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Bird's Eye View
Sikh Missionary Society: Articles: Essays on Sikh Values: Bird's Eye View

Bird's Eye View
Sikh history from its beginning to the present

Guru Nanak's Time

At the time of the birth of Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century, 1469 AD, the rulers of India were Muslims - first, Lodhis and the King at Delhi was Behlol Lodhi. Then, came the Moguls and first of them was Babur. The common people lived in great oppression. The Muslims were ruling India and they looked down on the Hindus as third class people, and constantly pressurized them to convert to Islam or die.

The Hindus were torn apart by the caste system, and it divided them into Brahmin, Kashatri, Vaish and Shudar (Shudras). Brahmins were the educated people, performed religious duties, and were considered most superior. They would not tolerate anyone from other castes even to touch them. They exploited the people to maintain their grip. Their medium of learning was Sanskrit, and they would not teach it to others. The second, Kashtriyas (Kashatri) were to provide defence. The third, Vaish were the business community, and took care of agriculture. The fourth were Shudars, and their duty was to serve all others. They were untouchables and lived on the mercy of all the rest.


The ruling Muslim considered the Hindus as their slaves. The ordinary people lived in a great suppression, almost like degraded slaves. Hindus were prohibited by Muslims to ride a horse, to tie a turban leaving its one end high above the head, use a Kettledrum, to carry a flag, and were to pay tax.

Hindu Attitude

The rich Hindus did not tolerate the poor Hindus. The Brahmins had barred the Shudars to do any worship, learn Sanskrit, to read or even listen to the Hindu Holy books, and they were strictly to avoid touching anyone. Hindus did not share food, and drinks with Muslims and the people from other faiths. The caste and class distinction, religious discrimination, sex differentiation etc. and untouchability had created chaos and there was misery all around.

Those in Power

Those in power, Hindus, Muslims, or any other, were mostly tyrants. Poverty, suffering of every kind, marked oppression of the poor and weak, were very common. Women were considered degraded. Many killed the girls right at their births. It was common in Hindus to perform “Satti,” burning wife with her dead husband.

It was such a dark age in India when Guru Nanak - a born Prophet, came to the world. Most of the Hindus worshipped different gods and goddesses. To end this diversity which added troubles to already miserably divided people, Guru Nanak started preaching an ethical life, and One God to unite them.

Birth of Guru Nanak

With the birth of the great Guru (1469 AD) was born an absolutely different and unique religion preaching the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man - universal love, equality, justice, and liberty. He laid stress on the negation of caste and untouchability. He promoted elimination of discrimination, and ethical living according to the triad of honest earning, selfless service and remembering God. He advocated a householders life - no renunciation, humility, politeness, surrender to the will of God, and total dependence on His mercy. His teachings were to evolve the man and to unite him with the Lord (God relization).This religion, free from superstitions, meaningless rituals, useless ceremonies, drug free simple life of high ethics, high thinking, fearing none except God, and disseminating the awareness of one's rights, made it simple to understand and practice. The masses gathered around Guru Nanak, and they voluntarily adopted his faith named `Sikhi,' and became Sikhs.

Guru Nanak travelled far and wide and besides India, he preached in many other countries. He went even to overseas to spread his message of One God and humanity.

Guru Nanak's Religion

Nanak's religion gave physical, mental and spiritual freedom to the downtrodden. The people had lost their dignity and faith in themselves to such an extent that they needed persistent moral support to uplift them. For this, one after the other, ten Gurus came - Guru Nanak, Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun Dev, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishan, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and Guru Gobind Singh. The first Guru initiated the next in Guruship while he was still alive. This constant effort to build an ideal man covered a period of about 225 years from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 AD, to the death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708 AD.

Adi Granth
Compiling the Adi Granth
The fifth Guru Arjun Dev, collected the Bani (Hymns) of the four Gurus before him, added his own Bani to it, got it written by Bhai Gurdas under his own supervision at Ram Sar near Amritsar, and compiled the book called “Adi Granth” (Adi - from the time immemorial. Granth - book). It was installed in Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple - central place of the Sikh faith) at Amritsar, Punjab, India. Harimandir Sahib was built by the Fifth Guru Arjun Dev.

Adi Granth was highly venerated. The Sikhs bowed to it respectfully and listened to its recitation with attention, rapture, and reverence. At present, the copy of this Beerr (Book) is with Sodhis at Kartarpur, District Jalandhar, and so it is called “Kartarpuri Beerr” (The Kartarpur Book).

Adi Granth Second Version
Compiling the Adi Guru Granth Sahib
The Tenth Guru Gobind Singh added to the “Adi Granth” the Bani (Hymns) of his father the Ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur and thus recompiling it, he got it scribed by Bhai Mani Singh at Damdama Sahib, near Bathinda, Punjab. It was called “Damdami Beerr” (the Damdama Book). Guru Gobind Singh, feeling that the evolution of the Sikhs was complete, installed “Damdami-Beerr” as Guru on 6th October, 1708 AD, one day before his merging with God. The Holy Book, after being installed as a Guru, got the name of ”Adi Guru Granth Sahib” (Holy Granth the Guru). The Guru declared that no human would ever be a Guru of the Sikhs after that. He made the `Word' i.e Gurbani (the Holy Hymns) in the Holy Granth the Guru. This Bani was directly revealed to the Gurus by God. The Holy Granth is the “living manifestation” of the Gurus - their `spirit'- essence i.e. their teachings. A spirit is ever immortal - living, and so the Holy Granth is a living Guru. One and the same spirit - the Word, passed from one Guru on to the next. Guru Arjun Dev
Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
When the fifth Guru Arjun Dev was martyred (23 May 1606 AD) on the flimsy, false charges by his adversaries, under the orders of King Jahangir, his son the 6th Guru Hargobind, combined the temporal (policical) aspect with religion, and built “Akal Takhat” (seat of the Lord) just outside and in front of Harimandir Sahib. Here, like kings, he held his “Darbar” - court, to listen to the complaints and grievances of the people, passed his judgements and issued his edicts. He kept an army of his own, hunted, and promoted the martial art. This was preparation for self-defence, protection of the faith, and help to the poor and needy - liberty. Guru Tegh Bahadur
Martyrdom of Guru Tagh Bahadur
To resist mass conversion of Hindus to Islam by King Aurangzeb, Guru Tegh Bahadur the Ninth Guru, resisted conversion, and was beheaded by the orders of this King (11 November 1675 AD). It saved Hindus from their mass conversion. Had he accepted Islam, millions of Hindus would have gone into the fold of this religion. Guru refused conversion or to display miraculous powers and sacrificed his life for a great cause. Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Singh
To protect the Hindus and others, the Ninth Guru's son the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh, kept struggling against the tyranny of the oppressors. Out of his four sons, Ajit Singh, and Jujhar Singh, got martyred fighting for this cause. The innocent younger two, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, refused to convert and were mercilessly murdered.

To fill the people with the new spirit to fight the aggressors, the Tenth Guru, on Baisakhi day of 1699, selected “Panj Piarae” - the five beloved of the Guru: Daya Singh, Dharam Singh, Mohkam Singh, Sahib Singh, Himmat Singh, prepared Amrit, gave it to them, took it himself from them, and gave it to the Sikhs to drink to initiate them into the order of the Khalsa - “Guru's own” - the properly inducted Sikhs bound by the `Reht'- edict, of the faith. “Amrit” means the `Drink Bestowing Immoratalilty.' Amrit immediately makes the mind God-oriented and dedicated to the human uplift. Also, read `Guru Gobind Singh' in `Sikh Gurus,' `Sahibzadae,' and `Baisakhi 99.'

Banda Singh

Before his departure from the earth, Guru Gobind Singh, instructed Banda Singh to continue the struggle to fight tyranny of the rulers and others. (Sada Itihas Part I, Satbir Singh, 1971. Page 327). He and the Sikhs under his leadership fought with great zeal and confidence, and punished tyrants like Wazir Khan, Nawab (Governor) of Sirhind, who was instrumental in the martyrdom of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh - Zoraswar Singh and Fateh Singh.

Banda Singh, became ruler of the Punjab. He struck his coins and had the seal of his regal authority. He could have easily occupied the throne at Delhi and ruled India, but he did not bother for it. During this period, Mughal King Bahadur Shah, who also persecuted Sikhs died and the Sikhs became very strong. (Sada Itihas-II, Satbir Singh).

Martyrdom of Banda Singh Bahadur
Banda Bahadur killed. Farakhsear son of Bahadur Shah ordered complete destruction of the Sikhs. Zakria Khan (1739 AD), besieged Banda Singh at the village Gurdas Nangal, near Batala, District Gurdaspur, but they dared not to go in and catch him. The siege continued for 8 months. Food supplies of the Sikhs finished and they lived on animals, grass, treeleaves, shoots and bark. They became skeletons and very weak. Banda Singh and other Sikhs were arrested at that stage, and were taken to Delhi. Banda Singh and 794 other Sikhs were tortured to death. (Read also `Zakria Khan'). Banda Singh died (June 1716 AD) and the first Sikh rule ended, but it left the masses with the fire for freedom.

The Khalsa kept struggling for its right to rule on its own territory. Farakhsear and then Zakria Khan continued massacre of the Sikhs. The Sikhs kept retaliating relentlessly, making it impossible for the Mughal government to run. To appease them, the government offered the title of Nawab. The Sikhs accepted it and made Kapoor Singh, the care taker of their horses, a Nawab. They got a breathing time, and reorganized themselves to continue their struggle for freedom.

Chhota Ghallughara
Lesser Holocaust.

On renewed activity of the Sikhs, Zakria Khan reordered their massacre. After the death of Zakria Khan, his son Yahia Khan, through Lakhpat Rai, put to sword 10,000 Sikhs (1746 A.D) known as “Chhota Ghallu-ghara”- the Lesser Holocaust. (Read Chhota Ghallughara).

Read `Chhota Ghallughara' in `Between the Lines.'

The Sikh Chance

Invasion of Ahmedshah Abdali from Afghanistan engaged Mughals and gave Sikhs a chance to come out of their hideouts. Their leader Jassa Singh Ahlulwalia, occupied Amritsar and on March 29, 1748 AD, Baisakhi was celebrated there. He declared Amritsar his state and built a fort called Ram-Raoni, later known as Ramgarh. Mir Manu a Muslim Governor, established himself securely with the help of the Sikhs who were ruling different parts of the Punjab. But later, Mir Manu started persecuting them. When Mir Manu died, the Sikhs availing this opportunity, re-established themselves in various parts of Punjab, did not allow strengthening of the Afghan rule, and effectively resisted rerooting of the Mughal authority in the Punjab.

End of the Mogul Rule

Ahmedshah Abdali attacked again and destroyed the Mughal rule. The Sikhs fought with him and pushed him back to Afghanistan. He was obliged to recognize Sardar Ala Singh as the ruler of Patiala. The Sikhs threw Afghans out of the Punjab and declared Jassa Singh Ahluwalia the King, with his headquarter at Lahore.

Wadda Ghallughara

Greater Holocaust. Read `Vaddaa Ghallughara' in `Between the Lines.'

Ahmedshah Abdali from Afghanistan attacked the Sikhs, at Malerkotla in 1762. With a huge army, he took the Sikhs by surprise, and massacred 30,000 of them. This is called Wadda Ghalooghara - Greater Holocaust. Out of 40,000 Sikhs gathered there, only 10,000 were left.

Harmandir Sahib Demolished

1756 AD, 1762 AD. See `Harmandir Sahib' in `Between the Lines.'

Ahmedshah Abdali demolished Harimandir Sahib at Amritsar, with gunpowder and filled the Sarovar - tank, with dirt, filth, dead cows and men. This strengthened determination of the Sikhs. Fighting with fury, they defeated Ahmedshah and pushed him back to Afghanistan.

Sikhs Occupied Lahore

Budha Dall (organization of the seniors) and Taruna Dall (organization of the youth) of the Sikhs, in their joint action cleared up a great area from the Afghan rule. Ahmed Shah abdali came back, but he could not face the Sikh strength and tactics. On the Baisakhi of 1765, the Sikhs reoccupied Lahore. The Khalsa became the supreme power in the Punjab.

Nawab Kapur Singh
Nawab Kapoor Singh, combined Budha Dall and Taruna Dall under the name of Dall-Khalsa - the Sikh Commonwealth, and put it under the command of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Dall-Khalsa was organized into twelve groups called Missals - confederacies, which were republican in nature. The Punjab was declared under the Sikh rule (Sada Itihas, Satbir Singh, 1970. Page 131). Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh
One Missal was Sukkarchakian and its chief was Mahan Singh son of Charhat Singh. His wife was Raj Kaur. In 1780, Ranjit Singh was born to them. He was 10 years old when his father died. He had great ability and tact to administer his principality, and was very wise as well as couragous. He was invited by the people against the tyranny of Bhangi Sardars. He took Lahore from Bhangi Missal without much resistance. Ranjit Singh expanded his territory to the borders of Afghanistan and Tibet, took battles to the homes of invaders and turned their faces away from India. His government was secular, and without any discrimination even of religion. In his army there were, Dogras, Gorkhas, Muslims and foreigners like the French, Italian, Americans and Russians. The English Rule

Meanwhile, the British power was well established with practically whole of India under it. The Brtishers had befriended Dogras and Sandhawalias in the Sikh court. With the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the British set in motion through Dogras and Sandhawalias series of conspiracies in the Sikh court resulting in destruction of the Sikh dynasty, by getting killed the Sikh princes, Sardars and others.

The British had laid down their net. There were five battles between the Sikhs and the British. The Sikhs fought with courage and spirit and as they were close to victory, the Poorbias and Dogras deserted them. It saved the British, and winning the battle of Sabraon, the British resident at Lahore ruled on behalf of the minor King Dalip Singh, grand son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They (British), tactically handled the uprising of Multan and showed that they were fighting for the Sikh Maharaja, but when victorious, they annexed his kingdom (1849), and whole of India went under the British rule.

Maharaja Dalip Singh
Maharaja Dalip Singh
Maharaja Dalip Singh was taken out of Punjab and placed under the guardianship of the Christians (Dr. John Login), and converted to Christianity. In 1854 he was taken away to England. In 1861 he visited his ailing mother at Calcutta, and in 1864 he took her to England. He came to India second time to return her ashes to the soil of her birth.

Realizing that he had been cheated out of his kingdom and defrauded of his property including the Diamond Kohinoor, he demanded justice for the restoration of his sovereign rights over the Punjab, but was denied. He decided to return to India, but was disembarked at Aden and ordered back to Europe. At Aden, he renounced Chritianity, took Amrit and became a Sikh. Returning to the Europe, he tried but could not get assistance of the Russians. He died heart broken at Paris on October 22, 1893. Out of his family of ten, his eldest daughter Bamba Sutherland died issuless in 1957.

The British, having cheated Sikhs out of their political power (1849), in an attempt to break their morale, exiled or imprisoned the Sikh Sardars, confiscated their properties and forts, and razed their mansions to the ground. The Sikh leaders were reduced to non-entities.

Mutiny - 1857

The Poorbias (the people of Lucknow side) in the English army, in their mutiny in 1857, did not take Sikhs into their confidence. The Poorbias had sided the British in getting the rule of the Punjab out of the Sikh hands. During mutiny they had put back into throne the Mogul King Bahadur Shah. The Sikhs had fought Moguls for freedom for 200 years. On principles, the Sikhs could not help Poorbias, and they failed in their uprising.


In 1872 AD, ruler, were the English people. Cow killing butchers were murdered by the Kookas (Namdhari Sikhs) and after that they marched to Malerkotla for looting an armory. They were arrested and labelling it a mutiny, 65 Kookas were blown off with cannons.

Namdhari's being blown from cannons
The Namdhari (not new Sant-Namdhari) and Nirankari awakened the Sikhs. Singh Sabha Movement was also born at that time. This brought the social and religious reforms in the Sikh world. Sikh Activity

Indifference cum interference of some fanatic Hindu sections, further helped in alerting the Sikhs. In 1930, Singh Sabha was born to protect the Sikh interests. Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, who supported the cause of agriculturists - most of them Sikhs, were deported by the English people. Ajit Singh disappeared, reached the America and got in touch with Hindustan Ghadar Party under the presidentship of Sohan Singh Bhakna, to free India from the British Rule.

Baba Gurdit Singh and 376 passengers in Kamgatamaru ship were not allowed to land at Vancouver, in Canada. On returning to India, at Baj-Baj, the British police did not allow them to go to Calcutta and wanted them to leave for the Punjab by special train kept ready. In the tumult, firing killed about 50 Sikhs. Baba Gurdit Singh escaped, and others were arrested (1914).

The same way, 173 passengers, mostly Sikhs, coming on Tasumaru ship were arrested. Meanwhile, Many Ghadris (revolutionaries) had slipped into India. The secret of armed rebellion by Ghadris leaked out (1915), many of them were arrested, and some were hanged.

British Government pulled down a boundry wall of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj at Delhi. The Sikhs decided to send a Shahidi Jatha (batch of martyrs) to build the wall, not caring for their lives. The government gave in (1914).

Jallianwala Bagh
Massacre at Jallian Walla Bagh
The massacre of people at Jallian Walla Bagh, Amritsar, in 1919, by the order of General Dyer, increased the political discontent against the British Government. Particularly the Sikhs, started an open defiance of the law especially to manage the Gurdwaras that had fallen into the hands of Mahants who were supported by the government. It led to the peaceful agitations of Nankana Sahib (1920), to get back the keys of the Golden Temple (1921), Guru Ka Bagh (1922) and Jaito (in Nabha - 1923). The hundreds of Sikhs were killed and injured. Ultimately, the government placed control of the historical Gurdwaras in the hands of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar (1925).

All the incidents narrated became the links in the chain of the Sikh's role in the struggle for freedom of India from the British rule. The Sikhs joined nonviolent and non-cooperation movement of the Congress under Mahatma Gandhi and Lala Lajpat Rai (1920). In 1929, under Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indian National Congress passed the resolution of complete independence, Mahatma Gandhi decided to launch civil disobedience, and Shiromani Akali Dall offered 5,000 Sikh volunteers.

Master Tara Singh
Master Tara Singh
The Sikhs played a major role in the organization and maintenance of the Indian National Army under the command of General Mohan Singh, and later Neta Subhash Chandar Bose (1942-1945). Presumably, the honor goes to this army for achieving the independence of India in 1947. To maintain unity, under the leadership of Master Tara Singh, the Sikhs rejected the communal award of the British prime minister, and the Sikhs decided to stay with India rather than getting separate Punjab for them. At the time of partition of India into India and Pakistan, the Sikhs stayed united with the Congress who promised them autonomy in the Punjab. Discontentment

After independence of India, Sikhs had to struggle to form Punjabi Suba, and later they had to resort to the peaceful demonstration to force Indra Gandhi, prime minister of India, to lift the emergency.It is claimed that the Congress turned its back on its promises. This was worsened by the attack on Golden Temple, Amritsar, in 1984, on the pretext of getting it vacated from Sant Jernail Singh Bhindranwala. Satwant Singh and Beant Singh are claimed to have killed Indra Gandhi who ordered this attack. It was followed, 1984 AD, by commonly known as “preplanned” anti Sikh riots in which it is said that perhaps 25 to 50 thousand Sikhs lost their lives, and in total about one lakh were affected. In addition, in this struggle, it is estimated by the people that 25,000 Sikhs had been liquidated, mostly in the suspected fake encounters, and 50,000 of them are still rotting in jails (2002 AD) without any valid reasons. It is impossible to know the correct and exact figures of loss of the Sikh life and property. The opinions differ and the estimates vary. Most of the related data is estimates.


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