Origin of Sikhism

Origin of Sikhism

Sikhism took its birth in Punjab in the Indian subcontinent among the two already well-established religions of Hinduism and Islam towards the end of the 15th century.

It was founded by Guru Nānak in 1496 A.D; at Sultanpur Lodhi (Punjab) as revealed to him by Akal Purakh (God).

At that time there was great all round decadence in the society:

The religion in both the communities, Hinduism and Islam was limited only to ritual practices rather than inner illumination.

The religious leaders of both the communities did not themselves practice what they preached. They aligned themselves together with each other and exploited the masses.

The officials were corrupt and the rulers were oppressive and unjust in their governance. The religious leaders legitimized the unjust and oppressive rule.

Guru Nānak has mentioned the then prevailing conditions in the society and the government in the holy Sikh Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.

 Guru Nānak preached:

"There is only one God. He is infinite and gracious. This universe is His creation and He is Immanent in His creation. To realize Him, love His creation.

He is the father as well as mother of all of us and we are all His children and He takes care of us all. Being His children, we are all equal (Brothers/ Sisters). By birth, no one is high or low, good or bad".

He believed that no man-of-God or a follower of any faith could claim the sole arbiter between man and God.

Everyone has the right to meet Him without any intercession from a prophet or a saviour. Every person, who loves His creation, can experience and realize Him.

In His court, one is judged by one's deeds alone; the Name (Rām, God etc.) by a devotee, to remember Him, is completely inconsequential.

His monotheistic creed, supported by a set of humanitarian principles of conduct and presented with humility and conviction,

made a deep impact on the Hindustani population, then suffering under the Muslim conquerors and the ritualized religious observances of Hinduism.

He laid the fundamentals of Sikhism:

Nām japo (contemplate-remember God in mind, words and actions), work hard honestly, share your earnings with the needy.

He founded its basic institutions of Sangat, Paṇgat and Langar in order to remove caste and class differences. Oneness of God was preached by many before Nānak, but not so the oneness of man-

The One God is our father; we are the children of the One God. You are our Guru.

 (GGS, p611)

--we are all children of the same God who takes care of us all, by rejecting the 3000 years old caste system in the Indian subcontinent.

 He preached in the native language of the Punjab and gave his Bani in Punjabi instead of Sanskrit, which till then was the traditional medium of religious poetry or philosophy and was neither spoken nor understood by common mass of people.

He laid down the complete doctrine of Sikhism and created the script for the Punjabi language, which till then was only a dialect without any script of its own.

 In addition to the rejection of the divisive Hindu caste system, he denounced polytheism, idolatry, superstition and ritualism to appease the deities.

He also laid the principle for Sikh way of life-truthful living and said,

Truth is higher than everything; but higher still is truthful living. ||5||  (GGS, p62).

Apart from the caste system, which restricted one's right to spiritual pursuits, education and selection of occupation, there were several other restraints in earlier Indian religious systems i.e.:

Ahimsa, vegetarianism, renunciation, asceticism and celibacy, which were considered essential in the practice of Hindu religion.

He rejected all these logically and recommended a householder's life with emphasis on noble deeds, dignity of labour, service of humanity and sharing full social responsibility.

 People subdued under the rigors of the divisive caste system and the oppressive alien rule could not be expected to take over the social responsibilities and adjust to the liberation offered by the new society overnight.

The infant society had to be nurtured for some time to prevent its relapse into the parent societies. So he introduced the system of succession to carry his mission forward.

He was, succeeded by 9 Gurus:

All the Sikh Gurus lived between 1469 and 1708 AD, in the part of Indian subcontinent now called the Indian Punjab and the Pakistani Punjab, which was one country-Punjab, before its partition by the British in 1947.


Guru Nānak laid the foundation stone of the first Sikh township with casteless society in 1504 A.D; and named it Kartarpur, on the western bank of River Ravi in Shakargarh tehsil in Punjab (now in Pakistan).

He established here the first Sikh place of worship and the basic Sikh institutions of Sangat, Paṇgat and Langar. He taught his followers the fundamentals of Sikhism: “Nām Japo, Kirt karo, wand kay chhako”.

He preached his message throughout the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, Afghanistan, Tibet, parts of China and Sri Lanka.

After completing, his missionary travels in 1522, he settled at Kartarpur along with his family and led the householder's life, farming his fields, holding religious sermons, guiding the Sikhs and creating religious literature.

Before his departure from this mortal world in 1539, he nominated Guru Angad as his successor to carry his message forward.

Second Nānak, Guru Angad was a zealous preacher:

He moved his headquarter from Kartarpur to his native village Khadūr and developed it as the centre of Sikh culture and civilization in the Punjab, which lay utterly ruined due to centuries of foreign raids.

He strengthened the unifying institutions of Sangat, Paṇgat and Langar set up by the first Guru.

He named the script for Punjabi language, developed by his predecessor, as Gurmukhi and took steps to popularize it.

He prepared Primers of Gurmukhi alphabets, made copies of the hymns of Guru Nānak in Gurmukhi and distributed them among the masses,

thereby breaking the monopoly of Brahmin over learning by encouraging all sorts of people to learn Gurmukhi and reading religious literature.

He chose Amar Dās as his successor.

Third Nānak, Guru Amar Dās settled at Goindwal on the western bank of river Beas not far away from Khadūr and developed it as the next centre of Sikh culture.

He divided the area where Sikhs lived into 22 regions called Manjīs or bishoprics (religious districts) equivalent to the number of provinces in the Moghul Empire at that time.

Devoted Sikhs which included even women were appointed as Guru's agents and missionaries in the respective regions.

They were expected to visit Guru's headquarter at Goindwal twice a year on the occasions of Diwali and Vaisakhi, to meet the Guru to discuss the problems of the Sikhs in their respective regions.

He enthusiastically pursued and promoted the langar making it obligatory for every visitor, Hindu, or Muslim, to partake of the common repast before seeing him:

All had to sit in a line and eat together.

He introduced distinctly Sikh ceremonies for the events of birth, marriage and death.

He proclaimed the sanctity of human life and forbade the practice of sati or immolation of widows at the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.

He prohibited the Sikhs from consulting astrologers and palmists, saying that the belief in good and bad omens is due to superstition and ignorance.

He established a Baoli (well with 84 steps), where people could reach the water in the well and fill their buckets as equals.

He acquired land in the centre of Sikh heartland on the main trade route between Delhi and Afghanistan (Central Asia and Middle-East), for building a new township, to be developed as world seat of Sikh religion, culture and civilization.

Fourth Nānak, Guru Rām Dās dug the tank (Sarovar) on the land acquired by Guru Amar Dās. He named the tank Amrit-sarovar and around it found the new township,

which developed and appropriately came to be called Guru Da Chakk (Later, it came to be known as Chakk Rām Dās.), now the city of Amritsar, which was soon throbbing with a new life.

Merchants and artisans of 52 trades came from distant places to settle here. Trade flourished. Pilgrims arrived in large numbers.

The town, which lay in the heart of the Majha area—country between Ravi and Beas / Sutlej rivers grew to be biggest centre of trade in the north India and became religious capital of the Sikhs.

Guru Rām Dās codified the rules for the Sikh way of life.
He composed Lawan; the hymn recited at every Sikh wedding.

The 5th Nānak, Guru Arjan Dev compiled the holy Sikh Scripture Ādi Granth (now, Guru Granth Sahib) as the revealed and final doctrinal authority of Sikhism in 1604 AD,

and installed it with reverence in the building (now Gurdwara Darbar Sahib), built by him in the middle of the Amrit sarovar, establishing the world seat of Sikhism.

He was the first Sikh Guru to declare the separate existence of the Sikhs by recording in the holy Sikh Scripture, Granth Sahib on page 1136 in Rag Bhairau.

Guru Arjan was a great organizer of Sikh faith:

He organized the finances of the Sikh church on more systematic lines. He deputed sincere and zealous Sikhs in all important towns and cities to collect and transmit to headquarters the offerings of the faithful.

These missionaries were known as Masands and through them a large number of people became Sikhs. He organized the system of 'Dasvandh' (a 1/10 part) in Sikhism.

The Masands assembled at the headquarters of the Guru at Amritsar annually on the occasion Vaisakhi and deposited the offerings made by the Sikhs.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, and the Sikh Scripture, Ādi Granth gave, Sikhism the shape of a regular church with distinct physical identity.

Till then Sikhism was preached by the Gurus only by word of mouth, therefore religious leaders of both Hinduism (Brahmins / Pandits) and Islam (Qazis / Mullahs) did not take its notice.

Because of its principles Sikhism was acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims. The mass acceptance of Sikhism by common people made Sikhs a potentially visible, social and political force.

The religious leaders of both Islam and Hinduism began to consider Sikhism challenge to their respective faiths. The Muslims in addition felt threat to their political power.

The tensions that followed resulted in the execution of Guru Arjan Dev at Lahore on June 05, 1606 AD.

Har Gobind, son of Guru Arjan Dev succeeded him as the 6th Guru of the Sikhs. His career marks a turning point in the Sikh history:

Seeing how peaceful resistance to oppression had proved abortive, he took the seat of his father with two swords girded round his waist - one symbolizing spiritual power and the other temporal authority.

He gave the Sikhs lessons in obedience, self-sacrifice and other national virtues and turned the saints into soldiers (Sant Sipahi).

He built Akal Takht Amritsar, as counterpart to the imperial Delhi Throne in 1609.

He propounded the doctrine of Miri Piri / (Bhakti and Shakti) revealed by Guru Nānak and cleared the ground for building national character of the Sikhs.

He was arrested and interned in Gwalior jail on the orders of Emperor Jahangir, but had to be released at the intervention of Sufi saint Hazrat Mian Mir and thereafter Jahangir and Guru Har Gobind be-friended with each other,

but the provincial Moghul-Muslim Government at Lahore continued to maintain its hostile attitude towards Guru Hargobind and the Sikh faith:

Four attempts were made to kill or capture him, but each time the Sikhs defeated the provincial Moghul forces of Lahore.

To avoid further confrontation in 1635 A.D; Guru Har Gobind moved the Sikh headquarters from Amritsar to Kiratpur, which he had founded in 1626 A.D; in the Shivalik foothills out of the jurisdiction of the province of Lahore.

Sikhism developed and matured under the guidance of its 10 living human Gurus over a period of about 200 years. It was formally consecrated in its present day form by the 10thGuru Gobind Singh on the Vaisakhi day 1699, at Anandpur Sahib:

On this day he granted Sikhism its distinct religious code of conduct in the form of “Sikh Rehat Maryādā”, which gave Sikhism its corporate identity distinct from Hinduism and Islam.

Before departing from this mortal world shortly after mid night on October 7, 1708, Guru Gobind Singh told the Sikhs that,

the community in its organized form of Panth was to guide itself by the teachings of the Gurus as enshrined in the Holy Granth and also by the collective sense of the community.

In this way he passed the spiritual authority of the Sikhs to the Holy Sikh Scripture, "Ādi Granth" and called it "Guru Granth".

He passed on the temporal authority of the Sikhs to Khalsa and called it "Guru Khalsa Panth", who could neither be killed nor eliminated.

Thus from the moment of its founding by Guru Nānak in 1496 to its ritual consecration by the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh in 1699,

Sikhs were able to develop their dialect into written language (Punjabi) having Gurmukhi script, their Holy Scripture (Guru Granth Sahib), their place of worship (Gurdwara)

and evolve a comprehensive philosophy embracing social, economic cultural political, and military aspects with the objective of creating a more disciplined organization of Saint-Soldiers.