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The birthday of Guru Nanak (Sikh festival)

The life of Guru Nanak, equality and leadership.

by Caroline Donne

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.

Note: The birth date of Guru Nanak was 15 April 1469, but it is traditionally celebrated in November.


  • The life of Guru Nanak
  • Equality
  • Leadership


Guru Nanak lived from 1469 to 1539. He was the founder of the Sikh religion.

Preparation and materials

  • A map of the world with India highlighted
  • A bowl of rice


  1. Ask the students to think about the word ‘leader’. What leaders have they heard about? Ask for a few suggestions. Talk about why people become leaders: e.g. they are chosen by people, like a prime minister or a leader (captain) of a sports team; they use force to become leaders and keep themselves in power, like a dictator; they feel inspired or called by God, like a religious leader.
  2. Think about what it takes to be a good leader. What sort of person would you choose to lead you? You could brainstorm responses such as: someone who is trustworthy; someone who is believable; someone who can make a difference and change things for the good; someone who cares for people.

  3. Explain that today you are thinking about a great leader of the Sikh religion: Guru Nanak. ‘Guru’ means ‘teacher’. He was a great leader, not because he had a big army or because he was very strong, but because the things he had to say about God were so amazing that people wanted to follow him and learn more about God.

  4. Tell the following story:


    There are many stories told about Guru Nanak. He was born over 500 years ago in northern India. (Point to it on the map if you have one available.)

    He lived at a time when there was much argument between people because they believed different things about God.

    When Nanak was a child, people thought he was a dreamer and that he was only interested in writing poetry. His father gave him some money to start a business, but Nanak met some people who were hungry and he used the money to buy food for them. This made his father very angry, but Nanak said that it was more important to feed hungry people.

    One day he went for a swim in a river. He swam under the water, but he didn’t come up again. People gathered to look for him. They could see his clothes lying by the side of the river, but there was no movement in the water. Soon people began to think that he had drowned. They were sad because they remembered his kindness and his honesty.

    Three days passed. People had given up hope of ever seeing Nanak again. Then suddenly Nanak appeared at his home. His family and his friends were so pleased to see him, but something about him had changed. His eyes seemed to be brighter and his face was full of happiness. Then he explained that when he was in the river he had seen a vision of God and God had told him to give people a message. The message was that God has made everything and loves everyone. God doesn’t see the differences that we see between us, he sees us as equals and he wants us all to live peacefully with one another.

    From that time on people started to call Nanak ‘Guru’ or Teacher. Guru Nanak gave all that he had to the poor and he made four long journeys to tell people the message God had given him in the river. At this time of year, Sikhs all over the world celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak.

  5. The festival

    There are often processions through the street and firework displays. In the Sikh temples, which are called gurdwaras, the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib, is read from beginning to end. In the Punjab in India, where the Sikh religion began, children are given new clothes and have the day off school to join in the celebrations. Candles are lit in the gurdwara and in homes, shops and offices.

Focus on the themes

Think about the things that make us different from one another, e.g. the way we look, the clothes we wear, how much money we have, the food we eat, the hobbies we have, the sports teams we support, the things we believe. How do we react when we meet someone who is different? Guru Nanak taught that God is not interested in the differences between us – whether we’re big or small, strong or weak – and that everyone is equal.

Time for reflection

Take time now to think or to pray about some of the things you have heard today.

It’s easy to ignore people when they seem different from us. It’s easy to laugh at people who seem different from us. It’s easy to fight with people who seem different from us.

Guru Nanak said that we are equal because we are created and loved by God.

Publication date: July 2013   (Vol.15 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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