The Founder Sikhism was Guru Nanak(1469-1539)
During this time the dominant Hindu and Muslim communities across northern India had degenerated and become deeply divided. Guru Nanak’s parents belonged to the Kshatrya or warrior caste of Hindus. His father Mehta Kalu was a revenue accountant. He had an elder sister called Nanaki, five years his senior. At a tender age Guru Nanak displayed extraordinary spiritual and intellectual maturity, boldly challenging and rejecting meaningless rituals and caste prejudices prevalent among Hindus and the intolerance of Muslims; teaching instead the need for practical devotion to one Supreme God and acceptance that all beings, made of the same elements, were equal, and God does not favour one religion above another – only man’s good deeds.
Guru Nanak believed family life was important for personal development. He married and had two sons and worked as a farmer then storekeeper. At 27 Guru Nanak had a unique experience when God revealed Himself and commissioned him to establish a New Order for the creation of the Ideal Man and society. From this moment onwards Guru Nanak undertook extensive missionary tours lasting nearly 30 years, during which time he travelled as far a field as Tibet, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Kashmir, Mecca and Medina, visiting the important centres of other religions, spreading the message of universal equality and love. Gurdwaras (Sikh place of worship) were established for the purpose of collective worship incorporating the institution of Langar (community kitchen), which aimed to remove caste barriers and social taboos, and where the spirit of selfless service and social harmony could be nurtured.
Guru Nanak returned to his family and established a township called Kartarpur (now in Pakistan) and continued with his ministry for the remainder of his life with his community of “disciples” (Sikhs). Following rigorous tests Guru Nanak chose as his successor a disciple named Angad. The Light of Guru Nanak merged with Angad’s, becaming the Second Nanak. Guru Angad continued the work that Guru Nanak had begun, promoting education of children and physical fitness. This was the beginning of a line of 10 successive Gurus who shared the same ministry and manifested the same teachings based on Guru Nanak’s doctrine, developing the Sikh character and model community over a period of 240 years.
The Sikh Gurus are regarded by Sikhs as fully enlightened souls and spiritual teachers. The Gurus themselves empathically admonished their followers against regarding them as divine incarnations, stating they were merely slaves of God.
This human line of Gurus ended with Guru Gobind Singh (Tenth Nanak) in 1708, who conferred the eternal Guruship to the sacred Sikh scripture.
Guru Amar Das (Third Nanak) paid serious attention to the propagation of Sikhism by establishing 22 missionary centres. He also trained and appointed travelling missionaries including women, to spread the message of Sikhism throughout India. Guru Ram Das (Fourth Nanak) began a policy of urban development by building the town of Amritsar, which became the focus of Sikh religious life. He laid down the Sikh code of conduct, championed the rights of women to remarry and encouraged social responsibility. He also composed hymns for the Sikh marriage ceremony.
Guru Arjun (Fifth Nanak) developed Amritsar as a centre of trade, industry and culture. He requested Mian Mir, a Muslim saint, to lay the foundation stone of Harmandar Sahib (the sanctum sanctorum of Sikhism) in which the Adi Granth (First sacred book of the Sikhs) was compiled and installed. Guru Arjun’s growing influence and spread of Sikhism aroused the animosity of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir who on false pretexts executed him. Guru Arjan bore severe tortures with great resignation, becoming the first Sikh martyr. This event resulted in rising tensions between the minority Sikh community and the Mughal Empire.
The Sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind, responded by militarising and mobilising the Sikh community in defence of the new faith against growing Mughul oppression, for which he was imprisoned. On his release he secured the freedom of 52 Hindu princes. He and his small but well-trained army of warrior-saints then defeated the Mughul armies in three major battles. Guru Hargobind created the Sikh political centre called Akal Takht (Throne of the Eternal) in close proximity to the spiritual centre (Harmandar Sahib), where the secular affairs of the Sikh nation were governed. The mission of the Sikhs henceforth was to use the sword only in the defence and liberation of downtrodden people from religious and political tyranny.
Guru Har Rai (Seventh Nanak) set-up dispensaries to provide free services for the treatment and care of the sick and taught the Sikhs to show humility and forgiveness from a position of strength. Guru Har Krishan (Eight Nanak) received Guruship at the tender age of five and showed great wisdom and spiritual maturity in leading the Sikh community. In Delhi he started his mission of providing caring and relief for cholera-stricken people. He died of smallpox at the age of eight after revealing his successor, Guru Tegh Bahadur (Ninth Nanak). He responded to the calls of oppressed Hindus from Kashmir to liberate them from forceful conversions to Islam by the Mughal regime. Guru Tegh Bahadur courted arrest in protest and was subsequently martyred for upholding the fundamental right of others to freely practise their religion. He refused to embrace Islam. The Guru’s unparalleled self-sacrifice was not to save the Hindu religion per se, but to defend a universal human right.
Guru Gobind Singh became the Tenth and last Nanak at the age of nine after the martyrdom of his father. In preparation for the defence of the Sikh community against Mughal onslaught and the intrusive Hill Rajas he built forts and set about training his disciples in the art of warfare. Guru Nanak’s mission of creating a just, tolerant and egalitarian society, which aspired to higher ideals, came to fruition when Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 created the Khalsa Panth (community of pure ones). He established a new initiation rite called Khande-di-Pahul for his followers and instructed them to adhere to a strict moral code of conduct and discipline, maintain a distinct identity and readiness to use arms for righteous cause. Uniquely, he himself asked the first five initiated Sikhs (Panj Piaray) to initiate him, indicating that disciple and master had become one and the same.
Under his inspirational leadership the fearless Khalsa dealt a crushing blow to the Mughal power, fighting many wars against overwhelming odds. All four of his sons were martyred in these heroic struggles along with thousands of Sikhs whose deeds and unflinching commitment to Sikh ideals are remembered in daily prayers.
Once initiated, a Sikh wears the “Five Ks”. These are:
- Kesh: Uncut hair covered with turban, respecting natural form.
- Kirpan: A short sword for last line of defence.
- Kangha: A wooden comb to keep hair tidy, a reminder to maintain cleanliness and keep thoughts pure.
- Kara: A steel wristband, a reminder to maintain self-restraint.
- Kachera: Cotton shorts or breeches for chastity and self-respect.
On initiation, the surname ‘Singh’ (lion) meaning to be brave, is given to male Sikhs, and women ‘Kaur’ (princess), to elevate social status of women, following the Tenth Guru’s instructions. A Sikh’s personal conduct and discipline was to be exemplary in every respect. All (immoral) actions not conducive to spiritual progress such as adultery, infanticide, untruthfulness and slander were to be shunned. Alcohol, tobacco and other intoxicants were also to be strictly avoided. Freedom from fear, ceaseless meditation on the Name of God and service to fellow man was the Sikh path to spiritual liberation and union with the Supreme Spirit (God).
Guru Gobind Singh continued to fight the Mughul Empire until his death in 1708. He was the last and final human Guru of the Sikhs. He conferred the eternal spiritual Guruship and teaching to the Adi Granth (Original Holy scriptures), which he completed and publicly installed as Guru Granth Sahib. The collective body of the Khalsa represented the Guru’s form and hence a ‘second coming’ of a human Guru does not arise. Sikhs consider the message contained within the scripture to be the living Word of God, communicated directly through the enlightened Gurus. Wherever the Guru Granth Sahib is present, the place is considered to be a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). It is central to all Sikh ceremonies including birth, marriage and death. It contains 5,948 poetic hymns set to musical measures (Raags) and can be read or sung to accompaniment of musical instruments.