"If a hundred moons were to come out,
and a thousand suns were to rise;
in spite of all this illumination,
all would be pitch dark without the Guru."
(Guru Angad, 2nd prophet of the Sikhs)
received a Hukam (commandment) from God instructing him to spread a message of
truth based on devotion to One God, honesty, and compassion. The soul of Guru
Nanak passed on to nine successors, who elaborated on the first Guru's teachings
to give form to this new religion. The final form was given by the tenth and
last Guru, Gobind Singh, who started the Sikh initiation ceremony: initiated
Sikhs formed a community of saint-soldiers known as Khalsa, the Pure Ones. Guru
Gobind Singh also made it clear that, after him, the Guru-eternal for Sikhs
would be their holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.
GURU NANAK DEV JI
Born in 1469 to
a Hindu family near the city of Lahore (now a part of Pakistan), Guru Nanak was
the founder of Sikhism. The young Nanak enjoyed the company of holy men and
engaged them in long discussions about the nature of God. Around the year 1500,
Nanak had a revelation from God; and shortly thereafter, he uttered the words:
There is No
Hindu, There is No Muslim
pronouncement was substantial as it referred to the day and age in which Guru
Nanak lived: Hindus and Muslims of India constantly and bitterly fought each
other over the issue of religion. The Guru meant to emphasize that, ultimately,
in the eyes of God, it is not religion that determines a person's merits, but
witnessed the Mughal invasion of India, and saw the horrors inflicted upon the
common people by the invaders. Though a pacifist, Guru Nanak did not hesitate to
speak up against injustice:
The kings are
ravenous beasts, their ministers are dogs.
The Age is a
Knife, and the Kings are Butchers
In this dark night of evil, the moon of righteousness is nowhere visible.
Guru Nanak laid
forth three basic principles by which every human being should abide:
1. Remember the name of God at all times.
2. Earn an honest living as a householder.
3. Share a portion of your earnings with the less fortunate.
rejecting the Hindu caste system, idolatry, and ritualism, Guru Nanak preached
universal equality. In consistence with his message of equality, Guru Nanak
scorned those who considered women to be evil and inferior to men by asking:
Why should we
call her inferior, when it is she who gives birth to great persons?
Guru Nanak has
been documented to have traveled across India and the Middle East to spread his
message. Once, at Mecca, the Guru was resting with his feet pointing toward the
holy shrine. When a Muslim priest angrily reprimanded the Guru for showing
disrespect to God, the Guru replied, "Kindly point my feet toward the place
where God does not exist." Among the many philosophical foundations laid by Guru
Nanak , his characterization of God, as illustrated by his visit to Mecca, is
most recognizable. It forms the opening lines of the 1430 page Sikh holy
scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. The translation is as follows:
There is but One
God, The Supreme Truth; The Ultimate Reality, The Creator, Without fear, Without
enemies, Timeless is His image, Without Birth, Self Created, By His grace
Like all the
Gurus after him, Guru Nanak preached by example. During a time of great social
disarray and religious decay, his message served as a fresh, uncorrupted
approach toward spirituality and God. The message of the Guru took almost 240
years to unfold, and so, in accordance with the Will of God, the soul of Guru
Nanak merged into the souls of his nine successors.
2. GURU ANGAD
Besides maintaining and upholding the traditions laid forth by Guru Nanak, the
second Guru created the Gurmukhi script, a medium through which the writings and
teachings of the Sikh gurus could be readily understood by their followers. By
disassociating the Sikh tradition from Sanskrit influence, a script and language
largely unknown to the masses, the Guru emphasized the universality and
widespread accessibility of Sikh religious thought. Moreover, it solidified the
idea that Sikhism started as a distinct and revealed religion.
3. GURU AMAR DAS
The third Sikh Guru reinforced the teachings of the previous Gurus by organizing
the construction of twenty-two centers of religious learning for the Sikhs. Like
his predecessors, he sharply criticized the practice of sati, where
widows immolated themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. The
Guru also required that anyone wishing to meet him would have to first partake
in the common kitchen, called Langar, as a sign of equality. The Emperor Akbar,
Muslim ruler of India, himself followed this tradition before meeting with the
4. GURU RAM DAS
Founder of the city of Amritsar, site of the Golden Temple, Guru Ram Das worked
to ensure the city's growth by encouraging commercial and trade ventures in the
town. Soon, with the city flourishing as a trade center and place of pilgrimage,
the Sikhs had a distinct religious center of their own.
5. GURU ARJAN
The fifth Guru started the construction of the Golden Temple. To emphasize the
universality of Sikhism, the foundation stone of the shrine was laid by a Muslim
saint, named Mian Mir. Also, the temple featured four entrances to represent
access to all communities. Guru Arjan compiled the Adi Granth, the Sikh
scripture containing the writings of all the Gurus up until that time (the
writings of the eighth Guru were added by Guru Gobind Singh). As another sign of
the universality of Sikh philosophy, the Guru added the writings of several
Muslim and Hindu saints, whose ideas corresponded to Sikh beliefs. With the
passage of time, the Guru attracted a substantial following; and therefore, the
Sikh community assumed a socio-political character. In 1606, Emperor Jehangir,
the Muslim ruler of India, summoned the Guru to his court on the charge of
blessing a rebellious relative of the Emperor's. Upon the Guru's refusal to
embrace Islam to escape death, the fifth prophet of the Sikh religion was
subject to inhumane torture and killed. Thus, the martyrdom tradition of Sikhism
began with the martyrdom of the Guru himself. From this point forward, Sikhism
began to form itself into a community of saint-soldiers.
6. GURU HAR GOBIND
Responsible for establishing idea of the inseparability of spiritual and
temporal matters, the sixth Guru maintained an army for the purpose of
protecting the poor and destroying tyrants. He constructed the Akal Takht,
center of temporal affairs in the Sikh religion, across from the Golden Temple
in Amritsar. By this time, the Sikh community was a full-fledged social,
religious, and political entity.
7. GURU HAR RAI
The seventh Guru continued the mission of organizing the Sikhs into a military
force that would be equipped and ready, both spiritually and physically, to
counter the repressive Mughal empire.
8. GURU HAR KRISHAN
At only five years of age, the eighth Sikh Guru was the youngest. He worked to
alleviate the suffering of the common man during a smallpox epidemic in Delhi,
but succumbed to the disease himself at the age of eight.
9. GURU TEGH BAHADUR
The Mughal Emperor of India, Aurangzeb, attempted to consolidate India into one
Islamic nation. In order to achieve this aim, he set out to virtually eliminate
Hinduism from India. When the eighth Guru heard of this from a desperate group
of Hindus, he challenged the Emperor that, in order to convert all the Hindus,
the Guru himself would have to embrace Islam. When the Guru was imprisoned at
the request of Aurangzeb in 1675, despite being forced to watch the torture and
execution of two disciples, the Guru simply refused to concede to the Emperor's
demand. Finally, the Guru was ordered to get beheaded. Unparalleled in the
history of humankind, the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur was an act of sacrifice
for another religious community. The Guru's martyrdom served to awaken the
collective conscience of the Sikh community, which was about to undergo a final
transformation in the years to follow.
10. GURU GOBIND SINGH
Upon the death
of his father, Guru Gobind Singh felt compelled to organize the Sikhs into a
community of saint-soldiers. During the spring of 1699, the Guru called his
followers for a special gathering. During the day, thousands of people assembled
in front of a stage and a tent, out of which emerged the Guru to address the
massive audience. With sword in hand, the Guru asked the congregation if anyone
would be willing to sacrifice their head for him. Naturally, the audience was
stunned by the Guru's request, and many followers began to disperse out of sheer
terror. Still, the Guru pressed for one of his followers to give their life for
him. Finally, one of the assembled stood, with hands folded, and approached the
Guru in full submission. The lone disciple was led into the tent by the Guru.
After some time, the Guru emerged with a blood-stained sword and asked for
another head. Overcome with shock, the audience could not believe what they were
seeing; however, another devoted follower stood and offered his head to the
Guru. Eventually, with the same outcome, three more devoted disciples offered
their lives to the Guru. After the fifth devotee was led into the tent, to the
surprise of the massive audience, the Guru emerged with the five followers fully
clothed in the uniform of the Khalsa, or Pure. The Guru's demonstration
symbolized a revitalization of the Sikh identity and the definitive evolution of
the Sikh community into a community of saint-soldiers. After initiating the five
"beloved ones" into the new order of the Khalsa, the Guru knelt before them and
requested that they initiate him. In the annals of human history, such a
transformation into a distinct and solidified community, culminating in the
baptism of the prophet by his followers, remains a unique and defining moment.
Singh and his Khalsa army were engaged in several battles against the
imperialist Mughal army during the Guru's life. Through the course of those
turbulent times, the Guru lost his four children and his mother to the cause of
righteousness; but nevertheless, the Khalsa stood firm as a distinct and
sovereign entity, able to withstand the onslaught of a mighty enemy.
In the face of
persecution, the Guru wrote:
peaceful means of resolution have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword.
Before his death
at the hands of an assailant in 1708, the Guru added the writings of Guru Tegh
Bahadur to the Sikh scriptures, thereby giving a final revision to its form. The
Guru also declared the lineage of living Gurus finished, and requested his
followers to seek spiritual guidance from the
Guru Granth Sahib. In essence, the
light of Nanak, the first Guru, was to be forever enshrined within the pages of
the Guru Granth Sahib.
To illustrate his point that the Guru Granth
Sahib was the final Guru of the Sikhs, and as a sign of humility,
Guru Gobind Singh did not include his writings, over 1400 pages worth of
literature, in the Guru Granth Sahib.
A separate volume, called Dasam Granth, features the writings of the tenth Sikh