A progressive religion well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago, The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide and is ranked as the worlds 5th largest religion. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
From the 11th century onward North India was subject to invasions from the Afghans and Turks. Punjab which has been the gateway into India since ancient times, bore the brunt of the Islamic onslaught. The victory of the invaders meant not just a new ruler but a ruler who was committed to spread his religion among the conquered people - with all means, fair and foul.
Towards this end the Muslim conquerors imposed the Jazia tax on the conquered i.e. non-Muslim people, destroyed non-Muslim places of worship and converted people to Islam at the point of the sword.
Hinduism religion with its unbending caste system and rigid ritualism had become long overdue for reform. Nanak was first Guru of sikhs who preached the message of equality of all humans irrespective of their caste and creed
The Life-Story of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
The life story of Nanak is eloquent as to the nature of the society that surrounded him as also of the mind of this simple yet noble person.
Nanak was born in the year 1469 at a village near the present-day city of Lahore. He was born in a Kshatriya family. His family is said to have belonged to the Bedi sub-caste. At his birth, we are told by the Adi Granth that 33 crores of Gods paid homage to the infant. His mother Tripta was noted for her piety and his father, Kalu was a merchant by profession.
Nanak was a brilliant boy since his early days and had mastered many of the Shastras while still young. We get an insight into the boy's mind when during his thread ceremony he riddled the officiating Brahmin priest, with questions as to how the mere placing of a thread around his body could initiate him into the religion.
As a young man Nanak was fond of visiting ascetics and hermits and brooding over the discussion he had with them. Troubled by Nanak's non-wordly attitude his father tried to settle him in business. But Nanak's mind was involved in something far beyond the ordinary affairs of life. Once having given a large sum of money to be paid to another merchant Nanak non-chalantly distributed the sum among a group of beggars and returned home empty-handed. After this his father gave up hope of rehabilitating his errant son in wordly affairs.
The God "Brahm" appears before Nanak
Nanak continued to brood over issues dear to him. One day his brother-in-law who had come on a visit to Nanak's place decided to take Nanak with him and install him in Government service. In this assignment Nanak was fairly successful but his mind roamed elsewhere. Once when he had gone to have his morning bath, he disappeared into a nearby forest where it is said, God appeared before him and said "I am God, the primal Brahm" and you are the Guru. Three days after disappearing into the forest Nanak returned. But he did not wait long, he gave up his job, distributed among the needy whatever possessions he had and with one companion whose name was Mardana and who was a musician, Nanak set out to preach his gospel.
Nanak combined his preachings with devotional music and became a popular evangelist. Another technique of his to attract quick attention was his attire, which was a combination of the tradition of the Hindu and Muslim dress. This way he also emphasized the superfluous nature of tradition and in his preachings, emphasized that there was a religion greater than the one embodied in tradition and rituals. An important theme of his preachings was "There is no Hindu Muslim, all are the children of God".Na koi Hindu, na koi Turak, sab hai kudrat de bande
Nanak's Ridicule of Hollow Ritualism
Spreading his gospel he visited many places of pilgrimage. Once while he was on a visit to Kashi (modern Varanasi) he saw people taking a purificatory bath in the Ganges and then throwing water in a particular direction so that it reached the heavens where their departed ancestors resided. On seeing this Nanak joined the devotees, but he started throwing water in the opposite direction. When asked the reason for his anomalous behaviour, Nanak explained that he was watering his fields in Punjab which were about 500 miles from Kashi. On hearing his explanation he was made a laughing stock of the crowds but he turned the tables on his scornful audience by asking them how the water could reach the heavens if it could not reach his fields just 500 miles away.
Nanak was quite careless of the formal demands of Hinduism and openly attacked some of its practices. Once during his travels he asked for food at a wayside house and was offered deer meat which he ate heartily. For this he was rebuked by Brahman priests. But Nanak felt no qualms for having violated convention and his caustic reply to the priest was that, it was foolish for a man who was born of flesh and who continually lived in flesh to abstain from eating it. In his sermons he frequently ridiculed rituals held sacred by the orthodoxy.
Once during a sermon he posed a question to his audience as to what was the point in going to snake pits and worshipping a snake as a God when they would kill the same snake without hesitation if it chanced to enter their homes. Nanak's views would have sounded heretical and sacrilegious to the devout, but during his lifetime itself Nanak had acquired a considerable following among the peasantry in Punjab.
Nanak's visit to Mecca and the Kaaba
In the course of his missionary activity Nanak often visited foreign countries. According to local folklore, he is said to have visited, Mecca in the guise of a Muslim devotee. But his ignorance of Mohammedan etiquette nearly cost him his life. On his first night at Mecca he slept with his feet towards the Kaaba. He was rudely awakened by an Arab clergyman who said, "Who is this sleeping Kaafir (infidel), who lies with his feet towards God?". To this Nanak replied "Turn my feet in the right direction where God is not". And when the clergyman turned Nanak's feet to the proper Mohammedan position, the sacred Kaaba itself turned round following Nanak's feet in their semi-circular revolution - or so, we are told, through Sikh folklore.
Hindu and Muslim disciples of Nanak
Nanak continued his missionary activities till the end of his days. When his end was near he had acquired a large following among the Hindus and also among some Muslims who had recently been converted to Islam at the point of the sword by the Sultans and Mughals who then were in power at Delhi. But when Nanak lay on his deathbed an unseemly quarrel broke out among his followers. The Hindus wanted to cremate the body of their Guru. while the Muslims wanted to bury it. We are told that to teach a lesson to his warring disciples Nanak asked each of the groups to place flowers at his dead body on either side and those whose flowers remained fresh throughout one night could have possession of his body. But after this was done, to everybody's surprise on the said morning when the shroud was lifted there was no body but only flowers and all of them were fresh. Thus even after his death as during his life Nanak taught the people the falsity of the barriers of religion.
Sikhism after Nanak
Nanak had appointed a disciple of his, named Angad, to succeed him as the next Guru. During Nanak's days there were many preachers who spread similar views among people. Dyaneshwara, Namdeo. Basaveshwara, Kabir, Tulsidas were a few among them. But it was only Nanak's tradition that 1ived on while that of the others withered away soon after the death of the founders. The reason why only Nanak's tradition survived the death of the founder could be found in the fact that Nanak did not present himself as belonging to any particular religion and his message was directed towards all.
Nanak wanted to propagate a message of universal brotherhood
and did not limit himself with reforming the religion of his birth, although
one of his objectives was to rid Hinduism, of casteism and ritualism.
Another and more important reason could be the line of successive Gurus
that followed Nanak and continued, to preach the message of universal
brotherhood whose propagation he had initiated. After Nanak came 9 Gurus
who succeeded each other in the following order:
Sikhism under the Successive Gurus
Nanak did not present his teachings as though they were a separate religion but laid emphasis on the universal brotherhood among all humans irrespective of the religion they followed. But gradually the followers of Guru Nanak and of the, Gurus, who succeeded him acquired the status of a distinct religion which was one among the many others which had existed till then. To begin with no name was given to the followers of Guru Nanak but later on they acquired a name. The term 'Sikh' used to describe term means 'disciple' of the Guru and is derived from the term 'Shishya' which in Sanskrit means 'disciple'.
The 22 Segments
Under every successive Guru, the position of the followers as a separate and organised religion was further crystallized. The third Guru Amardass divided the territory inhabited by his followers in twenty two segments and spiritual administrators were appointed for each of the segments. The fourth Guru Ramdass established a temple near Lahore which could be looked upon by the followers as the seat of spiritual and temporal authority of the Guru. This temple was called the Harimandir and later the Harmindar Saheb or the Darbar Saheb Gurudwara. A lake was dug around it for devotees to bathe before offering prayers. This lake was termed the Amrit-Sarovar (lake of nectar) from which the city that grew around it derived its name 'Amritsar'.
The fifth Guru Arjan Dev compiled the Sikh canon)the Adi Granth (later to be called Guru Granth Saheb Ji) which alongwith the Sukhmani and the Japjee compi1ed by Guru Nanak, forms part of the worship (Ardas) of the Sikhs.
Guru Arjan Dev instituted practices which were to have far-reaching impact on the making of the Sikh community. In this he was surpassed only by the last Guru, Gobind Singh.
'Piri' and 'Miri'
Guru Arjan Dev declared that it was the duty of every Sikh to give one tenth of his income to the communal treasury and he appointed collectors for each of the twenty two segments to implement this. Thus Sikhism became a theocracy and a state of which the Guru was virtually a king. He used to wear two swords one on each hip which came to known as the 'Piri' the Saint and 'Miri' the Administrator. Here we see the combination of the role of the Church and the State in the context of Sikhism.
Amibivalance towards Hinduism
Though Sikhism began as a message of universal brotherhood among followers of all religions, it was gradually itself transformed into a separate religion. Its relationship with Hinduism remained a problematical one. This was so although as the Gurus preached the message of universal brotherhood all the Gurus themselves. Added to this was the burden of oppression of the Mughal emperors who looked upon the Sikhs as a group of heretical Hindus who tried to sow confusion amongst the followers of Islam. Guru Arjan Dev Ji tried to resolve the status of Sikhism by stating that:
"I have broken with the Hindu and the Musalmaan.
I will not worship with the Hindu, nor like the Musalmaan go to Mecca,
I shall serve Him and no other,
I will not pray to idols, nor say the prayer of the Musalmaan
I shall put my heart at the feet of the one Supreme Being,
For we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmaans.
Martydom of Guru Arjan Dev
But in the eyes of the Mughal rulers, the followers of the Gurus were Hindus who tried to undermine Mughal sovereignty. For this the Sikhs were violently repressed. In the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was the first Guru to be martyred (at the hand of the Mughal oppressors). Jehangir sentenced Guruji to be beheaded after being tormented for days. Burning hot sand was poured on his bare body. After being subjected to such inhuman torture, Guruji we are told, expressed a desire as his last wish, to have a bath in the Ravi river before being beheaded. Guru Arjan Dev Ji who had suffered brutally at the hands of his Mughal tormentors, went into the river till his head disappeared into the swirling currents of the Ravi - never to return. Thus he became the first Sikh Guru to lay down his life due to Mughal oppression.
It was under the later Gurus that Sikhism came to appear as the militant wing of the Hindu community. The idea of Sikhs being defenders of Hinduism was strengthened during the tenure of the 9th and 10th Gurus. Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. During the tenure of these two Gurus the nature of the Sikh religion underwent a fundamental change. And from being a sect with ascetic and pacifist ideals, the Sikhs were transformed into an aggressive military theocracy.
Militarization of the Sikhs due to Mughal Oppression
The changes brought about by Guru Gobind Singh were so fundamental that they represented a new phase in the history of Sikhism. It is worth recalling the circumstances that led to this change. Understanding this phase of Sikh history is all the more important as it led to the formation of Sikhism as we know it today.
This phase of the Sikh religion was a direct result of Mughal oppression. The Mughal rulers had no love for a sect that originated from among the Kafirs (Hindus) but had adapted Islamic ideas like monotheism rejection of idol worship, military theocracy and who with the indigenous Hindu terminology of expression tried to secure a following also among the adherents of Islam. This was unbearable to the Mughals who looked upon the Sikhs as wanting to usurp the platform of Islam and stall the process of converting Hindus (in Punjab) to Islam.
Sikhism was in the eyes of the Mughals - a Panic Reaction of the Hindus against Islam
For the Mughals, Sikhism represented a panic reaction from within the Hindu community to salvage its status as non-muslim by accepting the positive ideals of Islam like rejection of idol worship, casteism and ritualism of its Hindu parent religion and infusing militancy into the new Hindu converts to Sikhism. In the eyes of the Mughal rulers, the Sikh reform was detrimental to the conversion of the Hindus to Islam; and the militancy of the Sikhs was harmful to the security of the Mughal empire. Hence the bitter oppression of the Sikhs by the Mughals which was even more severe than the oppression of the Hindus in general.
During the reign of Aurangzeb the severest wave of oppression was unleashed on Non-Muslims with a view to Islamize the country. As the Mughal oppression found tough resistance from the Sikhs they were the favourite target for the Mughals. Here the story of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh needs to be
The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur
During the reign of Aurangzeb Guru Tegh Bahadur who was the then Guru of the Sikhs was approached by a group of Hindu Pandits from Kashmir with a plea for protection from Mughal oppression. True to the spirit of his faith the Guru decided to approach the fanatical Mughal emperor Aurangzeb himself for a redress of the grievances. Unfortunately at the Mughal court he received abuses and threats. He was told to accept Islam on the pain of death. To prove his word the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb tourtured to death the members of the Guru's entourage one after the other. But Guru Tegh Bahadur did not lose his composure and calmly demanded a halt to the repressive policies. Wanting to teach a lesson to the obstinate Guru and to set an example to his followers the emperor ordered that the Guru to be beheaded. Thus after Guru Arjan Dev, Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh Guru to meet a violent death at the hands of the Mughals. But after his execution some of his followers managed to sneak out the Guru's severed head from Delhi and carried it to Anandpur. At the place where the Gurus severed head was cremated, a Gurudwara was erected to commemorate this sacrifice undertaken in defence of the Dharma. This place is known to us today as the Anandpur Saheb Gurudwara.
The Khalsa Panth of Guru Gobind Singh Ji
When Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred, his son Gobindrai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh) was still a boy, but the events which had overtaken his father, influenced him deeply and after succeeding his father as the next Guru, he was determined to carry out the struggle against Mughal oppression. Towards this end he undertook a radical transformation of the Sikh religion. This transformation was too fundamental to be termed as a reform and it virtually amounted to the establishment of a new religious order. And though he transformation differentiated the subsequent Sikhism (the Khalsa Panth from the earlier one; more in temporal and worldly aspects rather than in spiritual matters, it led to the first major split among the Sikhs.
The five Ks (Kakkars)
The transformation of Sikhism as the Khalsa Panth was formally launched by Guru Gobind Singh Ji on Baishakhi (New year) day in the year 1699. The new community was termed the Khalsa Panth or the 'Pure Sect' as its followers were required to be far more strict in observing the tenets of their reformed faith. The followers of the Khalsa were required to observe five visible symbols of membership. These signs as we know were: 1) Unshorn Hair (Kesha), 2) A curved dagger (Kirpan), 3) A comb (Kangva), 4) A steel bangle (Kada), 5) A pair of shorts (Kachha). All members of the Khalsa were required to suffix their name with the term 'Singh' meaning 'lion'. Guru Gobind Singh's aim in forming the Khalsa Panth was to build up a militarized community which could resist Mughal oppression. An anecdote about his forming of the Khalsa army is worth recalling.
The Formation of the Khalsa Army
Once the Guru was delivering an inspiring speech before a group of Sikh youths on the necessity for every youth in the community to be ready to sacrifice everything he had including his life for the cause of his faith. The response of the youths was enthusiastic and many expressed their readiness to get enrolled in the Khalsa Panth. But the Guru' s standards of integrity were very high and he said that he would require the heads of those who wanted to join the Khalsa. The Guru pulled out his sword and beckoned the enthusiastic youths to come forward and lay down their lives there and then.
The youths were dumbfounded and for some moments nobody volunteered to sacrifice his life, while the Guru waited with his unsheathed sword in hand. Finally one of the youths turned up and offered his head to the Guru saying that his head already belonged to the Guru and the Guru may have it if he wanted. The Guru caught hold of the youth and led him inside the sacrificial tent that had been erected for the occasion. After sometime there was a piercing scream form the youth and the Guru emerged from the tent and in his hand was a blood-stained sword. The Guru now demanded another head.
His audience was benumbed at this evident gruesome scene and many devotees fled the place in disgust saying that the Guru had gone mad! But out of the few remaining youths another one offered his head to the Guru. After some time a few select youths had offered their heads to their Guru and has been "sacrificed" by the Guru, while many others had fled carrying with them the memory of a ghastly episode.
But those who fled were never to learn the secret of what happened to those brave youths, five in number, who had offered their heads to the Guru and who were the first Panj Pyaras. Contrary to the impression that he created, after leading every youth into the tent, the Guru embraced each of them and installed them as his select soldiers who were to form the Khalsa army. This army was the bravest that could be had as it was made up of men who had proved that they would lay down their lives to serve their Guru and the Panth in their struggle with the Mughal oppressors.
The Fierce Commitment to Overthrow Mughal Oppression
There is also a less known tradition which Guru Ji is said to have shared orally with the Panj Pyaras in the tent after they had offered him their heads. After baptising them as the first 5 members of the the Khalsa "Pure" Panth Guru Ji decided to have the Panj Pyaras observe the 5 kakkars which included wearing a Kada (signifying a bangle) - as a sign of not yet having fulfilled a commitment of overthrowing the Mughal tormentors who then ruled Punjab(and the rest of India). The Kada was meant to instill a compelling sense of commitment in them to defeat their Mughal tormentors.
This aspect of the kada signifying womanhood and shame was later not mentioned for obvious reasons and is not reflected in the Sikh legend. It was this act on part of Guru Ji that spurred on his followers to avenge their oppression by the Muslims and finally led to their successes under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1799.
Banda Bairagi personifies the ethos of Punjab. His story signifies the oneness of the Sahjedharis and the Keshadharis. Banda Bairagi was born into a Sahejdhari family. He was a devout person from his childhood. Immense love for the Guru attracted him to Guru Govind Singh Ji. In his youth, Banda Bairagi became a Keshadhari and was baptised as Banda Singh Bahadur by Guru Ji. Banda Singh Bahadur carried on a relentless fight against the Muslims. After a stormy life, full of daring adventures, he died on the battlefield fighting the Mughal Oppressors. His name has become legendary in Punjabi folklore.
The Political History of the Sikhs
The later history of the Sikhs is more a political history rather than religious and centers around the establishment of a sovereign kingdom by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Here let us digress into the politico-military situation in North India in the mid 18th century.
The Persian Invasion of 1740 by Nadir Shah
The immediate impetus for the establishment of the Sikh kingdom came from the invasion of North India by Ahmed Shah Durrani (Abdali) the ruler of Afghanistan in 1759/61. On his way to Delhi, Ahmed Shah burnt down the Harmindar Saheb Gurudwara at Amritsar.
Abdali stayed on in Delhi for 2 years and was planning to settle in India forever, when he was challenged by the Marathas. The Marathas who then were on their ascendancy in North India had since the first Persian-Afghan invasion by Nadir Shah, the king of Persia in 1740, established themselves as a dominant power in Northern India. The 20 years from 1740 to 1760 saw a see-saw battle between the Afghans and the Marathas for the domination of North India.
With the defeat of Mohammed Shah, the Moghul Emperor in 1740 by Nadir Shah (in whose army Ahmed Shah Abdali was a general), the Mughal power steadily declined and its place was usurped by the Rohillas who were led by an ambitious and ruthless chieftain named Najib Khan. Najib's ambition was to supplant the Moghal Emperor and crown himself as the ruler of India by capturing Delhi.
The Rise of the Marathas in Punjab
But the growing power of the Marathas in their northward expansion, stood between Najib and his ambition. To overcome the Marathas, in 1755, Najib invited Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan to help him in defeating the Marathas and crown himself the ruler of India. In this, he was thwarted by the Marathas who decisively defeated the Rohillas and Afghans near Delhi in 1756. The defeat was so decisive that Najib Khan surrendered to the Marathas and became their prisoner. The Maratha forces were led by Shrimant Raghunath Rao and Malhar Rao Holkar.
After defeating the Afghan-Rohilla forces, the Marathas pursued the Afghans into the Punjab upto the Khyber pass. The last frontier of the Marathas was at Attock in today's NWFP (or Paktoonistan) on the Afghan border. Thus after nearly 800 after the last Punjabi King Tirlochan Pal Shahi had been defeated by Mahmud of Ghazi in 1020 C.E. did that part of India come under Indian rule in 1756 due to the liberation of Punjab by the Marathas.
Meanwhile with machinations and trickery, Najib Khan won over Malhar Rao Holkar and secured his release. On his release Najib started to undermine the Marathas once again and treacherously killed Dattaji Shinde (eldest brother of Mahadji Shinde) . Najib continued to battle the Shindes in 1757-58 and with his newly found confidence again invited Ahmed Shah Abdali to invade India.
The 3rd Battle of Panipat - 1761
Abdali's second invasion was launched in 1759. The Marathas who after their successes in 1756 had been hibernating in Maharashtra and Central India again woke up and in alliance with the Jat King Suraj Mal of Bharatpur formed an alliance. This alliance led by Shrimant Sadshiv Rao Bhau and Shrimant Vishwas Rao (the Peshwa Shrimant Balaji Baji Rao's son) won spectacular victories and captured Delhi and Kunjapura (where the Afghan treasury and armoury was located).
Here the alliance developed cracks due to the Maratha insistence on not allowing the Jats to loot Delhi. This ultimately split the alliance and Suraj Mal withdrew from the alliance.
The Marathas consequently marched upto Panipat, but instead of continuing their attacks to completely defeat the partly defeated Abdali and Najib Khan, they stayed put at Panipat, blocking the way of the Afghans back to Afghanistan. Seeing their way back to their homeland blocked, the Afghans now became restless. They in turn, decided to block the way of the Marathas back into the Deccan. This stand-off continued for a few months, while the Afghans cut-off all supplies to the huge Maratha army. The Afghans with Najib Khan meanwhile recaptured Delhi and Kunjpura.
On the decisive day of 14th January 1761, the Marathas decided to break-through the Afghan blockade and re-enter Deccan. The disastrous battle saw about one hundred thousand Maratha troops being slaughtered in a matter of eight hours. But the Afghans too suffered heavy losses and decided enough was enough and went back to Afghanistan never to return to India.
The defeat of the Marathas and the withdrawal of the Afghans created a power vacuum in North India in the period 1761-1790. It was this vacuum that was filled up by the rising Sikh power under the dynamic leadership of Maharaja Shri Ranjit Singh Ji.
The Rise of the first Sikh Kingdom
When the history of Maratha-Afghan warfare was being enacted, the Sikhs in Punjab had formed themselves into Misls (Local Armed Battalions).
On the departure of the Afghans, the Sikhs reasserted themselves in the Punjab and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji who was the leader of one of the most powerful Misl, formed a kingdom with its capital in today's West Punjab in Pakistan. His kingdom stretched beyond the Hindu Kush into Afghanistan. Able generals like Jussa Singh Ahluwalia, and Hari Singh Nallua helped in pushing the frontiers of the Sikh kingdom into Afghanistan.
It was a tradition in those days for the eldest son of every family from Punjab to join the army (of the Maharaja) by observing the 5 Kakkars. Brave generals like Jussa Singh Ahluwalia and Hari Singh Nallua took the Sikh armies deep into Afghanistan and they are reputed to have brought back the original Gates of the Somnath Temple which had been desecrated by Mahmud of Ghazni in the 11th century. The gates had been carried off by Mahmud to Afghanistan and had remained there ever since. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji retrieved them and brought them back to India.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji's reign marked the consolidation of Indian sovereignty in Punjab after first Muslim invasions eight hundred years before in 1020. The Marathas had broken the continuous Muslim occupation of Punjab by liberating it in 1756 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji consolidated Indian rule in Punjab a few years later.
The kingdom established by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji successfully resisted the Afghans, and Rohillas and also out-matched the new imperialist power of the British successfully till Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji was alive. At his death, the Maharaja had warned about the impending coming of the British.
(On his death-bed he is said to have expressed a desire to offer his most precious possession to the Jagannath Puri temple at Orissa. He was asked by the chief Mahant (priest) of the Jagannath Puri temple as to what he considered most precious. In reply Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji is said to have told the Mahant that as a Keshadhari follower of the Guru, his unshorn hair was most precious to him and he wanted to donate that to the temple along with umpteen gold and jewellery.)
It was during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji that the Harmindar Saheb Gurudwara at Amritsar which had been burnt down by Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1760, was repaired and was completely plated with gold and from then onwards it came to be known as the Golden Temple.
Such was Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji who consolidated Indian rule in India's frontier state which had been earlier liberated by the Marathas. Unfortunately the Marathas could not retain their hold over the liberated areas, many of which were re-occupied by the Rohillas and Afghans after a few years. But the rise of the Sikh power ensured that a large part of the Maratha achievements of rolling back alien rule could be consolidated and expanded.
The Coming of the British The Sikh kingdom survived for some years after the passing away of Ranjit Singh but in a few years after his death the British defeated the Sikh forces at Chillianwalla in 1856 and annexed the kingdom. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji's son, the teenaged son Duleep Singh was taken into custody by the British and sent to London for studies! Ironically it was the Indian Sepoys (troops) of the British East India Company who fought aginst their Sikh compatriots to bring about the downfall of the last independent Indian kingdom of the pre-British period.
Though the British annexed the Sikh kingdom, they recognised the fighting spirit and bravery of the Sikh soldiers and enrolled a large number of them into the British colonial army.
The Sikh troops again ironically, proved to be loyal supporters of the British crown especially by their role in quelling the Uprising of 1857 which was spearheaded by sepoys (troops) from Bihar and the United Provinces who had mutined against the British. It was these sepoys who had earlier helped in securing Punjab for the British Crown! For this reason after 1857, troops from UP and Bihar fell out of favour with the British, and Sikh troops were favoured by them for enrollment in the army and despite participation of many Sikhs in the freedom struggle, they continued to form the bulk of Indian troops in the British colonial army and even today form a significant proportion in the Indian Army.
The Shiromani Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).
Agitation which was launched by the Akali Dal in 1924-1925, aimed at wresting control of the Gurudwaras, from the traditional Mahants (priests) . These Mahants who held an hereditary position as priests in the Gurudwaras were mostly Sahejdhari Sikhs who had refused to conform to the five outward symbols prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The Sahejdhari Mahants some of whom were clean shaven.
After a protracted struggle the Akali Dal got the British administration to enact a Sikh Gurudwara and Shrines Act. Under this Act the hereditary tenure of the Mahants was abolished and all control Of the Gurudwaras was vested in a Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). They appointed priests (Granthis and Jathedars) who were to be the on the payroll of the SGPC. This revivalist movement helped to strengthen the wedge between the Keshadharis and the Sahejdharis whose line of demarcation was blurred due to a common heritage.
The emphasis on Sikhs being a separate community distinct from the Hindus was sought to be expressed in terms of the 5 distinguishing symbols the Keshadhari Sikhs thus implying that the Sahejdhari Sikhs were not true Sikhs and that the religion which bore the name Sikhism was limited to members of the Khalsa Panth.
To a lay observer the insistence of the Keshadhari Sikhs to look upon only those members who observe the 5 visible symbols as Sikhs, and others who give up these symbols as being Patit (heretics).
"Ek Onkar" of the Keshadharis
The second thing that meets the eye while looking at Gurudwara is the letter "Ek Onkar" which is inscrlbed on most Gurudwaras (it means "One God").
Even the practice of growing a beard and hair and tying it up in a knot atop one's head is not peculiar to the Keshadhairs.
Though the Sikhs reject idol worship, they look upon the Granth Saheb as their Guru. The Granth Saheb is placed on a throne (takht). This betrays a kind of respect for the Guru Granth as though it were a living Guru.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji made it obligatory for Keshadharis to use this suffix SINGH after their first name.
Ik Onkaar - There Is Only One God
Sikhism is one of the younger faiths of the world, as compared with religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or Islam. It is a monotheistic faith, preaching the existence of only one God, and teaching ideals that may be universally accepted today and in the future: honesty, compassion, humility, piety, social commitment, and most of all tolerance for other religions.
The word 'Sikh', derived from the Sanskrit word 'shishya', means a disciple, a learner, a seeker of truth. A Sikh believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, embodied in the Sikh Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib1. Additionally, he or she must take Amrit2, the Sikh Baptism.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The succeeding nine Gurus nurtured and developed his ideas and teachings. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru, brought to an end to the line of human Gurus and in 1708, installed Guru Granth Sahib, as the permanent Guru of the Sikhs.
The Sikh Gurus provided guidance for about 240 years. They taught the
basic values of freedom, brotherhood, charity, obedience, understanding,
sympathy, patience, humility, simplici-ty, and piety, and outlined the
path to spirituality in life. The Gurus themselves said that they were
human and were not to be worshipped as God . They considered themselves
to be mere servants of God. Guru Gobind Singh said:
The Basic Belief of the Sikhs
The Mool Mantar (literally, the root verse; the first hymn composed by Guru Nanak) sums up the basic belief of the Sikhs. Guru Granth Sahib begins with the Mool Mantar. Every Sikh is expected to recite it daily. The English translation is given below:
The "Guru"3 in Sikhism is an enlightener and messenger. The word 'Guru' does not always refer to a human being. The Guru's word or hymn is also Guru.
"The universe is the temple of God but
The Gurus have raised the conscience of the Sikhs to such a level where they can be one with God. They are the light bearers for humanity. They are the messengers of the Timeless. They renew the eternal wisdom. They are universal men who free our minds from bigotry and superstitions, dogmas and rituals, and emphasise the simplicity of the religion. They appear outside in human form to those who crave for visible and physical guides. The enlighteners are the inner selves.
The first of the Gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak. He was born in Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib (near Lahore in Pakistan) in 1469 AD. Guru Nanak married and had two sons. This was the darkest period of India's history when the people were absolutely divided and demoralised. Guru Nanak himself describes the scene in the following words:
"The age is a knife. Kings are butchers. They dispense justice when their palms are filled. Decency and laws have vanished, falsehood stalks abroad. Then came Babar to Hindustan (India). Death disguised as a Moghul made war on us. There was slaughter and lamentation. Did not Thou, O Lord, feel the pain?"
In addition, the priests had reduced religion to a mockery. The public
was blind in its faith, and governed by superstitions. Seeing all this,
Guru Nanak started building a nation of self-respecting men and women,
devoted to God and their leaders, filled with a sense of equality and
brotherhood. He pronounced, for the benefit of all:< /p>
"There is only One Father of us all, And we are all His children.Recognise all human race as one."
Giving women their proper place in society, He said,
"Born of women, nourished by women, wedded to women, why do they revile women? How can women be called inferior when they give birth to kings and prophets?"
Guru Nanak was a friend of the down-trodden.
"There are low castes, lowliest of the low.
He also preached the concept of "Honest-Productive-Labour", kirat kamai.
"Only such a person can realise the spiritual
There was not a single aspect of earthly or spiritual life which was not enlightened by Guru Nanak. He passed away on 7 September 1539.
The second Guru, Siri Guru Angad Dev Ji, was born in 1504 and first met Guru Nanak in 1532. Guru Angad invented and introduced the Gurmukhi (written form of Punjabi) script and made it known to all Sikhs. The scripture of Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in Gurmukhi. This scripture is also the basis of Punjabi language. Guru Angad was a model of self-less service to his Sikhs and showed them the way to devotional prayers.
The third Guru, Siri Guru Amardas Ji, was born in 1479. He met Guru Angad in 1541 who transmitted the same Light to Guru Amardas in 1552. Guru Amardas took up cudgels of spirituality to fight against caste restrict-ions, caste prejudices and the curse of untouchability. He strengthened the tradition of the free kitchen, Guru Ka Langar (started by Guru Nanak), and made his disc-iples, whether rich or poor, whether high born or low born (according to the Hindu caste system), have their meals together sitting in one place. He thus established social equality amongst the people. Guru Amardas introduced the Anand Karaj marriage ceremony for the Sikhs, replacing the Hindu form. He also completely abolished amongst the Sikhs, the custom of Sati, in which a married women was forced to burn herself and die with the funeral of her husband. The custom of Paradah, in which a woman covered her face with a veil was also done away with.
The fourth Guru, Siri Guru Ramdas Ji, was born in 1534. He became the Guru in 1574. He started the construction of the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. The temple remains open on all sides and at all times to every one. This indicates that the Sikhs believe in One God who has no partiality for any particular place, direction or time.
The fifth Guru, Siri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, was bestowed upon with the "Divine Light" by Guru Ramdas Ji in 1581. He was born in 1563. Guru Arjan was a saint and scholar of the highest quality and repute. He compiled the hymns and compositions of Guru Nanak and his other predec-essors, selected the sacred scriptures of some Hindu and Muslim saints, composed his own hymns and thus compiled the Adi Granth4. He proved that holy beings of whatever caste or creed are equally worthy of respect and reverence. The achievements and the works of Guru Arjan upset the reigning Emperor, Jahangir who implicated him and tortured him in most inhumane way. The Guru suffered quietly and bravely and set to the whole world an unequaled example of self-sacrifice and peaceful sufferings. Despite being made to sit in boiling water, and on a red hot iron plate while burning sand was poured over his body, he chanted cheerfully and softly "Sweet is Thy Will, My Lord; Thy grace alone I Beseech". He breathed his last in 1606.
The sixth Guru, Siri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, was born in 1595. He became Guru in 1606. He built many religious shrines and felt the necessity of imparting the spirit of soldiership to the Sikhs and urged them to be well versed in the art of using sword and other arms for self-defence and self-preservation. He himself wore two swords, Miri, representing political sovereignty and Piri, signifying spiritual sovereignty; a balance of material and spiritual life in the world.
The seventh Guru, Siri Har Rai Ji, born in 1630, spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the Gospel of Guru Nanak. He also continued the grand task of nation-building initiated by Guru Hargobind.
The eighth Guru, Siri Har Krishan Ji, was born in 1656. The "Divine Light" was bestowed upon him in 1661. To the Sikhs he proved to be the symbols of service, purity and truth. The Guru gave his life while serving and healing the epidemic-stricken people in Delhi. Anyone who invokes Him with a pure heart has no difficulties whatsoever in their life.
The ninth Guru, Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, was born in 1621 in Amritsar. He became Guru in 1664. He established the town of Anandpur. The Guru laid down his life for the protection of Hindus, their Tilak (devotional mark painted on the forehead) and their sacred thread. He was a firm believer in the right of people to the freedom of worship. It was for this cause that he faced martyrdom for the defence of the down-trodden Hindus. So pathetic was the torture of Guru Tegh Bahadur that his body had to be cremated clandestinely at Delhi while his head was taken four hundred kilometers away to Anandpur Sahib for cremation.
The tenth Guru, Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was born in 1666 and became Guru after the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. He created the Khalsa (The Pure Ones) in 1699, changing the Sikhs into a saint-soldier order with special symbols and sacraments for protecting themselves. He fought many wars against oppression. His four sons also gave their lives in defence of their faith. He died in 1708.
Thus the tree whose seed was planted by Guru Nanak, came to fruition when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, and on 3 October 1708, appointed Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru. He commanded: "Let all bow before my successor, Guru Granth. The Word is the Guru now."
GURU GRANTH SAHIB JI
Guru Granth Sahib5 is the scriptures of the Sikhs. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. The Granth was written in Gurmukhi script and it contains the actual words and verses as uttered by the Sikh Gurus. Initially known as the Adi Granth, it was compiled by the fifth Guru Arjan and installed in 1604, in the Harimander Sahib (known as Golden Temple), Amritsar. The tenth Guru Gobind Singh added to the Adi Granth the composition of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. It is believed that four copies of the Granth Sahib were prepared; the first one was sent to the Harimander Sahib at Amritsar, the second to Anandpur, the third to Patna and the fourth was kept by him at Nander. Guru Gobind Singh did not include his own verses in the Granth due to his modesty and humility.
When Guru Gobind Singh ended the line of living Sikh Gurus by raising the Adi Granth to the status of a permanent Guru and renamed it Guru Granth Sahib. He then commanded the Sikhs that it was to be revered as the body and spirit of the Ten Gurus.
Every copy of Guru Granth Sahib consists of 1430 pages. It contains the Banis (the sacred compositions) of the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru as well as a number of passages of verses written by several saints from Muslims, Hindus and even so called "untouchable". This was done to demonstrate the Sikh respect for other saints and tolerance for all faiths. Altogether, Guru Granth Sahib includes 5894 Shabads (hymns or holy verses) which are arranged in 31 Ragas (musical measures). The first verse is Mool Mantar (or Mantra), the Root Verse, followed by daily prayer or Nitnem namely, Japji, Sodar and Kirtan Sohila. The remaining verses have been arranged according to their individual musical patterns or Ragas which began with Siri Raga and end with Jai-jiwanti.
Guru Granth Sahib is an anthology of prayers and hymns. Most of the hymns are addressed to God and often describe the devotee-'s condition: his aspirations and yearning, his agony in separa-tion and his longing to be with Lord. The subject of Guru Granth Sahib is truth: how to live a truthful living, that is, an ultimate for an ideal person. As Guru Nanak states in the Mool Mantra, God is the Ultimate Truth and one has to cultivate those qualities which are associated with him, in order to like Him. The basic concept behind the hymns is that sacred music, when sung or listened to with devotion and undivided attention, can link the individual's consciousness with God. A mind may become stable and enjoy the peace of His divine Presence, as listening to the hymns can exert a powerful influence on the mind and help to establish its communion with God.
In Guru Granth Sahib, revelation and Raga go hand in hand. The Gurus were emphatic about the religious value of sacred music or Kirtan and stressed its continuous use, as source of divine joy and bliss. Sacred music is fine art wedded closely to the spiritual theme. It is devotional music in praise of the Glory of God conveyed by melody and rhythm. The goal or objective of Kirtan is to put the individual soul in tune with God.
Guru Granth Sahib is a book of Revelation. It conveys the Word of the Master through His messengers on earth. It is universal in its scope. The greatness of Guru Granth Sahib lies not only in its being the holy scripture of the Sikhs but also in it being a general scripture available to mankind, intended for everybody, everywhere.
The Granth also explains what Guru Nanak meant by a "perfect individual" or a Gurmukh. It is a remarkable storehouse of spiritual knowledge and teachings. It does not preach any rites or rituals but stresses meditation on the Name of God. Through its teachings, it can enable men and women to lead a purposeful and rewarding life while being productive members of a society. It seeks universal peace and the good of all mankind. Guru Granth Sahib also stresses the democratic way of life and the equality of all people. It teaches that we are Karm Yogis, that is, we reap what we sow. The emphasis is on moral actions, noble living and working for the welfare of all people. Respect and veneration for Guru Granth Sahib does not imply idol worship, but rather respect for a divine message, the ideas and ideals contained in the Sikh scripture. Meditation on the True Word, Satnam or the Wonderful Enlightener, Waheguru, or on any line of a verse in Guru Granth Sahib, may bring the true devotee or disciple to be in tune with God.
The Birth of the Khalsa
Guru Gobind Singh invited his followers from all over India to a special congregation at Anandpur on Baisakhi Day, 30 March 1699. He asked, with a naked sword in his hand, "Is there any one among you who is prepared to die for the Sikh Faith?" When people heard his call, they were taken aback. Some of the wavering followers left the congregation, while other began to look at one another in amazement. After a few minutes, a Sikh from Lahore named Daya Ram stood up and offered his head to the Guru. The Guru took him to a tent pitched close by, and after some time, came out with a blood dripping sword. The Sikhs thought Daya Ram had been slain. The Guru repeated his demand calling for another Sikh who was prepared to die at his command. The second Sikh who offered himself was Dharam Das. Thereafter, three more, Mohkam Chand, Sahib Chand and Himmat Rai, offered their lives to the Guru.
Later, these five Sikhs were given new robes and presented to the congregation. They constituted the Panj Pyare: the Five Beloved Ones, who were baptised as the Khalsa or the Pure Ones with the administration of Amrit. The Guru declared:
Since Guru Nanak, it is the Charanamrit (water used for washing the Guru's feet) which has been administered to the devotees. But from now on, I shall baptise them with water stirred with a double-edged sword - Khanda.
Upon administering amrit to the Five Beloved Ones, the Guru asked them to baptise him in the same manner, thus emphasising equality between the Guru and his disciples.
Guru Gobind Singh named the new ceremony, Khanday-da-Amrit, namely the baptism of the double-edged sword. He stirred water in an iron bowl with the sword, reciting five major compositions, Japji, Jaap, Anand Sahib, Ten Sawaiyas and Chaupi, while the five Sikhs stood facing him. The Guru's wife put some sugar-puffs into the water. The nectar thus obtained was called Khanday-da-Amrit. This implied that the new Khalsa brother-hood would not only be full of courage and herois-m, but also filled with humility.
Briefly, the Khalsa concept has been captured by G.C. Narang in Transformation of Sikhism:
Abolition of prejudice, equality of privilege amongst one another and with the Guru, common worship, common place of pilgrimage, common baptism for all classes and lastly, common external appearance - these were the means besides common leadership and the community of aspiration which Gobind Singh employed to bring unity among his followers and by which he bound them together into a compact mass6.
The creation of Khalsa marked the culmination of about 240 years of training given by the ten Gurus to their Sikhs. The Guru wanted to create ideal people who should be perfect in all respects, that is a combination of devotion (Bhakti) and strength (Shakti). He combined charity (Deg) with the sword (Tegh) in the image of his Sikh.
The Khalsa was to be a saint, a soldier and a scholar, with high moral and excellent character. He or she would be strong, courageous, learned and wise. In order to mould his personality the Guru inculcated in him the five virtues - sacrifice, cleanliness, honesty, charity and courage, and prescribed a Rehat - the Sikh code of discip-line. His character would be strengthened by the spirit of God revealed in the Guru's hymns. For this purpose he was asked to recite the five sacred composition or Banis daily.
The combination of virtue and courage is the strength of the Khalsa. This is an assurance against the ruthless exploitation of masses by their masters, and a device for overcoming hurdles that lied in the practice of holiness and spiritualism in daily life. Guru Gobind Singh commanded the Khalsa to use the sword only in times of emergency, that is, when peaceful methods failed and only for self-defence and the protection of the oppressed. His spirit will continue to inspire them for the preservation of peace, order and dignity of mankind for all time to come.
The five K's
The five sacred Sikh symbols prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh are commonly known as Panj Kakars or the 'Five Ks' because they start with letter K representing Kakka in the Punjabi language. They are:
1. Kes or unshorn hair, regarded as a symbol of saintliness. Guru Nanak started the practice of keeping the hair unshorn. The keeping of hair in its natural state is regarded as living in harmony with the will of God, and is a symbol of the Khalsa brotherhood and the Sikh faith. Hair is an integral part of the human body created by God and Sikhism call for its preservation. The shaving or cutting of hair is one of the four taboos or Kurehats.
2. Kangha or the comb is necessary to keep the hair clean and tidy. A Sikh must comb his hair twice a day and tie his turban neatly. The Gurus wore turbans and commanded the Sikhs to wear turbans for the protection of the hair, and promotion of social identity and cohesion. It has thus become an essential part of the Sikh dress.
3. Kara or the steel bracelet symbolises restrain from evil deeds. It is worn on the right wrist and reminds the Sikh of the vows taken by him, that is, he is a servant of the Guru and should not do anything which may bring shame or disgrace. When he looks at the Kara, he is made to think twice before doing anything evil with his hands.
4. Kachh or the soldiers shorts must be worn at all times. It reminds the Sikh of the need for self-restrain over passions and desires. Apart from its moral significance, it ensures briskness during action and freedom of movement at all times. It is a smart dress as compared to the loose dhoti which most Indian wore at that time.
5. Kirpan or the sword is the emblem of courage and self-defence. It symbolises dignity and self-reliance, the capacity and readiness to always defend the weak and the oppressed. It helps sustain one's martial spirit and the determination to sacrifice oneself in order to defend truth, oppression and Sikh moral values.
The Five K's, along with the turban, constitute the Khalsa uniform, which distinguishes a Sikh from any other person in the world, and is essential for preserving the life of the community and fostering the Khalsa brotherhood.
The Five K's are not supposed to foster exclusiveness or superiority. They are meant to keep the Sikhs united in the pursuit of the aims and ideals of the Gurus. They enable them to keep their vows made at the time of baptism. The Sikhs have been known to face torture and death rather than cut their hair or remove any of the sacred symbols.
The Khalsa cannot be anonymous. His religion is known to all. He stands out among people, and any unseemly behaviour or action on his part would be noted as unbecoming of a follower of the Gurus. People would easily blame him if he deviated from the disciplinary code of Guru Gobind Singh.
The Sikh Code of Discipline
Along with the maintenance of the Five K's, the Khalsa is required to refrain from committing the four taboos or Kurehats. These are:
1. Trimming, shaving or removing hair from the body.
A Sikh guilty of committing any of these serious breaches is regarded as the fallen one (Patit or Tankhahiya). Guru Gobind Singh declared that as long as the Khalsa followed the Five K's and Sikh code of discipline, he would win glory, but if he showed indif-ference, his progress would be hampered
The Sikh Insignia - Khanda
The Khanda constitutes three symbols in one. However, the name is derived from the central symbol, Khanda, a special type of double-edged sword which confirms the Sikhs' belief in One God.
* The double-edged sword is the creative power of God which controls
the destiny of the whole creation. It is sovereign power over life and
There must always be a balance between the two and this balance is emphasised by a inside circle. The circle is what is called the Chakra. This is a symbol of all-embracing divine mani-festation including everything and wanting nothing, without beginning or end, neither first or last, timeless, and absolute. It is the symbol of oneness, unity, justice, humanity and morality. The Chakra was also used by the Sikhs as one of the war weapons against injustice and oppression. Almost all Sikh warriors used to wear it in the eighteenth century.
The Sikh Flag - Nishan Sahib
The Sikh flag is a saffron-coloured triangular-shaped cloth, usually reinforced in the middle with Sikh insignia in blue. It is usually mounted on a long steel pole (which is also covered with saffron-coloured cloth) headed with a Khanda. The Sikh flag is often seen near the entrance to the Gurdwara, standing firmly on the platform, overlooking the whole building. Sikhs show great respect to their flag as it is, indeed, the symbol of the freedom of the Khalsa.
The Sikh Ceremonies
All the Sikh ceremonies like birth, baptism, marriage and death, are simple, inexpensive and have a religious tone. They are held in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and include Kirtan, the singing of appropriate hymns for the occasion, saying of Ardas - formal prayer, and the distribution of Karah Parshad7, sacred food, to the congregation. The baptism ceremony called Amrit described earlier, is the most important of all Sikh ceremonies.
The Naming Ceremony
The Sikh naming or christening ceremony is well established and it takes place in a Gurdwara8 in the presence of relatives and friends. The family offers donations, Karah Parshad and a Rumala which is a covering for Guru Granth Sahib, made of high quality silk, cotton or embroidered cloth. Prayers are offered asking for a special blessing of good health, long life and the Sikh way of life, Gursikhi for the child.
After reciting Ardas, Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random. The first letter of the first word of the hymn on the page is selected as the first letter of the child's name. The given name is common for either sex. The word Kaur meaning 'princess' is added after a girl's name, and the name Singh meaning 'lion' after a boy's. For example, if the first letter is "P", the male child may be given a name like Partap Singh, Pritam Singh or Puran Singh or any other such name beginning with the letter "P". If the newly-born is a girl the name would like wise be, Partap Kaur, Pritam Kaur or Puran Kaur.
When the name is selected by the family, the congregation gives approval by a holy cheer or Jaikara: 'Bolay So Nihal! Sat Siri Akal!' The ceremony ends with the distribution of Karah Prasad, and the placing of the Rumala over Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes, sweets or Langar, free food from the Guru's kitchen, is served but this is not a part of the ceremony.
The Sikh Marriage
Sikh marriages are usually arranged. However, the word 'arranged' is not always properly interpreted by people in Western societies. An arranged marriage does not mean forcing a boy or a girl into a wedlock of parents' choice only. It is agreeing to marriage proposed by mutual discussion between the boy or the girl on one side and his or her parents and relatives on the other. This is in fact selecting the right partner from a number of choices or proposals.
Several criteria are usually adopted before making a marriage proposal. Most important are the boy and girl themselves who show their willingness only after taking into account, personality, family background, educational standing and physical appearance of the proposed partner. Generally, relatives or close family friends suggest a suitable match to the family. The boy and girl then get to know each other to convey their consent to their parents.
The Sikh marriage is monogamous. In the case of broken marriage, divorce is not possible according to the Sikh religious tradition. The couple can, however, obtain a divorce under the Civil law of the land. Marriage, in Sikhism, is regarded as a sacred bond in attaining worldly and spiritual joy. About the ideal marriage, the Guru says: "They are not husband and wife who only have physical contact; rather they are wife and husband who have one spirit in two bodies."
The Sikh marriage ceremony is called Anand Karaj meaning 'ceremony of bliss'. The fourth Guru, Guru Ramdas, originally composed Lavan, the wedding song, to celebrate a holy union between the human soul (Atma) and God (Parmatma). The Guru wishes that our married life should also be moulded on the ideal laid down for our union with the Parmatma. The 4 verses of Lavan explain the four stages of love and married life. The first verse emphasises the performance of duty to the family and the community. The second verse refers to the stage of yearning and love for each other. The third verse refers to the stage of detachment or Virag. The fourth verse refers to the final stage of harmony and union in married life during which human love blends into the love for God. Lavan is a Sanskrit word literally meaning 'break away', i.e. the bride breaking away from her parents' home. Based on a concept depicted in Lavan, the Sikh marriage is not merely a physical and legal contract but is a sacrament, a holy union between two souls, where physically they appear as two individual bodies but in fact are united as one. The bride's past and present becomes the bridegroom's past and present. Her present becomes his and his hers. They feel and think alike and both are completely identified with each other, i.e., they become 'Ek Jot Doe Murti' meaning one spirit in two bodies.
Sometimes before the wedding day another important ceremony called Kurmayaee or Shagan takes place usually at the bridegroom's house or the Gurdwara. It is a formal engagement ceremony involving a promise to marry and an exchange of rings and other presents. But the word Kurmayaee literally means the coming or the meeting of the parents of both the boy and the girl, and this shows the importance attached to the union of the two families. As soon as the bridegroom, and the two families are assembled the Milnee is performed, a meeting of parents and close relatives of the bride and groom and exchange of presents. The bride herself does not normally participate.
The marriage ceremony is conducted in a Gurdwara or at the bride's home or any other suitable place where Guru Granth Sahib is duly installed. A priest or any Sikh (man or woman) may conduct the ceremony, and usually, a respected and learned person is chosen.
First Asa di Var (morning hymns) and then hymns appropriate for the occasion are sung while, family, friends, guests and groom arrives. The groom is first seated before Guru Granth Sahib and when the bride comes she take her place on his left. The couple and their parents are asked to stand while the rest of congregation remains seated. A prayer is then said, invoking His blessings for the proposed marriage and asking His Grace on the union of the couple. This connotes the consent of the bride and the bridegroom and their parents. The parties then resume their seats and a short hymn is sung.
This is followed by a brief speech addressed particularly to the couple, explaining the significance and obligation of the marriage. The couple are then asked to honour their vows by bowing together before Guru Granth Sahib. Then the bride's father places one end of pink or saffron-coloured scarf in the grooms hand, passing it over the shoulder and placing the other end in the bride's hand. Thus joined, the two will take the vows.
This is followed by a short hymn. Guru Granth Sahib is now opened and the first verse of Lavan is read from it. The same verse is then sung by the musicians while the couple slowly encircle Guru Granth Sahib. The groom leads in a clock-wise direction and the bride, holding the scarf, follows as nearly as possible in step. When the couple reaches the front of Guru Granth Sahib, they both bow together and take their respective seats. The same protocol is repeated for the remainder three verses. The ceremony is concluded with the customary singing of the six stanzas of the Anand Sahib, Song of Bliss, followed by Ardas, prayer, and Vak, a random reading of a verse from Guru Granth Sahib. The ceremony, which takes about an hour, ends with the serving of Karah Parshad to the congregation. Relatives and friends then exchange greetings and congratulations. A few hour after the marriage the bridal party or Doli leaves and the bride departs from her parental home with her husband.
The Death Ceremony
To a Sikh, birth and death are closely associated, because they are both part of the cycle of human life, Ava Guvan, which is seen as transient stage towards Nirvana, complete unity with God. Sikhs thus believe in reincarnation. Mourning is therefore discouraged, especially in the case of those who have lived a long and full life. The death ceremony may be split into two parts; Saskar, the cremation and the Antim Ardas, the final prayer at the end of the Bhog ceremony.
At a Sikh's death-bed, relatives and friends read Sukhmani Sahib, the Psalm of Peace, composed by the fifth Guru Arjan Dev Ji, to console themselves and the dying person. When a death occurs, they exclaim 'Waheguru', the Wonderful Lord. Wailing or lamentation is dis-couraged. For cremation, the body is first washed and dressed with clean clothes complete with the Five K's (in case of baptised Sikhs). If the death occurs in a hospital, the body is taken home for viewing before the funeral. In Punjab, body will be burnt on the funeral pyre, but in Western countries crematorium is used. A prayer is said before the start of the funeral to seek salvation for the departed soul. On arrival at the crematorium, a brief speech about the deceased is generally given, the Sohila, bed-time prayer is recited and the Ardas, formal prayer is offered. The cremation is generally done by the eldest son or a close relative. Where cremation is not possible, disposal of the dead body by placing it in the sea or river is permitted. At the end of the cremation the member of the funeral party return to their homes.
The ashes are collected after the cremation and later disposed of by immersion in the nearest river or sea. Some families, living outside India, prefer to take the ashes to Punjab. Sikhs do not erect monuments over the remains of the dead.
The second part is called Antim Ardas, the final prayer during the Bhog ceremony which includes a complete reading of Guru Granth Sahib either at home or in a Gurdwara. This is called a Sahaj Path, and is usually completed within ten days. If the family can read, they must take part in the reading; if they cannot, they must sit and listen to it. The reading is meant to provide spiritual support and consolation to the bereaved family and friends. During Ardas, the blessing of God for the departed soul is sought. The Gurus emphasised the remembrance of God's Name as the best means of consolation for the bereaved family. Sikhs are always exhorted to submit to and have complete faith in the will of God, called Bhana Mun-na.
Generally, all the relatives and friends of the family gather together for the Bhog ceremony on the completion of the reading of Guru Granth Sahib. Musicians sing appropriate hymns, Salokas of the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur are read, and Ramkali Saad, the Call of God, is recited. After the final prayer, a random reading or Hukam is taken, and Karah Parshad is distributed to the congregation.
If the deceased person is elderly, food from Guru's kitchen, Langar, is served. Presents are distributed to grandchildren. Donations are often announced for charities and religious organ-izations. Sometimes, at the end of the Bhog, eldest member is presented with a turban and declared the new head of the family.
A Sikh festival or holy day is called a Gurpurb, meaning Guru's remembrance day. The celebration is generally similar for all Gurpurabs; only the hymns and history of a particular occasion is different. The ceremony for Guru Nanak's birthday is described in detail.
The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, usually comes in the month of November, but the date varies from year to year, based on the traditional dates of the Indian Calendar. The birthday celebration usually lasts three days. Generally two days before the birthday, Akhand Path (forty-eight-hour non-stop reading of Guru Granth Sahib) is held in the Gurdwara. One day before the birthday, a procession is organised which is led by the Panj Pyaras (Five Beloved Ones) and the Palki (Palanquin) of Siri Guru Granth Sahib and followed by teams of singers singing hymns, brass bands playing different tunes, 'Gatka' teams (Martial art) show their swordmanship, and devotees singing the chorus. The procession passes through the main roads and streets of the town which are covered with buntings and decorated gates and the leaders inform the people of the message of Guru Nanak. On the birth anniversary day, the programme begins early in the morning at about 4 or 5 am with the singing of Asa-di-Var (morning hymns) and hymns from the Sikh scriptures followed by Katha (exposition of the scripture) and lectures and recitation of poems in the praise of the Guru. The celebration goes on until about 1 to 2 pm.
After Ardas and distribution of Karah Parshad, the Langar is served. Some Gurdwara also hold night session. This begins around sun set when Rehras (evening prayer) is recited. This is followed by Kirtan till late in the night. Sometimes a Kavi-darbar (poetic symposium) is also held to enable the poets to pay their tributes to the Guru in their own verses. At about 1:20 am, the actual time of the birth, the congregation sings praises of the Guru and recites the Holy Word. The function ends about 2 am.
The Sikhs who cannot join the celebrations for some reasons, or in places where there are no Sikh temple, hold the ceremony in their own homes by performing Kirtan, Path, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru's birthday generally falls in December or in January. The celebrations are similar to those of Guru Nanak's birthday, namely Akhand Path, procession and Kirtan, Katha, and Langar.
The martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, falls in May or June, the hottest months in India. He was tortured to death under the orders of Moghul Emperor, Jahangir, at Lahore on 25 May 1606. Celebra-tions consist of Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar in the Gurdwara. Because of summer, chilled sweetened drink made from milk, sugar, essence and water is freely distributed in Gurdwaras and in neighbourhoods to everybody irrespective of their religious belief.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was arrested under orders of Moghul Emperor, Aurangzeb. As he refused to change his religion and accept Islam, he was beheaded on 11 November 1675 at Chandi Chowk, Delhi. Usually one-day celebrations of his martyrdom are held in the Gurdwaras.
Three days before his passing away, Guru Gobind Singh conferred on 3 October 1708, the perpetual Gurudom on Siri Guru Granth Sahib. On this day, a special one-day celebration is held with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Ardas, Karah Parshad and Langar. Sikhs rededicate themselves to follow the teachings of the Gurus contained in the scriptures.
Baisakhi, also called Vaisakhi, is the birthday of the Khalsa (the Pure Ones). Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa brotherhood with the 'baptism of steel' on 30 March 1699. On this day, a one-day celebration is held in Gurd-waras with Kirtan, Katha, lectures, Karah Parshad and Langar. In addition, the Amrit ceremony is held and is given to those who offer themselves for Sikh initiation. The Sikhs after taking Amrit are called Khalsa. The Amrit ceremony can be held at any other time as well. Baisakhi is generally celebrated on the 13 April every year.
The Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express the joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail. (Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him because he was afraid of the Guru's growing power and popularity with masses. The Sikhs on this day, which generally falls in November, hold a one-day celebration in the Gurdwara. Diwali means festival of lights. So in the evening, illuminations are done with Diwas (oil lamps made of clay) or candles and fire works held both in the Gurdwaras and in homes and businesses of the Sikhs.
Role and Status of Sikh Women
In Indian society, women were usually subject to various caste-rules and severe restrictions. They remained illiterate and were ill-treated. Female infanticide was often practiced.
Guru Nanak challenged the idea of inferiority and evil associated with women and freed her from slavery and taboos of the society. In one of his hymns, he said:
"We are conceived in woman,
Guru Nanak and his successors gave woman a status equal to that of man. They regarded woman as man's companion in every walk of life. The Gurus thought this equality worked to their mutual benefits. For example, woman is the first teacher of man as his mother. Her function is to mould children and discipline them. She has to be educated so that her children may develop their potential to the fullest. She was allowed to join holy congregations, participate and conduct them. They were appointed missionaries. They were called 'the conscience of man'. The practice of Sati, (the custom of burning a woman with the dead husband on the funeral pyre), was prohibi-ted and widow-remarriage was encouraged. Women soldiers fought side by side with male soldiers in one of the battles which the tenth Guru fought.
In the Sikh way of life, women have equal rights with men. There is absolutely no discrimination against women. Women are entitled to the Khalsa baptism. They have equal rights to participate in social, political and religious activities. Women are allowed to lead religious congregations, to take part in recitation of the holy scriptures, to fight as soldiers in the war, to elect representatives to the Gurdwara committees and Indian Parliament and Provincial Assembly.
Sikh women have played a glorious part in the history, and examples of their moral dignity, service and upholding of Sikh values are a great source of inspiration. Sikh women never flinched from their duty, never allowed their faith and ardour to be dampened, and have always upheld the honour and glory of the Khalsa. (One famous example is that of Mai Bhago who bravely fought war for Guru Gobind Singh, when some Sikh soldiers deserted him and returned home.)
GURDWARA - the Sikh Temple
Gurdwara (the door or the gateway to the Guru) is the name given to the Sikh's place of worship, commonly addressed as Sikh temple in the western world. The Sikh scriptures are recited or sung and sermons are delivered. Guru Granth Sahib is placed on high palanquin under a canopy in the middle of one end of the hall. As well as sermons and the singing of the scriptures, the con-gregation is expected to participate in the ceremonies of birth, baptism, marriage, death and celebration of festivals.
The Gurdwara is a place for acquiring a spiritual knowledge and wisdom. It is open to every one regardless of age, sex, caste, or creed. Here all men, women and children are treated as equal. It offers shelter and food to any one in need. It provides care for the sick, elderly and handicapped. It is also a centre for promoting culture and health. Moral education as well as knowledge of the religion and history is often taught to children in the Sikh temple. The Gurdwara is also a place for discussing problems facing the Sikh community. Infringement of the Sikh code of discipline may also be considered and suitable punishment decided. The Gurdwara plays a socio-economic role in the Sikh community. It is expected to be free from any sectional interests or party politics.
The pattern of congregational worship can be divided into two categories: Katha, the reading of the holy hymns followed by their explanation, and Kirtan, the singing of the hymns. Attached to every Gurdwara is a free kitchen where the food, Langar, is prepared and served.
The community attempts to establish better relations and under-standing between the Sikhs and other communities through occasional visits by them to a Gurdwara. Such visits are necessary not only to satisfy the curiosity of others but also to help them understand better the Sikh religion, customs and culture.
A Gurdwara can be identified from a distance by observing the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. The four doors of a Sikh temple represent the Door of Peace, the Door of Livelihood, the Door of Learning and the Door of Grace. These doors must always remain open to all. The Sikh temple is a place for training the devotees in the company of pious people. The Gurus wanted to build a model human society through an ideal and benevolent world organization.
There are two Gurdwaras in New Zealand. The first was officially opened at TeRapa on the northern outskirts of Hamilton on 28 May 1977. The second was opened in the Auckland suburb of Otahuhu at the corner of Princess and Albert Street on 3 August 1986. These are open daily and services are held on Sundays.
If one wishes to visit a Gurdwara some protocol must be observed. Consumption of tobacco, liquor or narcotics is strictly forbidden to Sikhs and definitely not allowed on the Gurdwara premises. Before entering the hall, people take off their shoes, wash their hands, covers their head and think of the Guru. Non-Sikhs too must cover their head with a handkerchief or scarf. Upon entering the hall, where Guru Granth Sahib is kept, they walk slowly, bow humbly and touch their forehead to the ground, out of respect and love for the Guru. As people bow, and place their offering respectfully before the Guru, it may be money, flowers, or words of thanks. Any sincere expression of gratitude is equally acceptable to the Guru. After bowing and offering, one should sit down in the Sangat (congregation) quietly without disturbing others. Usually men sit on one side and women on the other, in a cross-legged position. Talking or whispering is not allowed.
The usual service in the Gurdwara consists of Kirtan, the singing of the holy hymns; Katha, the reading of the hymns followed by their explanation; singing of 6 verses of Anand Sahib, Ardas, prayer, and Vak or Hukam, random reading of one hymn from Guru Granth Sahib. This is the Guru's message or 'Order' of the day to the Sangat. Upon completion of the Hukam, Karah Parshad is distributed. Then Langar, food from the Guru's kitchen, is served.
The New Zealand Connection
There are about seventeen million Sikhs, of whom approximately one million live outside India. They migrated in the beginning of this century to almost every part of the world but the majority are settled in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Kenya. The Sikh migration in New Zealand is over 100 years old. The first Sikhs to arrive in New Zealand were two brothers, Bir Singh Gill and Phuman Singh Gill. They landed here in about 1890 coming from Australia, to where Bir Singh, the elder brother, had travelled from Hong Kong in search of work. When he failed to communicate with his family back in Punjab, the younger brother, Phuman Singh, was sent to search for him and take him back home. Instead, the two brothers crossed the Tasman Sea and made New Zealand their home. Both the brothers died in Palmerston North, Bir Singh in 1921 and Phuman Singh in 1934. Their life in New Zealand makes a fascinating story for early Sikh settlers.
Bir Singh, formerly a policeman in Hong Kong, worked as a herbalist in the King Country and later during World War I, cooked for troops stationed at Trentham camp. Phuman Singh's career proved to be a notable success. He first worked as a hawker in the North Island and finally acquired sole ownership of a confectionery business in Wanganui and later moved to Palmerston North. He married an English nurse, Margaret, in 1897 and had four children.
A majority of early Sikh settlers lived in Taumarunui and Wanganui and worked as hawkers, drain diggers, flax workers and scrub cutters. Later, they moved to Waikato and Pukekohe where they bought dairy farms and market gardens. G.H. Roche, the curator of the Waikato Historical Society compiled a report on early Sikh settlers. His description of Indra Singh (correct Punjabi spelling, Inder), an ex-soldier in the British army, as published in the Waikato Times on 5 February 1960, is a fascinating reading. The 1971 census reported 382 Sikhs. In 1976, there were just 543 Sikhs, 597 by 1981 and 768 by 1986. It is estimated that at present there are about 3000 Sikhs in New Zealand.
The Sikh history of migration in New Zealand can be divided into four distinct phases. The first phase, 1890-1912, consisted mainly of men who had been employed in the army or police force in either Hong Kong or Malaysia, who found their way here via Australia. In the early 1900's, many Sikhs also came en route to Fiji or via Fiji and stayed here. The second phase, 1912-1921, was direct migration from the Punjab. Before substantial numbers could arrive, the influx was stopped by the Govern-ment in 1920 by passing the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act to halt Asian entry into the country. During the third phase, 1921-1940, not much migration took place until after World War II, when immediate families and relatives arrived. From 1941-1970 some small addition to the migration by marriage from the Punjab occurred. The fourth phase includes the arrival in the last two decades of many unskilled workers and some professionals including accountants, doctors, lawyers, computer experts, engineers, and scientists.
The Sikh community in New Zealand represents 100 years of rich history of immigration, settlement and growth. It is not uncom-mon to meet a third generation of New Zealand-born Sikhs.
Summary and Conclusion
Sikhism is a practical religion - a faith of hope and optimism. It's ideals form a large part of the more progressive elements in humanity today. It shows mankind how to lead a worthy and useful life in the world, which elevates it into the status of Universal World Faith.
Sikhs practice Simran (meditation), Seva (service) and Sangat (congregation) and lead a happy, healthy, holy, honest and humble life, leading ultimately to the spiritual union of their Atma (soul) and Parmatma (God).
Sikhism teaches respect for individuals and love for one's neighbours. It tells how to be useful in society, to care for the interests and concerns of others and cherish the values taught by the Gurus. Social commitment and goodwill among Sikhs have inspired them to finance and undertake projects of social benefit because of their belief that human beings all over the world form just one family, the family of the human race, namely Manas-ki-jaat. This concept is reflected in Ardas, the daily prayer, which ends:
'Nanak Nam Chardi Kala Tere Bhane Sarbat Ka Bhalla'O Almighty God, kindly shower your blessings on the entire humanity.
THE SIKH NATIONAL ANTHEM
This composition is regarded as the National Anthem of the Sikhs.
Grant me this boon