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 We'll start from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 and go up to Guru Har Rai, the seventh Guru. 


Let's take a trip back in time to explore how the Sikh religion has grown and how its values have shaped a strong community dedicated to helping others around the globe. We'll start from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 and go up to Guru Har Rai, the seventh Guru. This was a time of big changes and problems in India. Society was unfair and harsh, especially towards women, the poor, and anyone who disagreed with the rulers. The Sikh gurus stood against these unfair rules and even gave up their lives to fight for equality, justice, freedom, and religious rights.


Guru Nanak: The Founder of Sikhism 

Guru Nanak was born in a time when India was rigidly divided between Hindus and Muslims. By the 13th century, Muslim invaders had taken control of parts of India and were forcefully converting Hindus to Islam. Meanwhile, Hindu society was troubled by strict caste systems, where women, low-caste individuals, and the poor were denied basic human rights and dignity.

In this divided society, Guru Nanak's followers,the Sikhs, forged a new path. They envisioned a society where everyone, regardless of gender or social class, was treated equally. Guru Nanak's teachings emphasized the importance of remembering God in daily actions, earning a living through honest and creative work, and sharing one's earnings with others. These teachings became the foundation of Sikh society, fostering equality and compassion.

As time passed, subsequent Gurus further developed these values, staying true to Guru Nanak's teachings while adapting to changing times. Through their leadership, the Sikh community continued to uphold the principles of equality, honest labor, and sharing, ensuring that Guru Nanak's legacy endured for generations to come.


Contributions of Guru Angad and Guru Amardas 

When Guru Angad succeeded Guru Nanak, he gathered Nanak's teachings and established the Gurmukhi script, providing Sikhs with their own written language. As the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amardas meticulously outlined Sikh ideals on various crucial matters, ensuring clarity for the Sikh community. His famous hymn "Anand" remains a central part of Sikh religious ceremonies. Guru Amardas also introduced the Vaisakhi festival, a tradition that continues to unite Sikhs worldwide, transcending differences in backgrounds and geography.


Guru Ramdas: The fourth Sikh Guru  

Guru Ramdas, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, was a wise leader who saw the importance of having clear rules for Sikhs to live by. His teachings are still followed today, especially during Sikh weddings. During these ceremonies, special songs called "Laavan," written by Guru Ramdas himself, help the couple understand how to live together in harmony and trust each other deeply.

Transition of gurgaddi to Guru Arjan 

Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, was a significant figure in Sikh history. He not only composed many hymns but also gathered the teachings of the earlier Gurus into the Adi Granth. Among his notable contributions were writing the Sukhmani hymn, building the Harmandar Sahib, and founding the city of Amritsar, which became central to Sikhism. By the late 16th century, Sikhs recognized themselves as a distinct community separate from Hindus and Muslims, thriving peacefully in Punjab and across India.

However, in 1606, when Jehangir ascended to the Mughal throne, trouble brewed for the Sikhs. Jehangir, the new emperor, began persecuting them. He specifically targeted Guru Arjan, leading to his execution within just seven months of Jehangir's reign. At the tender age of 11, Guru Hargobind took over as the leader of the Sikhs, inheriting the responsibility amidst challenging times.


Guru Hargobind: The sixth Sikh Guru 

During Guru Hargobind's 37-year leadership, Sikhs faced their toughest challenges yet. He shifted the focus from peacefully spreading Sikh teachings to openly defending their faith with arms. In 1609, Guru Hargobind established the Akal Takht, instilling Sikhs with the belief that they could stand against the Mughals' oppression. Despite urging his followers to defend their faith, Guru Hargobind remained compassionate, dedicating his life to the well-being of all people.

Shah Jahan, Jehangir's son, intensified hostilities against Sikhs, engaging them in four battles. Despite their smaller size, Sikh forces triumphed in all battles, though they were driven out of Amritsar, near Lahore, which was under Mughal control. To avoid further conflict and focus on Sikh welfare, Guru HarGobind retired to Kiratpur, nestled in the Himalayan foothills, safer from Mughal attacks.

HarRai was born on January 16, 1630 in Kiratpur, established by Guru Hargobind in the 1620s and developed by his son Baba Gurditta. He received his education directly under Guru Hargobind's guidance. By 1635, Guru Hargobind had also settled in Kiratpur, spending his final decade there, shaping HarRai's upbringing.


Guru HarRai: The seventh Sikh Guru 

During the tumultuous 17th century in India, Guru HarRai led the Sikhs with a unique approach. This was a time of great upheaval, with fierce struggles for the Mughal throne and efforts by groups like the Minas to undermine Sikh teachings. When Guru HarRai became Guru at just 14 years old, his responsibilities were twofold: safeguarding the core principles of Sikhism established by Guru Nanak and protecting Sikhs from the oppression of the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. But before we delve deeper, let's first understand the social and political context of 15th and 16th century India, which saw the birth of Sikhism under Guru Nanak.

Dhir Mal, Guru Hargobind's elder brother, had turned against him and the Sikh Gurus' teachings. Seeing this, Guru Hargobind, before his passing in 1644, appointed HarRai as the seventh Sikh Guru. Thus, at a tender age of 14, Guru HarRai took on the mantle of leadership.

Moving from Amritsar to Kiratpur had its downside. The Minas, who were descendants of Prithi Chand, took over the Harmandar Sahib, controlling it from around 1635 to 1695. This takeover led to the distortion of Sikh teachings, as the Minas introduced a lot of myths into the ideology of Guru Nanak and other Sikh gurus. This influx of superstition burdened Guru HarGobind and Guru HarRai, compelling them to establish more community centers and train more masands.

Guru HarRai's immediate challenge was to break the Sikhs free from the Minas' influence. Just a year into his Guruship, Mughal forces pushed Guru HarRai out of Kiratpur, forcing him to retreat further into the mountains, near present-day Kasauli, east of Chandigarh. For the next 13 years, Guru HarRai lived quietly in a small village but traveled extensively in Punjab. To avoid conflict with Mughal governors near Amritsar and Lahore, he focused on the Doaba and Malwa regions, situated between the Beas and Yamuna rivers.

The Minas didn't have much control over these areas. Guru HarRai managed to bring people from all walks of life into Sikhism. During this time, Guru HarRai married Kishan Kaur, also known as Sulakhni, the daughter of Sri Daya Ram. They had two sons: Baba Ram Rai, born in 1646, and Harkrishan, born in 1656, who later became the eighth Sikh Guru.

The Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, strongly disliked Hindu temples because of idol worship. He ordered the destruction of newly built Hindu temples and banned any further construction. Shah Jahan also pressured Hindus to convert to Islam, especially in cities like Lahore, Sirhind, Ahmedabad, and Jaunpur. Interestingly, Sikh Gurdwaras were not affected by these orders since Sikhs didn't worship idols. These actions instilled fear among Hindus and led many to embrace Sikhism.


Guru Har Rai Ji’s strength 

Bhagat Bhagwan and Bhai Feru were two devoted followers of Guru HarRai, who played significant roles in spreading the teachings of Sikhism through their selfless service. Bhagat Bhagwan set up 360 centers of Sikh faith in Gaya and Patna, in Bihar, East India. Meanwhile, Bhai Feru was assigned to organize Sikhs in Chunia, south of Lahore, in present-day Pakistan. Bhai Feru's community kitchen, known as langar, became renowned across Punjab for embodying the Sikh ideals. As a result, a city named after him emerged about 40 miles south of Lahore, which has recently been renamed Phoolnagar.

Guru HarRai demonstrated a unique blend of strength and compassion. Despite being skilled in hunting, he couldn't bring himself to harm the animals he captured. Instead, he brought them home, cared for them, and even created a sanctuary for them. Following Guru Arjan’s example, Guru HarRai established a herbal hospital and research center for the sick. However, it's essential to recognize Guru HarRai's military prowess. He maintained a formidable force of 2200 horsemen, reminiscent of the Saint soldiers raised by Guru HarGobind. According to Prof. Surjit Singh Gandhi, Guru HarRai pursued a strategy of "masterly inactivity," focusing on fortifying the foundations of Sikh faith while steering clear of political entanglements.

On April 8, 1648, Shah Jahan decided that Delhi would be the new capital of the Mughal empire. He moved to Shahjahanabad, now called Old Delhi. Prof. Sahib Singh thinks this move was to keep a close watch on Guru HarRai and what was happening in Punjab. Shah Jahan had four sons. He put each of them in charge of different parts of his empire. His oldest son, Dara Shikoh, ruled Punjab and Kashmir in the north. Shujah went to the East to govern Bengal. Aurangzeb was sent to the Deccan in the south, and Murad went to Gujarat in the West.

Dara Shikoh was Shah Jahan’s favorite son. Around 1652, he became very sick. Shah Jahan asked Guru HarRai for medicine from his hospital. Guru HarRai helped Dara Shikoh get better by giving rare herbs. After this, Guru HarRai and Shah Jahan got along better. When asked why he saved Shah Jahan’s son even though Shah Jahan had been causing him trouble, the Guru said: "Man picks flowers with one hand and offers them with the other – both hands smell the same. The axe cuts the sandalwood tree, yet the sandalwood still perfumes the axe."

Around 1658, when Shah Jahan, the ruler, grew old and sick, his sons started fighting over who would take his place. But Guru HarRai stayed out of this fight entirely. Some people wrongly say he helped Dara Shikoh, one of Shah Jahan's sons, during this time. But that's not true because Dara had a big army and lots of money, way more than what Guru HarRai had. Also, if we look at the dates of these events, it's clear that Guru HarRai couldn't have been involved.

Dara Shikoh lost the fight and ran away from Agra. Then, on June 18, 1658, Aurangzeb put Shah Jahan in prison and went after Dara. He caught up with his brother Murad in Mathura and killed him. Another brother, Shujah, died in a different fight. Finally, after a year of chasing, on June 10, 1659, Aurangzeb caught Dara and took him to Delhi, where Dara was killed. So, on June 15, 1659, Aurangzeb, having removed all his brothers who could challenge him, declared himself the new emperor and ruled from Delhi for the next 48 years.

When Aurangzeb became the emperor, he started trying to control Sikh religious matters. Some people blamed Guru HarRai for Dara Shikoh's ideas about Islam. In 1660, Aurangzeb called Guru HarRai to Delhi to explain his actions and the writings in the Adi Granth. But the Guru didn't go himself. Instead, he sent his 14-year-old son Ram Rai and five Sikhs to speak for him.

Ram Rai managed to gain Aurangzeb's trust. Aurangzeb, thinking strategically, decided to keep Ram Rai close in Delhi, believing he could influence the future of the Sikh community if he became the next Guru after Guru HarRai. Ram Rai's flattering behavior at the Mughal court upset Guru HarRai, leading him to declare that his younger son, HarKrishan, would be the next Guru instead.

Ram Rai tried to mend his relationship with Guru HarRai, but without success. Nonetheless, he did win over some Sikhs to his side. Aurangzeb supported Ram Rai's claims to leadership and provided him with land to build a center for his community. This land later became Dehradun, located about 100 miles southeast of Chandigarh. The descendants of Ram Rai, known as Ram Raiyas, are viewed as unethical for betraying Sikh principles, akin to the Minas and descendants of Prithi Chand. After leading the Sikhs for about 17 years, Guru HarRai peacefully passed away in Kiratpur on October 6, 1661, leaving his five-year-old son, HarKrishan, as the eighth Sikh Guru. 


Guru HarRai received a small army but preferred peace and never used it. He enjoyed hunting, but solely to add animals to his zoo at Kiratpur. Additionally, he set up a herbal hospital to aid the sick.

He followed the teachings and lifestyle of the previous Gurus closely. Once, a disciple questioned the value of reciting the Guru’s hymns without comprehension. In his usual courteous manner, Guru HarRai responded: “Yes, Whether you comprehend it or not, the word bears the fruit of salvation. Perfume persists in the broken pieces even after the vase that contained it has been shattered.” Guru HarRai did not compose any hymns, but these statements show that he had the highest regard for the teachings of the previous Sikh Gurus.


*Based on an article published in sikhhistory.haraman.org on 14th March 2014


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