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7.10.1 The Mul Mantra and Siri Ragu, 9, Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib)


Guru Nanak
circa 1520-1539, first compiled in 1604

Guru Nanak, Mul Mantra, quoted in Beryl Dhanjal, “Sikhism,” in Sacred Writings, edited by Jean Holm with John Bowker (London: Pinter Publishers, 1994), 159 [151 - 172]; Siri Ragu, 9, Adi Granth (the Guru Granth Sahib), translated by W. H. McLeod, quoted in Sources of Indian Tradition, Volume One: From the Beginning to 1800, second edition, edited by Ainslie T. Embree (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 505.

This source is two excerpts from the writings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Guru Nanak was born in 1469 in Punjab, a region of northwestern South Asia, which was a site of encounter. In Punjab, trade and movement of people and ideas led to multiple cultures, languages, and religions. There were lots of exchanges between religious groups. Some people were interested in finding a deeper and more personal divine connection by listening to Hindu devotional poetry set to music, called bhakti, and/or Muslim Sufi devotional poetry and dance. In this fertile site, Guru Nanak grew up and began to write his own poetry set to music (such as the lines in this source) and sacred hymns. He taught that there was only one God, who was unknowable, and that all believers were equal. He said that empty rituals and religious labels were not important. The important things were devotion to the divine (God) and love for human beings. To seek salvation, people should meditate on the Nam (remembering God) and Word of God. Gurus revealed the Word of God, and their poetry identified the Names of God. The first passage you read in this source is Guru Nanak’s definition of God. Pick out two words from this passage that you believe Guru Nanak meant as the Nam. The second passage (beginning with “The Guru”) uses several metaphors to explain how Gurus would help believers reach God. Explain in your own words how the Guru would help the believer reach God.

While scholars used to analyze Sikh beliefs to pick out the Hindu and Muslim roots, modern religious scholars place more emphasis on the religious ferment of ideas that Guru Nanak and others experienced in fifteenth-century Punjab. During his lifetime, the Mughal Empire was established in South Asia, and Guru Nanak’s insights drew from multiple faiths. For the Nam passage, students might select Creator, truth, or omnipresent. Encourage them to discuss the beliefs about God that appear in this passage. For the Guru stanza, ask students to visualize the Guru as a ladder or a boat to reach God. What would the ladder or boat have to cross? Point out that the purpose of these stanzas is to provide material for meditation rather than to explain the beliefs in logical outline.

"There is one God.
He is the supreme Truth.
He is the Creator,
is without fear and without hate,
He, the omnipresent,
pervades the universe.
He is not born,
nor does he die to be born again.
By his grace shall you worship him.
Before time itself, there was truth.
When time began to run its course he was the truth.
Even now, he is the truth
and ever more shall truth prevail....

The Guru is is the ladder, the dinghy, the raft by means of which one reaches God;
The Guru is the lake, the ocean, the boat, the sacred place of pilgrimage, the river.
If it please Thee I am cleansed by bathing in the Lake of Truth.