Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 in Punjab, India. Guru Nanak was born in a time of severe religious and political oppression and persecution. Women, in particular, were treated as second-class citizens. He witnessed tremendous human suffering and offered a revolutionary method of living that gave equality and freedom to all. It is not a branch or blend of any other faith. The word “Sikh” means a student and the word “Guru” means an enlightened teacher; someone who brings you from darkness to light.
There were nine human Gurus that followed Guru Nanak. They were instrumental in carrying on his message of oneness and empowerment of the individual. They organized the congregations in various towns, built places of worship, made the concept of “langar”—free kitchen standard at every gathering. They encouraged their followers to earn their living through work. They also encouraged education and physical fitness as well as spiritual discipline. They discouraged fasting, pilgrimages and rituals.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the 5th guru finished the construction of the “Darbar Sahib” (known as the Golden Temple”) as a place where Sikhs would gather from far and wide. He also started the compilation of the writings of the previous Gurus to serve as a guide for Sikhs who lived far away. He was also the first Guru to be martyred by the Mughal emperors of the time in an attempt to stop the growth of Sikhism.
The 6th Guru, Hargobind Ji, started the concept of saint soldiers after the martyrdom of his father, Guru Arjan Dev Ji. He encouraged his followers to learn horsemanship and use of weapons to defend truth and justice. The hostile environment in India was getting worse and the 9th Guru, Teg Bahadur Ji, was also martyred for refusing to convert to Islam.
His son, the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh formally initiated the Sikhs and created the Khalsa—an army of saint soldiers or spiritual warriors. Before passing away in 1708, he passed on the role of a spiritual guide to “The Guru Granth Sahib”. This is a collection of writings started by Guru Nanak and continued on with the successive gurus. All of the writings were first compiled and organized by the 5th Guru. The 10th Guru finished it by adding the writings of the 9th Guru and officially declaring it the living Guru. It contains poetic writings of the Gurus and some Muslim and Hindu Saints. It offers guidance on how to live one’s life truthfully.
Picture by:Thomasshaw9688 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons