Origin Of Sikhism

The history of Sikhism is closely associated with the history of Punjab and the socio-political situation in medieval India. Sikhism was created by Guru Nanak, a religious leader and a social reformer during the fifteenth century in the Punjab region. Sikhism was born in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now falls into the present day states of India and Pakistan. The main religions of the area at the time were Hinduism and Islam.

The Sikh faith began when Guru Nanak began teaching a faith that was quite distinct from Hinduism and Islam. Nine Gurus followed Nanak and developed the Sikh faith and community over the next centuries.

The founder of the Sikh tradition, Guru Nanak, was born in the region of Punjab, South Asia, in 1469 CE. He lived a life of spirituality, service, and honesty, and the disciples who began to follow his teachings came to be known as Sikhs. The Sikh community grew under the guidance of ten religious leaders — gurus — the last of whom passed away in 1708 CE. The authority of the community today rests with two entities — the Sikh scriptural text known as the Guru Granth Sahib, and the community of initiated Sikhs, known as the Guru Khalsa Panth.

The Sikh scripture is referred to as the Guru Granth Sahib and holds ultimate authority within the Sikh tradition. The text was compiled by the Gurus themselves and contains their musical writings. The Gurus also incorporated writings from other spiritually elevated figures who lived in South Asia and shared a similar outlook. The themes of the scriptural compositions have largely to do with the nature of divine experience and the steps one can take to achieve it.  The entirety of the text is written in verse poetry, and a vast majority of it is set to music.

Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be a revealed text, and it plays a central role in Sikh devotional and ceremonial life. The scripture, which is relatively large in size, is the centerpiece of Sikh worship spaces. The gurdwara is modeled after an imperial court in early modern South Asia, which helps remind worshipers of its sovereign and authoritative status. The Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a throne, and a volunteer attends to it. All Sikh life-ceremonies incorporate the scripture in some way as well. For example, at a Sikh wedding, the bride and groom walk around the Guru Granth Sahib multiple times in order to, among other things, illustrate symbolically the centrality of the teachings within their own lives.

Gobind Singh established the Sikh rite of initiation (called khandey di pahul) and the 5 Ks which give Sikhs their unique appearance. Gobind Singh was the last human Guru. Sikhs now treat their scriptures “Guru Granth Sahib” as living Guru.

After the Gurus

The first military leader of the Sikhs to follow the Gurus was Banda Singh Bahadur.In the middle of the century the Sikhs rose up again, and over the next 50 years took over more and more territory.

In 1799 Ranjit Singh captured Lahore, and in 1801 established the Punjab as an independent state, with himself as Maharaja. He proved an adept ruler of a state in which Sikhs were still in a minority. Although a devout Sikh, he took part in religious acts with Muslims and Hindus as well.

Defeated by the British

After Ranjit Singh died in 1839 the Sikh state crumbled, damaged by vicious internal battles for the leadership.In 1845-6 troops of the British Empire defeated the Sikh armies, and took over much Sikh territory.The Sikhs rebelled again in 1849, and were defeated by the British, this time conclusively.

The Sikhs and the British Raj

After this final battle, the Sikhs and the British discovered they had much in common and built a good relationship. The tradition began of Sikhs serving with great distinction in the British Army.The Sikhs got on well with the British partly because they came to think of themselves less as subjects of the Raj than as partners of the British.The British helped themselves get a favourable religious spin when they took control of the Sikh religious establishment by putting their own choices in control of the Gurdwaras.Good relations between Sikhs and British came to an end in 1919 with the Amritsar massacre.

Recent history
1919 – the Amritsar massacre

This was a shameful event in the history of British India.In April 1919 British troops commanded by General E H Dyer opened fire without warning on 10,000 people who were holding a protest meeting. The troops killed about 400 people and wounded 1,000.Dyer felt that he had been obliged to teach a moral lesson to the Punjab.Realising the damage that had been done, the British rapidly retired Dyer, but not without promoting him first.

Some historians regard the Amritsar Massacre as the event that began the decline of the British Raj, by adding enormous strength to the movement for Indian independence.In October 1997, Queen Elizabeth II made the gesture of laying a wreath at the site of the massacre.

A state of their own

The Sikh ambition for a state of their own was something that India would not concede. To do so would have allowed communalism (i.e. religious groupings) an unbreakable foothold in the politics of what was supposed to be a secular state.However, in 1966, after years of Sikh demands, India divided the Punjab into three, recreating Punjab as a state with a Sikh majority.This was not enough to stop Sikh anger at what they saw as continuing oppression and the unfair way in which they thought India had set the boundaries of the new state. They continued to demand various concessions from the Indian government.

The invasion of the Golden Temple

As Sikh discontent grew, the conflict gradually changed from a purely political conflict into a confrontation between Hindus and Sikhs; and then to real violence.A Sikh preacher called Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale became the leader of the most disaffected of the Sikhs. In 1983 Bhindranwale and his closest followers took refuge in the Golden Temple Complex at Amritsar, the most revered place in the Sikh world.In June 1984 Indian troops launched ‘Operation Blue Star’. They attacked the Golden Temple Complex, killing many of those inside, and seriously damaging the buildings.

The assassination of Indira Gandhi

This invasion of the holiest place of the Sikhs infuriated many Sikhs, even the non-militant. They saw the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the invasion, as a deliberate persecutor of the Sikh faith and community.In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.Four days of anti-Sikh rioting followed in India. The government said more than 2,700 Sikhs, were killed, while newspapers and human-rights groups put the death toll between 10,000 and 17,000.

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