Sikh Missionary Society
Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
Introduction to Sikhism
Introduction to Sikhism

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: Introduction to Sikhism: Contents

Section IV: The Sikh History

  1. What was the mission of Guru Nanak?
  2. What do you know of Guru Angad?
  3. What do you know of Guru Amardas?
  4. What do you know of Guru Ramdas?
  5. What do you know of Guru Arjan?
  6. What do you know of Guru Har Gobind?
  7. What do you know of Guru Har Rai?
  8. What do you know of Guru Harkrishan?
  9. What do you know of Guru Tegh Bahadur?
  10. What do you know of Guru Gobind Singh?
  11. What do you know of Banda Singh?
  12. What do you know of Maharaja Ranjit Singh?
  13. What do you know of Bhai Vir Singh?
  14. What do you know of Sikh Paintings?
  15. Give a brief history of the Golden Temple?
  16. Give an account of the Singh Sabha Movement?
  17. What do you know of the Chief Khalsa Diwan?
  18. What do you know of the Gurdwara Reform Movement?
  19. What do you know of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee?
  20. What is the contribution of the Sikhs to the struggle for India's independence?
  21. What do you know of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Chandigarh?
  22. What do you know of Guru Nanak Foundation, New Dehli?
  23. What do you know of Pingalwara, Amritsar?
  24. Give an account of the Sikh-residents abroad?

Q77. What was the mission of Guru Nanak?

Guru Nanak was born in Talwandi, a village in Punjab, in 1469 at a critical period of Indian history. The Lodi rulers wallowed in luxury and did not care for the affairs of State and welfare of their subjects. Their weakness and sloth brought Babar on to the Indian scene. Guru Nanak protested against the foreign domination and warned the rulers that if they did not look into the grievances of the people, they would meet the punishment they deserved.

Guru Nanak challenged the fanaticism and intolerance of the Muslims, of his time. During his visit to Mecca, he made the Kazis realize that God's house is everywhere and not only in the direction of the Kaaba. Similarly, Guru Nanak also exposed the meaningless ritual and caste prejudices prevalent among the Hindus. He demonstrated to them the fallacy of feeding Brahmins at the time of the performance of the Sharaadha. At Hardwar, in a very amusing way, he exposed the folly of offering water to the manes of ancestors.

Guru Nanak's life may be divided into three parts. The first period of 30 years was spent at Talwandi and Sultanpur as a householder. The second period of 22 years was spent in missionary travels far and wide and for the third and the last period of 18 years he stayed at Kartarpur for the benefit of his followers. He established places of worship called Dharamsalas. Wherever he went, he urged people to perform acts of charity and render services to the poor and the needy.

Guru Nanak propagated the equality of man. He treated Hindus and Muslims alike. He went to their important shrines and explained to them the true way of spiritual life. He opposed the distinctions of caste. He called himself a member of the lowest caste.

Guru Nanak insisted on Grahstha - living a house-holder's life. The path of renunciation or Sanyas is the way of escapism and defeat. Man must do his worldly duties and at the same time keep his spirit detached from worldly things.

Finding that his end was approaching, Guru Nanak tested his disciples and passed Gurudom onto the most worthy of them, Guru Angad, in 1539.

Return to the top of the page.

Q78. What do you know of Guru Angad?

Guru Angad (1504-52) previously known as Lehna was a worshiper of the goddess Jawala Mukhi. Once, while going to the shrine of this goddess, he came in contact with Guru Nanak. There was spontaneous conversion. He chose to serve the Guru. He became the Guru's best and obedient follower. After testing him along with others, Guru Nanak nominated him to the Gaddi in 1539.

Guru Angad popularized the Gurmukhi script introduced by Guru Nanak. He broke the Brahmin's monopoly of learning by encouraging all sorts of people to learn Gurmukhi(the Guru's script) and read religious literature. He gathered the facts about Guru Nanak's life from Bhai Bala and wrote the first biography of Guru Nanak Dev. He also set up religious centres where the principles of Sikhism could be propagated.

Guru Angad extended Langar - the free kitchen - and personally looked after the serving arrangements. Langar was intended to break caste barriers and social taboos.

Guru Angad laid stress on the equality of man: "It is like a clay from which pots are made In diverse shapes and forms - yet the clay is the same. Similarly the bodies of men are made from the same five elements, so How can one amongst them, be high and the other low?"

Langar made people of different castes sit in line on the same platform and so provided a healthy forum for charity and service.

Guru Angad was very fond of children. He started a school for young boys and taught them the Gurmukhi script. He also insisted on physical fitness. He opened a gymnasium which had a wresting arena, rural sports and games followed religious congregations. This tradition subsequently helped in enlisting able-bodied men for the Sikh army.

Guru Angad led a life of piety and service at Khadur. Here Amardas - a relative of his - served him day and night. The Guru bypassed his sons, who were disobedient and nominated Amardas as his successor in 1552.

Return to the top of the page.

Q79. What do you know of Guru Amardas?

Guru Amardas (1479-1574) came to the succession by dint of his selfless services, at the age of 73. Guru Angad's son, Dattu, was enraged at this and kicked Guru Amardas. Guru Amardas did not take it ill but rather apologized to him, saying, "Pardon me; my hard bones must have hurt your foot." Thus reflecting the Guru's great humility and wisdom.

Guru Amardas paid serious attention to the propagation of Sikhism. He appointed a devout Sikh in charge of each region. The total number of such devoutees were 22. The Guru also trained a number of travelling missionaries who spread the message of Sikhism to other parts of India. In order to bring the Sikhs closer to one another he fixed three festivals - Diwali, Baisakhi and Maghi - when all could assemble for religious conference.

It is said that the followers of Sri Chand, son of Guru Nanak who had started the Udasi group and who had advocated the rununciation of home and property, came to Guru Amardas for consultation. The Guru advised them to lead a life of renunciation in the midst of the home. He explained it was a compromise between asceticism and worldly enjoyment. The householder's life was indeed the best life, because it offered an easy way for the common man - Remembrance of God, sharing of food and income, and honest living - Nam Japna, Wand Chhakna and Dharam-di-kirt. The Guru started a new centre of worship at Goindwal where he dug a well for the benefit of the people.

Guru Amardas was very friendly to the emperor Akbar. The Emperor came to pay respects to Guru Amardas at Goindwal and according to custom took meals in the Langar. He was very much impressed by the universal message of Sikhism and its free kitchen.

Guru Amardas, in the tradition of Guru Nanak, tested his disciples before nominating a successor. He found in his son-in-law, Bhai Jetha, a devoted and humble Sikh. He, therefore, installed him as Guru Ramdas in 1574.

Return to the top of the page.

Q80. What do you know of Guru Ramdas?

Guru Ramdas(1534-1581) was installed as Guru at the age of forty. He put missionary work on sound basis and sent massands to different parts of north India to propagate the message of Sikhism. He himself was fond of serving his disciples. Sometimes, he would distribute water or pull the fan for the Sangat.

Guru Ramdas was keen on giving a suitable centre of worship to the Sikhs. He developed the land purchased from local land owners and established a new township called Ramdaspur. Many Sikhs settled in the new town because it was situated on the trade routes. The city was subsequently called Amritsar.

Guru Ramdas was a perfect example of humility and piety. Once Sri Chand - the son of Guru Nanak - visited him. He asked the Guru in a humorous way as to why he maintained a long and flowing beard. The Guru gave him an apt reply: "To wipe the dust of your holy feet." Sri Chand was deeply moved by this answer and expressed regret for his impertinence.

The Guru's mission spread quickly among the poor and the rich classes. Some aristocrats visited Amritsar and became his followers. The Guru turned his friendship with Emperor Akbar to good account by persuading him to relieve distress and to remove the oppressive taxes on non-Muslims.

Guru Ramdas laid down a Sikh code of conduct and worship. He prescribed the routine of a Sikh as in his hymn to be found on page 305 of Guru Granth Sahib. He composed the Lavan for Sikh marriage cermony and other hymns appropriate to certain other functions and festivities. Being a talented musician he composed hymns in eleven new ragas.

Arjan, the youngest son of Guru Ramdas was devoted to his father. At the bidding of his father, he went to Lahore to attend a marriage. He was feeling terribly depressed without his father. He wrote two urgent poetic letters, full of longing and love for the Guru.

"My soul yearns for the sight of the Guru.
It bewails like the Chatrik crying for the rain."
(A.G. p.96)
These letters were intercepted by his elder brother Prithi Chand. When the third letter reached Guru Ramdas, he immediately called him. Prithi Chand was keen on the succession, but the Guru tested his sons and finally his choice fell on Arjan who was installed as the Fifth Guru in 1581.

Return to the top of the page.

Q81. What do you know of Guru Arjan?

Guru Arjan(1563-1606) was in his teens when he was installed as Guru. He developed Amritsar as a centre of industry and culture for the Sikhs. He requested Mian Mir - a Moslim divine - to lay the foundation stone of the Har Mandar (Temple of God). The temple was built on a level lower than the surrounding land, in the middle of a beautiful lake. This is now known as the Golden Temple.

In order to put the township on a sound basis, the Guru helped the establishment of new trades and professions. Some of these trades were banking, embriodery, carpentry and horse trading. Amritsar was centrally situated and there was enough scope for commercial relations with neighbouring counteries. The Sikhs were sent to Afghanistan and Central Asia for buying good horses. The trade in horses gave Sikhs a taste for riding and horsemanship.

Guru Arjan felt that the Sikhs should have their own scripture. He collected the hymns of the first four Gurus and of the Indian Bhagats and Bhatts. He dictated the hymns including his own to Bhia Gurdas and completed the compilation of the Adi Granth the first book in 1604.

Guru Arjan was a man of people and wielded great influence. His growing power and prestige aroused the jealosy of Emperor Jahangir. Even Muslims came to the Har Mandar. Jahangir resolved, to use his own words, "to put an end to this traffic." He asked Guru Arjan to change the text part of his Granth to include the praises of prophet Mohammed. The Guru refused to do so. In the meantime, Chandu - the Diwan - who bore a grudge against the Guru - poisoned the mind of Jahangir with all sorts of false stories. Jahangir placed Guru Arjan in the charge of Chandu. The latter perpetrated tortures like pouring boiling water on him, throwing burning sand on the Guru. Guru Arjan bore all these tortures with great resignation.

After nominating his son Har Gobind as his successor, the Guru was taken to the river bank. His body was then thrown into the river as a final torture. He is the first martyr in Sikh history.

Return to the top of the page.

Q82. What do you know of Guru Har Gobind?

Guru Har Gobind (1595-1644) acted as per the advice of his father to maintain an army. His father had been a victim of Mughal tyranny. The Mughal rulers wanted to break the power of the Sikhs. He organized a band of soldiers and trained them in warfare. Some historians call it the beginning of a military theorcracy.

Emperor Jahangir felt jealous of the Guru's military power and had him imprisoned in Gwalior fort. When the Guru's release was ordered, he refused to leave the fort till the other Indian princes who were also in jail were released. After this was done the Guru came to be known as Bandhichhor or the Great Liberator.

Guru Har Gobind realized that a fight with the Mughal power was inevitable, so he had his small army well trained. He himself was a great rider, hunter and swordsman. Cunninghham reports that he had 800 horses, 300 trained horsemen and 60 artillery-men. Guru Har Gobind fought three major battles which were forced on him by the Mughals. The first battle at Amritsar was fought in 1634. The Commandar of the Mughals-Mukhlis Khan- was completely routed. In the second battle near Lehra in 1637, the Guru's army was also victorious. The third battle in which Painde Khan got killed was fought at Kartarpur in 1638. The Guru's success in all the three battles created confidence and inspired courage among his Sikhs.

Guru Har Gobind's career marks the turning point in Sikh history. Due to the new circumstances, Sikhism was becoming militant. The Guru carried two swords: one of spiritual power - Peeri, and the other of military power - Meeri. The Sikhs had challenged the Mughal power, and has raised the banner of revolt against a crual and corrupt administration. The martydom of Guru Arjan had not been in vain. The mission of the Sikhs henceforth was for the liberation of people from religious and political tyranny. The use of the sword as means of defence and justice became popular among the Guru's followers. In 1644, Guru Har Gobind nominated Guru Har Rai as his successor.

Return to the top of the page.

Q83. What do you know of Guru Har Rai?

Guru Har Rai(1630-1661) was installed as Guru at the age of 14. He was the grandson of Guru Har Gobind though without his military genius. Guru Har Rai was a man of peace and love. He was fond of serving the Sangat. He urged his followers to meditate on the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib and to lead a life of self-discipline.

Guru Har Rai tried to isolate himself from the intrigues of the Mughal court. Dara Shikoh came to the Guru's place and sought his blessing for success against his brother Aurangzeb. As was the tradition of the Gurus, Har Rai helped him in his distress as he would have helped any other man in difficulties. Aurangzeb captured Dara and had him executed. Emperor Aurangzeb then called the Guru to his court in connection with his alleged assistance to Dara. The Guru sent his son Ram Rai to the Mughal court. There, he worked miracles and even changed the text of a line of the Granth to please the Emperor. Guru Har Rai was so completely displeased with Ram Rai on his account that he disowned him.

Guru Har Rai was a man of great charity and generosity. Once, the ancestors of the former rulers of Patiala, Nabha and Jind came to the Guru's Darbar, crying for food and patting their bellies in token of hunger. The Guru took pity on them and blessed them. Soon thereafter, they acquired territories and became Rajahs.

Guru Har Rai loved his devotees and helped them in times of need. One day Bhai Gobind of Kabul was so engrossed in his meditation on the Guru that he held him love-fettered for the whole day. Similarly, one morning the Guru spontaneously went to the house of an old pious lady who had prepared loaves of bread for him with great devotion. Knowing that his end was near, the Guru installed his five-year old son Harkrishan as the next Guru, early in October, 1661.

Return to the top of the page.

Q84. What do you know of Guru Harkrishan?

Guru Harkrishan(1656-1664) was called upon to assume the responsibilities of leadership of the Sikh community at the tender age of five. He is known as the "Child Guru" and is specially loved and cherished by children and students.

Guru Harkrishan was a genius and showed extraordinary talents for his age. Once a Brahmin questioned him about the meaning of certain difficult passages in the Gita. He wanted to test the intellectual powers of the Guru. The Guru did not take it ill and called a passing unlettered water-carrier to expound the meaning of those passages. The Brahmin was surprised at the extraordinary exposition and wisdom of the water-carrier. A Gurdwara known as "Panjokhra Sahib" was later established at this spot.

Once Raja Jai Singh decided to seek and then test out the genius and wisdom of the child Guru. He disguised his queen as a slave and made her sit among many other women in the Guru's presence. He asked the Guru to point out which was the queen. By his extraordinary talent the Guru went directly to the queen and sat on her lap. The Raja became a devoted disciple to the Guru.

The Guru's elder brother Ram Rai complained to Emperor Aurangzeb that he had been passed over for the succession. He claimed the right of succession as the eldest son of Guru Har Rai. The emperor called Guru Harkrishan to Dehli. In response to the wishes of the Sangat, the Guru went to Dehli and while there started his mission of healing the sick. Cholera was raging in the capital at that time. The Guru brought health and happiness to many Cholera-stricken people. The Guru stayed at the place where Gurdwara Bangla Sahib now stands. Soon after, he fell ill. Asked about his successor, he gave a cryptic reply: "Baba Bakale". He meant that the next Guru would be found in the village of Bakala. He passed away on 30th March, 1664.

Return to the top of the page.

Q85. What do you know of Guru Tegh Bahadur?

Guru Harkrishan had not specifically named the Ninth Guru. So no less than 22 imposters who called themselves Guru set themselves up in the village of Bakala. Bhai Makhan Shah, a Lubana went to Bakala to discover the real Guru, there by personal testimony, he discovered Guru Tegh Bahadur and proclaimed him as the Ninth Guru in 1664.

Guru Tegh Bahadur's life (1621-1675) may be divided into three periods: the first period of 23 years spent at Amritsar along with his father, the second period of 19 years was spent in quiet meditation at Bakala and the third period of 11 years he travelled exclusively in eastern India and then the Punjab.

Dhirmal, a nephew of Guru Tegh Bahadur was extremely jealous of and angry with the Guru. He wanted to kill the Guru. So he sent a number of dacoits to plunder the Guru's house. Sihan one of them, shot the Guru and injured his shoulder. The next morning, the Sikhs captured Sihan and brought him to the temple. The Guru pardoned him and set him free. The Guru Said: "Forgiveness is a great virtue."

Some Kashmiri Hindus who were being forced to accept Islam came to Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur. The Guru agreed to sacrifice his life for the protection of the Hindus. The Hindu pandits sent a message to Emperor Aurangzeb that if Guru Tegh Bahadur accepted Islam, they would follow his example.

Emperor Aurangzeb ordered the imprisonment of Guru Tegh Bahadur. He told him either to accept Islam or to show a miracle. The Guru refused to do either. With regard to the performance of a miracle the Guru said: "Is it not a great miracle that the emperor forgets his own death, while inflicting it on others?"

Aurangzeb ordered the Guru's execution. The executioner Adam Shah dealt the blow after the Guru had finished a recitation of "Japji". The head of the Guru fell into the lap of a Sikh who took it to Anandpur. The body was cremated by a Lubana Sikh at the place where now stands Gurdwara Rakabganj. Guru Tegh Bahadur's martydom is unique, he gave his life not for the preservation of Sikhism, but to pretect the Hindu religion. His was the second martydom in Sikh history.

Return to the top of the page.

Q86. What do you know of Guru Gobind Singh?

Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) was installed as the Tenth Guru at the age of nine, soon after the martyrdom of his father. He knew that difficult times were ahead, particularly struggle against the Mughal imperialism. He, therefore, made preparations to meet the Mughal challenge, by training his disciples in the art of warfare.

Guru Gobind Singh has four-fold achievements in his credit: (a) the crushing blow dealt to the Mughal power, (b) the creation of Khalsa Panth, (c) the production of creative and martial literature, (d) the installation of the Adi Granth as the Guru Granth Sahib and the perpetual Guru for the Sikhs.

Guru Gobind Singh was a true patriot. He upheld the dignity of man and opposed the tryanny and fanaticism of Aurangzeb. Emperor Aurangzeb made no secret of spreading Islam by force. Guru Gobind Singh with his warriors had to fight on two fronts-against the hill Rajahs and the Mughal army. His victories in the battle of Bhangani(1687) and Nadaun(1689) undermined both the powers of the hill Rajahs and the Mughals. He sacrificed his four sons, wife and mother for the sake of upholding the cause of justice and freedom. Guru Gobind Singh exposed the evil deeds of the emperor in a poetic letter to Aurangzeb, entitled Zafarnama.

The Guru was a literary giant and a patron of poets. The bards of his court composed epics and martial verses, to inspire the Sikhs to acts of glory and valour.

Guru Gobind Singh abolished the order of massands-missionaries because of their misdeeds. He further ordered the end of personal Gurudom, and declared Sri Guru Granth Sahib as an eternal Guru.

The creation of the Khalsa Panth in 1699 was another feat of genius. He conceived the idea of raising an army from men belonging to the lower castes and regarded as weak and depressed. He in turn also had his disciples administer Amrit to him. Guru Gobind Singh died from a mortal wound inflicted by two Pathans in 1708. Later Gurdwara Abchal Nagar, was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Nanded on the spot where the Guru departed his mortal life.

Return to the top of the page.

Q87. What do you know of Banda Singh?

Banda Singh (1670-1716) was born at Rajouri in Jammu State. He was known as Lachman Dev in his childhood. Soon after a hunt, he turned ascetic: A Bairagi, and took the name of Madho Das. He settled down at Nanded. He became a devotee of the Guru in September 1708 and sought his blessings. Guru Gobind Singh gave him a sword, five arrows, a flag and a battle drum and asked him to follow the five commandments mentioned below:

Remain a celibate: do not marry at all.

Speak the truth and act on it.

Serve and obey the Khalsa Panth.

Do not establish a new sect or have yourself set up as a king.

Be humble and not haughty.

Taking twenty five Sikhs with him, Banda Singh proceeded to the Punjab to punish the enemies of the Khalsa Panth. He attacked Samana in November 1709. Thereafter, Wazir Khan the Nawab of Sarhind was killed in the battle of Chaper Chiri on 12th May, 1710.

Banda Singh was crowned at Lahgarh and struck coins in the name of the Guru. He allowed his Muslim subjects to follow their religious customs and practices. Soon afterwards, he extended his sway over Pathankot.

The Mughal emperor was perturbed by the conquests of Banda Singh and sent a big army to crush him, Banda Singh was besieged at Gurdas Nangal. After an eight-month siege, he and his followers were captured on 7th Dec. 1715.

Banda Singh was tortured to death on 7th June 1716. It is said that Banda Singh confessed that he deserved his fate for transgressing the commands of Guru Gobind Singh.

Banda Singh's challenge to the Mughal power showed that the Khalsa had broken the reputation of Mughal invincibility. Given another chance, they could perhaps lay the foundations of a Sikh empire. The opportunity came in 1799, when Ranjit Singh established Sikh rule in the Punjab.

Return to the top of the page.

Q88. What do you know of Maharaja Ranjit Singh?

Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) was a member of the Sukerchakia misal. From early childhood, he was fond of riding and hunting. Taking advantage of the unsettled conditions in the Punjab, he expelled Chet Singh of Bhangi misal from Lahore and crowned as Maharaja. He captured Amritsar in 1802 and thereafter assumed full sovereignty over petty chiefs of Malwa. He crossed the Sutlej for extension of his dominion but the chiefs of Jind and Kaithal appealed to the British for help against Ranjit Singh. The British made a treaty with Ranjit Singh in 1809, declaring the Sutlej river as his frontier. In 1818, Ranjit Singh annexed Multan and a year later, Kashmir lay at his feet. He proceeded northward and annexed Peshawar in 1834.

Ranjit Singh is known as the lion of the Punjab. He was born soldier and administrator. Sir Lepal Griffin called him, "The beau ideal of a soldier, strong, spare, active, courageous and enduring." He had a lot of common sense and ruled him empire with justice and wisdom. It is surprising that he abolished the death penality in those turbulent times. He was very tolerant ruler; the public offices were held by Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus on equal terms. He picked men of ability and character for administration and encouraged budding talent. His royal court was cosmopolitan in character. He employed European officers to train his army on modern lines.

Ranjit Singh as a Sikh, created endowments for religious uses and alloted land to Hindu, Muslim and Sikh shrines for their upkeep. He was a strict disciplinarian and used to move in disguise to look after his subjects.

Ranjit Singh gave the Punjab a good and enlightened administration. He prohibited traffic in women and children. He patronised artists and warriors. He dispensed justice impartially. He was fond of the joys of life but never neglected public affairs for personal pleasure. It is significant that he gave a period of peace and efficient administration to the Punjab and checked the aggressive designs of the British power in Northern India.

Return to the top of the page.

Q89. What do you know of Bhai Vir Singh?

Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) was the most important writer and theologian in Punjabi who expounded Sikh history and philosophy for more than fifty years. He is regarded as the Bhai Gurdas of the twentienth century. His most important works are Guru Nanak Chamatkar, Kalgidhar Chamatkar, Baba Nodh Singh and Meray Saeeyan jeeo.

Bhai Vir Singh's creative talent was recognized by the government and the Punjab university. He was given the title of Padam Shri by the Gov. of India and a Honorary Doctorate by the Punjab University. H. Chattopadhaya called him the "sixth river in the land of the five rivers." His poetry possesses the sublimity of Milton, the spontaneity of Wordsworth, the music of Tagore and the mysticism of Yeats. He was the 'finest flower' in the renaissance of modern Punjab.

Bhai Vir Singh was very versatile. He was poet, novelist and critic. He found spiritual lessons in the objects of Nature. The Kikar Tree is a symbol of the spiritual seeker who must face the slings and arrows of worldly people. His poetry throbs with the longing of the individual soul to rejoin the Universal Soul. The hurdle between man and God is the Ego. Once that is subdued, man may meet God, face to face. He would find beauty and God's presence in the ordinary things of life. He believed man could find peace and bliss through self control and spiritual effort.

Dr. Vir Singh was also a historical novelist. His important works in this genre are Sundri, Bijay Singh and Satwant Kaur. Their popularity, is such that they have been reprinted many times.

Dr. Vir Singh sang of the struggles of the village folk. He wrote poems on freedom and patriotism. Bhai Vir Singh was not only a philosopher but also a stylist. Even his prose captures the dignity and harmony of poetry. Kalgidhar Chamatkar is full of purple passages. A registered society, Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, is now busy publishing his works and popularising them among the masses. His centenary was celebrated in India and abroad in 1972.

Return to the top of the page.

Q90. What do you know of Sikh Paintings?

The Sikh school of painting is a distinct contribution to Indian art. The School originated in the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a liberal patron of arts. He also employed artists who decorate and panel the Golden Temple, Amritsar.

According to W.G. Archer, there are three distict branches of the Sikh School: Guler Paintings, Kangra Paintings and Lahore Paintings. Guler became a part of Ranjit Singh's kingdom in 1813. Guler artists who had worked earlier on Rajput themes, now began to experiment with Sikh themes like the portrait of Sikh Gurus and Sikh dignitaries. The Kangra painters, when Kangra came under the control of Raja Sher Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, portrayed Sikhs as aristocrats and lovers. The Lohore painters specialized in portrait of water color miniatures. Schoefft, a hungarian artist, drew sketches of the Golden Temple in the days of Raja Sher Singh. Between the fall of the Sikh empire and the twenties of this present century, flourished Sikh painters like Kishen Singh of Kapurthala, Bishan Singh of Amritsar and Kapur Singh.

Sikh painting is primarily of portraiture. It deals with historical characters and historical events. Sikh portraiture developed from the political struggle and it is through understanding the roles which certain individuals played, that we can understand their significance in painting.

One of the outstanding painters was Amrita Shergill (1913-41). Another artist named Gian Singh did a good deal of fresco painting on the inner walls and arches of the Golden Temple. His work in human, religous, floral and zoological motifs may be seen on the roof and corridors of the Temple. His technique is called Mohra Qashi.

Amongh contemporary painters, S.G. Thakur Singh and Sobha Singh are prominent. S. Kirpal Singh has executed a number of large canvas paintings for the S.G.P.C. He has dealt particularly with themes of the persecution of the Sikhs by the Mughal Governments in the 17th and 18th centuries. An exhibition of paintings of Guru Nanak was held in November, 1965, at Dehli by the "1969 Group." Mr. W.G. Archer has printed 119 plates in his book entitled Paintings of the Sikhs London (1966). The latest book entitled Sikh Portraits by European Artists, and edited by F.S. Aijzuddin also throws light on social and cultural leaders of the Punjab.

Return to the top of the page.

Q91. Give a brief history of the Golden Temple?

Guru Ramdas wanted to give the Sikhs a central place of worship. For this reason he founded a township, called after his name in 1577. In 1589, Guru Arjan requested a Muslim divine named Mian Mir, to lay the foundation of the Sikh Temple. This is known as Har Mandar - God's House - popularly called the Golden Temple. The temple is an example of religious emotion exemplified in marble, glass, colour and gold. The shrine is encircled by a beautiful artificial lake: "The pool of nectar - Amritsar". The reflections of the Temple building in the water strikingly magnify the artistic concept of the whole structure.

The other seat of Sikh Power called 'Akal Takhat' was started in 1609 by Guru Hargobind for the holding of Diwans (Congregations) and other special celebrations. It was partly rebuilt after the army attack in June 1984.

The Muslim Governor of Lahore took possession of the temple in 1736. Bhai Mani Singh made an attempt to hold a special Diwali Diwan in the temple in 1768. This proved unsuccessful and cost him his life. Lakhpat Rai, the commandar of Mughal forces, occupied Amritsar in 1741.

Ahmed Shah Durrani attacked Amritsar on 10th April, 1762, damaged the temple and desecrated the tank. The Sikhs avenged this sacrilege by attacking the rear of his army.

The Golden Temple is regarded as an outstanding example of "Sikh architecture". It combines in its own right Hindu and Islamic features. Its styling adapts Moghul design with elaborations. Among its typical external features are four chhattries or kiosks which ornament the corners of Har Mandar's base. Inverted and guilded lotus flowers form its domes. Use is also made of oriel windows with shallow elliptic cornices supported on brackets. The arches are enriched with inlaid semiprecious stone foliations while the inner walls in addition to guilding and foliations also carry fresco paintings using the technique of Mohra Qashi (it is a special kind of decoration plaster).

The present temple and its decorations were undertaken in the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He donated many precious articles. The Golden Temple came under popular control in November 1920. The recent broadening of the Parkarma and the development of the Central Sikh Museum have added to the attractions of the temple. The desilting of the tank was last done in 1973. Special celebrations were held in the Golden Temple in Oct. 1977 on the 400th Foundation Day of the city of Amritsar. The army attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984 has left scars on the super-structure.

Return to the top of the page.

Q92. Give an account of the Singh Sabha Movement?

The originn or the Singh Sabha Movement lay in the realization by the Sikh leaders of the Eighteen seventies (last century) that Sikhism was dominated by Hindu practices and should be reformed to accord with the ideals of the Sikh Gurus. The movement was also reacting to the proselytizing activities of the Christian missionaries and the Hindu Arya Samaj movement in the Punjab.

The immediate cause of the beginning of the movement was the decision of four Sikh students of the Amritsar Mission School, early in 1873, to embrace Christianity. It gave a rude shock to the Sikh leaders. They succeeded in persuading these students to change their decisions and to continue living as Sikhs. A meeting of Sikh leaders, including prominent Gianis, Nirmalas and Udasis was held in Amritsar, on 1st Oct, 1873. As a result of their deliberations, a society named "Sri Guru Singh Sabha" was constituted and registered under existing law. The objectives of the Singh Sabha movement were to propagate the principles of Sikhism in its pure form, to remove untouchability, to perform Sikh ceremonies at the time of birth, marriage and death, to publish literature on the Sikh religion and history, to popularize the teaching of Gurmukhi, to reclaim apostates (patits) and to provide secondary and higher education to Sikhs and others.

As the movement gathered momentum branches were started in Lahore and other major towns of the Punjab. Under the leadership of Bhai Gurmukh Singh, it got Punjabi and Gurmukhi recognized as subjects of study at the college level. It also started a Punjabi weekly in 1880 called "Gurmukhi Akhbar". Thereafter, Singh Sabhas sprang up all over India and reorganized Sikh missionary work in their areas by encouraging Ragi-groups and training preachers.

The Centenary of the Singh Sabha movement was celebrated in 1973 by the Singh Sabha Shatabdi Committee, in Amritsar. Now it has a permanent form and it is called the Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha with a Head Office in Amritsar and Administrative Office in New Dehli. It has also opened a regional Office for the U.K. Sikhs in London. It has organized a number of Seminars on Sikh themes and conventions all over India. It has also produced a lot of literature in Punjabi, expounding the doctrines and practices of Sikhism. It issues a monthly magazine in Gurmukhi called Singh Sabha Patrika. Recently it exposed the hypocrisies, heresies and criminal and malicious, activities of the Nirankari sect. It has started a missionaryy school at Mehrauli which offers a three-year course in Sikhism including Gurbani, Kirtan, History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion.

Return to the top of the page.

Q93. What do you know of the Chief Khalsa Diwan?

As early as 1873 a movement was started in the Punjab for protecting the Rights of the Sikhs and for maintaining the prestige and purity of the Sikh faith. It was originally part of the Singh Sabha Movement. It became necessary to have a central organization to co-ordinate the activities of local Singh Sabhas. A big religous congregation was held on 30th October, 1902, at Amritsar, for this purpose. At this meeting the "Chief Khalsa Diwan" was formed. It was registered under the Societies Registratic Act of 1869, on the 9th July, 1904. The founder of the Diwan-Sir Sunder Singh Majithia, gathered around him sincere and zealous workers like Bhia Vir Singh, S. Harbans Singh of Attari, S. Trilochan Singh and Principle Jodh Singh.

The aim of the Diwan was four-fold: (i) to promote the social, economic and moral uplift of the Sikhs, (ii) to propagate the message of Sikhism, (iii) to remove illiteracy, (iv) to protect the political rights of the Sikhs and ensure the redress of their grievances, by constitutional means. The constitution of the Diwan provides for a broad based representation of the four Takhats, the Singh Sabhas and the missionary associations.

The Diwan has had considerable success in the cultural and educational fields. The educational committee of the Diwan, started in January, 1908, has held annual sessions of the All India Sikh educational Conference. The Diwan has a large number of educational institutions under its management. A high percentage of literacy among the Sikhs, is an of-shoot of the educational effort of the Diwan. It has redressed many Sikh grievances against the discrimination of Sikhs in government services.

The Chief Khalsa Diwan actively encouraged the production of Punjabi literature. The Sikh Tract Society was affiliated to the Diwan. it took a leading part in the movements for the carrying of the Kirpan and Achhut Udhar. It also runs the Central Khalsa Orphanage, Homeopathic Hospital, Khalsa Parcharak Vidyalaya and Khalsa Hospital, Tarn Taran. Examining its past record, the Diwan provides a useful service to the Panth.

Return to the top of the page.

Q94. What do you know of the Gurdwara Reform Movement?

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Sikhs felt a need to recapture the glory of the Sikh faith by following its traditions. The Singh Sabha Movement had earlier prepared the ground for a revival of the Sikhism. Many of the old and historical Gurdwaras were under the control of the Mahants - professional priests. They used the offerings and income for their personal use. The aim of the Gurdwaras Reform Movement - Akali Laher was to liberate the Gurdwaras from the arbitrary control of Mahants and to bring them under popular control. The Government and other vested interests, were against this popular movement. So the Sikhs had to undergo lots of hardship and terrible suffering in order to improve the administration of their religous shrines.

This popular movement gathered momentum with the Parchar of the Akalis. Moreover, the democratic principles of the Sikh Religion, under the extravagance and immorality of the Mahants, the need for removal of untouchablity and the utilisation of Gurdwara funds for educational and charitable purposes, were responsible for its mass-appeal.

Perhaps, the first incident which focussed public attention on the need to improve the Gurdwara was the famous Rakabganj case in 1914. The Government had demolished a part of the Gurdwara wall for the purpose of road-making. The Sikhs had to start an agitation to oppose this; ultimately the Government had to yield to public opinion.

The establishment of the Sikh League in 1919 helped the Gurdwara Reform Movement. The Sikhs practised peaceful non-cooperation with the Government. They demanded popular control of the Golden Temple and the Khalsa College, Amritsar. The Government transferred the management of the Khalsa College to a Sikh Managing Committee. The Sikh conference held at Amritsar in 1920 appointed a Committee for the management of Sikh temples.

The tragedies of Nankana Sahib (1921) Panja Sahib, Guru-ka-Bagh and Jaito brought untold misery to the Sikhs. Ultimately the Punjab Government acceded to its demands and passed the Sikh Gurdwara Act on 6th July, 1925. Thus finally bringing Sikh temples under the control of elected representative.

Return to the top of the page.

Q95. What do you know of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee?

The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee popularly known as the SGPC- is a statutory body constituted under an Act of the Punjab Legislature passed on 9th July 1925. It is invested with certain duties regarding the administration of Gurdwaras, educational programmes and the propagation of the Sikh faith. Its Dharam Parchar Committee is specifically meant for the publication of literature on Sikhism. It has produced a number of books and tracts on Sikhism in English and modern Indian languages.

The SGPC controls the golden Temple, the Langar attached to it, Guru Ramdas Nivas and Guru Ramdas Hospital, Amritsar. It also manages the Khalsa College Bombay, Mata Gujri College, Fatehgarh Sahib, Bhupindra Khalsa High School, Moga, Shri Guru Ramdas Khalsa High School, Amritsar and Guru Nanak Girls Higher Secondary School, Amritsar. It runs the Shahid Sikh Missions at Aligarh, Burhanpur and Hapur. In addition, the SGPC employs teams of Ragis and missionaries for the propagation of the Sikh faith in the Punjab and U.P. It also looks after the interests of those Sikh farmers who have settled in Ganganagar (Rajasthan) and Terai (U.P.)

The SGPC awards divinity scholarships to students who win the top positions in competitive examinations held every year. It provides teams and aid for Amrit Parchar. It has recently established a Central Sikh Museum where heir-looms, old manuscripts and paintings are displayed. The Central Sikh Ithas Research Board is one of its main departments. It also maintains a research and reference library on Sikh history.

Recently, the SGPC lent its support to the movement for the formation of a Punjabi State on a linguistic basis. The Central Government agreed to the linguistic division of Punjab and the new Punjab State was thus formed in November 1966.

Return to the top of the page.

Q96. What is the contribution of the Sikhs to the struggle for India's independence?

The part played by the Sikhs in the overthrow of British rule was significant. Recently it has been established that the first and second Sikh Wars were fought to prevent the British aggression in the Punjab.

After the fall of the Punjab, the Sikhs felt a nostalgia for the glories and achievements of the Sikh rule of Ranjit Singh's time. As early as 1860, Baba Ram Singh, leader of the Kuka or Namdhari movement, raised the banner of revolt against the British regime. Ram Singh was deported to Rangoon where he died in 1885. More than 66 of his followers were blown away from the guns in 1872 without any trial, by Mr. Cowan - a British civil servant.

In January, 1909, Indian leaders held a public meeting in Caxton Hall, London, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. There it was proclaimed that Sikhs all over the world should start an agitation for the liberation of India. In response to this clarion call, the Sikhs who had settled in foreign counteries decided to continue the freedom struggle. In 1913, more than 200 Indians, mostly Sikhs, founded the well-known Ghadar Party in California to liberate India from the British yoke, by force of arms. Baba Gurdit Singh chartered a Japanese ship called Komagata Maru in 1913 and sailed with about 300 Indian nationals to Vancouver. The passangers were not allowed to disembark on the west coast of Canada and were subjected to many hardships. After two months of suffering, the passengers were made to land at Calcutta. Their procession was fired upon and more than 21 Sikhs lost their lives. The remaining Sikhs were arrested and sent to the Punjab.

The Sikhs again bore the brunt of General O'Dyer's persecution. In the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre (1919), more than 400 Sikhs lost their lives. The Sikhs took a leading role in the Indian National Army raised by Subhash Chandra Bose in 1942 for the liberation of India. General Mohan Singh organized the Sikh population of Malaysia and took part in the expulsion of British forces in South-East Asia. The Sikhs also took an active part in 'Quit India' movement in 1942. It is therefore, correct to say that the contribution of the Sikhs to freedom struggle has been substantial and significant.

Return to the top of the page.

Q97. What do you know of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Chandigarh?

Guru Gobind Singh Foundation was set up in Chandigarh in 1965 in order to organize the 300th Birth-anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh and to implement suitable projects in memory of the Tenth Guru. The Punjab Government gave a seed-grant of Rupees 12 lakhs, and donations were collected from the public both for the celebration in 1966-67 and the establishment of suitable useful institutions. At the initiative of the Foundation, the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh were received from U.K. in Delhi on 1st january 1966, and they were displayed at various places throughout India.

The 300th birthday of Guru Gobind Singh which fell on 17th January 1967 was celebrated by Sikhs all over the world. Special functions were held in historical Gurdwaras and other places connected with the Tenth Guru. The G.G.S. Foundation published more than a dozen books on the life and work of Guru Gobind Singh in English and Punjabi. The main projects and achievements of the Foundation are as under:

(i) Guru Gobind Singh Bhawan, Chandigarh, constucted on a four-acre plot provides a library, a book-store, a multi-purpose air-conditioned hall and seminar rooms.
(ii) Guru Nanak College was established at Madras in 1969 from generous grants given by the Foundation.
(iii) Guru Nanak Public School, Chandigarh was established at a cost of Rupees 8 lakhs.
(iv) A writers' Home called "Vidyasa" at a cost of Rupees 4.5 lakhs was established at Paonta Sahib (Himachal Pradesh). It provides a library and guest house for scholars.
(v) The Foundation provided funds for the constructions of an Operation Theatre in the Ghani Khan Nabi Khan Hospital at Machiwara.
(vi) The Foundation took a leading part in the inaugaration of Guru Gobind Marg (national Highway) in 1973 and provided funds for the construction of a number of pillars on the route called "Dashmesh Pillars".
The Foundation organizes lectures and seminars on Sikhism from time to time. it hosts the All-India Sikh Education conference in 1981.

Return to the top of the page.

Q98. What do you know of Guru Nanak Foundation, New Dehli?

Guru Nanak Foundation was set up in 1965 to organize the Quincentenary celebrations of the birthday of Guru Nanak scheduled for 1969, and to promote Guru Nanak's teachings. The Government of India gave a special grant to the Foundation for the establishment of Guru Nanak Institute of Comparative Religions aaand a department of musicology at Dehli. The Foundation has both Sikhs and non-Sikhs on its Governing Body, consisting of 51 members.

The Foundation's activities and achievements are listed below:

  1. Promotion of Sikh studies through Gurmat College, Patiala, which is affiliated to Punjabi University, Patiala for the M.A. Degree in Religous Studies.
  2. Preparation of L.P. Records of Guru Nanak's Hymns in classical ragas. So far eight records have been released.
  3. Establishment of Guru Nanak Public library for the benefit of scholars and the public.
  4. Holding of seminars on Sikhism from time to time.
  5. Financial support for scholars working at the Institute for the Ph.D. Degree of Punjab University. Junior and senior scholarships are given to research students.
  6. Publication of over 20 books on Guru Nanak in English, Hindi and Punjabi.
  7. Guru Nanak Memorial lectures: This is an annual feature and distinguished scholars are invited for lectures which are published later by the Foundation.
  8. Inter-school Gurbani competition and Inter-college essay competition.
  9. Preparation of a pictorial history of the Sikhs.
  10. Publication of a bi-annual journal called "Studies in Sikhism and comparative religion." Three volumes have been published so far.
  11. Establishment of a Sikh reference Library for collecting manuscripts and rare data is under the consideration of the Foundation.
  12. An international Conference on "Religion and Peace" was organized by the Foundation in its auditorium in February 1985.
Return to the top of the page.

Q99. What do you know of Pingalwara, Amritsar?

Pingalwara literally means a home for the crippled. However, this institution caters to the needs of the handicapped, the insane and the terminally sick. It is primarily a rescue-home for the poor, helpless and maimed.

The promotor of the Pingalwara is Bhagat Puran Singh, a selfless and dedicated Sikh. He was born in Lahore and used to do voluntary service at Gurdwara Dera Sahib. He would clear the streets of Lahore and cremate the unclaimed dead. He took care of the destitute and took the sick to the hospital for treatment.

After the partition of India in 1947, Bhagat Puran Singh set up a centre at Amritsar. First, he had a few tents to accommodate the poor and the sick. Soon he got a plot of land and constructed a three story building to house 250 patients. The unclaimed bodies of those who die in Pingalwara are taken to the local medical college for teaching anatomy. Pingalwara receives grants from the government, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committe, Amritsar and smiilar charitable institutions. Sikhs, both in India and abroad, collect funds and send them to the Pingalwara. Bhagat Puran Singh is an institution in himself. He is an unassuming and dedicated Sikh, who reminds one of Bhai Kanhiya, a Sikh of the Tenth Guru. Puran Singh is a true Sikh in the old tradition and has won public esteem for his humanitarian work all over India. He is called by various epithets - 'Mother Tereasa of Punjab', 'the bearded saint of Amritsar', 'Bhai Kanhiya of the twentieth century'.

Recently Bhagat Puran Singh got a cash reward of Rs. 20,000 from the punjab Government and he donated it to the Pingalwara. He is hopeful of carrying on his selfless work until the end of his life. At the age of eighty, he maintians a busy schedule of service till late in the night. He has no worry about funds for the institute. He similingly declares, "This is God's work, and I feel confident that He will look after it." This institute is a registered charity and will continue to function after Bhagat Puran Singh's passing away.

Return to the top of the page.

Q100. Give an account of the Sikh-residents abroad?

Early in the twentieth century, many Sikhs migrated to British Columbia (Canada) to improve their economic prospects. However, on account of racial trouble, they had to face severe hardships, most were engaged in lumbering and the timber trade. Some of them migrated to the south in California (U.S.A.). They initially worked as farm-labourers and were later allowed to buy land after a great struggle. Wherever they settled, they opened Gurdwaras for the benefit of visitors and new settlers, these also served as community-centres.

After the partition of India in 1947, many Sikhs migrated from West Pakistan and settled in different counteries. Professional Sikhs like doctors, teachers and engineers settled in the big cities of Canada and USA. Uprooted farmers from the West Punjab went to North California in large number and settled round Stockton and Yuba city. They also brought their relatives and friends from the Doaba region of the Punjab. Now they own big ranches and orchards in California.

In 1969, Sardar Harbhajan Singh Puri of Delhi migrated to Canada and was subsequently thrown out of the country, he then went to Los Angeles and started Yoga classes there. He was able to get a large number of Americal students interested in Yoga. By and by, he introduced them to a form of Sikhism. He called his movement 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy organization). It spread all over the U.S.A. and a number of Ashrams were established. Many of his American Sikhs became the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh with yogiji as their head. They set up their own communities in Ashrams and participated in the cultural and economic life of important cities. The Sikh Dharma Brotherhood and the Khalsa Council of the Western Hemisphere were established to carry the message of the Gurus to peoples of the West. The number of American Sikhs is on the increase.

Originally Sikhs came to Great Britain to study. However, after 1947, Sikhs from Punjab migrated in large numbers to the industrial centres like London, Birminghan and West Yorkshire to work as labourers and technicians in factories. Today the Sikhs have their largest concentrations in Ealing, Southall and Eastham in Greater London. They have now more than two hundred Gurdwaras in the U.K. and some of the being run by Ramgarhia community and others. Sikh children born and educated here are torn between two cultures - the culture of their parents and the culture of England. There is a great need to educate them on their rich parental heritage and Sikh tradition. Seminars, group discussions and literature written in English are of great use to Sikh youth in understanding their religion and culture. During the last ten years, many Sikhs from Africa mostly from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have also settled in Britain and have taken up various jobs, and some have opened shops and ware-houses. The population of Sikh today in U.K. is about a quarter of million.

A third concentration of Sikhs abroad is in Malaysia and the Far East. There they work as doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, in the Police and the Army. They play an important role in the political, economic and social and cultural life of the cities in which they live in. In Malaysia, they have Gurdwaras in Kaulalumpur, Seramban, Perak, Penang, Kedah, Sarawak and other places. The Sikhs settled in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong also have Gurdwaras there. They donate liberally to local charitable institutions. The Singapore Sikhs have set up a Sikh Resource Centre at Gurdwara Katong. Apart from distributing Sikh literature, this centre recently helped in the publication of books on 'Sikh studies' for the G.C.E. Cambridge Course. Two text-books have been issued by the Sikh Advisory Board and two more for teachers will be published soon. A one-week seminar for teachers of Sikh studies was held in Singapore in September 1985. It is not possible to enumberate the achievements of the Sikhs in these various regions. The total number of Sikhs settled abroad is over one million. They are loyal to the countries in which they live but they look to Punjab and its traditions, for spiritual inspiration.
Previous Chapter - Principles
Next Chapter - Sacred Literature

Return to the top of the page.

Copyright (©)2003 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.