Sacred Texts  Sikhism  Index  Previous  Next 


The Guru set out towards the east, having arrayed himself in a strange motley of Hindu and Muhammadan religious habiliments. He put on a mango-coloured jacket, over which he threw a white safa or sheet. On his head he carried the hat of a Musalman Qalandar[3], while he wore a necklace of bones, and imprinted a saffron mark on his forehead in the style of Hindus. This was an earnest of his desire to found a religion which should be acceptable both to Hindus and Muhammadans without conforming to either faith. As the Guru and his attendant proceeded, they met a Muhammadan notable called Shaikh Wajid. The Shaikh alighted under a tree, and his bearers began to shampoo and fan him. This afforded matter for contemplation to Mardana, and he asked the Guru whether there was not one God for the rich and another for the poor. The Guru replied that there

[1. Thâl, plates poised on a stick and spun round.

2. Âsa ki War.

3. A Muhammadan anchoret who abandons all worldly ties and possessions. he corresponds to the Indian Sanyâsi.]

{p. 59}

was only one God. Mardana then put his question in another form: 'Who created this man who rideth in a sedan of ease while the bearers have no shoes. to their feet? Their legs are naked while they shampoo and fan him.' The Guru replied with the following verses:--

They who performed austerities in their former lives, are now kings and receive tribute on earth.
They who were then wearied, are now shampooed by others.

The Guru continued in prose: 'O Mardana, whoever is born hath come naked from his mother's womb, and joy or misery is the result of actions in previous states of existence.' Upon this, Mardana fell at the Guru's feet.

As Guru Nanak and Mardana journeyed on, they arrived at Gorakhmata, or temple of Gorakh, some twenty miles north of Pilibhit, in the United Provinces of India.[1] There they observed a pipal-tree[2] of many a religious reminiscence. Years previously it had withered from age, but it is related that when the holy man sat beneath it, it suddenly became green. The biographer of the Guru states that Sidhs came on that occasion and addressed him: 'O youth, whose disciple art thou, and from whom hast thou obtained instruction?'

Guru Nanak, in reply, composed the following hymn:--

What is the scale? What the weights? What weighman[3] shall I call for Thee?
Who is the guru from whom I should receive instruction, and by whom I should appraise Thy worth?
O my Beloved, I know not Thy limit.
Thou fillest sea and land, the nether and upper regions it is Thou Thyself who art contained in everything.

[1. The place is now known as Nânakmata, in memory of the Guru's visit.

2. The Ficus religiosa.

3. This line appears to mean that God cannot be weighed or estimated.]

{p. 60}

My heart is the scale, my understanding the weight, Thy service the weighman I employ.
I weigh the Lord in my heart, and thus I fix my attention.
Thou Thyself art the tongue of the balance, the weight, and the scales; Thou Thyself art the weighman;
Thou Thyself beholdest, Thou Thyself understandest, Thou Thyself art the dealer with Thee.[1]
A blind man, a low-born person, and a stranger come but for a moment, and in a moment depart.
In such companionship Nanak abideth; how can he, fool that he is, obtain Thee?[2]

Then the Sidhs said, 'O youth, become a Jogi, and adopt the dress of our order, so shalt thou find the true way and obtain the merits of religion.' The Guru replied with the following hymn:--

Religion consisteth not in a patched coat, or in a Jogi's staff, or in ashes smeared over the body;
Religion consisteth not in earrings worn, or a shaven head, or in the blowing of horns.[3]
Abide pure amid the impurities of the world; thus shalt thou find the way of religion.

Religion consisteth not in mere words;
He who looketh on all men as equal is religious.
Religion consisteth not in wandering to tombs[4] or places of cremation, or sitting in attitudes of contemplation;[5]
Religion consisteth not in wandering in foreign countries, or in bathing at places of pilgrimages.
Abide pure amid the impurities of the world; thus shalt thou find the way of religion.

On meeting a true guru doubt is dispelled and the wanderings of the mind restrained.
It raineth nectar, slow ecstatic music is heard, and man is happy within himself.

[1. In the Granth Sahib God is the wholesale merchant from whom all grace and good gifts proceed, and men are the dealers who receive from Him.

2. Sûhi.

3. The Jogis blow deers' horns.

4. Marhî, a structure raised over the ashes of the dead.

5. Târi lagâna is to sit cross-legged in contemplative attitude as Buddha is represented.]

{p. 61}

Abide pure amid the impurities of the world; thus shalt thou find the way of religion.

Nanak, in the midst of life be in death; practise such religion.
When thy horn soundeth without being blown, thou shalt obtain the fearless dignity--
Abide pure amid the impurities of the world, thus shalt thou find the way of religion.[1]

On hearing this the Sidhs made Guru Nanak obeisance. The Guru, having infused sap into the pipal-tree by sitting under it, necessarily became a great being in their estimation.

The Guru and his musical attendant proceeded to Banaras[2], the head quarters of the Hindu religion, and the birthplace of the renowned Kabir, then dead but not forgotten. The Guru and Mardana sat down in a public square of the city. At that time the chief Brahman of the holy city was Pandit Chatur Das. On going to bathe he saw the Guru and made the Hindu salutation, 'Ram Ram!' On observing the Guru's dress, he twitted him with possessing no salagram[3] though he called himself a faqir, with wearing no necklace of sacred basil and no rosary. 'What saintship hast thou obtained?' The Guru replied:--

O Brahman, thou worshippest and propitiatest the salagram, and deemest it a good act to wear a necklace of sweet basil.[4]
Why irrigate barren land and waste thy life?
Why apply plaster to a frail tottering wall?
Repeating God's name, form a raft for thy salvation; may the Merciful have mercy on thee!

[1. Sûhi.

2. Banaras, in Sanskrit Bârânasi, is derived from Barna and Asi, two tributary streams of the Ganges.

3. A quartzose stone bearing the impression of ammonites and believed by the Hindus to represent Vishnu petrified by a curse of Brinda for possessing her in the guise of her spouse. Sâlagrams are found in the Gandika and Son rivers.

4. Thereby denoting that he was dedicated to the god Vishnu.]

{p. 62}

Chatur Das replied: 'O saint, the salagram and the necklace of sweet basil may indeed be useless as the irrigation of barren land, but tell me by what means the ground may be prepared and God found.' The Guru replied:--

Make God the well, string His name for the necklace of waterpots, and yoke thy mind as an ox thereto.
Irrigate with nectar and fill the parterres therewith; thus shalt thou belong to the Gardener.

The Pandit inquired: 'The soil is irrigated, but how can it yield produce until it hath been dug up and prepared for the seed?' The Guru explained how this was to be done:--

Beat both thy lust and anger into a spade, with which dig up the earth, O brother:
The more thou diggest, the happier shalt thou be: such work shall not be effaced in vain.

The Pandit replied: 'I am the crane, and thou art the primal swan of God. My understanding is overcome by my senses.' The Guru replied:--

If thou, O Merciful One, show mercy, a crane shall change into a swan.
Nanak, slave of slaves, supplicateth. O Merciful One have mercy.'

The Pandit then admitted that the Guru was a saint of God, and asked him to bless the city and sing its praises. The Guru inquired in what the specialty of the city consisted. The Pandit said it was learning, by which wealth was acquired. 'The world admireth the ground on which the possessor of wealth treadeth. By applying the mind to learning, thou shalt become a high priest.' The Guru replied in a series of metaphors:--

The City[2] is frail, the king; is a boy and loveth the wicked;
He is said to have two mothers[4] and two fathers[5] O Pandit, think upon this.

[1. Basant.

2. The body.

3. The heart.

4. Hope and desire.

5. Love and hate.]

{p. 63}

O, sir Pandit, instruct me
How I am to obtain the Lord of life.
Within me is the fire,[1] the garden[2] is in bloom, and I have an ocean[3] within my body.
The moon and sun[4] are both in my heart; thou hast not obtained such knowledge?
He who subdueth mammon knoweth that God is everywhere diffused;
He may be known by this mark that he storeth contentment as his wealth.[5]
The king dwelleth with those who listen not to advice, and who are not grateful for what they receive.
Nanak, slave of slaves, representeth, O God, in one moment Thou makest the small great and the great small.[6]

Chatur Das requested further information. 'Sir, shall the name of God be to any extent obtained by what we teach the people and what we learn ourselves?' The Guru inquired in return: 'O religious teacher, what hast thou read? What teachest thou the people, and what knowledge dost thou communicate to thy disciples?' The Pandit replied: 'By the will of God I teach the people the fourteen sciences--reading, swimming, medicine, alchemy, astrology, singing the six râgs and their raginis, the science of sexual enjoyment, grammar, music, horsemanship, dancing, archery, theology, and statesmanship.' The Guru replied that better than all these was knowledge of God.' Upon this he repeated the long composition called the Oamkar in the Rag

[1. The fire of evil passions.

2 Of my youth.

3. Of desires. Man is here the measure of infinity. The ocean is supposed to contain fire which consumes it and hinders its increase. This fire is called barwânal, and is supposed to be near the Equator.

4. Meditation and divine knowledge.

5. Also translated--He who hoardeth mercy instead of wealth recognizeth God.

6. Literally--in a moment thou canst make a tola a mâsha, and in a moment a mâsha a tola. A tola is 180 grains avoirdupois, the weight of a rupee. A mâsha is the twelfth part of a tola. The hymn is from Basant.]

{p. 64}

Ramkali, the first two pauris or stanzas of which are as follow:--

It is the one God who created Brahma;[1]
It is the one God who created our understanding;
It is from the one God the mountains and the ages of the world emanated;
It is the one God who bestoweth knowledge.
It is by the word of God man is saved.
It is by the name of the one God the pious are saved.
Hear an account of the letter O--[2]
O is the best letter in the three worlds.
Hear, O Pandit, why writest thou puzzles?
Write under the instruction of the Guru the name of God, the Cherisher of the world.
He created the world with ease: in the three worlds there is one Lord of Light.
Under the Guru's instruction select gems and pearls, and thou shalt obtain God the real thing.
If man understand, reflect, and comprehend what he readeth, he shall know at last that the True One is everywhere.[3]
The pious man knoweth and remembereth the truth--that without the True One the world is unreal.

On hearing the whole fifty-four stanzas of the Oamkar, the Pandit fell at the Guru's feet, and became a Sikh and possessor of God's name.

During the Guru's stay at Banaras Krishan Lal and Har Lal, two eminent young pandits, went to visit him, and he explained to them the tenets and principles of his religion.

From Banaras the Guru proceeded to Gaya, the famous place of pilgrimage, where Buddha in days long past made his great renunciation and performed his memorable penance. There the Guru uttered the following in reply to Brahmans who had

[1. This means that the true God is superior to all other gods.

2. The symbol of the eternal God. It is here used instead of the Name.

3. Nirantar, pervades creation uninterruptedly.]

{p. 65}

urged him to perform the ceremonies usual among Hindus for the repose of the souls of ancestors.

The Name alone, is my lamp, suffering the oil I put therein.
The lamp's light hath dried it up, and I have escaped meeting Death.
O ye people, make me not an object of derision.
The application of a particle of fire will destroy even hundreds of thousands of logs heaped together.[1]
God is my barley rolls[2] and leafy platters[3] the Creator's name the true obsequies.[4]
In this world and the next, in the past and the future, that is my support.
Thy praises are as the Ganges and Banaras to me; my soul laveth therein.
If day and night I love Thee, then shall my ablution be true.
Some rolls are offered to the gods, some to the manes but it is the Brahman who kneadeth and eateth them.
Nanak, the rolls which are the gift of God are never exhausted.[6]

The Guru and Mardana in the course of their travels found themselves at a grain-dealer's house. A son had just been born to one of the partners, and several people had come to offer him congratulations. Some threw red powder[7] in token of joy, and voices of blessing and congratulation filled the neighbourhood. Mardana sat down and gazed on the

[1. That is, God's name will remove hundreds of thousands of sins.

2. Pind; this word also means the body which is supposed to be put together by the offering of these rolls.

3. Pattal, literally, plates of leaves generally of the palâs (Butea frondosa) in which food is placed.

4. Kiriyâ, the ceremonies performed on the thirteenth day after death.

5. Chhamchari, those who walked the earth, the manes of ancestors.

6. Âsa.

7. Red powder is thrown on passers-by in India on occasions of festivity. The practice is particularly resorted to on the occasion of the Holi, a Hindu saturnalia.]

{p. 66}

spectacle. In the evening, when the grain-dealer's entertainment was at an end, he stood up and went to his private apartments without taking any notice of Mardana. The latter went to the Guru, who sat at some distance, informed him of the birth of the child, and gave him an account of the entertainment. The Guru smiled, and said it was not a son who had been born in the grain-dealer's house' but a creditor who had come to settle his account He would remain for the night and depart in the morning. Then the Guru ordered Mardana to play the rebeck, and sang to its strains the following hymn:--


In the first watch of night, my merchant friend, the child by God's order entereth the womb.
With body reversed it performeth penance within, O merchant friend, and prayeth to the Lord--
It prayeth to the Lord in deep meditation and love.
It cometh naked into the world, and again it departeth naked.
Such destiny shall attend it as God's pen hath recorded upon its forehead.
Saith Nanak, in the first watch the child on receiving the order entereth the womb.


In the second watch of night, O merchant friend, it forgetteth to meditate on God.
It is dandled in the arms, O merchant friend, like Krishan in the house of Yasodha.
The child is dandled in the arm, and its mother saith, 'This is my son.'
Think on this, O thoughtless and stupid man,[1] nothing shall be thine at last.
Thou knowest not Him who created thee; meditate upon Him in thy heart.
Saith Nanak, the child hath forgotten to meditate at the second watch.

[1. Man in the original might be translated mind, but the word includes the heart in the next line.]

{p. 67}


At the third watch of night, O merchant friend, man's thoughts are of woman and the pleasures of youth;
He thinketh not of God's name, O merchant friend, which would release him from his bondage.
Man thinketh not of God's name, but groweth beside himself with worldly love.
Devoted to woman and intoxicated with his youth he wasteth his life in vain.
He hath not traded in virtue or made good acts his friends.
Saith Nanak, in the third watch man's thoughts are of woman and the pleasures of youth.


In the fourth watch of night, O merchant friend, the reaper cometh to the field;
The secret hath been given to none when Death shall seize and take away his victim.
Think upon God; the secret hath been given to none when Death shall seize and take man away.
Hollow are the lamentations around. In one moment man's goods become another's.
He shall obtain those things on which he hath set his heart.[1]
Saith Nanak, O mortal, in the fourth watch the reaper hath reaped the field.[2]

When morning came, the grain-dealer's child died, and the grain-dealer and his relatives came forth weeping and wailing. Mardana asked the Guru what sudden change of fortune had come to those who yesterday had been engaged in their rejoicings

[1. It is supposed that man shall receive in the next world the things which formed the object of his last thoughts in this. He who has not fixed his thoughts on God at the last moment shall not find Him, but begin anew a course of transmigration. See Trilochan, Gûjari, vol. vi.

2. Sri Râg Pahare.]

{p. 68}

and saturnalia. Then the Guru uttered the following on the vicissitudes of human life:--

They to whose faces were uttered gratulations and hundreds of thousands of blessings,
Now smite their heads in grief; and their minds and bodies suffer agony.
Of the dead some are buried, others are thrown into rivers.'
The gratulations have passed away; but even so do thou, O Nanak, praise the True One.

As the Guru and Mardana pursued their way they saw a small enclosed field of gram.[3] The watchman of the field began to roast some for his dinner, while the Guru and Mardana gazed at him at a distance. As the watchman was preparing to eat, he saw them, and it occurred to him that they wanted something more dainty than gram, so he would go to his house and bring them better fare and comfortable bedding. As he stood up, the Guru, who did not wish to trouble him, asked whither he was going, and, on being informed, uttered the following verses:--

Thy pallet is a coverlet and mattress for me; thy love is my dainty dish.
Nanak is already satiated with thy good qualities; come back, O monarch.

In due time. the watchman obtained spiritual dignity in return for his, kind intentions towards the Guru.

There was at that time a shopkeeper whose mind had taken a religious bent, and who desired to meet a religious guide. He heard of Guru Nanak's arrival, and vowed that he would not eat or drink until he had had all interview with him. Having

[1. The Musalmâns burn their dead. The Hindus cremate them, or throw them into their sacred streams.

2. Chanâ, Cicer arietinum, chick peas, oil which horses are fed ill India. It is called gram by Europeans. When roasted green it is sometimes eaten by the poorer classes.]

{p. 69}

once visited the Guru he continually went to him to receive religious instruction. A neighbouring shopkeeper heard of his friend's visits, and said that he too would go to see the holy man. They proceeded together, but on the way the second shopkeeper saw a woman of whom he became enamoured, and his visit to Nanak was indefinitely postponed. It was the custom of both to set out together, one to visit his mistress, and the other to visit the Guru. The second shopkeeper desired to put the fortunes of both to the test, and said, 'Thou practisest good works, while I practise bad works. Let us see what shall happen to each of us to-day. If I arrive first, I will sit down and wait for thee; and if thou arrive first, then wait for me.' This was agreed upon. The second shopkeeper went to the house of his mistress as usual, but did not find her. He then proceeded to the spot where his friend had agreed to meet him, but his friend, who on that day tarried long with the Guru, had not yet arrived. The second shopkeeper needing some occupation in his solitude, drew out his knife and began to whittle the ground with it, when he found a shining gold coin. He continued his excavations with the weak delving implement he possessed, when, to his disappointment, he only discovered a jar of charcoal. He had, however, obtained some reward for his labour. Meanwhile the first shopkeeper arrived in doleful case. Having left the Guru, a thorn pierced his foot. He bound up the wound, and proceeded sore limping to the trysting-place. His friend told him of his better fortune. They both saw that he who went daily to commit sin prospered, while he who went to his religious teacher to pray and meditate on God, suffered; and they agreed to refer to Guru Nanak for an explanation of their unequal and unmerited fates. The Guru explained that the sinful shopkeeper had in a former birth given a gold coin as alms to a holy mail. That coin was converted into many

{p. 70}

gold coins as a reward for the alms-giver, but, when he entered on his career of sin, the gold coins were turned into charcoal. The original gold coin was, however, restored. The shopkeeper who visited the Guru, had deserved to die by an impaling stake for the sins of deceit and usury, but, as be continued to progress in virtue, the impaling stake was reduced in size till it became merely a thorn. Having been pierced by it, he had fully expiated the sins of a former birth. Thus may the decree of destiny be altered by the practice of virtue. Both men were thoroughly satisfied with this explanation of unequal retribution. The sinful as well as the virtuous man fell at Guru Nanak's feet, and both became true worshippers of God. The Guru then uttered the following verses:--

The heart is the paper, conduct the ink;[1] good and bad are both recorded therewith.
Man's life is as his acts constrain him; there is no limit to Thy praises, O God.
O fool, why callest thou not to mind Thy Creator?
Thy virtues have dissolved away by thy forgetfulness of God.
Night is a small net, day a large one; there are as many meshes as there are gharis in the day.
With relish thou ever peckest at the bait, and art ensnared O fool, by what skill shalt thou escape?
The body is the furnace, the mind the iron therein; five fires[2] are ever applied to it.
Sin is the charcoal added thereto, by which the mind is heated; anxiety is the pincers.
The mind hath turned into dross, but it shall again become gold when it meeteth such a Guru
As will bestow the ambrosial name of the one God; then, Nanak, the mind shall become fixed.[3]

[1. Literally--Conduct---heart being the paper--the ink.

2. The deadly sins.

3. Mâru.]

{p. 71}

The Guru then took the opportunity of discoursing on the immoral shopkeeper's peculiar vice: 'Man is fickle when he beholdeth a courtesan; he then hath a special desire for love's play, and can in no way be restrained. On meeting her he loseth his human birth. Bereft of his religion he falleth into hell, where he undergoeth punishment and profusely lamenteth. Wherefore look not on her, but pass thy time among the holy.'

After this they all separated, and the Guru and Mardana continued their wanderings. On the way they were encountered by robbers. On seeing Guru Nanak, they said to themselves that he on whose face shone such happiness could not be without wealth. They accordingly went and stood around the Guru. As they beheld him morning dawned, so they were able to examine him more closely. He asked them who they were, and what they wanted. They candidly replied that they were thags,[1] and had come to rob him. The Guru gave them spiritual instruction, and said that their sins should be wiped out when they had abandoned their evil career, turned to agriculture, and bestowed charity out of the spoils in their possession. They acted on his suggestions, began to repeat the Name, and reform their lives. The Guru on that occasion composed the following:--

Covetousness is a dog, falsehood a sweeper, food obtained by deceit carrion;
Slander of others is merely others' filth in our mouths the fire of anger is a sweeper.[2]
Pleasures and self-praise-these are mine acts, O Creator.
My friends, doth any one obtain honour by mere words ~
Call them the best, who arc the best at the gate of the Lord; they who do base acts sit and weep.

[1. Indian robbers who generally effect their purpose by the use of stupefying and poisonous drugs.

2. Also translated--Slander of others is our neighbour's dirt, filthy language a sweeper, anger fire.]

{p. 72}

There is pleasure in gold, pleasure in silver and in women, pleasure in the perfume of sandal;
There is pleasure in horses, pleasure in couches and in palaces, pleasure in sweets, and pleasure in meats.
When such are the pleasures of the body, how shall God's name obtain a dwelling therein?
It is proper to utter the words by which honour is obtained.
Injury resulteth from uttering harsh words; hearken, O foolish and ignorant man.
They who please God are good; what more can be said?
They in whose heart God is contained possess wisdom, honour, and wealth.
What need is there of praising them? What further decoration can they obtain?
Nanak, they who are beyond God's favouring glance love not charity or His name.[1]

By the following the Guru recommended agricultural labour:--

The oxen are disciples,[2] the ploughman is their Shaikh;[3]
The earth is a book, the furrow the writing.
The sweat of the ploughman's brow falleth to his heels,
And every one eateth of his earning.[4]
They who eat the fruit of their earning and bestow a little from it,
O Nanak, recognize the true way.

Then the Guru departed thence.

[1. Sri Râg.

2 Mushâiq. This is the Arabic mashshâq, a striver.

3. Their spiritual guide.


'On its oxen and its husbandmen
An empire's strength is laid.'


{p. 73}

Next: Life Of Guru Nanak: Chapter VI