Sikh Origins

Sikhism was first developed in the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian sub continent. Ranked as the fifth most organized religion in the world, Sikhism is estimated to have a global following of around 25 million adherents. Sikhism adherents are referred to as Sikhs and can mostly be found within India with the rest of their population spread around most parts of the world. Even though the basis for the Sikhism faith can be traced to a fusion in Hinduism and Islamic faiths, Sikhism is primarily a monotheistic religion. Guru Nanak retrieved elements he thought were good from two dominant religions in Punjab at that time; Hinduism and Islam.

The Narrative

Sikhism adherents practice their faith based on the foundational principles set by the religion’s first 10 Gurus. To really understand the Sikhs, you have to understand their relationship with their Gurus ; the word Guru means spiritual guide or teacher, the Guru teaches and the Sikh learns. Guru Nanak Dev Ji is the first Guru and founder of the Sikh faith; he was born in 1469 at Talwandi village presently known as Nankana Sahib close to Lahore. Guru Nanak was born to Mehta Kalu and Mata Tripta. His father Mehta Kalu was a land revenue accountant with the government. Guru Nanak was the second born child of the family, five years younger than his sister Bibi Nanki.

Guru Nanak’s family was traditionally of the Hindu faith but that did not stop the young Guru Nanak from intensely studying both the Hindu and Islamic faiths. Several accounts come to the fore on Guru Nanak’s child hood days; some unique while some bear common resemblances which seem somehow credible.

Some common traits that has been told over and again of the young Guru Nanak is that he was a quick learner, inquisitive but very stubborn. He was also a very expressive child who expressed his talents through composing and reciting poems from a tender age.

In His teen years Guru Nanak developed deep spiritual tendencies that became a source of constant conflicts and wrangles between him and his parents; he was always engaged in some conversation or in the company of mendicants and wandering ascetics. His parents however, expected more from their only son, they thought his behavior was weird and even called in a physician to examine him. Ultimately they thought the solution to their son’s problem was to get him married; this way, he would be occupied by family responsibilities that would distract him from his “weird” ways.

One day, his brother in law, Diwan Jai Ram, husband to his sister Bibi Nanki was on a visit to Talwandi. During this visit he heard of the complaints by his father in law against Guru Nanak upon which he suggested that Guru Nanak should come and live with him in Sultanpur where he would try and secure a job for him, all the parties involved including Guru Nanak agreed to this suggestion. Subsequently everything went as planned and Diwan Jai Ram through his connections secured a job for Guru Nanak as a storekeeper or modi of the state granary.

Guru Nanak discharged his duties effectively and efficiently earning praises from his colleagues, his juniors and his superiors alike. He was allowed to take some portions from the store provisions for his personal use; he used to take just a little and give the rest to the needy. Due to his deeds, Guru Nanak became respected and liked by all. He was held in high esteem and grew very popular.

With all these radical changes happening in his life, Guru Nanak never abandoned his spiritual ways, if anything he became even more devoted to God; He became an example of how a man of religion should carry himself; he wanted people to follow his example. He used to advice them that a truly religious man should aspire to do three things:

“The First is that he should never lead an idle life, neither should he beg nor be a burden on others, he should aspire to earn his living on honest labor.”

“Second, he should share his earnings with the less fortunate.”

“Third, he should fix his mind on God and always meditate on him. He should ask others to do the same”

Live by these three golden rules he said, live and act in alignment to them and you shall be happy, truly happy in this life and the life hereafter.

A notable narrative shared about Guru Nanak during his time at Sultanpur, and one that would eventually shape the course of his life goes thus:

One day he went by the nearby stream early in the morning to bathe and meditate; it was his usual practice to do so. He left an attendant to look after his clothes and plunged into the stream. He never resurfaced from the stream leaving the attendant in deep anxiety. The attendant tried to trace him along the stream but he couldn’t find him; he came to a sad conclusion that Guru Nanak had probably drowned.

The attendant immediately informed his sister Bibi Nanki and her husband Diwan Jai Ram regarding the situation. News of Nanak’s disappearance spread rapidly across town. Crowds of people flocked by the stream to get a glimpse of the spot and if anyone could trace him. Divers were called in to try and retrieve the body with an assumption that he had drowned; they were also unlucky. Finally everyone gave up and turned back to the city with deep sorrow that maybe he had been swept away by the stream currents.

On the third day following his mysterious disappearance, Guru Nanak re-appeared with an unusual radiant glow stating “there is no Muslim and there is no Christian, there is only God.” He narrated how he had been ushered into divine presence with the blessings of the almighty and thereafter instructed to go forth and preach God’s holy name. This was to be his life mission and soul purpose moving forward.

Actually the Guru had gone to the other side of the stream, in that state of solitude he became lost in thoughts and felt in unison with the one spirit permeating the entire universe. He felt as though he stood in front of the creator’s throne and that he received instructions on what steps of action he was to take next. For three days he remained in that meditative trance like state. This became his moment of enlightenment.

Following this moment of awakening Guru Nanak embarked on prolonged pilgrimages across the Indian sub-continent and beyond; these pilgrimages came to be formally known as Udasi. These Udasis entailed visits to virtually the entire India sub continent, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Baghdad, and even Mecca. During these Udasis his preachings were based on a strictly monotheistic concept of God. He preached that liberation could be attained only through good deeds, and living a moral life as opposed to doing rituals. There is a source which indicates that at one point in Mecca he was asked who he deemed superior between a Hindu and Muslim, to which he answered that without good deeds neither was of consequence.

His final Udasi was made within the Punjabi region opting to travel less and living by the banks of River Ravi. Guru Nanak died in September of 1539 one day after naming Guru Angad as his successor. He was 70 years when he passed on.

Influences

The line of human guru succession began after Guru Nanak’s demise and came to an end with the tenth Guru Gobind Singh who instead appointed Guru Granth Sahib the Sikh scriptural book as his successor and that’s how it has remained until date.

Sikhism was founded and developed during the reign of Mughal Empire which it ran into nasty conflicts against; it was a period when persecution was rife which saw the Sikhism faith gain converts from both Islam and Hinduism.
The Sikh adherents believe that it is not right to cajole neither to impose their beliefs on other religious faiths. It is a strictly forbidden practice in Sikhism to attempt to convert members of other religious groups into their fold. Sikhism is a purely non discriminative faith towards other religions and thus incorporates as one of its requirements protection of its own freedom of worship as well as those of other religions.

Even though the history, concepts, and practices behind the Sikh faith are unique and clearly distinctive from those of other religions, it doesn’t deem followers of other religions as doomed in the eyes of God based on their convictions. The Sikh Gurus did not only spread the Sikh faith, they also maintained cordial relationships with other religions and their adherents. Incidentally the Sikh faith erased from its practice the caste system (which discriminates individuals according to the class or family which they are born into) as well as the sati system (where a widow sacrifices herself by sitting on top of the pyre during her husband’s cremation). Sikhism also encouraged its adherents to participate in agriculture and trade. Sikhs aspire to live a life of self reliance, charity, and coexistence thus living by the founding Guru’s ideal to live a life of full potential for the benefit of self and that of others.

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