As Punjabis, our family has always worshipped Guru Nanak and Lord Shiva. I saw nothing wrong in this till the recent celebrations of 300 years of Khalsa. Through out the celebration the media and Punjabi leaders kept on harping that Sikhism and Hinduism are different religions. Till recently, visiting a Gurudwara or a temple was a manifestation of belonging to a different sect rather than a separate religion.
Unable to know whether I am a Sikh (S) or a Hindu (H), I decided to figure it out for myself. The purpose of this article is not to convince Sikhs they are Hindus. Each one is entitled to their beliefs. I am sharing my view point.
The essay talks about the lives of each Sikh Guru, reasons for the birth of Sikhism, what Guru Nanak stood for, the birth of Khalsa. Read on.
About the Gurus
The Muslims of Central Asia had been invading and ruling Punjab for nearly five hundred years prior to the birth of Guru Nanak (GN) in 1469. Forcible conversions, destruction of temples were some of the miseries that Hindus had to face. GN 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 GN (he was a Khatri by birth).
Muslim oppression and the Bhakti (devotion to God) movement were responsible for the growth and development of Sikhism (SK).
GN was against the caste system and idol worship. GN 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 GN 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. Thus S’s greeted each other with Sat Sri Kal or True Timeless one.
GN 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. GN 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 GN was the one which transcended time, he was changeless, eternal truth. This is also what Vedanta reveals.
He 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. GN emphasized the importance of Karma to escape from the transmigration of the soul. Right conduct is closely associated with GN’s idea of right belief and worship. GN believed that true renunciation consisted in living a pure life amidst the impurities of attachment. Anyone who has read the Holy Geeta would be familiar with this philosophy. GN only reiterated some of the principles of Vedanta.
He was against fasts, penance, pilgrimages, renunciation of the world. He wanted to create a castles society in which all were equal. Women received great consideration from GN. (Reformists approach)
GN called his religion Gurmat or Guru’s wisdom. This word occurs in GN’s hyms more than two hundred times. His disciples call themselves Nanak Panthis or Sikhs from the Sanskrit word Sishya, meaning a person who takes spiritual lessons from a teacher. .
Second Guru – Angad or Bhai Lahna Trehan - Before he died GN nominated a Kshatriya, GA as his successor ignoring the demand of his son Srichand. GA started collecting GN’s hyms which were written in Lande Mahajani, written in a rather rough/crude script. To avoid their misinterpretation, GA 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.
Third Guru – Amar Das Bhalla - GA nominated a Kshatriya, GAD as his successor. GAD was against torturing the body, the Purdah system. Starting with GAD the gurudom began to be hereditary.
Fourth Guru Ram Das 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. The tank got expanded into todays Harmandir by GHG. He composed Lavan for the solemnization of the Sikh marriage.
Fifth Guru Arjunmal or Guru Arjun - Born in 1563 GA 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, GA was tied in the burning sun over hot sand and was tortured. Exhausted under its impact he collapsed under the strain and died at the age of forty two only. This event proved to be a turning point in the Sikh attitude towards the Mughals.
Sixth Guru Har Govind – Instructed by his father GHG began the arming of his followers. In front of the Harmandir (temple dedicated to God) 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. GHG 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. GHG 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 youngest son of GHG. At this time Aurangzib was determined to establish an Islamic state in India and took various measures to oppress the Hindus. Locals were forced to convert to Islam in Punjab and Kashmir. This angered GTH who travelled across Punjab and inspired the Punjabis and Kashmiris to fight against such oppression. Not wanting to face a rebellion, Aurangzib summoned GTH to Delhi. In Delhi he was asked to perform a miracle as proof of his nearness to God. He refused that occult powers were a proof of ones nearness to God. Having failed to perform a miracle, he was asked to accept Islam. He refused and was beheaded in 1675.
Gobind Rai later Guru Gobind Singh - The murder of his father and grand father, oppression of the Hindus got GGS fired up to create a national awakening in Punjab similar to what had been done by Shivaji 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 the 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.
Meaning of Khalsa - Kh stood for oneself and God. L stands asking God, what do you want with me? Here am I. The reply of the devotee or Singh was Lord give us freedom and sovereignty. S stands for Lord or master. A stands for azadi, freedom. H stands for a legendary bird Huma.
Significance of 5 K’s - GGS provided with his followers with the 5 K’s. Kesh-long hair, Kangha-comb, Kirpan-sword, Kara-steel bracelet, Kachcha-knickers. Long hair and turbans were supposed to protect their faces and heads from sword cuts and lathi blows. The Kada was a reminder that a Sikh spirit was strong and unbending. The Kacha was more suitable for fighting the Mughals than the Dhotis and loose trousers of Muslims. 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 Nander. 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 and that was the end of an illustrious man who along with Shivaji valiantly fought against the Mughals.
Guru Nanak was a reformer and not a revolutionary.
1. GN’s was opposed the caste system but it was so mild that it never attracted any opposition from the other caste. Probably they agreed with him.
2. GN’s denouncement fasts, penances, piligrames implied attack on perversions and not on the basic tenets of Hinduism. Fasts were only a means to an end and not an end to themselves.
3. GN never depreciated the Vedas. He criticized the blind and mechanical reading of these texts without realizing the God through them.
4. Even the Sacred Thread was not wholly condemned. He denounced the ignorance of the implications of its use.
5. While challenging the predominant position of Hindu deities, GN did not hold them in any disrespect. He wanted people to realize that they were not above God.
6. GN suggested no further change in the civil institution of Hinduism.
In short GN was a reformer like many others who preceded and followed him. The concept of love and devotion preached by him found wide acceptance. Khalsa was the result of Mughal tyranny. The five K’s were used to identify people who supported GGS in his fight against the Mughals.
Why Sikhism is not a separate religion?
1. GN started a reformist movement and not a separate religion. Muslim oppression and the Bhakti Movement were responsible for the birth and growth of Sikhism.
2. The roots of Sikhism lie deep in the Bhakti form of Hinduism and Vedanta. GN picked up some of its salient features – belief in one God who is omnipresent, unity of mankind, emphasis of work as a moral obligation, the gentle way of Sahaj to approach God while fulfilling domestic obligations etc.
3. While the Adi-first Granth is essentially a distillation of Vedanta in Punjabi, the last Dasam- tenth is a compilation of tales of valor of Hindu goddesses. Of the 15028 names of Gods that appear in the Adi Granth, Hari occurs over 8,000 times, Ram 2533 times followed by Prabhu, Gopal, Govind and other Hindu names for the divine. The popular Sikh coinage Wah Guru appears only 16 times.
4. Till some time ago Punjabis were divided into Monas and Sardars. Using today’s connotation they are Hindus and Sikhs. Families in Punjab normally dedicated the first son to the army, thus he became a sardar while the others became Monas. Thanks to Guru Gobind Singh the Turban came to be associated with valor, someone who would not tolerate oppression. Hence, the first son wore a turban symbolizing valor.
5. Some friends have shed their Khatri (sub-caste in Punjab) surnames and made Singh their surname or Singh has become the middle name to indicate that they Sikhs. I had a colleague, a sardar, who signed as Manvinder Singh Chaddha on Interoffice memos and as Manvinder Chaddha on the company cheques. Since he wore a turban he added the name Singh to prove that he was a Sikh. Singh means devotee and probably was a middle name with all people who belonged to the warrior class. There are Singhs all over North India. Raja Man Singh was one of Akbar’s trusted lieutenants, Rana Pratap Singh of Chittorgarh; Jaswant Singh (foreign minister) is a Rajput, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the backward caste leader of U.P, Dr Karan Singh – Maharaja of Kashmir and Digvijay Singh, CM of M.P. Each one of them has the word Singh as the middle or surname yet none of them is a follower of Khalsa.
6. There are Sindhis (mainly Amils caste) who follow the Granth Sahib. From the first Muslim invasion in 712 a.d., Sindhis had to bear the brunt of Musilm oppression, torture, destruction of temples, forced conversions. When GN visited Sindh, taken in by his spirit of love and affection for the oppressed, they decided to become his followers.
7. Master Tara Singh, leading lights during the independence movement, was one of the founder members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
8. When Shah Shuja, the ex – ruler of Kabul sought Maharaj Ranjit Singhs alliance in 1831, among RS’s demands were the prohibition of cow slaughter thru out Afghanistan and delivery of the gates of Somnath. Both these demands are very dear to the Hindus. Now why would RS do so if he perceived Sikhism to be a different religion?
9. Just as Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated gold for the domes of the Golden Temple so did he donate gold for the domes of the Kashi Vishwanath Mandir in Varanasi. Please note that the original temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb.
There is a book called Hum Hindu Nahin Hai written by Bhai Kahn Singh somewhere in 1890s. It would be interesting to know the arguments given by him. Since the 1890’s the Sikhs have made changes in their customs and tradition for e.g. the Anand Marriage Act so as to distinguish themselves from Punjabi Hindus.
Why then, have things come to such a pass? Divide and Rule policy of the British and Lust for Power. Conflict between Singh Sabhas and Arya Samajis, Akalis and Congress, ably exploited by Pakistan (they wanted to do a Bangladesh to us) are responsible for the divide. Read more about this in ‘A lethal combination of religion and politics’ section Articles affecting Hindus.
Surely, there would be friends who disagree with me. I respect their views and am willing to be convinced, corrected. From my Dadis side we are descendants of the third Sikh Guru yet we are known as Hindus today. I am as proud of Guru Gobind Singh as I am Shivaji or Rana Pratap. To me it is politics and nothing else.
This essay is based on inputs from The History and Culture of Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, my E mail Guru and The Sikhs of Punjab by Grewal.
1. The unbreakable Hindu Sikh bond by Dr Godbole section Issues & Insights.
2. Why the first son was made a Sikh section Issues & Insights.
3. Ik Onkaar section Sikh tradition.
4.A lethal combination of religion and politics section Articles affecting Hindus.