The Dawn: 19th April, 2013

The Pujabi Literary tradition: Guru Nanak, a great seer and a true son of soil!---- Part -I

Mushtaq Soofi 

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was born in Bhoi Di Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib, in the vicinity of Sheikhupura, more than two hundred years after the death of Baba Farid. The long blank in between is mysteriously inexplicable. No poet or writer of renown seems to have surfaced in this period. But one cannot accept that the language became barren or dead. Poets composed and bards sang. Society cannot afford to be silent for long. One can conjecture that all the creative expression of the period in question somehow got lost in the whirlwind of time. Literary historians and researchers may at some point of time discover some material of value, illuminating the dark patch .

No single individual has had more profound impact than Guru Nanak on society in Punjab during the second millennium. His teachings laid the foundation of a new religion known as Sikhism. It will be appropriate to limit our view focusing on some aspects of the sacred verses he composed in the Punjabi. He was a widely travelled man and a polyglot.

Guru Nanak’s vision reflects a highly-creative synthesis of the spiritually-inclined Indian humanism and socially-oriented Muslim mystic thought. He could look beyond the restricting divide that existed between the Hindus and the Muslims. His scathing critique on the one hand, dazzlingly exposed the Hindu and Muslim religious trickery, and on the other, loudly condemned the economic and political exploitation of the masses by the alien aristocracy and its cohorts. “I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim,” he proclaimed in his unending search of a new human identity.

Guru Nanak in his verses challenges the entrenched aristocracy and its co-opted clergy as well as the new invaders, the Mughal. The vision of Guru Nanak was not serendipitous. The Bhagti movement had already transformed the spiritual landscape of the sub-continent. The movement embodied the defiant spirit of working classes, of artisans in particular that, with the rise of urban centres, started challenging the notions of caste, creed and spirituality of upper castes ensconced in the chambers of power. The Bhagti wave was spearheaded by Tamil mystic and philosopher Ramanuj in 12th century as a consequence of intellectual and spiritual interaction between South Indians and Muslim Arabs in the coastal areas of India.

The core of the movement emphasised the all-pervasive presence of divinity in the universe, rejecting the discrimination on the basis of caste, class and creed. Love and devotional bond with the divine was the essence of new way of individual and collective life. Such a view intrinsically defied the traditional metaphysics that sanctioned oppressively rigid sociopolitical hierarchy.

Guru Nanak was profoundly aware of the political implications such a new worldview entailed. Referring to the aristocracy in his composition ‘Var Malhar’, he lays bare its predatory nature. “Tigers are the rulers, dogs are the chiefs”, implying that they hunt the people for extracting their pound of flesh. As to the clergy, he chooses to play on their pitch exposing their hypocritical practices. “A bloodstain can make the robe unclean/how can one who sucks human blood, claim purity of heart?”

Guru Nanak, in his never-ending search of truth, visited the holy city of Mecca. While returning home through Iraq, Khurasan and Afghanistan, he saw Babar’s military preparations to invade India and predicted the end of Lodhi rule. Guru Nanak was at Emenabad, in the neighbuorhood of the present-day Gujranwala, when Babar invaded Punjab. The people of Emenabad put up a stiff resistance against the invaders. Babar was like a character one finds in one of Bertolt Brecht’s poems; “where my tank passes is my street/what my gun says is my opinion”.

Babar in his fury ordered a general massacre of the people. The troops plundered anything and everything of value that came their way. They committed mass rape. The Guru graphically describes how all the young women were plucked from their homes and enslaved. Their beauty and riches are now bane of their lives — The older ones were forced to grind corn and prepare meals for the troops…

It was not just the Hindu women who were violated. ‘Turkani’ (the Muslim women) met the same fate.

Guru’s ‘Babar Vani’ graphically paints the scene of carnage: “Creator of all things, you made him (Babar) the lord of Khurasan, he struck terror at the heart of India — you sent Yam (the God of death) disguised as the great Mughal … Terrible was the slaughter, loud were the cries of the victims, did this not awaken pity in you? —.”

Guru Nanak in a terrific line describes how Lahore, our great city, suffered when Babar captured and sacked it in the winter of 1524. “Lahore city was given over to death and destruction for hours”. The translation cannot convey the immense intensity of utter helplessness, the verse suggests. Hence the original line in the Punjabi is quoted: “Lahore shahir, zahir qaher, sawa pahir”. Shakespeare would have loved the brevity!

Guru Nanak exposed the barbarity and hypocrisy of this Mughal who in his chronicle expressed his dislike for all things Indian but in fact coveted everything Indian in his insatiable lust for riches and power.


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