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The beginning

Sikhism is an Indian religion that has its roots in the state of Punjab in northwest India. It was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) who tried to fuse the best elements of the Hindu and Muslim faith into a single new religion. Guru Nanak believed that there was one God. He said that all men were brothers. He rejected the concept of the caste system and claimed that idol worship was futile. 

He was succeeded by nine other gurus each of whom further developed and built on the basic principles of Sikhism in keeping with the changes in society.

The nine other gurus

Guru Angad (1539-1552) made improvements on the old Punjabi script which came to be known as Gurmukhi. Guru Amar Das (1552-1574) was a progressive man who worked towards improving the status of women and freeing them from the constraints of customs like pardah and sati. Guru Ram Das (1574-1581) is known as the founder of Amritsar, earlier called Ramdaspur or Guru ka chak. Guru Arjan (1581-1606) is remembered as the compiler of the Guru Granth. He met an untimely death when he was tortured on the orders of the Emperor Jahangir for giving asylum to the rebel Prince Khusro. 

The death of Guru Arjan at the hands of the Mughals sparked off the introduction of the militant element in Sikhism. The Sikhs and the Mughals became enemies. Guru Har Gobind (1606-1645), the successor of Guru Arjan endorsed the idea that the sword could be used to defend one's dharma or to protect the downtrodden. Guru Har Gobind wore two swords himself representing the spiritual and temporal authority. Guru Har Gobind was succeeded by Guru Har Rai (1645-1661) and Guru Har Kishan (1661-1664).

Things came to a head when the Emperor Aurangzeb ordered that Guru Teg Bahadur (1664-1675) be put to death because of his attempts to convert people to Sikhism and to promote the cause of the Kashmir Hindus. His successor Guru Gobind Singh (175-1708) issued a call to arms to his followers to take up a martial struggle against the Mughal persecution. 

The Khalsa

Guru Gobind Singh felt that his followers needed a strong sense of identity that would make them more committed to fighting for their faith and to boost their morale. Consequently, on Baisakhi day in 1669 he conducted a baptism ritual. He chose five of his most loyal followers called the Panj Piyare to form a brotherhood called the Khalsa or Waheguru, meaning God's Own. 

During the baptism ceremony, the Guru stirred a vessel full of water with a two-edged dagger while reciting his own compositions and those of former gurus. His wife then added sweets to the water converting it into amrit or the water of immortality. The five disciples then drank this solution and were christened with a new name that had the suffix "Singh", meaning 'lion.' At the end of the ceremony, the Guru addressed them saying, "Waheguruji ka Khalse; Waheguruji ki Fateh" which means, "The Khalsa belongs to God; victory be to Him). In a unique egalitarian gesture, the Guru had himself baptized by his disciples bringing home to them that they were all part of one brotherhood. 

The five "Ks" constituted the visible distinguishing features of the Khalsa. These were: kes (long hair), kangha (comb), kachha (a pair of shorts), kara (iron bangles) and karpan (sword). Certain rules of conduct were also imposed on the members of the new fraternity. They were not allowed to cut their hair; they could not smoke or drink alcohol; they had to avoid eating kosher meat; and adultery was forbidden. 

Guru Gobind Singh put an end to the practice of a succeeding line of Gurus and declared that the Granth Sahib was the final authority and the symbol of the ten gurus. 

Principles of Sikhism 

According to Sikhism, there is only one God who is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of the universe. It does not believe in idol worship or that God can take a human avtar. The teaching of the ten gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib lay down the principles of the religion. Sikhs believe that one can achieve salvation while leading a normal life. They do not believe in fasting, penance or the need to renounce the world to achieve salvation. They believe that it is possible to rise above the turmoil and temptations of daily existence. A follower must fulfil the roles of a soldier, a scholar and a saint. 

Sikhism preaches that one has to first vanquish the five deadly sins - lust, anger, greed, attachment and egoism before one can approach God. One has to stop loving oneself before one can truly love God. Followers of the religion must lead a good moral life inculcating the virtues of loyalty, gratitude, charity, justice, truth and honesty. 

The Gurdwara

Sikh temples are called Gurdwaras and play an important part in the Sikh community life. The holiest place for Sikhs is the Golden Temple at Amritsar founded by the fourth guru, Ram Das. Delhi has two famous Sikh shrines- Gurdwara Sis-Ganj (the place of martydom of Guru Teg Bahadur) and Gurdwara Rikab Ganj (where his body was cremated). The Sikh shrines at Kartarpur and Dera Baba Nank in Punjab are equally famous. Some of the famous Sikh shrines are in Pakistan- Nankana Sahib (birth-place of Guru Nank), Dehra Sahib in Lahore (place of martydom of Guru Arjan) and Panja Sahib near Taxila.

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