The term guru comes from the Sanskrit gurū, meaning teacher, guide, or mentor. The traditions and philosophy of Sikhism were established by ten gurus from 1469 to 1708. Each guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of the Sikh religion.
Guru Nanak was the first guru and appointed a disciple as successor. Guru Nanak received a Hukam (commandment) from God instructing him to spread a message of truth based on devotion to One God, honesty, and compassion. It is believed that the soul of Guru Nanak passed on to nine successors, who elaborated on the first Guru’s teachings to give form to this new religion. Guru Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. Before his death, Guru Gobind Singh decreed in 1708, that the Gurū Granth Sāhib would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak – Guru from 1469 to 1539
The first of the Gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak. He was born at Talwandi (now known as Nankana Sahib in Pakistan) on October 20, 1469. Guru ji mastered Punjabi, Sanskrit and Persian at an early age and in childhood revolted against ritualism, caste, prejudices, hypocrisy and idolatry.
He regarded Hindus and Muslims as equals and referred to himself as neither Hindu nor Muslim but as a brother to all those who believed in God and truth. Nanak stated that human Guru is mortal and not divine, who is to be respected and loved but not worshipped. When Guru, or Satguru (The true guru) is used in Gurbani it is referring to internal soul rather than a living Guru.
Contributions -The First Sikh Guru contributed the following to the people of the world:
He made four great journeys, travelling to all parts of India, and into Arabia and Persia; visiting Mecca and Baghdad.
He spoke before Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, and Muslims. He spoke in the temples and mosques, and at various pilgrimage sites against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system, the sacrifice of widows, of depending on books to learn the true religion, and of all the other tenets that were to define his teachings.
He never asked his listeners to follow him. He asked the Muslims to be true Muslims and the Hindus to be true Hindus.
Besides rejecting the Hindu caste system, idolatry, and ritualism, Guru Nanak preached universal equality.
In support of his message of equality, Guru Nanak scorned those who considered women to be evil and inferior to men by asking: Why should we call her inferior, when it is she who gives birth to great persons?
Guru Angad – Guru from 1539 to 1552
Guru Angad Dev ji (Thursday March 31 1504 – Saturday April 16 1552), Nanak II, was second of the ten human form Gurus (divine messengers) of the Sikh faith. He was born as Lehna in 1504 at Harike in a hindu family, Amritsar, Punjab, to father Bhai Pheru Mall Ji and mother Mata Sabhrai Ji (also known Daya Kaur).
The scripture of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in Gurmukhi, which was invented and introduced by Guru Angad Dev. This scripture is also the basis of the Punjabi language. It became the script of the masses very soon. Guru Angad was a model of self-less service to his Sikhs and showed them the way to devotional prayers. He took great interest in the education of the children by opening many schools for their instruction and thus greatly increased literacy.
Bhai Lehna was a worshiper of Goddess Durga. At age 27, after hearing the recitation of hymns of Guru Nanak from Bhai Jodha (a Sikh of Guru Nanak), Bhai Lehna decided to travel to Kartarpur to meet the Guru. Having met Guru Nanak only once, Bhai Lehna was transformed to such an extent that he decided to renounce his own faith and became a Sikh of Guru Nanak, devoting himself completely to Guru Nanak and his mission. Before passing away, Guru Nanak renamed Bhai Lehna as Angad (from Ang, or one’s own body part), and installed him as his successor, the second Nanak, on 13 June 1539.
As the second Guru of Sikhs, some of the main highlights of Guru Angad Dev’s life include:
He contributed 63 Shabads and Saloks, registered in Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru ji demonstrated the principles of Nishkam Sewa to humanity, complete surrender to the Guru and to the will of God.
He preached disapproval of exhibitionism and hypocrisy.
Formalized the present form of the Gurmukhi script.
Maintained and developed the institution of Langar started by Guru Nanak.
Traveled widely and established several new centers for preaching Sikhi.
Started the tradition of Mall Akhara to emphasize physical well being, to go along with spiritual development.
Before Guru Angad Dev Ji left for his heavenly abode in 1552, they nominated Guru Amar Das ji as the third Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Amar Das – Guru from 1552 to 1574
Guru Amar Das Sahib Ji (Sunday 23 May 1479 – Thursday 16 September 1574) was the third of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism and became Guru on Saturday, 16 April 1552 at the age of 73 following in the footsteps of Sri Guru Angad Dev Sahib ji, who left for his heavenly abode on 29 March 1552 aged 48.
Guru Ji was the eldest son of Sri Tej Bhan Ji a farmer and trader and Mata Lachmi Ji, his devoted mother. The third Sikh Guru was married to Mata Mansa Devi and they had four children, younger daughter named Bibi Bhani Ji. Bibi Bhani later married Bhai Jetha who became the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das.
The Third Sikh Guru contributed the following to the people of the world:
All visitors to Gurdwaras were to first take Langar together before seeing the Guru. “First Pangat then Sangat”.
Further abolished the Caste System and untouchability.
Guru worked to lift status of women and gave them equality. He strictly prohibited the practice of Sati, “Parrda”, etc.
Established an Administration system for management of Sikh congregations, called Manjis.
He contributed the prayer called Anand Sahib, which is one of the Five Banis recited daily by devout Sikhs.
Guru Amardas introduced Anand Karaj marriage ceremony for Sikhs, replacing the Hindu form.
The Guru contributed a total of 907 hymns to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Before Guru Ji died at the age of 95, he nominated Guru Ram Das (Bhai Jetha) as the fourth Guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Ram Das – Guru from 1574 to 1581
Sri Guru Ram Das Ji (Friday October 9 1534 – Saturday 16 September 1581) were the fourth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism and became Guru on Monday 16 September 1574 following in the footsteps of Sri Guru Amar Das ji. Guruji’s original name was Bhai Jetha. Their wife was Bibi Bhani, the younger daughter of Guru Amar Das Ji. They had three sons: Prithi Chand, Mahadev and Guru Arjan Dev Ji.
The fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das ji contributed the following to the people of the world:
The Guru contributed a total of 688 Shabads/hymns to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
He was the Author of Laava, the hymns of the Marriage Rites.
Designed the Golden Temple.
Planned & created the township of Ramdaspur (later Amritsar).
Organization Structure of Sikh Society
The temple remains open on all sides and at all times to everyone.
He requested the, Muslim Sufi, Mian Mir to lay the cornerstone of the Harmandir Sahib.
The standard Sikh marriage ceremony known as the Anand Karaj is centered around the Lawan, a four stanza hymn composed by Guru Ram Das ji. The marriage couple circumscribe the Guru Granth Sahib ji as each stanza is read. The first round is the Divine consent for commencing the householders life through marriage. The second round states that the union of the couple has been brought about by God. In the third round the couple is described as the most fortunate as they have sung the praises of the Lord in the company of saints. In the fourth round the feeling of the couple that they have obtained their hearts desire and are being congratulated is described.
Before Guru Ji died, they nominated their youngest son as the next Guru of the Sikhs – Guru Arjan Dev Ji.
Guru Arjan Dev – Guru from 1581 to 1606
Guru Arjan Dev Ji (Sunday May 2 1563 – Monday June 16 1606) was the fifth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism, who became Guru on 16 September 1581 following in the footsteps of Guru Ram Das ji. He was born in Goindval Punjab India the youngest son of Guru Ram Das and Bibi Bhani, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.
A summary of the main highlights of Guru Ji’s life:
Compiled the Hymns of the previous Sikh Gurus as foundation of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Additionally Guru Ji contributed a total of 2218 hymns to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Authored the Sukhmani Sahib Bani – Prayer for Peace.
Installed for the first time the holy Sikh Book, which at that time was called the Adi Granth, a major achievement.
Built the Golden Temple.
Developed Amritsar as a Centre of Excellence.
He introduced the Masund system to enhance Sikh society.
Guru Arjan Dev was the first Sikh Guru to be martyred when Emperor Jahangir ordered his execution. Guru Ji is revered as Shaheedan-De-Sartaaj, or the Crown of Martyrs.
Before leaving this physical world, Guru Ji nominated Guru Har Gobind Ji, his son as the next Guru of the Sikhs. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji represents a watershed moment in Sikh history, as Guru Har Gobind Sahib went on to militarize the Sikhs, towards resisting oppression and tyranny.
Guru Har Gobind – – Guru from 1606 to 1644
Guru Har Gobind Ji (Monday, 19 June 1595 – Tuesday, March 19, 1644) was the sixth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism. He became Guru on the 11 of June, 1606, following in the footsteps of his father, Guru Arjan Dev Ji. While the ceremonial rites were being performed by Baba Buddha Ji, Guru Har Gobind Ji asked Baba Buddha to adorn him with a sword rather than the Seli of Guru Nanak Dev Ji which had been used previously by earlier Gurus.
Guru Har Gobind Ji then put on not one, but two swords; one on his left side and the other on his right. He named one “Miri,” representing Temporal Power, and the other “Piri. He told his followers: “In the Guru’s house, spiritual and mundane powers shall be combined. My rosary shall be the sword-belt and on my turban I shall wear a Kalgi”
Guru HarGobind Ji carried the same light of Guru Nanak, and he added to it the luster of the sword.
The following is a summary of the main highlights of Guru Ji’s life:
Introduced martial arts and weapons training and created a standing military force for the defense of the masses following his father’s martyrdom.
Carried two swords named Miri and Piri, ,” representing Spiritual Power, one to smite the oppressor and the other to protect the innocent.
He invented Taus.
Built the Akal Takht in 1608 – which is now one of five Takhats (Seats of Power) of the Sikh Religion.
Founded the city of Kiratpur in the Rupnagar District , (old name Ropar), Punjab.
Was willingly held in the fort of Gwalior for one year, ostensibly praying for the recovery of the ill Emperor Jahangir. When Jahangir ordered his release, he refused to leave unless 52 imprisoned Hindu Rajas were set free as well. Cleverly, he earned their freedom by turning the Emperor’s own words against him. To mark this occasion, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chorr Divas in honor of his release and Diwali in honor of his return to Amritsar.
First Guru to engage in warfare: fighting and winning 4 defensive battles against Mughal forces.
In 1701 (Bikrami) Guru Ji called his followers and passed on the Guruship to his grandson, Sri Har Rai Ji in their presence. He passed away that same evening. It was the third day of March in year 1644.
Guru Har Rai – Guru from 1644 to 1661
Guru Har Rai Ji (31 January 1630 – 20 October 1661) was the seventh of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism and became Guru on Tuesday, 19 March 1644 following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Guru Har Gobind Ji.
The following is a summary of the main highlights of Guru Ji life:
Continued the military traditions started by his grandfather Guru Har Gobind Ji.
He also continued the grand task of nation building initiated by Guru Hargobind.
Kept 2200 mounted soldiers at all times.
Made several tours to the Malwa and Doaba regions of the Punjab.
Guruji’s son, Ram Rai, distorts Bani in front of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, after which the Guru is supposed to have said, ” Ram Rai, you have disobeyed my order and sinned. I will never see you again on account of your infidelity.”
The Guru nominated his youngest son, the five year old Har Krishan as the Eighth Sikh Guru; Guru Har Krishan Sahib on Sunday, 20 October 1661.
Guru Har Krishan – Guru from 1661 to 1664
Guru Har Krishan Ji (Wednesday, 23 July 1656 – Saturday, 16 April 1664) was the eighth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism. He became Guru on Sunday, 20 October 1661 following in the footsteps of his father, Guru Har Rai Ji.
The following is a summary of the main highlights of Guru ji’s short life:
Guru Har Krishan was of a small age when he attained the leadership of the Sikh people. There are very few devotees of God in human history who have achieved a high level of spirituality in such small age. Prahlad, Dhruv was one of them and Guru Hari Krishan can also be included in the same list. All other Sikh Guru’s sat on the “Gaddi”, the “throne of Guruship” when they were over the age of 12, but only Guru Hari Krishen sat on the Gaddi when he was just 5 of age.
When Guruji stayed in Delhi there was a smallpox epidemic which resulted in many deaths. Particularly, the local Muslim population was much impressed with the purely humanitarian deeds of the Guru Sahib and nicknamed him Bala Pir (child prophet) and by the Hindus as “Balmukand”. By Guru ji’s blessing, the lake at Bangla Sahib provided a cure for thousands. Exposing himself to his many devotees he too died succumbed to smallpox.
Gurdwara Bangla Sahib was constructed in Guru ji’s memory. This is where he stayed during his visit to Delhi. This was originally the palace of Raja Jai Singh, who was a strong and powerful Sikh and a devotee of the Guru.
Guru Sahib caused the illiterate water-carrier Chhaju Ram to expound the philosophy of the holy Gita on challenge from Pandit Lal Chand. On hearing this narration of the holy Gita, Pandit Lal Chand was deeply humiliated. He was so impressed with this feat performed by the Guru that he became a Sikh and later escorted the Guru Sahib to Kurukshetra.
Shortly before his death, realizing the gravity of the situation, Guru Har Krishan called his mother and told her that his end was drawing near. When asked to name his successor, he merely exclaimed ‘Baba Bakala’. Learning of his pronouncement many would style themselves as the next Sikh Guru at the village of Bakala. However, at the time the future (Guru) Teg Bahadur Sahib, was residing at village Bakala near river Beas in Punjab province.
Guru Tegh Bahadur – Guru from 1665 to 1675
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji (Wednesday, April 18, 1621 – Wednesday, November 24, 1675) was the ninth of the Ten Gurus of Sikhism, becoming Guru on Saturday, 16 April 1664 following in the footsteps of his grand-nephew, Guru Har Krishan.
A summary of the main highlights of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s life:
He built the city that his son would enlarge and rename Anandpur Sahib.
The Guru laid down his life for the protection of the Hindu religion, their Tilak (devotional forehead markings) and their sacred (janeau) thread.
He sacrificed his own life, facing down Emperor Aurangzeb on behalf of the Kashmiri Hindus, ending Aurangzeb’s threat to either convert to Islam or be executed.
He contributed 115 hymns to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, all of them Sloks.
His Saloks (Mahal 9) near the end of the Guru Granth Sahib are extremely popular.
Today Gurdwara Sis Ganj, Chandani Chowk, Delhi, stands at the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded, while Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, Delhi stands at the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur’s headless body was cremated by Lakhi Shah Vanjara, one of the Guru’s devotees, who had managed to rescue the Guru’s body from the Mughals, setting his home afire, in order to cremate the Guru Sahib’s body.
He had his son, Gobind Rai consecrated Guru and successor on 8th July 1675. The ceremony that had taken place seven times before was repeated: The Guru place five coins and a coconut before his son as a symbol of the Guru ship passing from him to his son; Gobind Rai was now the Guru of the Sikhs at the age of 9 years.
Guru Gobind Singh – Guru from 1675 to 1708
Guru Gobind Singh ji (January 5, 1667 – 21 October, 1708), born “Gobind Rai” at Patna Sahib, Bihar, India, was the tenth and last of the human form Gurus (divine messengers) of Sikhism. He became Guru on November 24, 1675 at the age of nine, following the martyrdom of his father, the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji.
His contributions are marked as –
A divine messenger, a warrior, a poet, a philosopher, Guru Gobind Singh molded the Sikh religion into its present shape.
He created the Khalsa (The Pure Ones) in 1699, changing the Sikhs into a saint-soldier order with special symbols and sacraments for protecting themselves. After the Guru had administered Amrit to his Five Beloved Ones, he stood up in supplication and with folded hands, begged them to baptize him in the same way as he had baptized them. He himself became their disciple (Wonderful is Guru Gobind Singh, himself the Master and himself the disciple).
The Five Beloved Ones were astonished at such a proposal, and represented their own unworthiness, and the greatness of the Guru, whom they deemed God’s representative upon earth. He gave the Sikhs the name Singh (lion) or Kaur (princess).
He fought many battles against the armies of Aurangzeb and his allies.
After losing his family to Mughal tyranny, he wrote his famous letter (the zafarnama) to Aurangzeb, in which he indicted the Grand mughal with his treachery and godliness, after which the attacks against the Guru and his Sikhs were called off. Aurangzeb died soon after reading the letter.
Soon, the rightful heir to the Mughal throne sought the Guru’s assistance in winning his kingdom. It was the envie and fear of the growing friendship between the new Emperor and the Guru which lead to the sneak attack of the Pathan assasins of Wasir Khan who inflicted the wound which later caused the Guru’s death.
Thus the tree whose seed was planted by Guru Nanak, came to fruition when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, and on 3 October 1708, appointed Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru.
He commanded: “Let all bow before my successor, Guru Granth. The Word is the Guru now.”
Guru Granth Sahib – Guru from 1708 to eternity
Guru Granth Sahib or Adi Sri Granth Sahib Ji (also called the Adi Granth or Adi Guru Darbar) is more than just a scripture of the Sikhs, for the Sikhs regard and respect the Granth (holy book) as their living Guru. The revealed holy text spans 1430 pages and contains the actual words spoken by the founders of the Sikh religion.
The Granth was written in Gurmukhi script and contains the actual words and verses as uttered by the Sikh Gurus. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.
It is considered the Supreme Spiritual Authority and Head of the Sikh religion, rather than any living person. The living Guru of the Sikhs, the book is held in great reverence by Sikhs and treated with the utmost respect. Guru Granth Sahib is a book of Revelation. The greatness of the Guru Granth Sahib lies not only in its being the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs but also in it being a general scripture available to mankind, intended for everybody, everywhere.