Pawan Guru, Paani Pita, Mata Dharat Mahatt (Air is the guide, Water is the father, the earth is a mother)”.
That’s the message of Guru Nanak, the founder of one of the most progressive and modern religions of the world.
While everyone across the globe celebrated Earth Day recently, the idea of respecting nature was never alien to the followers of Sikhism, the faith that was started by Nanak.
Born in 1469, Nanak travelled widely to different parts of the world. He said those verses more than 500 years ago, and they continue to be chanted by Sikhs in their daily prayer. For a practising Sikh, every day is the Earth Day, not just April 22.
Considering the growing threat to our livelihood and future because of climate change and environmental emergencies, his message has become even more relevant, not only for the Sikhs, but the entire human race. However, the Punjab, which is the homeland of Sikhs in India, is losing forest cover rapidly. This reflects that we are all paying lip service by celebrating such occasions, including the birth anniversary of Nanak, instead of putting such meaningful and sacred words into action. It is a separate matter that some well-read Sikh preachers in Punjab continue to remind people of their spiritual duty towards the environment.
In 1999, a historical Gurdwara in Anandpur Sahib began the tradition of giving free saplings to devotees, to encourage them to grow trees in their homes or fields.
Interestingly, our Canadian politicians, who do not forget to congratulate Sikhs on Guru Nanak’s birthday (which actually falls in April, but traditionally celebrated in November), will be at pains to explain – what have they done to fix the problem faced by Mother Earth? They have turned these moments into mere rituals. Earth Day too is just another photo opportunity for them to score a point, with nothing concrete to show on their report card.
It’s a shame that they are not even listening to the Indigenous peoples, who are the true adherents of the philosophy of Nanak and the stewards of the land. Much like Sikhs, they consider Earth as Mother, and not a means of production.
It’s time that the Sikhs, the Indigenous communities, and environmentalists come together to make people in power accountable for melting glaciers, rising sea levels and climbing temperatures. That they are forced to take to the streets to oppose controversial projects, such as the Trans-Mountain pipeline or the logging of old growth forests, which have long term consequences for our already vulnerable environment, says a lot about our leaders and their true intentions.
Nanak’s message is a reminder that Earth Day isn’t just a one day event. We have an obligation to stand up for her every time a challenge arises in the name of development for the benefit of a few.
Gurpreet Singh is a journalist