Guru Nanak's Charity
Even when Guru Nanak was yet a child his compassionate heart would melt in deep sympathy for the poor and the needy. He often offered them with food and clothing. Child Nanak took great pleasure in visiting and serving bands of Hindu Sadhus and Muslim Fakirs, who lived in the woods in the neighborhood of Talwandi and would come to the town off and on. Sometimes he would himself go to the jungle and meet them there, and distribute among them articles of food. His father, Mehta Kalu, wanted to check what he thought the wasteful conduct of his son. But how could Nanak be stopped? Charity, open-handed charity, was in his grain. he had come to tend and feed with the bread of God the souls and the bodies of the needy. In the words of Puran Singh, 'Whosoever met him, the Guru burnt his poverty and his clinging thereto and made him rich.'
Once, the Guru's father complained to Rai Bular, the local Diwan of Talwandi, that his son gave away his earnings to the poor. Rai Bular, in reply, warned Mehta Kalu saying: 'Your son is not an ordinary man. You can have from me double the amount he has spent on the needy, but do not stop him doing so.' there are many interesting stories from the early life of the Divine Master, while at Talwandi, that he felt pleasure in distributing articles of daily requirement to the needy and feeding the hungry at all times. Charity moved with Nanak, wherever he went. And he always felt pleasure in satisfying the needs of others, thinking that he was performing the duty of man and God. No one went back disappointed at his door.
He left Talwandi, for the first time when his father gave him some money to set him up in trade. His father instructed him to enter into a 'Khara Sauda' (good bargain). He left home and came across some ascetics-the saints of God- near Chuharkana. That saints had not taken food for several days. He feasted them. That was perhaps the first Pangat which was fed by Guru Nanak himself. He thought that there no bargain better than to give in the name of God. making thus the best bargain he returned home empty-handed. This was a glimpse of the Langar which he established later as a regular institution. The world was suffering from spiritual starvation and Guru Nanak had come to feed all. Bread served to the hungry Sadhus was but symbolic. 'The people are more than myself', said the Guru. 'Religion is inspiration of Love. the beloved is in His people, and the service of the people is the service of God. And it is through service that love is realized.'
It is recorded in all chronicles that at Sultanpur Guru Nanak used to address regular Sangats every evening. many would come to join the holy service, who were also fed by the Guru, out of the ration that was permitted to him with his salary. He distributed all that he saved, for he had no liking for hoarding. At Sultanpur, Guru Nanak had ample opportunities to satisfying his master-passion of open-handed charity. At the Modikhana (the store house), where he served as a Modi (store-keeper), he used to extend his helping hand to the poor. After supplying the needs and expenses of his own family, out of his allowances and profit, he used to give away a large part of his earnings in charity. He bestowed on others love along with charity. It was here that he began distributing himself with the free distribution of the provisions to the needy. None begged at Nanak's store-house in vain. He thus won affection of the poor and the needy and admiration of the people.
One day, the master weighing out wheat flour, counted the weighing - One, Two, Three, ...' till he reached the number thirteen. But at this he forgot all his counting and went on weighing and singing his famous one word song - Tera, Tera, Tera...' 'Thine, Thine, Thine,....' In Punjabi language the word Tera means both the arithmetical figure 13 and the phrase 'I am thine'. His mind, transfixed on the Divine, would not stoop to earthly things, and all subsequent weighments went for thirteenth. Blessed, indeed were those on whom was thus bestowed unasked divine food for the soul, as they came only to get food for the body. And when the call had come and the Guru had set out for the journeys, to preach his ideals, in the distant lands, he first went to the house where he used to lodge his disciples, guests, and friends. He opened wide the doors and invited the poor to take away all that was there; and to those who hesitated, he himself handed over his articles.
The Guru was ready to leave Sultanpur for good. The Nawab of that place made an attempt to dissuade the Guru from taking the course of renunciation, but when the Guru told the Nawab about his mission that later bent his head in reverence and said: '... but do kindly accept for the use of your family the sum that has been found due to you from the Modikhana.' The Guru desired him to distribute that amount among the poor, saying: 'As for my family and myself the Sustainer of all will provide us'. Having given away all his material wealth, he was now ready to distribute, with an equally liberal and generous heart, the spiritual riches that he had received from the Lord.
Guru Nanak went to Eminabad. There lived a carpenter - Lalo -, who used to make wooden implements. A devout and a true disciple of his Master, he lived a life of honest poverty and natural simplicity, because his needs were few. And he was contented and happy with his honest earning. Guru Nanak went to his house and lived with him for several days. Not caring of the comforts and dainties of the rich, the Guru preferred the coarse bread and plain water of Lalo, who was God-loving and God-fearing. Lalo, the man of God, earned his bread by the sweat of his brow, so he was dear to the Guru. It happened that Malik Bhago, the local Diwan of the Pathan governor had arranged a sacrificial feast and expected holy men of all religions in the town to join and partake of his repast, so that he could acquire merit. The news that a saint was staying at the house of Lalo reached Malik Bhago. He immediately sent a servant to fetch him for the feast. The Guru, however, decline to accept the invitation. Malik believed that his yajna (feast) would be incomplete unless all the holy men graced the occasion.
Bhago met the Guru himself and asked, "Why do you refuse my feast and eat the food cooked by a low caste, though they say you are a saint ?"
"I have no caste," was the Guru's reply, "nor do I sit in a chauka. To me the whole earth is pure and holy."
"But why did you refuse to join my feast ?" asked Bhago.
"Your bread is blood and Lalo's bread is milk," was the reply with a smile.
The Guru continued: "I have no taste for the sumptuous but blood-tainted dishes. dainties and comforts which are had by cruelties over the laboring poor and verily interfused with the blood of the unfortunate victims, whereas Lalo earns his food by sheer honest labor and shares his earning with others and hence his food is interfused with milk and sweetness." Surely, a noble and honest man of humble birth is far more dear to God and the Guru than a high born evil tyrant. Guru Nanak said;
"People who are lowliest among the lowly, of a caste that is deemed the lowest of all low castes, Sayeth Nanak, I am with them a friend and a companion;
What have I to do with the high and the great ?
Where the lowly are treated with a loving care, There do Thy Mercy and Thy Grace descend."
Malik Bhago fell at the feet of the Guru and prayed for mercy. Guru bade him rise and sin no more.
"Listen", said the Guru:
"That which belongs to another
Is unlawful like the flesh of pig to one, (That is to a Muslim)
And cow's flesh to another (That is to a Hindu).
The Guru and Peer wil extend their grace,
If thou refrainest from eating carrion."
Bhago went home light in body and heart. He distributed al his wealth among the poor and the henceforth vowed to live a life of love, devotion and service. Lalo whom he considered low caste, he began to deem his elder brother and dearest friend. Thus did Guru Nanak lift the lowly unto eminence. Thus did he destroy the pride of caste which was degrading and demoralizing the people. Thus did he lay the foundation of brotherhood, - 'where the lowest is equal with the highest in race as in creed, in political rights as in religious hopes' - a thought which is practiced and manifested in the Guru's Langar. Malik Bhago henceforth made it a principal of his life to earn his livelihood by honest means. He turned his house into a Sach Dharamsal (House to practice Righteousness), where not just the holy people fed on certain special occasions, but rich and poor, high and low were all welcome at every time.
Thus Guru Nanak turned many houses into Sach Dharamsals where the needy were not only fed but also given shelter if they required. When Sajjan Thug was reclaimed by the Guru and appointed a missionary, he too like Malik Bhago distributed everything that he had hoarded. The big mansion, where the thousands of murders of the innocent travelers had been committed, was razed to the ground. Sajjan built a simple and small hut for himself which he considered a Dharamsal for others; a place of all-embracing love and service. The Guru had instructed him in the fundamentals of his faith and charged him with the duty of reclaiming others. There lived at Decca a land-lord named Bhoomia. he was a dacoit, but with all his wrong doings, kept running an inn, where saints and faqirs, travelers and way fares were fed. The people were afraid of him and none had the courage to speak a word against him.
When Guru Nanak went to Decca, people sent him to Bhoomia's house, saying that all holy men and the strangers took meal there. The Guru went there. The divine light and radiant joy of the Guru's face singled him out. Bhoomia came running to him and requested, "Please come to my house and partake of the food ready therein." "No", said Guru Nanak, "your food is saturated with the blood of the poor." These words entered Bhoomia's very soul. With folded hands he again said, "Pray do grace my kitchen and taste a bit of food and I will do what you instruct." Give up a profession of a dacoit then, said the Guru. Bhoomia bowed before the Guru and the latter instructed him thus:
- Do not rob the poor.
- Always tell the truth.
- Do no harm to anyone whose salt you have tasted.
- Do not allow the innocent to suffer for your sake.
"These shall I obey with all my heart and soul; but, pray, do grace my house." Guru Nanak with other saints and travelers partook of Bhoomia's food at his kitchen and departed after a short stay. Bhoomia still had a kitchen but not with his own name anymore. He served food to all in God's name. Bhoomia's kitchen had become the Guru's Langar.
One Bhai Mansukh, an enterprising merchant was among the first devoted disciples of Guru Nanak. In one of his trade trips he went to Ceylon. After his prayers and meditations every morning he used to distribute Karah Parsaad among his neighbors. The king of Ceylon, Shivnabh, was a Vaishnava, and had ordered the day of Ekadashi Brat (a fast according to Hindu religious rites) to be strictly observed throughout hi kingdom. Everyone had to keep the fast for whole day and break that with fruits and uncooked eatables. An Ekadashi day fell during Mansukh's stay in Ceylon. Firm in his faith, devotion and daily routine, he prepared Karah Parsaad even on Ekadashi day. When he wanted that to be distributed among his neighbors a complaint was lodged with the king that a foreign trader had not observed that fast and had cooked Karah Parsaad.
Immediately Mansukh was taken to the king's presence who inquired, "How dare you break the law of the land and cook on the Ekadashi day ?" In a very sweet and humble tone Mansukh explained to the king how he had met Guru Nanak and the Guru's teachings had raised him above all doubts and fears. He observed no fast and had found the right path which showed One-in-all and all-in-One. The task of Mansukh impressed Shivnabh so deeply that he requested him to arrange his meeting with Guru Nanak. "remember him day and night in true love and devotion and he shall come to you." Attracted by the long vigil and prayers of the king, Guru Nanak was drawn to Ceylon. Shivnabh went barefoot to the Guru, who was then resting, in a garden, and prostrated himself at his holy feet, saying, "Blessed am I that you have graced this land. Pray do set your holy feet in my palace and sanctify it." Guru Nanak replied, "Start a Langar and a build Dharamsal for the poor and the needy then I shall come to thee."
Immediately the Langar was started and the building of a Dharamsal began. As soon as it was ready, Guru Nanak went to the Dharamsal. For several months Guru stayed there, addressed the congregations and taught the people how to meditate on the Divine Name. throughout the year food was served daily to the people who joined the congregation. Meals were offered to all even on the Ekadashi day. After his long journeys to distant land, Guru Nanak settled down at Kartarpur, the town of Kartar (the Creator) as he named his new town, which is on the bank of river Ravi (Now in Pakistan). He lived as a house holder with his family till his demise in 1539. Around him gathered his disciples in great number. Many had their shops and farm at Kartarpur. Hundreds of visitors used to come to the Guru everyday from far and near.
Bhai Gurdas Ji tells us that the Guru used to get up early in the morning, take bath and then hold the morning prayers. After his morning meals were served in the common kitchen. There was prayer also in the evening. these prayers twice a day were congregational and holy hymns were also sung by the Guru and his devotees. After the evening prayer the Sangat dined together in the Langar. here firm foundation laid for the system of Sikh congregation or the Sangat and the Langar or the Pangat, both of which played a significant role in the development of Sikh religion. Here all the Sikhs of the Gurus and other visitors to him had to sit together for partaking the common food, whether they belonged to one community or the other, to one caste or the other. Rich and poor would sit alike to receive the ambrosia - the blessed food. Eating together in the kitchen was made compulsory during the time of Guru Amardas, for those who wanted to see the Guru.
And those came to pay the homage to Guru Nanak at Kartarpur had to do one or the other of the manual jobs. The Guru himself ploughed his land to reap the crops. The devotees worked in the common kitchen, doing one job or the other. Guru Nanak's institution of the Langar at Kartarpur was a step towards the direction to uproot the caste system. Whereas on the one hand the langar was proposed to be a refuge for the poor and the destitute, on the other hand it was to help effectively in leveling up the society. This was a positive step to bring the people of different castes together. the institution of langar gave an opening to the Sikh charity. And new colony of Kartarpur gave the God-fearing persons, an opportunity to the Sikhs to develop closer social contacts.
This social system worked as a seed for the future Sikh nation. It brought a big change in the people who practiced the discipline taught by Guru Nanak. here the devotees had adopted a new life style which was based on the concept of living together like a family, doing honest labor and doing service to one another with a feeling of brotherhood. "What appeal them most was the sense of fellowship and common purpose. the Guru had taught them to reject the meaningless rituals and hierarchical distinctions. They believed in social justice, holiness, philanthropy and love for all. The colony of worshippers grew under the personal supervision and guidance of their spiritual mentor, Guru Nanak, who like one of the flock, labored on the farm and took food from the common kitchen and looked after the needs and comforts of his companions." Most of the Guru Nanak's disciples worked with him in his fields with pleasure where the Guru took keen delight in sowing wheat, and reaping the golden harvest.
He was of the people and his stores were open to them. The bread and the water were ready for all, at all hours of the day and crowds came and freely partook of the Guru's gifts. No doubt their physical hunger was satiated but the spiritual hunger multiplied; and all who came to visit him were filled from the Guru's treasury of thought and love and spirit of the Holy Word. Guru Nanak is a real example of humility and love. He was a great teacher and reformer, who influenced people of different faiths by his sweetness, frankness, devotional music and above all his love- love for the Creator and His creation. Many people attracted towards him as they appreciated his integration of temporal and spiritual goals of life. Those who became his faithful devotees setup places of worship in their homes which were called Dharamsals. Bhai Gurdas Ji testifies to the growth of such places of prayer, where holy hymns were sung by the disciples of the Guru:
"Every home became a temple
Where Kirtan was performed rapturously"
And those who assembled in the house of devout Sikhs for prayers, langar was distributed among the congregations. Whether at Kartarpur or away in their respective villages the people worked for the common meal of the community. Many brought their earnings into the common kitchen when they came to meet the Guru. Puran Singh says, "The sacrifice of selfishness was made for the gladness of the soul that the act gave to the people who came round Guru Nanak. The souls of the people were so fully nourished and satisfied that they could not entertain feelings of difference and duality.... We are never selfish when we are in love. The people came and laid their selfishness at his feet and begged a little of it for his service. To serve the devotees was serving the Master. This union was so spiritually co-operative that none knew if his own hands were his or of the Guru....The bodies and hearts and mind were mingling with each other and with those of the Master, by the magic of his presence amongst them. here was a religion that made a love and labor that common property of man."
By setting down at Kartarpur as a farmer and by starting a free kitchen with his Dharamsal, Guru Nanak set the living example and manifestation of his teaching of 'earning one's bread by honest labor and sharing one's earning with others' Neither sun nor rain, nor any other calamity of whatever magnitude, could stop the serving of the meals in the common kitchen of the Guru. The fire lit in the 'Temple of Bread' by Guru Nanak was kept burning by his successors, the other nine Gurus, who walked in his footsteps. And the institution of Langar continued to unite that people and warm the hearts of the faithful throughout the years to follow.