SIKH STORIES I. Stories from the childhood of Guru Nanak
Nanak and the mysterious shadow
Nanak and the cows
Nanak helps the hungry
Nanak and the sacred thread
II. More stories about Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak’s songs of praise
Guru Nanak and the robber
III. Stories featuring Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh and the donkey
Bhai Ghanaiya helps the wounded
I. Stories from the childhood of Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak (1469-1538 CE) was the founder of Sikhism. He was born in the village of Talwandi, which was formerly in the Punjab and which is now in Pakistan. Guru Nanak’s birth is remembered with great celebrations. Such a festival is called a Gurpurb. Many tales are told of remarkable events in Nanak’s childhood. These serve to indicate that even as a child he found special favour with God.
Nanak’s birth The birth of every baby is a very special event. This is what happened when a little boy called Nanak was born in a far away land called the Punjab over 500 years ago.
“I can’t sleep, Daddy,” said Nanaki. “It is hot and the full moon is keeping me awake. And besides, I am much too excited.”
“You must try to sleep,” said her father. He was kneeling at Nanaki’s bedside. “It is nearly daybreak.”
“Yes, but how much longer?” said Nanaki.
“I can’t tell you. Babies choose their own time,” replied her father.
Nanaki was fed up with waiting. “As soon as I hear the baby crying I will know,” she thought to herself.
Through the window she could see the morning star shining in the sky. Dawn would soon be breaking. It was very peaceful and quiet.
Suddenly a lady rushed into the room. “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” she cried excitedly.
“I didn’t hear any crying,” said Nanaki jumping up quickly. “Can I see him?”.
“He didn’t cry,” said the lady speaking to Nanaki and her father. “As soon as he was born he smiled. It was so wonderful just to look at him. It made me feel so happy.”
Nanaki and her father knew that babies didn’t usually smile until they were six weeks old, so they knew this baby must be very special.
“Oh, he’s beautiful,” whispered Nanaki as she gazed at her baby brother. “I will love him forever.”
“His name is Nanak,” said her mother. “I hope you will help me to look after him.”
“Oh yes please!” said Nanaki.
“What do the stars tell us about his future?” Nanaki asked her father.
In the Punjab when a baby is born, the stars are studied to find out what sort of life the baby will have. Nanaki’s family discovered that their baby was going to be a very special person. He would love God and teach other people to love God too.
Nanak and the mysterious shadow
You know what it is like when it is really hot. I don’t just mean quite hot. I mean scorchingly hot, when it is too hot even to play and all you want to do is flop down in the shade and go to sleep.
Well Nanak had been playing with his friends, but now he was hot and sticky and sweaty and he just wanted to lie down and rest. He found a tree and lay down in its shade. This tree was away from the noise and bustle of the village. It wasn’t long before Nanak had fallen fast asleep.
The chief person of the village walked by. He saw Nanak sleeping in the tree’s shadow and took care not to wake him.
Many hours later, the chief passed by again. Nanak had not moved. He was still fast asleep in exactly the same place. “What a lazy boy Nanak is,” thought the chief.
And then he noticed something extraordinary. Nanak was still lying in the tree’s shadow. The sun had moved round, and the shadows of all the other trees had moved round too. But the shadow from Nanak’s tree had not moved at all. Nanak was still in the shade!
“Nanak must be a very special boy indeed if he can make shadows stand still for hours on end,” thought the chief.
Nanak and the cows Nanak’s parents did not know what to do. They were worried about their son. Nanak was so quiet. Sometimes he did not speak to anyone for days. He often seemed lost in his own thoughts, and he was always daydreaming. He usually preferred being on his own to playing with the other children of the village. And if they ever asked Nanak to help with the work that needed doing … Well, it was absolutely hopeless. Nanak never seemed interested in doing anything, and he was always so forgetful ... And this made his father very angry with him.
One day Nanak’s father asked him to look after some cows. Nanak soon got bored with standing in the field and staring at the cows, so he sat down and started to think. Very soon he was completely lost in his own thoughts and he had completely forgotten about the cows.
The cows looked at the grass in the next field and decided that it was much better than the grass in their field. They soon found a way into the next field, and before long they had eaten all the grass. Then they wandered through the crops, trampling everything with their hoofs.
When the farmer who owned the next field saw that his crops had been ruined, he was absolutely furious. He went straight to Nanak’s father to tell him what a stupid thing Nanak had done.
Nanak’s father now became as angry as the farmer. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Nanak will be punished for this.”
The two men went to the fields that had been ruined by the cows. To their amazement the cows were gone and the grass and the crops had all grown back, tall and straight. It was as though the cows had never been there!
And where were all the cows? They were back in the field where they had started. Nanak was there too. His father and the farmer looked at him with curiosity. This boy might be useless when it came to doing work, but what did that matter when he could make the grass and the crops grow back in minutes rather than months?
Nanak’s father was no longer angry. He was astonished!
Nanak helps the hungry One day Nanak’s father gave Nanak some money. “Go to the market and and buy some food for our meal tonight,” he said to Nanak.
Nanak set off for the market. On the way, he passed some people who looked poor and hungry. “I would like to help those people,” thought Nanak to himself, “But my father has trusted me with this money and I must spend it on food at the market.”
When Nanak reached the market he argued with the food sellers about the prices they were charging. Nanak persuaded them to drop their prices for him, and he came away with lots of really good bargains.
On his way home, he passed the same group of people who were poor and hungry. He could see them looking at all the food that he was carrying, and he felt really sorry for them. It was no good. He couldn’t just ignore them and leave them to starve. He didn’t care about what his father might say. He gave the poor people all of the food he had just bought, every single bit of it.
Well, you can imagine how angry his father was when Nanak returned home. He was absolutely furious! He shouted at Nanak and told him he had been really stupid.
Nanak simply smiled, and said this to his father, “We are going to miss one meal. Those poor people have missed many meals. If we had eaten that food ourselves it would have given us a few moments of pleasure. Surely it is much more satisfying to know that our food saved the lives of some people who were starving! It seems to me that I acted very sensibly today!”
What do you think?
Nanak and the sacred thread In the Punjab, where Nanak lived, many boys took part in the ceremony of the sacred thread. It was the custom for a holy man to put a circle of thread over the boy’s head and one shoulder, so that it ran diagonally across the body.
The sacred thread was made of three strands of cotton. Each strand stood for a different god. The three strands were plaited together, to remind people that god was three gods in one.
When Nanak was eight years old, he was taken to the holy man to receive the sacred thread. When the holy man tried to put the thread over his head, Nanak wouldn’t let him.
Nanak said to the holy man, “One day this cotton will break. Instead of giving me a thread of cotton, why don’t give me something that will never wear out? Plait me a thread of good thoughts, for good thoughts will stay in my heart forever.”
And then Nanak spoke these words, and all who heard them were astonished at their beauty and wisdom:
“Out of the cotton of kindness,
Guru Nanak’s songs of praise Guru Nanak (1469-1538 CE) was the founder of Sikhism. He was born into a Hindu family, but then as now there were tensions between Hindus and Muslims. As a result of the profound religious experience that occurred when he disappeared into the river, he proclaimed that, “There are neither Muslims nor Hindus, only brothers and sisters.” He describes the effect of the experience in one of his hymns:
“I was a minstrel out of work,
The Lord gave me employment.
The mighty one instructed me,
‘Night and day, sing my praise’.
The Lord summoned the minstrel
To His High Court.
On me He bestowed the robe of honouring
Him and singing His praise.”
Guru Nanak often taught through songs and poems. Many of these are contained in the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the Sikh holy book. Sikhs regard the Guru Granth Sahib as their eleventh Guru, succeeding the ten human Gurus, and they treat the book with the utmost reverence and respect. Long ago, in a far away land called the Punjab, there lived a man called Nanak. The people who lived there believed different things about God. Some people thought one thing, and others thought something else. They were always arguing about who was right.
This made Nanak feel very sad. He was sure that God didn’t want people to have arguments and fights about what they believed. He knew that what was really important was for everyone to love God in their own way.
Nanak loved God very much. He spent a lot of time praying and thinking about God. He used to sit quietly making up beautiful songs to sing in praise of God. Other people started to listen to his lovely songs of praise. A man called Mardana came to sit beside Nanak. As Nanak sang, Mardana played wonderful music on an instrument called a rabab, which was a bit like a fiddle or a violin.
Nanak always washed himself in the river before singing his songs of praise to God. Mardana stayed on the bank looking after Nanak’s clothes while Nanak waded in, splashed water over himself and then dipped his head right under the water so that he was clean all over.
Once Mardana was watching Nanak washing himself when something strange happened. Mardana saw Nanak’s head disappearing under the water, but he never came up again. Mardana waited and waited … Still no sign of Nanak. Mardana started to panic. Where was Nanak? Was he drowning? Mardana ran up and down the riverbank shouting out Nanak’s name. Nanak did not appear again, but a mysterious voice came up out of the water saying, “You must wait. You must wait.”
For three whole days Mardana sat by Nanak’s clothes waiting for Nanak to return. Just imagine his astonishment and delight, when, on the third day, he saw Nanak coming up out of the water and walking towards him.
Mardana was bursting with questions. There were so many things he wanted to ask Nanak. What had happened to him? Where had he been? But Nanak wouldn’t answer any questions. In fact, he didn’t say anything at all. He stayed completely silent.
Nanak went back to his house and gave away everything that was in it: his furniture, his clothes, everything! Then he just sat there, in silence. Many people shook their heads sadly, “Look at poor Nanak. He used to be such a wise and wonderful man, full of kindness and goodness. But look at him now! Spending three days in the river has driven him crazy. He has turned into a madman.”
At last, after many days of silence, Nanak began to speak. What an extraordinary story he had to tell! What amazing things had happened to him!
God’s messengers had come to him while he bathed in the river. They had taken him to the most beautiful and wonderful place: a holy place, a place of God. There he had been given a drink of nectar, a sweet and very special drink. It was a gift from God.
God told Nanak that he had a special job for him. What was the job that God wanted Nanak to do? Was it to do lots of hard work? No! Nanak’s special job was to carry on singing his beautiful songs of praise, both day and night. God also told Nanak to travel around teaching men and women to pray, to give to others and to live good lives.
Nanak did just that. He left his old life and spent his time singing songs in praise of God and showing people how to grow closer to his wonderful God. Wherever he travelled, Mardana his friend and companion went too. Nanak soon had many followers, called Sikhs. They called him Guru, which means teacher.
Today there are millions of Sikhs in the world, and many of them live in England. If you were to visit a Gurdwara, which is a building where Sikhs gather to worship God, you would hear them singing some of Guru Nanak’s wonderful songs of praise.
Guru Nanak and the robber Nanak lived long ago in a far away land called the Punjab. He wanted to tell all the people he met about God. The people who listened to him knew he was a special teacher and they called him Guru Nanak.
Guru Nanak had a friend and companion called Mardana. The two of them travelled from town to town telling people stories about God. Every evening they sat down together and while Guru Nanak sang songs of praise to God, Mardana played the rabab, which was a musical instrument a bit like a fiddle or a violin. A crowd soon gathered to listen, and if they were a long way from home, people often invited them to stay in their homes.
“Come and stay at my house,” said Sajjan, when Guru Nanak and Mardana visited his town. Sajjan always invited people to his house. Everyone thought he was a very kind man.
Sajjan gave Guru Nanak and Mardana a lovely supper. Then he said, “Let me show you to your bedroom. You must be very tired.” Guru Nanak and Mardana went to their room.
Now although everyone thought that Sajjan was very kind, he was really very unkind. In fact, he was a thief. Whenever people stayed in his house he stole their money or their clothes. “These men are rich,” thought Sajjan to himself. “When they are asleep I will creep in and take their money.”
Sajjan waited until he thought they were asleep. Then he crept up to their room. He stopped in amazement. There was music and singing coming from their room. Sajjan went away and waited. He could still hear the music. It was a beautiful sound. It made him want to hear more. He crept closer. He listened. He heard Nanak and Mardana singing about God.
For a long time Sajjan listened to the beauty of the music and to the words of the songs. He thought about how he planned to rob his two guests, and then he felt something cold and wet trickling down his cheek. It was a tear.
Suddenly he felt very ashamed. He felt very sorry for all the bad things that he had done. He realised that he was not a very nice person. He wanted to change his ways. He wanted to become a good person.
Sajjan burst into the room and threw himself down at Guru Nanak’s feet. He told Guru Nanak and Mardana about how he had planned to rob them. He told them about all the bad things that he had done.
They told Sajjan that if he was truly sorry, God would forgive him. But he would have to make up for all the bad things that he had done. He would have to give back all the things he had stolen and give all his money to the poor.
Sajjan did this, and from then on he always acted with love and kindness. He listened to Guru Nanak and he learned many things about God. He turned his house into a place where people could come and pray to God. People thought Sajjan was a very good person indeed, and this time it was true.
III. Stories featuring Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh and the donkeyGuru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism. When he died, he appointed another Guru, or leader, to succeed him. When the second Guru died, a third Guru was appointed as leader, and so on. There were ten human Gurus altogether, and the last of these was Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE). In 1699 CE, at the festival of Baisakhi, Guru Gobind Singh organised a mass initiation of Sikhs into a brotherhood of soldier-saints called the Khalsa. Their equality and unity was confirmed by the drinking of Amrit (a mixture of sugar and water) and the wearing of the Five Ks (uncut hair, a comb, a steel bangle, a sword and short trousers). The following story serves to illustrate the importance of wearing the Five Ks as the Sikh uniform, although, as the moral at the end indicates, other interpretations are possible.
Eee-aw! Eee-aw! Do you know what sort of an animal I am? That’s right! I am a donkey!
Today when I go: Eee-aw! Eee-aw! It is because I am happy. I am happy because I no longer have to carry the heavy loads that my master used to put on my back.
My master was a potter. He lived in the faraway city of Anandpur. He used to make me carry huge sacks full of pots through the crowded streets of the city. It was boiling hot, but he never let me have any water. When I went: Eee-aw! Eee-aw! It was because I was in terrible pain. I thought my back was going to break!
The more my back hurt, the louder I called out: Eee-aw! Eee-aw! And the louder I called out, the more the people laughed. They seemed to find it funny that I was in such pain. They didn’t care about an old donkey with a heavy load.
But once, when all the people were pointing at me and laughing, I noticed one man who wasn’t joining in. He was looking at me as though he felt sorry for me. Later I found out the man’s name. He was called Guru Gobind Singh, and he was a good and holy man.
When I had finished carrying all the pots, my master left me tied to a tree. I felt a gentle hand stroking my sore back. I looked round, and there was Guru Gobind Singh, the man who had felt sorry for me. He was carrying a tiger skin. To my surprise he placed the tiger skin over my body and untied me.
I wondered what would happen if I walked through the streets now. I was soon to find out. Can you guess what happened? The goats and sheep who usually took no notice of me jumped out of the way. Women and children took one look at me and ran away screaming. Even the people who kept the market stalls ran away shouting “Help! Help! A tiger!”.
So there I was all alone in the market surrounded by baskets full of delicious fresh fruit. I ate as much as I could. What a feast! When I was full I thought I had better go back to my master. I wasn’t sure if he would be cross with me or pleased to see me. But as soon as he saw me he ran away as well. I never saw him again! And that is why I no longer carry heavy pots. And that is why I call out happily: Eee-aw! Eee-aw!
Don’t judge people by what they appear to be on the outside. Judge people by what they are really like on the inside.
Bhai Ghanaiya helps the wounded This story features Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE), the last of the ten human Gurus of Sikhism. Throughout their history, Sikhs have had to fight to preserve their religion and their identity as a people. They frequently suffered persecution under the Mughal emperors. These were Muslims who ruled over the northern part of the Indian sub-continent throughout the 16th and 17th centuries CE. The battle had been terrible. The army of the Sikhs had defeated the army of the Mughals. Many men had died, but some lay injured on the battlefield with wounds caused by swords and knives.
Among the wounded walked a man called Bhai Ghanaiya. He carried water and ointment and bandages. Whenever he came across a man that was still alive, he knelt down and gave him a drink of water. He gently rubbed soothing ointment onto the injured man’s wounds and bandaged them.
Bhai Ghanaiya was a Sikh, but he helped just as many Mughal soldiers as Sikh soldiers. This made some other Sikhs very angry. They took Bhai Ghanaiya to their leader, who was called Guru Gobind Singh.
“This man is helping the Mughals, who are our enemies,” they said.
“Is this true?” asked Guru Gobind Singh.
“I have been helping neither Sikhs nor Mughals,” replied Bhai Ghanaiya. “I have been serving God.”
“What do you mean?” asked Guru Gobind Singh.
“As I walked across the battlefield I saw neither Sikhs nor Mughals. I just saw God. In every wounded soldier, whether a Sikh or a Mughal, I saw God.”
“You are right,” said Guru Gobind Singh. “God is to be found in every human being. When we were fighting against the Mughal army, the Mughal soldiers were our enemies. Now we need to remember that just like ourselves they are children of God. We must give them our help.”
So the Guru himself followed Bhai Ghanaiya’s example and helped to care for the wounded of both sides.