Relevance of Guru Nanak’s Teachings to India’s Economic Development


In my younger days I used to wonder why Sikh weddings do not take into account muhurat or auspicious day and usually take place on weekends and holidays. Why I do not see a Sikh begging in the street. What is so great about Punjab that despite being a small state it is breadbasket of such a large country like India. Why green revolution could take place only in Punjab? Why more than 40% of India’s NRIs hail from Punjab? The community kitchens Langar of Gurudwaras have always mesmerised me for its universal egalitarian approach.

More I delve on these, more I revere and deeply admire Guru Nanak for his social philosophy and teachings.

Indian society of his time was ridden with several social problems including feudal economic relations in the society. Caste system and untouchability was rampant and had failed to offer a dignified life to significant section of Indian population. Priests were powerful and were the intermediaries between god and ordinary people. Karma usually meant just carrying out rituals. Being religious meant withdrawing from the community, ‘’other worldliness’’ and slavish devotion.

As a Guru or teacher, he showed a path out of these to the people. Karma for him meant good action rather than carrying out rituals. Religious rituals and superstitions have no value. He offered dignity to the people in the lower rungs of society by emphasising that everyone is equal. The egalitarian practices of Langar or the community kitchen directly challenged untouchability and caste system. Priests were irrelevant as everyone has direct access to God. Being religious did not mean withdrawing from the society and becoming a sadhu. Rather, a good life is lived within and as a part of the community.

To get close to the god, one need not turn away from ordinary life. Rather, one should use ordinary life treating everyone equally as a way to get closer to God. The way to lead a good life is to live honestly and work hard.

Guru Nanak thus brought ‘equality’, ‘good actions’, ‘honesty’ and ‘hard work’ to the core of value system of his followers. This was the first time in the religious history of India that “hard work” got central place in the value system which probably had direct consequence on economic well-being of the followers. This led to very significant paradigm shift because these values are sine qua non and the major determinants of entrepreneurship and economic prosperity. Something akin to protestantism whose value system according to Max Weber gave rise to capitalism in Europe.

Possibly, this answers questions in my opening para.

Perhaps, inculcation and internalisation of Guru Nanak’s teachings and world views during the primary socialisation would help build humane value system conducive to India’s economic growth and prosperity.


Gurpurab greetings on 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji – Nov 23, 2018.


Author: Umesh Prasad
The author is an alumnus of the London School of Economics and a UK based former academic.
The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author(s) and other contributor(s), if any.

Vol.1 Issue 4 November 2018



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