Sikhism, the world’s fifth largest religion, was founded by Guru Nanak Devji. It propagates through its 25 million followers today the message of one Universal God, along with equal status and opportunities for all in the eyes of the Supreme Being.
With Gurpurab, the festival to commemorate the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak about to be celebrated on 14th of November, 2016, it is time to know more about a religion which has only contributed towards the welfare of the society since the time it was founded.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji
This monotheistic faith was founded in the Punjab region of India some 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, born in Talwandi (Nankana Sahib near Lahore) in 1469, was fascinated by religion even as a child, and travelled as a saint all over Central Asia and the Middle East. Guru Nanak made five major journeys which are known as ‘Udasis’, and during the course of his travel he interacted with many religious people and preached his own belief of one Supreme Being. In 1539, before he gave up the material world, Guru Nanak selected his disciple Lehna as his successor. Bhai Lehna was named Guru Angad, and he continued the work of Guru Nanak.
Teachings of Guru Nanak
Sikh religion is indeed a religion that propagates the message of equality, honesty, compassion, and sharing. There are 10 key lessons and teachings of Guru Nanak.
- “Nirankar, akar, alakh” – There is only one Supreme Being who is omnipotent without any form or shape, and is invisible. God existed even before the creation of the Universe and it is as per God’s will (Hukam) that the illusion (Maya) of the world was created.
- “Hukam Rajayee Chalna Nanak Likheya Naal” – Everything happens according to the will of the Supreme Being and we must accept it without questioning.
- “Sabat Daa Bhalaa” – Guru Nanak believed in Universal Brotherhood wherein he taught that everyone was equal in the eyes of God. A line towards the end of daily Ardaas (Prayer) – “Nanak Naam Chardi Kala Tere Bhane Sarbat da bhala”, invokes the Supreme Being to bless all humanity and not just the community of Sikhs.
- “Sach Sunaisi Sach Kee Bela” – According Guru Nanak’s doctrine, one should speak nothing but the truth, and without fear.
- “Sewa & Simran” – Guru Nanak in this lesson impresses upon the importance of a Guru (Religious Teacher) in one’s life who will act as a beacon and guide one through the right path. About SEWA Gurbani, Guru Nanak explains that in the midst of this world, one should always engage in Sewa (Helping Others) and then one will find a place of honour in the Court of the Lord.
- “Vand Chako/Kirat Karo/Naam Japna” – Guru Nanak teaches his followers to share with others and help the underprivileged, to make an honest living, and to maintain ceaseless devotion to God which in turn will help them to be righteous.
- “Shun Kaa (lust), Krodh (rage), Lobh (greed), Moh (attachment) and Ahankar (conceit).”- Described as the Panj Dosh, or the Five Thieves, these five attributes are the five weaknesses that require to be shunned as they hamper the spiritual enlightenment of a human being. These characteristics have been compared to a thief because they steal the very common sense of a human being.
- “Importance of Guru” – In his teachings, Guru Nanak reiterates the importance of a Guru who is the voice of God. Guru Nanak also says that salvation cannot be achieved through pilgrimage and rituals but through a pure heart, spirit and soul.
- “Sangat te Pangat” – Guru Nanak believed that the root cause for misery in the world was due to discrimination because of caste and creed. He, thus, tried to remove any discrimination amongst his followers through the concept of Sangat and Pangat wherein everyone worshipped the Supreme Being under one roof, and ate together in one row regardless of their status in the society.
- “Against Superstitions” – Guru Nanak vehemently defied all kinds of rituals and superstitions and propagated the message of worship in the form of a true heart, a kind spirit and a helping hand.
Militarisation of the Sikhs
While Guru Nanak founded the religion of Sikhs, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan completed the establishment of Sikhism with Amritsar as the capital of the Sikh world. He also compiled the Adi Granth, the first authorised Holy Scripture of the Sikhs. Guru Nanak in his teachings always propagated the lesson of Universal brotherhood and peace which were followed by all the other gurus.
- However, the growing popularity of the religion was seen as a threat and Guru Arjan was executed for his faith in 1606. That was the beginning of the militarisation of the Sikh community, for the religion believes that God helps those who help themselves.
- Thus, the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind militarised the community so that they could defend themselves and resist opposition. The Sikhs, then, preserved their faith and religion in a number of historic battles.
- Having re-established themselves after the execution of Guru Arjan, the Sikhs lived in relative peace with the political rulers.
- However, once the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb came into power, he tried to force all his subjects to convert to Islam and thus, the Sikhs had to take up arms again to protect their faith.
- The ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested and executed in 1675 by the order of Aurangzeb.
- The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind re-established the Sikhs as a military group of men and women and named them the “Khalsa”, so that they could protect Sikhism.
- Guru Gobind Singh established the Sikh rite of initiation (called khandey di pahul/Amrit Sanchar), which is a baptism into the religion, and every Sikh carries on him/her the 5 Ks, which give Sikhs their unique appearance.
- The five Ks include Kesh, Kangha, Karah, Kachera, Kirpan.
- Kesh ( Uncut Hair): Not cutting one’s hair is a symbol of one’s wish to move beyond concerns of the body, accept God’s gifts as is and attain spiritual maturity. The turban tied by the Sikhs symbolises sovereignty, dedication, self-respect, courage and piety.
- Kangha (Wooden Comb): The Kangha symbolises a clean mind and body.
- Karah (Steel Bracelet): This is a symbol of restraint and gentility; a reminder that the Guru is always watching and one should not go astray from the path of righteousness.
- Kachera (Breeches): The Kachera is a symbol of chastity in Sikhism.
- Kirpan (Ceremonial Sword): The Kirpan stands for spirituality, defence of good, defence of the weak, the struggle against injustice and ‘A Metaphor for God’.
- The five Ks of Sikhism also have practical usage.
- Kesh, that is the hair on our body regulates body temperature and our eye lashes, nostril hairs and ear hairs help to keep out dust particles.
- Kara is used in Shastaar Vidya (Sikh martial arts) and can be used as a defensive instrument if the need should arise.
- Kachera allowed the Sikhs to run freely on the battle field unlike the restrictive garments like the dhoti, worn by the other communities, and therefore provided a military advantage.
- Combing with the Kangha smoothes the electrical charge around the hair, creating a calming effect.
- The Kirpan helps the Khalsa to protect himself as well as the others from oppression.
- Guru Gobind was the last Guru of the Sikhs.
- The Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scriptures with the teachings of Guru Nanak is venerated in the place of worship of the Sikhs, known as the Gurudwara.
- The legacy of Sikhism was then protected by the great leaders like Banda Singh Bahadur and Ranjit Singh.
Sikhism in the Modern World
There are nearly 25 million Sikhs worldwide and they still carry the message of Universal Brotherhood and peace in their deeds and actions.
- The Gurudwaras have langars, community meals, where the rich and the poor partake of meals together.
- Every Sikh practices Sewa and helps in the langar in some way or the other.
- At a time of any crisis, be it war or a natural calamity, be it in India or abroad, the Sikhs are in the forefront, lending a helping hand to the needy by organising langars with free hygienic food and other basic necessities.
- It has been truly said that Sikhs follow the teachings of Guru Nanak in the truest spirit and help each other, for nowhere in the world will you find a Sikh beggar. They fend for themselves
- In more recent news, the Sikhs have taken a vow not to celebrate the upcoming Gurupurab with fireworks, keeping in mind the poor state of the environment.
Sikhism is a religion which is easy to understand and accept because of its contemporary features. Universal Brotherhood is certainly the need of the hour, for with peace will come progress and development of the nation.