The Bhakti Movement, Guru Nanak

BY: SUN STAFF - 17.10 2019

Guru Nanak
Pahari, Punjab Hills, 19th c.

A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

In Part Two of his commentary on the progression of the Bhakti cult throughout North and South India, author M.S. Ahluwalia suggests that the Bhakti Movement served as a representative for the South India Aryan culture, moving northward during the medieval period. Into the midst of Dravidian animism, Bhakti proponents infused the cults of Vishnu and Shiva. Underpinned by a strong spiritual philosophy, the Vaisnava movement quickly fructified into a great religious force.

'Out of these movements, one, which appealed directly to the hearts of the people, was that of the Bhakti movement in North, in Punjab, which culminated in the birth of Sikhism five centuries ago.

Whereas the Hindu community suffered immensely due to change in political leadership during the Muslim rule in India, there was one group of Hindus who also suffered immensely at the hand of other Hindus, namely Brahmins, who considered themselves superior to all others. The so-called low-castes, about one-sixth of the population, were considered untouchables and treated like animals.

The Hindu society in Punjab presented a sorry spectacle on the eve of the Muslims invasions. Their social structure, just as in the case of the Tamil country, consisted of four primary castes. The doors of knowledge were closed to all people except Brahmins, and any person who attempted to cross the barrier was severely punished. It was the privilege of a Brahmin to say the prayers, recite Vedas and offer sacrifices to the fire.

It was the rigidity of the caste system which considerably contributed to the defeat of North Indians, particularly the Punjabis, to foreigner invaders. Although the whole population was in arms, yet nine-tenths were serving as menials in the fields and the rest slept in distant villages. Eating alone with the lower caste was regarded as a disgrace, and association of people of one caste with the other was forbidden. Individuals cooked food according to their own special rites. Even the funeral rites of the dead at home or in the battlefield were performed by members of the same caste. Witnessing such a state of affairs in the Punjab, Guru Nanak realized that "religious revival was the only remedy which could save it from intending destruction".'

Guru Nanak's Thread Ceremony

Guru Nanak (1469-1539 A.D) established a new religion with a distinct scripture and social culture. According to Sikh culture, Guru Nanak harmonized the idea of God in the light of truth, which was bestowed on him as a prophet of God through revelation. He did not reject the essentials of any religion, but tried to give them practical shape to be useful for self-realization. As Sri Guru Granth Sahib teaches, "Revelation essentially is One; comes from One and is the description of One".

'When Guru Nanak used the names of God as Rama or Krishna in his verses, he did not mean the incarnation of Vishnu, but the un-incarnate absolute God. He not only described God as Rama or Krishna or Gopal, but also as Allah, Karim, and Rahim. He maintained that the children of God cannot become rivals.'

Guru Nanak did not put himself forward as a mediator between Islam and Hinduism, but rather as a mediator between man and God.

'Guru Nanak does not claim himself to be the incarnation of God. The Guru had the direct experience of Truth and then expressed this experience in the form of language. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, contains this mystic experience of the Guru in the form of Bani.' It is his expression of Divine Truth.



The Bhakti Movement in Tamil Nadu and Punjab by M.S. Ahluwalia (1995)
Excerpts edited slightly for readability