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by Dr. Sukhraj Singh Dhillon

Note: This article is written for Sikhs, non-Sikhs, and Sikh children who grew up in the West.

The origin of Sikhs and Who They Are:

During late 15th century Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) founder of Sikh religion appeared on the scene with his message of brotherhood of mankind; when Indian society was faced with double attack. On one hand the rulers of that time were exploiting and humiliating their subjects and on the other hand the upper caste Hindus were treating low caste people like animals. Guru Nanak was totally shaken when he saw this kind of exploitation, resulting in human sufferings, cruelty and heavy looting by invaders in north-west Indian Punjab. He aligned himself with the poorest when he said he was with those people who belonged to the lowest caste.

Neecha Undar Neech Jaat, Neechi Hoon Aat Neech!
Nanak Tinke Sang Saath, Baddian Se Kiyya Rees!

He also emphasized that asking about the cast from anyone is useless. A man should be known by his actions and not by caste.

Jaat Paat Nahin Poochhiae, Sach Ghar Leh Basai!
Sa Jaat Sa Paat Hai, Jaise Karam Kamai!

Besides, he raised his voice against the exploitation of the common people by the rulers when he said the rulers are behaving like lion and their ministers like dogs and both are sucking the blood of the people.

Raje Shihn Mukadam Kute!

Under these circumstances, the foundation of religion was laid by Guru Nanak Dev around 500 years ago. The Japuji (literally means daily prayer) sums the deep philosophy of Guru Nanak that has been translated and commented by over 100 scholars from various religions of East and West and from various walks of life. The power of Japuji is obvious just from 2 lines which convey message of Universal nature-as given in the article "UNIVERSAL MESSAGE OF SIKHISM." His mission was carried forward by his successors. All the successor Gurus worked for the establishment of a casteless and exploitation free society based on universal brotherhood. For these ends "Guru ka Langar" was started in which people from all caste, were to take meals sitting together whether one is rich or poor, low caste or high caste, man or woman.

Guru Nanak taught that all religions lead to the same high truth, and he set the three basic tenets of Sikh religion: Nam Japo (prey to your God) , Kirat Karo (earn your livings honestly) and Wand Chhako (share and help others). The Sikhs also maintain a code of conduct which includes, in particular, the smoking of tobacco (carrying of tobacco in a religious place-Sikh temple or Gurdwara-is prohibited).

Approximately 20 million of the world's people follow the religion of Sikhism. The vast majority of Sikhs live in the Punjab state of north-western India, although there are many Sikhs living throughout the world, including over a quarter million in America. It may be mentioned that so far not even a single person has been converted to Sikh religion by any kind of force.

Sikhs believe in one God and the equality of all men and women. They practice the work ethic. They are committed to protection of the weak and the oppressed. Their social beliefs are structured around human rights and the basic dignity of the human spirit. The Sikh religion is a democratic one, with no priestly class or church hierarchy. It stresses community service, individual liberties and a direct relationship of humanity to God.

The scriptures and traditions of the Sikhs were developed from Guru Nanak through Guru Gobind Singh through a line of ten holders of the Guruship from 1469 through 1708 AD. These ten Gurus (Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Harkishan, Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh) were such pure lights of God that they are recognized and respected throughout India as the 'Great Gurus'. Some of them sacrificed their own lives to protect the rights of other religions to exist.

Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, was tortured to death by making him to sit on a burning iron sheet, and burning sand was put on his body. Again Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru, was beheaded as he did not bow before the wills of the rulers who wanted him and Hindus (Kashmiri Brahmins) to change their religion to Islam.

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhs, after the death of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur, organized the people to fight against injustice and exploitation. To infuse the high morale and fighting spirit, he organized Sikhs into brave fighters--called Khalsa as given later in this article. (He gave Sikhs the name Singh--means lion or brave like lion.) Continued struggle against the oppressive rule yielded fruit when at the decline of Mughal rule, Sikhs established their independent state under emperor Ranjit Singh in Punjab and planted their flag at Lahore Fort in July 1799. He enlarged the limit of his domination and conquered Multan, Kashmir, and Peshawar.

The last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, placed the guidance of the Sikh people in the scriptures, at the time of his death. These scriptures are known as the Shri Guru Granth Sahib (The Sikh Bible). This scripture is revered by the Sikh people as the Word of God, the Truth of truths and the living Guru.

(Guru Granth Ji Maaneo, Pargat Guraan kee Deh!-means Guru Granth Sahib is your Guru. Guru Granth Sahib is perhaps the only scripture with that high status).

Guru Granth Sahib (The Sikh Bible):

Guru Granth Sahib (often called Adi Granth -Adi means first or original) is an authoritative scripture of the Sikhs. It is written in Sant Bhasha, a language used by medieval Indian Saints throughout India. Besides various forms of Punjabi, it has hymns in Hindi, Marathi, Persian, Prakrit and Sahaskrite. Guru Granth Sahib covers 1430 pages. (The continuous citation during Akhand Path takes about 48 hours at an average speed of 30 pages per hour).

Guru Granth Sahib was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev in 16th century, and in addition to the Sikh Gurus, it includes hymns of pre-Nanak saints (such as Sheikh Farid and Bhagat Kabir) and of saints and poets who lived in the times of Gurus (such as Mardana and Bhikhan). Present Guru Granth Sahib installed by Guru Gobind Singh includes hymns, pauris and shlokas of six of the ten Sikh gurus--Guru Nanak (974 hymns, pauris and shlokas), Guru Angad Dev (62 shlokas), Guru Amar Das (907 hymns, pauris and shlokas), Guru Ram Das (679 hymns, pauris and shlokas), Guru Arjan Dev (2218 hymns, pauris and shlokas), Guru Teg Bahadur (59 hymns and 56 shlokas). And according to some writers Guru Gobind Singh in Adi Granth added one shloka to the ones of Guru Teg Bahadur.

Bal hoa Bandhan Chhuttay; Sabh Kichh Hot Upae!
Nanak Sabh Kichh Tumre Hath Mein; Tum hee Hot Sahae!

"With the grace of God, I have found everything."

The complete volume falls under 3 categories: (1) Introductory Gurbani-page 1-13 (2) Gurbani set to the Ragas-page 14-1353 (3)Miscellaneous Gurbani-page1353-1430. Mohalla number in the text refers to the Guru number, Ghar number refers to the tune and musical notation number, and Rahao means pause when reciting.

Guru Granth Sahib brings together the beautiful concept of other religions. It emphasizes, mercy and ahimsa (non-violence), and Nirvana to realization of God-like Buddhism.

Adi Granth comes close to the Christian concept of creation. The concept of Grace is also very close to the Christian Concept. Concept of one God as mentioned in Vedanta, Upanishads and Sankara Schools of Hindu thought is accepted by the Adi Granth.

The Mool Mantra--the basic Sikh concept of God is " Ek Onkar (one God), Sat Nam (His name is true), Karta Purkh, Nirbhau, Nirvair (He operates without fear and enmity), Akal Moorat (self-existent), Ajooni Sae Bhang (He is immortal), Gur Parsad (realized with His blessings).

But Adi Granth rejects such things as priestly class, caste system, brahamacharya (sexual avoidance), Sannyasa (leaving the worldly duties to go in wild for search of God), reincarnation, and discrimination against women.

To sum up, it is very clear that Guru Granth Sahib carries on the same spirit of non-conformity as was developed by the Sikh Gurus and Adi Granth is a very unique scripture.


The greatest contribution of the last living Guru--Guru Gobind Singh--is the creation of Khalsa, the family of pure ones, to which a Sikh may belong through receiving baptism (Amrit). Therefore, every khalsa is a Sikh but every Sikh is not a khalsa unless he/she receives baptism.

A khalsa carries a unique appearance. Neither men or women cut their hair. The men wear full beards and wrap their long hair in turbans. A khalsa also wears a steel bangle, a small sword and a unique underwear. A khalsa also carries a small comb in the hair. The uniform of Khalsa is described by five Ks in Punjabi (Kes, kangha, kara, Kachha, kirpan). This uniform is centered towards readiness of Khalsa as a soldier to fight for the right. Sikhs do not believe in terrorism and killing of innocent and they are commonly identified as "Saint Soldiers", because they lead a pure saintly life and fight against the injustice and to defend the weak and oppressed.

Bhai Kahu Ko Det Neh; Neh Bhai Maant Aan!
Kahu Nanak Suun Re Manna; Giani Tahe Bekhane!
(Mohalla 9)

"Cause no fear to others and accept no awe from anyone"

NOTE: Although Guru Gobind Singh offered the highest honor to Khalsa, he did not expect every Sikh to become khalsa-one of his most favorite poets Bhai Nand Lal and more than half of his other poets, for example, did not become khalsa. This is a good lesson to avoid fighting over amritdhari and non-amritdhari issues. We should love and respect each other.

P.S. How do we compare to other popular religions of the world--just an idea. Profit: Guru Nanak Dev The Messengers of Guru Nanak: Our nine gurus that we commonly refer from 2nd to 10th Guru Nanak. Holy Book: Guru Granth Sahib Our Highest Priest and Spiritual Leader: Jathedar Akal Takhat

Defining a Sikh: The most universal defintion of a Sikh is:
"A Sikh is a person, who  believes in the Guru Granth Sahib,  in the Ten Gurus, and has no other religion." 

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