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The Sikh Gurus

The Palace of the Lord God is so beautiful. Within it, there are gems, rubies, pearls and flawless diamonds. A fortress of gold surrounds this Source of Nectar. How can I climb up to the Fortress without a ladder? By meditating on the Lord, through the Guru, I am blessed and exalted. The Guru is the Ladder, the Guru is the Boat, and the Guru is the Raft to take me to the Lord’s Name. The Guru is the Boat to carry me across the world-ocean; the Guru is the Sacred Shrine of Pilgrimage, the Guru is the Holy River. If it pleases Him, I bathe in the Pool of Truth, and become radiant and pure.” (Guru Nanak, Sri Rag, pg. 17)

In Sikhism, Gurus are referred to the 10 masters, who founded the religion and taught people 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 to the creation of the religion that is now called Sikhism.

Guru Nanak Dev was the first Guru and Guru Gobind Singh the final Guru in human form. Post this, the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book for Sikhs was made the ultimate and final Sikh Guru. The book is given the same respect and reverence as a living “human” Guru.

1.Guru Nanak Dev (Guru from 1469 to 1539)

  • The first of the Gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion. Was born at Talvandi (now known as Nankana Sahib in Pakistan)
  • Regarded Hindus and Muslims as equals and referred to himself as neither Hindu nor Muslim, but as a brother to all those who believed in God and truth
  • Mastered Punjabi, Sanskrit and Persian at an early age and in childhood, revolted against ritualism, caste, prejudices, hypocrisy and idolatry
  • Preached that all people are the children of one God
  • Made four great journeys, travelling to all parts of India, and into Arabia and Persia; visiting Mecca and Baghdad, to spread his message
  • There are 947 hymns from Guru Nanak Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib

2.Guru Angad Dev (Guru from 1539 to 1552)

  • Invented and introduced the Gurmukhi (written form of Punjabi) script
  • Compiled the biography of Guru Nanak Dev, known as the Janam Sakhi
  • Started a school at Khadur Sahib to teach children through Gurmukhi
  • Stood for self-less service to his fellow Sikhs and showed them the way to devotional prayers
  • Took great interest in the education of children by opening numerous schools
  • There are 63 hymns from Guru Angad Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib

3.Guru Amar Das (Guru from 1552 to 1574)

  • Institutionalized ‘Langar’, the free communal kitchen
  • Fostered the idea of women’s equality. Tried to liberate women from the practices of ‘Purdah’ (veil) and ‘Sati’ (Hindu wife killing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre)
  • Fought against caste restrictions and for the untouchables
  • Introduced the ‘Anand Karaj’ marriage ceremony for the Sikhs, replacing the Hindu form
  • There are 869 hymns from Guru Amar Das included in Guru Granth Sahib

4.Guru Ram Das (Guru from 1574 to 1581)

  • Founded the city of Amritsar in 1574 and started the construction of the famous Sarovar
  • Helped spread Sikhism in North India and organized the structure of the Sikh society
  • Composed the four-stanza hymn, ‘Lawan’, which is recited during the Anand Karaj
  • Prophesized the importance of ‘Kirtan’, or the singing of hymns
  • There are 638 hymns from Guru Ram Das included in Guru Granth Sahib

5.Guru Arjan Dev (Guru from 1581 to 1606)

  • Compiled the Adi Granth, the scriptures of the Sikhs
  • Wrote the Sukhmani Sahib (Prayer of Peace)
  • Built the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
  • Started the practice of Daswandh – contributing one tenth of one’s earnings for community purposes
  • First Sikh Guru to be martyred. Was imprisoned and martyred in 1606 by Emperor Jahangir for not amending the Adi Granth to reflect his views
  • There are 2312 hymns from Guru Arjan Dev included in Guru Granth Sahib

6.Guru Hargobind (Guru from 1606 to 1644)

  • Known as the ‘Soldier Saint’. Introduced the learnings of martial arts and weapons for the defense of the Sikhs
  • Established the principles of Miri-Piri in the form of two swords. Miri signifying secular power and Piri signifying spiritual power
  • Built the Akal Takht(one of the five seats of power), as a place of justice
  • Was imprisoned in the fort of Gwalior for a year. When released, insisted that his 52 fellow prisoners, who were Rajput kings, to also be set free. To mark this occasion the Sikhs celebrate Diwali (Bandi Chod Divas)
  • Fought four battles with the Mughal rulers to fight against conversion of people to Islam

7.Guru Har Rai (Guru from 1644 to 1661)

  • Spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the teachings of Guru Nanak
  • Always boosted the military spirit of the Sikhs, but never himself indulged in any direct political and armed controversy with the Mughal Empire
  • Made his son, Guru Harkrishan, the next Guru at the age of only five years
  • Continued the fight to defended the integrity of the Guru Granth Sahib by refusing to modify its words

8.Guru Harikrishan (Guru from 1661 to 1664)

  • Became Guru at the age of five and astonished the Brahmin Pundits with his knowledge and spiritual powers
  • Stood as the symbol of service, purity and truth and helped cure the sick during a smallpox epidemic in Delhi
  • Was nicknames ‘Bala Pir’ (child prophet) by the local Muslim population for his humanitarian deeds
  • Died of smallpox at the age of eight

9.Guru Tegh Bahadur (Guru from 1665 to 1675)

  • Built the city of Anandpur Sahib
  • Laid down his life for the protection of the Hindu religion, their ‘Tilak’ (devotional forehead markings) and their sacred ‘Janeau’ thread
  • Was a firm believer in the right of people to their freedom of worship
  • Was martyred by Emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam
  • Cremated in Delhi with his severed head secretly taken 400kms away to Anandpur Sahib for cremation

10.Guru Gobind Singh (Guru from 1675 to 1708)

  • In 1699, baptized the Sikhs and created the ‘Khalsa’ (the Pure), changing the Sikhs into a saint-soldier order with special symbols and sacraments for protecting themselves
  • Instructed the Sikhs to keep the five K’s (Kesh, Kirpan, Kara, Kangha, Kachhera)
  • Instructed Sikh males to use the last name of Singh (Lion) and Sikh females to use the last name Kaur (Princess)
  • Author of several ‘Banis’ (Hymns) which Sikhs recite daily such as ‘Jaap Sahib’ and ‘Chaupai’
  • Compiled the 1428 page religious text ‘Dasam Granth Sahib’.
  • Wrote his autobiography, the ‘Bichitra Natak’
  • All four of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons were martyred by the Mughals.
  • Instructed the Sikhs to follow Granth Sahib as the Guru after him and commanded “Let all bow before my successor, Guru Granth. The word is the Guru now”

11.Guru Granth Sahib Singh (Guru from 1708 to 1708)

  • Guru Granth Sahib (also known as the Adi Granth) is the scripture of the Sikhs. No important Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib
  • Was written in Gurmukhi script and contains the actual words and verses of the Sikh Gurus
  • Is considered the Supreme Spiritual Authority and Head of the Sikh religion, rather than a living person
  • The only scripture of its kind which also contains the writings of people of other faiths
  • Contains a total of 5867 hymns in 1430 pages