The Golden Chain
The foundation of Sikhism was laid down by Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak infused his own consciousness into a disciple, who then became Guru, subsequently passing the light on to the next, and so on. The word "Guru" is derived from the root words "Gu", which means darkness or ignorance, and "Ru", which means light or knowledge The Guru is the experience of Truth (God).
Each one of the ten Gurus represents a divine attribute:
Guru Nanak - Humility
Guru Angad - Obedience
Guru Amar Das — Equality
Guru Ram Das - Service
Guru Arjan - Self-Sacrifice
Guru Hargobind - Justice
Guru Har Rai - Mercy
Guru Har Krishan - Purity
Guru Tegh Bahadur - Tranquility
Guru Gobind Singh - Royal Courage
Guru Nanak was born in 1469CE at Talwandi in the Punjab. Talwandi was later renamed Nankana Sahib in his honour and is now in Pakistan. Guru Nanak's father, Mehta Kalu, wanted to bring him up as an orthodox Hindu, but Guru Nanak rejected the rituals and customs associated with Hinduism and other religions from the very start. Instead he showed people the essence of true devotion to God.
He taught that human life is a very precious opportunity to meet the creator, God, through absolute love and devotion to him. He taught that the sins of lust, anger, greed, attachment to worldly things, and arrogance or pride take us away from God. Guru Nanak always taught by example and through his own humility, love and devotion to God he taught how human beings should live.
At the age of five he was sent to school. His teacher Gopal Das wrote the letters of the alphabet on a slate and Guru Nanak asked what each letter meant. The teacher was amused and pointed out that the letters by themselves did not mean anything. Gopal Das then turned the question around and asked Guru Nanak what he thought the letters meant. Guru Nanak spontaneously went through the alphabet and used each letter as the start of a verse of poetry in praise of God. That hymn is present and unchanged in Guru Granth Sahib. The teacher was amazed at the beauty and truth of his words and at his understanding of God and command of language without ever having been taught. He realised at once that Guru Nanak was no ordinary child, but a divine messenger of God. According to Hindu Custom, when a child reaches the age of eleven he is given a sacred thread to wear.
When Guru Nanak was eleven, a great ceremony was prepared for him to receive the thread. However, to everyone's surprise, the Guru declined to wear it, saying that a thread can break and therefore cannot even accompany a man through life. He said, 'I want that sacred thread which after the death of a man accompanies his soul to the next world'. The priest asked what kind of sacred thread he had in mind? Guru Nanak replied: 'Make kindness the material, and spin the thread of contentment. Tie knots of truth and virtue. These qualities in a person are the real sacred thread'. Guru Nanak spoke these words in beautiful poetry and this hymn is also in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Throughout his life, Guru Nanak continued to spread God's message, travelling across many countries for more than twenty years. He taught that all are equal before God and that love for God also means caring for God's creation. He opened people's eyes to the falseness of rituals, idol worship, caste prejudice, and oppression (including oppression of women). He taught that only with unquestioning devotion can one reach God, regardless of caste, race, nationality or religion.
Guru Angad Dev ji
Guru Angad was the second Sikh Guru, following Guru Nanak.He was originally called Bhai Lehna. One day Bhai Lehna overheard a devout Sikh called Bhai Jodh singing Guru Nanak's hymns. Bhai Lehna was deeply affected by the divine message in the Guru's shabad (hymn). He found out from the Sikh about the greatness of Guru Nanak, and he set out to travel the very long distance to find him. When he finally met with him he recognised God's light in Guru Nanak and fell at the Guru's feet out of respect and love.Bhai Lehna never again left Guru Nanak, choosing instead to serve him in any way he could and walk in the true path to God.
When Guru Nanak knew his time on earth was coming to an end, he began to test the faith of his followers in order to choose someone who could continue to teach the true message of God. He found Bhai Lehna to be the purest of the pure, and chose him even above his own two sons. He gathered together Sikhs from far and wide and blessed Bhai Lehna with the name Angad which means 'part of me'. He then told his Sikhs that from that day, Bhai Lehna would be known as Guru Angad, the second Guru.
Guru Angad collected together the hymns of Guru Nanak and wrote them, along with some of his own, in the Gurmukhi script.
Guru Amar Das ji
Das Bhai Amar Das was 60 years old and a devout Hindu when he met Guru Angad. The purity and truth in the Guru's shabads (hymns) had such an affect on him that he changed his whole way of life. He stopped believing in idol worship, ritualism, the caste system, and all the other customs which he had practised since childhood. The Guru's shabad made him realise that God cannot be met through such practices but only through true devotion and love. Bhai Amar Das spent the next thirteen years faithfully serving Guru Angad and learning the true way to God.
Every day for thirteen years, he went to collect water from the River Beas for Guru Angad's bath. He would set off at midnight with a large metal vessel tied to his back. He had so much love for Guru Angad that he would not even turn his back on him. He therefore used to walk backwards for the six mile journey through forests to the river, where he would immerse himself in the water until the container was full. Then he would take the water back to the Guru for his bath, singing prayers and meditating on God all the time. He did this from the age of 60 until he was 73, such was his devotion and love for his Guru.
Guru Amar Das became Guru when he was seventy three years old. He encouraged the use of the langar to carry on the tradition, started by Guru Nanak, of communal eating.
Guru Ram Das ji
Guru Ram Das was the fourth Sikh Guru. The third Guru had tested his followers and found his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha to be the most faithful Sikh. He blessed him with the name Ram Das which means 'God's servant' and told his Sikhs that Guru Ram Das would be the fourth Guru.
Guru Ram Das founded the sacred city of Amritsar which had been an instruction left by Guru Nanak (the first Guru). He brought people of 52 different trades together at the place chosen by Guru Nanak which was uninhabited forest at that time, and began by constructing the lake which today surrounds the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Amritsar is now the second largest city in Punjab
As with all the Sikh Gurus, Guru Ram Das taught the way of Nam Japna (sincere worship of God), kirat karna (earning an honest living) and vand chhakna (sharing one's earnings with the needy) as the way of life of a Sikh. He taught Sikhs to take a full part in society (Sikhs do not try to be hermits), but at the same time not to be mentally attached to anything in this world. This is because humans are only on earth for a relatively short time, and there is no point becoming attached to things which we all have to leave behind, and which distract us from the praise of God while we are here.He taught against the evils of caste, ritualism and idol worship. He taught the way of love for the one almighty God as the way to salvation.The hymns of Guru Ram Das can be found in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Arjan Dev ji
Guru Arjan was the fifth Guru, and the youngest son of Guru Ram Das. Guru Arjan built the Golden Temple at Amritsar in the middle of the lake constructed by the fourth Guru. He also built beautiful gurdwaras at what are now the great cities of Taru Taran, Kartarpur and Shri Hargobindpur. Guru Arjan brought together the hymns of the first four Gurus and his own into a volume called the Adi Granth. Sikhs believe that the Gurus' hymns are the words of God, and therefore the Holy Scriptures are treated with utmost respect. From the day the Adi Granth was completed and entered the Golden Temple, Guru Arjan slept on the floor of the temple, out of his love and respect for the word of God.Guru Arjan was the first Sikh martyr.
The Mogul Emperor Jehangir, was a tyrant who became jealous of the Guru's fame. He could not bear it when even devout Muslims praised the Guru's saintliness. Eventually, he found an excuse to bring Guru Arjan to his court. There he tried to convert him to Islam and get him to change the Adi Granth under the threat of death. Guru Arjan calmly declined both commands. For this he was tortured and martyred. The torture lasted for five days. First the Emperor's men sat the Guru in a tank of boiling water, the next day they sat him on a plate of red hot iron, the following day, they poured red hot sand over his painfully blistered body.
However, Guru Arjan remained calm and peaceful throughout his ordeal to show that all people should happily accept the will of God. He was martyred in 1606 but before his final departure, he sent a message that his son Har Gobind was to become the sixth Guru. He instructed that his martyrdom would show that all peaceful means to persuade the Emperor against tyranny having failed, it was now right and just to resort to the sword to protect the weak and innocent. He therefore instructed Guru Har Gobind to bear arms.
Guru Har Gobind ji
The sixth Guru was the only son of Guru Arjan. His name was Har Gobind. He was only eleven years old when his father was martyred and he became Guru under instructions left by Guru Arjan. Guru Har Gobind wore two swords along with his prayer beads, one represented spiritual power and the other worldly power: these have become part of the symbol of the Sikh faith. (Both of the swords can be seen at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.)
He built the Akal Takht at Amritsar as the seat of authority for the Sikh nation and created the Nishan Sahib (Sikh national flag) which can be seen outside every gurdwara round the world. Guru Har Gobind trained Sikhs to be ready to defend themselves and, more importantly, to defend the weak and oppressed in society whenever necessary. He kept a small army of Sikh warriors.
The Emperor had killed millions of people in his campaign to convert the whole country to Islam and the fifth Guru had already shown that peaceful means could not stop this tyranny. With his massive army and resources, the Emperor attacked the Sikhs on four separate occasions. Guru Har Gobind's small army won every battle. The Guru only fought in self defence or in the defence of innocent people. His victorious army chose to never take land, wealth or possessions after victory. Guru Har Gobind taught that a follower of God cannot stand by and do nothing when their fellow human beings are being oppressed and tyrannised. If all peaceful means to end the tyranny fail then it is right and just to resort to the sword.
Guru Har Rai ji
Guru Har Rai was only fourteen when he became Guru. He was ordered by Guru Har Gobind to keep 2,200 soldiers and horses with him at all times.The Guru was once asked by the Emperor of India to come and explain his hymns. He declined, but sent his son, Ram Rai, with strict instructions not change any word or meaning of the hymns, or to show any miraculous powers. Ram Rai was tested by the Emperor and finally broke the Guru's wishes. Guru Har Rai, having heard this, declared that the next Guru would be his youngest son, Har Krishan - then only five years of age.
Guru Har Rai thus gave instruction that no Sikh was ever to change the Hymns of the Gurus because these are the words of God. He also said that Sikhs are not to show miraculous powers because that goes against the will of God.
Guru Har Krishan ji
Har Krishan was only five years old when he succeeded his father, Guru Har Rai. He is sometimes called the 'Child Guru'.He died of smallpox at the age of eight. Before he died he was able to name his great uncle, Baba Bakala, as his successor. Baba Bakala became Guru Tegh Bahadur. A famous gurdwara has been built on the site of Guru Har Krishan's death in Delhi.
Guru Tegh Bahadur ji
The ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur was given his name (meaning 'brave sword') to replace his birth name Tyag Mal. He was appointed Guru over several rivals at the age of 43.He was the great uncle of Guru Har Krishan, and one of the sons of Guru Har Gobind. Many people plotted against him. He continued the fight against the Mogul rulers who were demolishing temples and forcing people to convert to Islam.
The Emperor Aurangzeb made Sikhs and Hindus pay large taxes, and shut down their schools and temples. Guru Tegh Bahadur fought against this oppression, and was arrested. Four of his companions were executed while he was made to watch because they would not convert to Islam. Then Guru Tegh Bahadur was also asked to convert or die and he chose death. He is respected as a Sikh who died protecting the liberty of both Sikhs and Hindus.
He was 54 when he died and a magnificent gurdwara called Sri Ganj Sahib, now stands in the square in Delhi where this brave man gave his life.
Guru Gobind Singh ji
Guru Gobind Singh was only nine years old when his father was executed and he had to take on the role of Guru. He was the last human Guru, and probably the most famous. Gobind Rai, as he was originally called, was a clever linguist and a skilled horseman, archer and hunter. In the stylised paintings of him, he is often seen on horseback.
He was a great poet, and a book of his poems known as the Dasam Granth (the Tenth Collection) ranks second only to the Guru Granth Sahib itself. He made two highly important contributions to Sikhism - he formed the Khalsa, the community of the pure, and elected the Adi Granth (which became the Guru Granth Sahib) to be the final Guru.
When he was on his death bed, he took five coins and a coconut. He placed them before the Adi Granth. This was the act of installing a new Guru and, by doing this, he was naming the Adi Granth as his successor. The Adi Granth then became known as the Guru Granth Sahib.Guru Gobind Singh died of stab wounds in 1708. During his life, he and the Sikhs in Anandpur were besieged by Mogul armies, and he was forced to leave with his wife. Many battles were fought between the Khalsa and the Moguls. During these battles, Guru Gobind Singh lost his four sons and his mother. Countless numbers of Sikhs were killed, but this did not stop more and more joining the ranks of the Khalsa.
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