Sikhism is one of the major religions of the world. With over thirty million followers, it is currently the fifth largest organized religion. The roots of Sikhism can be traced back to the Bhakti movement and a prominent figure of the movement, Guru Nanak Dev. His teachings and ideas laid the foundation of Sikhism.
Guru Nanak spread his ideas far and wide, travelling all over India, Sri Lanka and even Mecca. Music helped him connect to the people as he would compose hymns expressing his devotion towards God and set them to a musical tune. As a result of his travels, dharmshalas or religious asylums were established to offer food and shelter to the people. These places came to be known as Gurdwaras after the installation of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs. The concept of langar or community dining further strengthened the idea of unity propagated by Nanak. It is open to everyone, irrespective of caste, creed or gender. The secular nature of Sikhism attracted many followers and thus, it transformed into a global religion.
The Ten Gurus of Sikhism
Guru is a Sanskrit word meaning teacher, guide or a mentor. Sikhism grew into a well organised religion upon the consolidation of traditions and philosophies propagated by the ten Gurus.
◙ Guru Nanak is considered as the first Guru of Sikhism. He considered God, who is immortal and beyond the confines of time and space, as the true teacher and mentor (SatGuru). He shunned idol worship, formal practices and rituals, and emphasised upon the purity of character as the first step towards approaching God. He believed that one can attain spirituality while fulfilling the duties of a householder, thereby delineating a middle path.
◙ Guru Angad was nominated as the successor of Guru Nanak. He developed the official script for Punjabi language, Gurumukhi.
◙ Guru Amar Das introduced a religious organisation called the manji system, and various Sikh rituals related to birth, wedding and funerals.
◙ Guru Ram Das founded the city of Amritsar, considered to be the holiest city for Sikhs. He also expanded upon the manji system introduced by Guru Amar Das.
◙ Guru Arjan Dev was the first Sikh guru to face persecution at the hands of the Mughal ruler Jahangir. He is remembered for compiling the teachings and hymns of previous Gurus and saints into Adi Granth, the initial version of Guru Granth Sahib.
◙ Guru Hargobind introduced militarization into Sikhism and established the ‘Akal Takht’, the seat of the religious authority of Sikhs.
◙ Guru Har Rai is remembered for supporting Dara Shikoh in his war of succession against his brother Aurangzeb.
◙ Guru Harkrishan was the youngest Guru is Sikh history succeeding his father, Guru Har Rai, at the age of five. He is also known as ‘Bal Guru’ or the child Guru. Unfortunately, he also had the shortest reign as Guru since he contracted small pox and could not live beyond the age of eight years.
◙ Guru Tegh Bahadur founded the city of Patiala and established Anandpur Sahib Gurdwara in the Indian state of Punjab. He was tortured and publicly beheaded on the orders of Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb. He is remembered for his valour, resolve and fearless spirit.
◙ Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth and the last Sikh Guru. He is known for establishment of ‘Khalsa’, the Sikh warrior community. He also introduced the five Ks, articles that Khalsa Sikhs are required to wear at all times. He is remembered for finalising Guru Granth Sahib and declaring it to be Sikhism’s eternal Guru.
Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Granth Sahib is the most important holy scripture in Sikhism. The first version was compiled by Guru Arjun Dev in 1604 CE, and in 1704 CE, Guru Govind Singh compiled all the hymns. The majority of Sikh scriptures were originally written in Gurmukhi, a script standardised by Guru Angad, the second of the ten Sikh Gurus. The book represents the true secular nature of the religion as it contains teachings of not just the ten Gurus but also several Bhakti and Sufi saints. It is a confluence of multiple languages like Lahnda (Western Punjabi), Braj, Kauravi, Sanskrit, Sindhi and Persian. The language of the scripture is also known as ‘Sant Bhasha’. It is considered as ‘eternal Gurbani’ or the immortal voice of the Gurus. The holy book was first installed at Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara or the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Harmandir Sahib – Golden Temple
Harmandir Sahib, translated as ‘the abode of God’, is a Gurdwara located at the city of Amritsar in India. It was built by Guru Arjan Dev in 1589, its foundation stone being laid by Baba Sain Mir Mohammed, a Muslim Pir from Lahore (now Pakistan). The ‘Akal Takht’, the chief seat of religious authority in Sikhism, is located in the gurdwara complex. There are five ‘takhts’ located across India and are also known as ‘Panj Takhts’. It is one of the most important shrines in Sikhism and is open to people from all walks of life.
Takht Sri Patna Sahib
Also known as Harmandir Sahib, the gurdwara in Patna was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1666. It marks the birthplace of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The current shrine was, however, completed in 1950s. It serves as one of the seats of ‘Panj Takht’.
Festivals in Sikhism are celebrated to mark several important events from the Sikh history. Baisakhi, a day which marks the beginning of Hindu solar year, was chosen by Guru Amar Das to be celebrated by the Sikh community as a mark of their togetherness. The birth events of all the ten Gurus are celebrated as Gurupurabs. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur is commemorated as Shaheedi Gurupurabs.
Bandi Chhor Diwas
The festival marks the release of Guru Hargobind along with several innocent kings who were imprisoned by Mughal emperor Jahangir at the Gwalior Fort. The story goes that Guru Hargobind was allowed to rescue as many imprisoned kings as his rope could hold. The festival is celebrated along with the Hindu festival of Diwali since it was on the day of Diwali that 52 kings were released.
The tradition of Hola Mohalla was started by Guru Gobind Singh where Sikh soldiers would display their military skills like horsemanship, athletics, archery and martial arts. The festival is generally celebrated a day after the festival of Holi.
‘Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is truthful living’ – These lines by Guru Nanak capture the core philosophy of Sikhism. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion i.e., it believes in presence of one true God, and the divine is perceived as formless. The essence of the religion lies in remembrance of the divine, selfless service, and equality amongst human beings.