by Dr. J. S. Neki
All over the World the Sikhs are celebrating the tercentenary of the Order of the KHALSA. The Sikhs form the fifth largest religious group, around 20 million strong. The Order of the Khalsa is their elite Order. Previously inhabiting only the Indian subcontinent, the Sikhs are now to be found in almost every country of the world.
The term Sikh means a disciple – a seeker of Truth, not withdrawing from the world for his spiritual pursuit, but realizing it while participating in life in a disciplined way. Sikhism is thus the discipline of spiritual discipleship.
It is a revealed monotheistic faith founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539). He and his nine successors generated among their Sikhs a spiritual awakening characterized by the love of God, respect for all human beings, dignity of labor, vigorous altruism, fearless upholding of righteousness, and a corporate identity.
India, where this faith first came into being, had been in the shackles of foreign invaders for centuries. Even a dynasty of slaves had ruled Indians for several decades. The Sikh Gurus planned to infuse their followers not only with spiritual awakening, but also with indomitable courage to be able to shake off the age-old slavery. This was a tremendous task that required at least a couple of centuries to accomplish. That is why, it took a succession of no less than ten Gurus to accomplish it. During the stretch of about two centuries, the ten Gurus were able to demonstrate how the Sikh ideals could be practiced in different, even most difficult, circumstances.
Of the Mogul rulers of that time, Akbar the Great (1542-1605), himself a pluralist evinced cordiality towards the Sikh faith. However, after him, the later Mogul rulers began to apprehend that this new faith had begun to invaginate into the religious dominion of Islam. Worst than that, they even began to suspect that the temporal activities of the Sikh were heading towards creating an imperium in imperio. That is why, they decided to exterminate it. Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru was tortured to death in 1606 under the orders of Emperor Jehangir, and Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru was ordered to be beheaded by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1675. The latter, in fact, was martyred because he chose to champion the right of freedom of faith for the Hindus.
Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, in his home in Anandpur, was invaded again and again by Aurangzeb’s mighty Mogul armies. However, his Sikhs fought so valiantly, that in spite of eventual physical defeat, their moral victory undermined the prestige of the Mogul rule irretrievably. Later on, the Sikhs were able to create their own kingdom extending over the Punjab, which, then, extended even to include Afghanistan – the land of former invaders of India.
Guru Gobind Singh also brought about other momentous changes. First of all, he discontinued the line of personal succession and vested the holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib with the status of the Eternal Living Guru i.e. the Guru living as the Holy Word. Initially, this holy-book was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru. Guru Gobind Singh included in it the works of his worthy father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. This scripture is, perhaps, the only pluralistic scripture because, apart from the works of the Sikh Gurus, it also embodies the compositions of many holy men of the Aryan as well as the Semitic religious traditions. This holy book, painstakingly compiled, competently edited, and carefully preserved by the Gurus themselves, begins with the following invocation:
1(The One God))
Immanent and Transcendent,
Whose Name is Truth,
Who is the Creator,
Without fear or enmity,
Beyond the throes of Time,
Whose grace is Sovereign.
The cardinal principles of Sikhism have been epitomized in a three-word phrase: nam, dan, ishnan. Nam signifies remembering God and practicing His presence. Dan stands for prayerfully begging from and receiving from God and thankfully sharing the bounty with others. Ishnan (lit: ablutions) signifies cleanliness – not only of the body, but also of thought, word and deed. Sikhism prefers the householder’s way of life over that of the ascetic because ‘every one, even the ascetic, is blessed by the householder’. It emphasizes earning one’s living with honest labor (Kirt karni) and sharing the fruits of one’s labor with the needy.
One who labors for what he eats, and gives some of what he has,
He alone, says Nanak, knows the Path.
Praising God for His innumerable gifts and looking after His creation with affection and care are among the prescribed duties. A Sikh is expected also to act as God’s own Knight-at-arms (sant-sipahi) and prevent tyrrany and oppression as also upholds justice and righteousness. Sikhism condemns all types of discrimination, be it based on gender, colour, ethnicity or class. The Guru’s precept is that:
There is only One Father of us all, and we are all His children.
The Guru emphasizes according women their proper place in society:
Man is born of woman,
Of her conceived.
Is wedded to a woman, befriends her,
And through her the future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another,
To woman is he bound.
Why consider her inferior, when even kings and prophets are born of her?
The Guru always identified himself with the downtrodden. He says:
Myself I identify with the lowliest among the low;
What have I to do with the high ‘born?
God’s Grace rains down where the lowly are cared for.
The following table outlines the distinctive contributions made by the ten Gurus in the evolution of Sikhism:
No. Name Date
expired Outstanding work
1. Guru Nanak Dev 1469 ?1493 1539 Founded the Sikh faith; established its basic principles and institutions.
2. Guru Angad Dev 1504 1539 1552 Perfected the Gurmukhi script in
which the Guru’s works came to be
recorded and preserved.
3. Guru Amar Das 1479 1552 1574 Strengthened the tradition of Langar ; ensured equal status to women.
4. Guru Ram Das 1534 1574 1581 Organized excavation of the Pool of Immortality (Amritsar ).
5. Guru Arjan Dev 1563 1581 1606 Compiled the holy scripture, ( Guru Granth Sahib).
6. Guru Hargobind 1595 1606 1644 Established the Throne of the Immortal (Akal Takhat); and the doctrine of combined temporal and spiritual authority ( Miri-Piri )
7. Guru Har Rai 1631 1644 1661 Continued the task of nation building started by Guru Hargobind.
8. Guru Har Kishan 1656 1661 1664 Gave his life serving the epidemic-stricken people.
9. Guru Tegh Bahadar 1622 1664 1675 Laid down his life for mankind’s freedom of faith
10. Guru Gobind Singh 1666 1675 1708 Created the Order of the Khalsa in 1699. Guru Gobind Singh was a great nation-builder. In the words of Sir Gokul Chand Narang, a renowned Hindu leader, there was no existent concept of an Indian nation before Guru Gobind Singh. A nation he began to create by initiating the Order of the Khalsa.
The Order of the Khalsa
Three hundred years ago on the Vaisakhi day (March 30, 1699), Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru, in an extraordinarily spectacular way, established the Order of the Khalsa. The term ‘Khalsa’ means the ‘pure or holy’. It also means ‘those belonging to God alone’. On that momentous day, the Guru had convened a large assembly of the Sikhs from all over. Reliable historians put the attendance at around 40,000. In the midst of this assembly, the Guru stood on a specially erected platform, and addressing the congregation in a somber voice, said that he wanted some one to come forward and offer his head to him.
Every one was spell bound. Yet, up sprang a devotee and offered his head saying that his life had already been pledged to the Guru. Him the Guru heralded into an enclosure, and a while later, himself came back, blood dripping from his sword and called for another head. Another volunteer came forth. Five times he made the demand and every time some one came forth. Then, when the Guru re-emerged from the enclosure, he brought back all the five who had volunteered their heads and declared from the pulpit that they were his five beloved ones (panj piarey )
The Guru, then, took a steel bowl, filled it with water and started stirring it with a double-edged steel dagger (khanda), sitting by it in a heroic posture (bir asan) ,and reciting five specially selected holy texts. While this process was going on, came the Guru’s wife, Jeetoji, and added sugar-bubbles to the water to make it sweet. Thus was prepared the holy water (amrit) with which the Guru anointed the five beloved ones to initiate them into the new Order.
This done, the Guru now stood before his five beloved ones with folded hands, and entreated them to administer the amrit to them in the like manner. This established the unexceptional identity between the disciple and the Master (aape Gur chela).Since then, it has become the standard baptismal ceremony for the Sikhs to be initiated into the Order of the Khalsa. Many thousands got baptized during the week that followed. After initiation, a Sikh is obliged to follow a prescribed code of conduct ( rehat). This consists in recitation of prescribed liturgical texts every day, remembering God all the time and upholding righteousness. It also involves wearing, on one’s person, the following five symbols/markers:
Kes (unshorn hair), signifying holiness.
Kanga (a comb), to keep the hair clean as also to signify cleanliness in general.
Kirpan (a sword), to signify preparedness to defend righteousness on the one hand and Spiritual
Wisdom on the other.
Kada (a steel bracelet), a weapon of defense as also a reminder of the vows..
Kachha (an underwear), signifying the control of passions and discipline of desires.
The Khalsa, its male members in particular, are required to cover their heads with a turban. The male members get the new last name Singh (lion), and the female members Kaur (princess). This signifies that they are now the Guru’s spiritual progeny, and have been rid of their previous identities of religion, lineage, ethnicity, caste and rituals. All this resulted in the emergence of the Commonwealth of the Khalsa in which all the members had a shared corporate identity.
The Sikhs hold their congregations in their special places of worship known as the gurdwaras. In every gurdwara, a volume of Guru Granth Sahib is sited with full royal decorum. The holy book, being the living Guru for the Sikhs, is supposed to preside over the congregation.
The services in a Gurdwara consist of meditation on the Divine Name (simran), singing hymns of praise (kirtan), recitation of liturgical texts (path), expositions of the holy texts (katha), and prayerful supplication (ardas) followed by reading a random message from the holy book which is taken by all present as the commandment (hukamnama) for the day. After the conclusion of a service, the congregation shifts to the adjoining ‘temple-of-bread’ (langar) where everyone partakes of the complimentary holy food prepared and served by volunteers with great devotion. The Guru’s langar ensures that no one goes hungry. It also provides the devotees an outstanding venue for service, and where equality of mankind is also practiced.
Now, it is three hundred years since the Order of the Khalsa was promulgated. The tercentenary
celebration that is taking place now all over, shall make the Sikhs everywhere re-pledge their dedication to the precepts of the Gurus, to uphold their lofty traditions, and to be worthy citizens of this world which, for them, should be the great arena of righteousness (dharamsal).
* * * * * * JSN