Sikhism is perhaps the second youngest world religion, about 531 years at the end of the millennium. Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born a Hindu and belonged to the Punjab where he lived between 1469-1539. Since Punjab was home to both Hindus and Muslims, Nanak grew up observing the ill-will between the two religious communities.
Nanak The Holy Figure
Nanak's closest associates were, Mardana, an aged Muslim, and Bala, a Hindu peasant. Together the three visited many Hindu and Muslim shrines. Nanak even made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Inspired by his insight into the unity of both religions, Nanak began to preach his message of peace and harmony. He attracted many disciples and followers and soon came to be known as Guru Nanak. A new religious tradition was thus born. The term Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word shishya (disciple).
Nanak Was A Social Reformer
But more than just forming a new religion, Guru Nanak was a social reformer. He saw the plight of Hindu lower castes and insisted that every person was alike. Nanak stressed that enlightenment could be achieved through devotion to god. To abolish the caste system he named each one of his followers Singh, or lion, and established langars (communal eating places). These langars defied the Hindu norm that a low born person could not eat along with a high born.
Acknowledged As A Guru Nanak
Angad Dev, who started putting together the Guru's writings, succeeded Guru Nanak as the leader of the Sikhs. He also introduced a script already being used by some Punjabis as the official script of the Sikhs and called it Gurmukhi or the language of the guru.
It was the fifth Guru, Arjun Dev, who commenced the building of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. This temple is the holiest shrine of the Sikhs and every Sikh tries to visit it once in his lifetime. Arjun Dev also collected the poems of Nanak, Kabir and other saints and compiled them to form the scripture of the Sikhs, called Adi Granth ('The First Book') or Guru Granth Sahib ('Book of the Lord').
The spread of Sikhism so alarmed the Muslims of India that they soon came to be persecuted. The fifth Guru Arjun Dev was put to death by the Mughals on a charge of sedition in 1606. Later, Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed in Delhi by the order of Emperor Aurangzeb. These two executions forced the Sikhs to realize that they needed to organize themselves into a fighting force.
The 10 th and last Guru, Govind Singh, summoned a huge assembly of Sikhs on Baisakhi day in 1699. He reminded them of their two martyred gurus and the need to unite and wage a war against the Mughals. He then unsheathed his sword and demanded: "Is there anyone in this Sangat (assembly) who is willing to offer his head for his Guru and Religion?"
Everyone stayed silent in fear till the Guru had repeated his demand thrice. Eventually a Hindu stepped forward. The Guru took him into a tent and emerged with a bloody sword. The same thing happened four more times. After the fifith man had volunteered and stepped into the tent, the Guru emerged with all five of them alive. These five men were proclaimed the Panj Pyares (the five beloved ones) by the Guru.
The Guru then went on to declare that all members of the Khalsa brotherhood should be fearless and ready to give their lives for their faith.
Teachings & Beliefs
As we have said before, Sikhism takes the best from both Hinduism and Islam.
Sikhs believe in one God.
Rituals and idol worship are not part of this faith.
Sikhs should earn their living by honest means and hard work.
People should share what they earn with the poor.
Sikhism has no place for the caste system. All Sikhs are equal: the men add Singh (lion) to their names while the women add Kaur (princess).
The Five 'Ks'
There are five religious signs that are the mark of a devout Sikh. The names of all five begin with the letter 'K' which is why they are often referred to as the five 'Ks'.
Sikhs believe that the course of nature should not be disturbed as far as possible which is why they refrain from cutting their hair.
Kanga (comb):- A wooden comb is necessary to keep long hair tidy and this is why Sikhs are supposed to carry a kanga at all times.
Kara (steel bangle)
The steel bangle is regarded as a symbol of strength and is worn on the right wrist by both men and women.
Kirpan (dagger) The kirpan is a small sword and is a symbol of self-defense and the fight against evil and injustice.
Kachha The kachha is a pair of shorts made to a specific design. It formed part of the military uniform in Guru Gobind Singh's day and also signifies sexual restraint.
The birthday of Guru Nanak is celebrated soon after the Hindu festival of Diwali. Sikhs decorate their home with lamps and lights and special services are held at gurudwaras (sikh temples).
Celebrated in January, Maghi honours Guru Gobind Singh who was besieged by the Mughal army at Anandpur in the 17 th century.
This festival marks the end of winter and is celebrated in January. It is especially dear to unmarried women who pray that they will find good husbands and make an excellent marriage.
The start of the Punjabi New Year, Baisakhi is always celebrated on April 13. It coincides with the harvest and is especially dear to the Sikhs because the Khalsa was created on Baisakhi day in 1699.