Sikhs: Founding of the Khalsa

Sikhs: Founding of the Khalsa

The Sikhs who came into prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries were destined to play an important part in the history of medieval India. They came into prominence when Guru Nanak (1469-1539) founded a new religious ideology. Unity of Godhead and unity of mankind were the sheet-anchor of his teachings. The hymns of Guru Nanak have been preserved in the Adi Granth. According to Guru Nanak, God is everywhere present, both within and without every man. To Guru Nank, God is one, without form, eternal and ineffable and man should try to attain salvation with a pure heart. He stressed the role of Guru who mystically uttered the voice of God within the human heart. Gurur Nank advocated a middle path in which spiritual life could be reconciled with the duties of a householder. Akbar had good relations with the gurus who succeeded Guru Nanak, but Guru Arjan (1581-1606) incurred the displeasure of Jahangir because of his organizing ability and his covert goodwill for the rebel Prince Khusrau. Moreover, he compiled the Adi Granth, or the ‘First Sacred Book‘ as the original Sikh scripture. He was tortured to death in 1606 on a charge of treason. This marked the beginning of Sikh hostility to the Mughals. The next Guru, Har Govind (1606-45) son of Arjan, was a man of rebellious spirit and defied Shah Jahan. His two successors Guru Har Rai (1644-61) and Har Kishan (1661-64) left little impact on the fortune of the Sikhs. But ‘the fiscal policy of Arjan, and the armed system of his son, had already formed the Sikhs into a kind of separate state within the empire.’

Guru Tegh Bahadur, the youngest son of Har Govind, succeeded Har Kishan in 1664. At this time, Aurangzeb unleashed his repressive policies against the Hindus. He demolished many Gurdwaras and forced the Kashmiri Pandits to embrace Islam. Simultaneously Tegh Bahadur began preaching with missionary zeal in the Punjab as well as Baenag and Assam, converting a large number of Jats to Sikhism. By the early 1670s, the Sikhs started reacting to Aurabngzeb’s religious bigotry. Their active conversion of Muslims to Sikhism by the Guru inflamed Aurangzeb, who ordered Tegh Bahadur’s arrest. In Agra, the Guru and his five companions were arrested and taken to Delhi. He was beheaded on November 11, 1675. Before his death, he uttered the famous words: Sar diya par sir na diya (Give thy life, but do not give thy faith). His martyrdom infused new life into the Sikhs. His successor, Guru Govind, transformed Sikhism into an armed opposition movement.

Guru Govind set himself to the stupendous task of organizing the Sikhs into a militant brotherhood. He denounced religious persecution and formed the holy trinity of God, Guru, and the Sword in place of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. He introduced the custom of baptism (Pahul) by water stirred with a dagger. The new form of baptism was known as the Khalsa (pure). Guru Govind Singh provided his followers with five jewels. They were the five K’s- Kesh or long hair, Kangha or comb, Kirpan or sword, Kachcha (long drawers), and Kara (steel bracelet). “The creation of the Khalsa was an epoch-making event in the religious and political history of the country. It marked the beginning of the rise of a new people, destined to play the role of defenders against all oppression and tyranny.” Guru Govind compiled a supplementary Granth, known as the Dasam Granth (The Book of the Tenth Guru). It was alleged that he assisted Bahadur Shah in his contest for the throne. On 7 October 1708, he died at Nandur on the banks of the Godavari at the age of 42.

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