Review by Dr. Sukhraj Singh Dhillon, PhD, USA
Spiritual Masters: GURU NANAK.
By Harish Dhillon
Publishers: Indus Source Books, PO Box 6194, Malabar Hill PO, Mumbai 400 006, India
Price Rs. 195.00
Harish Dhillon, a former Principal, Yadavindra Public School, Patiala and Head Master Lawrence School, Sanawar is a great story teller. He gives story of Guru Nanak in a way we donít read in historical biographies. Many janamsakhis (biographies of Guru Nanak) are known to portray miracles and supernatural powers written largely for illiterate audience to catch their attention through tales of miracle and magic. Not so in Dhillonís book. His conclusions are very logical free of miracles and supernatural powers.
His novel and story-writing skills are obvious, when Dhillon brings Guru Nanak and the characters associated with him to life. If there ever could be a movie on life of Guru Nanak, this book will be one of the top choices. Harish Dhillon puts you in the company of Guru Nanak that empowers you spiritually.
Sikh or non-sikh, the reader will have a fresh perspective about the religion. Sikhs will be left wondering if they are really following the path of Guru Nanak. It is easy-to-read book that changes your outlook towards humanity.
The author has taken the facts from various sources and created the situations that Guru Nanak faced in his life. But you donít find miracles and supernatural powers which will be against the teachings of the Guru. Harish Dhillon on page 81 describes Nanak found meditating in deep samadhi in the forest when people thought he is drowned in the river Bein. The popular story is that Nanak went under the water for 3 days and when he came back he had a message for the world: "There is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman." Itís refreshing to see logic prevailing over magic and miracles.
The book consists of eleven chapters: chapter 1, The Times; Chapter 2, Birth and Childhood; Chapter 3, Search for an Occupation; Chapter 4, Sojourn at Sultanpur; Chapter 5-8, First, Second, Third, and Last Udasis; Chapter 9, Kartarpur; Chapter 10, Teachings; Chapter 11, The Janamsakhis. The chapters are followed by Glossary, Bibliography, and Information 'About the Author'.
In Chapter 1, Dhillon takes us through the times of Muslim invaders in a predominantly Hindu land. He covers Hindu/Muslim differences, the bhakati movement, and arrival of Guru Nanak. He provides a convincing description of those times that demanded a spiritual master like Guru Nanak. Hindus believed in karma and reincarnation. On death soul leaves one body and enters the other body, just like man changes the old set of clothes with new ones. Muslims believed in the Day of Judgment, when the dead would rise from their graves and be judged by God for their deeds. If we believe in one and the same God (as Guru Nanak did), then both views cannot represent the truth that God made two types of souls. Jihads and conversions were the calls of those times.
Chapter 2 includes birth and childhood of Guru Nanak. Simple language flows like a novel. The closeness of Bhatti (Muslim Rai Bhoe) and Bedi family (Hindu Shiv Ram and Mehta Kalo) in Talwandi. The gift of Nanak to Mehta Kalo. Harish Dhillon runs us through the customs of those times. He goes in detail of how Nanak was born in Talwandi and not in maternal house in Village Chahalwala, the maiden village of Mata Tripta. He gives the birth date as Vaisakh Sudi 3 that corresponds with April 15, 1469. But he says nothing about traditional celebration in November.
Author continues to describe other characters in this village Talwandi who had bearing on Nanakís personality. He describes characteristics of Pandit Hardayal, who prepared horoscope of Nanak that predicted Nanak to be great divine soul. The name ceremony to name after Nanaki who was born in Nanake (maternal parentís place). The neighbor of Kalo, Sayyad Hassan, a learned childless Muslim who was a great influence on childhood of Nanak. Hassan promoted the message of harmony in those Hindu-Muslim conflict times.
He describes stories which will portray Nanak whom Friend-Foe, cast, religion were not important. His likings for shudra, mussalman were no different than khatri, brahman or other hindus. Nanaki liked those characteristics of Nanak, but their mother Tripta was not too happy.
Bala (Sandhu Jat) and Mardana (Marassi Muslim) were close friends of Nanak from the village. Nanak mastered his musical skills in Mardana house-hold; Sanskrit from Brijnath Shastri; Persian from Maulana Qutab-Ud-Din. Nanak also learned about Quran and Islam from Maulana.
He describes story of Nanakiís marriage to Jai Ram in a style that itches in readerís mind. He goes into great details and creates a scene about initiation ceremony of Janeo-- the sacred thread that Nanak rejected as an empty ritual. He describes Nanakís arguments that actions and deeds, and truthful living are more important, permanent and pure than the thread that can get dirty and soiled. The description is so powerful that not only janeo but any kind of initiation seems like a ritual.
Chapter 3 describes Nanakís lack of interest in traditional work and business, and high expectations of his father Mehta Kalo. His marriage at the age of 17 to Sulakhani- daughter of Mul Chand patwari from village Pakhoke. So that Nanak becomes a responsible house-holder and stop wandering with the sadhus (holy men). But marriage neither got Nanak away from sadhus and sufis nor brought him back to work.
In chapter 4, Nanakiís husband Jai Ram takes Nanak to his town Sultanpur to get him a job. Because family was concerned about Nanak joining sadhus and sanyasis (who renounce the world), and leave the family. Jai Ram gets him a job with Nawab Daulat Khan in Modikhana (store-house). In Sultanpur Nanak composed and sang devotional hymns with Mardana who has also moved with Nanak from Talwandi to Sultanpur. He established discourse, discussion and kirtan as a routine. First son Sri Chand born in 1494 and 2 years later was born Lakhmi Das. The instance of drowning in river Bein and his first message of enlightenment also happened here in Sultanpur: "There is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman." There is one God! We are children of one and the same God.
The next 4 chapters 5,6,7,8 are devoted to his travels known as udasis. The udasis began in 1496 from Sultanpur and lasted for over 20 years. During these travels Nanak wore a dress not confined to any particular religion but represented universality.
During the udasis he encountered religious men who were not only hostile towards followers of other religions but people of their own religion who followed different mode of worship. Sounds familiar about followers of Guru Nanakís faith today?
His first travel was towards east till Jagannath Puri. During this travel he met Bhai Lalo in Saidpur, Sajjan Thug in Tulamba, Sheikh Faridís successor Ibrahim in Pak Pattan among others. He also met yogis and had encounter with Gorakhnath. He visited various holy place including Ayodhya (birth place of Rama), Benaras (holy city of Hindus), Gaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment), Jagannath temple in Puri. Changed Kauda rakish (cannibal) to peaceful ways on his way back. The 2nd udasi/travel he started south towards Ceylon. In Ceylon, Nanak stayed for 2 years. During these travels he touched poor folks, as well as, nawabs and kings such as in Ceylon. After 2 years break, Guru Nanak took third travel in 1517 towards North to Kashmir, Ladakh, Tibet, Nepal, and Sikkim. In final udasi/travel Nanak moved westward to Multan, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, Baghdad and Iran. The episode of Nanak sleeping with his feet towards Mecca, the house of God and the holiest of the holy place, occurred during this final travel that angered the Maulavi (Muslim Priest). Nanak asked Maulavi to move his feet towards the direction where all-pervading God doesnít dwell. How about us getting up set when some one puts feet or back towards Guru Granth in gurdwara! We justify as be-adbi (disrespect). But wasnít Mecca the same for a Muslim.
Chapter 9 is about Kartarpur. Nanakís parents Mehta Kalo and mother Tripta along with wife Sulakhni lived together in this town. His older son Sri Chand was away on pilgrimage to Benaras who took spiritual path. Lakhmi Das was raised as a worldly man. After last travel, Guru Nanak took his udasi robe off. He lived here in Kartarpur as a house-holder. He established a routine for daily prayer of Japuji and Asa di war in the morning and Sodar & Aarti in the evening. Mardana whose family had moved from Talwandi to Kartarpur always played rabab (stringed musical instrument played with a bow). Mardana was Guruís companion through cold, rainy, hot, snowy weather during travels. After kirtan, Nanak would go to work in fields. I wonder why not Ragis do both regular work and kirtan.
Nanak spread the message on concept of one God and denounced idol worship. He promoted faith of love, compassion, and equality. Freed people from shackles of meaningless rituals and superstitions. To stay free from these shackles today is up to us.
It was here in Kartarpur he came in contact with Baba Budda who became disciple and installed 5 gurus, and Bhai Lehna who became the second guru.
Chapter 10 is about his teachings. Nanakís philosophy based on equality appealed to world at large. To promote equality the concept of sangat (congregation) and langar (community kitchen) was established. He used the language that people understood- not sanskrit or arabic which was language of holy books.
Guru Nanak came when rituals were practiced by corrupt pandits and mullahs. The only choice people had was to fall back to the vedas and quaran. Today when jathedars and clergy are doing the same in Guru Nanakís own faith, it is time to fall back to Guru Nanak and gurbani.
The last chapter on Janamsakhis (Biographies of Guru Nanak) touches on the problem of believing them as historical facts. These are based on oral traditions over 100 years after death of Guru Nanak. These, in general, are not based on evidence. Janamsakhis project Nanak of faith, and not Nanak of history. Harish Dhillon in this book, however, presents Nanak of faith, as well as of history.
"Guru Nanak" by Harish Dhillon is written as part of the series for a modern reader who can learn from the life and teachings of spiritual masters. This book fulfills that purpose well. Although there are many books on Guru Nanak, this is a very easy-to-read book with fresh perspective on the life of great spiritual master.
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