The Sacred Thread


When Nanak had attained the age of nine years, his father determined to have him invested with the Janeu or sacrificial thread of the Hindus.

Until a boy is so invested, he is deemed almost an outcast. The members and relations of the family and all the neighbours, secular and religious, had assembled, and all preliminary rites had been duly performed.

Pandit Hardial, the family priest came on the fixed time. For his sitting a specially built platform was prepared and it was purified by cow dung plaster. He sat on the platform and drew a line around him. The child Guru was sitting in front of the Pandit. All other relatives and people of the village were sitting all around.

After doing all necessary rites, Pandit leaned forward to place the cord across the shoulder of Nanak, as the ceremony was going to be completed so all the relatives and friends were making themselves ready to congratulate Mehta Kalu. But all were astonished when they saw Nanak pushing back the thread towards Pandit. He denied to wear the thread and in a logical manner said, 'What are you doing with this yarn, first tell me what is use of wearing this thread?'

Pandit replied, 'This is a sacred thread, it is a symbol of high caste.'

But the child Guru was not satisfied by Pandit's answer. He said, 'How can you differentiate men by such worthless threads. A man becomes high by his deeds and actions. How a cruel and wicked man can become a man of upper class by wearing such a thread. Besides, this thread will not last long, this thread is soiled with filth and breaks.'

But the Pandit again tried to persuade him. He said, 'You are a Khatri and it is a binding for you to wear the Janeu like all your ancestors.' The Guru smiled and said, 'Pandit ji this thread is useless because it does not yield any spiritual benefit. You buy a thread, then twisting it put on your disciple while sitting on a platform. But when the wearer dies, the thread falls off and the soul departs to the next world without thread. If you want that I must wear a thread then give me such a thread that should accompany me even to the next world.'

When Nanak refused to wear the thread then Pandit asked, 'please tell me how that type of thread can be prepared that accompanies us till to the next world.

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 janeu 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 janeu had descended from the Vedic ritual, and that no Hindu could be deemed religious without wearing it.

The priest 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 shall be deemed a person without religion.

Guru Nanak replied :

Though men commit countless thefts, countless adulteries, ulter 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 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 janeu 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 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.

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