At the very foundation of Sikhism is the recognition that God is One; an eternal and all-pervasive unity; which was a radical concept in medieval Indian society. The second tenet is that all Creation is equal, without distinction by caste, creed, gender or station in life. In the words of its founder Guru Nanak, “I see no stranger.” The First Guru, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), was a learned man, a philosopher and poet, yet his message was clear and plain and meant for everyone. The Divine is found through humility, service and an affirmation of beauty and joy in everyday life. The Sikh path to the Divine is dwelling upon his name in communal hymns, searching for truth within ourselves, earning an honest living, sharing with those in need, and caring for one’s family.
Unknown, Guru Nanak and His Two Companions, not dated. Ink and color on paper. The Khanuja Family.
Janam Sakhi refers to literature related exclusively to the life and teachings of Guru Nanak. According to scholarly research on Janam Sakhi, they are neither hagiographies nor biographies. However, careful appraisal of them reveal that the compilers of these texts strove to lend authenticity and historical credibility to the anecdotes by inserting quotations from the hymns of Guru Nanak and his successors as enshrined in the Sikh scriptures or Guru Granth Sahib. Many of these attest to his wise words and poetic nature as well as miraculous happenings and visions. During his lifetime, Guru Nanak traveled an estimated 20,000 miles on four trips to many parts of Asia and the Middle East. His experiences influenced the formation of his religious principles. Depictions of these stories are meant to be instructional rather than devotional.
Guru Nanak: 550th Birth Anniversary of Sikhism’s Founder is organized by Phoenix Art Museum. It is made possible through the generosity of the Sikh Heritage Fund.
Arpana Caur, Bhai Mardana in Trance in the Footsteps of Guru Nanak (detail), 2015. Oil on canvas. The Khanuja Family.
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