by SS HarDarshan Kaur Khalsa, Chapel Hill NC
In 1539, after living for 70 years and spreading the light and truth of the One far and wide, Guru Nanak knew that his time on the earth was complete. He had found his successor, Lehna, whom he renamed Angad. As he passed the Guruship to Angad, the people realized that Guru Nanak was preparing to leave his body.
Guru Nanak went and sat under a withered acacia tree, and it became green and produced leaves and blossoms. The Guru’s family, relations, and disciples began to weep. Guru Nanak then composed a hymn which ended with the following lines:
“All who come into this world must depart; false are you who practice pride.
Sayeth Nanak, men shall be considered to have wept, O Father, if they weep through love.”
After this, the assembled crowd began to sing songs of mourning, and the Guru fell into a trance. When he awoke, his sons, on seeing a stranger appointed to succeed their father, inquired what provision had been made for them. He told them that God was the giver of all abundance, and if they would repeat God’s Name, they would be saved.
During the last moments of Guru Nanak’s life, his Muslim followers were saying, “We will bury him,” and his Hindu followers were saying, “we shall cremate him.”
Guru Nanak responded by saying, “Muslims shall put flowers on my left, Hindus shall put flowers on my right. Those whose flowers remain fresh shall have the choice.”
Then the Guru had the gathering sing the Sohila:
In that house in which God’s praise is sung and He is meditated on,
Sing the Sohila and remember the Creator.
Sing the Sohila of my fearless Lord; I am a sacrifice to that song of joy by which everlasting comfort is obtained.
Ever and ever, living things are watched over; the Giver regardeth their wants.
When even thy gifts cannot be appraised, who can appraise the Giver?
The year and the auspicious time for marriage are recorded (death is here considered a marriage);
O relations, meet and pour oil on me, the bride.
O my friends, pray for me that I may meet my Lord.
This message is ever sent to every house; such invitations are ever issued.
Remember the Caller; Nanak, the day is approaching.” (Rag Gauri Dipaki)
By asking the congregation to repeat this hymn for him as he was dying, Guru Nanak was asking them to rejoice as he prepared to merge with his Beloved. This is still read or sung as a funeral service today. As the final stanzas were being sung, the Guru lay down, pulled a sheet over himself, and passed away quietly. The assembly paid their respects.
When the sheet was removed the next morning, there was nothing but flowers, all in bloom. The Hindus and Muslims, equally astonished, took their respective flower offerings, and the entire assembly fell to their knees. Although the Hindus erected a shrine and the Muslims installed a tomb in his honor on the banks of the River Ravi, both have since been washed away. Perhaps this is a symbol of the transitory nature of our human symbols, and the impermanence of human life.
As Guru Nanak taught:
Death is nothing but a gateway to birth.
Nothing that lives ever dies, it only changes form.
When a man’s body is weary the soul leaves the body to receive newer and fresher garments.
And so on goes this great play of God,
From eternity to eternity.
Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, Ed. Sushila Blackman, 1997. Weatherhill, NY, NY
Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings, K.S. Duggal, 1987. Himalyan Publishers, Honesdale, NY
The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus Sacred Writings and Authors, Vols. 1 & 2, Macauliffe, 1993. Low Price Publications, Delhi.
About the Author
SS Har Darshan Kaur Khalsa is an ordained Sikh Dharma Minister. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (sacredlistener.com) and has taught yoga and meditation for over 30 years, helping people to reduce stress, connect with their spiritual source, and find inner peace and fulfillment. She also has experience as a hospital chaplain helping those dealing with chronic illness, grief, and loss.