Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji : A Great Social Reformer

Dr Amrit Kaur | November 04, 2019 09:53 AM
Dr Amrit Kaur

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji was a great social reformer. He has forbidden observance of Saradhs and Sootak Paatak. The tradition of holding saradhs among the Hindus has been in existence since times immemorial which are held in the memory of the deceased pitters (ancestors) every year in the month of Asu, the seventh desi month which corresponds to the month of September. In this month, during the first half of the lunar month i.e. the darkness pakh which starts with the full moon day and ends on the no moon day. During these fifteen days Hindus hold saradhs wherein they serve sumptuous mid-day meal to a purohit (pandit) with the belief that this food will reach their deceased ancestors. Their belief is that their deceased ancestors reside in pittar puri i.e. the place of residence of the deceased ancestors. Pittar means ancestors and puri means place of residence. They believe that during these fifteen days their deceased ancestors come to the world and partake off the food served by their children and grand children. Alongwith sumptuous food sometimes the purohit is given money and clothes.

  According to Manusmriti the defilement caused by the death of a person affects all the persons in direct linearity on the paternal side upto seven generations above and seven generations below. 

            The Smrities the holy religious Granths of Hindus which the ascetics have written on the basis of their memories about the preachings of their ancestors have given details about the holding of saradhs. These Holy Granths date back to several thousand years. They are numerous but out of these the main 31 Smrities include Manusmriti, Laghusmriti, Atrey, Vridh Atrey, Vishnu, Laghuhareet and Vridh Hareet.

            The saradh for the deceased person is held on the same tith (day of the lunar month) on which he/she died. It is believed that the pitters are appeased through the saradhs held in their memory. In Attrey Sanhita, one of the holy books of Hindus it is stated that during these fifteen days the pittar puri becomes vacant, the pittars rush to the world to eat the food served in the saradh held in their memory. If they are not fed they curse their children and grand children and go back to the pitter puri. Even if a person has committed sins as huge as the Sumer parbat (a very high mountain), when he/she holds saradhs for his/her pitters they are nullified. Through holding saradhs only a person can go to heaven.

            Manu and Vishnu Smriti have included instructions about the holding of saradhs. According to Manu and Vishnu Smriti if in saradh sesame, rice, barley, black beans and vegetables are served the pittars remain satiated for 1 month, with fish meat they remain satiated for 2 months, with antelope meat they remain satiated for 3 months, with sheep meat for 4 month, with birds' meat for 5 months, with goat meat for 6 months, with tiger meat for 7 months, with gazzelle meat for 8 months, with red deer meat for 9 months, with buffalow and pig meat for 10 months, with tortoise and hare meat the ancestors remain satiated for 11 months.

            In Varidh Hareet Sanhita, another holy book of the Hindus it is stated that if the pandit who eats the food in the saradh is not vegetarian, the ancestors of the person holding the saradh, will have to eat faeces and drink urine.

            According to Sikh religion after death the soul of the saintly persons merges into the God. The soul becomes mukat i.e. it is released from the circle of re-births. In the case of all other persons after death the soul immediately enters the circle of 84 lakh species. The number of species through which the person passes before being re-born as a human being depends on the type of deeds he has done during this life. Those who have done more good deeds have to pass through lesser number of species and those who have committed sins have to pass through a larger number of species. Thus, if the soul either merges into the God Almighty or enters into another body immediately after death where is the possibility of its residing in the pittar puri?

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji during his preaching tours gave practical reasons as to why saradhs should not be observed. He clarified as to why no food should be served to the purohits with the belief that it will reach one's ancestors. At Haridwar, Utter Pradesh the city situated on the shore of the Ganges river, Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji saw that the pandits were splashing water towards the sun i.e. the east with the belief that this water will reach their gods and pittars. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji started splashing water towards the west. The pandits told him that he should splash water towards the east because the water splashed towards the west will neither reach the gods nor the pitters. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji told them that he was splashing water towards the west to irrigate his fields in Kartarpur which is on the right bank of the river Ravi and which now falls in Pakistan. The pandits asked him as to how this water can reach his crops which are at a distance of hundreds of kilometers away. He told the Pandits that if his water cannot reach a place which is at a distance of about 500 kms, how can their water reach their pittars or the sun which is more than a million kilometres away. 

            When Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji visited Gaya, Bihar he saw that the pandits were misleading the folk. The pandits asked him to redeem his ancestors. He said that he has redeemed himself, his ancestors, his followers and their ancestors and that he has done such actions, through which he has dispelled the darkness of ignorance.

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has clarified that in his/her next life the human being gets what he has given as alms out of his own income in this life. He will not get anything given by another person as alms in his/her name. Thus, it is clear that he forbade observance of saradhs.

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has forbidden the observance of sootak and paatak. The roots of the word sootak are 'soot' and 'parsoot' which means being born or being delivered. The root of the word paatak is 'paat' which means to overthrow or end.

            According to the Hindu Shastras sootak implies the defilement or ritual impurity caused by the birth of a child and paatak means the defilement or ritual impurity caused by the death of a person. According to these holy Granths, the duration of 'sootak' depends on the caste of the person. The duration of this defilement for the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishs and Shudras is 11 days, 13 days, 17 days and 30 days consecutively.

            According to Manusmriti the defilement caused by the death of a person affects all the persons in direct linearity on the paternal side upto seven generations above and seven generations below. In other words when a persons dies, on one hand, this defilement affects his (i) father (ii) grand-father (iii) father's grand-father (iv) grand-father of his grand-father (v) great grand-father of his grand-father (vi) great grand-father of his great grand-father and (vii) great great grand-father of his great grand-father. On the other hand, this defilement clings to his (i) son (ii) grand-son (iii) grandson of his son (iv) grand-son of his grand-son (v) great grand-son of his grand-son (vi) great grand-son of his great grand-son and (vii) great great grand-son of his great grand-son. Manusmriti has also directed that those persons who want to remain absolutely pure from the defilement caused to these fourteen generations should also apply this principle on the birth of a child.

            According to Atrey Smriti Shastar the duration of paatak i.e. the impurity which is caused by a death in the family is like this : Brahman 10 days, Kshatriya 12 days, Vaish 15 days and Shudra 30 days. Some Smritis mention the duration of defilement for these castes as 12 days, 13 days, 17 days and 30 days respectively.

            In the Hindu religion one of the main death rituals is shaving off the head, wherein the son of the deceased shaves off his head. Without this the other death rituals cannot be initiated. It is believed that shaving off the head clarifies the way through which the soul of the deceased has to travel. But currently office going persons do not observe this ritual.

            In Chapter 5 of Manusmriti, several principles of sootak and paatak have been enlisted. These include :

            A Brahmana shall be pure after ten days, a Kshatriya after twelve, a Vaisya after fifteen, and a Sudra is purified after a month. (Ch. 5, Sh. 83)

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has discarded belief in 'sootak' and 'paatak' and considers them as pure superstitions and has clarified that imagining that birth and death cause any defilement is purely based on superstition. He has proclaimed that :

Je kar sutak manniai sabh tai sutak hoe.

Gohe atai lakri andar kira hoe.

Jete dane ann ke jia bajh na koe.

Pahila pani jio hai jit haria sabh koi.

Sutak kio kar rakhiai sutak pavai rasoe.

Nanak sutak ev na utrai gian utare dhoe ||1||

                                    (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 472)


            This means that if one accepts the concept of defilement then there is defilement everywhere. In cow-dung and in wood there are worms. All the grains of corn, contain life. First, there is life in the water itself by which everything else is made green. How can purity be maintained? It touches our kitchen. Impurity cannot be removed in this way i.e. by indulging in superstitious thoughts. Only spiritual wisdom can wash it away.

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has also proclaimed that :

Man ka sutak lobh hai jihva sutak kur.

Akhi sutak vekhna par taria par dhan rup.

Kanni sutak kann pai laitbari khahi.

Nanak hansa admi badhe jam pur jahi ||2||

                                    (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 472)


            This means that mind is defiled by greed, tongue is defieds by falsehood, eyes are defiled by staring at another man's wife and his wealth, ears are defiled by listening to slander of others and those persons who are defiled through all these acts go to hell, bound and gagged to the City of Death even if they are as beautiful as the swans.

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji has proclaimed that all types of impurities originate from superstition and duality. Birth and death occur as per the command of God. It is through His Will we come to this world and go from here. The items of drinking and eating are pure since the Lord gives nourishment to all.  The defilement does not cling to the gurumukhs i.e. guru-oriented persons because they understand these facts.

Sabho sutak bharam hai dujai lagai jae

Jaman marna hukam hai bhanai avai jae

Khaana pina pavittar hai diton rijak sambahi

Nanak jinhi gurmukh bujhia tinha sutak nahi ||3||

                                                            (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 472)

            Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji after the cremation of Bhai Mardana Ji, his life-time follower distributed karah prashad i.e. the consecrated parshad to the sangat. As of now there is a tradition among the Sikhs that after the cremation of a person all the people go to a Gurdwara where after ardaas (prayer) karah prashad is distributed.

            The Sikhs who observe sootak and paatak are ignorant. The above discussion makes it clear that Sikh religion commands us to stay away from all types of superstitions. Sikh religion in itself is a unique and modern religion which is different from all other religions.    

Dr. Amrit Kaur Retd. Professor Punjabi University Patiala, Punjab, India

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