Canadian Sikh Heritage | Sikh Gurus
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Sikh Gurus

1) Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469 CE -1539 CE)

Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of the Sikh faith, was born on April 15, 1469 in the village of Rai Bhoe Ki Talwandi, (modern day Pakistan) which is today referred to as the Nankana Sahib in memory of the Guru. Guru Nank Dev Ji was the son of Mehta Kalu and Tripata. Though the greater details of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life journeys and travels have been recorded in the Janam-Sakhis (the life stories of the first Sikh Guru), if there is one element which should be stressed, it is the simple life teachings and philosophies of the Guru. Even at the tender and impressionable age of nine when he was supposed to be learning the Ancient Hindu Vedas, Guru Nanak Dev Ji rejected such notions in order to take part in private studies, to meditate, and to meet other religious teachers and sages from different faiths. After he married his wife Sulakhni at the age of sixteen, Guru Nanak Ji could not be distracted to his greater religious and spiritual calling.

Thus, one day while he went to take part in his daily bath at the Baeen, the Guru disappeared for three days and returned, only to rid himself of all his belongings by distributing them to the poor and to lead a life of seclusion. It was during this period of enlightenment for the Guru, that he realized, “There is no Hindu and no Musalman.” And such began Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s spiritual journey to Sikhism, as he took many sacred journeys across the globe to places such as: India, Central Asia, and the Middle East including Mecca. And throughout these journeys, Nanak Ji preached the then considered radical ideologies of equality for all, regardless of their caste, creed, sex, religion, or stature. It was through these beginnings that Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s great spiritual legacy and preaching led to the faith called Sikhism (meaning learner).

2) Guru Angad Dev Ji (1504 CE – 1552 CE):

 Bhai Lehna, who would later have his name changed and become Guru Angad Dev Ji, was the second Sikh Guru. Born into a Hindu family, Bhai Lehna was in fact a devotee of the Goddess Durga and even led a group of pilgrims to the mountain of Jawala Mukhi where the Goddess Durga was said to have been consecrated from. It was during this pilgrimage however that the spiritual path of Bhai Lehna was forever changed upon his encounter with Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It was at this moment when he heard the words of Guru Nanak Dev Ji as he was preaching to all the pilgrims that Bhai Lehna then and there became a Sikh convert. Bhai Lehna became such a devout follower of Guru Nanak that he was looked upon by other followers as a prime example of the good devout Sikh. Thus it was no surprise when Guru Nanak Dev Ji proclaimed Lehna to be his successor, and by changing his name to Guru Angad, proclaimed that Lehna, has the same light and the same ways, and therefore it is only the body of the Guru which has merely changed.

Guru Angad Dev Ji continued Guru Nanak’s path by preaching and teaching the same ideas that Guru Nanak had started, and with Sikhism still being a new and inexperienced religion it was now up to Guru Angad Ji to begin the processes of solidifying the stance of Sikhism. Thus the Guru collected all the hymns and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and began the processes of converting them into a written compilation. This first collection of compilations would later form the framework for the Sikh holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. In addition to beginning the process of writing the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Angad Dev Ji also introduced Gurmukhi Script. Rather than recording the teachings of Guru Nanak in Urdu or Devnagri, Guru Angad Dev Ji instead used Punjabi, or Gurmukhi, which was deemed more worthy in terms of recording the words which came from Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s lips. Though the beginnings of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is certainly one of the more known accomplishments of Guru Angad Dev Ji, other great concepts the Guru implemented included the concept of Langar (ie. Free Kitchen). Although Guru Nanak Dev Ji introduced this concept, it was through the efforts of Guru Angad Dev Ji that all caste and creed barriers were broken once and for all through the coming together of all peoples to share in communal eating.

3) Guru Amardas Ji (1479 CE – 1574 CE):

 The third Sikh Guru was Guru Amardas Ji. Before Guru Angad Dev Ji’s passing away on March 29, 1552, he, also like Guru Nanak Dev Ji did not appoint his son or relative as his successor, but rather, this great Sikh. Guru Amardas Ji was born in April of 1479 in the village Basarke. Though he was a Hindu Vaisnavite for much of his youth, it was upon meeting Guru Angad Dev Ji and hearing the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, that Guru Amardas Ji also became a convert to Sikhism. Upon Guru Angad Dev Ji’s death Guru Amardas Ji continued much of the preaching and efforts which had been first established by those Gurus before him. Guru Amardas Ji continued to preach equality for all and rejected all notions of caste and the concept of untouchability. Furthermore, Guru Amardas Ji also enlarged the scope of the langar by decreeing all peoples entering the free kitchen must sit together and eat regardless of their caste or creed and that any foods leftover were to be fed to the animals as nothing was to be wasted.

In addition to continuing the efforts to forge the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji by collecting the hymns and scriptures of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Guru Angad Dev Ji as well as other Hindu and Muslim theologians and poets, Guru Amardas Ji also constructed one of the first Sikh holy sites called the Baoli at Goindwal. The efforts of the Guru came in response to Sikhs citing that there was no common holy place or ground for them to come and congregate together. As such, Guru Amardas Ji erected this eighty-four descending step monument for all Sikhs to come in devotion. In keeping with the radical spiritual movements started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Amardas Ji also advocated for changes to taboos of inter-caste marriages, prohibition of drinking, widow re-marriage, and the denouncing of the Islam practice of Purdah.

4) Guru Ram Das Ji (1534 CE – 1581 CE):

 Born in Lahore in 1534 Guru Ram Das Ji was the fourth Sikh Guru. Since a young age, Guru Ram Das Ji had extreme sensitivities to other’s sufferings, and despite the extreme losses in his own life, he maintained a lovable, humble and charismatic personality which melted the hearts of all those around him. After becoming an orphan with the loss of both his mother and father Guru Ram Das Ji was taken under the wings of Guru Amardas Ji. It was while he remained with Guru Amardas Ji that Guru Ram Das Ji became acquainted with the Sikh faith and some its earliest teachings and doctrines. In making this relationship even closer, Guru Amardas Ji married his daughter Bibi Bhani to Guru Ram Das Ji, thus creating a father-in-law, son-in-law relationship. Once he took the accession as the next Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji relocated to Amritsar whereby he emotionally moved all those around him through his musical songs, hymns, and compositions. Indeed, by setting his base at Amritsar.

Guru Ram Das Ji began the processes of laying the foundations for the holiest Sikh shrine, the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple). This achievement by Guru Amar Das Ji should not be underestimated as the laying of the foundation at Amritsar laid the foundations of the future greatness of the Sikhs as a community. Guru Ram Das Ji, upon foreseeing his end was the first of the Sikh Gurus to appoint his own kin, Arjan Mal as his successor.

5) Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563 CE – 1606 CE):

 Born in Goindwal on April 15, 1563, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was seen by those around him as having an inherent greatness about him. Much like his father Guru Ram Das Ji, Guru Arjan Dev Ji also inherited qualities such as kindness, compassion, and humility, even during his younger childhood years. Whereas his father Guru Ram Das Ji laid the earliest foundations for the Harimandir Sahib at Amritsar, Guru Arjan Dev Ji completed these early processes by excavating the great tanks of Amritsar and actually requesting that the famous Muslim faqir, Mian Mir, lay the foundation stone of what would become the Golden Temple. In building the Golden Temple Guru Arjan Dev Ji made it adamantly clear that the Harimandir Sahib will belong to everybody, despite their caste, creed, sex, or religion. At this point in Sikh history, the Harimandir Sahib now became the centre stage where all Sikhs could come together not only in terms of worship but also in terms of becoming a common rallying point for all Sikhs.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji not only constructed the Harimandir Sahib, but he also consolidated the Adi Granth, which was a great landmark in Sikh history as it created the notion of a distinct Sikh identity by having a separate holy book of their own in which they could look towards for guidance. Despite the efforts of his own brother to sabotage him, Guru Arjan Dev Ji could not be made into an enemy of the great Mughal emperor Akhbar due to the emperor’s own great liberal qualities and devotion to all his people. Unfortunately, the status quo in terms of religious toleration did not remain with Akhbar’s son Jahangir and his administration. And it was during the time of Guru Arjan Dev Ji the era of peaceful relations ended as Mughal emperors began to persecute and torture the Gurus or any others who opposed their beliefs religiously. The Mughal emperor Jahangir had Guru Arjan Dev Ji captured and his general, Shaikh Farid Bukhari, made the Guru sit in a hot cauldron. Following this, the Guru asked permission to bathe in the river Ravi. And it was then that Guru Arjan Dev Ji breathed his last breath.

6) Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595 CE – 1644 CE):

 Born at Village Vadali near Amritsar, Guru Har Gobind Ji was the son of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. As the era of religious tolerance and peace had come to an end with the cruel martyrdom of his father Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Guru Har Gobind Ji became schooled at a young age in swordsmanship, riding, and learning to handle various weapons. Guru Har Gobind Ji’s succession symbolized a new era within Sikhism as demonstrated through his development of the miri and piri concept. In having two swords constantly in his possession, Guru Har Gobind Ji claimed that one sword stood for miri, ie. the secular life, and the other sword stood for piri ie. the role of religious spirituality. Thus, Guru Har Gobind Ji stressed that a Sikh needed to balance both spirituality but at the same time maintain physical strength, if ever the need may arise. In achieving such goals and in the hopes of protecting all Sikhs from religious persecution and torture, Guru Har Gobind Ji forged a Sikh army by recruiting loyal Sikhs and devotees.

Such religious and secular tactics were indeed necessary as the Mughal empire under the new emperor, Shah Jahan had regressed back to acts of intolerance much like that of Jahangir’s empire. Shah Jahan was determined to convert all non-Muslims to the faith of Islam, and those who refused were dealt with severely-and in most cases, death. Such tensions between Shah Jahan’s administration and the Sikhs culminated into the battle of Amritsar which lasted two days. Ultimately, the Sikhs under Guru Har Gobind Ji would achieve in limiting some of the Mughal religious pressures. Despite the more militaristic aspects Guru Har Gobind Ji was forced to take as a result of Mughal pressures, it should not be underestimated that during his life as a Guru, Guru Har Gobind Ji also continued the spiritual teachings of his predecessors, by advocating equality for all and the oneness of the universe.

7) Guru Har Rai Ji (1630 CE – 1661 CE):

The grandson of Guru Har Gobind Singh Ji, Guru Har Rai Ji’s seventeen years as the seventh Sikh Guru were more significant in terms of the spiritual consolidating and reifying of the teachings of the previous Sikh Gurus. In comparison to the period of religious intolerance and torture on part of the Mughal rulers, the era under Guru Har Rai Ji was much more peaceful. Although Guru Har Rai Ji’s stance could be seen as being much more peaceful, that was attributed more so to the peace during the period rather than solely looking at the passive nature of the Guru. Indeed, Guru Har Rai Ji continued to support the militaristic training and recruiting of Sikh soldiers, though there was no need during the time for such forces to be utilized.

8) Guru Har Krishan Ji (1656 CE – 1664 CE):

 The succession of Guru Har Krishan Ji is a marvel in itself as he was endowed such an honour at the tender age of five. Although the young Guru met his untimely end at the age of eight due to a bout of small pox, his famous venture to Delhi at the request of Emperor Aurengzeb demonstrates the qualities which he possessed. In choosing to test the young Guru’s intelligence, the Emperor had a handful of maid servants dressed alike, of which one of them was the Rani (queen) herself. Amongst the women, the Guru immediately recognized the Rani, thus proving to the Emperor that although he may be young, he was endowed with great wisdom. When asked of his successor on his death bed, Guru Har Krishan Ji requested five paisa and a coconut (which were the customary items when announcing the next Guru) and uttered the words “Baba Bakala,” referring to Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji.

9) Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji (1621 CE – 1675 CE):

 Born on April 1, 1621, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was the youngest son of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Gobind Ji. Throughout his childhood, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji had many qualities which complimented each other greatly. For example, though he was very energetic and enthusiastic he also had peaceful spiritual qualities which he achieved through meditation. Though Amritsar was the key religious Sikh site, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji joined his father in many of his travels including places such as: Tarn Taran, Khadur Sahib, Goindwal, and Kartarpur. As the time of peace ended once again following the relative peace seen in the times of Guru Har Rai Ji and Guru Har Krishan Ji, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji also had to deal with oppressing Mughal forces under the cruellest Mughal Emperor-Aurengzeb. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, like his father held both qualities of martial talent and meditative spirituality.

Yet, despite the efforts at peace he tried to enforce, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji was captured by Aurengzeb as he was to become the second Sikh Guru martyred. Even more appalling than the religious intolerance and martyrdom were the torturous methods used on the Guru as he had burning sand poured onto his body. It was at this stage and the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji that led to the path of the birth of the Khalsa through the efforts of the tenth living Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

10) Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666 CE – 1708 CE):

Born on December 22, 1666, Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s role and influence as the final human Sikh Guru can be argued as being key to the modern-day development of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Ji was the only son of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and his wife Gujri. At a young age, people immediately knew that Guru Gobind Singh Ji was destined to do great things because in addition to the spirituality he embraced, Guru Gobind Ji was well versed with bows, arrows, and other arms. Guru Gobind Singh Ji not only encouraged the people to follow the Sikh faith and maintain physical and mental strength, but he also encouraged mass literacy by organizing committees of literary groups. The culminations of the Guru’s efforts came with the formation of the Khalsa Panth. During the month of Baisakh on March 30, 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji asked his followers to gather at Anandpur in joy of the festival. At one point, The Guru pulled out his sword and asked who was willing to sacrifice themselves for “Dharma” (duty).

Eventually, after some hesitation from the large crowd, five volunteers came forward. After taking the five volunteers aside into a tent and emerging with a bloody sword, people were abhorred. But then, the Panj Pyare, ie. the Five Beloved Ones, emerged alive and well. Guru Gobind Singh Ji then declared that although the Five Beloved Ones came from different castes, once baptized into the Khalsa they had all become brothers as one under the Sikh faith. Thus, on that auspicious day, Guru Gobind Singh Ji began the process of baptism to the Khalsa through the preparation of the Amrit, ie. water and sugar stirred in an iron dish by a double-edged sword. For those who chose to be baptised into the Khalsa the Guru created a strict code of one which included the five k’s: Kes (long, uncut hair), Kanga (comb), Kirpan (dagger), Kara (steel bracelet), and Kachhera (long undershorts). Alongside the five k’s, there were specifics rules of conduct that a baptised Sikh had to follow including the restriction of eating meat, smoking, drinking, etc. Guru Gobind Singh Ji died from the wounds caused while in battle on October 18th, 1708.

11) Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji:

Rather than choosing another individual to become the eleventh Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji declared that the last and final Guru to be worshipped by Sikhs would be the now completed Sikh Adi Granth, or the final name as the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. By the year 1705 the compilations contained within the Sri Guru Granth Sahib were finalized in Damdana Sahib after Guru Gobind Singh Ji added hymns written by his father Guru Tegh Bahadur, as well as a final couplet written by himself. In its entirety, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji contains 1430 pages, each divided into thirty nine chapters. Beginning with the work of Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Japji Sahib, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji also contains poetry and hymns from Muslim Sufis, individuals of different castes, Brahmins, as well as all the teachings and songs of each of the ten Sikh Gurus. For Sikhs today, it is the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji which is looked up to for spiritual guidance and reflection.