Guru Nanak (20 October 1469 – 7 May 1539) is the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. He was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan.
His parents, Mehta Kalu and Matta Tripat, were Hindus and belonged to the merchant caste. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home.
Nanak married Sulkhni, of Batala, and they had two sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. His brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Nanki, obtained a job for him in Sultanpur as the manager of the government granary.
One morning, when he was 28, he went as usual down to the river to bathe and meditate. It was said that he was gone for three days. When he reappeared, filled with the spirit of God, he said, “There is no Hindu and no Muslim.” It was then he began his missionary work.
Tradition states that he made four great journeys, traveling to all parts of India, and into Arabia and Persia; visiting Mecca and Baghdad. He spoke before Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, and Muslims. He spoke in the temples and mosques, and at various pilgrimage sites. It was during this period that Nanak met Kabir (1441-1518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims.
Wherever he went, Guru Nanak spoke out against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system, the sacrifice of widows, of depending on books to learn the true religion, and of all the other tenets that were to define his teachings. Never did he ask his listeners to follow him. He asked the Muslims to be true Muslims and the Hindus to be true Hindus.
After the last of his great journeys, Guru Nanak settled in the town of Kartapur (in Punjab) on the banks of the Ravi where he taught for another fifteen years. Followers from all over came to settle in Kartapur to listen, and sing, and be with him. During this time, although his followers still remained Hindu, Muslim, or of the religion to which they were born, they became known as the Guru’s disciples, or sikhs. It was here his followers began to refer to him as teacher, or guru.
It was here that the Guru told his followers that they were to be householders and could not live apart from the world—there were to be no priests or hermits. Here is where the Guru instituted the common meal; requiring the rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim, high caste and low cast, to sit together while eating. Here is where Lehna, later to be Guru Angad, came to be with Guru Nanak.
Just before Guru Nanak died, he called his disciples together and requested them to sing Sohila, the evening hymn. To satisfy both his Hindu and Muslim follower as to the funeral arrangements it is said he did not allow his body to remain behind.
Sikhism was established and developed by ten Gurus during the period 1469 to 1708. Sikhs regard the ten Gurus not as divine, but as enlightened teachers through whom God revealed his will. Each Guru appointed his successor. Guru Nanak Dev was the first Guru and Guru Gobind Singh the final Guru in human form. Guru Gobind Singh designated the Sri Guru Granth Sahib the ultimate and final Sikh Guru.
The ten Gurus are: