At the outset the author states that he is not trying to prove that Sikhs are Hindus. The article shares information and insights. Let the reader decide.
Today, I am known as a Punjabi Hindu. My Dadi belonged to a Bhalla Sikh family whilst Ma's dadi and nani i.e. maternal and paternal grandmothers were Sikhs.
Even since I can remember our family temple had a picture of Guru Nanak and Ma Lakshmi. Sometime after the violent Khalistani Movement Shivji replaced Nanak. During the celebrations of 300 years of Khalsa in 1999, media and Punjabi leaders kept on harping that Sikhism and Hinduism are different religions. This was what goaded me into writing this piece in 2002. What you read is an edited 2017 version.
The article talks about the lives of each Guru, reasons for the birth of Sikh Dharma, what Guru Nanak stood for, the birth of Khalsa and presents a set of insights on the close theological, spiritual and cultural bonds between Hindus and Sikhs.
About the Gurus
The Muslims of Central Asia invaded and ruled Punjab for nearly five hundred years prior to the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469. Forcible conversions, destruction of temples were some of the miseries that Hindus faced.
Guru Nanak was a witness to the treatment meted out to the people of Punjab by Babur in 1521. Thousands of people were massacred and taken prisoners. The barbarous treatment of prisoners including women broke the tender heart of Nanak.
Muslim oppression and the Bhakti (devotion to God) movement were responsible for the growth and development of Sikh Dharma.
Nanak was against the caste system and idol worship. He laid emphasis on five things. 1. Nam or singing the praise of God. 2. Dan or charity. 3. Ashnan or daily bath. 4. Seva or service to humanity. 5. Simran or constant prayer for the deliverance of the soul. Nanak’s religion consisted of the love of God, love of man. Nanak’s God was the Creator, unborn, formless, and omnipresent. To Nanak the relationship between man and God was similar to the one between husband and wife ie constant companionship. God was everywhere and could be attained by repeating his name continuously. Therefore, Sikhs’s greet each other with Sat Sri Kal or True Timeless One.
Nanak held that for the realization of God, having a Guru was essential. Without the Guru God could not be realized and one wanders in the darkness of ignorance. A faithful disciple must follow the Guru’s instructions implicitly. But the Guru was to be obeyed and not worshipped. Nanak laid stress on devotion, service and culture of emotions.
Basically God is formless, not something which changes. The very quest for God is a quest for something eternal, and anything which is changing is in the realm of time and is therefore ephemeral, transient. 'Life' of anything which is changing starts with birth and ends with death. None of this applies to God. If God too was something like this then he is not worth praying. Moreover, the famous manta like words SAT SRI AKAL, means God is Sat - i.e. that which exists in all the three periods of time - past, present & future; Sri - means glorious with great power; and Akal - i.e. that which transcends time. So it is very evident that the God which lovingly found a place in the heart of Nanak was the one which transcended time, he was changeless, eternal truth. This is also what Vedanta reveals.
Nanak emphasized the importance of overcoming the ego to realize God. Realizing the law of cause and effect in the moral and physical world, man realizes the justice of God. Nanak emphasized the importance of Karma to escape from the transmigration of the soul. Right conduct is closely associated with Nanak’s idea of right belief and worship. Nanak believed that true renunciation consisted in living a pure life amidst the impurities of attachment. Those who have read the Holy Geeta would be familiar with these thoughts.
Nanak was against fasts, penance, pilgrimages, renunciation of the world. He wanted to create a casteless society in which all were equal. Women received great consideration from Nanak. His was a reformists approach.
Nanak called his religion Gurmat or Guru’s wisdom. This word occurs in Guru Nanak’s hyms more than two hundred times. His disciples called themselves Nanak Panthis. The word “Sikh” comes from the “Sanskrit word sishya meaning a learner or a person who takes spiritual lessons from a teacher.”
Angad or Bhai Lahna Trehan was the second Guru. Before he died Nanak nominated a Kshatriya, Guru Angad as his successor ignoring the demand of his son Srichand. Angad started collecting Nanak’s hymns which were written in Lande Mahajani, in a rather rough/crude script. To avoid their misinterpretation, Angad decided to beautify the Lande alphabets to give birth to a new script called Gurumukhi meaning that which came out from the mouth of the Guru.
Amar Das Bhalla was the third Guru. Guru Angad nominated a Kshatriya as his successor. Guru Amar Das was against torturing the body and the Purdah system. From here onwards gurudom became hereditary.
Ram Das was the fourth Guru. He added to the growing solidarity of the community with a sacred tank in the city of Amritsar, earlier known as Ramdaspur or the town of Guru Ram Das. He composed Lavan for the solemnization of the Sikh marriage. Guru Har Govind expanded the tank into Harmandir Sahib as it is known today.
Guru Arjunmal or Guru Arjun was the fifth Guru. Born in 1563 Guru Arjun was an original thinker, illustrious poet, philosopher, and organizer. His greatest achievement was the compilation of the Granth Sahib. Written in Gurumukhi script it was completed in 1604. For helping the rebellious son of emperor Jahangir, the Guru was tied in the burning sun over hot sand and tortured. Exhausted under its impact he collapsed under the strain and died at the age of 42. This event proved to be a turning point in the Sikh attitude towards the Mughals.
Guru Har Govind was the sixth Guru. Instructed by his father, he began the arming of his followers. In front of the Harmandir Sahib he constructed the Akal Takt or God’s Throne. Tales of valor of Chittor rulers were sung to encourage his followers. After being imprisoned by Jahangir he realized the art of diplomacy. On his release he became a friendly collaborator of the Mughal emperor. This ended with the death of Jehangir. The Guru was busy in warfare from 1634 to 1640.
He spent the last two years of his life converting Muslims to Hinduism. While some people have criticized the Guru for engaging the Mughals in a battle that could not be won, he was trying to change the age old mentality of the Hindus of meekly submitting to the oppressor. Guruji rendered a great service to the country by showing the true path of deliverance from spiritual bondage. After all, spirituality must inspire a person to resist the wrong with courage and boldness. The Holy Geeta talks about it too.
The next two Gurus, Har Rai and Har Kishan have not left much of history behind them.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth Guru and the youngest son of Guru Har Govind, the sixth Guru. At that time Aurangzeb was determined to establish an Islamic State in India and took various measures to oppress Hindus. Locals were forced to convert to Islam in Punjab and Kashmir. This angered Guruji who travelled across Punjab and inspired the Punjabis and Kashmiris to fight against such oppression. Not wanting to face a rebellion, Aurangzeb summoned Tegh Bahadur to Delhi. In Delhi he was asked to perform a miracle as proof of his nearness to God but refused. Having failed to perform a miracle, he was asked to accept Islam. He refused and was beheaded in 1675.
Guru Govind Singh was the tenth and last Guru. The murder of his father and grandfather, oppression of Hindus got Guruji fired up to create a national awakening in Punjab similar to what Shivaji had done in Maharashtra.
While reading the Puranas, the Guru had been deeply impressed with the idea that Bhagwan had been sending a saviour at critical times to save and destroy evil-doers. He believed he had been sent for that purpose. In the Chandi Charitra the Guru says that in the past God had deputed Durga to destroy the evil doers and this duty had now been assigned to him.
Birth of Khalsa: At a congregation held at Anandpur on 30 March 1699, after a stirring speech about the need to protect Hinduism, he asked if anyone would offer his head in the services of God, Truth, and Religion. The five heads that rose were Dayaram a Khatri from Lahore, Dharamdas a Jat from Hastinapur near Delhi, Sahib Chand a barbar from Bidar in Karnataka, Himmat Chand Kahar water carrier from Puri in Orissa and Mohkam Chand Chihimba from Dwarka in Gujarat. These five were designated as the Beloved Ones and termed Khalsa.
They were designated the Five “Beloved Ones” and termed “Khalsa” (ie Purified). “In India 'five' has been a sacred number from time immemorial. Panchon mein Parmeshwar hai is an old saying indicating the presence of Divinity in five, as are as the five elements of nature.
“Each of the five letters in the Persian word Khalsa has a significance. The first two, kh and a, stand, respectively for Khud or oneself and the Akal Purakh (God). ‘L’ signifies Labbaik meaning the following questions of God: "What do you want with me? Here am I. What would you have? and the reply of the Singh (devotee): Lord, give us liberty and sovereignty. ‘S’ signifies Sahib (Lord or Master). The last letter is written as a or, more usually, h. The former signifies Azadi and the latter refers to Huma, a legendary bird.”
Dr Satish K. Kapoor, distinguished educationist, historian and spiritualist wrote, “The word khalsa, meaning pure, unstained or undefiled derives from khalis or khalisah of the Arabic lexicon, and is used once in the Granth Sahib (Rag Sorath, word of Bhagat Kabir ji, page 655).”
According to Khalsa tradition, its followers had to sport the five Ks i.e. Kesh (long hair), Kangha (comb), Kirpan (sword), Kara (steel bracelet), Kachcha (knickers). Long hair and turbans were supposed to protect the face and head from sword cuts and lathi blows. The kara was a reminder that the Sikh spirit was strong and unbending. The kachcha was more suitable for fighting the Mughals in than the dhotis and loose trousers of the Muslims. The kara was also useful in hand to hand fights and “guarded the vulnerable portion of the right hand which wielded the kripan”. According to a devout Sikh lady, other reasons for the five k's “was the need to look ferocious like Mughal soldiers. Nobody could run away from the battlefield as they could be immediately identified and soldiers were always ready for battle.” Their salutation was to be Wah-e-Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wah-e-Guru ji ki Fateh. It means the Khalsa is Thy Own, O Lord, and so is the Victory.
After relentlessly fighting the Mughals for years, the Guru moved to Nanded. Here he was stabbed by two pathan boys. Following the practice of Hindu saints, who at the divine call would set in a samadhi and expire, the Guru had prepared a funeral pyre for himself. He calmly walked into it. It was the end of an illustrious man who valiantly fought against the Mughals like Shivaji.