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A Turning Point in the Life of Guru Nanak

(Guru) Nanak had been living at Sultanpur and serving at the Modikhana for more than six years. He was widely known in and around the town, not only as a Modi but also as a devout and a compassionate person. At times, poor people, who needed some grain, or salt, but had no money to buy, approached him. Nanak would give them the stuff and debit the cost to his own account.

His compassion and sympathy were misunderstood by some. Complaints were made by his detractors to the Nawab that the Modi was giving away the store. On audit of his accounts and the stores, no discrepancy was found. He was exonerated, but he resigned. He refused to collect the balance due to him and asked that the money be given away to the poor and needy. The family was furious but helpless; he wanted nothing to do with that money. It was natural for him to feel angry at this undeserved humiliation of the family, but accepting that as the Divine Will, he became more introspective, and spent more and more time in silence, and by himself.

A Seminar on Religion
Hindus under Muslim rule had always to be very careful about their speech, to avoid being charged with blasphemy. Farishta, doyen of the Muslim Historians, tells us the story of Yodhan, a Brahmin youth, of Lakhnauti, who was tried for committing the ‘crime’ of saying that “Religion of the Musalman is true and so also is that of the Hindus”. He was executed by orders of Sultan Sikandar Lodi, after a unanimous judgment of a conference of the Ulema, or the intellectuals – leading Qazis, Mullahs and Sayyids of Northern India:

“A widely known event of this period [C. 905 AH (1499 AD)] is that one day a Hindu named Yodhan, resident of Qateen, happened to say in presence of a Muslim, that religion of the Musalman is true and so also is that of the Hindus. This statement of this Hindu spread throughout the city. Qazi Pyare and Sheikh Badar issued contradictory edicts. These persons were in Lakhnauti. The ruler of Lakhnauti, Aazam Humayun bin Khwaja Bayazid sent the Sheikh, the Qazi and that Hindu off to the Sultan. The Sultan [Sikandar Lodhi] was very fond of listening intellectual debates. He invited to his court all the well-known Ulema from areas all around. Names of some of them are: Mian Qadir bin Khwaja Sheikh; Mian Abdullah bin Allahdad Talhatti; Sayyid Mohammad bin Sayyid Khan Dehlvi; Mulla Qutub-ud-Din; Mulla Allahdad Saleh Sirhindi; Sayyid Amman; Sayyid Mahan; Sayyid Ahsan Qanauji. In addition there were Ulema from the Royal court, such as Sadar-ud-Din Qanauji, Mian Abdul Rehman of Fatehpur Sikri, Mian Aziz Allah of Sambhal, all very close to the Sultan. All these Ulema got together and conducted a seminar. All of them gave the same opinion that Yodhan should be compelled to convert to Islam; if he refuses, he should be taken into custody and put to death. It happened likewise. On refusal, Yodhan was executed. (Tarikh-i-Farishta, Urdu Tr Deoband: Vol I, p 542; Elliot’s translation of Tarikh-i-Daoodi, Vol. IV, pp 464-65;Gopal Singh, History of Sikh People, p 45; Macauliffe, Religion of the Sikhs, I, p XIV)

Farishta says that it was a famous or a well-known event of the time. Sultanpur was Capital of the Jalandhar-Doab, and seat of Nawab Daulat Khan Lodhi. The news could not have stayed away from this city, and it would be within the range of possibility that it reached the ears of Nanak and touched his sensitivities.

Farishta gives the names of most of the participants, but does not mention what were the arguments that various participants in the seminar used to establish that Hinduism was not a true or righteous religion. Till such time as other documentary evidence is available, it would not be inappropriate to surmise that the compelling arguments must have been the same, that were always used for maltreatment of Hindus; for example, that the Hindus were polytheists and idol worshippers, or that Hindu deities were based on myths, while Islam was revealed to Prophet Mohammad.

More than one of the learned persons must have invoked the authority of the doctrine of Din Panah or protection of the faith. The doctrine was propounded by Nur-ud-Din Mubarak Ghaznavi of the court of Iltumash, the Sultan-i-Aazam (1211-1236), builder of the famous Qutub Minar of Delhi, and who used “the materials of no less than twenty seven Hindu temples in erection of the ‘Qutub’ mosque.” (Oxford History of India, fourth edition, p 238).
According to Din Panah, “The duty of enforcing the rules of the shariat of the Prophet should be assigned to pious, God-fearing and religious men”, which in this case Sultan Sikandar was following. According to those rules, the Sultan’s prime duty was to completely uproot the infidels, as they were ‘enemies of God’:

“To protect Islam, he [the ruler] should overthrow and uproot kufr and kafiri, shirk (setting partners to God), and the worship of idols. If total uprooting was not possible, he should insult, disgrace, dishonour and defame the mushrik and idol worshipping Hindus, who were ‘the worst enemies of God and the Prophet.’

“The symptom of Kings being the protectors of the religion is this: when they see a Hindu their eyes grow red and they wish to bury him alive; they also desire to completely uproot the Brahmins who are the leaders of kufr and shirk.… Owing to the fear and terror of the Kings of Islam, not a single enemy of God and the Prophet can drink water that is sweet or stretch his legs on his bed and go to sleep in peace.” (Banerjee, A C, Guru Nanak and His Times”, p 25, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1984)

There might have been a solitary voice, perhaps from the Sheikh who had originally differed at Qateen, that some Muslim rulers had found Din Panah impractical, in view of great number of Hindus in the country. Obviously, such a person must have been overruled, citing other edicts, some going back to Caliph Umar, based on which Sheikh Hamadani had laid “twenty conditions, on fulfillment of which the lives and property of Zimmis should depend in an Islamic state”(Banerjee, A C, Guru Nanak and His Times, p 25).

Sikandar’s own bias must have been well known to the participants, as even before becoming the Sultan, “He proposed to kill all the Hindu pilgrims assembled at Thanesar for a bath in the sacred tank.”(Abadulla, Tarikh-e-Daudi, E&D, IV, pp 439-40.) 

Hindus must have been shocked, though not surprised at punishment that was awarded to Yodhan. But, it must have been terrifying that all the Muslim religious leaders of North India would unanimously decide to deprive a Hindu youth of his life, who showed no disrespect to Islam, and merely said that Hinduism also was a true religion.

From Nanak’s writings we can understand, what he might have thought about Yodhan who, at the cost of his life, stuck to his right to follow his own conscience. Perhaps Yodhan thought his stand would encourage others also to stand for their rights. Guru Nanak might have shed tears, but felt no remorse, over Yodhan’s death, as in his view laying one’s life for a righteous cause was holy. He wrote:

Folks, revile not death, if one knew how to die.
For, death of a hero is holy,
If one died for a righteous cause.1

In Search of Truth
After resigning his job as Modi of Daulat Khan Lodi’s Modikhana, Nanak was spending more and more time in meditation and in seclusion.

One day in August 1499, after the monsoon rains, he went for a bath in Waein, a rivulet, which flowed past the town of Sultanpur. He swam upstream for meditation in his favorite place in the wilderness near the riverbank. He was missing for three days. With his clothes lying on the river bank, people believed he had drowned. Friends and family were miserable, unable to hold their tears; they hoped and prayed for his safe return. But Nanak, in quest of truth, after a mystical experience, full of inspiration and a clear vision, returned to Sultanpur, with a glow on his face and Na ko Hindu, na ko Musalman on his lips. “Where were you Nanak?” they asked. Na ko Hindu, na ko Musalman. was his cryptic answer to that and every other question.

It appears that his quest for truth had borne fruit.
We do not know if these revelatory words, which he repeated again and again, had any connection2 with Yodhan-episode or not, but in these words there was not only a perfect response to Sikandar’s seminar, but also a possible solution to the religious intolerance in the country, that must have posed a challenge to Nanak’s enquiring mind.

The poet in him had summed up his inner voice:

My Lord is The Only One
Only One, O brother, Only One!3

By saying “No one Hindu, no one Muslim”, Nanak did not mean that he was against Hinduism or Islam or both. Indeed, he was saying that the people who were identifying themselves with one or the other religion were forgetting that they were all human beings, children of same God –Parmatma to Hindus and Allah to Muslims. Followers of both were not following the true values of their faiths.

Guru Nanak wished Muslims of his time were good and true Muslims:

It is hard to be called a Muslim.
If one truly were, then only one is called a Muslim.4

He expected theocratic Muslim rulers, like Sultan Sikandar, to get rid of the filth of their minds and recognize the Creator above them; submit to His Will and be compassionate towards all human beings:

First of all, loving the way of the holy
Shed off filth of the mind on the grindstone.
Then, being a Muslim shed illusion of life and death
And submit to the Will of God
Recognize the Creator above and lose one’s self
Then O Nanak, if compassionate to all human beings
Would one be worthy of being called a Muslim.5

Nanak says, to be called a true Muslim, the five prayers that one offers daily be dedicated to truthfulness, honest living, clean mind, good deeds and seeking from God welfare of all human beings:

Five prayers, five times, five their names.
If first be for truthfulness, second for honest living,
Third for welfare of all human beings;
The fourth for clean mind and intent;
The fifth in praise of the Lord;
And if one recites Kalima of good deeds,
Then may one be called a true Muslim.
O Nanak, prayers of the false, are false,
And false is their value.6

One who lacked these values may not be considered a true Muslim. And again he says:

If compassion be the mosque,
Sincerity the prayer mat,
Honest livelihood the Quran,
Modesty the circumcision,
Righteousness the Fast;
Then only, O Nanak, He will
Appreciate your rosary and preserve your honor.7

For Nanak it was essential that the Muslims, who were in a privileged position, should clean their minds, and get rid of their ego, that gives rise to false pride and self aggrandizement, while indulging in hatred and discrimination against others.

He alone is a Muslim, who scrubs his mind clean.8

There is no evidence, that Hindus, despite being in great majority, mounted any protest against highhandedness of the State, or paid any tributes to martyrdom of Yodhan. Near five centuries of barbarous invasions causing perpetual insecurity of life and property, and deprivation of human dignity under oppressive Muslim regimes, had made them not only timid and subservient, but also prone to hypocrisy and collaboration.

Nanak says, Khatris had moved away from their faith and had adopted language of the Mlechhas.9

Nanak himself came from a Khatri family, but he did not hesitate to chide the Khatris for their timidity, and their hypocrisy to placate tyrant rulers, and for becoming a tool in the hands of those ‘man-eaters’ for indiscriminate slaughter of the people.

You tax cows and Brahmins
Redemption will not come to you through cow-dung
[with which you plaster your kitchen floor]
You [hypocrites] wear a dhoti,
Put a paste mark on forehead,
And carry prayer beads.
But, you get your grub from the Mlechhas.10
In house you do Hindu puja/worship;
Outside, you read semitic texts
And follow Turk behavior.
O’ give up your hypocrisy!11

Guru Nanak tried to awaken the self-respect of docile Hindus. He condemned their false behaviour, their servility and their hypocrisy. He denounced the Khatris as ‘butchers of the world’ acting as agents of the ‘man-eaters’, while shame and righteousness was far removed from them:

The man-eaters do Namaz [Muslim prayer],
[And Khatris] who wear ‘sacred’ thread round their necks
Wield swords [on their behalf]
Brahmins blow conchs in their (Khatris’) homes
And relish the same tastes.
False is their stock and false is their trade
They fill their bellies telling lies.
Shame and righteousness are
Far removed from them
O Nanak, it is falsehood that fills them all.12

And again he says: Hindus were hypocrites, keeping outward appearances of being religious, while acting as mercenary butchers. They follow meaningless rituals, while seeking approval of the rulers, by adopting their dress and their culture.

With saffron-mark on their foreheads,
Loins girded by folds of a dhoti
And swords in their hands
They are butchers of the world.
They wear blue to win approval of the rulers.
They worship Puranas, but for living depend on barbarians.
They eat meat of goats slaughtered with Muslim prayers,13
But, they allow no one to enter their kitchen-squares.
They mark off the square and plaster it with cow-dung;
The hypocrites come and sit on it. To others they cry:
‘O stay away, do not pollute the square,
Lest our food be defiled’. 14

In Nanak’s judgment there was “No one Hindu, no one Musalman”. Hindus and Muslims, both, were far away from the path of righteousness, and compassion for other human beings.



1 GGS, p 579 : mrxu n mMdw lokw AwKIAY jy koeI mir jwxY ] mrxu muxsw sUirAw hku hY jo hoie mrin prvwxo ]

2 According to Prof. John Bowker, Editor, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, “revelation is always contingent – that is … it is always related to the particular historical circumstances in which it first appeared.” (Religion, p. xx.)

3 GGS, p. 350 : swihbu myrw eyko hY ] eyko hY BweI eyko hY ] 

4 Ibid, p. 141 : muslmwxu khwvxu musklu jw hoie qw muslmwxu khwvY ]

5 Ibid : Avil Aauil dInu kir imTw mskl mwnw mwlu muswvY ] hoie musilmu dIn muhwxY mrx jIvx kw Brmu cukwvY ] rb kI rjwie mMny isr aupir krqw mMny Awpu gvwvY ] qau nwnk srb jIAw imhrMmiq hoie q muslmwxu khwvY ] 

6 GGS, p. 141 : pMij invwjw vKq pMij pMjw pMjy nwau ] pihlw scu hlwl duie qIjw KYr Kudwie ] cauQI nIAiq rwis mnu pMjvI isPiq snwie ] krxI klmw AwiK kY qw muslmwxu sdwie ] nwnk jyqy kUiVAwr kUVY kUVI pwie ]

7 Ibid : imhr msIiq isdku muslw hku hlwlu kurwxu ] srm suMniq sIlu rojw hohu muslmwxu ] krxI kwbw scu pIru klmw krm invwj ] qsbI sw iqsu BwvsI nwnk rKY lwj ] 

8 Ibid, p. 662 : muslmwxu soeI mlu KovY ]

9 Ibid, p. 663 : KqRIAw q Drmu CoifAw mlyC BwiKAw ghI ]

10 According to Manu’s code the Mlechhas were barbarians; lower than the outcastes and the untouchables.

11 GGS, p. 471 : gaU ibrwhmx kau kru lwvhu gobir qrxu n jweI ] DoqI itkw qY jpmwlI Dwnu mlyCW KweI ] AMqir pUjw pVih kqybw sMjmu qurkw BweI ] CofIly pwKMfw ]

12 Ibid :mwxs Kwxy krih invwj ] CurI vgwiein iqn gil qwg ] iqn Gir bRhmx pUrih nwd ] aun@w iB Awvih EeI swd ] kUVI rwis kUVw vwpwru ] kUVu boil krih Awhwru ] srm Drm kw fyrw dUir ] nwnk kUVu rihAw BrpUir ]

13 For Hindus, Manu’s code 5-38 says that while slaughtering animals for sacrifice, Vedic verses should be recited.

14 GGS, p. 472 :mQY itkw qyiV DoqI kKweI ] hiQ CurI jgq  kwsweI ] nIl vsqR pihir hovih prvwxu ] mlyC Dwnu ly pUjih purwxu ] ABwiKAw kw kuTw bkrw Kwxw ] cauky aupir iksY n jwxw ] dy kY caukw kFI kwr ] aupir Awie bYTy kUiVAwr ] mqu iBtY vy mqu iBtY ] iehu AMnu Aswfw iPtY ]



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