Today's sorrowful headlines compel me to share a review of Guru Nanak: The First Sikh Guru, a simple biography of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) the founder of the Sikhism. The life, historical and cultural context of his teachings are succinctly presented and charmingly illustrated in the style of Indian miniature paintings in this Groundwood Press 2011 release.
Young Nanak's childhood and education was shaped by the Hinduism of his family and the Muslim beliefs of the Mogul rulers of 15th century India. Author Rina Singh devotes half of this slim 64 page biography to young Nanak's questioning the devotional practices of both religious traditions in developing his own monotheistic beliefs which she summarizes as: "Worship one God, treat everyone equally, work honestly, share with the less fortunate and serve the community. He founded a religion that was based on ethics, social responsibility and social justice."
Guru (Teacher) Nanak's spiritual awakening and subsequent four journeys took him east to Assam , south to Ceylon (present-day Sri-Lanka), north into Tibet and west to Mecca. His teachings were delivered through poetry drawn on Hindu and Islamic Sufi beliefs and in gentle and sometimes humorous stories. The Sikh faith further developed by a series of nine gurus who followed Guru Nanak, the last of whom Guru Gobind Singh who codified and declared complete the Guru Granth Sahib, or Sikh holy book of some 1430 pages of verse written by Sikh, Muslim mystics and Hindu saints.
Biographies of religious figures always face the challenge of sifting through added layers of devotional embellishment to present a reliable introduction to the person behind the teachings. Canadian author Rina Singh has done a service in presenting this biography of Guru Nanak for younger readers. Elementary and middle school (and public) library collections looking to share information on this the world's fifth-largest organized religion are well served by her efforts.
At a time when the world recoils from yet another hate crime, we would all do well to learn more and consider the teachings contained in Nanak's verse, "Religion lies not in wearing saffron robes, walking with sticks or smearing ashes on your body./ It lies not is shaving heads or blowing horns./To live in purity amidst the worldly temptations is the secret to religion./ Empty words do not make a religion./ It's not in fasting or going into trances or traveling to foreign lands or bathing in holy rivers./ It lies in seeing all men as equal. Ages 9 and up 978-0888999580 64 pages
Recommended by Craig Seasholes, Librarian, Washington USA