Sikh History

A Brief History of the Sikhs

The word Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit ‘shishya’ meaning disciple. Sikhs are the disciples of their ten Gurus beginning with Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469 – 1539) and ending with Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666 -1708). There are over 20 million Sikhs in the world today, the vast majority live in the north Indian state of Punjab.

Guru Nanak Dev Ji the founder of the Sikh faith was the son of an official with a small holding of land in a village northwest of Lahore. Guru ji had his elementary education in Sanskrit and Persian. His father intended to train him as an accountant so that he could get a job in the court of the Muslim governor of the district. But Guru Nanak Dev Ji turned out to be indifferent to his school text books and instead engaged in long discourses with holy men both Hindu and Muslim, who turned up at his village. He was the despair of his parents as he would not attend to family business and spent what ever money they gave him on feeding the poor. When he grew up to be a young man , they arranged a marriage for him. For a time he devoted himself to the care of his wife and two sons.

Then the search for truth became too overpowering; bathing in a river Guru Ji had a divine revelation in which Guru Ji entered the court of Akal Purkh(God) who sent him on a mission to spread his word. For three days Guru Nanak Dev Ji was missing presumed drowned. On the third day Guru ji appeared and started his mission with a simple message ‘There is no Hindu, there is no Mussulman’. By this statement he was not decrying Hinduism or Islam, but stating that in Gods eyes all are equal. He took with him as his companions a Muslim musician Mardana Ji and a Hindu peasant Bhai Bala and the three went preaching from village to village. Guru ji composed his sermons in ragas (musical modes) which were sung to the accompaniment of the Rabab (lute style intrument of Mardana Ji).

Guru Ji’s teachings inspired the people and within a few years these disciples became a homogeneous group whose faith was exclusively the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Ji traveled all over India. He went as far as Assam ,far south as Sri Lanka, far north as Tibet. Guru Ji then went westwards beyond India to Mecca and Madina in Arabia. Wherever he went , he sang his hymns which told the people that if they wanted to love God they should learn first to love each other. There are countless stories of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s travels. Once Guru Ji came to a river and in it he saw many Hindus who were taking water in their clasped hands and offering it towards the Sun. Guru Ji enquired about what was going on. One person replied ” we are offering water to our ancestors who are in the next world “. Guru Ji replied ” This sounds like a good idea, let me try”. With this Guru Nanak Dev Ji started offering water to the opposite side to the crowd. The throng looked on and were very puzzled. “What are you doing Fakir Ji ?” they asked. “Why, I am offering water to my fields in the Punjab” he said “if your water can reach the next world surely mine can reach the Punjab which is a few hundred miles away”. With this the people realised their folly.

On his travels Guru Ji met a very rich and successful man. The man invited Guru Sahib to his large a luxurious house. The man had accumulated a vast fortune with deciete and foul means and he boasted about his wealth. He asked Guru ji if there was anything he could do for a man of God. Guru Ji saw a needle on the floor picked it up and handed it to him , “Please give me this needle in the next world”. The man was puzzled “How can i do this” he said ” One comes into this world with nothing and leaves it with nothing”. The penny dropped and he realised that he had wasted away his whole life. He fell at Guru Sahibs feet “Forgive me ” he cried. Guru Nanak Dev Ji blessed him and told him the three rules all should live by : Naam Japo – Recite the name of the Lord at all times, Kirat Karo – Do an honest days work , Wand Shako – Share your food with those around you.Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s crusade was against intolerance which had become the practice of the Muslims, and the meaningless rituals and discriminations of caste and gender which had become a integral part of Hindu life.

Guru ji spent the last years of his life with his family in the village of Kartarpur. Here people flocked to him and heard him sing his hymns. Even today Guru ji is regarded as the symbol of harmony between the two communities.

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