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The Sikhs of Punjab

In the not so distant past, people of foreign origin were not just visiting Punjab for commerce and trade but were permanently settling here, such was the attraction of these rich and fertile lands! Punjab is the homeland of the Sikhs and Guru Nanak is the founder of Sikhism. The birth of Sikhism is deeply connected with the history of Punjab. With the decline of the Lodhi empire in the fifteenth century, extreme lawlessness started to prevail in northern India. The political turmoil of this age started to breach the peaceful coexistence of the muslim and the hindu communities that had been carefully preserved and nurtured by the Sufi and Bhakti movements. Nanak was troubled by this rift and felt inspired to enhance the prevailing belief system based on the already existing principles of Islam and Hinduism. The disciples of Nanak, who were from both the communities (muslims and hindus), became the first sikhs. (Sikh is derived from the sanskrit word "shishya" that means "pupil of a Guru"). Nanak accepted his status primarily as a teacher (Guru) or Spiritual Guide and made no claims of being either a god (of the hindus) or a prophet (of the muslims). The Sikhs were guided by Ten Gurus and Guru Nanak was the first amongst them. The divinely inspired Guru Nanak declared his role as a Spiritual Guide only. Therefore, the Guru was well protected against any other role that the people of the rift (Hindu-Muslim Divide of the 15th Century) may assign to him. While stressing upon the importance of having a Spiritual Mentor, Guru Nanak averred before his followers that he was a servant of God

Origins of Sikhism

Guru Nanak, the first Spiritual Guide of the Sikhs, appeared in the fifteenth century. In this period, the hindu-muslim divide was a senseless and violent religious segregation based merely on the practice of rituals that was devoid of spiritual development or any higher purpose. Guru Nanak wanted his disciples to recognize the Spirit of Life that is present within all classes of people, irrespective of their religion. Guru Nanak preached a fundamentally unifying Truth: "There is One Supreme God, the Creator, the most Benevolent One." The primary purpose of Sikhism is inner Spiritual Development by doing away with senseless rituals and assigning less importance to classification by caste, creed, color, race, etc. Since the disciples of the Guru were drawn from different faiths, the tenth Guru Gobind Singh formulated a unique dress-code by means of which the Sikhs could easily recognize those whose Spiritual Guides were also the Ten Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh, the last Guru of this order of ten, instructed his disciples (the Sikhs) to refer to the Adi Granth for Spiritual Guidance in the future.

Even though Guru Nanak used several names for God, he believed that the power that is God cannot be defined because God is formless. Here are some verses of Guru Nanak on the formless nature of God:

Thou hast a million eyes, yet no eye hast Thou.
Thou hast a million forms, yet no form hast Thou.
Thou hast a million feet, yet no feet hast Thou.
Thou art without odour, yet millions of odours emanate from Thee.
With such charms, O Lord, hast Thou bewitchd me.
Thy light prevades everywhere.
Dhanasari

Guru Nanak on Impurity:
Impurity of the heart is greed,
Of tongue, untruth,
Impurity of the eye is coveting
Another's wealth, his wife, her comeliness.
Impurity of the ears is listening to calumny.

With the above background details, the Profile of Guru Nanak can now be better understood, and is summarized below:

Profile of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism
Name:

Guru Nanak

Birth:

Born on 15-Apr-1469 at Talwandi (now Nankana Sahib) near Lahore, Punjab.
Expired on 22-Sep-1539 (may God's blessings & peace be upon him) in Kartarpur, a township on the banks of river Ravi in Punjab.

Parentage:

Father: Mehta Kalian Das Bedi; Mother: Tripta (from village Nanke); Sister: Nanki.

Family:

Wife: Sulakhni (daugher of Mool Chand of Batala); Sons: (i) Sri Chand (elder son); (ii) Lakhmi Das (younger son).

Education:

At the age of seven sent to a hindu pandit to learn the alphabet and numerals. At the age of nine sent to a muslim mullah to learn persian and arabic.

Profession:

Accountant with Nawab Daulat Khan Lodhi in Sultanpur.

Primary Interests:

Guru Nanak was also a poet of uncommon senstivity. He spent a large amount of time discussing spiritual matters with wandering hermits and applying such knowledge to solve social problems of the day.

Key Friends:

Mardana, a muslim ministrel who joined Nanak at Sultanpur in organizing the singing of hymns in town. Mardana also joined Guru Nanak in some of his extensive travels to holy places.

Travel History:

The Janamsakhi describes these travels to holy places in great details. Guru Nanak travelled extensively, both within and outside of the Indian subcontinent. Here are some of the places he visited:
Eastern India: Mathura, Benares, Gaya, Bengal, Assam, Jagganath Puri.
Southern India: Tamil Nadu, Ceylon.
Western India: Malabar, Konkai, Bombay, Rajasthan.
Himalayas: The Himalayas right up to Ladakh.
Outside the Indian subcontinent: The last long journey of Guru Nanak was to Mecca & Madina. On his return via Saidpur (a town plundered by Babar), Guru Nanak preached in different towns of Punjab and finally settled in Kartarpur (Kartarpur means abode of the Creator).
At the hindu holy sites, Guru Nanak held long discussions with local pandits. He spent several days with sufi saints including Sheikh Sharaf and Sheikh Ibrahim at Pak Patta and Multan. Later, the substance of these discourses was put down in writing by the Guru.

Dress Code:

The garb of Guru Nanak during his travels was described as outlandish. His clothing was a combination of styles of hindu Sadhus and muslim Fakirs.

Favorite Disciple:

Disciple Lehna was chosen by Guru Nanak to carry forward his mission and he was given the new name of Angad, where Angad means my own limbs. Guru Angad became the second Guru of the Sikhs. (Sri Chand, the elder son of Guru Nanak became an ascetic. Lakhmi Das, the younger son of Guru Nanak did not have much interest in spiritual matters.)

Final Note:

Guru Nanak became one of the most influential spiritual teachers of Punjab. Guru Nanak (founder of Sikhism) is also remembered as a Guru of the Hindus and Pir of the Muslims. In his forty years as a teacher, he set up many centres promoting his mission. The message of Guru Nanak, being in the Punjabi language, took its strongest hold in Punjab. After translation into multiple languages, along with the spread of the Sikh diaspora across the globe, the message of Guru Nanak came to be respected world-wide.

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