IS GURU NANAK’S PARKASH DAY
DIFFERENT FROM GURU NANAK’S BIRTH DAY?
NO, IT ISN’T.
Karminder Singh, PhD (Boston)
The basic argument of Prof Emeritus Harbans Lal Ji in “Is Guru Nanak’s Parkash Day different from Guru Nanak’s Birthday, Yes it is, in The Sikh Bulletin Volume 20 Number 11&12, Nov – Dec 2018 can be summarized in the following two points:
- The BIRTHDAY refers to a physical event; namely the birth of Guru Nanak on April 15, 1469.
- The “PARKASH DAY” refers to the date of “enlightenment” of Guru Nanak on Kathik, 1496 (or 1499) when Guru Nanak was 27 (or 30) years of age.
The primary basis for point (ii) above is the sakhi contained in the Janam Sakhis that Guru Nanak disappeared in the Kali Vein River for three consecutive days; believed to have drowned and yet come out alive after three days. At the crux of the sakhi is the claim that Guru Nanak was summoned by the Creator; and upon his appearance before the Creator, Guru Nanak was given both enlightenment (Parkash) and a mission for the world (Sikhi).
EXAMINING THE SAKHI ON THE BASIS OF GURBANI.
If we accept the Vein River sakhi to be true, then we will need to accept the following three basic principles.
- That disappearance in a river for three consecutive days – a miraculous and otherwise unexplainable phenomenon – did indeed happen.
- That the Creator resides in a particular location; and that Guru Nanak appeared before the Creator at this location during his disappearance.
- That “enlightenment” is an “occurrence, event, occasion, incident,” that happens at a specific place and time (Pruanmasee of Kathik 1496 or 1499 in the case of Guru Nanak).
If we accept the Vein River sakhi to be true, then we will further need to accept the following two consequent principles.
- That there existed a group of people, who had the capacity to know that the Nanak who came out of the river after three days was different from the one that went into the river. That these people had a spiritual capacity to confirm that Guru Nanak was now “enlightened.”
- That all that Guru Nanak said, did and discoursed prior to reaching 27 or 30 years of age (depending on whichever of the ‘parkash year” we accept) was said, done and discoursed in a state of “non-enlightenment.”
If we accept that the “birthday” and “parkash” day of Guru Nanak are two different events that happened three decades apart from each other; then we will further need to accept the following consequent challenge.
- We will have to sort out the “birthdays” and “parkash” days of the remaining nine Gurus.
Let’s try and examine the above six points on the basis of Gurbani.
- THE ‘MIRACLE’ OF DISAPPEARANCE IN A RIVER.
Gurbani’s position on “miracles” can be distilled from the following verse on page 1103 of the SGGS. ਰਿਧਿ ਸਿਧਿ ਜਾ ਕਉ ਫੁਰੀ ਤਬ ਕਾਹੂ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਕਾਜ ॥ ਤੇਰੇ ਕਹਨੇ ਕੀ ਗਤਿ ਕਿਆ ਕਹਉ ਮੈ ਬੋਲਤ ਹੀ ਬਡ ਲਾਜ ॥ ੧ ॥ Ridh Sidh Ja Kao Furee, Tab Kahun Sio Kya Kaaj. Terey Kehney Kee Gutt Kya Kho, Mein Bolat He Budd Laaj.
Ridh Sidh is the term for miracles. The damning critique in the second verse is worth pondering – the claim about miracles is absolutely embarrassing (Budd Laaj) within the parameters of genuine spirituality.
In another instant, Bhai Gurdas ji captures the moments at Shiv Raat da Mela (the final 6 months of Guru Nanak’s life) where the Sidhs had gathered for a discourse with Guru Nanak, (Sidh Goshat, page 928 SGGS) and demanded that Guru Nanak perform a miracle for them to witness.
ਸਿਧ ਬੋਲੇ ਸੁਨ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਤੁਹਿ ਜਗ ਨੂੰ ਕਰਾਮਾਤ ਦਿਖਲਾਈ॥ ਕੁਝ ਦਿਖਾਈਂ ਅਸਾਨੂੰ ਭੀ ਤੂੰ ਕਿਉਂ ਢਿਲ ਅਜੇਹੀ ਲਾਈ॥ Sidh Boley Sun Nanaka Tuhe Jug Nu Kramaat Dikhlayee. Kuch Dikhayee Asaa Nu Bhee, Tu Kion Dhell Ajehi Layee. (Var 1, Pauree 42).
The demand by the Sidhs was clear and unequivocal – You have shown Kramaat (miracles) to the world. Show us some, why are you delaying (dhell)?
The response by Guru Nanak is recorded in the succeeding verses.
ਬਾਬਾ ਬੋਲੇ ਨਾਥ ਜੀ ਸ਼ਬਦ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਸਚ ਮੁਖਹੁ ਅਲਾਈ॥ ਬਾਜਹੁ ਸਚੇ ਨਾਮ ਦੇ ਹੋਰ ਕਰਾਮਾਤ ਅਸਾਥੇ ਨਾਹੀ॥ Baba Boley Naath Ji, Shabd Sunho Sach Mukho Alahee. Bajho Sachey Naam Dey, Hor Kramaat Asathey Nahin (Var 1, Pauree 43).
The key words are within the second verse: Other than the realization of Godly virtues, I have no miracle within my spirituality, said Nanak.
That the Sidhs ACCEPTED Guru Nanak’s position is captured by Bhai Gurdas ji as follows:
ਬਾਬੇ ਕੀਤੀ ਸਿਧ ਗੋਸ਼ਟ ਸ਼ਬਦ ਸ਼ਾਂਤਿ ਸਿਧਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਆਈ ॥ ਜਿਣ ਮੇਲਾ ਸ਼ਿਵਰਾਤ ਦਾ ਖਟ ਦਰਸ਼ਨ ਆਦੇਸ਼ ਕਰਾਈ॥ ਸਿਧ ਬੋਲਨ ਸ਼ੁਭ ਬਚਨ ਧੰਨ ਨਾਨਕ ਤੇਰੀ ਵਡੀ ਕਮਾਈ॥ Babe Keetee Sidh Goshat, Shabad Shant Sidhan Vich Aiyee . Jinn Mela Shivarat Da, Khutt Darsan Adesh Karayee. Sidh Bolan Shubh Bachan, Dhun Nanak Teri Vadee Kamayee. (Var 1, Pauree 44).
The key words are Dhun Nanak Teri Vadee Kamayee. Meaning the Sidhs accepted – as Guru Nanak’s greatest spiritual accomplishment – (Vadee Kamauyee) to be one that was devoid (Bajho) of his “miracle performance. ” And that the Guru’s acquisition of Godly virtues was indeed the ONLY miracle in Gurmat.
Furthermore, Guru Nanak’s primary question for Sikhi as contained on page 1 of the SGGS is this: ਕਿਵ ਸਚਿਆਰਾ ਹੋਈਐ ਕਿਵ ਕੂੜੈ ਤੁਟੈ ਪਾਲਿ ॥ Kiv Schiara Hoeyey Kiv Kooray Tootey Paal. Meaning: How then can I become a God-Realized Being WITHIN; how can I remove the obstacle of my non-realized state WITHIN.
Guru Nanak’s answer in the immediate succeeding verse is: ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥ ੧ ॥ Hukum Rajayee Chalna, Nanak Likhiya Naal.
This seminal answer captures the essence of Guru Nanak’s enlightenment – Hukam. Guru Nanak’s Sikhi is about Hukam – about attempting to know and understand the Will of the Creator; about wanting to abide by (chalna) and live one’s life within the confines of this will; about wanting to be part and parcel of this will (likhiya naal), and about making the will of the Creator as the object of our spiritual life (rajayee).
HUKM is ANT-THESIS to Miracle. The very definition of Miracle is the performance of an act that defies the Hukm, goes against the law of nature, contravenes the principles of nature.
The Vein River sakhi therefore pits Guru Nanak as going against the Hukm of the Creator. How can a Guru tell us Sikhs to know, understand, and abide by the Hukam of the Creator, while he himself destructed the Hukam at every step of the way, in this sakhi?
The conclusions with regard to the miracle aspect of this sakhi are straightforward. The miracle of disappearance did not happen. It is not in the character of Guru Nanak’s spiritual make up to perform such acts that defy belief and defy the law of nature.
- GURU NANAK’S APPEARANCE IN THE CREATOR’S COURT.
The logic of Guru Nanak’s disappearance in the Vein River as per the sakhi is that he appeared in the Court of the Creator for those three days.
The notion that the Creator has a court at a particular location, and the notion of “appearing before Him” are alien to Sikhi.
Gurbani is clear on both points: The Creator is OMNIPRESENT. And He resides WITHIN us.
ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੯ ॥ ਕਾਹੇ ਰੇ ਬਨ ਖੋਜਨ ਜਾਈ ॥ ਸਰਬ ਨਿਵਾਸੀ ਸਦਾ ਅਲੇਪਾ ਤੋਹੀ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਮਾਈ ॥ ੧ ॥ Kahey Rey Ban Khojan Jayee. Sarab Niwasi Sda Alepa Tohi Sang Samahi. O mind !, Why search the Creator outside in the wilderness. He resides in all. He resides within you.
Gurbani explains in crystal clear terms the concept that the Creator is within. ਪੁਹਪ ਮਧਿ ਜਿਉ ਬਾਸੁ ਬਸਤੁ ਹੈ ਮੁਕਰ ਮਾਹਿ ਜੈਸੇ ਛਾਈ ॥ Puhup Madh Jio Baas Basat Hai Muker Mahey Jaisey Chaee. Just like fragrance resides within a flower; And an image within a mirror. SGGS 684.
The Shabd continues. ਤੈਸੇ ਹੀ ਹਰਿ ਬਸੇ ਨਿਰੰਤਰਿ ਘਟ ਹੀ ਖੋਜਹੁ ਭਾਈ ॥ ੧ ॥ Taisey Hee Har Basay Nirantar, Ghat Hee Khojo Bhaee. Similarly, He resides within us, that is where we will find Him.
And again on page 102 of the SGGS. ਸਭ ਕਿਛੁ ਘਰ ਮਹਿ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਨਾਹੀ ॥ ਬਾਹਰਿ ਟੋਲੈ ਸੋ ਭਰਮਿ ਭੁਲਾਹੀ ॥ Sabh Kich Ghar Mein Bahar Nahin. Bahar Toley So Bhrum Bhulahee. He is all WITHIN. Searching for Him OUTSIDE is a misconception towards waywardness.
The conclusion on this point is clear. The key ingredient of the Vein River sakhi fails the benchmark test of Gurbani. The crux of the sakhi contradicts the basic principle of Gurbani. It contravenes Gurmat understanding of the Creator being Omnipresent.
(iii) ENLIGHTENMENT AS AN “OCCURRENCE,” THAT HAPPENS AT A SPECIFIC PLACE AND TIME.
This is basically a premise that is preached by the clergy, in particular dera sants, babas. That one has to keep at a particular practice or a ritual repeatedly or undertake repeated recitations of a mantar or banee under specific conditions and methods, and when the critical “rewards point” is reached; the “outcome” happens in a bang.
The sakhi says that in the case of Guru Nanak, this “outcome” happened at the Vein River. Prof Habans Lal’s contention is that it happened on Pruanmasee of Kathik in either 1496 or 1499.
In Gurmat, the ROOT of enlightenment is the Shabd. Or more specifically the messages that are contained within the shabd.
ਗੁਰਬਾਣੀ ਇਸੁ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਕਰਮਿ ਵਸੈ ਮਨਿ ਆਏ ॥ ੧॥ SGGS 67. Gurbanee Es Jug Mein Chanan, Karam Vasei Mun Aiye. Gurbani is the Enlightenment (Chanan) within which the divine blessings (Karam for Persian) will fill the heart of the Enlightened.
Enlightenment is a process that is accumulative. It begins from the first instance of our understanding of Gurbani. It grows and develops as we pursue the path of a spirituality based on the Shabd. The Shabad-based spiritual search is a process that takes place at every step of our spiritual journey.
The conclusion on this point is clear. Guru Nanak would not tell us seekers to obtain our enlightenment incrementally from the Shabd; while he himself would chose a different route – disappear in a river and “appear” in the court of the Creator to collect his enlightenment in one instalment.
(iv) GURU NANAK “CAME OUT OF THE RIVER” ENLIGHTENED.
For this assertion to have any truth in it we would need to accept that there existed a group of people who had the capacity to know that the Nanak who came out of the river after three days was different from the one that went into the river.
We would have to accept that these people had a spiritual capacity to confirm that Guru Nanak was “un-enlightened“ prior to his disappearance and “enlightened” as he stepped out of the river.
Physical birth can be specified to the date of the month, day of the week, hour and even the second. This is because there is/are other human beings – doctors, nurses, midwives, delivery attendants, family member etc – attending to the physical act of a baby appearing within the senses of sight and touch. They thus confirm the delivery of a baby at a particular time.
One is tempted to ask if such a standard of measurement can exist in determining the date and time of one’s “enlightenment.” One is further tempted to ask if there were people waiting for the “delivery of Guru Nanak’s enlightened self” as he “re-emerged after his disappearance”; that they had with them some instrument of measure with which they were able to determine that the Guru was now enlightened. One is also tempted to ask how the writers of this sakhi “came to know” that “the Guru went before the Creator.”
(v) WHAT THEN OF GURU NANAK’S CONTRIBUTION PRIOR TO RIVER VEIN.
If we accept the notion that Guru Nanak was enlightened after his re-appearance from Vein River at age 27 or 30 then what do we make of all that he discoursed prior to reaching 27 or 30 years of age (depending on whichever of the ‘parkash year” we accept).
Are we to accept that all that was said, done and discoursed till 30 years of age was undertaken in a state of “non-enlightenment.”?
What would we make, for instance, of the event when he refused to adorn the Janeyu at age 11.? What would we make of the discourse he had to “enlighten” the Pandit – and the thousands who were gathered for the ceremony – relating to the futility of the sacred thread. Was it conducted in a state where his “parkash” / enlightenment had not yet happened?
What would we make of the Gurbani verses he uttered at that point? ਸਲੋਕੁ ਮ: ੧ ॥ ਦਇਆ ਕਪਾਹ ਸੰਤੋਖੁ ਸੂਤੁ ਜਤੁ ਗੰਢੀ ਸਤੁ ਵਟੁ ॥ ਏਹੁ ਜਨੇਊ ਜੀਅ ਕਾ ਹਈ ਤ ਪਾਡੇ ਘਤੁ ॥ GGS 471. Salok M: 1. Dya Kapah Santokh Soot Jutt Ghandee Sat Vatt. Eh Janeu Jee Ka Hayee Ta Pandey Ghat.
Will we argue that all the Gurbani that Guru Nanak composed from the depths of his spirituality prior to age 27 / 30 was composed in a state of non-enlightenment or pre-enlightenment? How will anyone even begin to figure out which of his 947 shabds were composed before “Vein River” and which after?
A substantial amount of Guru Nanak’s travels were conducted before he reached the age of 27/30. Bhai Gurdas states Guru Nanak met the Yogis at Sumer Parbat as a child. Are we to accept that the discourse with the Yogis there was in a pre-enlightened state?
Guru Nanak went to a number of Ashrams of the Bhagats to collect their spiritual compositions – some as a teenager and young adult. While doing so he had to make critical decision as to which compositions to accept and which to reject. The basis of the choice was on one criteria – were their compositions in line with his spiritual thought, his Sikhi, his Gurmat. Are we going to say that these decisions were taken in a pre-enlightened state?
(VI) APPLYING THE “BIRTHDAYS” AND “PARKASH” DICHOTOMY TO NINE OTHER GURUS.
At what point was Guru Gobind Singh ji “enlightened”? We know the date he was born. Was he enlightened only at the point he was appointed the tenth Guru? He wasn’t Guru when the Kashmiri Pandits came to Guru Tegh Bahadur. At that tender age Gobind Rai persuaded his father-Guru to make the sacrifice. Was this persuasion in a state of pre-enlightenment?
We can go on asking such questions of all the nine Gurus. The answers will produce one simple straight forward conclusion. That the “Birthday – Parkash Day” dichotomy makes no sense.
The very word “DAY” – because it is the measure of physical measurement of time – can only make sense if applied to a physical phenomenon. Birth is as much a physical occurrence as any other physical happening.
Enlightenment (Parkash) is a metaphysical phenomenon. The specifics of time, place and degree cannot be applied to it. The only thing one can say is whether it exists or otherwise.
THE BIRTH DATE. Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469. This date is recorded by a variety of historians of repute. In the spiritual parlance of reverence that Sikhs accord to their Gurus – the terms that we have used may be multiple – but they all refer to the physical birth.
For an ordinary being the term is Janam Din – birth day.
Notwithstanding the fact that our Gurus were least concerned with their birth dates and even less concerned that we turn them into celebrations of grandiose – the way we have made them to be today – our Gurus would have been just fine with this word “Janam Din”.
Bhai Gurdas understood this point very well indeed.
Bhai ji terms it ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਿਆ Satgur Nanak Pargetiya. The Coming, or Emergence of Guru Nanak.
Elsewhere Bhai ji says ਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਗ ਮਾਹਿੰ ਪਠਾਯਾ॥ Guru Nanak Jug Mahe Pathaya. The Advent of Guru Nanak into this world.
Yet elsewhere he says ਕਲਿ ਤਾਰਣ ਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਆਯਾ ॥ Kal Taran Gur Nanak Aiya. Or ਨਾਨਕ ਕਲਿ ਵਿਚ ਆਇਆ . Nanak Kal Vich Aiya. Guru Nanak Came (Aiya) into the world.
But, for reasons that need not be discussed here, we Sikhs were not content with using such definitive language. We did not consider it respectful enough to label the birth days of our Gurus as “Janam Din”
At the very least it had to be Janam Dihara. Or Janam Purab. Or Parkash Dihara. Or Parkash Divas. Or Avtar Dihara.
It makes little sense to want to distinguish and differentiate these different terms of reverence. It makes even less sense to want to give separate dates to all these terms.
THE CHANGING OF BIRTH DATE. This is of course a real issue. Historian Karam Singh established – more than one century ago and beyond any doubt – that the date was altered by a gamut of non-Sikhs, anti-Sikhs and others with other agendas.
Sikhs are stuck with a spiritual leadership that has sold its soul; institutions that are under the control of anti-Sikh forces; clergy that has taken Sikhi back to 1468; intellectuals who are silenced by the weight of their grants; a religion that has been hijacked by the deras, sants, babas, cults and deviant sects; and a general body that is largely lethargic.
All these factors and many others operate in tandem to cripple us Sikhs against correcting this one single error of celebrating the birth of our Guru on the wrong day. Sikhs have perhaps not witnessed a period in their history when enlightenment was as desperately needed as it is today.
The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.