13 Questions on Guru Nanak’s Birthday

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Guru Nanak’s birthday as we know it in our lifetimes has always been celebrated sometime in October or November, with no fixed date, as it depends on the day of Kathik Puranmasi determined by the Bikrami Calendar.

In recent years, segments of the Sikh community have started celebrating the birthday during the period when we usually celebrate Vaisakhi. What’s going on here? That’s the mystery to be solved. When is the actual day of birth of Guru Nanak, the amazing poet, traveler, liberator of the downtrodden, reformist and transformer of worldviews?

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  1. Why the different dates for Guru Nanak’s date of birth?

The actual date of Guru Nanak’s birth in accordance with authentic historical records is the 1st of Vaisakh. It was observed as such during earlier times till the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. That’s when it was changed to Kathik (October/November) after Sant Singh, a Nirmala in charge of Harmandir Sahib, convinced Maharaja Ranjit Singh. (More on Nirmalas here)

2. What is the evidence available that Guru Nanak was born in Vaisakh and not Katak?

Bhai Gurdas, who was chosen by Guru Arjan to script Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 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 Unenlightenment. 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 Sikhism – as the 1st day of the month of Vaisakh. Vasoa is what we call Vaisakhi these days.

Two other documents that were composed in 1570 and 1597 during the era of the third and fourth Guru, 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 on Vaisakhi (also spelt: Vesakh).

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 only fraudulent, but highly blasphemous – says that Guru Nanak was born in Kathik. Janam Sakhis are largely imaginary hagiographies of the life of Gurus, full of miracles and travels, built on a Sikh oral tradition and some historical facts.

All seven prominent Sikh and non-Sikh historians have through research established that Guru Nanak was born in Vaisakh. They are historian Karam Singh, Mahan Kosh author Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Dr. Ganda Singh, Principal Satbir Singh, Prof Sahib Singh, Dr. Hari Ram Gupta and The Sikh Religion author Max Arthur Macauliffe.

Pal Singh Purewal, the inventor of the Nanakshahi solar-based calendar, has calculated the dates scientifically. He arrived at 1st of Vaisakh 1469 as the date of birth of Guru Nanak. This date corresponds with the 27th of March 1469.

The imaginary sketch of the supposed meeting between Guru Arjun and Sri Chand

3. Why have we been celebrating it around October / November all these years?

During a period of some 62 years after the defeat of Banda Singh Bahadur genuine Sikhs lived in hiding as the authorities had placed a hefty price on their heads. The Gurdwaras came under the control of Udasis – followers of Baba Sri Chand – the eldest but disowned son of Guru Nanak. After this, the Nirmalas – brahmins who descended into Punjab beginning the 1760s – controlled the 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 Janam Sakhi was distributed widely to Nirmala controlled gurdwaras where it was propagated extensively by the Nirmalas to become the most prominent of the six Janam Sakhis. Based on this Janam Sakhi, the Sikhs were led astray to believe the birth of Guru Nanak was in Kathik.

4. Did anyone try to correct such an error?

A British historian M.A. McAuliffe has said that the Sikh world had the date of Guru Nanak’s birth correct till 1816 – during the reign Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with Nirmala Gyani Sant Singh as head granthi of Darbar Sahib. The Nirmalabent  religious leader 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.

5. 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 Nirmalas) Sikhs have had their history written by the Nirmalas. The Nirmalas wrote 35 voluminous texts that are unthinkingly referred to by the Panth as “Sikh Classical Texts” and scores of other sub-texts. These writings highly corrupted, distorted and tainted the history and character of our Gurus. With such distortions repeated over long periods of time, facts and truth take a back seat and the falsehoods appear as “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 the Sikhi founder Guru’s birthday on Kathik Di Puranmasi – which was the birthday of Sri Chand – the son of Guru Nanak and the Guru of the Udasi sect.  Then the Nirmalas recorded this distorted date in their numerous texts as the birthday of Guru Nanak. In addition, since the Nirmalas contolled our Gurdwaras during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh – they were able to have the date changed officially. Kartika Purnima is a Hindu festival celebrated on Purnima (full moon day), the 15th (or 30th) lunar day of the month of Kartika or Kathik.

6. In the past, Sikhs have been following the Bikrami calendar. What are the shortfalls of this Hindu-based calendar for the Sikh faith?

In the past, Sikhs used the Bikrami calendar. In the Bikrami calendar, some gurpurabs (the day when Sikhs commemorate certain events) came twice in a year, and some gurpurabs did not come even once a year. The Bikrami calendar contains a complex set of rules to determine the dates for annual festivals and days of observance.

7. What are some of the issues with this calendar?

First, being a lunar based calendar, it laid emphasis on the belief in sacred days and other festivals related to the Hindu faith, a philosophical base different from the universal and open ideology of Sikhi.

Second, historical dates related to Sikh faith were determined by astrological calculations by a specific group of pandits, which meant that Sikhs were not independent to determine their own gurpurab days annually.

Third, the lag in the lunar calendar when aligned to the solar calendar would over a period make the Barah Maha of Guru Nanak Sahib and Guru Arjan being inaccurate in the description of the natural phenomena.

Fourth, if the Nanaksahi calendar is not de-linked from the Bikrami calendar, in 13,000 years Vaisakhi will occur in mid-October. The seasons will be opposite to those mentioned in the Barah Maha Maajh and Tukhari Banis (two sets of compositions in the Guru Granth Sahib).

8. 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 but is it the right one? It is the wrong thing to do – especially when 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 conveys a message that the Sikh Panth is powerless to right even one of its most important wrong. At the spiritual level, when we gather in large numbers to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday on the wrong day (Kathik Di Puranmasi) and stand before the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to proclaim it as a Gurpurab related to Guru Nanak in 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 ignorant enough to have got the birthdate of its founder wrong? It may be excusable if the founder was born 2,000 years ago when records were not kept, but Guru Nanak is just slightly more than 550 years ago. Is there any community in the world – other than ours – whose collective conscience is so dead – that despite being told and given authentic proof that the date is wrong – carries on celebrating the wrong date? Carrying on as usual is easy because we have to do nothing. The Sikh character is built on making changes and challenging any wrong so we have to do something. At the most basic level, making the change is Sikhi because it is the right thing to do.

9. Is it okay to change the date of celebration now? Won’t it cause confusion?

The change should have been made 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 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.

10. Why don’t we raise this issue with Akal Takht and await guidance?

The Akal Takht has been aware of this matter for close to a decade now but has chosen to bury its head in the proverbial sand.

The reality of Akal Takht 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 Takht has not resolved a single one of them.

The Akal Takht does not have a current 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 Takht leaders – with just one exception of Jathedar Manjit Singh – have come from the dera and taksali outfits. These outfits are aligned to the Nirmala belief system. So the real question is whether the Akal Takht – given their defacto Nirmala 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 grassroots level 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 celebrating it on Kathik Di Puranmasi (October / November).

Once critical mass is reached – meaning once sufficient sangats and Gurdwaras have awakened, realised and taken action to do the right thing – hopefully the Akal Takht will have no choice but to sit up and listen or risk becoming irrelevant altogether.

Akal Takht, Amritsar

11. My parents / grandparents were learned Sikhs. They were well-versed with the Guru Granth Sahib. They celebrated Guru Nanak’s birthday in the October / November (Katak) period. Are you saying they were ignorant Sikhs?

They most probably did not have access to the historical information to have a proper understanding of the issue of the actual date of Guru Nanak’s birthday. It was not widely discussed back then. And most of the information available originated from dubious sources. So you cannot blame them as they may not have had all the information at their disposal to make an informed decision. But it does not make them any lesser of a Sikh. In our eyes, they will forever remain as model Gursikhs, people who turn to the Guru Granth Sahib for knowledge and wisdom. They have surely got that sorted: drawing inspiration from the Shabad to instruct their worldview.

12. Do you intend to stop people from celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday in the October / November period?

No. You go ahead. As cliche as it may sound, a Sikh can celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday every day.

At the same time, don’t hinder Sikhs who desire to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday on 14 April, the actual day of birth measured scientifically. So, in essence, the Vaisakhi celebration is a combination of two important markers for the Sikhs: the birthday of Guru Nanak and the establishment of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh. From Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, the cycle is completed.

In 2022, many gurdwaras around the world celebrated Vaisakhi Day (14 April) to mark the birthday of Guru Nanak as well as the establishment of the Khalsa. From Frankfurt in Germany, Tampa in the United States and Chandigarh in India, Sikhs had joined the celebrations.

Snapshot of the Nanakshashi calendar for 2015 printed by Khalsa Diwan Malaysia – Asia Samachar Photo

13. What is the correct thing to do?

i) Bring back the Mool Nanaksahi Calendar without any compromises and celebrate all Sikh religious events annually as determined scientifically and in accordance with Gurbani our Guru.

ii) Guru Nanak Sahib’s birth falls on 1st Vaisakh (14 April) each year and should be celebrated on that day. As mentioned earlier, all historical Janamsakhis state that Guru Nanak Sahib was born in Vaisakh and all senior researchers and historians and professors accept that Guru Nanak Sahib’s birth was in Vaisakh.

iii) Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s choice of Guru Nanak Sahib’s birthday to introduce the external identity signifying the qualities of a Gursikh in 1699 is an important fact to be kept in mind. They are connected!

RELATED STORY:

Explainer: Guru Nanak’s birthday (Asia Samachar, 9 April 2022)

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1 COMMENT

  1. Very well researched and articulated. Time gorgeous us all to wake up and take ownership of our own history.

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