Here's one more Guru Nanak story Biji (my grandmother) told us at night as we cuddled close to her in her bed. As I write this story now, I can almost feel the soft folds of the much-washed "dhoti" she wore since she became a Gandhian.
On one of his journeys, Guru Nanak came to Haridwar, a picturesquue place of pilgrimage for Hindus, high in the Himalayan hills. The holy river Ganga flows through Haridwar, and Hindus believe that a dip in the Ganga washes away all their sins.
Part of the ritual bath in the Ganga is the offering of the holy water with both hands towards the East, where the sun rises, to remember and honour dead relatives and ancestors.
As Guru Nanak stood in the Ganga waters, a group of Brahmin priests were performing the ritual of offering water to their ancestors, facing East. Guru Nanak promptly turned West and began offering water in the same ritual manner.
"What do you think you're doing?" The Brahmins were perplexed.
Guru Nanak replied serenely, "Oh I'm watering my wheat fields in the Punjab. Since I've been away on my travels, they're getting a bit dry."
The Brahmins had a good laugh at this reply. "You fool! How will the water you throw here get to your fields in the Punjab?"
"If the water you throw towards the sun reaches your ancestors, why can't the water I throw West get to the Punjab which is only a few hundred miles from here?"
The Brahmins were left speechless.
In this way, Guru Nanak challenged rituals followed mindlessly by generations of Hindus and made people think for themselves about spirituality and how to make their own way to the ultimate Truth.
image credit: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/newmanas