SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 21: Devoted Sikhs honor the birth anniversary of each of their 10 leaders known as gurus, but only two of the gurus—the first and last—have their days celebrated with great fervor! Today is a festival for Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru and founder of the Sikh religion. Although he was born more than 500 years ago, the teachings of Sikhism still closely follow the messages of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. (Check out the BBC’s site for a general description.)
Sikhs traditionally read the entire Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, over a period of 48 hours that ends the morning of this festival. The faithful also prepare by decorating gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) with flowers, lights and flags; holding processions prior to the birth anniversary; and watching martial arts demonstrations. This morning, many Sikhs woke around 4 a.m. to begin the day’s celebrations by singing hymns, eating Karah Prasad and sharing a meal with others. According to the Times of India, community meals have been organized for today’s birth anniversary.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born in what is now Pakistan, although his birth month is slightly disputed. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s recorded that upon his birth, though, an astrologer—who had come to write the baby’s horoscope—asked to see the child. It’s believed that his astrologer immediately worshipped the baby and voiced his disappointment in that he wouldn’t live to see Guru Nanak as an adult. Other accounts also point toward Guru Nanak’s future mission, such as his interest in divine subjects as a 5-year-old, and his childhood description of the first letter of the alphabet resembling the mathematical version of the number 1; young Guru Nanak linked “A” and “1” to the unity of God. The age of 30 is when many believe Guru Nanak was truly enlightened, because at that time, he disappeared for three days and returned to begin teaching a religion that he would tirelessly continue to preach for the rest of his life. Today, his birthplace is marked with the Sikh Gurdwara Janam Asthan.