General Category: History. (Standalone Page for Sikhs, Punjab)

The Sikhs of Punjab

About the Sikhs and Punjab their Homeland

An Introduction to the Sikhs of Punjab

Punjab, the land of Five Rivers

Indus Valley Civilization

The Indian Civilization is one of the oldest in the world. Archaeologists estimate that settled life appeared around the fertile belt of the Indus river about 9,000 (nine thousand) years ago. The cradle of this ancient Indus Valley Civilization was in the Punjab. Upto a few hundred years ago Punjab was dominated by Forts. Ruins of ancient castles still emerge out of the rubble every now and then.

Was Punjab inhabited by Man almost Five Million Years Ago?

Hunting tools (spears, etc.) have been found in the region of Rawalpindi, Punjab. These ancient tools are believed to be at least three to five millions years old by archaeologists. This may sound too far fetched. However, copper and bronze agricultural tools unearthed on both sides of the Indus river do prove the existence of organized rural communities in this region up to around 25,000 years ago. In the 1920s archaeological remains of Mohenjodaro (Sindh) and Harappa (southern Punjab) civilization were found that include pottery, sculpture, jewelry, intricately carved seals, etc. The ruins discovered reveal that these Indus Valley people lived in brick-baked buildings. Multi-storey houses were also found with marble baths. These cities flourished in the period between 2500 BC and 1500 BC.

Punjab - (PUNJ-AB: Land of Five Rivers)

The geographical boundary of Punjab can be approximated to a triangle. The northern-side is bound by the Himalayas, the western-side by the river Indus, and the eastern-side by a section of the river Yamuna as it flows through Karnal. As the downstream Indus enters the plains, it meets the rivers of Punjab, a confluence of five rivers. Outside this triangular boundary, further west of the Indus, are found the famous Khyber and Bolan passes. These high mountain passes were the primary gateway into the heart of Punjab.

The major part of Punjab is an extensive plain. The fertile region (Doabs) of this flat land is bound by the five large rivers of Punjab - Indus, (i) Jhelum, (ii) Chenab, (iii) Ravi, (iv) Beas, and (v) Sutlej. In the region bounded by the Sutlej and the Yamuna, the primary spoken language is Punjabi. The homeland of the Sikh majority is the doab region enclosed by the Chenab and the Yamuna.

  • The Spring Season - February to April.

  • The Summer Season - May to June.

  • The Monsoon Season - July to September.

  • The Autum Season - October to December.

  • The Winter Season - January to March.

Over the year, this fertile plain experiences extreme temperatures coupled with the monsoon rains. The result is an astonishingly vibrant and constantly changing landscape witnessed across the seasons. Each season brings with it a unique blend of flora and fauna that covers the land where the main occupation of its people is related to agriculture and farming.

The Forest of Punjab

It is hard to believe that until around 1600 AD Punjab were covered with dense forests because nothing remains of these massive woodlands today. The Mughal emperor Babar who entered India around 1526 AD was known to hunt Rhinoceros in northern Punjab. The forests of central Punjab were deep enough to provide Sikh soldiers refuge from oppressive foreign invaders during their numerous skirmishes with them. The forest dominated regions of Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Karnal were teeming with wild life that included a variety of deer, wild boars, bears, panthers, leopards, lions and tigers. Occasionally the Nilgai and hyneas may still be spotted. Out of all the wild animals only goats and camel thrive in these regions today because such animals are able to survive on mere thorny shrubs that replaced the extensive woodlands.

Punjab in 1500 AD

By around 1500 AD, the two major cities of Punjab were Lahore (seat of governments) and Multan (seat of commerce). Commerce was facliltated by the rivers of the Sindh region. Merchant caravans arriving from distant places such as Persia was a common sight. Here is a partial list of some popular ancient towns that survived to emerge as big cities today: Ludhiana, Sirhind, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Wazirabad and Rawalpindi.

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

Aryans in the History of Punjab

Historians believe that the Aryans, a pastoral people with a language and religion of there own, entered the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC. The year-long rich and fertile Punjab altered the nomadic lifestyle of the Aryan herdsmen. These tall and fair Aryan tribes decided to make Punjab as their permanent home. Great works of literature (sanskrit), including the Vedas were written in the Punjab by these new settlers. Here are some of the races and kingdoms that occupied Punjab after the Aryans:

  • The Persians (Darius - 521 to 485 BC) conquered Northern Punjab (Peshawar, Taxila, Rawalpindi).

  • The Greeks (Alexander the Great), also known for their great works of sculpture.

  • The Indian Mauryas.

  • The Bactrians and the Scythians. (Under the Bactrian King Menander the invaders crossed central Punjab, beyond Beas).

  • The Indian Guptas who managed to keep out the invaders from Central Asia and were known for their benevolent rule.

  • 500 AD - The Mongoloid Huns from Central Asia managed to break into the Indian Subcontinent via Northern Punjab.

  • Harsh Vardhana - the last great Indian ruler of the Punjab. The Huns were subdued and expelled by the Vardhanas. After the death of King Harsha in 647 AD the Vardhana empire started to disintegrate and the Afghans from beyond the Hind Kush (Himalayan mountain range) began to pour in.

  • 1001 AD - The entry of Mahmud of Ghazni was followed by invasions of other Afghan tribes such as: Ghoris, Tughlaks, Surs & Lodhis.

  • 1398 AD, Invasion of TAIMUR, the Mongol - This was a landmark invasion that permanently changed the history of Northern India. Babar, a descendant of Taimur, laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire that eventually came to rule over the Indian Subcontinent.

  • Lodhi Dynasty - In the famous 1526 AD battle of Panipat, Babar finally defeated the reigning Afghan ruler Ibrahim Lodhi, thereby replacing the Lodhi dynasty with the Mughal Dynasty (the most powerful and long-lived dynasty in the history of India).

As a result of the defeat of the Sultan of Delhi in the 1398 AD invasion of Taimur there was utter administrative chaos as organized government in the entire northern part of India came to an end. Local governors declared themselves as independent monarchs and lawlessness began to prevail. As the power of the ruling muslim class began to deplete they resorted to over-taxing hindu traders, protestors were severely punished and persecuted, and the places of worship of the infidels were destroyed. Due to such purely political reasons the good work of the Sufis (who preached tolerance towards hinduism) and the Bhaktas (who were promoting the merciful qualities of Islam) was slowly undone.

Guru Nanak, born on 15th April, 1469

In the words of Guru Nanak: "This age is like a knife. Kings are butchers. Religion has taken wings and flown. In the dark night of falsehood I cannot see where the moon of truth is rising. Modesty and religion have disappeared because falsehood reigns supreme. The Muslim Mulla and the Hindu Pandit have resigned their duties, the Devil reads the marriage vows. Praises of murders are sung and people smear themselves with blood instead of saffron." According to Nanak, the ruling Lodhis were responsible for squandering away the priceless heritage of Hindustan and allowing it to be ravaged by Babar's Mughal hordes. Hate and falsehood was overriding the hymns of love and compassion spread by the Sufi and Bhaktas.

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.

Jats and Punjabi Nationalism

Based on the suppression of religious freedom witnessed during the collapse of the Lodhi dynasty, Guru Nanak and his nine successors wanted to spread a spirit of tolerance by reviving the positive spirit of Punjabi Nationalism that would override the negative spirit of hate and persecution to which the people of Punjab were being subject based on their different castes, creed and religion. The Jats as agriculturists were already deeply attached to their land in the central plains of Punjab. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that the spirit of Punjabi Nationalism first appeared in Majha, the heart of Punjab. The Jats are a people of Aryan stock who had made the northern plains of India their home. The typical Jat village was like a minature Republic ruled by a Panchyat (elected body of five elders). The Jat village was made up of people of kindred blood and they were conscious of an absolute equality amongst themselves. As new settlers, the Jats kept a distance from people of different castes and creed, as an act of self preservation that would ensure that their culture would not be diluted or disappear altogether.

The Jats

The ruling Monarchs always suffered losses when they sent military to the fortified Jat villages. The Jat's sense of equality and spirit of freedom ensured that they never submitted to Brahmanical Hinduism. The upper caste Hindus often attempted to defame the Jats and lower them in the eyes of the Brahmins but such behavior made little difference to the powerful Jat spirit. The original Jat brotherhood was never a part of the Hindu caste system and did not properly understand the behavior of these people. Based on a cursory observation, the Brahmin was often considered by the Jats of Punjab as not much better than a soothsayer or a beggar. The Jat was born the worker and the warrior and this Jat spirit was not well understood by those (non-Jats) whose lives were carved within the framework of the Hindu caste system.

Why did a Jat Nation or Jatland not form in Northern India?

The Jats were more or less from the same tribes or races that entered at a later time period into the Indian subcontinent. With the passage of time the division that occurred amongst the Jats was not based on race but on other criteria such as religion, caste, etc. For example, with the emergence of monotheism, there were now muslim Jats and hindu Jats, not that all muslims and hindus were Jats. Later, as a solution to the administrative problems created by foreign invasions, sikhism appeared and now there were sikh Jats also. Such divisions diluted the original kindred spirit of the Jats and so a Jatland or Jat Nation was never formed. Nevertheless, even today the Jat spirit is recognized and respected within the communities or nations of which the Jats are now an integral part.

Punjabi Nationalism

Never before had Punjab seen a leader more popular than Guru Nanak. People from various communities were impressed with the teachings of Guru Nanak. The unstable political climate of the fifteenth century further encouraged people from different backgrounds to recognize the importance of the "there is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman" concept preached by Guru Nanak. This unifying ideal gave birth to a Punjabi Consciousness that naturally evolved into Punjabi Nationalism.

Who is your King?

In Asia, Monotheism was explained through Islam and its importance emphasized again through Sikhism for the people of God so they may not go astray. When they were nomads did God not guide his people across difficult mountains to the fertile plains where they settled in comfort? As part of their teachings, the Ten Gurus of the Sikhs reminded their disciples that they have only one true king, God Almighty. If the people of God bow to other gods, or marry strange women whose offspring will bend to serve other kings, then will such ingratitude not deny them the Mercy of God?

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.

Mission of Guru Nanak
(Five Jewels of the [Spirit] Realm)

Let your life be one of (i) praise of the Word (naam), (ii) charity (daan), (iii) ablution (isnaan), (iv) service (seva), and (v) prayer (simran) . Here are some verses of Guru Nanak in praise of his Creator:

Guru Nanak in praise of his Creator:
There is One God.
He is the supreme truth.
He, the Creator,
Is without fear and without hate.
He, the Omnipresent,
Prevades the universe.
He is not born,
Nor does He die to be born again.
By His grace shalt thou worship Him.

Before time itself
There was truth.
When time began to run its course
He was the truth.
Even now, He is the truth
And evermore shall truth prevail.
(Japji)

Did Guru Nanak want to start a Religion?

Newton did not discover the famous "three laws of motion" with the explicit intent of building a rocket. Other scientists use such universal laws to build practical devices, machinery and equipment. In a similar manner, Guru Nanak discovered certain spiritual laws that could promote a secular environment in the fifteenth century where people were being persecuted in the name of organized religion. Organized religion has its benefits but formation of such communities can merely be a side effect brought about by people who connect for a common cause. From a political view point, Guru Nanak promoted a secular Punjab. Later, it became important to defend a secular Punjab against the oppressive rule of foreign invaders such as the Mughals and the British Empire. Every military man understands the importance of an organized structure and uniform for building a successful army. The tenth sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh provided such an organized structure and uniform to the sikhs so that they may avert oppression and persecution.

The followers (disciples) of Guru Nanak were from both the hindu and the muslim communities. The separate identity of the Sikhs (disciples) began to take shape during the time of the fifth sikh guru Guru Arjun (1563 -1606) as a solution to the problems of persecution faced by the sikh disciples particularly under the rule of Emperor Jahangir. Emperor Akbar was impressed by the Sikh Scriptures being compiled by Guru Arjun. He observed that the sikh scripture was in compliance with the teachings of the Quran due to which he also rewarded Guru Arjun with gifts. On the other hand, Emperor Jahangir, who succeeded Akbar, viewed the rising number of sikh disciples as a threat to the Mughal rule.

The next post will discuss the evolution of the sikh community under the Gurus who took over from Guru Nanak where the fifth sikh guru Guru Arjun compiled all the teachings of the sikh faith into one sacred book named as the Adi Granth. These scriptures are written in a unique script know as Gurmukhi that is neither hindi (language of the hindus) nor arabic (language of the muslims). The Gurmukhi script was invented by the second sikh guru Guru Angad.