The Ten Gurus of the Sikhs

The "Guru" in Sikhism is an enlightener and messenger. The word 'Guru' does not always refer to a human being. The Guru's word or hymn is also Guru.

"The universe is the temple of God but

without the Guru darkness reigns supreme."

The Gurus have raised the conscience of the Sikhs to such a level where they can be one with God. They are the light bearers for humanity. They are the messengers of the Timeless. They renew the eternal wisdom. They are universal men who free our minds from bigotry and superstitions, dogmas and rituals, and emphasise the simplicity of the religion. They appear outside in human form to those who crave for visible and physical guides. The enlighteners are the inner selves.

The first of the Gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak. He was born in Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib (near Lahore in Pakistan) in 1469 AD. Guru Nanak married and had two sons. This was the darkest period of India's history when the people were absolutely divided and demoralised. Guru Nanak himself describes the scene in the following words:

"The age is a knife. Kings are butchers. They dispense justice when their palms are filled. Decency and laws have vanished, falsehood stalks abroad. Then came Babar to Hindustan (India). Death disguised as a Moghul made war on us. There was slaughter and lamentation. Did not Thou, O Lord, feel the pain?"

In addition, the priests had reduced religion to a mockery. The public was blind in its faith, and governed by superstitions. Seeing all this, Guru Nanak started building a nation of self-respecting men and women, devoted to God and their leaders, filled with a sense of equality and brotherhood. He pronounced, for the benefit of all:

"To worship an image, to make pilgrimage to a shrine, to remain in a desert, and yet have an impure mind, is all in vain; to be saved worship only the TRUTH."

"Keeping no feeling of enmity for anyone. God is contained in every bosom."

"FORGIVENESS is love at its highest power."

"Where there is forgiveness there is God Himself."

"Do not wish evil for anyone."

"Do not speak harsh of anyone."

"Do not obstruct anyone's work."

"If a man speaks ill of you, forgive him."

"Practice physical, mental and spiritual endurance."

"Help the suffering even at the cost of your own life."

Against social inequality Guru Nanak preached:

"There is only One Father of us all, And we are all His children.

Recognise all human race as one."

Giving women their proper place in society, He said,

"Born of women, nourished by women, wedded to women, why do they revile women? How can women be called inferior when they give birth to kings and prophets?"

Guru Nanak was a friend of the down-trodden.

"There are low castes, lowliest of the low.

I, Nanak, have my place with them; what have

I to do with the high born? God's grace is

there where the down-trodden are taken care of."

He also preached the concept of "Honest-Productive-Labour", kirat kamai.

"Only such a person can realise the spiritual

path who earns by the sweat of his brow and

shares his earnings with the needy."

There was not a single aspect of earthly or spiritual life which was not enlightened by Guru Nanak. He passed away on 7 September 1539.

The second Guru, Siri Guru Angad Dev Ji, was born in 1504 and first met Guru Nanak in 1532. Guru Angad invented and introduced the Gurmukhi (written form of Punjabi) script and made it known to all Sikhs. The scripture of Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in Gurmukhi. This scripture is also the basis of Punjabi language. Guru Angad was a model of self-less service to his Sikhs and showed them the way to devotional prayers.

The third Guru, Siri Guru Amardas Ji, was born in 1479. He met Guru Angad in 1541 who transmitted the same Light to Guru Amardas in 1552. Guru Amardas took up cudgels of spirituality to fight against caste restrictions, caste prejudices and the curse of untouchability. He strengthened the tradition of the free kitchen, Guru Ka Langar (started by Guru Nanak), and made his disciples, whether rich or poor, whether high born or low born (according to the Hindu caste system), have their meals together sitting in one place. He thus established social equality amongst the people. Guru Amardas introduced the Anand Karaj marriage ceremony for the Sikhs, replacing the Hindu form. He also completely abolished amongst the Sikhs, the custom of Sati, in which a married women was forced to burn herself and die with the funeral of her husband. The custom of Paradah, in which a woman covered her face with a veil was also done away with.

The fourth Guru, Siri Guru Ramdas Ji, was born in 1534. He became the Guru in 1574. He started the construction of the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. The temple remains open on all sides and at all times to every one. This indicates that the Sikhs believe in One God who has no partiality for any particular place, direction or time.

The fifth Guru, Siri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, was bestowed upon with the "Divine Light" by Guru Ramdas Ji in 1581. He was born in 1563. Guru Arjan was a saint and scholar of the highest quality and repute. He compiled the hymns and compositions of Guru Nanak and his other predecessors, selected the sacred scriptures of some Hindu and Muslim saints, composed his own hymns and thus compiled the Adi Granth4. He proved that holy beings of whatever caste or creed are equally worthy of respect and reverence. The achievements and the works of Guru Arjan upset the reigning Emperor, Jahangir who implicated him and tortured him in most inhumane way. The Guru suffered quietly and bravely and set to the whole world an unequaled example of self-sacrifice and peaceful sufferings. Despite being made to sit in boiling water, and on a red hot iron plate while burning sand was poured over his body, he chanted cheerfully and softly "Sweet is Thy Will, My Lord; Thy grace alone I Beseech". He breathed his last in 1606.

The sixth Guru, Siri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, was born in 1595. He became Guru in 1606. He built many religious shrines and felt the necessity of imparting the spirit of soldiership to the Sikhs and urged them to be well versed in the art of using sword and other arms for self-defence and self-preservation. He himself wore two swords, Miri, representing political sovereignty and Piri, signifying spiritual sovereignty; a balance of material and spiritual life in the world.

The seventh Guru, Siri Har Rai Ji, born in 1630, spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the Gospel of Guru Nanak. He also continued the grand task of nation-building initiated by Guru Hargobind.

The eighth Guru, Siri Har Krishan Ji, was born in 1656. The "Divine Light" was bestowed upon him in 1661. To the Sikhs he proved to be the symbols of service, purity and truth. The Guru gave his life while serving and healing the epidemic-stricken people in Delhi. Anyone who invokes Him with a pure heart has no difficulties whatsoever in their life.

The ninth Guru, Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, was born in 1621 in Amritsar. He became Guru in 1664. He established the town of Anandpur. The Guru laid down his life for the protection of Hindus, their Tilak (devotional mark painted on the forehead) and their sacred thread. He was a firm believer in the right of people to the freedom of worship. It was for this cause that he faced martyrdom for the defence of the down-trodden Hindus. So pathetic was the torture of Guru Tegh Bahadur that his body had to be cremated clandestinely at Delhi while his head was taken four hundred kilometers away to Anandpur Sahib for cremation.

The tenth Guru, Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was born in 1666 and became Guru after the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. He created the Khalsa (The Pure Ones) in 1699, changing the Sikhs into a saint-soldier order with special symbols and sacraments for protecting themselves. He fought many wars against oppression. His four sons also gave their lives in defence of their faith. He died in 1708.

Thus the tree whose seed was planted by Guru Nanak, came to fruition when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, and on 3 October 1708, appointed Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru. He commanded: "Let all bow before my successor, Guru Granth. The Word is the Guru now."

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