Archive for July, 2019

Grand Canyon …

Posted on July 30, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Taking Pics of This Marvel –

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/united-states/national-parks/how-to-take-an-amazing-photo-at-grand-canyon-national-park/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=SunStills_20190728::rid=00000000000368026231

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Imran Khan on Islam …

Posted on July 29, 2019. Filed under: Pakistan |

Extracts of an article by Imran Khan in Arab News; a leading English daily in Saudi Arabia.

The biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. 
In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. 

Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. 

That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the  English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would  give their lives for. 

So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a  ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight. Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. 

Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies..In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. 

However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. 

In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives..While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions – two questions it will never be able to answer:

One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?.It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money. 

Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists.

Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates.

Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more. Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. 

In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism.

 While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (a recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.

Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. 

In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension..There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: ‘

There are signs for people of understanding.‘ .One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. 

A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. 

We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. . It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate.

Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment.

I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what  ‘discovering the truth’ meant for me. 

When the  believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, ‘Those who believe and do good deeds.’ 

In other  words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings..The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. 

The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a  field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. . 

It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them..By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being.

Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged.  

This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic. . I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. 

Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society.  

According to the Qur’an, ‘Oppression is worse than  killing.’ In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace..

Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. 

I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. 

One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the  rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system.

In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there..What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject

It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. 

On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to  become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. 

As the Qur’an tells us there is ‘no compulsion in religion.’ However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. 

Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved. The Qur’an calls Muslims ‘the middle nation’, not of extremes. 

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets.

It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. 

At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights.

In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a  liberal one..If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. 

They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts.

Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? 

Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.
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SeaBiscuit …

Posted on July 28, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

This is the Story of a Great Horse, who came out of anonymity to become the Darling of America and a Real Life Legend.

SeaBiscuit was descended from Man O War, who is in all probability, the Greatest Race Horse Ever. But his immediate ancestor, from whose loins, he came was Hard Tack, who was so unruly that he hardly ever allowed any one to ride him.

His offspring, SeaBiscuit was no better and would have died unheard and unsung but for an old horse trainer, who had been hired to find an unknown horse and to make him a Champion.

So early one dawn, when both saw one another – things clicked. SeaBiscuit was already three years old and hence out of running the Triple. But he won and lost some other races.

More importantly along the way, curtsy his owner, who was a truly a great Marketing (Cars) Guy, but who built up Sea Biscuit’s reputation, “They say my Horse is too small, his Jockey is too tall and his trainer too old – but the Biscuit ia a Fighter and a Winner All the Way.

SeaBiscuit won some races and lost some but by and by, became the Darling of America, which had seen the worst and was coming out of the Depression.

And SeaBiscuit won the heart of America – most because he was always the perrenial underdog.

Getting a one on one Match Race with the current Triple Champion was a truly herculean task but the owner so badgered the uptight owner of War Admiral, who accepted after laying the harshest conditions – all unfavouring SeaBiscuit. But they were all accepted.

The old old trainer began to train Seabiscuit, -always a slow starter – to start full throttle – all cylinders blazing and so on.

A few days before the Race, Seabiscuit’s jockey broke his leg and so a new jockey had to be taken on – but this guy was among the all time Great Jockeys.

The trainer planned the race on three main tiers. First, the Biscuit was to start blazing full throttle.

Second on the rear stretch, the Biscuit was to allow the Admiral to catch up and run head to head. The wily trainer knew that the Biscuit would glare into the eyes of his opponent and die rather than allow him to be beat. The aim was to break the ‘Will’ of the other horse.

And that is the way things went. Enjoy the Race –

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A Pakistani Poetess –

Posted on July 28, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Fahmida Riaz –

The room in which I do reside
A window this room does provide
Should I wake up in the night
I turn to keep it within my sight
Then I see as clear as light
The moon in the window shining bright
I smile slowly
And I feel
As if the moon too smiled
Then with my eyes filed
I sleep gradually
Then I come across a thought
Alone in this world I am not
This universe and these stars
The vistas of the moon and sun
Car sounds with all their might
Unknown wings in flight
These are made from the same jewel
Which is mine and yours too
Belongs to this too and that
Alone in this world I am not

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The Mountains …

Posted on July 27, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

“Once you have lived with the mountains under the whispering pines and deodars, near stars and a brighter moon, with wood smoke and mist, sweet smell of grass, dew lines on spider spun, sun-kissed buttercup and vine; once you have lived with these, blessed, gods favourite then, you will return, you will come back to touch the trees and grass and climb once more the windswept mountain pass”.

– Hip Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems, Ruskin Bond

For a person who likes to wander the mountains, explore its valleys, learn about the culture and the essence of everyday life in a rugged terrain, Ruskin Bond’s words would ring true.

Though I’ve only been living in Himachal Pradesh full-time for a short while, these past few months have made me realise how even the smallest of things can be elevating – from enchanting and inspiring mornings to routinely chasing sunsets and watching the skies vividly change colour as the days change to night and back again.

The mountains are magical and magnetic, luring many of us time and again. With each visit, travellers tend to form an unconventional and unconditional connection that brings one back time and again.

But very often, an infatuation with the sprawling Himalayas is met with skepticism at home, normally followed by a deluge of questions about the root of the enthusiasm.

In the face of such parental pressure, supplying satisfactory answers is hardly an easy task.

I was in a similar boat – one that rocked for quite a while – when I decided to upchuck my life and move to Himachal after spending 24 years in the sprawling and ever growing metropolis of Mumbai.

It was a gruelling task explaining my decision to my parents of dropping my job at a prestigious law firm to work for the Experiential Living Project, better known as the elivingproject, at the Mudhouse Experiential Hostel in Jibhi, Banjar Valley.


Their worry was boundless, especially when it came to the ever-haunting question of ‘what do we say to people about what our son is doing in life’.

That worry, I thank my stars, didn’t last long.

All it took was a visit to the mountains where my parents ate, laughed and explored places with people they had met just a handful of hours ago.

Did they like it?

They loved every minute of it.

Every time they took a new turn and witnessed the changing landscapes, my parents had a smile that reached their ears. They were taken in by how locals delightfully invited them to their homes for tea, by the vast apple orchards and by eating freshly harvested fruits joyously handed over by big-hearted locals for the price of a conversation.

When the time for departure arrived, my father actually told to me that my decision to live in the mountains was a good one; my mother said that she finally understood my love for the mountains as she herself didn’t feel like heading home.

While I may have managed to open my parent’s eyes to the possibilities of living life off the beaten track and shown them how a new generation enjoys travel, the opportunity to do so is not easily available to everyone whose parents do not understand the magnetic pull of the mountains

Thus, it becomes nearly impossible for many to show their parents the joys of not-so-touristy places, finding new paths to clamber and of meeting like-minded people.

To this end, the elivingproject has decided to throw open August as a ‘month of gratitude’.

The plan is simple: over the next month, you and your parents can come stay in any of the hostels in either Bir, Jibhi and Shoja – all for a nominal fee of Re 1.

The idea behind the ‘month of gratitude’ arose from the recent visits of the parents of several team members who absolutely fell in love with experience while reconnecting with their sons and daughters and getting a glimpse of their chosen life.

The objective is also to thank our parents for bearing with our idiosyncrasies and for everything they have done – knowingly or unknowingly – to support the dream.

Travelling with your family to your favourite destinations will help them understand your love for travelling to the mountains, allowing them to witness how everyone comes to a place as strangers in the morning, but are by evening seated around the bonfire together to share a meal and conversations.


The ‘month of gratitude’ will showcase how friendships made on the road can last a lifetime, how people from different parts of the country come together to make everyone richer in terms of knowledge, experience and wisdom.

The elivingproject was launched by a bunch of dreamers using an eco-friendly and sustainable approach towards travelling. Thus, it is experience, emotions, empathy and the environment that are put on a pedestal.

After all, the business of happiness and gratitude will always be more lucrative than the business of making money.

Featured image credit: Aleesha Matharu/LiveWire

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Kabir …

Posted on July 23, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

An 1825 CE painting depicts Kabir weaving

By Harbans Mukhia –

Long before Kabir’s time (c. 1440-c.1518), with Islam’s arrival in India, two religions with contrary concepts of God and forms of prayer stood face to face. 

If Islam stood for the singularity of God, tauhid, Hinduism was teeming with legends of 330 million gods and goddesses even as the population practicing it would probably be under a hundred million.

Hinduism, in fact, comprised several strands, including monotheism as well as a very strong strand of atheism, unthinkable in Christianity or Islam as doctrines. 

The forms of worship for Muslims was a single one; these abounded in Hinduism. Islam came in through various doors: through the battlefields, Sufi dargahs and at the hands of traders. If its arrival at the point of the sword clearly created divisive tensions at the social level, the Sufis tended to soften these tensions through an alternate version of their faith.

However, even as interactions and some give-and-take of ideas, especially between the Sufis and the Nathpanthis did occur, the two competing identities of God – Allah and Ishwar – remained intact with this rivalry percolating down to their followers. 

It was Kabir’s genius that sought a resolution of this conflict. If the problem was extremely complex, Kabir’s solution was marked by a matching simplicity. He gave tauhid a very simple Indian version.

Tauhid, the Arabic term for the singularity of God or monotheism, the basic premise of Islam, had led to extensive discussions within the Muslim community. 

No one questioned either the existence or the singularity of God, but discussion followed on whether human beings can be held answerable for their deeds if all they do is pre-ordained for them by God; or whether Time had been created by God or was eternal; even the legitimacy of prophethood was questioned.

Al-Ghazzali, however, with enormous erudition at his command, closed all doors to dissent and firmly placed the faith beyond all manner of discussion. But then, some doors were opened again with Ibn al-Arabi proposing that while God’s singularity is given, He can be perceived and approached in multiple forms: wahdat al-wujud, the unity in multiplicity formula that we in India are so fond of repeating. 

In the 12th century a group in Morocco calling itself al-Muwahiddun (believers in tauhid) created a movement to purify Islam of its pre- and anti-Islamic elements and led to the establishment of a state which lasted over a century.

However, all these discussions, elaborations and movements were confined within the fold of Islam. 

Kabir broke out of this fold and took tauhid beyond the boundaries of denominational religions. But first, what are Kabir’s bona fides as an interpreter of tauhid?

Abu’l Fazl, medieval India’s tallest historian and intellectual mentions Kabir as a Muwahidd, says that he had unfolded life’s hidden “meaning” – a Sufi trope referring to life’s real spiritual meaning above the daily routine – and had given up the worldly rituals. 

Abu’l Fazl’s junior contemporary, Abdul Haqq Muhaddis, an orthodox scholar, tells a delightful story: his father asked his own father whether this renowned Kabir was a Hindu or a Muslim. His father said Kabir was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim but a Muwahidd.

Kabir was recognised as a Muwahidd both in the liberal Muslim circles in medieval India, of which Abu’l Fazl is the most shining symbol as well as in orthodox circles and both emphasised that Kabir’s Muwahidd status went beyond the bounds of Islam and Hinduism. 

What did Kabir do to earn this distinction?

He questioned two prevailing orthodoxies: the concept of rival Gods and the need for religious rituals for worshipping Him. In place of Allah and Ishwar he conceptualised a single universal God; in place of denominational religions, he conceptualised a universal religiosity. “Bhai re do jagdis kahan se aaya; kahu kaune bauraya (Brother, where have two gods come from, who has misled you into believing it?),” he asserted. 

Alla, Ram, Karima, Kesav Hari Hajrat naam dharaya (Allah, Ram, Karim, Kesav, Hari, Hajrat – they are all the same identity).” 

His entire collection of poetry is teeming with this single theme. He also ridiculed the rituals of going to temples or masjids to worship God, the rituals that Abu’l Fazl refers to and himself endorses giving these up.

Kabir was thus displacing the age-old dichotomy between denominational religions with a remarkably innovative concept, i.e. dichotomy between universal religiosity and denominational religions. 

One God for him no longer stood for one community, but for all of humanity. It eliminated rivalry between gods and included them all in a single fold. 

This was a specifically Indian solution to religious disputes. I believe one consequence of this displacement was that even as medieval Europe was engulfed in intra-religious bloodshed on a massive scale, social peace in medieval India remained intact, though there was widespread inter- and intra-religious violence on the battlefields.  

Isn’t it significant that over the nearly 550 years of the “Muslim” rule in India (James Mill’s term), in the midst of a lot of political violence, communities lived in peace, for the first occurrence of real communal violence is recorded in 1714 in Ahmedabad seven years after Aurangzeb’s death. 

There is no record of any other instance of this nature prior to that. During the 18th-century five such incidents are recorded. Compare this with almost five hundred incidents every year under the aegis the secular Indian state!

The influence and durability of Kabir’s conceptual innovation of tauhidis almost astounding. 

Abu’l Fazl’s endorsement of Kabir has already been noted; indeed, the concept of sulh-i kull (absolute or universal peace) for which both Abu’l Fazl and Akbar have earned acclaim derives its premise from Kabir. 

Bulleh Shah speaks Kabir’s language when he holds that salvation lies in giving up all rituals and shedding one’s religious ego; and the greatest Urdu poet, Ghalib, in a remarkable verse (sh’er) virtually reproduces Kabir whether regarding rituals or the ego of denominational religions to arrive at the true imānor religiosity.

Remember that Gandhi Ji’s favourite bhajan was ‘Ishwar Allah tero naam’

After all, the notion that God is one entity with different names and different paths of approaching Him is commonplace in India; this is the singular legacy of Kabir. 

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Famed War Ships …

Posted on July 18, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

https://www.pocket-lint.com/gadgets/news/148708-the-best-battleships-and-warships-of-all-time

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Caesar’s Truimphs …

Posted on July 17, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2019/07-08/rome-celebrate-julius-caesar-four-triumphs/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=crm-email::src=ngp::cmp=editorial::add=History_20190715::rid=00000000000368026231

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Patriotism – USA Style …

Posted on July 13, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Among the many things that the American women’s soccer team got right over the last month was its approach to patriotism.

The players have strongly held views about injustices in the United States, and they didn’t hesitate to express those views. Team members spoke up about sexism, L.G.B.T. issues and President Trump.

They never made the mistake of equating patriotism with nationalist jingoism. They understood that free speech is itself patriotic. But the team — and especially its biggest star, Megan Rapinoe — also did something else.

They didn’t make the mistake of conspicuously rejecting American symbols during the World Cup. Rapinoe, who had previously knelt during the national anthem, stood for it during the World Cup. (In part, she was responding to pressure from team management, but I still think it was the right move for her own sake).

“When progressive protesters reject American symbols, I think they’re making a tactical mistake. For one thing, they take attention away from their specific causes and turn attention toward the question of their patriotism. For another thing, protesting the anthem or the flag needlessly alienates people who otherwise who could be won over by substantive arguments”.

Many civil rights leaders of the 1960s understand the dynamics. They knew that their critics were going to call them all sorts of insults no matter what — “un-American” and “communist,” as well as racist slurs.

But they also recognized that they could help their chances of winning over persuadable Americans by aligning their cause with the country’s stated values, like justice and freedom.

They said, in effect: We are the true patriots, because we want to help America live up to its ideals and create a more perfect union. In its own way, the women’s soccer team accomplished this same balancing act.

“I’m particularly and uniquely and very deeply American,” Rapinoe
said during the tournament. “If we want to talk about the ideals we stand for, the song and the anthem and what we are founded on, I think I am extremely American’.

“For the detractors, I would have them look hard into what I am actually saying, the actions I am doing. Maybe you don’t agree with every single way I do it, and that can be discussed. I know I am not perfect.”

And at yesterday’s parade in New York to celebrate the team’s championship, the crowd offered a tweak to the usual “U.S.A, U.S.A.!” chant by adding, “USA USA EQUAL PAY!  

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Guru Nanak …

Posted on July 13, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

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An edited version of a Speech delivered by Navtej Sarna, IFS, at Bhai Vir Singh Sadan on March 29, 2019.

Guru Nanak, a Great spiritual teacher, philosopher and poet and the founder of India’s youngest major religion, is young in human memory. His impact is recent; his message is fresh and relevant for all time.

What makes Guru Nanak remote is the lack of precise historical detail of his life. There are hardly any direct available records of events of his life, no exact itineraries of his incredible travels, no eye witness accounts by those who met him. Nanak’s own writings contain virtually no biographical detail with the possible exception of Babur’s invasion.

He saw himself merely as a messenger, sent by an act of providence, transmitting the received divine word from the supreme reality to mankind. A detailed account of his own life would have belied this belief. 

Bhai Gurdas’s vars written decades after Nanak’s passing, do contain some biographical detail, -including that of his travels. For the rest we have to depend on the janamsakhis, written decades after his death – and there are several cycles of these with their own differences.

Nevertheless, the actual events about Guru Nanak’s lifetime and the debates of what happened and what did not, recede into insignifence when one understands and absorbs the message contained in his writings – nearly 1,000 hymns contained in the Guru Granth Sahib – superb poetry set to divine classical music. 

His writings bring us close to the tremendous intellect of a deep philosopher, a phenomenal poet and a spiritual master.

I would like to focus on two aspects of his life and teachings as defined by his extensive travels and his later years at Kartarpur – as a householder.

Guru Nanak is said to have spent more than 20 years (historian Hari Ram Gupta puts this at 25 years from 1496 to 1521) on the road, carrying out the mission to spread the ultimate truth and put mankind on the path to salvation.

In the process, these travels gave him an opportunity to observe the workings of the religions of the day in actual practice and to debate and discuss matters of the spirit with sages and seers.

Also, it gave him an opportunity to be present on the spot and dispel ignorance and blind superstition of which there was no dearth.

Bhai Gurdas wrote:

Dithe hindu turaki sabhi pir paikambari kaumi katele, Andhi andhe khuhe thele (I saw Hindus and Muslims, holy men of all kinds/ The blind were pushing the blind into a well)

Nanak undertook four long journeys, called udasis, signifying detachment.

Scholars have laid out detailed routes, even maps showing these journeys but these are I believe based not on any concrete evidence but on the janamsakhi references to various places and the commonly used routes of the day.

It is believed he travelled as far as Assam in the east, present-day Sri Lanka in the south, Mount Kailash in the north and Mecca-Medina in the west.

Some accounts take Nanak even further afield – right up to Turkey but there is no confirmation.

His mission took him to snowy heights and across burning deserts, through little villages and mighty capitals, among the ordinary as well as the learned, to fairs, festivals, to temples, mosques, khanaqahs.

There is no geographical order in the janamsakhi accounts of Guru Nanak’s travels, nor is there any great uniformity in regard to the number of udasis or the places visited.

But the immensity of the undertaking is confirmed by the poetic vision of Bhai Gurdas:

Babe tare char chak/nau khand prithvi sacha dhoa. (The Baba traversed the nine regions of the earth, as far as the land stretched).

Today gurudwaras and shrines mark Nanak’s travels to these far-flung places; local legends and well-preserved impressions of his sandals further establish the fact that Guru Nanak indeed travelled extensively. 

Some other things we know for certain, including from Bhai Gurdas – Nanak was accompanied by Mardana on his travels, who carried and played the rabab, and also became an interesting protagonist of the many sakhis that are attached to these travels. 

One cycle of janamsakhis and several illustrations show Bhai Bala, but that is not borne out by other sources.

According to some sources, Guru Nanak dressed in strange clothes that could not be identified with any sect and symbolised the universality of his message.

He wore a loose long shirt of a Muslim dervish but of brownish-red colour of the Hindu sanyasi. Around his waist he wore a white cloth belt like a fakir. A short turban partly covered a qalandar’s conical cap in the manner of sufi wanderers. His slippers were often of two different colours and design.

On his journey west that took him to Mecca, he wore a shirt that was blue, donned a cap over his head, held a staff, with a holy book under his arm and an earthen goblet and prayer mat slung over his shoulder.

On the journey north, he is believed to have worn leather on his feet and wound a rope around his body in view of extreme weather.

As Bhai Gurdas wrote:

Babe bhek banaia udasi ki riti chalai, Charhia sodhan dharth lukai The Baba donned robes, and in the tradition of detachment Went out to put humanity on the right path)

Many are the stories contained in the janamsakhis about how Nanak brought home his message during these udasis

His purpose was to dispel the ignorance that he saw all around him.

I choose some simply because they seem to best illustrate the nature of debate and discourse that Nanak had with the representatives of various religions and – because they are my personal favourites.

Somewhere during their first udasi, Guru Nanak and Mardana reached Jagganath temple in Puri in Orissa. This temple is known for its annual procession when the idol is mounted on a huge chariot and the multitudes that gather vie with one another for the privilege of pulling the chariot.

It is an inexorable sea of humanity that moves with this idol, a phenomenon that gave the word juggernaut to the English language. Here is one version of what happened there:

When Guru Nanak and Mardana camped near the temple their hymns and music attracted several devotees on their way to the temple, annoying the temple priests. 

One day the chief priest came to Nanak and invited him to join the aarti or the evening prayer in the temple and Guru Nanak readily accompanied him.

It was a beautiful ceremony, conducted at dusk. The priest placed earthen lamps filled with ghee on a bejewelled salver decorated with flower petals and sweet incense. They lit the wicks and swung the salver pendulum like in front of the image while the congregation sang hymns, blew conches and tolled the bells.

Nanak sat unmoved through the ceremony and when the priests expressed their anger and surprise, he responded with a song now part of the Granth Sahib

The song describes the celestial aarti in which the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the forests, and the unstruck music pay obeisance to the great Creator.

This according to the Nanak was the true aarti that could be offered to God:

The sky the salver, the sun and moon the lamps,
The stars studding the heavens are the pearls
The fragrance of sandal is the incense
Fanned by the winds, all for thee
The great forests are the flowers
What a beautiful aarti is being performed
For you, O destroyer of fear.

The Jagganath temple visit is also important for the meeting between Nanak and the Bengal reformer Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – it is recorded that they talked to each other and sang hymns together. 

Also, it is known that Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore listened to the aarti being sung at the Harmandir Sahib was deeply moved by it and included the aarti in the Bangla script in his autobiography.

The third udasi of Guru Nanak was to the north. He travelled widely in the Himalayas and several scholars have constructed possible routes that he could have taken, based on the local traditions still extant in the mountains and the gurudwaras founded down the centuries.

Legend has traced his steps to Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Ladakh and even Nepal and Tibet. 

Many have been to ‘Pathar Sahib’ in Ladakh which has an impression of Nanak’s back and there is an impression of his sandals in Kathmandu.

I remember Bhutanese pilgrims coming to Rewalsar and referring to “Lama Nanak”.

The central event of this northern udasi is the visit to Mount Sumer, recorded in all the janamsakhis and also by Bhai Gurdas – Mount Sumer is said to none other than Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiv and Parvati. 

There on Mount Kailash and the crystal-clear waters of Mansarovar, the source of the Sutlej and Rakas Tal is based the meeting of Nanak with 84 siddhas, among them the ancient Goraknath, Machendranath and Charpat Nath, or perhaps the successors of these famous ancient souls, who had meditated long and deep and possessed great power and wisdom.

In Bhai Gurdas’s version of the meeting, the siddhas express amazement at seeing Nanak: “O youthful one! What power brings you to these heights? Who is that you worship?”

Guru Nanak replies: “The eternal Lord alone.”

The Siddhas ask him how the world below was faring.?Guru Nanak made no secret of what he felt and told them that darkness, sin and injustice had taken over the world.

Corruption was rampant; the fence itself had begun to eat the crop.

Sidh chhapi baithe parabati kaunu jagat kau par utara (The wise siddhas had escaped into the remote caves and mountains – who would then redeem the world?)

The siddhas then argued that it was not possible to be part of the world and follow the path of meditation and spirituality. Nanak replied that one had to be as a lotus in the water that remains dry. Or the duck that stays dry even as it goes against the current.

One had to be part of the world and yet be unaffected by it through meditation on His Name.

From the fourth udasi to the west and to the Islamic countries, the visit to Mecca is well known. So I will talk a bit about the visit to Baghdad, also mentioned by Bhai Gurdas.

Phir Baba gaia Baghdad no bahari kia Asthana Ik baba akal rupu duja rababi mardana. (Then Baba went to Baghdad and camped outside the city He himself one with the Timeless, and his rabab player Mardana)

Baghdad was then a great centre of Islamic learning, art and culture. On the outskirts of the great city, in a graveyard, Mardana strummed the strings of his rabab in holy melody and Nanak sang holy hymns. 

When this was reported to the Pir-e-dastgir of Baghdad as being against the teachings of Islam, he came out to meet Nanak and inquired:

Puchhia phirikai Dastgir kaun phakir kis ka ghariana (What faith do you belong to, and what sect of fakirs he came from?)

Mardana replied:

Nanak kal vich aia rab phakir iko pahichana Dharth akash chahudis jana (Nanak has come to this world in kalyug – he has rejected all fakirs except the supreme being, who is all pervasive – in the heavens, the earth and all four directions.)

During his stay in Baghdad, the Guru also met another pir known as Bahlol who had several discourses with him. Finally, Bahlol and his son became followers of Nanak, who then stayed there for about four months. 

A shrine in Baghdad, also known as the tomb of Bahlol marks the visit of Guru Nanak and his association with Bahlol.

There is a beautiful poem by Swami Anand Acharya, an itinerant Hindu monk, who wrote it after visiting the legendary place of this meeting. To quote just a couple of verses –

What peace from Himalaya’s lonely
Caves and forests thou didst carry
To the vine groves and rose gardens
Of Baghdad!
What light from Badrinath’s snowy
Peak thou didst bear to illumine
The heart of Bahlol, thy saintly
Persian disciple!
Eight fortnights Balol hearkened to
Thy words on life and the Path
And Spring Eternal, while the moon
Waxed and waned in the pomegranate grove
Beside the grassy desert of the dead…

Finally, after more than twenty years of criss-crossing the land in all directions, it was time to go home – to Kartarpur on the banks of the Ravi. 

Guru Nanak shed his travelling garb and adopted the dress of a simple householder and farmer.

Phiri baba aia kartarpur bhekh udasi sagal utara Pahiri sansari kapde manji baith kia avatara (Then Baba returned to Kartarpur and discarded the wanderer’s robe He donned the clothes of a householder and changed to that role)

During his travels, he had met and talked to all kinds of people and dispelled the forces of darkness, mists of superstition and the chains of ritual. 

He had spread far and wide his message of love, equality, compassion, truth and truthful living.

He had explained through his discourses the All-Pervasive, Timeless Nature of the Creator.

Now it was time to show in practical terms that renunciation and asceticism were not the answer to life’s challenge.

True religious discipline had to be forged while living in the world, amidst all its challenges and temptations, troubles and joys. 

The spirit of affirmation is an essential aspect of the Guru’s teachings. The world that is real has to be accepted as a reflection of divine purpose. 

He supported institutions such as marriage, family and society and brought them within the ambit of religion.

In Kartarpur, Nanak occupied himself with vigorous work in the fields. He also wrote down many of the hymns he had already sung elsewhere, including the Japuji. 

A community began to gather around him at Kartarpur and grew steadily. Men of all callings and faiths – householders and ascetics, destitute mendicants and wealthy merchants, Brahmins and dervishes, Hindus and Muslims came there drawn by this message of piety and humanity.

In the words of Professor Puran Singh, Guru Nanak “radiated love and faith and attracted people like light attracts moths.” 

This was not a monastic order that was being built up but a fellowship of ordinary men engaged in ordinary occupations of life- farmers, artisans, traders and those who were considered members of the lower professions. 

They had forsworn previous allegiances and had taken Guru Nanak as their guide and teacher.

Kartarpur also saw the establishment of the dharamsal – or place of worship which would later adopt the name of gurudwara when the Granth Sahib, then accorded the status of a Guru by the tenth Guru was placed in it. Bhai Gurdas says:

Dharamsal kartarpur sadhsangati sach khand vasaia Vahguru Gur shabad sunaiya (The dharamsal at Kartarpur was inhabited by the holy congregation as heaven itself and the word of God was given by the Guru to the people)

In fact, the metaphor of the dharamsal is also used to show that Guru Nanak had wrested religion back from the priestly classes -who had because of their vested interests made it moribund and ritualistic – and restored it to the householder. In Bhai Gurdas’s words :

Ghar Ghar andar dharamsal, hove kirtan sada visoa (every home has become a place of worship where the singing of hymns has become a daily liturgy)

A number of other important traditions were started at Kartarpur, in particular, the traditions of kirtan and langar – or in other words – sangat and pangat

The kirtan included the singing of the Japuji and Asa di var in the mornings and the Sodar in the evening, as well as the Sohila before retiring. 

The singing in a sangat or congregation of these compositions in praise of the divine induces a mood of contemplation of God’s name – as anybody who has listened to an inspired kirtan session will testify.

These hymns were received wisdom through the agency of the Guru. 

Sangat had a social implication as well – the creation of a brotherhood or fraternity. A member of the sangat was known as bhaior brother. The sangat brought together men not just in spiritual pursuit but also in worldly affairs, forging a community of purpose as well as of action, based on mutual equality and brotherhood. 

The disciples mixed together without consideration of caste or status.

Bhai Gurdas mentions the names of the leading Sikhs of the time even mentioning some castes or profession – among the disciples mentioned are Mardana and Daulat Khan Lodhi – both Muslims, Bura or Bhai Budda – a jat of the Randhawa caste, also Ajita Randhawa, Phiran a khaira jat, Malo and Mango who were musicians,  and several others of different castes – the sangat was thus a melting pot for the high and the low.

The langar or the community kitchen where the rich and the poor sat down in a pangat to eat the same food irrespective of caste or social standing or rank. 

A key element of this restructuring of the religious and social life was the spirit of seva or voluntary service – something that the Sikh panth is known the world over for today.

This way the langar was different from the soup kitchens run in sufi khanqahs – those were meant as alm-houses but langar turned this practice into a positive and active brotherhood.

The years that Nanak spent as a householder after his travels, and of course also between his travels, were a demonstration of his belief in practical virtue rather than abstract piety. 

The lessons to the community of followers were – 

kirt karo – do work; 

nam japo – meditate on His Name; 

vand chhako – share with the less fortunate.

The society at Kartarpur thus became a precursor of historical Sikhism. 

Caste, icon-worship and empty ritual were its main rejections and its mainstay was a fervent faith in the Divine, ethical living and a full affirmation of life and creation.

Its ideals of fraternity and brotherhood in sangat and pangat as well as of service and the recitation of bani would prove to be essential elements of self-identity, established in Guru Nanak’s time itself and further crystallised by his successors. 

Ultimately, they would come to full flower under Guru Gobind Singh through the formation of the Khalsa.



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