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Happy Birthday, Guru Nanak!

Guru Nanak’s birthday is on Friday 23 November 2018

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To explore the way in which Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available an image of Guru Nanak and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at:

  • You will also need three readers.


  1. Who has a birthday today? (Chances are that you will get at least one hand up.) Well, a very happy birthday to you! Did you know that you share your birthday with nearly 18 million people? However, you also share your birthday with someone who is very special to Sikhs. You share a birthday with their founder, Guru Nanak. Curiously, however, Sikhs may also celebrate his birthday in April. How good, to be able to have two birthdays!

  2. Sikhism is the youngest of the six main world religions, and was founded by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 to a middle-class Hindu family in the Punjab region of Pakistan. At this time, there was conflict between Hindus and Muslims about whose religion was better. Guru Nanak, after much discussion with various holy men and debating his ideas, discovered a new kind of teaching. A major event in his life that had a huge impact on his teaching was when he disappeared in the river while bathing. The villagers searched for him, even dragging the river with nets, but he was gone, feared drowned.

  3. However, after three days, Nanak returned. For one day, he was silent, but after that, he pronounced that he had been to the court of God and had had direct experience of him. The only path to follow was neither Hindu nor Muslim, but the path of God. He had had a profound religious experience in which his whole outlook on life had changed.

  4. Modern-day Sikhs still follow his teachings about there being one God and every person having a part of God within them.

  5. Let’s listen to a small sample of his teachings, and think about how they might apply to our own lives.

    Reader 1: There is no rich or poor, no male or female, no high caste or low caste before God.

    Reader 2: It is through actions that someone comes to God.

    Reader 3: As fragrance dwells in a flower, and a reflection dwells in a mirror, so does God dwell in every soul. Seek out God, therefore, in thyself.

  6. Guru Nanak was the first of ten human Gurus in Sikhism and each has a special day. These days are known as Gurpurbs and they are celebrated with much enthusiasm and excitement by Sikhs. So, what is involved in this kind of celebration?

  7. Sikhs celebrate Gurpurbs with an akhand path. This is where a team of readers will read the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, from beginning to end without stopping. It takes 48 hours to complete. The readers usually take it in turns to read for two to three hours each, and they read throughout the day and night. The reading ends on the day of the festival. It is quite a long time, but Sikhs see it as a way to worship and show their devotion. The reading usually takes place at the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship.

  8. Gurdwaras play an important part in the Gurpurbs, too. On the day of Guru Nanak’s birthday, gurdwaras are delightfully decorated with flowers, flags and lights. Sikhs will join as one in the gurdwara and wear their best clothes. They will also join together in the langar, or communal dining area, and have a meal together to celebrate the birthday of their founder.

Time for reflection

Guru Nanak had an experience that changed him profoundly. At various points in our lives, we will all have experiences that will make a difference or change our outlook on something. Maybe some of us have already had those experiences. Guru Nanak found that his experience affected him so much that he felt that he needed to lead others to follow his path.

Let’s listen again to two of the many teachings that Guru Nanak gave us.

Reader 2: It is through actions that someone comes to God.

Reader 3: As fragrance dwells in a flower, and a reflection dwells in a mirror, so does God dwell in every soul. Seek out God, therefore, in thyself.

I wonder what would happen if we all took one of these ideas with us into school today. What would happen if we all realized the impact that our actions can have on someone else?


Optional: you may wish to play some Sikh music. An example is available at:

Publication date: November 2018   (Vol.20 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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