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Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, taught and practised a loving and devoted attitude towards the Supreme Being. This idea of devotion, known as bhakti, was also followed by other spiritual leaders of Nanak's time, like Kabir, Ravidas, and Namdev. Their hymns are included in the Sikh sacred scripture called the Adi Granth, also known as the Guru Granth Sahib.

What makes Guru Nanak Dev Ji's beliefs unique is that he proclaimed from the beginning of his spiritual journey, "There is no Hindu or Muslim. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God's path." According to him, God is referred to as Akal Purakh, the Timeless Being. This is a shortened explanation of Nanak's full doctrinal definition, which can be found on the opening page of the Adi Granth.

Ik Onkaar, Satnam Karta Purukh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal Moorat

Ajooni Sai-bhang Gurprasad. Jap:

Aaad sach, jugaad sach, hai bhi sach, Nanak hosi bhi sach

"God is the One mystic Sound, His name is Truth, He is the Creator,

Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless Form, Unborn and Self-existent,

Known by the Guru's Grace. He was the Truth in the beginning,

Truth when time began; even now He is the Truth and

will always be the Truth." (Mool Mantar, Adi Granth, p.1).

The power in Naam 

Nanak believed that true freedom, or liberation, comes from connecting with the divine Name, known as Naam. Liberation, for him, meant breaking free from the cycle of birth and death and the misguided actions of worldly life (samsara). According to Nanak, our actions, or karma, determine our transmigration through various life forms.

Sikhs strongly embrace the concept of karma, understanding that every word and action carries consequences. Liberation, in this context, is not about escaping life and death but living in a way that aligns with the divine order. This means following the will of Akal Purakh (the timeless being) and not being driven solely by personal desires (haumai).

In simpler terms, Nanak believed in living in harmony with the divine plan, recognizing that there is a purpose for everyone in the grand scheme of things. This perspective encourages a creative and selfless approach to life, as opposed to a habitual and selfish one. Nanak emphasized the idea that the world is governed by a divine order, and individuals should align themselves with it: "He who created the world watches over it, appointing all to their various tasks." (A.G., p.765).

Live in the world without being consumed by it – that's the key. Whether you're a spiritual wanderer or a householder, the goal is to be liberated in this lifetime. It's an age-old belief that our purpose in this world is to seek salvation. There's a traditional saying: "Nam japo, kirt karo, vand chhako" which means -Recite the Almighty’s  name, work honestly and share what you earn. Liberation isn't something you get after death; it's something you realize and live during your life. According to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, being truthful in your actions is crucial for liberation. The highest truth is in honest deeds. To achieve this, keep your mind and heart focused on the divine, remembering your true love (Akal Purakh) in everything you do. But here's the catch – it's only possible with the grace of God.

God, according to Nanak, is both personal and impersonal. In his vision, God is seen as both formless and present in all forms of creation. The divine Name is communicated through the shabad, which is the Word or mystical Voice of the True Guru.

Meditating on this divine instruction leads to progressive revelation and liberation until one experiences blissful union. Nanak emphasizes that love and fear for the Supreme Being bring virtue, truth, and spiritual illumination. However, if one's love and fear are directed towards worldly things like family, work, or recreation, it leads to duality, delusion, and wrongdoing, collectively known as maya.

Perception about God, the supreme power 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji describes God as an eternal, unchanging, and formless being. God is beyond human comprehension, without any material form, and cannot be fully grasped by our intellect. He is limitless, timeless, infinite, and cannot be seen or described. God is constant, unborn, self-existent, and completely separate from the created world.

According to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, God created the universe at His will and is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of it. Some describe God as the generator, operator, and destroyer (GOD). There is only one God, with no second or partner. It is God possesses unlimited power and absolute authority.

Furthermore, God is omnipresent (everywhere) and immanent (within everything), as well as omnipotent (all-powerful) and transcendent (beyond the material world). The quote "Within all there is light and it is thy light which is in all.” (AG 13,663) emphasizes the idea that God's divine light is present in everything.

Nanak taught that there are two types of people: those who follow and live by the True Guru's teachings, known as Gurmukh someone facing the Guru, the one who doesn’t is Manmukh as he has turned his back on the Gurus (Bemukh) as he  does as he pleases.  All the Ten Gurus shared this fundamental idea, though they explained it in various ways depending on the time in history and the people they were speaking to.

Early life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji 

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, born in 1469, lived a simple and spiritual life. When he was young, he felt a divine calling to spread the message of liberation through the Divine Name. Nanak travelled across India, singing praises of the Lord and challenging the hypocrisy of religious people and empty rituals. He married and had children to emphasise that one could be devoted while leading a household life.

Ultimately, he settled in a village called Kartarpur, near Lahore. During his life, he gained many followers and appointed Lehna as Angad, the successor True Guru. This transition symbolized Lehna becoming a vital part of the Sikh faith, carrying on Guru Nanak's teachings.

In the early days of Sikhism, around the time of the first four Gurus, Sikhs didn't have a specific way of dressing or any visible signs to show their faith. This makes sense because the focus of the early Gurus, especially Guru Nanak, was to move away from outward symbols and rituals of Hinduism and Islam. Instead, they emphasized the importance of personal devotion within the heart.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, even wore both Muslim and Hindu clothing to symbolize the unity of all people. Most of the Sikh community's activities were centred in the Punjab region of North India. Guru Nanak established the first Sikh centre at Kartarpur, where he shared his teachings with his followers. He encouraged them to focus on inner devotion, truly understand the greatness of God, and reflect on His teachings. Today, Kartarpur remains an important place for Sikhs.

The Gurus share a common belief, but there's significant development. Guru Amar Das Ji stressed that each cosmic age (yuga) has its proper religious practice (dharma). We're currently in the fourth and most degenerate age (kaliyuga). For this age, the right religious practice is remembering and meditating on the divine Name (Naam). The True Guru (Satiguru) can manifest in any form, including the living Guru or the Word (shabad) in their hymns.

Idea of God by the Sikh Gurus 

Guru Amar Das Ji, following Guru Nanak Dev Ji's idea of the One Nondual Reality/Being, viewed God as the Guru, and the disciple is the father, mother, brother, sister, friend, and relation. Guru Arjan Dev Ji affirmed this belief, stating that the revealed shabad of the satiguru isn't limited to the living Guru or scripture. The Sikh community (sangat) is considered favoured by God. Guru Arjan Dev Ji highlighted the Guru as the true King, the centre of a genuine social organization. He also strongly emphasized the belief in true/saintly congregational association (sat/sadh sangat).

Guru Angad Ji, who lived from 1504 to 1552, became a devoted follower of Guru Nanak after his conversion. He served Nanak with great humility, considering himself as integral to Nanak as a limb (ang). He married Mata Khivi and had three children. Known for his unwavering obedience to the Guru's Will, he played a crucial role in the growth of the Panth. Before his passing, he appointed Amar Das as the successor and leader, designating him as the storekeeper and master cook.

Guru Amar Das Ji, born in 1479, embraced Sikhism at the age of seventy-three after being moved by the religious hymns sung by Angad's daughter. Married with two sons and two daughters, Amar Das Ji was sent to the village of Goindwal to establish his center. As the Panth grew, Amar Das introduced "manjis," symbolic string-beds where devout Sikhs would sit elevated above others, preaching the Sikh way of life. To challenge the caste system's hypocrisy and social inequalities, Amar Das instituted the free kitchen and dining hall (langar), allowing people of different castes and religions to dine together as equals.

In an effort to unite and focus the growing Panth, Guru Amar Das Ji designated two festival days, compiled the hymns of previous Gurus into four volumes (Goindwal Pothis), and constructed a sacred well (Baoli Sahib) with eighty-four steps as a pilgrimage centre in Goindwal. Before his passing, he appointed Ram Das as his successor, ensuring the continued leadership of the Sikh community.

Setting the physical foundation of the Sikh community - Amritsar 

Guru Ram Das, who lived from 1534 to 1581, dug a big pool that later became the city of Amritsar, known as 'the nectar of immortality.' Instead of the manjis of Amar Das, representatives called masands were appointed by Ram Das to organize the Sikh community. They collected offerings for the Guru, and this system brought more order to the Panth. Ram Das also wrote hymns praising the divine Name, continuing a tradition started by Nanak, and these hymns are still sung by Sikhs today.

Ram Das chose his youngest son, Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606), as his successor, excluding Mahadev and Prithi Chand. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, like his father, focused on scripture and wrote the most hymns among all the Gurus. To combat the distribution of fake hymns by the Minas, Arjan decided to create a definitive book, the Adi Granth, containing all authentic hymns of Sikh Gurus and even those of renowned saints. Completed in 1604 with the help of Bhai Gurdas, this written scripture became crucial for the growing Sikh community.

By this time, the Sikh Panth had gained popularity and influence in  Panjab, causing concern for the Mughal ruler Jahangir. He declared that if the Guru didn't convert to Islam, the Sikh Panth should be eliminated. Guru Arjan Dev Ji, refusing to abandon his Sikh faith, was captured and tortured in Lahore. He is remembered as the first Sikh Guru martyr who sacrificed his life for his beliefs.

In the past, Sikhs mainly focused on their religious beliefs. However, after Guru Arjan Dev Ji was martyred, the importance of seeking socio-political freedom became clear. Before his death, Guru Arjan Dev Ji advised his son Hargobind to take up arms to protect the Sikh community from Mughal oppression. Guru Amar Das moved the religious centre from Kartarpur to Goindwal, and Guru Ram Das established Amritsar, which was completed by Guru Arjan. Today, these places are crucial for Sikh devotion and pilgrimage.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji also founded Tarn Taran and Sri Hargobindpur in the Bari Doab and Kartarpur in the District Jalandhar Doab of Punjab. While the Sikh Gurus share common beliefs, each Guru added new insights and developments. Guru Tegh Bahadur emphasized the shortness of life and the importance of seizing opportunities. He taught that one should be engaged in life but not entangled, and conquering the fear of death was crucial. This idea was especially significant as Sikhs were becoming warriors. Guru Tegh Bahadur, like the early Gurus, rejected the belief that occult powers indicated spiritual achievement.

A change in terminology 

Over time, the language used by spiritual leaders, or Gurus, has evolved. A clear example of this is Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the Tenth Master. He referred to Akal Purakh, the timeless being, as Sarab Loh, meaning 'All Steel.' Guru Gobind Singh believed that he was chosen by God to defend his people against persecution by the Mughals and Afghans. He built upon his grandfather Hargobind's teachings, combining the socio-political and religious aspects into the concept of Saint-Soldier (sant-sipahi). This Saint-Soldier, according to Gobind, fights only for righteousness (dharam) when called by Akal Purakh.

Guru Gobind Singh emphasized the unity of the temporal and spiritual worlds (miri-piri). He believed that taking up arms is justified when all other peaceful means fail, as long as it aligns with the will of Akal Purakh/Sarab Loh. The warrior Singhs, following Gobind's teachings, adhered to a code of conduct known as rehat maryada.

Before his passing, Guru Gobind Singh sanctified the scripture as the next Guru. Consequently, the Adi Granth became the Guru Granth Sahib for the Khalsa Singh. With the establishment of the Khalsa, the Sikh community, or Panth, transformed into the Guru Panth. Decisions made in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib by the Guru Panth were (and are today) regarded with the same authority as the decisions made by the Gurus in the past. This continuity logically follows the previous Gurus' equating of the Word (shabad) with the true Guru (satiguru).

The succeeding Gurus 

Guru Hargobind, who lived from 1595 to 1644, was a leader of the Sikh community. When he became the leader, he wore two swords—one symbolizing his political power and the other representing his spiritual authority. To emphasize the importance of both aspects, he built the Akal Takht (the Throne of God) across from the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple).

Guru Hargobind trained his followers in combat and engaged in battles with the Mughal Army. Eventually, he moved his forces to Kirtapur, on the outskirts of Mughal territory. He had three wives and six children, with his eldest son Gurditta. However, Gurditta's eldest son, Dhir Mal, later formed his own group.

After Guru Hargobind, his grandson Guru Har Rai (1630-1661) took over. To avoid conflict, he retreated even further into the Shivalik Hills and settled in Sirmur. Guru Har Rai spent his time teaching, both in Sirmur and on the plains. His elder son, Ram Rai, tried to please the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by altering a word in a hymn to make it less offensive to Muslims. Unhappy with this, Guru Har Rai chose his younger son, Har Krishan, who was only five years old, as his successor.

Guru Har Krishan, who lived from 1656 to 1664, was called to Delhi by Aurangzeb. Unfortunately, he got sick with smallpox and, before passing away, he reportedly said the words 'Babba Bakale.' This was a reference to the next Guru, a Baba (an elderly man or grandfather) in the village of Bakala, near Amritsar. It turned out to be Baba Tegh Bahadur, the son of Guru Hargobind.

Guru Tegh Bahadur, born in 1621 and passing away in 1675, received education in languages and religious knowledge from Bhai Gurdas. Baba Buddha Ji, the first reader of the Granth at the Golden Temple, trained him as a warrior. After his father Hargobind's death, Guru Tegh Bahadur settled in Bakala, focusing on meditation.

Despite numerous rivals vying to become the next Guru in Bakala, Guru Tegh Bahadur stood out. In 1669, Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the destruction of all non-Muslim schools and shrines, leading to widespread persecution and forced conversions. Unable to tolerate the injustice, Guru Tegh Bahadur decided to defend religious freedom.

In 1675, he was executed by Aurangzeb at Chandni Chowk in Delhi. The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur is commemorated at Gurdwara Sis Ganj. Before leaving for Delhi, Guru Tegh Bahadur appointed his son Gobind Das, later known as Gobind Singh, as his successor.

The 10th Guru 

Guru Gobind Singh, born in 1666, was not only well-versed in Sanskrit and Persian poetry but also skilled in martial arts. Similar to his father, he enjoyed hunting and participated in battles against the Hill Chieftains. In 1699, during the month of Vaisakh, he established the Khalsa Panth, a community of initiated Sikhs. The purpose was to give Sikhs a distinct identity, transforming them from disciples (Sikhs) into warriors (Singhs). Guru Gobind Singh expressed this transformation with the words: Chirion se main baz turaun; sawa lakh se ek laraun. Tabe Gobind Naam kahaun 

(I have turned sparrows to hawks. A single Singh can triumph over a hundred thousand in battle. Then alone can I call myself Gobind Singh)

This transformation aimed to empower Sikhs to defend their religious rights against Mughal and Afghan persecution. Additionally, Guru Gobind Singh sought to unite the Sikh community, addressing divisions caused by corrupted representatives of the Guru called Masands. To achieve this, he abolished the Masands, encouraging unity in the newly created Khalsa and promoting principles of equality, fraternity, and unity.

Despite facing numerous battles and losing all four of his sons, Guru Gobind Singh played a crucial role in Sikh history. Following tradition, he appointed the Adi Granth as the Guru Granth, ending the line of human Gurus. He compiled the final version of the Adi Granth, including hymns from his father, Tegh Bahadur. Notably, he excluded his own hymns, which were later collected by Bhai Mani Singh.

In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh was attacked by a Pathan connected with Wazir Khan, sustaining injuries. In response, he declared the Guru Granth Sahib Ji as the Living Guru for the Sikh Panth. This decision marked a significant moment in Sikh spirituality and leadership.

The Eternally Living Guru 

The Guru Granth Sahib is considered  as a symbol of the living Gurus, especially Guru Nanak. It is revered as  it embodies his living presence. 

Since most of the important events happened in Panjab, it still remains the main place for Sikhism. Guru Hargobind built the Akal Takht, which means 'the Immortal Throne,' and a fort called Lohgarh for protection. Guru Tegh Bahadur started a city called Anandpur, where Guru Gobind Singh made the Khalsa. Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur Sahib is now one of the five important Sikh places.

Guru Gobind Singh said the Guru Granth Sahib is a guide, and now it's like a light for Sikhs all over the world. In every Gurdwara, there's the Guru Granth Sahib, and people come to listen to its teachings. They want to connect with God and have a special experience called visamad, where they feel amazed by God's greatness. The more someone loves and worships God, the more they understand and experience. The Gurus, like one shining light, helped the Sikh community grow by focusing on remembering God and saying Naam to connect with God and be saved.

May Long Live The Sikh Panth 

The term "Sikh Panth" refers to both the Sikh faith and the Sikh community as a whole. "Panth" means a way or path, symbolizing a way of life and religious beliefs. It represents the entirety of the Sikh faith, embodying the power of the Guru and encompassing devoted worshipers of God.

According to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, he charted a universal path for everyone, regardless of their religious background. This path is like a highway where individuals of various beliefs, like different vehicles in terms of brands, sizes, shapes, and speeds, can travel and reach their destination.

The core message is straightforward: through intense love and devotion, salvation can be attained. The uniqueness of Sikhism lies in its focus on the present moment, leading followers to realize God within themselves. Unlike the idea of attaining salvation after death, Sikhism emphasizes finding God and uniting with Him in this current life. The result is the end of delusion and sin, replaced by celestial peace, bliss, and everlasting joy in the here and now.

*Based on an article written by Daljit Singh, published in emgonline.com on 17th May 2010


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