Sikhism was established by ten Sikh Gurus, human spiritual teachers or masters, over the period from 1469 to 1708 – that is over a period of 239 years. These teachers were enlightened souls whose main purpose in life was the spiritual and moral well-being of the masses. By setting an exceptional example of how to live a holy and worthy life through practicing righteous principles of living their human lives, they sort to awaken the higher consciousness in the human race. The Gurus taught the people of India and beyond, to live spiritually fulfilling lives with dignity, freedom, and honor. Each of the ten masters added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting eventually in the creation of the religion that is now called Sikhism.
Also Read: Gurpurab – Its origin and celebration
Sikh Gurus and their teachings
Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539)
- First Guru of the Sikhs. Founder of Sikhism.
- Preached the equality of all humans. Guru Nanak said that all people are the children of one God.
- Guru Nanak spoke against tyranny, social injustice, religious hypocrisy, empty rituals, and superstitions.
- Traveled extensively throughout India and foreign lands to spread his message.
- There are 947 hymns from Guru Nanak Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book).
- Born in Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib.
Guru Angad Dev (1504-1552)
- Compiled the biography of Guru Nanak Dev, known as the Janam Sakhi.
- Introduced Gurmukhi script and encouraged people to learn Punjabi.
- There are 63 hymns from Guru Angad Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib.
- Started a school at Khadur Sahib to teach children through the Gurmukhi alphabet.
Guru Amar Das (1479-1574)
- Guru Amar Das further institutionalized the free communal kitchen called langar among the Sikhs.
- Guru Amar Das not only preached the equality of people but also tried to foster the idea of women’s equality. He tried to liberate women from the practices of purdah(wearing a veil) and preached strongly against the practice of Sati (Hindu wife burning on her husband’s funeral pyre).
- There are 869 hymns from Guru Amar Das included in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Ram Das (1534-1581)
- Founded the city of Amritsar in1574.
- The standard Sikh marriage ceremony known as the Anand Karaj is centered on the Lawan, a four stanza hymn composed by Guru Ram Das.
- Spread Sikhism in North India.
- Organized the structure of Sikh society.
- Guru Ram Das stressed the importance of kirtan (hymn singing), which remains an important part of Sikh worship.
- There are 638 hymns from Guru Ram Das included in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606)
- Compiled the Guru Granth Sahib in 1604.
- Built the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib).
- Started the practice of daswandh (tithe) – contributing one-tenth of one’s earnings for community purposes.
- Author of Sukhmani Sahib bani – the Prayer for Peace.
- First Sikh Guru to be martyred. Guru Arjan Dev was imprisoned and martyred in 1606 by Emperor Jahangir for not amending the Adi Granth, the Sikh holy book to reflect his views. Guru Arjan Dev was made to sit on a scorching iron plate and had boiling sand poured over his body. Guru Arjan Dev tolerated this pain and sat there chanting hymns.
- There are 2312 hymns from Guru Arjan Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Hargobind (1595-1644)
- Transformed the Sikhs by introducing martial arts and weapons for the defense of the masses.
- Guru Hargobind put on two swords – one signifying miri (secular power) and the other piri (spiritual power).
- Built the Akal Takht in 1608 at Amritsar in Punjab.
- He was imprisoned in the fort of Gwalior for one year. When he was released he insisted that his 52 fellow prisoners, who were Rajput kings, should also be set free. To mark this occasion the Sikhs celebrate Diwali (Bandi Chhod Divas).
Guru Har Rai (1630-1661)
- Continued the military traditions started by his grandfather, Guru Hargobind.
- The Guru made his son, Guru Harkrishan, the next Guru at the age of only five years.
- Defended the integrity of the Guru Granth Sahib by refusing to modify its words.
- Made Sikhism strong and popular.
Guru Harkrishan (1656-1664)
- Became Guru at the age of five.
- Guru Harkrishan cured the sick during a smallpox epidemic in Delhi.
- Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi was constructed in the Guru’s memory. This is where the Guru stayed during his visit to Delhi.
- Guru Harkrishan died of smallpox at the age of eight.
- Before Guru Harkrishan died, he nominated his granduncle, Guru Tegh Bahadur, as the next Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675)
- Build the city of Anandpur Sahib.
- Sacrificed his life upholding the “right to freedom of religion”. Guru Tegh Bahadur was responsible for saving Kashmiri Hindu pandits who were being persecuted by the Mughals but had to lay down his own life to protect their freedom of religion.
- Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred by Emperor Aurangzeb because he would not become a Muslim. Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Chandani Chowk, New Delhi is located where he was martyred.
- Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in New Delhi is located where the Guru’s body was cremated.
Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708)
- In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh baptized the Sikhs and created the Khalsa (the “Pure”). The Khalsa consists of Sikhs who have been baptized and dedicate themselves to living by the high standards of the Sikh Gurus at all times.
- Instructed the Sikhs to keep the five K’s.
- Compiled the 1428 page Dasam Granth Sahib.
- Author of several banis (hymns) which Sikhs recite daily: Jaap Sahib and Chaupai.
- Wrote his autobiography, the Bichitra Natak.
- Instructed Sikh males to use the last name of Singh (lion) and Sikh females to use the last name Kaur (princess).
- All four of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons were martyred by the Mughals.
- He instructed the Sikhs to follow Granth Sahib as the Guru after him.
Guru Granth Sahib
- The Guru Granth Sahib is the holy book of the Sikhs.
- It is the eternal spiritual guide of the Sikhs. The hymns provide broad guidelines for harmonious living.
- Compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, it has writings of the Sikh Gurus and other saints.
- The Granth Sahib is kept in all Gurdwaras and in many Sikh houses.
- It contains a total of 5867 hymns in 1430 pages.