10 Gurus of Sikh Tradition


The Gurus

Sikhi religion was established by 10 God-inspired prophet-teachers called Gurus over the period from 1469 to 1708. Each Guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of Sikhi teachings.Their names were Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkrishan, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh.

1. Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) was born in Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib, a place in Punjab state in Pakistan, not far from border with India.

He was the first Guru of the Sikhs and the founder of the religion. He preached the equality of all humans, saying that all people are the children of one God. Guru Nanak travelled extensively throughout India and other countries spreading his message.

There are 947 hymns (banis) from Guru Nanak Dev included in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.

2. Guru Angad Dev (1504-1552) compiled the biography of Guru Nanak Dev, known as the Janam Sakhi and was instrumental in spreading his teachings.

He introduced Gurmukhi script and encouraged people to learn Punjabi. He started a school at Khadur Sahib to teach children through the Gurmukhi alphabet.

In addition to compiling the hymns of Guru Nanak Dev, there are 63 of his own hymns included in Guru Granth Sahib.

3. Guru Amar Das (1479-1574) further institutionalised the free communal kitchen called the langar found in all Sikh Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship).

He not only preached the equality of people, but also tried to foster the idea of women’s equality. He tried to liberate women from the practices of purdah (wearing a veil) and preached strongly against the practice of sati (the burning of a wife on her husband’s funeral pyre).

There are 869 hymns from Guru Amar Das included in Guru Granth Sahib.

4. Guru Ram Das (1534-1581) spread Sikhism in North India and founded the city of Amritsar in 1574. He was also instrumental to the structural organisation of Sikh society.

Guru Ram Das stressed the importance of kirtan (hymn singing), which remains an important part of Sikh worship. There are 638 hymns from him included in Guru Granth Sahib, and the Lawan – a four-stanza hymn composed by Guru Ram Das – forms the centre of the standard Sikh marriage ceremony, known as the Anand Karaj (Meaning “ceremony of bliss”).

5. Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606) compiled the Guru Granth Sahib in 1604. He was also the first Sikh Guru to be martyred. His offence was not amending the holy book to reflect the views of Emperor Jahangir, ruler of the Mughal Empire. Guru Arjan Dev was made to sit on a scorching iron plate whilst having boiling sand poured over his body. He withstood and tolerated the pain, whilst chanting hymns. The fifth Guru was also responsible for building the Golden Temple at Amritsar and starting the practice of daswandh (tithe) i.e. contributing one tenth of one’s earnings for community purposes. He was author of Sukhmani Sahib bani (the Prayer of Peace) and 2312 hymns from him are included in Guru Granth Sahib.

6. Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) transformed the Sikhs by introducing martial arts and weapons for the defence of the masses. He used to wear two swords – one signifying Miri (secular power) and the other Piri (spiritual power).

He fought four battles with the Mughal rulers over their attempts to forcibly convert people to Islam.

He was responsible for the building of the Akal Takht in Amritsar in 1608, and also – less directly – for the Sikh commemoration of Diwali. He was imprisoned in the fort of Gwaliar for one year.

When he was released, he also insisted on the release of 52 fellow prisoners, who happened to be Rajput kings. It is to mark this event that Sikhs celebrate Diwali, known to Sikhs as bandi chod divas.

7. Guru Har Rai (1630-1661) was the grandson of Guru Hargobind, and continued his military traditions. In turn, he made his own son, Guru Harkrishan, the next – and eighth – Guru of the Sikhs, when he was only five years old.

Guru Har Rai devoted himself to the strengthening of the Sikh religion, defending the integrity of Guru Granth Sahib by refusing to modify its words.

8. Guru Harkrishan (1656-1664) died in childhood – of smallpox – aged only eight. In tragic irony, he himself was responsible for curing the sick during an epidemic of the disease in Delhi.

The Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi was constructed in his memory. Before he died, he nominated his granduncle, Guru Tegh Bahadur as the next Sikh Guru.

9. Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675) was another Sikh martyr who died at the hands of a Mughal ruler. He laid down his life upholding the right to religious freedom.

The Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Chandani Chowk, New Delhi, is located at the site of his martyrdom, and the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in the same city can be found at the site of his cremation. Guru Tegh Bahadur is also noted for the foundation of the city of Anandpur Sahib.

10. Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was the last of the ten Sikh Gurus. He was responsible for many things, including core elements of the Sikh religion.

For example, he instructed the Sikhs to keep the Five Symbols (the five ‘K’s), and to use the names ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’, depending on their gender.

He is the author of several hymns recited daily by Sikhs (Jaap Sahib and Chaupai). He wrote his autobiography (the Bichitra Natak) and compiled the 1428 page Dasam Granth Sahib.

In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh baptised the Sikhs and created the Khalsa (the ‘Pure’) community of Sikhs. The Khalsa consists of Sikhs who have been baptised and who dedicate themselves to living by the high standards of the Sikh Gurus at all times.

Guru Gobind Singh’s legacy to the religion was completed by his instruction that Sikhs should follow Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru after him.