Some Basic Facts
The word Sikh means a disciple
The Sikhs regard Baba Nanak as the founder of their faith. History, however, shows that the Sikh religion in its present form was founded by later successors of Baba Nanak. Baba Nanak lived from 1469 to 1539 AD.
Place of Origin:
Punjab, North India
The Sikh movement started in India as a small group of devoted disciples who gathered around the saintly person of Baba Nanak. Baba Nanak was a contemporary of Babar, the first Moghul Emperor of India, and was born in April 1469 AD, in a village called Nankana Sahib, not far from Lahore. Although born in a Hindu family, he was disillusioned by the Hindu caste system, the power of the Brahmin priests, and the custom of “sati” in which the widows were burned on the funeral pyre of their husbands.
There is considerable evidence in historical records that Baba Nanak embraced Islam, used to perform the Islamic rituals and undertook the pilgrimage to Mecca. These records also point to the fact that Baba Nanak did not found any new religion. Over the years his disciples and successors, however, did form a new identity and a religion for themselves.
After the death of Baba Nanak, there came a succession of nine Gurus (teachers) who formalized the teachings of the various Gurus, organized the Sikhs into a proper community and implemented the various social institutions found among the Sikhs today. Below are given the names of the various Sikh Gurus, their periods and the periods of their guruship
- Guru Nanak 1469 – 1539
- Guru Angad 1504 – 1552 (Guru 1539 – 1552)
- Guru Amar Das 1479 – 1574 (Guru 1552 – 1574)
- Guru Ram Das 1534 – 1581 (Guru 1574 – 1581)
- Guru Arjan 1563 – 1606 (Guru 1581 – 1606)
- Guru Har Gobind 1595 – 1644 (Guru 1606 – 1644)
- Guru Har Rai 1630 – 1661 (Guru 1644 – 1661)
- Guru Har Krishna 1656 – 1664 (Guru 1661 – 1664)
- Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621 – 1675 (Guru 1664 – 1675)
- Guru Gobind Singh 1666 – 1708 (Guru 1675 – 1708)
Excluding the period of Baba Nanak, the period of the nine successors lasted 169 years.
These Gurus served as the spiritual and temporal heads of the Sikh community. Each Guru was nominated by his predecessor on the basis of his spiritual ability and worthiness. But, starting with the Fourth Guru, the office became hereditary in the line of his male descendants. Each of the Gurus contributed something which helped the community:
Guru Nanak taught the Unity and love of God
Guru Amar Das established the “langar” or communal eating facility which helped significantly in fostering the bonds of mutual brotherhood
Guru Ram Das initiated the building of the city of Amritsar
Guru Arjan established a number of other Sikh towns in Punjab and built the now famous Hari Mandir, or the Golden Temple, at Amritsar. It was during the time of this Fifth Guru that confrontations with the Muslims started. Guru Arjan died while in Muslim custody and gave the Sikhs their first martyr.
Guru Har Gobind, Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishna – the sixth, seventh and eighth Gurus did not make any significant contribution to the Sikh religion and spent most of their efforts in militarily organizing the Sikh community.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the surviving son of Guru Har Gobind. During his period, Moghul King Aurangzeb was actively pursuing the policy of Islamization in India. Guru Tegh Bahadur opposed many of the Emperor’s policies. The Guru was imprisoned and later executed and is revered by the Sikhs as a great martyr.
Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs. He took up the office at the age of nine and for the next 33 years consolidated the military power of the Sikhs, leading them against the Islamic powers with considerable success. In fact most of the visible aspects of the Sikh community today owe their origin to Guru Gobind Singh. He gave them the name of “Khalsa” meaning the Pure. The male members of the community were given the title of Singh (lion), and the females that of Kaur (princess). He also introduced the five symbols for the Sikhs known commonly as the five K’s. These are:
- Kesh (uncut hair)
- Kangha (comb)
- Kirpan (sword)
- Kara (steel bangle)
- Kach (shorts)
Guru Gobind Singh’s four sons were all killed during his lifetime. When the Tenth Guru himself was lying on his deathbed, he told the Sikh community that from then on no more human Gurus will appear and that their sacred scriptures, the Granth, would be their Guru. That is why the Sikhs call their sacred book Guru Granth.
Essential Beliefs of the Sikh Faith
- The most important belief of the Sikh religion concerns the Unity of God. God is One, the Creator of all things, existing from beginning and the source of all man’s happiness.
- Man can become one with God only by walking on the path of the Gurus. By sincere worship and meditation, the Sikhs believe, one can experience God.
- The sacred book, Guru Granth, can lead the followers to find God and salvation. No more religious leaders are necessary after the Granth was declared the Guru of the Sikhs.
- Salvation results with a love union with God. Until this union takes place, individuals may go through many reincarnations. This principle of reincarnation is taken from Hinduism.
It should be noted that Guru Granth does not present the Sikh beliefs in any systematic manner. The Granth
emphasizes the stimulating aspects of its teachings on the human heart, to love God.
Worship in the Sikh Religion
The focal point of all Sikh worship is the Guru Granth. In the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, the Sikhs sing hymns from the scriptures and members of the congregation give readings and expositions from the Granth. No weekly holy day is observed by the Sikhs.
Although the Sikhs reject the symbolization of God by idols, the paintings of Baba Nanak are highly revered and displayed prominently in the Gurdwara.
In their homes, the Sikhs recite various shabads or verses from the Granth. The most important of these is Guru Nanak’s Japji which is recited silently by the Sikhs every morning. Below are given some selected verses from this Japji to give the reader some idea of the fundamental beliefs of this religion:
- “There is One God whose name is true, the Creator. Devoid of fear and enmity, Immortal, Unborn, Self Existent
- “The True One was in the beginning; the True One was in the primal age
- “The True One is now also, O Nanak; the True One also will be
- “The hunger of the hungry for God diminishes not though they obtain the load of the worlds
- “If man should have hundred thousand devices, even one would not assist him in finding God
- “How shall man become true before God? How shall the veil of falsehood be rent?
- “By walking, O Nanak, according to the Will of the Commander as ordained
- “Bodies are produced by His order; His order cannot be described
- “By His order souls are infused into bodies; by His order greatness is obtained
- “By His order men are high or low; by His order they obtain predestined pain or pleasure
- “By His order some obtain their reward; by His order others wander in transmigration
- “All are subject to His order; none escapes from it. He who understands God’s order, O Nanak, is never guilty of egoism
- “Who can sing His power? Who has power to sing it? Who can sing His gifts or know His signs? Who can sing His attributes, His greatness, His deeds? Who can sing His knowledge whose study is laborious? Who can sing Him, Who fashions the body and then destroys it? Who can sing Him, Who takes away life and then restores it? Who can sing Him, Who appears to be far, but is actually so near? Who can sing Him, Who is All Seeing and Omnipresent? In describing Him there would be no end”
The Sikhs claim that Baba Nanak founded their faith which, they profess is distinct from either Hinduism or Islam. Historical records, however, prove that Baba Nanak, who was born and raised in a Hindu family, later accepted Islam. Also, many of the shabads of the Granth are simply Gurmukhi renderings of the Quranic verses. Similarly, the concept of God presented in the Granth is exactly the same as given in the Quran. Many of God’s attributes mentioned in the Granth are again translations of the Quranic attributes of God.
It is for this reason that many western scholars of religion do not regard Sikhism as an independent religion but an offshoot of Islam.
The Ahmadis believe, and this belief is borne out by ample historical evidence, that Baba Nanak was a Muslim saint and a mystic who was greatly affected by the general lack of education and awakening in his agrarian community in the Punjab. His teachings were directed essentially at his own people and that is the reason why Sikhism later developed as a strongly ethnic religion.
The beliefs and modes of worship of Sikh religion were greatly influenced by the surrounding Hindu tradition and environment. The principle of reincarnation, prostrating in front of the Granth, and the use of Baba Nanak’s portraits in the gurdwara, are a few examples.