Sikhs, their Gurus and a Brief History
a spiritual individual, to a spiritual group, then a religion, to a
formation of a political empire, and finally the empire’s decline.
who eventually became Sikhs, are originally of the Punjab. Their teachings
have been condensed from the teachings of ten Gurus (or teachers)
into one book (Guru Granth Sahib) which is considered God to the Sikhs.
Within here are lessons that focus on morality, virtues, service,
humility, community service, meditating on the Creator, sharing one's
earnings, and spending time with congregation. Sikhism preaches concepts
that were revolutionary at that time: gender equality, anticaste
living, and interfaith acceptance.
Most importantly, Sikhism
preaches humility and acceptance of one's situation, and pushes Sikhs
to be involved and take action in causes that are unjust and immoral.
The Sikh religion is strictly
monotheistic, believing in a supreme God, absolute yet all-pervading,
without enmity, without hate, both immanent in his creation and beyond
it. It is no longer the God of one nation, but the God of Grace.
From spiritual teachings,
in the shadow of the Mughals, was born a formidable fighting army,
which grew to be a self-governing Empire.
The basic postulate of Sikhism is that life is not sinful in its origin,
but having emanated from a pure Source. The Sikh do not recognise
the caste system nor do they believe in idol-worship, rituals, or
superstitions. The gods and goddesses are considered as nonentities.
This religion consists of practical living, in rendering service to
humanity and engendering tolerance and brotherly love towards all.
The Sikh Gurus did not advocate retirement from the world in order
to attain salvation. It can be achieved by any one who earns an honest
living and leads a normal life. Riches and personal possession are
not hindrance in living by spiritual ideals. Sikhism does not accept
the ideology of pessimism. It advocates optimism and hope.
15th Century India and
• Delhi and much of Punjab of then was plundered by Tamarlane in 1398
• Sayyids ruled Delhi sultanate and Punjab during 1420 to 1450s
• Power shifted to Lodhis who after a brief period of stability and
progress were withering away by late 15th century
• The Bhakti movement after sweeping south was making inroads in north
by 15th century with saints like Meerabhai, Kabir, Ravi Dass and Guru
• This itself was a consequence of social and political instability,
inequality, race and caste divisions (Muslim vs. Hindus, indigenous
Muslims vs. Persian or Turks, upper caste Hindus vs. lower caste Hindus)
society full of bigotry, superstitions, religion reduced to codified
1st Guru Nanak Dev, 15
April 1469 - 22 September 1539
He was considered inquisitive as a child, questioning mind, philosophical
and contemplative, spiritual leanings, compassionate, sharing. He
would spend time with Hindu sages, Sufi Saints, Mendicants of all
types and was misfit as a family man.
Despite best efforts by his father, a merchant, he could never involve
himself in trade. Married, he had two sons, still remained detached.
Said to have attained enlightenment at 30 after he failed to emerge
from a river for three days. His first words after coming out were:
“Na koi Hindu, Na Maussalman….” (Neither is there a Hindu, nor is
there a Muslim) in what was to become his quest for universal brotherhood
and equality. He rejected the ritualistic practices of the dominant
religions in South Asia and he based his message strictly on divine
revelation. "Recite God's name, work honestly, and share your
earnings". Philosophy of complete equality across age, gender,
race, caste, and faith, saying that all people are children of one
God. He contributed 974 hymns to what became the Guru Granth Sahib.
Rejected renunciation and emphasized leading a householder's life.
Condemned the theocracy of the Mughals. Contemporary to Babur (1483
- 1530), first of Mughal rulers. Died of natural causes.
He set onto extensive travels,
in total 5 journeys of 3 to 7 years each visiting Haridwar, Kashi,
Assam, Bengal; South to Ujjain, Gujarat down to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka);
West to Baluchistan, Baghdad, Mecca; North to Kashmir, Kailas Mansarovar
and Tibet, and Punjab, spreading message of love, universal god, sharing,
equality of all human beings, love for nature. His messages were sung
in simple poetry, accompanied by his childhood friend Mardana who
He would distribute whatever
he had and would eat it with poor and the wretched sitting with them
on the floor, insisting others to follow (this is what was to lead
to the institution of Langar, or communal meal).
He made followers everywhere
and especially in Punjab. These followers found the message of love,
equality, simplicity and free of rituals and dogma, appealing.
Essence of Guru Nanak,
which becomes the basic philosophy of Sikhism:
Ek Omkar, Satnam, Karta Purakh, Nirbhow, Nirvair, Akal Murat, Ajuni
Saibhang, Gur prasad.
(One Supreme being, His name is the truth, He is the doer or creator,
He is fearless, has no enemies, he is formless, indestructible, His
name brings blessings).
Kirat Karo (Do honest work)
Vand Chhako (Share and eat)
Naam Japo (Remember HIM)
2nd Guru Angad Dev, born
31 March 1504, Guru 7 September 1539 to 29 March 1552
Guru Angad was Nanak’s favourite disciple, compiled the hymns of Guru
Nanak Dev and spread his teachings thereby carrying forward Nanak’s
message. He also developed Gurmukhi script in which all the Sikh scriptures
were eventually written. He contributed 63 stanzas to the Guru Granth
Sahib. Standardized and popularized the Gurumukhi Script. Opened many
schools. Started tradition of Mall Akhara for physical and spiritual
development. Popularized and expanded institution of Guru ka Langar.
Died of natural causes
3rd Guru Amardas, born 5 May 1479, Guru 26 March 1552 to 1 September
Unrelated to the second guru, formalised tradition of langar making
it compulsory for his visitors to first partake langar before meeting
him, and abolished Sati ritual for Sikhs. Preached the equality of
people but also tried to foster the idea of women's equality. He tried
to liberate women from the practices of purdah (wearing a veil) and
preached strongly against the practice of sati (Hindu wife burning
on her husband's funeral pyre). His daughter injured herself once
to trying to ensure his uninterrupted prayers, and upon asked by Guru
to demand a favour, she asked for the Guruship to remain in the family.
The Guru granted the wish with a condition that the family will face
many deprivations and will be asked to make many sacrifices for its
followers. Contributed 869 verses including Anand Sahib to the Guru
Granth Sahib. Established Manji & Piri system (a Sikh administrative
order). Strengthened the Langar community kitchen system. Advocated
widow-remarriage. Asked women to discard the "Purdah" (veil).
Asked Akbar to remove the toll-tax (pilgrim's tax) for non-Muslims
while crossing Yamuna and Ganges Rivers. Died of natural causes.
4th Guru Ram Das, born 24 September 1534, Guru 1 September 1574 to
1 September 1581
Son-in-law of the third Guru, shifted the base to a new location and
set up a town around a pool created, with the donations given by followers.
This came to be known as Amritsar. Contributed 638 hymns to the Guru
Granth Sahib. stressed the importance of kirtan (hymn singing), which
remains an important part of Sikh worship. Composed four stanzas of
the Anand Karaj, a distinct marriage code for Sikhs. Strongly decried
superstitions, caste system and pilgrimages. Fostered the Masand System
whereby Sikhs were required to give 1 /10 of their income to society,
thereby establishing an independent economic base. Was Guru during
the liberal rule by Akbar (1542-1605) who allowed for the growth and
consolidation of the Sikh panth. Sikhs established their community
based on spiritual endeavors within the framework of family life.
Gurdwaras and Sikh practices were established . Died of natural causes.
5th Guru Arjan Dev, born
15 April 1563, Guru 1 September 1581 to 30 May 1606.
Ramdas’s son furthered the message of earlier Gurus, compiled the
teachings and hymns in a book (Adi Granth, a precursor to the Guru
Granth Sahib) and built Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar)
and installed it there, in August/September 1604, a landmark event
in Sikh history. Tortured and executed by Emperor Jehangir (1569 –
1627), for not amending the Adi Granth, the Sikh holy book to reflect
his views. Hailed as first Sikh Guru to be martyred. Prior to this
point, the Sikh Panth was an exclusively religious "sant-oriented"
faith. However with the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the need for socio-political
freedom and thus military action became necessary against the Mughal
hostility. The concept of Sant-Sipahi began to crystallize.
6th Guru Har Gobind, born 19 June 1595, Guru 25 May 1606 to 28 February
Arjan’s son, realised that survival in those circumstances required
self defence and instructed in military arts from a young age. He
Wore 2 swords at all times- one signifying miri (secular power) and
other piri (spiritual power). Maintained an armed legion of Sikh warrior-saints.
He ensured his followers were capable of defending against the oppressors.
Till then the Mughals thought to be invincible - but Guru Hargobind
and his warrior Akalis "Immortals" inflicted humiliating
losses in each battle.
7th Guru Har Rai, born 16 January 1630, Guru 3 March 1644 to 6 October
Har Rai became the Sikh Guru at age 14 after the death of his grandfather
and sixth Sikh leader Guru Har Gobind. Guru Har Rai is notable for
maintaining the large army that the sixth Sikh Guru had amassed, yet
avoiding military conflict. Never fought any battles- very peace loving
Guru - hunted, but never killed. He supported moderate Sufism instead
of conservative Sunnis. He excommunicated his elder son who appeased
the Mughals by changing the text of the Sikhs scripture, and nominated
his younger son Har Krishan to succeed him. Persecuted by Aurangzeb
against verses of Guru Granth Sahib. Defended the integrity of the
Guru Granth Sahib by refusing to modify its words. Died of natural
8th Guru Har Krishan, born 7 July 1656, Guru 6 October 1661 to 30
Died at age of 8 due to smallpox. Summoned by Aurungzeb, but the two
never saw each other. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi was constructed
in the Guru's memory. This is where the Guru stayed during his visit
9th Guru Tegh Bahadur,
born 1 April 1621, Guru 20 March 1665 to 11 November 1675
Tegh Bahadur, son of Har Gobind. Travelled to Bihar and Assam. Contributed
many hymns (Shlokas) to Guru Granth Sahib. Opposed the forced conversions
of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits by Muslims. Consequently persecuted, imprisoned,
tortured and executed by Emperor Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707) because he
would not become a Muslim. Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Chandani Chowk, Delhi
is located where he was martyred, and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in
Delhi is located where the Guru's body was cremated.
10th Guru Gobind Singh,
born 22 December 1666, Guru 11 November 1675 to 7 October 1708
Son of Tejh Bahadur was handed over the Guruship when he was 10 (or
early teens). He lived for about two decades in the jungles, up to
1684 at Paonta Saheb near Nahan, and then near Anandpur Sahib from
1696. During these two decades, he mastered Persian and Sanskrit in
addition to Hindi and Punjabi. He read scriptures, became an expert
horseman and archer. He was a poet and philosopher and a born leader.
He wrote ‘Chandi di vaar’ a treatise on the war between virtue and
the evil in 1683. His growing influence brought him in conflict with
Hill Rajas, and even Mughal commanders of the area whom he was able
to subdue. He created five forts around Anandpur and went about organizing
his followers into a fighting unit to take on the Mughals. On 13 April
1699, he established Khalsa (the pure) by choosing 5 disciples at
Anandpur, three of lower caste, one Brahmin and one Kshatriya. The
Guru's (possible) drive toward the creation of the Khalsa could be
due to (a) being forced out of Amritsar, (b) Great Grandfather (Guru
Arjan) killed by Mughals; (c) Father (Guru Tegh Bahadur) killed by
Mughals; (d) 4 of his sons killed by Mughals; and, (e) Sikh panth
weakening. He wanted to remove the caste equation among his followers
and asked them to use Instructed Sikh males to use the name of Singh
(lion) and Sikh females to use the last name Kaur (princess) henceforth,
instead of caste. He also enjoined them to fight for the truth and
justice. The Khalsa were external symbols given by the Guru (5 Ks:
Kada, Kes, Kanga, Kachha and Kirpan). He lost two of his older sons
to battle and the younger two were buried alive into a wall by the
Mughals. He declared Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru for Sikhs.
Guru Granth Sahib by now was a much expanded version of Adi Granth,
in addition to the verses of ten gurus, it had poetry and hymns of
various saints of those times. While most of those were Hindus at
least one, Baba Farid was a Muslim saint. Assassinated by the Mughals.
5 physical symbols (5 Ks) were an integral part of initiation to become
a Sikh, introduced by Guru Gobind Singh, to identify and bind members
of the Khalsa. For a Sikh the fact that the Guru has instructed the
Sikhs to wear the 5 Ks is an entirely sufficient reason, and no more
need be said. Each K has a unique significance:
Kesh - uncut hair
Various reasons and symbolisms have been put forward for the Sikh
practice of keeping hair uncut. Throughout history hair (kesh) has
been regarded as a symbol both of holiness and strength. One's hair
is part of God's creation. Keeping hair uncut indicates that one is
willing to accept God's gift as God intended it. Uncut hair symbolizes
adoption of a simple life, and denial of pride in one's appearance.
Not cutting one's hair is a symbol of one's wish to move beyond concerns
of the body and attain spiritual maturity. A Sikh should only bow
his head to the Guru, and not to a barber. It is a highly visible
symbol of membership of the group. It follows the appearance of Guru
Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa. Sikh women are just as forbidden
to cut any body hair or even trim their eyebrows, as Sikh men are
forbidden to trim their beards. Belief that God is the perfect creator
and his creation is perfect. Uncut hair represents our submission
to the will of God and a recognition of His perfection.
Kanga- Small wooden comb
Sikhs must not only sustain God's perfect creation, but maintain it
with grace. The Kanga is a wooden comb used to clean and maintain
the Kesh in a tidy fashion. It reminds us to be tidy and organized,
to symbolise importance of looking after the body which God has created.
Kara- Iron bracelet worn on dominant hand
Constant reminder to ensure our deeds are performed in accordance
with the advice of the gurus. As a circular iron bracelet, it represents
the infinite nature of God and serves as a constant bond with Him.
Symbolically that God has no beginning or end. Made of steel, rather
than gold or silver, because it is not an ornament.
Kachha – “boxer shorts” type of underwear
Pair of shorts that must not come below the knee, particularly useful
for Sikh warriors of the 18th and 19th centuries, being very suitable
for warfare when riding a horse. A modest garment used as a constant
reminder to Sikhs to control their desires and uphold a high moral
Kirpan - a ceremonial sword or dagger
No fixed style or size of Kirpan, blade being from a few inches to
three feet long, kept in a sheath and worn over or under clothing.
The Kirpan symbolizes Spirituality, person being part Soldier part
Saint, defence of good, defence of the weak, struggle against injustice,
all-in-all, a metaphor for God.
In consonance with Guru
Gobind Singh's last wishes, today the religion is guided by joint
sovereignty of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. Guru Granth is the Sikh
scripture, as the spiritual manifestation of the Guru, while the Guru
Panth is the collectivity of all initiated Sikhs worldwide, as the
physical manifestation of the Guru.
Current Guru, Guru Granth
Sahib 1699 to present
The Guru Granth Sahib is the Holy Book of the Sikhs. It is the eternal
spiritual guide of the Sikhs. The hymns provide broad guidelines for
harmonious living. Compiled by Guru Arjan Dev with writings of Sikh
Gurus and other saints. A copy of the Granth Sahib is kept in all
Gurdwaras and in many Sikh houses. It contains a total of 5867 hymns
in 1430 pages.
Amrit (Sikh Baptism) is a must for every Sikh. No minimum or maximum
age is stipulated for getting baptised. A Sikh undertakes to uphold
the principles of its faith and Code of Conduct as prescribed by the
Gurus. Any man or woman of any nationality, race or social standing,
who adheres to the principles of the Faith has a right to receive
baptism and join the Sikh Commonwealth The Khalsa Panth.
Sikh Code of Conduct
The Sikh Code of Conduct, (Rehat Maryada) is based upon the teachings
of Guru Granth Sahib covering Sikh traditions and conventions. These
rules are meant for carrying out the religious ceremonies and enforcing
the discipline of the Faith in an uniform manner throughout the world.
No individual or organisation has a right either to amend these rules
or to frame new ones. All intoxications such as alcohol and tobacco,
trimming of the Keshas (Hair), eating meat prepared as per Muslim
rites (Hallal) are forbidden. Adultery is considered a sin. A Sikh
should regard another man's wife as his sister or mother, and another
man's daughter as his own daughter. The same rule is applicable to
the Sikh woman also.
Women in the Sikh Society
A woman is regarded as a significant part of the Sikh community; She
receives the utmost reverence for her role in the family and society.
The birth of a daughter is not considered inauspicious nor does there
exist any custom like Sati (burning of a widow with her husband's
body on the funeral pyre). Rather a widow has a right to remarry if
she so desires. A woman is considered to have the same soul as a man
and she has an equal right to grow spiritually and to attend religious
congregations and recite divine hymns in the Sikh Temple. She is also
eligible to participate and perform all ceremonies including Baptism.
Sikh women do not put on veil (purdah). Dowry and divorce are not
permitted. Wearing of clothes which expose the body and breed lustful
thoughts are considered dishonourable.
Ceremonies of the Sikhs
Important ceremonies are those associated with birth, naming the child,
Amrit (Baptism), Anand Karaj (marriage) and the Death Ceremony. The
most important among all these is the Amrit (Sikh Baptism) ceremony.
No special rituals are attached to these ceremonies. The only important
aspect is recitation of Shabad (hymns) from the Guru Granth Sahib.
The dead amongst the Sikhs are cremated and their ashes are thrown
into the nearest canal or river. No sanctity is attributed to any
particular river. It is forbidden to erect monuments over the remains
of the dead. All these ceremonies have a common objective, namely
to remind us of one's relation with God, and conceived as means to
an end i.e. the union of soul with the Lord.
Marriage in Sikhism
Marital bond according to Sikh religion is a sacrament or holy union
and not a contract.
"They are not wife
and husband who only sit together. Rather are they wife and husband
who have one spirit in them". (Guru Granth P- 788). Sikhism does
not believe in celibacy. Married and family life is considered honourable,
natural and ideal. The same ceremony is performed at the remarriage
of a widow or a widower.
Fairs and Festivals
• Advent birth and death anniversaries of the Ten Gurus.
• Installation day of the Holy Granth as the Spiritual Guide (Guru
of the Sikhs).
• Birth of the Khalsa (Baisakhi Day), which generally falls on the
13th April each year.
• Martyrdom days of prominent Sikhs who died for sake of their religion
or in defence of the oppressed.
Daily Life of a Sikh
Every Sikh is expected to get up in the morning before dawn. After
a bath he should meditate on the name of God.
Following five compositions are recited every day: Morning - Japji
Sahib, Jaap Sahib and Ten Swiyyas. Evening: Rehras. Night: (Before
going to bed) Sohila.
A attend a Gurdwara, as a daily routine.
The Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara. The Sikh Holy scripture
is installed in the main hall, which is used for prayer and daily
service. Every person irrespective of caste, creed, culture or nationality
is welcome provided simple customs are followed. Any Sikh male or
female may conduct the prayer or perform the services. Services begin
with the singing of hymns with the musical instruments. Prayers and
Shabad (hymn) are read from the holy scripture. Karah Parshad, a sweet
blessed food (semolina, flour, sugar and ghee) is distributed to the
congregation. On each Gurdwara Nishan Sahib a flag of yellow colour
surmounted with a Khanda (double edged sword) is erected. This symbolises
the temporal and spiritual aspect of Sikh life. Gurdwaras are common
around the world, each having the same sanctity. Some Gurdwaras have
also historic importance, and five important ones are: Patna Sahib,
Patna, Bihar (birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh); Keshgarh Sahib, Anandpur
Sahib (birthplace of Sikhism); Damdama Sahib, Talwandi Sabo (Guru
Gobind Singh prepared the full version of the Guru Granth Sahib; Hazur
Sahib, Nanded (Guru Gobind Singh left his earthly life, and where
he was cremated); and, Takhat Sahib, Amritsar (located in the Golden
Temple complex in Amritsar, considered the highest seat of earthly
authority of the Khalsa).
There is no priesthood class in Sikhism. The one who performs the
daily service is called the Granthi, and the hymn-singers are called
Sects of the Sikhs
Like all major religions, individuals (later forming into groups)
have broken up into their own sects and used a part of the original
teaching while discarding some other or subsequent teachings. Sikhism
is no different, and from the time of Nanak, these include Nanakpanthis,
Udasi, Nirmala, Khalsa, Sahajdhari, Namdhari Kuka, Nirankari, Sarvaria,
Sanatan Sikhs, Namdharis and Nirankaris, ranging from ultra orthodox
to ultra liberal with regard to the basic teachings.
Zafarnama "Declaration of Victory" title given to the letter
sent by Gobind in 1705 to the Emperor Aurangzeb where Gobind reminds
Aurangzeb how the Mughals had broken their oaths taken on the holy
Koran. “Chun kar az hameh heelate dar guzasht, Halal ast burden bi
shamsher dast” (When all has been tried, yet Justice is not insight,
It is then right to pick up the sword, It is then right to fight),
perhaps the most often quoted words of the Zafarnama. Fearless defiance,
emblematic of the poetic power and philosophical underpinning of the
After the Gurus:
Formation of Khalsa
The Khalsa was formed on 13 April 1699. Before Guru Gobind’s death,
he asked Lachhman Das (a warrior turned ascetic, renamed as Gurbaksh
Singh but who became famous as Banda Bahadur) to take over the task
of leading Sikhs against Mughal oppression. From 1708 to his capture
and killing in 1716, Banda Bahadur led the Sikhs and carried out attacks
on the Mughals and scored several victories including defeat and killing
Wazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind responsible for execution of Guru’s
two sons. His major achievement was organizing peasantry as a fighting
force. Much of the acquired land he redistributed among them.
Anarchy 1716 to 1799
The death of Banda Bahadur left no clear Sikh leader. The movement
got fragmented and the community broke up into various bands of warriors.
These warriors survived on loot and plunder with one common aim of
destroying remnants of Mughals who were responsible for so much misery
to their Gurus. They were also united under a common symbol of Khalsa.
These bands were called Misls and each of them had its area of influence.
Together they formed Sikh Confederacy which would meet twice a year
at Amritsar and fought under the Khalsa banner.
The Misls, where the 12
prominent ones each had a band of 200 to 10,000 horses, survived against
Mughal persecution but became stronger during the period 1720 to 1799.
Decline of Mughals started
after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 with their treasury empty due to prolonged
wars in South. Subsequent kings after Aurangzeb were weak and the
clan was faction ridden. Marathas were gaining ground progressively
in north. Raiders from North West were to become a recurring feature
in coming decades.
Various Afghans attacked
Delhi and Punjab in the mid 1700s, looting plundering and abducting
women by the thousands. Misls fought asymmetric wars, harassing the
retreating Afghans and often looting back their loot through guerilla
tactics. Their major reason of success was the grass root support
they received from the peasantry who were exploited by the Mughals
with the Sikhs respectful to their women and followed the principles
of their Gurus.
From one of these Misls
rose Ranjit Singh whose father and grandfather already controlled
large territories. His early years coincided with total power vacuum
in Punjab. Mughals were a spent force. Marathas had retreated. The
Sikh Misls had no clear leader and were busy fighting each other when
they were not fighting Afghans, who in turn had ensured there was
no credible fighting force left from Lahore to Delhi. Lahore was in
the hands of three different Sikh Misls in 1790s who were often busy
quarrelling. In 1797, at 17 years old, Ranjit Singh led his small
army from victory to victory fighting both the Moghuls as well as
other powerful Sikh Misls. He was proclaimed King (Maharaja) of Punjab
in 1801, and died by long illness in 1839.
Power struggle ensued after
Ranjit Singh’s death both within the family as well as outside, and
the British saw his death as an opportunity to usurp Punjab. A combination
of wars and political maneuvering ended of Sikh Empire.