About 500 years ago, a boy named Nanak was born in the Punjab region of South Asia. The town of his birth, Talvandi, which has since been renamed Nankana Sahib, falls within modern-day Pakistan. The predominant religions in Punjab at that time were Islam and Hinduism, and Nanak’s parents were Hindu by background. However, young Nanak was disenchanted by the social inequalities and religious practices he observed in the world around him and decided to establish a new religious tradition, which would come to be known in the Punjabi language as Sikhi (and later, in English, as Sikhism).
The core beliefs of Sikhism are:
Belief in one God
The belief in one pantheistic God. The opening sentence of the Sikh scriptures is only two words long, and reflects the base belief of all who adhere to the teachings of the religion: Ek Onkar “Ek” is One and “Onkar” is God – “There is only one God.”
The Teachings of the Sikh Gurus
The teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus (as well as other selected Muslim and Hindu saints and scholars) are enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib. These teachings propagate the following values:
- to see God in everyone; understand and practice equality among all races irrespective of caste, religion, colour, status, age, gender, etc;
- to remember God at all times; to always engage in Simran or “remembrance of God”, the primal being; virtuous, merciful, bountiful, fearless and Creator of everything; be always aware of His persona and behave accordingly;
- to value and respect positive ideals like truth, compassion, contentment, humility, love, etc; (a reflection of God-like features)
- to suppression of inner evils lust, anger/rage, greed, material attachment, ego, etc; (a reflection of anti-God features)
- to aspire and engage in useful, productive, honest and peaceful life of a householder; to work diligently while holding the image of God within you; (Kirit Karni)
- to engage in selfless service (Sewa) and help build a loving community life; to be a contributor to society whenever possible; (Wand kay shakna)
- to be ready to protect and stand for the rights of the weak among us; to fight for justice and fairness for all;
- to always accept the Will of God, (Hukam) and stay focused and in “Positive Spirits” (Chardikala), etc.
Founder of Sikhism
Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His father, Mehta Kalu was a Patwari- an accountant of land revenue in the government. Guru’s mother was Mata Tripta and he had one older sister, Bibi Nanki. From the very childhood, Bibi Nanki saw in him the Light of God but she did not reveal this secret to anyone. She is known as the first disciple of Guru Nanak. 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. He made four distinct major journeys, which are called Udasis spanning many thousands of miles.
In 1538, Guru Nanak chose Bhai Lehna, his disciple as a successor to the Guruship rather than his son. Bhai Lehna was renamed Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. He continued the work started by Guru Nanak. Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das. He continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guru Amar Das also trained 140 apostles of which 52 were women to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before he died in 1574 aged 95, he appointed his son-in-law, Jetha as the fourth Sikh Guru.
Jetha became Guru Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar. In 1581, Guru Arjan- youngest son of fourth guru – became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for the construction of the Golden Temple, he prepared the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2,000 plus hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In 1604 he installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, he was arrested and fined an enormous sum, by the newly installed Mughal Emperor Jahangir, which he refused to pay. His followers and a highly respected friend the Sufi Sant Hazrat Mian Mir attempted to intercede on his behalf, but believing he had done nothing to warrant the fine he told them he wanted no one to interfere with the workings of Waheguru. He was also asked to change some wording of the former Gurus which he had collected in the Adi Granth–this he refused to do. He was tortured severely and finally allowed to bath in the nearby river. His followers and admirers watched as he walked on his badly burned and blistered feet to the river’s edge, waded in and then disappeared under the water never to be seen again, becoming the first Martyr of the Sikhs.
Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords; one for Spiritual reasons and one for temporal (worldly) reasons. From this point onward, the Sikhs became a military force and always had a trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Guru Har Rai became Guru followed by Guru Har Krishan, the boy Guru in 1661. Guru Teg Bahadur became Guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675, when he sacrificed his life in defense the Kashmiri Hindus who had come to him for help.
In 1675, Aurangzeb ordered the public execution of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Sikh mythos (above) says that Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed himself to save Hindus, after Kashmiri pandits came to him for help when the Emperor condemned them for failing to convert to Islam. This marked a turning point for Sikhism. His successor, his son Guru Gobind Rai further militarised his followers (see Khalsa). After the treachery of his neighboring Hill chieftains (Katri Rajputs who he had expected to join him in expelling or at least putting an end to the Mughal tyranny and forced conversions of Hindus) who took the side of the Mughals and tricked him and the Sikhs, under a guarantee of safe passage, into abandoning Anandpur, many of his Sikhs including his four sons and his mother, Gobind Singh on reaching safety sent Aurangzeb a letter known as the Zafarnama (Epistle of Victory).
Shortly before passing away Guru Gobind ordered that Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture, would replace the line of human Gurus and become the spiritual authority for the Sikhs and placed the temporal authority with the Khalsa Panth; the Sikhs themselves.
The first Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan in 1604, although some of the earlier gurus are also known to have documented their revelations. This is one of the few scriptures in the world that has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time. The Guru Granth Sahib is particularly unique among sacred texts in that it is written in Gurmukhi script but contains many languages including Punjabi, Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri and Persian. Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib the last, perpetual living guru.
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The Guru Granth Sahib is a sacred text considered by Sikhs to be their eleventh and final Guru. Sikhism was influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as Sufi Islam. It departs from some of the social traditions and structure of Hinduism and Islam (such as the caste system and purdah, respectively). Sikh philosophy is characterised by logic, comprehensiveness, and a “without frills” approach to both spiritual and material concerns. Its theology is marked by simplicity. In Sikh ethics there is no conflict between an individual’s duty to oneself and that towards society.
The Guru Granth Sahib is the eleventh and final Guru of the Sikhs, is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated as the Eternal Guru, as instructed by Guru Gobind Singh.
It is perhaps the only scripture of its kind which not only contains the teachings of its own religious founders but also writings of people from other faiths. Besides the Banis of the Gurus, it also contains the writings of saints like Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Sheikh Bhikan, Jaidev, Surdas, Parmanad, Pipa and Ramanand.
The Granth forms the central part of the Sikh place of worship called a gurdwara. The Holy Scripture is placed on the dominant platform in the main hall of the gurdwara during the day. It is placed with great respect and dignity upon a throne with beautiful and colourful fabric.
Sikh religious philosophy
The Sikh religious philosophy can be divided into the following five sections:
Primary beliefs and principles
The Khanda, one of the most important symbols of Sikhism
Sikhism advocates the belief in one pantheistic God (Ek Onkar) who is omnipresent and has infinite qualities. Sikhs do not have a gender for God nor do they believe God takes a human form. All human beings are considered equal regardless of their religion, sex or race. All are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.
Followers of Sikhism are encouraged to wake in the early morning hours, before the sun has risen, and meditate on God’s name. They must work hard and honestly and never live off of others, but give to others from the fruits of one’s own labour. A Sikh’s home should always be open to all.
Sikhs believe in the concept of reincarnation. All creatures are believed to have souls that pass to other bodies upon death until liberation is achieved. Sikhs should defend, safeguard, and fight for the rights of all creatures, and in particular fellow human beings. They are encouraged to have a “Chardi Kala” or positive, optimistic and buoyant view of life.
The Sikh religion is not considered the only way to salvation – people of other religions may also achieve salvation. This concept is shared with other religions.
Upon baptism, Sikhs must wear the 5Ks, strictly recite the 5 prayers. Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other and general adopt the religous day of the country within which they reside.
It is every Sikh’s duty to defeat these five vices: ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust in his/her being with contentment, charity, kindness, positive attitude and humility.
The Sikhs must believe in the following values:
- Equality: All humans are equal before God.
- God’s spirit: All creatures have God’s spirits and must be properly respected.
- Personal right: Every person has a right to life but this right is restricted.
- Actions count: Salvation is obtained by one’s actions, including good deeds, remembrance of God, etc.
- Living a family life: Must live as a family unit to provide and nurture children.
- Sharing: It is encouraged to share and give to charity 10 percent of one’s net earnings.
- Accept God’s will: Develop your personality so that you recognize happy events and miserable events as one.
- The four fruits of life: Truth, contentment, contemplation and Naam, (in the name of God).
Non-logical behavior: Superstitions and rituals are not meaningful to Sikhs (pilgrimages, fasting, bathing in rivers, circumcision, worship of graves, idols or pictures, compulsory wearing of the veil for women, etc.).
Material obsession: (“Maya”) Accumulation of materials has no meaning in Sikhism. Wealth such as gold, portfolio, stocks, commodities, and properties will all be left here on Earth when you depart. Do not get attached to them.
Sacrifice of creatures: (Sati). Widows throwing themselves in the funeral pyre of their husbands, lamb and calf slaughter to celebrate holy occasions, etc. are forbidden.
Non-family oriented living: A Sikh is not allowed to live as a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, nun, or celibate.
Worthless talk: Bragging, gossip, lying, etc. are not permitted.
Intoxication: Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and consumption of other intoxicants is not permitted.
Priestly caste: Sikhs do not have to depend on a priest for performing any religious functions. They are not supposed to follow a class/caste system where the priestly class reigns highest. Everyone is equal.
- Naam Japo: – Free service (Sewa), meditation and prayer (Simran), sacred music (Kirtan).
- Kirat Karni: – Honest earnings, labor, etc. while remembering the Lord.
- Wand kay Shako: – Share with others in need, free food (langar), donate 10% of income Daasvand, etc.