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Sikhism And Sikhs – A Historical Perspective

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The word Sikh in the Punjabi language means ‘disciple’. Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings of their Gurus from Baba Nanak  (1469-1539) to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) and Guru Granth.

Unlike the Hindus who believe in hundreds and thousands of gods, in particular Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, while at the same time maintaining that the power to create, keep or kill, in fact, rests with the Supreme Being – Ishvara, the Sikhs very firmly believe in the unity of God. The Sikhs hold that there is only one God and that He is the same God for all people of all religions.

Let us look at what Baba Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, says about God:

There is one God
He is the supreme truth
He, the Creator,
Is without fear and without hate
He, the Omnipresent
Pervades the universe
He is not born
Nor does He die to be born again
Before time itself
There was truth
When time began to run its course
He was the truth
Even now, He is the truth
And evermore shall truth prevail

Baba Nanak further says:

Thou hast a million eyes, yet no eye hast thou
Thou hast a million forms, yet no form hast thou
Thou hast a million feet, yet no feet hast thou
Thou art without odour, yet millions of odours emanate from Thee
With such charms, Q Lord, hast thou bewitched me.

Unlike the Abrahamic religions, Sikhs do not believe in prophethood, accountability, hereafter, paradise and hell. The Sikhs maintain that the soul goes through the cycle of births and deaths, and if a human being leads an exemplary existence, the soul may merge with God – the concept of incarnation/Tanasikh which the Hindus too believe in.

In Sikhism, there is no place for rituals such as fasting, visiting places of pilgrimage, worship of the dead or the idols. In Sikhism, the Guru is the pivot of the whole religious system. He is the guide who prevents mankind from straying from the straight and narrow path of truth. He is the captain of the ship which takes one across the fearful ocean of life. But the Guru is to be regarded as a guide, not a god. He is to be consulted and respected but not worshipped. Baba Guru Nanak accepted for himself the status of a teacher but not of a prophet. In his writings, he repeatedly referred to himself as the slave or servant of  God. After him, in Sikhism , the following were the Gurus: Angad, Amar Das, Ram Das, Arjan, Hargobind, Har Rai, Hari Krishan, Tegh Bahadur, Gobind Singh.

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But then, the line of personal Gurus was ended by Gobind Singh and Guruship was invested in Sri Adi Granth Sahib as it was deemed to be permanent and inviolable.

Sikhs regard Adi Granth or Guru Granth as their most sacred religious book. It was compiled by the Guru Arjan at Amritsar in 1604 and formally installed in the Harimander (the Golden Temple whose foundation stone was laid by the famous Muslim saint of Lahore, Hazrat Mian Mir) with Bhai Budha  (1518–1631) as the head Granthi. Exactly a hundred years later, Guru Gobind

Singh completed the final and revised version of Adi Granth. The Adi Granth is an enormous volume consisting of some 6000 hymns, which were primarily contributed by Guru Arjan, who contributed 2218 pages, Guru Nanak, who contributed 974 pages. Guru Amar Das contributed 907 pages and Guru Ram Das contributed 679 pages. Moreover, 115 pages were contributed by Guru Tech Bahadur while 62 pages were contributed by Guru Angad.  

Other contributors included Hindu Bhaktas such as Jai Dev from Bengal, Nam Dev from Trilochan, Parmanand from Maharashtra, Beni, Rama Nanda, Pipa, Kabir and Ravi Das from Utter Pradesh, Mira Bai from Rajasthan, Sadhna from Sind and Sur Das from Oudh.

The famous Muslim saint of Pak Pattan, Baba Farid Gunj Shakar was also one of the contributors.

The greatest number of hymns from this category are those of Baba Farid and Bhakt Kabir.

When Guru Arjan installed the Granth in the Harimandar at Amritsar, he ordered his followers to treat it with the same reverence as they treated their Gurus. It is interesting to note that the earliest contributor to Guru Granth, Jai Dev, lived in the 12th century, while the last one, Guru Tegh Bahadur, in the 17th century. The following are some of the hymns.

Some hymns of Baba Guru Nanak:

Among the low, let my caste be the meanest
Of the lowly, let me the lowliest be
O Nanak, let such be the men I know
With such men let me keep company
Why should I try to emulate the great?

Baba Farid:

Farid believed he alone was stricken with sorrow
But sorrow is spread over the entire world
I climbed my roof and whichever way I turned
I saw that every house in sorrow burned

Bhakt Kabir:

Those Stars in the sky
Who has designed them and put them there?
Says Kabir, only he will know
Who has God in his heart and His name on his lip .

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Sikhism does not have priests, which were abolished by the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, because he thought that they had become corrupt and full of ego. Now there are only custodians of the Guru Granth Sahib, and any Sikh is free to read it in the gurdwaras or in his house. All people of all religions are welcome to the gurdwaras.

The most significant historical religious centre for the Sikhs is Harimandar Sahib, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. It is the inspirational and historical pivot of Sikhism but is not a mandatory place of pilgrimage or worship. All places where Sri Granth Sahib are installed are considered equally holy for Sikhs.

Unlike the Hindus, Sikhs strictly believe in casteless society. A free community kitchen at every gurdwara serves meals to all people of all religions without any discrimination. Baba Guru Nanak first started this institution which outlines the basic Sikh principles of service, humility and equality.

In Sikhism, the ideal of life is to seek purity among the world’s impurities; to have the detachment of a Yogi while living among one’s fellow beings. It is said that, “If thou must the path of true religion see, Among the world’s impurities, be of impurities free.”

By repetition of the NAM (a life of prayers), one conquers the greatest of all evils, the ego. Once the power of the ego is properly canalized, the conquest of lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride follows as a matter of course. The wanderings of the restless mind are stilled, and it attains a state of blind bliss – the final gate is opened and one receives a vision of God and merges one’s light with the light eternal. For such a person, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is ended and he attains salvation. Baba Guru Nanak believed in the triumph of human will over fate and pre- determination. The chief job of the Guru is to make man aware of the treasure within him and then help him to unlock the jewel box.

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