by Raj Kumar Kapoor

When you ask yourself the question 'Who is the greatest Punjabi  of all times?" Do you have to strain and stretch your resources of thought and imagination to answer it? May be sometimes you are so close to the source and fountain of life that you forget about it altogether. Do you know what really sustains you : the earth, the air, the water, the fire or the sky ? Yet there is something beyond and above these which helps you to draw your nourishment from each of these elements. Similarly our all-time 'great' Punjabi continues to play a paramount role in our life in a number of ways, even though we may be unaware or oblivious of it. Now have you guessed him aright ?

Anyone confronted with the question “Who is the greatest Punjabi of all times?” would set himself to a reductionistic process of choosing and discarding, selecting and rejecting a large number of persons till eventually he reaches someone who truly conforms to some broadly agreed criterion of a great man. So there is no wander that one of the most cogent and convincing ways of Socrates, the eminent Greek seer and philosopher, when he discussed a proposition, was to get explained, interpreted or defined some of its key words. This was indeed a very effective and efficient technique to save much time and energy. Once the important words were explained and understood, the parameters were fixed and as such there was little or no possibility of the discussion ever fallowing an unnecessarily long, tortuous or circuitous route and getting lost in a wilderness of obscurities sophistries and inanities.
Of course there does not exist a sure litmus-test to judge and elect a great man but to avoid much confusion and vagueness, it is desirable to know what we really mean by the word 'great'. This word has been so over-used that it has come to be among the most misused or even abused words in the English language thereby losing much of its magical patina. Therefore in order to pen down and answer this question it is deemed necessary to divide the greats into three broad categories according to their general characteristics and qualities.
In the first category fall greatmen who empress only people of their times-we would call them the noted ones. There are others whose influence travels through a few generations only and then trails off, we would call them the noticeable ones. And then there is the third category of men whose powerful impact impinges upon their generation and the generations to come, whose influence envelopes the earth slowly like some vast sky. They are hailed as the noteworthy ones. Though in the beginning they may all look very much alike, the noted ones are soon forgotten, the noticeable ones are also pushed after sometime into the lumber - room of dry chronicles but those belonging to the third elect category rise like phoenix, in every age thus living for ever in the heart and memory of a grateful people. Elaborating it further, to the first category belong the rulers, the conquerors, the politicians, the administrators and some others of tnelr tribe ; to the second category belong the thinkers, the artists, the writers, the scientists and others of their ilk ; and "to the third supreme category belong the saints, the sages, and the saviours who are the salt of the earth and constitute its  greatest glory and grandeur. Their influence never wanes with the passage of time but keeps enlarging and increasing and deepening with every age. During their lifetime, generally, they are the most misunderstood and therefore the most maltreated people but they start rising soon in the general estimate till they are regarded by them as the crown and consummation of humanity and their name begins to echo and reverberate from all directions. The lone crusaders, as they were, when they started, they have people flocking to them in ever larger numbers, till their followers form a vast concourse traversing, the path blazed out : by them. Now keeping the above discussed criteria in view our choice of the greatest Punjabi ever, would immediately be the one, who after about five hundred years has broadened and deepened his influence imperceptibly and is remembered and revered to-day as one of the finest flowerings of humanity. Punjab, of course, is doubly blessed where Baba Nanak the great Guru was born, moved among its people, reached enlightenment and where his benedictions flowed like nectar from a paradisiacal spring.
There is also a very simple and reliable measure with which to assess and know the greatness of a truly remarkable man. lt is by making a running survey of the conditions prevailing around him in society at the time of his appearance and then to compare them with the changes which his work and presence brought about in the life of the people; the powerful forces that are released to touch off a chain-effect of reforms and improvements in the world and which for ever continue to refine and enrich life in a variety of ways.
Before Guru Nanak's advent on the scene, in the fifteenth century, Punjab was passing through the darkest period of its history. Aggressions and invasions launched against it had scarred the land and sucked it dry. lt was thus ablaze with agony, and chaos Prevailed everywhere. Earlier Timur had passed through it like a river of fire fallowed by avaricious marauders who looted and plundered the land in the cruelest way imaginable. Then the Lodi kings unleashed a reign of terror, fallowed by Babar's invasion in 1526 which descended upon the people like some satanic whiplash leaving them all the more bruised and bleeding. Indeed it was the worst of times, with the densest blackness prevailing all around. This reign of fear and fanaticism fallowed by ruthless conversions had resulted in a wide-spread moral decay and spiritual degeneration. The distinctions of caste and the rampant ritualism had left the masses wallowing in cant and hypocrisy. With telling brilliance and boldness Guru Nanak himself described these anarchical times thus : "Kaliyuga is a dagger, Kings are butchers, Dharma has taken wings and disappeared, in the black night of falsehood, The moon of truth is nowhere to be seen ...."
But as the darkest hour preceded the dawn, in the encircling gloom rose Guru Nanak as the resplendent sun. In the murky and the black atmosphere of his times he burst forth like a new dawn and dispersed and dissolved the dark clouds hovering all around. The supreme guide that he was the divine master was hailed by many as one who had come to lead them from darkness to light, from evil to righteousness, and from death to immortality. ln politics he opposed tyranny, in economics he was against all kinds of exploitation, he was the uncompromising champion of the equality of man and woman and believed in humility which was to be freed from a festering ego as the latter is the greatest stumbling block to spiritual growth.
Although the Guru had a multi-dimensional approach and bestowed his attention on many other important aspects of life, in his sagely wisdom he knew that religion was central to it. Social, political, economic and other developments were necessary for the harmonious growth of man but he knew that all changes in the outside world are only fleeting and transitory and would not last long unless they are buttressed and supported by an inner awakening which can only come out of self-realization. Therefore he set himself to the gigantic work of improving refining and deepening our approach to religion. Thus starting with it he laid the basis of one of the most progressive and vital forces in our religious development by being the founder of Sikhism. While retaining the true mystico - metaphysical insights of other saints and sages, which conformed to his deepest understanding, he made them more dynamic and effective by adding to them numerous distinctive political, social and secular colours and hues. As suc h the faith that he propounded was not life-negating and did not preach withdrawal from life. God, according to him, was not a static, contemplative concept to be worshipped in stocks and stones but a very live and dynamic one. According to him as God existed and was good therefore, it is incumbent on us all to be good and responsible and seek him only .in the human context. Guru Nanak therefore, gave us this gem of an insight "Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living", which has a few parallels in the history of religion anywhere. Here he laid emphasis on community organisation. But this engendered the need of a succession of Gurus, the true masters, and thus Guru Nanak gave to the people of Punjab, this august institution of Guruship. Gifted with a unique fore-sight he knew that a continuous and concentrated work and effort over a length of time are necessary for these insights to percolate down to the people. Their caste and community prejudices which have poisoned the wellsprings of life need constant cleansing and purification to make life really purposive and meaningful. Thus he initiated a line of great masters so that they may disseminate the ideal of humanistic equality by their inspiring preaching and ennobling presence.
When Guru Nanak appeared on the scene religion, and the philosophy of religion, the esoteric and exoteric literature had been a cause of wide-spread confusion among the people. The bewildering range of exegetical literature, interpreting the sacred texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahm Sutras alongside the metaphysical and epistemological treatises, carrying suitable polemics of Buddhist and Nayaya authors were enough to leave any true aspirant for the religious experience dazed and disheartened. Thus Guru Nanak did another outstanding service to the people by accepting the broad concepts of Vedanta pertaining to the Atma, the Karma and the ultimate concept of Brahma, the Supreme Reality. God, he said, is both immanent and emanative and therefore He transcends the cosmos but also permeates it as its indwelling spirit. This basic vision is the bedrock of his cosmology. He further simplified the bafflingly intricate and complex approach to God's realization by laying down only three imperatives for it; the Guru (the true master), the Sat Nam and the 'prasad' (the divine grace). The Guru illuminates the shishya or sikh with the wisdom concerning God and teaches him Sat Nam, which is really the heightening of the flame divine that is inside us all but has a low, imperceptible glow. This way the divine grace would descend upon the disciple as he spiritually evolves. The brief, straight and simple approach greatly helped the people to move unfalteringly and unfailing on the path divine and in this way he raised the quality of both their inner and outer life.  
Then to share these deep insights with others Guru Nanak travelled far and wide during those days when, because of the utter lack of means of communication and transportation, such long journeys involved the greatest imaginable hassles and hazards. The divine compassion took him not only to different places in Punjab but also to numerous far-flung places in the world. And it is mind-boggling to know that he spent about twenty years on these peregrinations, leaving his young wife and two little sons behind. Those historic tours were undertaken with a view to helping the people to shed the errors and misconceptions that had crept into the moral, social, religious and political life of the people anywhere. He was gripped with such a sustained divine zeal as has seldom taken hold of any man known to history. He travelled not only throughout the length and breath of the lndian subcontinent but also went as far as Tibet in the North, Ceylon in the South, Arabia and Afghanistan in the West, Burma and the China in the East. He visited centres of religion, social and cultural hubs of the South Asian world, was in the company of rulers, leaders, scholars and divines of different.strata of society and those belonging to all kinds of professions. With his vision more deepened and broadened he came back to share it with his own people. lf he had done nothing else except undertaking these grand missions for enlightening the people of the world, they would have been sufficient to give him a place of undisputed honour a distinction in our history and the history of the world. Yet only the tip of the iceberg is visible to the ordinary eye, and the great saviour helped and guided' innumerable souls on the path divine. As Swami Ananda Acharya says in 'Snow Birds' that his devotees and admirers "rested on the Master's Word like a bee poised on a dew-lit, honey rose" His name rang throughout like a celestial bell hung up in the sky. His Hindu devotees called him Satgur Nanak Dev, and the Muslims addressed him as Hazerat Nanak Shah, thus vying with each other to proclaim his glory. Even in the Muslim world outside India his name began to reverberate in the heart of the true seekers. It is amazing to know that in the mediaeval times, when religious bigotry and fanaticism and wars for conversion were the order of the day, in the Arab world itself, he was generally known as Pir-i-Hind. There still stands a memorial in Baghdad, the citadel of Muslim culture, where his name is inscribed as 'Hazrat-Rab-i-Majid Baba Nanak Faquir Aulia'' To win the heart and love of one's own people among whom you have lived and moved may be a different thing altogether but to win and receive the highest honours from an alien people wedded to their traditional ways was something again unprecedented in the history of the world. And yet it is another infallible measure of his true greatness that he was absolutely oblivious of his extraordinariness and fame- He never claimed himself to be a saint, a seer, a saviour or a redeemer much less a divine incarnation. He never claimed to be anything more than a human being and stated ' I am composed of five elements and my name is Nanak." Thus he preferred always to be a man among men' He took' a peculiar delight in singing his favourite song to the accompaniment of rebeck, played upon by his chosen companion Mardana.  lts refrain, which runs as follows, particularly attracted him 'Tu Hai Nirankar Kartar, Nanak Banda Tera'. (You are the true creator, Nanak is thy humble servant).
-And Yet this supreme Master after completing his grand missions and getting bathed in glorY abroad and inside the country settled at Kartarpur on the right bank of the river Ravi and resumed his duties as a simple householder. He took to farming, ran a common kitchen and regularly held satsang (sacred meetings) where his lovers ind disciples, belonging to all castes and communities, took part freely in singing hymns composed by him.
So here was a man in whom the elements were so magnificently mixed and balanced that they attuned to their ultimate and fullest divine possibilities. In him the creative sensibility was coalesced with a deep acceptance of 'the cosmic will to bring forth a remarkable fruition of a life of the highest benevole.nce and sublimity. His ambrosial verses when chanted bY the congregation would leave it drenched with some fragrant vernal showers. Mark, for instance, his recipe for success in the spiritual world which exhorts the devotees to go for the harmonious development of their  different faculties to enter the world divine. The imageries employed are culled from every day life but tne spiritual cadences he draws out of them make the whole Process of meditation and enlightenment fully explained and expounded.
"Let chastity of thought, speech and action Provide the furnace; Let Perseverance be the modeling (moulding) skill and talent ; Understanding the anvil ; The wisdom of past sages the hammer ; The fear of God be bellows ; Devotion and austerity the fire ; Love the vessel in which the substances of the spirit melt ; ln such a mint of the true word, model  (mould) thyself."
Herbert Grierson, a great literary critic, has given a comprehensive definition of great men in which he says that great men are those who do great deeds, or counsel their doing or celebrate them when done ; meaning thereby that a great man is either one who achieves great deeds or he who inspires great deeds or he who sings of such deeds as a Poet. Thus according to him any one who accomplishes any of these three things is great. When we apply this definition to Guru Nanak we are amazed to find that he has achieved all these three in his life in a superb way-Thus he is all these three rolled into one and yet he is much more which is left uncovered by this definition- In the first Place, he had the greatest plenary experience of unity with Godhood then he was also a great Master who inspired peopled and led them on the path of self-realization and enlightenment and Yet again he was also a God-intoxicated singer' He gave us a treasury.of 9.58. songs and-hymns, preserved in their original and undefiled form in the holY Guru Granth Sahib, which is among the richest heritages of sacred literature in the world. Thus Guru Nanak is among those who truly embody and epitomize in their person all that is laudable, lofty and lasting in the religion and culture of this land. He in a way, defies all comparisons and categorisations. Guru Arjan Dev calls him the Guru -Parmeshwar- He truly and aptly observes' Whoever happened' to see or hear him was saved from the ordeal of being cast into the womb again and again".
So Guru Nanak had such magic and majesty about him that his-touch, sight and word alone changed the notorious robbers into the friends of humanity, barbarians were converted into the citizens of the world, ascetics were transformed into devoted householders, and tyrants were metamorphosed into the servants of society
Now to confine this universal man within the narrow bounds of being merely the greatest Punjabi appears to be indicative of a myopic vision and a narrow outlook- And vet it is true that although Guru Nanak belongs to the whole world, his birth, work and long presence have left Punjab incomparably enriched, like the sun which illuminates and brightens up all directions, yet the East where it rises is left uniquely blessed and beautified by its first red glow with the birds singing carols the clouds  tinged golden, and the fresh fragrant breezes blowing from the newly opened flowers.
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