In the past, Guru Nanak’s birthday have always been celebrated sometime in October or November. This year around, some groups are celebrating it during the period when we usually celebrate Vaisakhi. What’s going on here? Asia Samachar has prepared a Q&A to dig into the issue.
1. When is Guru Nanak’s actual date of birth? How do we know it?
Guru Nanak was born on the 1st of Vaisakh 1469. Bhai Gurdas provides the evidence when he writes about the advent of Guru Nanak. In Paurri 27 of his first vaar he writes: ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਿਆ ਮਿਟੀ ਧੁੰਧ ਜਗ ਚਾਨਣ ਹੋਆ॥ ਜਿਉਂ ਕਰ ਸੂਰਜ ਨਿਕਲਿਆ ਤਾਰੇ ਛਪੇ ਅੰਧੇਰ ਪਲੋਆ॥ Satgur Nanak Pargateya Mitee Dhund Jug Chanan Hoa. Jion Kar Suraj Nikleya Tarey Chapey Abdher Paloa. Meaning: The Advent of Guru Nanak Was the Lifting of the Fog of Spiritual Un-enlightenment. His Coming was the Rising of the Sun, meaning it was the Dawn of Enlightenment that led to the Removal of Inner Darkness.
One couplet later, he writes ਘਰ ਘਰ ਅੰਦਰ ਧਰਮਸਾਲ ਹੋਵੈ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸਦਾ ਵਿਸੋਆ॥ Ghar Ghar Ander Dharamsaal Hoveiy Kirtan Sda Vasoa. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha defines Vasoa in his Mahan Kosh – the Encyclopedia of Sikhi – as the 1st day of the month of Vesakh. Vasoa is what we call Vaisakhi these days.
Two other documents that were composed prior to the writings of Bhai Gurdas – namely the Sakhi Mehlay Pehla Ki by Sheehan Upal and Janam Patri Babey Ki by Bhai Boola Pandhay – say that Guru Nanak was born in Vaisakhi (also spelt: Vesakh). These documents were composed in 1570 and 1597 respectively – during the era of the third and fourth Gurus.
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Five of the six Janam Sakhis – namely the Meharban Vali Janam Sakhi, Bhai Mani Singh Vali Janam Sakhi, B-40 Janam Sakhi, Puratan Janam Sakhi, and the Pathar Day Chapay Vali Janam Sakhi say that Guru Nanak was born in Vaisakh. Only one Janam Sakhi – the Bala Janam Sakhi – which is not just fraudulent, but deeply blasphemous – says Guru Nanak was born in Kathik.
Then we have seven prominent Sikh and non-Sikh historians who say that Guru Nanak was born in Vaisakh. They are Karam Singh Historian, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Dr. Ganda Singh, Principal Satbir Singh, Prof Sahib Singh, Dr. Hari Ram Gupta and M.A. Macauliffe.
Pal Singh Purewal, the inventor of the Nanakshahi solar-based calendar, has, through his detailied calculations arrived at 1st of Vaisakh 1469 as the date of birth of Guru Nanak. This date corresponded with the 27th of March 1469.
2. Why have we been celebrating it around October/November all these years?
For some 62 years after the defeat of Banda Singh Bahadur and in light of the fact that genuine Sikhs lived in hiding due to a hefty price on their heads, our Gurdwaras in Punjab were controlled by udasis – followers of Baba Sri Chand – the eldest but disowned son of Guru Nanak. After this, the nirmlas – brahmins who descended into Punjab beginning the 1760s – controlled our Gurdwaras, institutions and by extension the Sikh psyche for an additional 150 years.
The Bala Janam Sakhi was the first text to distort the birth date of Guru Nanak from Vaisakh to Kathik. It was written 120 years after the demise of Guru Nanak by the anti-Sikh and heretic Bidhi Chand Handal – a masand of Jandiala. The Bala Janm Sakhi was distributed widely to nirmla controlled gurdwaras where it was propagated extensively by the nirmlas to become the most prominent of the six Janam Sakhis.
Historian M.A McAuliffe has said that the Sikh world had the date of Guru Nanak’s birth correct till 1816 – a year when the political leader of the Sikhs was Maharaja Ranjit Singh and their religious leader nirmla Gyani Sant Singh as head granthi of Darbar Sahib. The nirmla convinced the Maharaja to use his office to have Nankana Sahib celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday in Kathik – (October or November) – for the first time in 1816. It would take another hundred years before the Kathik date would become acceptable to the Sikh world at large.
So that’s 200 years of celebrating it on the wrong date after 346 years of celebrating it on the correct date.
3. Didn’t Sikhs know about the actual date before this? How did they miss such a major marker in their own history?
Apart from having their Gurdwaras and institutions controlled by others (udasis and nirmlas) Sikhs have had their history written by others, too. The nirmlas wrote 35 volumious texts that are unthinkingly referred to the by the Panth as “Sikh Classical Texts” and scores of other sub-texts. The outcome was that the history of our Gurus is highly corrupted, distorted and tainted. When such distortions are repeated over long periods of time, facts and truth take a back seat and the falsehoods become the “facts.”
The distortion of Guru Nanak’s birthday from Vaisakh to Kathik is an example that followed this path. For 62 years when the udasis controlled our Gurdwaras – they started celebrating our founder Guru’s birthday on Kathik Di Puranmasi – which was the birthday of Sri Chand – the Guru of the udasi sect. Then the nirmlas recorded this distorted date in their numerous texts. Since the nirmlas contolled our Gurdwaras during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh – they were able to have the date changed officially.
4. Since we have been celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday in October/November all these years, why not just carry on – business as usual?
Carrying on as usual is the easy thing to do. It is also the wrong thing to do – especially since the Sikh Panth has been made aware of the error for the past 100 years by historian Karam Singh’s well researched and documented text Kathik Kay Vaisakh.
Carrying on as usual sends out a message that the Sikh Panth is powerless to right even its most basic wrongs. At the spiritual level, when we gather in large numbers to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday as the the wrong celebration (Sri Chand’s birthday) on the wrong date ( Kathik Di Puranmasi) and stand before the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to proclaim such in our Gurpurab di Ardas – we are guilty of a hypocrisy that is beyond measure.
We are equally guilty of hypocrisy when we gather in large numbers on the correct date (Vaisakhi) and fail to mention or otherwise celebrate the birthday of our founder Guru.
Carrying on as usual further sends the wrong message to our next generation. What kind of values, ethics and principles are we teaching them? That it is fine to get our founder Guru’s birthday wrong, keep celebrating it on the wrong date even after we know of the error, and that none of this matters?
Carrying on as usual also continues to raise the following two questions: Is there any community in the world – other than ours – that is foolish enough to have got the birthdate of its founder wrong? It may be excusable if the founder was born two thousand years ago. But Guru Nanak is merely 552 years ago. Is there any community in the world – other than ours – whose collective conscience is so dead – that after being told and proven to that the date is wrong – carries on celebrating the wrong date as if it didn’t matter?
Carrying on as usual is easy because we have to do nothing. Making the change is challenging because it means we have to do something. At the most basic level, making the change is Sikhi because it is the right thing to do.
5. Is it okay to change the date of celebration now? Won’t it cause confusion?
The change should have been made 92 years ago – in 1930 – when Historian Karam Singh exposed the conspiracy. Every year after that expose’ that we continue to celebrate Guru Nanak’s Parkash Diharra in Kathik is one more year of dishonor for the Sikh Panth. It is one more year of disgrace for our institutions which appear paralyzed to act. It is one more year of ignominy for those of us who call ourselves Sikhs of Guru Nanak.
Change is always uncomfortable to face. It can be be unsettling, too, and there will be those who will oppose it. But change we must because it will bring inner closure to the Sikh world. The satisfaction, contentment and joy that follows will come from our ability to have finally got the date and celebration of our father Guru correct.
6. Why don’t we raise this issue with Akal Takht and await guidance?
The Akal Takhat has been aware of this matter for the past 92 years and has chosen to bury its head in the proverbial sand.
The reality of Akal Takhat is much more painful than that. Over the past 100 years, the Sikh Panth has had innumerable issues – beginning with Ragmala in 1925 to the Nanakshahi Calendar in 2016 and hundreds in between – but the Akal Takhat has not resolved a single one of them. The Akal Takhat does not have a history of resolving any of Sikhi’s religious issues.
This is because the Akal Takhat has become a tool of the political forces of Punjab – to be used for political gain and no more. At the religious level it is controlled by people with derawadi and taksali tendencies. In the last 50 years, all of Akal Takhat leaders – with just one exception of Jathedar Manjit Singh – have come from the dera and taksali outfits. These outfits are aligned to the nirmla belief systems. So the real question is whether the Akal Takhat – given their de facto nirmla leanings – has a genuine interest in wanting to resolve this issue.
An ineffective Akal Takhat means the top down approach towards resolving this issue will have to be replaced by a bottoms up approach. Individual Sikhs through their local sangats and Gurdwaras will have to take it upon themselves to start celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday on Vaisakhi Day – together with Khalsa Sirjna Diwas – and stop celerating it on Kathik Di Puranmasi (October / November).
Once critical mass is reached – meaning once sufficient sangats and gurdwaras have awakened, realized and taken action to do the right thing – Akal Takhat will have no choice but to sit up and listen or risk becoming irrelevant altogether.
Readers are invited to go to the following links for a more complete argument on the issue of Guru Nanak’s birthday:
The Hijacking of Guru Nanak’s birthday – Asia Samachar
A Wrong Celebration On a Wrong Date – Sikh Bulletin
Something very different this Vaisakhi (Asia Samachar, 6 April 2022)
From Frankfurt to Tampa, Vaisakhi anew (Asia Samachar, 8 April 2022)
ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond.Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here