Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539)
Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh guru, was born in 1469 in Talwandi. His father was Mehta Kalu and his mother was Mata Tripta. His older sister was Bibi Nanaki. From birth, Guru Ji was seen as a special figure and was God himself in a human form. As the founder of a new religion, Guru Nanak set down strong foundations for his successors and his followers.
One of the most important beliefs of Sikhism that Guru Nanak Dev Ji set down is that it’s necessary to help the needy and the poor. Guru Ji was always ready to help the poor and he served food to them. In fact, Guru Ji often invited the needy and the poor into his house. Another example of Guru Ji helping the poor and the needy occurred while he was a storekeeper. Guru Nanak Dev Ji used to spend a large part of his wages in order to feed the poor and the hungry.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji also taught us that there is one God and he is the Truth and Ultimate Reality. To emphasize this point, Guru Ji said, “There is neither Hindu nor Muslim.” In God’s eyes, the labels of Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Christian, etc. don’t mean anything. Guru Ji also taught that God has created the universe and he is everywhere. In order to spread these messages, Guru Nanak Dev Ji took four long journeys. On these journeys, Guru Ji got many followers and was able to relate his message to many people.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught us that all human beings regardless of skin color, wealth, caste, and gender are created equal. When Guru Ji left this world at the age of 70, in 1539, he had laid down the foundations for a great religion.
Guru Angad Dev Ji (1504-1552)
Guru Angad Dev Ji was the second Sikh Guru. Like Guru Nanak Dev Ji, he was God in the form of a human. Guru Ji was born in 1504 at Harike, which is located in the Ferozepur district. His father was Bhai Pheru and his mother was Mata Daya Kaur.
When Guru Angad Dev Ji was born, he was a follower of the Hindu goddess Durga and he paid yearly tributes. At this time, his name was Bhai Lehna. On one of his trips to pay tribute, he stopped at Kartarpur, where he met Guru Nanak Dev Ji. After many years of service, Guru Nanak Dev Ji deemed Bhai Lehna to be the best person to carry out his mission. In 1539, Bhai Lehna became Guru Angad Dev Ji.
One of the most important contributions by Guru Angad Dev Ji was his new script for Punjabi. This new script was called Gurmukhi. Gurmukhi was at first used for the Guru’s writings only in order to make these scripture available for the common people. Guru Ji himself taught Punjabi to his followers.
Guru Angad Dev Ji made major contributions to Sikhism. Without him, Sikhs might not have Gurmukhi today. Guru Ji went to his heavenly abode in 1552 at the age of 48 years.
Guru Amar Das Ji (1479-1574)
Guru Amar Das Ji was the third Sikh Guru and like his predecessors he was God in the form of a human. Guru Ji was born in 1479 at Basarke, which is in Amritsar district. His father was Bhai Tej Bhan and his mother was Mata Lakhmi. At birth, Guru Ji’s name was Sri Amardas.
Guru Amar Das Ji was born a Hindu and he became a Sikh after hearing some of Guru Nanak’s hymns recited by Bibi Amro. Bibi Amro was the wife of Guru Amar Das Ji’s nephew and Guru Angad Dev Ji’s daughter. Upon meeting with Guru Angad Dev Ji, Sri Amardas became a Sikh and did daily service for him. After years of devotion to Guru Angad Dev Ji, Sri Amardas was named Guru Amar Das Ji in 1522.
Guru Amar Das Ji believed in the equality of all humans. When people of lower classes were having difficulty getting water, Guru Ji had a well dug at Goindwal. The water of this well could be drawn by people of all castes and classes.
The Guru Ji also ordered anyone who wished to see him, regardless of status, must first sit with commoners and share the same food in Langar. This belief couldn’t have been shown any stronger than when Akbar came and sat in Langar before meeting Guru Ji.
Guru Amar Das Ji did a lot for the Sikh cause. Although Langar was around before, Guru Ji formalized its rules. Guru Amar Das Ji also sent many missionaries around to spread the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Guru Amar Das Ji left this world in 1574 at the age of 95 years.
Guru Ram Das Ji (1534-1581)
Guru Ram Das Ji was the fourth Sikh Guru and was God in the form of a human. He was born at Lahore in 1534. The Guru’s name at birth was Sri Jetha. His father was Bhai Hardas and his mother was Mata Daya Kaur.
Sri Jetha was a very pious man and he gained the favor of Guru Amar Das Ji. Guru Amar Das Ji decided to marry his younger daughter, Bibi Bhani, to Sri Jetha. After many years of service to Guru Amar Das Ji, Sri Jetha became Guru Ram Das Ji in 1574.
Guru Ram Das Ji’s major accomplishment during his seven year Guruship was to make the present-day city of Amritsar, which means Pool of Nectar. Inside the city, Guru Ji authorized the building of the sacred Pool of Immortality, or Amritsar Sarovar (Tank).
Traders, businessmen, and craftsmen were encouraged to settle in Amritsar. The city soon became a big trading post and a religious center for the Sikhs. Another of Guru Ji’s contributions was the Lawan, a four-part hymn that is recited at the Anand Karaj, the Sikh wedding ceremony.
Guru Ram Das Ji’s building of Amritsar was a major contribution to Sikhism. To this day, Amritsar is the most important city in Sikhism, and it is the location of the holiest temple in Sikhism. The Lawan helped to formalize Sikh marriages. Guru Ram Das Ji left for his heavenly abode in 1581 and at the age of 47 years.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606)
Guru Arjan Dev Ji was the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and he was also God in the form of a human. He was born at Amritsar in 1563. His father was Guru Ram Das Ji and his mother was Mata Bhani. At birth, his name was Bhai Arjan Dev.
Bhai Arjan Dev was instructed by Guru Ram Das Ji to go to Lahore and stay there until he was called. After two years, Bhai Arjan Dev sent a letter to his father, but Guru Ram Das Ji never received it. Soon Bhai Arjan Dev sent another one and it was received by Guru Ram Das Ji. Upon reading the letter, Guru Ram Das Ji sent for Bhai Arjan Dev. In 1581, Bhai Arjan Dev became Guru Arjan Dev Ji.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji made many religious contributions to the Sikh cause. Out of all the Gurus, he wrote the most hymns. His most famous composition is the Sukhmani Sahib path, or the Peace Hymns. Guru Ji collected all the hymns of his predecessors along with some Hindu and Muslim hymns and compiled the Adi Granth, which is called Guru Granth Sahib Ji today.
Guru Ji built the Harmandar Sahib, or the House of God in the middle of the Amritsar Sarovar. Today, many people call the Harmandar Sahib the Golden Temple because it is plated with gold. Guru Ji also made contributions that were for the good of everyone. This is because Guru Ji opened a lepers home at Tarn Taran.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji made contributions to Sikhism till the day he left this world. Guru Ji was martyred by being tortured for five straight days upon the orders of Emperor Jahangir because of his beliefs and teachings. In this way, Guru Arjan Dev Ji became the first Sikh martyr and thus led the Sikhs to become saint-soldiers instead of just saints. Guru Arjan left this world in 1606 at the age of 43.
Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji (1595-1644)
Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji was the sixth Guru of the Sikhs and like all the others, he was God in the form of a human. Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji was at Amritsar in 1595. His father was Guru Arjan Dev Ji and his mother was Mata Ganga. At birth his name was Bhai Hargobind.
Bhai Hargobind was Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s only son, and therefore seemed to be a likely candidate to ascend to the Guruship. This was partially due to the fact the ‘Gur Gaddi’, or Guru’s seat, had stayed in the family lately. Once again, it did. Bhai Hargobind became Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji in 1606, a few days before Guru Arjan Dev Ji was martyred.
At the enthronement ceremony, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji asked for two swords. One of the swords was called Miri and it was the mark of being the leader and guide of the Sikhs in worldly matters. The other sword was called Piri and it was the mark of being the leader and guide of the Sikhs in religious matters.
Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji contributed many things to the Sikh cause. He was the first Guru who emphasized that Sikhs be Saint-Soldiers in order to protect the downtrodden. For this purpose, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji trained his followers in military ways.
These steps caused the Emperor to get jealous and he had Guru Ji imprisoned. However, the Guru was released because the Emperor started to get sick. When the Guru was released, he also had 52 imprisoned rulers released with him. Due to this, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji became to be known as Bandi Chhor, or the liberator.
Even though Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji put a emphasis on Sikhs being Saint-Soldiers, his first priority was that Sikhs should be saints and always remember God. After having spread the message of Guru Nanak Dev Ji as well as having fought many battles against the Mughal forces, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji went to his heavenly abode in 1644 at the age of 49.
Guru Har Rai Ji (1630-1661)
Guru Har Rai Ji was the seventh Guru of the Sikhs and he was God in the form of a human. Guru Har Rai Ji was born at Kiratpur in 1630. His father was Baba Gurditta and his mother was Mata Nihal Kaur. At birth his name was Bhai Har Rai.
The recent tradition of the Guru’s son becoming the next Guru changed a little bit in the case of Bhai Har Rai. However, Bhai Har Rai was from Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji’s family. In fact, Baba Gurditta, Bhai Har Rai’s father, was the oldest son of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. Bhai Har Rai became Guru Har Rai Ji in 1644.
Guru Har Rai Ji was one of the most gentle and kind-hearted Gurus. He made a few contributions to Sikhs as well as the general public. His most important contribution was the creation of a hospital where medicines and treatment were free for everyone.
At this time, this was very rare because it was hard to find true medicines and most of them were really expensive. Guru Ji’s hospital became very famous and the Emperor’s son received medicine from it.
Guru Har Rai Ji was both a strong and kind Guru. He was the commander of a very strong army but he used it minimally. This is due to the fact that Guru Ji wanted to help people instead of hurt them. Guru Har Rai Ji left this world in 1661 at the age of 31.
Guru Har Krishan Ji (1656-1664)
Guru Har Krishan Ji was the eighth Guru of the Sikhs and like his predecessors was God in the form of a human. Guru Ji was born at Kiratpur in 1656. His father was Guru Har Rai Ji and his mother was Mata Kishan Kaur. Guru Har Krishan’s name at birth was Bhai Har Krishan.
Guru Har Krishan Ji was the second of two sons for Guru Har Rai Ji. His older brother was Sri Ram Rai but he fell out of his father’s favor when he joined Aurangzeb’s court. These were the circumstances under which Bhai Har Krishan became Guru Har Krishan Ji in 1661.
Guru Har Krishan Ji helped many people at a time when a deadly Smallpox epidemic was raging through Delhi. Guru Ji displayed great spiritual leadership and courage by going into Delhi and by being in contact with many ill people. Guru Ji served and healed many of the sick.
While Guru Har Krishan Ji was helping the sick, he himself contracted a severe Smallpox. This was partially because he was constantly near people who had the disease. Such was the way that Guru Ji went to his heavenly abode in 1664 at the age of 8.
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji (1621-1675)
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was the ninth Guru of the Sikhs and he was God in the form of a human. Guru Ji was born at Amritsar in 1621. His father was Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji and his mother was Mata Nankee. At birth, his name was Bhai Teg Bahadur.
Bhai Teg Bahadur was a very pious man and the grand-uncle of Guru Har Krishan Ji. In Sikhism, many people just say that this relationship is like a grandfather. This is why Guru Har Krishan Ji, upon leaving for his heavenly abode, said “Baba Bakale.” This literally means “Grandfather in Bakale.” At this time, Bhai Teg Bahadur became Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji.
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji made major contributions to Sikhism. Guru Ji took traveled to many places in order to spread the message of Sikhism. During the Guru Ji’s time, Aurangzeb was forcefully converting Hindus into Islam. While Guru Ji was at Patna Sahib, some Hindu pundits from Kashmir came to him in order to get his advice.
Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji said that it would be necessary for some spiritual leader to give up his life for the cause. At this time, Bhai Gobind Rai, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji’s son said that there could be no one better than Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji.
Upon hearing these words, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji knew that Bhai Gobind Rai was ready to become the Guru and now he could sacrifice his life for the cause. Guru Ji was arrested by Aurangzeb’s forces along with three Sikhs. After torturing these Sikhs to death, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was given three choices:
- Convert to Islam;
- Perform a miracle;
- Prepare to die.
Guru Ji choose to die instead of taking the other choices. In this way, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was martyred in 1675 at the age of 54.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666-1708)
Guru Gobind Singh Ji was the tenth Guru of the Sikhs and like his predecessors was God in the form of a human. Guru Ji was born at Patna Sahib in 1666. His father was Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and his mother was Mata Gujri. At birth his name was Bhai Gobind Rai.
As a child, Bhai Gobind Rai had always been interested in war games. In fact, he would often teach his friends how to use particular weapons. At the age of 11, Bhai Gobind Rai told his father that he should sacrifice his own life for the Hindu cause.
With these words, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji knew that his son was ready for the Guruship and had him enthroned. It was at this time that Bhai Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Rai Ji.
The most important contribution of Guru Gobind Rai Ji to Sikhism was the formal baptism ceremony. On Vaisakhi day, March 30, 1699, Guru Gobind Rai Ji started forming the Khalsa by baptizing the ‘Panj Pyara’, or the five beloved ones. Then Guru Ji asked them to baptize him.
It was at this time that Guru Gobind Rai Ji became Guru Gobind Singh Ji. After baptizing hundreds of people, the Khalsa was ready. The Khalsa was a big step forward for the Sikhs. After being formed, the Khalsa fought many battles to defend themselves against mighty Mughal armies who were far superior in numbers and equipment. Another major contribution of Guru Gobind Singh Ji was compiling the Adi Granth, which included verses from the first five and the ninth Gurus.
After having fought many battles and having formed a Sikh brotherhood that would stand against anything, Guru Gobind Singh Ji knew that he had achieved his goal. With this in mind, Guru Ji declared that the Adi Granth would now be Guru Granth Sahib Ji. After doing this, Guru Gobind Singh left this world in 1708 at the age of 42 years.
Guru Granth Sahib Ji (1708-Present)
Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the Sikh Holy Scripture. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, collected all the sacred writings of the first five Gurus and also those of many saints whose views were in accord with the Sikh teachings. He compiled these into one large volume and named it the Adi Granth in 1604. Later on, Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji added the writings of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and completed it in 1705. He declared that there would be no more Gurus in human form after him and that the Sikhs will recognize ‘Adi Granth’ as their Guru. Thus in 1708, the Adi Granth became Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in the Gurmukhi script. Guru Granth Sahib Ji is exactly 1430 pages of hymns. However, many people call the pages ‘Angs’, or body parts, because they believe that Guru Granth Sahib Ji is human. The hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji have been laid out in a very musical and well planned manner devised by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. The hymns have been arranged according to the ‘Raga’, or melody, in which they are meant to be sung.
Guru Granth Sahib begins with the ‘Mool Mantra’ which contains Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s description of God. The hymns from Guru Granth Sahib Ji contain the philosophy of Sikhism and it is the central part the Sikh Culture. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji teaches us many things. These include:
Love of God and as well as mankind
Service to God and the community
Equality of man and woman
Respect and tolerance for other religions
Some more teachings from Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The Sikhs have great devotion for Guru Granth Sahib. It is placed on a ‘Palki’, or decorated seat, which is kept on a ‘Takkat’, or a raised platform, at a prominent position in the Gurdwara hall. It is covered with ‘Ramalaas’, or a richly embroidered cloth called . Above Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a colorful ‘Chandni’, or canopy.
Every day Guru Granth Sahib Ji is installed and a hymn is read from a page opened at random. This is called the ‘Hukam’, or the order of the day. This whole process is called ‘Prakash’. The professional singers ‘Ragees’ sing ‘Keertan’, or hymns in praise of God.
A ‘Granthi’ performs all ceremonies and conducts prayers. During the singing of the hymns the Granthi sits behind Guru Granth Sahib Ji and occasionally waves a ‘Chaur’, or fan, over the Guru. The Chaur and Chandni are symbols of Guru Granth Sahib Ji’s authority. After the evening prayers the Guru Granth Sahib is ceremoniously closed and taken to its ‘Sukh-Asan’, or place of rest.
A continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib Ji from beginning to end by a number of readers is called an ‘Akhand Path’ and it usually takes 48 hours to complete. It is done on special occasions like births, weddings, moving to new homes, and other special occasions.
There are many important values that are taught to the Sikhs in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji.