Guru Nanak (1469-1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His parents were of Hindu background and he belonged to the mercantile caste. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. He wandered all over India in the manner of Hindu saints. It was during this period that Nanak met Kabir (1441-1518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims.

After several years of wandering, Nanak had a call to teach. He preached before Jain and Hindu temples and Muslim mosques and, in the process, attracted a number of sikhs or disciples. Religion, he thought, was a bond to unite men, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims and his lifelong aim was to weld them into one. A well-known saying of Nanak is, "There is no Hindu and no Muslim."

Nanak was opposed to the caste system. His followers referred to him as the guru (teacher). Before his death he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead his community.