53. Sakhi Guru Nanak and the Sacred Thread

When Nanak had attained the age of nine years, his father determined to have him invested with the Janoy or janeu, or sacrificial thread of the Hindus. Until a boy is so invested, he is deemed almost an outcast. When the members and relations of the family, and all the neighbours, secular and religious, had assembled, and all preliminary rites had been duly performed, Hardial, the family priest, proceeded to put the sacred thread on Nanak's neck. The boy caught the thread with his hand, and asked the priest what he was doing, and what advantage it was to put a thread of that description on him. The priest then explained that the janoy was the basis of the Hindu religion, that without it a man would only be a Sudar (their are four great varans or castes of Hinduism: Brahmans, the priestly class; Kshatris, the militant class; Vaisyas, the trading class; and Sudars, the working class and lowest of all. Of these castes their are now many subdivisions), and that by putting it on greatness should be obtained in this world and happiness in the next. On hearing this the young Guru gave utterance to the following:

From Asa ki Var :

Make mercy thy cotton, contentment thy thread, continence its knot, truth its twist. That would make a janoy for the soul; if thou have it, O Brahman, then put it on me. It will not break, or become soiled, or be burned, or lost. Blest the man, O Nanak, who goeth with such a thread on his neck. Thou purchasest a janeu for four damris, and seated in a square puttest it on; Thou whisperest instruction that the Brahman is the guru of the Hindus-- Man dieth, the janeu falleth, and the soul departeth without it.

The priest explained that the custom of wearing a janoy had descended from the Vedic ritual, and that no Hindu could be deemed religious without wearing it. The Brahman then familiarly addressed the Guru, Thou art but a child of yesterday, and are we not as wise as thou? Unless thou wear this thread thou shalt be deemed a person without religion. Guru Nanak replied:

Though men commit countless thefts, countless adulteries, utter countless falsehoods and countless words of abuse; Though they commit countless robberies and villanies night and day against their fellow creatures; Yet the cotton thread is spun,and the Brahman cometh to twist it. For the ceremony they kill a goat and cook and eat it, and everybody then saith 'Put on the janeu'. When it becometh old, it is thrown away, and another is put on, Nanak, the string breaketh not if it be strong.

The Brahman priest, on hearing this, became angry, and asked the Guru if everybody else was a fool, and he alone, who had abandoned the customs of his forefathers, was wise. He then called on the Guru to tell him what a proper janoy was. The Guru replied:

By adoring and praising the Name honour and a true thread are obtained.In this way a sacred thread shall be put on, which will not break, and which will be fit for entrance into God's court.

The Guru then wound up his instruction on the subject as follows :

There is no string for the sexual organs, there is no string for women; There is no string for the impure acts which cause your beards to be daily spat upon; There is no string for the feet, there is no string for the hands There is no string for the tongue, there is no string for I the eyes. Without such strings the Brahman wandereth astray, Twisteth strings for the neck, and putteth them on others. He taketh hire for marrying; He pulleth out a paper, and showeth the fate of the wedded pair. Hear and see, ye people, it is strange That, while mentally blind, man is named wise.