Sikhs, their Gurus and a Brief History
Evolution of a spiritual individual, to a spiritual group, then a religion, to a formation of a political empire, and finally the empire’s decline.

People, 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. From spiritual teachings, in the shadow of the Mughals, was born a formidable fighting army, which grew to be a self-governing Empire.


15th Century India and Punjab:
• 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 Nanak
• 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 practices.


The Ten Sikh Gurus:

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 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 played Rubab.

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).

Basic Tenets
Kirat Karo (Do honest work)
Vand Chhako (Share and eat)
Naam Japo (Remember HIM)

He contributed 974 hymns to what became the Guru Granth Sahib. Questioned authority of the Vedas. Attacked Hindu caste system, promoting equality of all. Emphasized equality of women. Rejected renunciation and emphasized leading a householder's life. Condemned the theocracy of the Mughals. Died of natural causes.


2nd Guru Angad Dev, born 31 March 1504, Guru 7 September 1539 to 29 March 1552
Guru Angad was Nanak’s favourite disciple, and carried 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 1574
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. 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. Composed four stanzas of the Anand Karaj, a distinct marriage code for Sikhs. Strongly decried superstitions, caste system and pilgrimages. 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 Grantha, a precursor to the Guru Granth Sahib) and installed it at Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar) in August/September 1604, a landmark event in Sikh history. Tortured and executed by Jehangir who couldn’t tolerate the growing followers of this new religion and also because the Guru had offered sanctuary to the rebel prince Khusro. Hailed as first martyr of Sikh religion.


6th Guru Har Gobind, born 19 June 1595, Guru 25 May 1606 to 28 February 1644
Arjan’s son, realised that survival in those circumstances required self defence and he gave birth to the tradition of Miri and Piri (martial and spiritual) maintaining an armed legion of Sikh warrior-saints. He ensured his followers were capable of defending against the oppressors. He fought and won a few battles.


7th Guru Har Rai, born 16 January 1630, Guru 3 March 1644 to 6 October 1661
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. 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. Died of natural causes.


8th Guru Har Krishan, born 7 July 1656, Guru 6 October 1661 to 30 March 1664
Died at age of 8 due to smallpox contracted while healing the sick during an epidemic.


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.


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, thereby creating the Sikhs. He wanted to remove the caste equation among his followers and asked them to use ‘Singh’ henceforth with their name, 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, see below). 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. 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:

The Five Ks:
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.

Kara - a steel braceletsikhism.GIF (9065 bytes)
A symbol of restraint and gentility, that a Sikh is linked to the Guru. It acts as a reminder that a Sikh should not do anything of which the Guru would not approve. Symbollicaly that God has no beginning or end. Made of steel, rather than gold or silver, because it is not an ornament.

Kanga - a wooden comb
Symbolises a clean mind and body since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy. To symbolise importance of looking after the body which God has created.


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.

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.


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:
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 tenth Guru.


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.