Sikh Missionary Society
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The Sikhs and Their Way Of Life
The Sikhs and Their Way of Life

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Sikhs and Their Way of Life:

Guru Nanak’s Successors

Guru Angad

Guru Amardas

Guru Ramdas

Guru Arjan

Guru Hargobind

Guru Har Rai

Guru Har Krishan

Guru Tegh Bahadur

Guru Gobind Singh

The Inauguration of Khalsa Panth

Guru Gobind Singh and Mughal Establishment

Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Guru Nanak’s Successors

After the passing away of Guru Nanak his message and mission was carried forward by nine successive Gurus. Each one of them being ordained to the status of a Guru by the departing one.

As each one of the successive Gurus were believed to have been blessed with the ‘Spirit of Nanak’, they are often referred to as Nanak II, Nanak III, Nanak IV and so on.

The tenth Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh, having completed the mission of the founder Nanak, ordained that after his death all Sikhs must regard the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy Sikh scriptures) as their Living Guru, thus ending any claim in the future to the Sikh Guru-ship by any living person.

As a simple analogy, each successive Guru was a ‘tutor’ of the ‘University Degree Course’ in Sikhism prescribed by the founder Guru Nanak for his students, the Sikhs. It was for the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh to give his students the ‘Final Test’ and confer the degree of KHALSA, which he did, in a unique ‘Graduation Ceremony’ on the Vaisakhi day of 1699. The turban and unshorn hair became the ‘visible seal’ of the ‘Guru’s authority’ on this degree.

Here follows a brief account of the life and work of each of Guru Nanak’s successors.

Guru Angad

GURU ANGAD (1504 - 1552)

“Seeing without eyes
Hearing without ears
Walking without feet
Working without hands
Uttering His Name without tongue
And dying while living
Is accepting His Will.”

Guru Angad Dev Jee

Guru Nanak appointed the next Guru, ANGAD as his successor to the Guruship. His real name was Lehna, and before coming in contact with Guru Nanak he used to worship a Hindu Goddess, Durga. However, his first meeting with Guru Nanak changed every thing. Not only did he become a strong devotee of Guru Nanak but he also committed himself fully to advance the message and mission of his Guru. Guru Nanak was so pleased with the dedication and devotion of Lehna that he blessed him saying, “you are my ANG (limb).” Henceforth, Lehna came to be known as Bhai Angad.

The major contribution made by Guru ANGAD to the development of the Sikh movement was that he collected the Divine utterances or hymns of Guru Nanak, popularised them, by recording them in the indigenous Panjabi script, which was easy and accessible for the ordinary people. Since this Panjabi script was also used in Guru Nanak’s POTHI (a note book in which he wrote his hymns), it was formally adopted by the followers to write and read Guru’s hymns. They naturally began to call it Gurmukhi.

To popularise the Gurbani (Guru’s hymns) further and to ensure that more people could read and write Gurbani he directed his followers to be literate in Panjabi and made arrangements to prepare and provide Panjabi primers for beginners. Thus Guru Angad proved to be very instrumental in saving the original Panjabi Script from perishing by disuse like the other prevalent sister scripts in the neighbourhood, e.g. Sindhi and Kashmiri scripts. This was mainly because of the ever-increasing pressure of the Persio-Arabic script used by the ruling Muslims or Mughals. Like his predecessor, Guru Angad also subjected his followers to exacting tests and then chose Amar Das as worthy of Guruship to lead the Sikhs after his departure.

Guru Amardas

GURU AMARDAS (1479 - 1574)

“Vanity and God’s Name are opposite

Both cannot dwell at one place

The vain cannot serve God

His heart remains empty.


Vanity is like pitch darkness;

No one can see anything in vanity.”

Guru Amardas Jee

Guru Amardas was an elderly person when he took over the Guruship in 1552, at the age of 73. His simple and devotional life, and his love for God’s people attracted many Hindus and Muslims to join his fellowship and faith. He further promoted the Panjabi script and ensured the authenticity of Gurbani of the first two Gurus by collating their hymns into one collection. This book later came to be known as MOHAN POTHI, because it remained in the custody of his son Mohan.

However, Guru Amardas’s major contribution to Sikhism was the establishment of twenty-two MANJEES, which were centres of religious learning and worship for his ever-increasing followers. Eight of the twenty-two Manjees established were in the care of women. This was, probably, the first time in the history of world religions that women had been very visibly given the same status as men for preaching religion. The Guru himself stayed at one in Goindwal, which soon developed into a very big centre of religious and spiritual awakening. It was here that the simple practice of LANGAR (free kitchen) originally started by Guru Nanak, became an established institution, and indeed a permanent part of Sikh congregational worship. Every visitor, irrespective of caste, creed or status, was invited to share food sitting on the same floor, before he could see the Guru.

Guru Amardas also laid much emphasis on the social reforms started by Guru Nanak. He banned the degrading practice of PURDAH (veil) among the Sikh women by instructing them not to cover their faces while performing prayers or attending religious ceremonies. He also led a protest against the practice of SATTI (burning alive of a widow with her dead husband). He called it a social evil and prohibited his followers from participating in this inhuman and cruel act, instead he encouraged the re-marriage of widows among Sikh families. The use of alcohol and wine was another social vice he preached against and told his Sikhs to stop taking intoxicants of any kind.

“ One man offers alcohol and another pours it for himself

Soon it makes him crazy, senseless, devoid of understanding

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ye, take not the vicious drink under any circumstances.”

Elsewhere he said, “By drinking alcohol one will not earn any thing but vice and sin.”

Guru Ramdas

Guru Ramdas Jee
GURU RAMDAS (1534 – 1581)

“One who call him/herself the Sikh of the Guru

Must get up early and meditate on God’s Name

Should bathe in the ‘Nectar-pool’

And be active during the day.”

In 1574, when Guru Amardas was 95, he became very weak. Realising that his end was near, he passed on the Guruship of the Sikh community to his most trusted and devout follower Jetha, who was then renamed as Guru Ramdas. Unfortunately, Jetha’s parents had died when he was seven and he was brought up by his grand mother at Lahore. The boy, Jetha, had a religious bent of mind and liked holy men. As such, while still young, he joined the company of some other local Sikhs to pay his respects to Guru Amardas at Goindwal. He was so impressed by the teachings of the Guru, and the way of life at Goindwal, that he decided to stay there and engage himself in the voluntary service of the Guru. Soon, he earned the favour of the Guru who married his daughter Bibi Bhaani to him. After receiving the Guruship, Ramdas continued the work of his predecessor. Apart from furthering religious awakening and social reform in the region, his most noticeable contribution was the founding of the present city of Amritsar.

It was he who had originally started the excavation of the low-lying area with a pond (said to be donated to Bibi Bhaani by Emperor Akbar) so as to extend it to a large ‘srovar’ (small lake). The work on the srovar was later completed by Guru Arjan and it was named as Ramdas Srovar. The Sikhs also called it a pool of Amrit (nectar) and hence Amritsar - the name which was later given to the city. Guru Ramdas also started to develop the land adjoining the srovar, and invited traders and businessmen to settle there. This settlement was called Chak-Ramdas or Ramdaspura, which was to become the nucleus of the future city of Amritsar.

During the Guruship of Ramdas, the institution of LANGAR (free kitchen) was further strengthened, and so was the scope and extent of the Sikh Manjis (missionary centres) which collected offerings in cash and kind for various welfare schemes and charitable projects. Like the three Gurus before him, Guru Ramdas also composed Shabads (hymns) in fact 672 of them, which were later incorporated in the Aad Granth (original or first book) by Guru Arjan. In one of his compositions he laid down the rules for his Sikhs as how to go about their daily routine.

The Guru stated:

“He who calls himself the Sikh of the Guru
Shall get up early and meditate on God’s name
Shall take bath in the ‘nectar pool’
And labour during the day.
He should hear the words of the Guru
And repeat the name of God
For then will his sins be forgiven and sufferings ease.
As the day advances, let him sing the hymns
And keep the Lord in mind in all he does.
He who repeats the Name of God
With every breath and every morsel that he eats
He is the true Sikh, loved by the Guru.
(SGGS 305)

Another of the famous compositions of Guru Ramdas, a contribution to the Sikh institutions, is Laavan.

It constitutes four verses, which are recited at every Sikh marriage ceremony called the Anand kaarj.

Before his death in 1581, he passed on the Guruship to his youngest son Arjan, who become the fifth Guru of the Sikhs.

“Guru Ramdas’s life provides an excellent example to the Sikhs of how a poor orphan boy could rise to the heights of glory in life and saintliness through selfless service and true dedication.” Dr. G.S.Mansukhani.

Guru Arjan

Guru Arjan Dev Jee
GURU ARJAN (1563 – 1606)

“You are my Father

You are my Mother

You are my Kinsman

You are my Brother

You are my Protector every where

What reason have I to harbour fear?”

Arjan the youngest of the three sons of Guru Ramdas, was installed as the next leader of the Sikh followers. Guru Arjan was a born poet, and grew up to be a philosopher, saint and scholar. He was only eighteen when the Guruship was bestowed upon him. In the true footsteps of his predecessors, Guru Arjan devoted himself completely towards building a national identity for the Sikhs along with the usual public welfare activities. He undertook and completed two major works in his lifetime:

(a) In 1589 Guru Arjan started the construction of a focal place of Sikh worship called Harmander (Temple of God) in the middle of the Srovar excavated by Guru Ramdas. In time this became the Sikh centre of prayer and worship, which is now more commonly known as the Golden Temple.

(b) However, the greatest work of Guru Arjan was the compilation of the Sikh Holy Book, the Aad Granth, later to be accorded the status of the Guru and hence the Guru Granth*. The first copy of the Aad Granth was installed in Harmander in 1604, and Baba Buddah was appointed to be its GRANTHI (scripture reader) and custodian.

(*In order to ensure that the Sikhs read only the true teachings or Gurbani approved by the Guru, Guru Arjan compiled it into one volume called the Aad Granth, which contained the Gurbaani from the Gurus before him. He also included his own hymns and teachings, as well as of thirty-six other saints or Bhagats from other parts of the Indian sub-continent, regardless of their religion or cast. The main criterion for selection was that these teachings were in line with the founding principles of Guru Nanak’s mission)

The martyrdom of Guru Arjan

It is a general fact that success often gives birth to enemies. Guru Arjan’s remarkable success in forwarding the mission of Guru Nanak was no exception. Right from his attaining the Guruship at the young age of 18 he had to encounter the constant hostility of his two older brothers. The building of a holy central shrine and the installation of the Aad Granth, with a scriptural status, set alarm bells ringing amongst his other enemies and local chiefs. Even when the Aad Granth was being compiled a complaint was lodged at the court of the Mughal Emperor AKBAR that some of its verses made derogatory references to the Muslim and Hindu prophets. However, Akbar, though a Muslim, was a man of secular vision and understanding. He found nothing objectionable in the verses referred to, and was rather impressed by the universal approach of the Granth.

When Akbar died in 1605, his son Jahangir ascended the throne of Delhi. He was not as liberal in his views as his father and did not tolerate Muslims being attracted to any other religion. The Emperor Jahangir himself wrote in his TUZUK or memoirs (p 35):

So many of the simple minded Hindus, nay, many foolish Muslims too, had been fascinated by his ways
and teachings. He was noised as a religious and worldly leader. They called him GURU, and from all
directions crowds of fools would come to him and express great devotion to him. This busy traffic had
been carried on for three or four generations. For years the thought had been presenting itself to my
mind that either I should put an end to this false traffic, or he should be brought into the fold of Islam.”

He soon found an excuse when his own son Khusro, revolted against him. Guru Arjan was alleged to have blessed prince Khusro as he was passing through Goindwal on his way to Lahore whilst being pursued by the emperor and his soldiers.

After the capture and death of Khusro, the Guru was summoned to the king’s court to explain his conduct. Surely it was not the Guru’s business to take sides, but the false charges were not withdrawn. Thus on 30th May 1606 the Guru was subjected to torture by making him sit on a red hot Tavi (a large iron plate used for cooking roties) while burning sand was poured over him. Finally, to add to his suffering, his blistered body was thrown into the cold water of the river Ravi, which carried it away to its final resting place.

Guru Hargobind

Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee

GURU HARGOBIND (1595 – 1644)

[Guru Hargobind was the harbinger of

the Sikh concept of Meeri – Peeri (soldier-saint) by

carrying two Kirpans (swords) one representing

royalty and the other signifying saintliness.]

At the time of his martyrdom in 1606, Guru Arjan’s son Hargobind was only eleven years old. Astutely, his father had already started his training for the high office of Guruship under the careful eye of a veteran Sikh Baba Buddah. Soon the young boy had become conversant with the sacred Granth, as well as in the use of weapons. He enjoyed sports such as horse riding, hunting and wrestling. So he grew up to be a man who was strong both physically and spiritually.

On the occasion of his accession to the Guruship, his regalia included a turban with a Kalgi (royal plume) and two swords; one signifying PEERI (spiritual equipoise) and the other representing MEERI (temporal power) or secular leadership. This was a signal for the need for further adjustment in the Sikh way of life; to adopt a system, which would not only work for the spiritual and social uplift of the people, but also enable them to defend aggression, uphold justice, truth and moral values. The planned persecution and death of Guru Arjan had convinced the Sikhs that if they wanted to survive, then they must stand up against the oppressors and defend themselves with arms, if necessary.

Therefore, Guru Hargobind’s first priority was the protection of the developing town of Amritsar, and the newly built central Sikh shrine of Harmander. This he did by putting up a small fortification, called Lohgarh, and by starting the construction of another building called the Akal Takhat, (the throne of the Timeless) facing the Harmander. Soon a volunteer force of about a hundred stout Sikhs was formed. All this breathed new life into the demoralised hearts of the Sikhs, and their numbers increased rapidly.

Alarmed by these preparations, Emperor Jahangir summoned the Guru to his presence and then sent him, as a state prisoner, to be kept in the fort of Gwalior, where some other local chiefs from different areas were also imprisoned for insubordination or non-co-operation. But this did not deter the Guru’s followers from visiting Gwalior to show their love and respect for him. They would come in batches, touch the outside walls of the fort, kiss them and return, as they were not allowed to see the Guru. This raised much sympathy and respect for the Guru among the officials and other non-followers of the Guru. The Guru’s work inside the fort also earned him the love and respect of other inmates. Further representations from some respectable Muslims especially Saint Mian Meer also convinced the Emperor of his previous misjudgement, and he ordered the release of the Guru. However, the Guru refused to leave the fort without his 52 fellow prisoners. The Emperor offered a compromise where by the Guru could leave with as many prisoners as could hold on to his shirt tail. An ingenious method was adopted to fulfil the condition, where by the Guru had a special gown made with 52 tassels. Each was held by the fellow inmate enabling them all to walk out of the fort.

This episode gained popularity for the Guru as BANDICHHOR, meaning the deliverer. Guru Hargobind’s arrival back in Amritsar was celebrated with much enthusiasm and joy by his followers. Later, Sikhs began to celebrate this incident every year as BANDICHHOR DIVAS, which became symbolic of the Khalsa’s struggle for liberation. This occasion though an important day in the Sikh calendar, co-incides with Dewali, a major festival of the Hindus.

Being left in peace he re-engaged himself with the completion of the Akal Takhat and other works of public welfare. He was also keen to visit places outside Panjab, which Guru Nanak had travelled and re-generate the enthusiasm for the Sikh way of life. His tour was particularly successful in Kashmir where the Sikh following increased.

During his visits to Kashmir, Guru Hargobind was much fascinated by the scenery and atmosphere of this hilly region. So on his return, he chose to build a new town to be called KIRAT-PUR in the foothills of the Shivaliks. This was also a place of strategic importance, as it was easy to defend. The Guru had no guarantee of peace after the reign of Emperor Jahangir, with whom he was now on good terms.

Jahangir died in 1627 and Shahjahan was the next Mughal Emperor of Delhi. It did not take long for the Mughal officials in Panjab to be at loggerheads with the Guru. One incident followed another. Each time the Guru and his volunteer Sikhs were left with no choice but to defend themselves with arms. There were four significant battles between 1628-1632. However, each battle gave them success and further strength.

For the last ten years until his death in 1644, Guru Hargobind chose to retire to KIRATPUR and spend his time in meditation and prayer. Realising that his end was near, he nominated his grandson Har Rai to be the next Guru of the Sikhs.

Guru Har Rai

GURU HAR RAI (1630 – 1661)

“It is good if one recites the holy words with

understanding; but if that is not possible, it is not

without virtue reading it with devotion, some of it will

stick and when the warmth of understanding is applied,

it will surely do good.”

Guru Har Rai Jee

In 1644, Har Rai was only 14 when his departing grandfather, Guru Har Gobind, honoured him with the Guruship. He grew up to be a man of peace, compassion and care. Though he maintained a small but strong cavalry ready for any emergency, he was firmly against confrontation and hostility. He was largely successful in keeping himself away from the aggression of Mughal officials by spending much of his time in looking after the health and physical well being of the local community. He encouraged his Sikhs to open health care centres or dispensaries in their respective localities. At one time he even sent a rare medicine for Prince Dara Shokoh, one of the sons of the Emperor Shah Jahan. Back in health the Prince became an admirer of the Guru and his work. Later during the war of succession among the princes, Dara Shikoh was killed by his brother Aurangzeb who became the Emperor of Delhi in 1658.

Soon after Aurangzeb occupied the throne of Delhi, the enemies of the Guru found an opportune time to instigate the emperor against the Guru for giving shelter to his brother prince Dara Shikoh who was engaged in a battle against his brother Aurangzeb in the war of succession. Emperor Aurangzeb, therefore, sent a letter to the Guru asking him to explain himself. The Guru, however, sent his eldest son Ram Rai to the court of Delhi, where he was able to pacify the emperor by flattering him and by performing some miracles for which he was strictly forbidden by his father. This behaviour of Ram Rai displeased the Guru so much, that on his return, he refused to meet him for his folly of deliberately misinterpreting the meaning of certain hymns of the Aad Granth, and thus compromising the Gospel of Nanak.

In 1661, Guru Har Rai suddenly fell ill. But before breathing his last, he nominated his youngest son, Har Krishan, to take over the Guruship.

Guru Harkrishan

Guru Harkrishan Jee

GURU HARKRISHAN (1656 – 1664)

While at Panjokhra, when an arrogant

Brahmin challenged the Guru to interpret

Some verses from the Gita, an ordinary Sikh

Disciple named Chhaju was able to oblige the

Brahmin with the Guru’s blessing.

Healing touch of Guru Harkrishan

The Healing Touch of Guru Harkrishan JeeWhen Guru Harkrishan came to Delhi the city was then in the grip of small pox epidemic. Even thean the Guru went to the people and gave succour to all in anguish without any hesitation. His very presence and the divine look would rid the patients of their sufferings.


Guru Har Krishan was just over five years old when he took over the Guruship. However, his elder brother Ram Rai did not like the decision of his father and tried to influence Emperor Aurangzeb to support his claim for Guruship. As the child Guru was reluctant to travel to Delhi to clear the air, it took some time for Mirza Raja Jai Singh, a minister of the emperor to persuade him to do so. While in Delhi the Guru stayed at a house provided by his host Raja Jai Singh. Aurangzeb’s son, prince Muazam, came to see him and reported back to the Emperor that Ram Rai’s claim was false.

Unfortunately, during his stay in Delhi, smallpox was raging in the area. As the Guru was visited daily by large numbers of local followers, he could not escape contracting the disease. He became seriously ill and whilst on his death bed was able to whisper his successor as ‘ Baba Bakale’. This turned out to be his grand uncle living a life of meditation and prayer in the village of Bakala. Guru Har Krishan died in Delhi on March 30, 1664 aged only eight years old.

Today, a magnificent Gurdwara called Bangla Sahib commemorates the historic visit of Guru Har Krishan to Delhi.

Guru Tegh Bahadur

GURU TEG BAHADUR (1621 – 1675)

“Man of God, get rid of the arrogance of heart

Avoid passion, anger, and the company of the wicked.


He who treats alike comfort and suffering

Honour and dishonour, happiness and unhappiness

Only he has understood the secret of life.”

Guru Tegh Bahadur Jee

Tegh Bahadur was the youngest of five sons of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind. He was 44, when he took up the Guruship in 1664. Before that he had been living with his old mother and wife in anonymity and tranquillity of village, Bakala. He had, by then, acquired great peace of mind and was rather undisturbed by the pains or pleasures of life. Like some other Gurus he soon had his rivals claiming the Guruship; one of them even tried to have him killed. To avoid more bickering between his followers and the rivals, he purchased a piece of land, covering a pleasant hillock, about five miles to the northwest of his ancestral town, KIRAT-PUR. There he laid a foundation of a new town to be called ANAND PUR (city of peace).

But even at Anand Pur he did not get the peace for which he hoped. The Guru then decided to go on a long tour, like the founder Guru Nanak, and preach his message of peace and tolerance. He preached calmness of mind against anger, humility against pride and love against hatred. From Panjab he proceeded towards the east, visiting Agra, Allahabad, Banares, Sasram, Gaya and Patna. In 1666, whilst at Patna, he found that his wife was expecting a baby and as travel was not very advisable for her, he left all members of his household to the care of the Sikh Sangat of Patna and continued with his mission reaching Dacca in Bengal and then Dhubri in Assam. At least two years of his mission were spent on this eastern tour.

In 1670 whilst in Assam the Guru was informed of the general policy orders of the Emperor Aurangzeb instructing his provincial governors of Kashmir and Panjab to eradicate all such Hindu temples and preaching places, which had become a hindrance to the spread of Islam. As the major Sikh centres were in danger, he could not stay away from his people any longer. He hurried back to Panjab leaving his family at Patna, who joined him later.


Aurangzeb’s policy of religious persecution of Hindus and their forcible conversion to Islam was being rather severely applied in Kashmir. In their desperation a group of Kashmir Brahamins came to seek the help of Guru Tegh Bahadur. On being given a first hand account of the persecution of Hindus at the hands of over-zealous Muslim officials the Guru felt very disturbed. He sat very quietly, lost in thought. His son Gobind, who was then nine years old noticed his father’s strange disposition and enquired as to the reason. As the young child insisted, the father hesitantly explained the situation. On further inquiry, he told him that its solution lay probably in the sacrifice of a great pious person. “Who could that be other than you, father!” was the immediate reaction of the inspiring and alert son. Whilst every body around was in a state of disbelief as to what the young boy had said, the Guru himself had made up his mind. He was satisfied that he had found a worthy successor in his son, Gobind Rai.

In 1674, after completing the usual formalities, the Guru set out towards Delhi meeting and preaching Sikhs on his route and occasionally staying and spending some time with them. By this time the Emperor had ordered the arrest of Guru Teg Bahadur, which resulted in the Guru being brought to Delhi and put in prison. He was called upon to embrace Islam and receive imperial honours, but the Guru refused the offer. Further tricks and threats also failed. Eventually, he was publicly beheaded in the city square called Chandni Chowk, on 11th November 1675.

However the Martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur marked the turning point in the history of the Sikhs. Although following the execution of the 5th Guru, Guru Arjan, his successor Guru Har Gobind had felt the need to keep arms for defence, this arrangement was found to be inadequate in the face of persistent onslaughts by the local Hindu Rajas and the Mugal Kings. Therefore, it was left to Guru Gobind Rai, to shape the Sikhs into such a strong willed courageous community that they could not only resist but also challenge any offensive and autocratic ruler, who tried to usurp their religious freedom and basic human rights.

Guru Gobind Singh

Guru Gobind Singh Jee
GURU GOBIND SINGH (1666 – 1708)

“The Khalsa is my own form;

I manifest myself through the Khalsa.

So long as the Khalsa remain distinct;

I bestow all glory on them.”

Guru Gobind Singh

Born in December 1666, Gobind Rai was only about nine years old when he became the spiritual leader of the Sikh community (his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred in Delhi). Earlier he had learnt the art of meditation from his father. Now, he started lessons in the martial arts of swordsmanship, archery and horse riding from his maternal uncle, Kirpal Chand. He had a great desire and stamina to learn languages. He soon mastered several, including Panjabi, Persian and Sanskrit. Indeed, he grew up to be a Saint, a soldier and a scholar.

The brutal execution of his father had left a permanent mark in his mind. He was infused with the determination to change the shape and psyche of the Sikh community forever. He advocated keenly that God had been sending ‘saviours’, from time to time, to uphold truth and righteousness and destroy evil. He regarded himself as the man required by the times with a mission, saying:

For this purpose I was born,
And let the Virtuous understand it,
To advance righteousness and to emancipate the good,

And destroy evildoers root and branch,”

Yet, he emphatically asserted that he was human:

“Who ever says I am the Lord
Shall fall into the pit of hell
Recognise me as God’s servant only.
Have no doubt whatever about this
I am a servant of the Supreme
A beholder of the wonders of His creation.”

Like Guru Nanak, two hundred years before him, Guru Gobind Rai was pained to find that the tyranny and oppression, which had prevailed in the country, was not only political but also religious. The Muslim rulers and their high officials were treating the ordinary people as vermin without any soul or strength. Both the Qazies and Pandits were practising bigotry. They were looking down upon other fellow beings as either infidels or untouchables. Having assessed the situation, Guru Gobind Rai decided that the time had arrived to give final shape to Guru Nanak’s mission, without departing from the principles preached by him and his successors. He therefore, resolved to break the old shackles, which kept the masses in slavish submission.

Very much in line with Guru Nanak’s method of exposing myths, rituals and hypocrisy, the Guru allowed a learned Hindu Pandit to conduct a ceremony on the near by hill top of Naina Devi to seek the help of Durga, the Goddess of power. A very large crowd came to witness the event. The Pandit lit the ceremonial fire, but as there was no Goddess going to appear from this fire, the Guru came forward drawing his sword which flashed in the light of the roaring flames and declared: ‘This is the real Durga, the destroyer of evil! This is the true Goddess of power today which will raise the suffering humanity from its degrading condition.’ He also called it by another name BHAGAUTI. Thus, it began. The Guru’s design was clear. Later, on Vaisakhi day he called a large meeting to which Sikhs from all parts of the country were invited. (The events of that day are described on the next page.)

This was the day, which decided that the Sikh followers were sufficiently mature for a momentous step forward into full nationhood. The title ‘Khalsa’ was formally adopted as if a new nation was born. Henceforth, the Sikhs were formally initiated into a system of belief where keeping unshorn hair and a turban with certain other articles of faith was the order, where prejudice and privilege had no place, where caste and class had no value, where equality and justice was the rule, and where service and sacrifice was the duty. This formalisation of identity, name and discipline added to the self-respect and dignity of the Sikhs with a complete change in their psyche.

Guru Gobind Singh was aware that preaching about equality and justice was not good enough. To defend basic human rights one needed to be physically strong as well. Therefore, his message to his Sikhs was:

When all other means of righting evil fail, it is legitimate to use the sword.”

The Inauguration of the Khalsa Panth

It was the VAISAKHI day. The year was 1699. As usual Sikhs from far and near had gathered together at Anandpur to celebrate the spring harvest festival. However, the gathering was a bit different that day. This year Guru Gobind Rai had sent a message that every Sikh who could afford to come, must come to the annual fair.

By noon, well over twenty thousand Sikhs had assembled in the fairground at Anandpur to participate in the festivities of the Vaisakhi Day. Everyone was excited and looked forward to meeting the Guru as if this unusual ‘message’ was specifically sent for that person. Also, there was a large and richly festooned tent pitched on a hillock overlooking the extensive fairgrounds.

Guru Gobind Singh making his call on the Vaisakhi day.It was afternoon. Word went round that the Guru was in the marquee and that he would be coming out soon to meet his Sikhs. All eyes were turned towards the tent and everyone was waiting patiently for the Guru’s Darshan (appearance) and to receive his blessings. At last their patience was rewarded. Guru Gobind came out of the tent clad in a strangely coloured uniform. It was saffron coloured with a blue waistband. There was a sword hanging from his left side. He walked briskly and came to a specially erected platform near the tent. The skies were clear and bright; and the Guru seemed to be standing so near, although he was actually at some distance from the people at the back. He had a strange smile on his face. Suddenly he stopped staring at the crowd, he pulled his sword out and raised it high with his right hand. There were ‘a million voices’ and then a sudden hush.

Now like thunder, the Guru spoke: My dear Sikhs, I am glad to see so many of you here today. Today I have planned to offer you something special. But for this I need your help. Indeed, I need your head. I need the head of a Sikh who claims his faith in me.”

There was a deadly silence all around. Everybody was too stunned to walk away or even whisper. Then the Guru flashed his sword again, raised his voice and repeated, “My dear brave Sikhs, I want a head, and nothing less than a head. If anyone among you claims to be a true Sikh, then come forward and prove it.” He looked serious and business-like.

No sooner had he finished his call, than a tall lean Sikh moved forward towards the Guru on the platform. His name was Daya Ram, a Khatri (shop owner) from Lahore. Reaching the Guru, he folded his hands, bent his head forward and said, O’ Lord, the True Guru, I claim to be your humble Sikh. My head is ready for you. Please take it.”

Hurriedly, the Guru held him by the arm and led him into the tent. Soon after, the crowd outside heard the sound of a sword striking a body. Then they saw the Guru coming out of the tent, looking even fiercer. Fresh blood dripped down his sword. The crowd was totally horrified. Once again the Guru stood on the platform. Once again he raised his sword and addressed the crowd, “Well, my Sikhs I want a second Sikh who would willingly offer his head to me.” This new demand made the people even more frightened. But they dare not ask or challenge the Guru. However, as he was repeating his strange call, another Sikh began to move forward. His name was Dharam Dass, and he was a Jat (farmer) from Delhi.

Dharm Dass stood before the Guru and said in a humble voice, “O, my true king, I offer my head to you, please take it, it is yours.” Now the Guru seemed pleased as he quickly took him inside the tent. This time again, the crowd heard a voice saying ‘Waheguru’ and then a loud thud. Everyone gasped. They were sure that Dharam Dass, too had been put to death.

Again the Guru emerged from the tent with a sword drenched in blood. He looked as fierce as before. With an expectation, he again shouted to the crowd, “Come, come my Sikhs, who comes next. I still want another Sikh who has faith in me.’

Most people were terrified. Some thought perhaps the Guru had gone mad. He was asking too much. Now they were no longer spellbound by the events, which had just taken place. They began to whisper to each other, and some began to slip away from the crowd.

In the mean time another Sikh named Mokham Chand had reached the Guru on the platform. He was a Dhobi (washer man) from Dwarka. With folded hands he requested the Guru to accept his head. The Guru did not wait or waste a minute, and did the same as he had done with the other two.

For the fourth time, the Guru stood before the crowd and repeated his demand for yet another head. Now the crowd was even more restless. Some people were slinking away but most stood their ground. They were all really frightened, and it did not take long before they saw yet another Sikh on the platform offering his head to the Guru. His name was Sahib Chand, a barber by trade from Bidar. The Guru dealt with him in the same way as with the other three before him.

However, there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers. Soon, another Sikh, a water-carrier from Jagan-Nath named Himat Rai moved forward. He was at once led to the tent, but this time the Guru did not return quickly. The people outside began to wonder. Their horror began to change into hope. At least the Guru had stopped asking for more heads.

Then the Guru appeared. He was followed by five other men. They too were dressed in saffron colour, with blue scarves tied round their waists, and turbans. They looked very much like the Guru himself. All stood on the platform facing the crowd. Their faces beamed with joy and satisfaction.

As soon as the people near them recognised that they were the same Sikhs who they thought had been killed by the Guru, they immediately started cheering and saluting them. Many people who had left the fairground in fear and disappointment heard these cheers and rushed back to see what was happening. They could not believe their eyes. They could not understand. ‘Had the dead been brought back to life?’

The master becomes a discipleWhen the cheering had stopped, the Guru spoke to the crowd, “My dear Sikhs; we all remember that when Guru Nanak gave a test to his Sikhs only one passed it. His name was LEHNA, who then became Guru Angad. Now two hundred years after the first test, I have given you another final test. However, this test is not for Guruship but for the ‘nationhood’. I am now satisfied that your faith in me and the ‘Mission of Nanak’ is unflinching. These five Sikhs standing beside me are my PANJ PIARAY (five beloved ones). Each of them has now formally attained the true status of Khalsa (the pure at heart). Each of them is a saint and a soldier in one. These five Sikhs are dedicated and daring enough to lead, and strong enough to support the edifice of the Khalsa Panth.” (The Sikh Nation)

The Guru, then introduced the five Sikhs to a new type of initiation ceremony called AMRIT. First he baptised the ‘Panj Piaray’ and instructed them to add the word ‘SINGH’ to their first name. Then he himself was baptised by ‘the five’ to call himself Gobind Singh. After this all Sikhs present at the fairground were asked to receive Amrit. As it was, tens of thousands of Sikhs were baptised with in few days.

Guru Gobind Singh and the Mughal Establishment

The Siege of Anandpur

With the establishment of the Khalsa Panth came the wrath of the Mughal Emperor of Delhi and the local chiefs, who saw something sinister in the mass baptism of the Sikhs on the Vaisakhi day. The relative peace, which the Sikhs had enjoyed by keeping a low profile during the previous two decades, was suddenly over. Emperor Aurangzeb instructed the governors of Sirhind and Lahore to dispossess Guru Gobind Singh of his people and property at ANANDPUR.

By 1705 the Imperial Armies had surrounded Anandpur, but the occasional bursts of battles came to no conclusion. At the face of stiff resistant by the Sikh soldiers, the siege dragged on beyond the expectations of the Mughal Commanders. The Guru’s own camp was also experiencing great hardship because of the lack of supplies. A group of Sikhs had already given notice to the Guru and had left his services. The others petitioned the Guru that the circumstances and the strategy of saving the town of Anandpur from destruction demanded the Guru to leave Anandpur. Also, he and his family were promised a safe passage by the commander of the Imperial Army. On a cold December day in 1705, the Guru decided to evacuate Anandpur accompanied by a small band of die-hard Sikhs.

The Martyrdom of the Four Young Sons

After leaving the town of Anandpur the Guru’s party reached the banks of the SIRSA River in the evening.

As it was getting dark, and the river was in spate, they were planning to camp for the night and cross the river in daylight. But, they soon found themselves cornered and under attack by the Mughal soldiers who had reneged on their promise. In the confusion of the fighting and darkness, the Guru’s two younger sons and their grand mother were separated during the crossing of the river. His two older teen-age sons crossed the river with him along with a smaller band of Sikh soldiers.

A few days later, Guru Gobind Singh’s party along with his two sons Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh was able to reach the safety of a small mud fortress at CHAMKAUR. But soon, finding his whereabouts, the Imperial army units besieged Chamkaur. The Sikh soldiers defended the fortress, against all odds. On 22nd December 1705 both his young sons were slain with their escorts as they made a gallant attempt to break through the enemy siege. Only few Sikhs were left to defend the Guru from the onslaught of the overwhelming number of enemy soldiers. However, they were successful in making the Guru slip away in disguise during the lull of the night.

In the mean time, the Guru’s two younger sons, Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh, and their grand mother Mata Gujari were escorted by one of their household servants to his village home near MORINDA. But, soon the greed of money and jewellery (which the old lady was carrying) prevailed upon him. He betrayed them in the hope of getting further honours and rewards from the Governor of SIRHIND. The three members of the Guru’s family were arrested and taken to Sirhind. As was usual with the official policy, the young boys were asked to accept Islam. First they were tempted to riches and rewards, and then they were threatened to be bricked alive. But nothing could change the resolve of the young boys in their faith.

On 27th December 1705, in spite of the protests by some respectable Muslim liberals, like the Nawab of Malerkotla, the two were beheaded as the walls around them reached shoulder high. When their grand mother heard the news, she died of shock.

After leaving Chamkaur, the Guru wondered alone for days, and took refuge in the thorny wilds of the MACHHIWARA forest. Hungry and cold, he was spotted by two Pathan brothers. They were moved by his plight. Knowing who he was, they took him home and nursed him with great respect. Few days later, when the suspecting army officials were making enquiries to the whereabouts of the Guru, they dressed him as a Muslim holy man and moved him on. He soon met another Muslim well-wisher, the chief of the village Jatpura, who offered him hospitality. There, the Guru was also told of the fate of his other two young sons and his old mother. The Guru’s next stop was Dina, from where he is said to have sent a letter of protestation in Persian to the Emperor Aurangzeb, who was in Ahmad Nagar and ill. This letter became known as Zafarnama.

Chaali Muktas

From Dina the Guru moved on through the principality of Faridkot. By this time, news of his being alive and well had spread among his followers in the villages. They began to rally round him. The Gurus whereabouts also came to be known to the Governor of Sirhind, whose army began to close in. However, this time they under estimated the strength of the Guru’s volunteers. Every Sikh soldier on his side was prepared to defend and die for the Guru. A bloody battle took place near a small lake at Khidrana, now called Mukatsar. The royal army unit was defeated badly. There were Sikh casualties all over, as well. Among them, there were forty men of the Majha area who had earlier deserted him during the siege of Anandpur. When they had reached back home, their own women shamed them so much that they had to come back and clear their conscience by dying for the Guru. Shuffling through the slain bodies, when the Guru came to know of their heroic sacrifice, he was deeply moved. The Guru forgave their earlier desertion by touching each one of them. They were then called the Muktas, meaning the Saved ones’.


After this battle of Khidrana the Guru moved further south, away from the influence of the Governor of Sirhind. He reached TALVANDI SABO where he stayed for about nine months in the company of an influential Sikh named Dalla. The place is now remembered with a new name as Damdama Sahib, meaning the resting place. It was here in 1706 that the Guru spent most of his time in preparing the new edition of the Aad Granth, later to be called Guru Granth.

In 1707 Guru Gobind Singh travelled to Deccan (south) on the invitation of the new Emperor Bahadur Shah of Delhi, who had been there to suppress an insurrection. The Guru had his own agenda for discussion. He wanted to talk about the brutalities of the Governor of Sirhind and the restoration of basic human rights for the Sikhs. Reaching Deccan, he found the emperor too busy with his expedition and broke off with him to stay some time at Nander, on the bank of the river Godavari. There he met an ascetic named Madho Das Bairagi, who was very much renowned for his physical strength and magical powers. After the very first encounter with the Guru he offered his services to him and became a Sikh. On his initiation, he was renamed as Gurbax Singh, later to be popularly known as BANDA BAHADUR or Banda Singh Bahadur.

In the mean time, when Wazir Khan the Governor of Sirhind heard about the proposed meeting between Bahadur Shah and the Guru, he became very anxious. He sent two Pathan mercenaries to shadow the Guru secretly and murder him. As they reached Nander they pretended to be the well-wishers of the Guru and became acquainted with his daily routine. One day as the Guru was having an afternoon nap and the attendant had also dosed off momentarily, they seized their chance and stabbed the Guru in the stomach, which resulted in his death a few days later on 7th October 1708.

Although Guru Gobind Singh’s greatest achievement was the formal establishment of the Khalsa Panth by bringing the ‘Mission of Nanak’ to a successful conclusion, yet before his death, he was able to do two more things, which helped to define clearly the future Sikh community:

(1) The appointment of a Sikh General, ‘Banda Bahadur’ to organise and lead Sikh armies which signalled the Sikh aspirations of achieving a sovereign status in Panjab.


Note: * Aad Granth literally means the original or the first book, which was indeed a collection of Gurbaani, meaning Guru’s Word or utterances. Guru’s Word or an utterance is also called a ‘Shabad’. As the Sikhs were directed to treat the Aad Granth as the spirit of the Guru, hence the terms ‘Guru Granth’ and the ‘Shabad Guru’.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

As a mark of deep respect for the Gurus, Sikhs like to add the title SIRI to the beginning, and the honorific SAHIB (lord) to the end, sometimes adding yet another honorific JI (sir), and hence Siri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The holy book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth is accorded the same reverence as would have been given to a living prophet. In a Gurdwara the holy book, Guru Granth is placed on a dais with a canopy (CHAANANI) above, which is often made with the best affordable and often richly embroidered cloths. Sikhs usually place an offering in cash or kind or both as they approach the holy book, and bow down low on their knees to show their respect for the Guru. Usually, a ‘Granthi’ (one who reads the Granth) or a Sewadar (volunteer) is in attendance and holds a CHOWR (a symbolic whisk of sovereignty), which s/he occasionally moves over the Guru Granth. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of the Guru Granth.

Before his death in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh, by ending the line of Sikh Guruships, raised the status of the Aad Granth to a permanent Guru and renamed it as the Guru Granth. The following were the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh as quoted by Bhai Parlad Singh in his Rehitnama:

Guru Khalsa Maanyo
Pargat Guru Ki Deh

Jo Sikh Mo Milbo Chaahe

Khoje Enoh Meh Leh.” (24)


“Akal Purkh Ke Bachan Seo
Pargat Chalaayo Panth
Sabh Sikhan Ko Hukam Hai
Guru Manyo Granth” (30)

Have faith in the Guru Khalsa
As the visible body of the Guru.
Any Sikh wishing to meet me
May look for, among them.

By Divine command
Panth has come into being
All Sikhs are ordained
To regard Granth as the Guru

It should be understood, that Guru Gobind Singh’s real intentions or instructions to Sikhs were that hence forth the spirit of the Guru may be felt residing in the Guru Granth as being the spiritual successor, whereas the Guru’s physical self may be seen in the form of the Khalsa Panth; indeed the ‘Guru Panth’ as being the temporal successor. Thus by assigning and accepting the status of Guruship to the Granth and Panth, Guru Gobind Singh gave a new idea and a new concept to the world, which is pragmatic and practical as well as progressive.

In the Sikh faith a Guru is one who brings light to the darkness. As the light is knowledge and ignorance is darkness, so the Guru’s words or utterances are capable of dispelling as much ignorance or darkness as the Guru himself. There are many references in the Guru Granth indicating that there is no difference between the ‘Baani’ (Guru’s word or utterances) and the Guru.

“Baani Guru, Guru Hai Baani
Vich Baani Amrit Sare
Gurbaani Kahe, Sevakjan Maane
Partakh Guru Nistaare”

“The ‘Baani’ is the Guru, the Guru is the Baani,
In ‘the word’ lays the essence of His nector
If the disciple obeys the word in daily life,
It can lead him to salvation.”
(SGGS 982)

Indeed for Sikhs, the Guru Granth is their book of ‘Revelation’. To them, it conveys the ‘Word of the Master’ through His messenger, as Nanak himself has affirmed:

“As the words of the Lord come to me
So I utter them to you.”

While studying the contents of the Guru Granth it does not take long to establish that the subject of the Gurus’ messages is Truth. Since ‘God is Truth’, the prime aim of human beings is to seek those qualities which are associated with Him. The opening sentence of the Guru Granth is called the Mool Mantar, which is a statement of this basic belief, i.e. God is Truth or the Truth is God. The concept of Truth and the need for Sikhs to associate with the Truth is thus the main message of the Granth. Indeed, of the 1430 pages of the Guru Granth there is hardly a page where the concept of Truth in some word or form does not appear. Therefore, the Guru Granth is not only the holy book of the Sikhs but it can also be used as a general scripture by the whole human race.

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