The Dynamic Religion
Sikhism is often called a dynamic religion. This is to say that Sikhs and their culture have shown an immense capacity for adaptation, to change with the times. Being a religion born in the mid-1400s, much later than many of the religions of the world, it is perhaps to be expected that Sikhism is more open to accepting newer ways. It must be said, however, that this dynamism, comes more from the religion’s basic acceptance of its place in the world and a healthy tolerance of differences rather than its antiquity, or lack of it. Sikhism has gone through its fair share of evolution. And the spread of the Sikh diaspora across the world has made adaptability an essential feature. While this flexibility does exist only in terms of its theological views, Sikhism is rather rigid on its ideals – valour, truth, compassion etc. This dichotomy makes it all the more beautiful – a religion that focuses on humanity as a part of its spiritual outlook.
The 10 Sikh Gurus
The word Guru means teacher or preceptor in Sanskrit. In Sikhism, the word Guru has a very specific meaning and refers to the 10 saints or Enlightened Masters who established Sikhism as a social and religious order. The Sikhs believe that the 10 Gurus have been their teachers, their guides, and founders of their religion, apart from being harbingers of Divine Grace.
The 10 Sikh Gurus are:
|First Guru||Guru Nanak Dev||1469 to 1539|
|Second Guru||Guru Angad Dev||1504 to 1552|
|Third Guru||Guru Amar Das||1479 to 1574|
|Fourth Guru||Guru Ram Das||1534 to 1581|
|Fifth Guru||Guru Arjan Dev||1563 to 1606|
|Sixth Guru||Guru Hargobind||1595 to 1644|
|Seventh Guru||Guru Har Rai||1630 to 1661|
|Eighth Guru||Guru Harkrishan||1656 to 1664|
|Ninth Guru||Guru Tegh Bahadur||1621 to 1675|
|Tenth Guru||Guru Gobind Singh||1666 to 1708|
Each of these 10 Sikh Gurus has been stellar examples of valour, courage, sacrifice, and compassion. The Sikh Gurus have stood up for what is right, often at great personal cost. The Sikhs believe that after the tenth Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib is now their only Guru and leader. This was the injunction of the tenth Guru to ensure that the religion is not corrupted and followers manipulated by selfish individuals.
Guru Granth Sahib
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhism is a compilation of sacred hymns called Shabad and of the teachings of the ten Gurus, Baani. The Granth Sahib was compiled between 1469 and 1708. The Guru Granth Sahib is a voluminous scripture with over 1430 pages. The compilation of these core Sikh teachings started during the times of Guru Arjan Dev. More hymns and teachings were added from the times of the next Gurus. The Adi Sri Guru Grath Sahib is a unique spiritual text like no other. This is because it is considered to be the spiritual head of Sikhism. It forms the core of any Sikh Gurdwara sanctum. The Guru Granth Sahib was conferred with this position of being the Sikh Guru by the tenth Sikh Master, Guru Gobind Singh. He said, “Sab Sikhan ko hokam hai Guru Manyo Granth” meaning that “Sikhs are commanded to follow the Granth Sahib as their ultimate Guru”. Rather than being led by an unending stream of self-styled religious leaders, clerics, and Godmen, Sikhism chooses to retain the follower’s moral compass as the guide to interpret the religion’s sacred text.
Martial or Spiritual?
A study of Sikhism often gives rise to the question about its martial legacy. Were the concerns of the original Gurus more political and martial than spiritual? The first four Sikh Gurus were more concerned with establishing the spiritual foundations of the Sikh order. The popularity and spread of Sikhism and the fierce independence of the Sikhs came to be viewed as a threat to the sovereignty of the Mughal rulers. In an effort to quell the Sikh spirit, Guru Arjan Dev was arrested and put to a painful death by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. This was a turning point in the evolution of Sikh philosophy and Sikhism. Martyrhood of the Guru turned the lineage to concentrate on martial defences. It is this legacy of waging war against injustice, protecting the masses, and standing up for what one believes in that has translated into modern Sikhism. The five essential articles that all Sikhs are required to carry also symbolize this unique blend of spirituality with worldly wisdom, the signs of a sant-sipahi (warrior saint).
Understanding the richness of Sikh religion requires an understanding of God and following Sikhism. God is the one true, formless primeval force, believe the Sikhs. Thus any form of idol worship, ritual worship, or spiritual dogma is contrary to the Sikh way of life. Superstitions are not entertained in the Sikh world. Compassion and harmony are the only goals worth pursuing, so says Sikhism. This also leads us to the natural corollary of a casteless society. Equality is one of the foundations of the Sikh religion; valour and compassion being the others.
Simran and Service – 2 pillars of Sikhism
The concept of service – to humanity, community, and to the world at large – is central in Sikhism. Selfless service or Sewa, as it is called, is any selfless action performed for the benefit of the community without reaping any personal benefit or reward. In any Sikh Gurdwara, worshippers step in to become Sevadars and are found cleaning floors, washing dishes, and mending footwear. Sikh Gurdwaras across the world have become hubs of social service and community centres, propelling people to give back to mankind. It is in the spirit of “Sarbat da Bhalla” or Common Good that free food is served in all the Gurdwaras of the world every day. In times of crisis such as the Nepal earthquake, Sikh organizations from across the world worked to send food packets and relief to victims. As many as about 1,50,000 meals were sent in from Indian Sikh bodies. Apart from these, aid came in from UK-based Sikh organizations as well. Service or Sewa is not merely offering the best of our abilities. It is standing up to support fellow human beings in times of crisis and need. Sikh Gurdwaras and even households have acted as shelters to people without any caste, creed, racial, or religious considerations, in times of crisis.
Prohibitions in Sikhism:
• Cutting hair
• Fasting and indulging in rituals or superstitions
• Gambling, idol worship, circumcision
• Empty spiritual talk not backed by service
• Discrimination of any form including wearing veils
• Intoxication, use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs etc