is a place which loves to make the non-religious religious and the secular
non-secular. It believes, falsely of course, that the non-religious can never
be sacred and the secular is invariably sinful.
In our long
history we see Mahatma Buddha, a secular philosopher and thinker, deified and
made stuff of incomprehensible metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Reason or rationality
challenges the smugness of the given and thus making it a part of one’s
intellectual repertoire is not easy.
born of our ignorance, is an undying source of nourishment for our vegetative
existence which comes to us as a cerebral comforter. Guru Nanak resembles
Mahatma Buddha in the sense that certain aspects of his thought and life have
been ignored or less emphasised in an effort to make him look a purely
religious personality. This in no way denies the existence of metaphysical
dimensions found in the Guru’s complex worldview.
is being made here in the hope of drawing attention to what is secular in the
highly fulfilling life of Guru Nanak that transcends religious boundaries and
can serve as a uniting link between people of diverse faiths and different
persuasions in Punjab and beyond.
three aspects of his life and work are worth mentioning; 1, his creative
expression and role in shaping and nurturing Punjab’s literary tradition, 2,
his view on class, caste and gender, 3, his political stance and sense of
His role in
building a literary tradition is of fundamental importance. His precursor Baba
Farid was the first sage to choose people’s language which came to be known as
contemporary Punjabi. Guru Nanak reinforced the emerging literary practice and
infused it with such a vigour and vitality that it took root as a dynamic
tradition. He broadly hinted at the immense potential of people’s language by creating
new and employing folk genres - the subject will be touched in the column next
week - in a staggering number which undeniably paints him an unequalled
literary giant. The fact shouldn’t come as a surprise because the Guru was
highly literate and a polyglot. His immeasurably long travels especially in his
own homeland exposed him to people’s culture and folk forms of expression which
fired his highly fecund imagination. He was also acutely aware of the changes
taking place in the linguistic landscape under the influence of Islamic faith
which a large number of under-privileged classes was turning to due to a host
of religious and secular reasons in a highly segregated society. He in fact
warned people against blindly accepting the loanwords from Arabic, Persian and
Turkish, the languages of Arab, Iranian and Central Asian Muslim intruders.
Sadly, this uncritical practice eventually led the newly converts to the
wilderness of alienation from their cultural and literary ethos as can be seen
today in the desolate Muslim dominated West Punjab.
on class, caste and gender are revolutionary but compatible with the long
saintly tradition and practice of sages who challenged oppressive class
structure, rigidly inhuman caste system, and repressive gender discrimination.
He rejected the class hierarchy not only philosophically but also practically
by way of declassing himself and identifying with the wretched of the earth. He
made his stance categorical by excoriating and denouncing the rulers for their
oppression. “The king are tigers and the officials are dogs” in search of human
flesh, he declares fearlessly. “Of kings, subjects and officials will remain
nothing”, he says pointing to the extractive economic and political structure
that ensures survival for none of three vital elements of component that
sustains polity; top ruling elite, bureaucracy and the people.
philosophically debunks the notion of caste and proudly declares himself an
outcast: “I am the lowliest of the low”. The Guru, coming from a respectable
caste, always loved Mardana, the musician of humble caste origins, who sang his
verses to the people in the towns and cities, and to birds and trees in the
jungle of Sandal Bar which surrounded their ancestral homes. Guru Nanak is a rare
spiritual and religious figure of historical importance who is free of
misogynistic streak. He has as much empathy for suppressed women as he has for
the down-trodden and the outcast. He denounced all the customs that degraded
women. “In a woman man is conceived/ from a woman he is born / with a woman he
is betrothed and married/ with a woman he contracts friendship…”, he reminds
the upholders of patriarchy. One can discern in his verses early seeds of
notion of ‘Sisterhood’ subtly juxtaposed against the operational concept of
‘Brotherhood’. “Raindrops make a joyful tinkling/sister, monsoon is upon us”, a
woman exhorts another woman to join in celebrating the arrival of the month of
rain and savouring the pleasures it offers which are out of bounds for female
Guru’s political stance and his love for his people. It suffices to refer to
one of his universally known poems consisting of four parts called ‘Babar Bani”
which is a great poetic composition as well as a strong political statement.
condemns all kinds of violence and aggression committed by foreign invaders.
“Bringing the wedding party of sin from Kabul he [Babur] demands lands as his
wedding gift, O Lalo…you sent Mughal as the messenger of death/ when there was
such killing and people cried in agony, didn’t you feel the pity O Lord…” he
says describing vividly the Saidpur [now Emanabad in Gujranwala district]
general massacre that Babur ordered in response to the resistance put up by the
town people. There is no communal streak in his condemnation of the invasion.
He sees Babur for what he is; an ambitious ruler and brutal invader. The Guru
is capable of seeing objectively that the faith of Muslim invader is not
significant as he [Babur] kills non-Muslims and Muslims alike. His troops
degrade and dishonour Muslim and Hindu women in equal measure. “Some, the
Muslims, miss the timings of their Namaz [prayer], others, the Hindus, of their
Puja… Of wives of Hindus, of Turks [Muslims], of Bhattis and of Thakur Rajputs,
some had their veils torn from head to foot, others lay heaped up in
cemeteries…O Lalo, Muslim women recite the Quran and in distress remember their
God /O Lalo, similar is the fate of Hindu women of high and low castes…”.It’s
to be remembered that Guru’s patriotism is people-centric rather than
nutshell, Baba Nanak is more than a religious figure; secular dimensions of his
life and work are as significant as the religious ones. By exploring him in his
multi- dimensionality, we will bring to the fore the actual historical figure;
Nanak, the seer and visionary, the poet and musician, the patriot and resister,
and the organic intellectual and exponent of gender equality. In his own words,
“Let’s savour each shade [of life] if the bountiful Lord allows”.
Headline: Baba Nanak: looking from a non-religious perspective
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan