Sikhism is the fifth largest organised religion in the world with over 25 million devotees. Founded in the Indian state of Punjab in 1469 by Guru Nanak, this comparatively young faith rejected idolatry and the then prevalent caste system and advocated equality of mankind, of gender and equality of all religions. The base of this beautiful religion is that God is universal, genderless and formless – accessible equally to all, irrespective of their race or religion.
Guru Nanak travelled far during his lifetime and taught the core principles of the Sikh faith. Everywhere he travelled, a community of disciples arose, called Sikhs. The term Sikh literally means a student or disciple. Nine Gurus followed Nanak and developed the Sikh faith and community over the next centuries.
The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave instruction that after him, there would be no more living Gurus, and that instead the Adi Granth would become the ‘Guru’ for the Sikhs. Thus, the Adi Granth became the Guru Granth, and is revered by the Sikhs as such.
The era of the ten gurus of Sikhism spans nearly 300 years, from the birth of Nanak Dev in 1469, through the life of Guru Gobind Singh. Each Guru nominated a successor towards the end of his life. The evolution of the religion continued in this manner with a succession of ten living Gurus from 1469 to 1708.
Guru Nanak and his successors wrote extensively, choosing spiritual poetry set to music as the primary form of disseminating their ideas.
Guru Nanak (1469–1539) was born to Kalyan Das ji (Mehta Kalu) and Mata Tripta, in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore. Married to Sulakhan ji and father of Siri Chand and Lakhmi Das, he formally attained his Guru hood at about the age of 30.
He died in Kartarpur at the age of 70. Before he left for his heavenly abode, he appointed his disciple, Bhai Lahna, as his successor. He gave him the name of Guru Angad Dev.
Guru Angad Dev, second of the 10 gurus, compiled the writings of Nanak Dev, and introduced the Gurmukhi script.
Guru Amar Das, third of the 10 gurus, disavowed caste with the institution of langar, pangat and sangat.
Guru Raam Das, fourth of the 10 gurus, began the excavation of the sarovar in Amritsar.
Guru Arjun (Arjan) Dev, fifth of the 10 gurus, erected the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar, compiled and put together the complete set of writings of the Gurus in the form of the Adi Granth. In the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan also included the spiritual verses of individuals from different social, faith and cultural backgrounds, thereby firmly entrenching within Sikh ideology and practice Guru Nanak’s philosophy of the universality of humanity. He was martyred at the age of 43.
In 1801, a one-eyed Sikh warrior called Ranjit Singh established Punjab as an independent state with him as its maharaja. His empire at that time extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to western Tibet in the east, and from Mithankot in the south to Kashmir in the north.After Ranjit Singh died, the Sikh state crumbled and was annexed to Britain’s Indian territories, but the British were keen to build a good relationship with the Sikhs as they found them brave and full of valour.The tradition began of Sikhs serving with distinction in the British Army and to maintain goodwill the British required that Sikhs joining their regiments be initiated into the Khalsa order and to maintain the five Ks.
Good relations came to a brief end between the Sikhs and British in 1919 with the Amritsar massacre in 1919 but despite the massacre, nearly 300,000 Sikhs fought for the Allies in World War Two.
When Britain withdrew from the subcontinent in 1947, Punjab was divided between Independent India and the Islamic Republic of West Pakistan.
The Sikh ambition for a state of their own was something that the Indian government would not concede. Lahore went to Pakistan, Amritsar to India. The Partition affected the Sikhs greatly and Sikh war veterans lost much of the land they had been awarded for gallantry during the Great War.
In 1966, India divided the region of Punjab into three, leaving the Sikhs as a majority in a much-reduced Punjab state. This was not enough to stop Sikh anger at what they saw as continuing oppression. As Sikh discontent grew, a Sikh preacher called Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led these protests. In 1983 Bhindranwale and his closest followers took refuge in the Golden Temple Complex at Amritsar. In June 1984 Indian troops launched Operation Blue Star and attacked the Golden Temple complex, killing innocent pilgrims and seriously damaging the buildings. Shortly in October 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
During the 1999 Vaisakhi, Sikhs worldwide celebrated the 300th anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa and the then Indian president K.R. Narayanan issued a stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa.