregard for human rights, political exploitation, and economic plunder, social and cultural discriminations. In this kind of society, regardless of one’s language, religion, culture, race, family background, it is the responsibility of each and every human being as well as of the state to ensure respect and protection of the dignity and individual liberty of every individual.
Guru Nanak pleaded that the goal of creating social unity and emotional harmony among the people can be achieved through the principle of unity of God only. He encouraged people to acknowledge the existence of the only one God and to feel the presence of that one God in all human beings. The main objective of the concept of mutual brotherhood given to the human race by Guru Nanak for the creation of a multicultural society and for the good of all is to establish the harmony in the world to pursue a peaceful resolution of mutual disputes, to give a better future to the generations to come and to bring peace to the people. He advocated that all people should meditate the one God and consider the whole creation as the offspring of that one God. He gave a universal message of unity of mankind to people and persuaded them to rise above the narrow divisions on the basis of caste, culture, creed, color, sex, race, occupation, region, ethnicity etc. For the creation of multicultural society, He persuaded common masses to get rid of their mental bankruptcy, parochial thinking and narrow concerns. He believed that without adopting a world-wide viewpoint during taking care of others’ concerns, we will not be able to adapt ourselves to changing times and will not be able to prepare ourselves to face the future challenges.
Guru Nanak encouraged people to learn basic knowledge about different religions, to understand the traditions, values and popular culture of the people. He appealed to people to connect with each other through religion, language and cultural exchanges. In addition to using many languages and dialects in his religious writings, he quoted different religious rituals and symbols and also referred to different names used to address God in different religions. He tried to prove that no religious group has monopoly on the use of any language. In this way, he encouraged people to respect the different languages and inspired to seek the knowledge of various languages. He used new idioms, narratives, symbols and established new values patterns and motivated people to live together in love and cooperation. Guru Nanak taught people to follow their own cultural values and to keep them in all circumstances. He also prevented people from leaving their rich heritage and ideas under the policy of appeasing the rulers. He also stopped his people from compromising with their unique identities under any political pressure. He strongly condemned the habit of adopting the lifestyle and values of socially and politically powerful and influential classes.
Guru Nanak presented the concept of multicultural society and peaceful coexistence at the ideological as well as institutional level. He persuaded Hindus and Muslims to follow their own religious principles honestly. He stopped people from seeing each other as mleccha or kafir and taught people to see each other as the creation of the one and only God. He also gave equal status to the depressed classes. He tried to change the age-old perspective about the downtrodden people so that the exchange of values amongst people belonging to different castes or cultural could be increased. He gave the same status to the people belonging to different categories, sex, castes, religions, sects, languages, races, regions, occupations, cultures, etc. through the organization of Sangat-Pangat and he encouraged people to give equal respect to all. He tried to transform and change the nature, mentality and behavior of human beings through Sangat-Pangat, Gurudawara and Dasvandh, to create a feeling of love, cooperation and unity among the people. He organized these institutions as a training school and through these institutions trained people to live together in a multicultural society on the basis of intellectual, social, religious, political, cultural and emotional grounds. Guru Nanak’s vision of multicultural society is in tune with the modern liberal-democratic principles. He ushered a new global society, which is based on idea of multiculturalism and religio-ethnic diversity. He played an extraordinary role in protection and promotion of multicultural society. His divine compositions and universal teachings provide a unique model of composite culture, spirit of oneness and peaceful coexistence. For the promotion of peaceful coexistence, Guru Nanak, on one hand, encouraged us to express our views and on the other side to listen to others’ ideas. Generally, it is seen that every person speaks his own words but is never ready to listen to other people’s thoughts. Here we must not forget that communication between people is very important. He pleaded to everyone that it is extremely important for people to accept and acknowledge the identity and dignity of other people. Guru Nanak created a platform for dialogue among people belonging to various creeds, colors, castes, races, etc. He urged for multicultural and plural society to attain the goal of peaceful coexistence. He firmly held that social and economic democracy is prerequisite to multicultural society. The principle of Guru Nanak’s multicultural society and peaceful co-existence is very relevant, meaningful and useful in present-day times. His notion of human unity is very effective to confront the challenges posed by racial discrimination, regional tensions, religious fanaticism and intolerance and cultural differences. In order to resolve the religious, political, cultural, linguistic and ideological disputes at the present level, the communal harmony, mutual brotherhood and unity shared by Guru Nanak show us the path of peace, tolerance, security, prosperity and development. For the bright future of human race, Guru Nanak showed a way of peaceful co-existence. But unfortunately, we do not give much attention to the social, literary, economic, political and psychological aspects of Guru Nanak’s eternal message, universal teachings and concerns, while looking at Guru Nanak as a spiritual teacher. Even after the passage of 550 years, we have failed to fully understand his divine compositions. Presently, this is a need of the day that we must adapt our way of life according to the teachings and socio-religious philosophy of Guru Nanak’s vision of multicultural society promotes the peaceful coexistence and mutual admiration and cooperation. By doing so, the goal of harmonious and peaceful society can be achieved which leads to prospective welfare of humankind.