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Introduction to Sikhism
Introduction to Sikhism

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Introduction to Sikhism: Contents

The History of Sikhism

The History of Sikhism

The history of Sikh religion dates from the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469. In his day (as perhaps now) virtue had come to be identified with virtuosity, prayer with pretentiousness, piety with perjury and welfare with wealth. Political authority was unjust and extortionate against people. The land was owned by "contractors who fleeced the people to the utmost so as to get enough for their own profits and for the heavy bribes which secured privilege for the future, corruption and disorder everywhere rampant, the country a prey to brutal murderers and dacoits, desolated by cruelty, wastefulness and vice, honours and places freely bought and sold, .the rulers sunk in luxury and vicious debauchery. Terrible famines swept the land ... irrigation :was totally neglected, dynastic wars and rebellions were incessant, and travel was excessively unsafe and perilous."

The religion was nothing but a refuge for superstition, bigotry, ritualism and obscurantism. It was "confined to peculiar forms of eating and drinking, peculiar way of bath- ing and painting the forehead and other such mechanical
observances ... The priests alone could study the scriptures, and to them alone were accessible the highest truths and con- solations of Hindu philosophy. Even they, however, had fallen to the dead level of scribes and Pharisees. Some of them still remembered the scriptures by heart but in their practical life they were mostly the opposite of what they were required to be by their scriptures. They were required to be good shepherds to their flocks, but the only function of shepherd they performed was to fleece their flocks. As for administering to their spiritual needs: "The hungry sheep looked up and were not fed."

The springs of true religion had been choked up by weeds of meaningless ceremonial, debasing superstitions. the selfishness of the priests and the indifference of the people. Form had supplanted the reality and the highly spiritual character of Hinduism had been buried under the osten- tatious paraphernalia of sects."

On the other hand the Muslims hunted the Hindus like blood-thirsty hounds. On pages 75-76 of his "History of the Punjab" Mohammad Latif has quoted the sermon of a Mullah (Muslim priest). "... a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent in arms, is of more avail to the faithful than two months of fasting and? prayer. He who perished in holy war went straight to heaven: In paradise nymphs of fas- cinating beauty impatiently waited to greet his first approach. There the gallant martyrs lived for ever a life of happiness and bliss, free from sorrows and liable to no inconvenience from excess. They would possess thousands of beautiful slaves and get houses furnished with splendid gardens and with all the luxuries of life to live on." The intolerance and fanaticism so vehemently preached by the Mullahs could not but lead to bloodshed, tyranny, oppression and high-handedness. Therefore "great jealousy and hatred existed those days bet- ween the Hindus and Mohammadans and the whole non- Muslim population was subject to persecution by the Mughal rulers."*
*(Latif "History of the Punjab" page 240)

Hindus were allowed to keep only enough com for six months. The official orders were "Hindus are like the earth, if silver is demanded from them, they should with the greatest humility, offer gold. And if a Mohammadan desires to spit into a Hindu's mouth, the Hindu should open it wide for the purpose. God created Hindus to be slaves of the Moham- madans. The prophet had ordained that, if the Hindus do not accept Islam, they should be imprisoned, tortured and finally put to death, and their property confiscated."*
* (Tazjiyat-ulansar wa Tajriyat-ul Asar quoted on page 64 of "Glimpses of ten masters")

Temples were desecrated, destroyed, and converted into mosques, Hindus were killed indiscriminately setting flowing seas of blood or forcibly made to renounce Hinduism and work as slaves. Those who did not accept Islam were burnt alive (See Tabaqat-Nasiri by Minhaj-ul-sira), idols were broken in thousands a day and bathed in Hindus' blood (see Twarikh-e-Alai by Amir Khusrau). As the Muslims treated the Hindus so did the upper caste Hindus treated the shudras and murdered them with hatred, contempt and social exclu- sion. So utterly had the Indians degraded and subjected themselves to self-abasement and servility that they had lost all natural manliness and religious and social revival seemed well-nigh impossible. It was out of this wretched, trampled, hag-ridden nation of cowards that the Guru had to build a nation of self-respecting people, deeply devoted ,to God, ready  to die as martyrs for the sake of their religion and country and to establish the rule of law out of the chaos that prevailed. Having been born in a Hindu family, Guru Nanak knew full well the consequences of his birth and agitation. Very car- efully he studied the whole situation and reached the conclu- sion that constitutional agitation and active resistance to the ruling despotism were out of the question. He, therefore, visualised that this gigantic task would have to be done slowly and patiently in more than one generation.

He began his work by ridiculing superstition, snobbery and sychophancy and by tearing down the caste prejudies which had appallingly divided the people. On the one hand he awakened the demoralized and disheartened millions from sloth and gave them new hope and courage to stand on their feet, on the other he started winning the Muslims over and taught them to regard all human beings as members of the family of God. The chief features of his teaching were, "God is one. He is free from bondage of birth and death. He is above religious leaders whom people mistakenly call God. Man should bow and worship to God alone and to none else. Idol worship is useless. God's presence should be felt everywhere and realised in one's heart. Rites, rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, penances, pilgrimages, fasts and set ways of worship have very little merit for the soul. Only God's name and good actions done in the midst of worldly surroun- dings raise the spirit. Women are equals of men and all human beings are equally good. The barriers of caste, religion, countries and creeds should not be allowed to stand in the way of spiritual and social progress. Man is not sinful by birth and the sins of the forefathers do not descend upon
. the sons. "Whoever does his duties without worldy attache- ment, consecrating his deeds to God, verily, sin does not touch him, just as a lotus leaf, though in water, is not affected by it," he said.

The Guru's teachings threatened the popularity of the priestly class and challenged the inhumanity of the ruling tyrants. He was stoned, imprisoned, maligned and ridiculed. But he weathered all storms cheerfully and travelled far and wide to deliver his sermons. Through his efforts the seed had been sown and it had fallen on a good soil. It only awaited careful nursing to make it yield a plentiful crop.

After the master's death (1539), Guru Angad, the second Guru of the Sikhs continued the work and made extensive arrangements for education of his followers. He popularised the Panjabi script and the Panjabi language which was the language of the common people and was well understood by all. This was the language which Guru Nanak had exten- sively used for writing his hymns. Guru Angad's efforts brought out religion and learning from the grip of pedantic Sanskrit scholars and highbrow Hindus and bestowed it on the man in the street. Knowledge was now not considered as exclusive to the Hindu Brahmans and was declared as the right of all whether high or low. Side by side, with undermin- ing the authority of the priests, the Guru's efforts increased the percentage of literacy and, for the first time in the histOry of India, people began to realize that they had direct access to knowledge unfettered by the agency of the proud and greedy priests.

When it came to Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of the Sikhs, he strengthened the second Guru's arrangements for education and laid more stress on the equality of human being and the necessity of spreading the Guru's philosophy far and wide. For this purpose he ordered his followers to attach free kitchen service to every Sikh place of worship so that people of all religions, castes, colours and creeds, could not only have convivial relations but lose all ideas of untouchability and superiority of one people over the other. Even King Akbar was refused entry to the Guru's court unless he sat down with the ordinary people and took food with them in the Guru's kitchen. The Guru also established twenty two Manjis (bishoprics) and fifty two 'Peehreys' under the charge of women to preach Sikhism far and wide.

Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru bought some land and founded the modem city of Amritsar (then known as Chak Ram Das) around a pool which he named "The Pool of Immortality." Amritsar attracted throngs of people and the Guru's popularity and religion increased by leaps and bounds.. Besides, Amritsar was on the trade route between India and the Middle East and so very soon it became the cen- tre of trade and flourished out of all proportions.

Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, in his turn, wrote a lot of hymns, collected the hymns of his predecessor Gurus and prepared the Holy Book (Guru Granth Sahib) of the Sikhs which became a code of sacred as well as secular law for the Sikhs. The book is written in sublime poetry from cover to cover and all its hymns can be sung on the tunes suggested at the head of each hymn. Simultaneously with the compilation of "The Granth." he added to the sanctity and splendour of the "Pool of immortality" by building "The Temple of God" in the midst of it. (The temple is still present there. It is now called the Golden Temple and is one of the wonders of India and of the world). Amritsar now became the centre of Sikh activity and a rallying point. The Guru encouraged his followers to trade in Turkish horses. This not only broke the Hindu superstition of sin in crossing the Indus but also enriched the Sikhs. The practice developed in the Sikhs a taste for horseriding and served as a test for the religious faith because it required a staunch belief to come out unscathed through the fanatical and aggressive Muslim population of Turks and Mghans with whom they engaged in trade. The fanatical and bigot ruler, Jahangir, could not tolerate this growing popularity and influence of the Guru. On page 35 of his memoirs Tuzk-e-Jahangiri he writes:-

"At Goindwal, on the river Beas, lived a Hindu named Arjan in the garb of a saint. Many simple-minded Hindus and some ignorant and imbecile Muslims were attracted and ensnared by his ways. He was noised about as a spiritual mas- ter and people called him a prophet. Shoals of people came to him from all sides and made declarations of faith in him. This imposturous shop of his had been running briskly since three or four generations. For years it was coming to my mind either to abolish this emporium of falsehood or convert him to Islam ... I was fully aware of his heresies and false cults. I, therefore, ordered him to be arrested and made over his house and family to Murtza Khan. I attached and confiscated his property and issued orders that he should be imprisoned, tor- tured and executed under some political pretext."
The Guru was consequently arrested and kept hungry for a number of days. Later he was brought out of his cell and burning sand was poured over his pliant body while he was made to sit in unbearably hot water. Burnt and blistered he was made to sit in a red hot iron plate and roasted to death on May 30, 1606 AD. at Lahore (Now in Pakistan).

After the Guru's martyrdom, Hargobind, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs was imprisoned at Gwalior, When he got his release, the Sikhs organised themselves under his command and soon established a stable of 800 horses and enlisted 300 horsemen and sixty artillerymen. The Guru was soon after attacked but the Sikhs defended themselves bravely and won all the four battles. The Guru, however, did not lay claim to even an inch of territory.

After the death of the sixth Guru the tempers cooled down for some time and the seventh and eighth Gurus lived peacefully without much interference from the Government. However the pot of hatred and fanaticism was still boiling. Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru was approached by a number of Brahmans from Kashmir for help against their forcible conversion to Islam under the sword of Aurangzeb, the Emperor of Delhi. They reminded the Guru of his verse "Sacrifice your head but do not desert those whose hand you have taken as a protector. Fall dead on the ground but do not give up your Dharma (religion)." The Guru assured them that he would do his utmost to dissuade the Emperor from resort- ing to forcible conversion. The Guru was charged of sedition and heresy and was asked to come to Delhi and justify his intentions in entertaining and helping the Kashmiri Brahmans. The Guru reached Delhi and discussed the inhumanity and cruelty of the royal orders. The discussion dragged on for many days. Finding the Guru adamant in sup- porting the helpless Brahmans and unflinching in his faith, the Emperor gave him two choices. Either to accept Islam or death. The Guru accepted the latter and was publicly beheaded at Chandni Chawk Delhi (1675 AD.). Before that, . his dear Sikh Bhai Diala was boiled alive in a cauldron of water and another follower Bhai Mati Das was sawed alive as if a log of wood. The bodies of these martyrs were displayed at the four gates of Delhi. The whole Punjab began to burn with indignation and revenge at this uncalled for and unprovoked atrocious butchery. The Sikhs now wanted a leader under whose banner they could avenge the death of their dear Guru and make amends for the insult done to their religion. Once again they were reminded of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev and the steps taken by Guru Hargobind to strengthen the power of the Sikhs.

The Guru's martyrdom also stirred up the dying embers of Hindu hatred against the Muslim rule. They were excluded from all Government offices and had to pay Jazia (a special tax imposed on the Hindus). They were forbidden to ride horses and their temples were desecrated and destroyed. There was now no alternative left for the Hindus but to cast their lot with the Sikhs and so they began to accept Sikhism in greater numbers than ever before. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, had only to infuse a new life into the dead bones of the Hindus, make them forget caste prejudices and present a united front against the cruelty and persecution to which they were exposed day in and day out. He, therefore, founded "The Khalsa" (the Sikh Salvation Army). Khalsa was free from the prejudices of caste, colour or social status and had to fight voluntarily against all types of tyranny and injustice. The first five people who offered their heads to the Guru for this noble cause were reverently called "Panj Piaras" (the five beloved ones). They were baptised and were followed by thousands. Very soon the Guru had a formidable army of dauntless warriors ready to lay down their lives at his bidding. For his Khalsa, the Guru prescribed five symbols called the 5Ks (Kesh = hair, Kangha = comb, Kara = Bangle, Kachha = shorts and Kirpan = Sword). The Guru declared his intentions openly and all his followers began to sing the following of his hymns:-

"The purpose for which I am born is, To spread true religion and to destroy evil doers, root and branch". "Blessed are those who keep God in their hearts,
And sword in their hands to fight for a noble cause"
"When there is no other course open to man,
It is but righteous to unsheath the sword."
The Khalsa fought many battles in the course of which the Guru lost all his four sons, his mother and a lot of valuable literary work. Two of his four sons were bricked alive in a wall at Sirhind and the other two fell fighting in the battle of Chamkaur. For a time the Guru was left helpless and friend- less and wandered in the forests hotly pursued by the royal army and the spies. When the dust settled down, he gathered a big army once more but very soon the spies of the Delhi Government succeeded in stabbing him to death (1708 AD.).

Before his death, however, the Guru had appointed (Baba) Banda Singh as the Commander of his army. Banda Singh conquered large parts of Punjab with the help ofvolunteer Sikh forces but was ultimately captured by Moghul armies, brought to Delhi and tortured to death along with some 800 of his followers.

The Khalsa continued to make supreme sacrifices and fight against the tyrannical but corrupt and inefficient moghul power which ultimately crumbled and the Khalsa were able to established Khalsa Raj under Maharajah Ranjit Singh.

The Punjab was annexed by the British in 1849. The Sikhs made great sacrifices out of all proportion in the cause of freedom of India. The country was partitioned in 1947 and Pakistan was established to meet Muslims demand. The Sikhs made a fateful decision of giving up their demand for an independent Sikh state and joined India after receiving solemn assurancs from leaders of All India Congress to safe guard Sikh interests. These assurances were not kept and the Sikhs, therefore, continue to struggle for autonomy or seperate state.

A new book Mr G. S. Sidhu is in preparation which gives an account of the Sikh struggles.
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