India celebrates Guru Nanak Jayanti or “Gurpurab” on Wednesday, the most sacred festival observed by Sikhs worldwide. Gurpurab marks the anniversary of the birth of “Guru Nanak,” the founder of Sikhism and the first of the 10 Sikh Gurus. This is for those who are unfamiliar with the celebration. Here are the basic things you need to know about Guru Nanak Jayanti:
1. Who was Guru Nanak?
Guru Nanak's birthday is one of Sikhism’s most important holidays. It celebrates the life of the guru who was born in 1469 and at the age of 30, mysteriously disappeared for three days and returned practicing the Sikh faith. When he returned, the Guru traveled extensively sharing his message of God and gained followers. Today, Sikhism is considered the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, with 25 million members.
“It is important to understand that Guru Nanak did not set on his travels to start a new religion,” Manjinder Singh, 19, a Sikh, said. He explains that the Guru was spreading the message of equality for all, which includes equality for women and abolishing India’s caste system. One of his most famous sayings is "Na Koi Hindu, Na Koi Musalmaan" -- there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim, all are equal in the eyes of God. “The Sikh religion was born through his teachings and by people following them, not by Guru Ji himself,” Singh said. ("Guru Ji" is another way to refer to the religion's founder.)
2. What is Guru Nanak's teaching?
Guru Nanak had three simple teachings that he would preach: Naam Japo, Kirt Karo, and Vand Shako. This translate to: recite God’s name; make an honest living by working hard; and share the fruits of your labor with the needy. He also saw the human race as one, where mankind lived without any distinctions based on birthright, religion or sex.
3. How is Guru Nanak's birthday celebrated?
Typically on the Guru’s birthday, Sikh families will gather at the gurdwara for prayers, food, festivities, and stories on Guru Nanak's life and teachings. Like other Gurpurbs (festivals which celebrate the lives of the Gurus), prayers involve reading the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, continuously from start to finish. This is a nonstop 48-hour recital involving a team of Sikh women and men. Each person reads for two to three hours. The process begins ahead of the Guru’s birthday and ends on the morning of the anniversary. Afterward, there is a singing of hymns.
Parades are another popular form of celebration. Many neighborhoods in India have pre-dawn parades known as Prabhat feri, where Sikh communities walk together and sing verses from the Gurus. This is followed by eating and blessing a sweet-tasting food known as Karah Prasad. Celebrations continue well into the evening with fireworks.
Happy Guru Nanak Jayanti! "Before becoming a Hindu, a Sikh, a Muslim , a Christian, let's become Human first".