The Ten Sikh Gurus
- Guru Nanak (1469-1539): Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born in Talwandi Sabo, since called Nankana Sahib (now in Pakistan). Guru Nanak had extraordinary foresight. He was always ready to help the poor and feed the hungry. When Nanak was growing up, his father asked him to start a business and gave him 20 Rupees (a sizeable sum at that time). However, the Guru spent the money feeding the hungry. For him, helping those in need was the most profitable business.
Guru Nanak worked as a storekeeper for many years. He used to spend a large part of his wages on feeding the poor and hungry. When he was 30, he travelled all around the South Asian and Middle Eastern region to preach God's message of love for all. He explained that there is one God, who is the sole creator of this universe, is omnipresent, is not incarnate, without enmity, shape or form.
After 20 years of travel, Guru Nanak settled down at Kartarpur and worked as a farmer. He held religious congregation in his home and taught his followers the Sikh way of life.
Guru Nanak was very popular among both Hindus and Muslims. He was called Guru by the Hindus and Pir by the Muslims. When he passed away at the age of 70, the Hindus and the Muslims divided his shroud into two. The Hindus cremated their half and the Muslims buried theirs.
Guru Nanak taught all the human beings, black or white, rich or poor, men or women are equal. He said, "There is neither Hindu nor Muslim." He proclaimed that we are all God's people. In God's eyes the labels of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or Sikh, are meaningless. It is the behavior and deeds that are important. Guru Nanak rebelled against nefarious exploitation by Brahmins.
- Guru Angad Dev (1539-1552): Guru Angad Dev was the second Guru. He improved the script called Gurmukhi (from the mouth of the Guru) for writing Punjabi and all the Gurbani (Gurus writings) was written in Punjabi. Guru Angad Dev himself taught Punjabi to his followers.
- Guru Amar Das (1552-1574): Guru Amar Das, the third Guru, believed in and preached the equality of humanity. During his time, people of lower classes were having difficulty in getting drinking water. Because of this, he had a deep well dug at Goindwal. He allowed the people of all castes and classes to draw water from this well, thus helping to eliminate caste discrimination. He ordered that anyone who wished to see him must first sit with common people and share the same food from Langar (Free Kitchen). When Akbar, the Mughal emperor, came to visit the Guru, he first had to sit with the common people and share the Langar.
Guru Amar Das sent many missionaries far and wide to spread the teachings of Guru Nanak.
- Guru Ram Das (1574-1581): Guru Ram Das built the sacred pool of immortality around which he built the present City of Amristar. This soon grew to become a major religious and trading center. The pool was opened to people of all religious and castes. Taking a bath in the same pool encouraged elimination of caste system.
- Guru Arjan Dev (1581-1606): Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, wrote more hymns than any other Guru. The most recognized of these compositions is Sukhmani Sahib (the hymns of peace).
He collected the hymns of all previous Guru and those of some prominent Hindu and Muslim saints, which he compiled into one large volume, now known as the Adi Granth.
He built the Hari Mandar (house of God), now known as the Golden Temple in the middle of the pool of immortality at Amristar.
He was tortured to death by order by the Muslim Emperor Jahangir because of his beliefs and teachings and in this way, the Guru became the first Sikh martyr.
- Guru Hargobind (1606-1644): After the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, his eleven-year-old son Hargobind became the next Guru. Guru Hargobind combined spiritual and temporal powers into one authority. Thus, the Sikh community became organized to defend the weak and helpless. The Guru trained his followers in military tactics and encouraged them to use arms only to protect the weak.
This enraged the emperor and the Guru was imprisoned in the Fort of Gwalior. Soon people started to gather near the prison to have an occasional glimpse of the Guru. The Emperor thought it best to release him. The Emperor thought it best to release him. However, the Guru refused to leave the jail until all the other 52 kings that were also imprisoned were released with him. He thus succeeded in getting all these kings freed. For this act, he became known as Bandi-Chhor (Liberator).
- Guru Har Rai (1644-1661): The seventh Guru, Guru Har Rai was gentle and kind-hearted. He opened a hospital where medicine and treatment were given free. Even Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan, was healed by his medicine.
- Guru Har Krishan (1661-1664): Guru Har Krishan became the eighth Guru at the age of five. He displayed great spiritual leadership and courage. He continued serving and healing the sick during a smallpox epidemic in Delhi at the risk of his own life. Before his death at the age of 8, he nominated Tegh Bahadur as his successor.
- Guru Tegh Bahadur (1664-1675): Guru Tegh Bahadur spent many years in meditation before he was appointed the ninth Guru. He travelled far and wide to preach the message of Sikhism.
The persecution of the people by the Emperor Aurangzeb forced Hindus pundits from Kashmir to appeal to Guru Tegh Bahadur to save them forced conversion to Islam. As a result of this, the Guru was executed (beheaded) for his belief in basic human rights and religious tolerance. He became the second Guru martyr.
- Guru Gobind Singh (1675-1708): Guru Gobind Singh was the last Guru of the Sikhs. He created Khalsa and called it 'Akal Purkh ki Fauj' (Army of God). He first baptized five Sikhs who offered to give their life for their faith. Then, he asked them in return to baptize him. After the ceremony, Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh. Many more men and women were initiated. Guru Gobind Singh called them Khalsa and asked them to wear the five symbols called the five K's: Kesh (Unshorn Hair), Kangha (Comb), Kirpan (Sword), Kara (Iron Bracelet), and Kachhaihra (Shorts).
Guru Gobind Singh had great vision. Creation of Khalsa changed the history and the geography of that region. The fearless Khalsa fought many wars against the mighty Mughal armies and kings from the surrounding hills. The Guru's two older sons died fighting at Chamkaur and the younger two were bricked up alive in a wall at Sirhind because they refused to give up their faith.
The Guru declared that after him only the Adi Granth, would be the Guru of the Sikhs. He was, in turn, the last Sikh Guru in human form. Before passing away in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh appointed Banda Singh Bahadur to lead the Khalsa. Banda Singh Bahadur travelled far and wide and compiled a large army to fight oppression and injustice by Mughal rulers. Banda Singh Bahadur thus established Sikh Rule for the first time in 1710.