From the Jacket
Nanak, whom Tagore called 'teacher of Mankind, had, according to the Poet, a concept of religion not restricted by the limits of unconventional deity-worshipping restrained within the narrow idea and dead habit of a particular caste or country, which prevents universal man to find any identification. Nanak's mind crossed the barriers of such narrow Puranic religious dogmas and he laid down his life in propagating the massage of deliverance among mankind.
In 1969, the whole country celebrated the quincentenary of birth of this Great Teacher. As a part of these celebrations, Sahitya Akademi, in consultation with the Guru Nanak foundation organized a National and four Regional seminars on Guru Nanak's Teachings. It was nothing odd for the government of a Secular state asking a National academy of Litters to organize seminars on a person who was not only a religious teacher but an inspired poet,-indeed the fountainhead of Punjabi poetic tradition. Guru Nanak's poetry, at its mystical sublime, become bani, a prayer, a means of grace.
Regional Seminars were held in Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Ludhiana and the National Seminar took place at New Delhi. About 60 Scholars representing a fair cross-section of Indian intellectuals and leaders of thought presented working papers.
The proceedings of the five Guru Nanak Seminars have been edited and published in this volume to give a permanent form and offer a National Homage on the occasion of Nanak's fifth birth centenary celebrations. Among the contributors to this volume are Niharranjan Ray, Trilochan Singh, V. Raghavan, D. G. Saiyidain, Mulk Raj Anand, K. R. Srinivasa lyengar and Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Besides Papers, a Section includes Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji's Sanskrit Poem with his own English translation, Srimati Amrita Pritam's Punjabi poem as translated into English by Sri Suresh Kohli and three poems on Nanak from three Bengali poets, Premendra Mitra, Bimal Chandra Ghosh and Manindra Ray.
The book is a collection of a large number of leaned essays all inspired by the life and work and enduring influence of Guru Nanak.
The year 1969 was a year of commemorations. It was the Gandhi centenary year, and the Srinivasa Sastri centenary year. It was the year of the seventh centenary of Namdev, a tailor from Maharashtra who sang about the glory of God and the efficacy of taking His name, a poet who, along with his contemporaries Jayadev and Trilochan, found a place in the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth. And 1969 was also the fifth birth centenary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Of Guru Nanak-as Einstein said of Gandhiji it is difficult to believe at this distance of time that 'such a one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.' In modern times, Muhammad Iqbal sang of Nanak: And Professor Puran Singh said that Punjab was neither Hindu nor Muslim, but existed by the name of Guru Nanak. That Punjab-where is it? It was, perhaps, not so much a geographical area as a concept, and this at least could be deathless. Nanak's fifth birth centenary might yet awaken humanity-at least Indian humanity-to his message of Oneness of God and Community of Man.
Since independence, India has celebrated the birth centenaries of Lokamanya Tilak (1957), Gurudev Tagore (1961), and Swami Vivekananda (1963). The Gandhi centenary fell on 2 October 1969, and Guru Nanak's quincentenary on 23 November. What have these nation-wide celebrations achieved? And what are they expected to achieve? Certainly, it was good to remember our great men, review their life- histories, and recall their ambrosial words. But have the celebrations halted the march of divisive forces, have they helped to make us a community of free minds, a nation with faith in itself, a people capable of noble thoughts and heroic endeavour?
On the other hand, it would not do to be too easily dispirited. Unity, integration, harmony, strength cannot be accomplished in one magic canter, and indeed the battle, even if won once, may have to be waged again and again. The Guru Nanak quincentenary was no doubt an occasion to pay national homage to the great Founder of Sikhism, but it could also be an opportunity to rally the forces of sanity in the country so that India might be enabled to awake once more from her present nightmarish slumber of soul and body.
It was no surprise, therefore, that a National Committee, with the Prime Minister as Chairman, was set up to organise the fifth birth centenary celebrations of Guru Nanak. One of the decisions of the Committee was that a National and four Regional Seminars on Guru Nanak's Teachings should be held, and the Ministry of Education and Youth Services requested the Sahitya Akademi to organise these Seminars in consultation with the Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi. This was on 9 September 1969, a little more than two months before the actual date of the quincentenary.
Was it odd that the Government of a secular State asked a National Academy of Letters to organise Seminars on the founder of a religion? But Nanak was not only one of India's religious teachers; he was an inspired poet as well, and indeed the fountainhead of Punjabi poetic tradition. Literature is many things to many men. Poetry itself appeals in different ways to different people. It could be descriptive, it could carry didactic or political overtones, it could also be a means of sadhana. At its purest, at its mystical sublime, poetry becomes bani, it becomes prayer, a means of Grace. Some of the best of Guru Nanak's poetry is of this kind.
Again, in the circumstances prevailing in India for some years past, the major responsibility of Government has been to arrest the disintegrating trends in our society. The supreme objective of popular education today should be to bring out the potentiality for creative harmony in the 550 millions of her population. Where is the bond that can hold together a pluralistic society like ours? The love of God may be necessary, but even that is not enough; the love of man is even more necessary.
Indeed, the former should lead to the latter, and the latter should be involved in the former. In his well-known Arti, Nanak sang:
All Nature and all Humanity are the visible Divine; God lives in His .creatures, and the Mother lives in her children. Where is a high priest of 'national integration' with a clearer vision or a more vibrant voice than Guru Nanak?
It was significant, again, that the Akademi set about organising a National as well as four Regional Seminars. India is indeed one, the sap that keeps alive this vast country from Himavant to Kumari is indeed the same, but the several regions have their own individualities, their own local genius, their own distinctive modes of self-expression. In Tamil Nad and the Punjab, in Maharashtra and Gujarat, in Rajasthan and Kashmir, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, in Assam and Bengal, in Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka and Orissa, everywhere a succession of God-intoxicated singers have borne witness to the glory of the Grace of God and the marvel of the oneness of man in God-a galaxy of saints who have raised their voices against man-made divisions and social stratifications, and have sought to establish communities of enfranchised men and women bound together by their love of God. Nanak and Nanak's melodies would thus come as no strangers to people anywhere in India, for he had been speaking always to use-although unknown to us, perhaps, and therefore unrecognised or unacknowledged by us. Pilgrims of Immortality like Tirumular and Basava and Vemana, Namdev and Kabir and Nanak, were truly kindred souls, contemporaneous although belonging to different ages; and it was hoped that this sense of the living past, the contemporaneous relevance of all God's messengers, could be inferred and highlighted by the National and the several Regional 'Gun; Nanak Seminars'.
Notwithstanding the limited time available and in spite of the difficulties involved in organising Seminars at places like Bombay and Ludhiana where the Sahitya Akademi hadn't even regional offices, the five Seminars duly took place: the National Seminar at New Delhi from 9 to 11 December 1969, the Calcutta Seminar on 15 December, the Madras Seminar on 4 January 1970, the Bombay Seminar on 18 January, and the Ludhiana Seminar on 14-15 February. Almost 60 scholars, Sikh and non-Sikh, presented working papers, and there were about 150 other participants (besides observers and journalists) representing a fair cross-section of Indian intellectuals and leaders of thought. The inaugurations began, appropriately enough, with devotional music (usually Nanak-Bani) provided by such artistes as Srimati Surinder Kaur (New Delhi), Srimati M. S. Subbulakshmi (Madras) and Professor Ram Punjwani (Bombay). The inauguration ceremonies were well attended, the seminar working papers were mimeographed and distributed in advance, and the seminar discussions were well- informed, breathing a genuine spirit of inquiry and underscoring the need for mutual enlightenment. Unfortunately, no record of the discussions was maintained, with the result that we are now left only with the working papers presented at the various Seminars. And yet, having carefully followed three of the seminar-discussions (at New Delhi, Madras and Bombay), I venture to think that the abiding results of the Seminars are not easily commensurable, and must certainly exceed any mere record of the verbal proceedings.
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