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Sikhism

Founded in fifteenth century Punjab on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and ten successive Sikh Gurus (the last one being the sacred text Guru Granth Sahib), is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root si?va meaning "disciple" or "learner", or sik?a meaning "instruction".
The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in waheguru -represented using the sacred symbol of ikoa?kar, the Universal God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture entitled the Guru Granth Sahib, which, along with the writings of six of the ten Sikh Gurus, includes selected works of many devotees from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctively associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 23 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in Punjab in India and, until India's partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now Pakistani Punjab.
The origins of Sikhism lie in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Nanak in these words: "Realisation of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living". Sikhism believes in equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. Sikhism also does not attach any importance to asceticism as a means to attain salvation, but stresses on the need of leading life as a householder.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. In Sikhism, God—termed Vahiguru- is shapeless, timeless, and sightless: nira?kar, akal, and alakh. It states that God is omnipresent and infinite, and is signified by the term ek oa?kar. Sikhs believe that before creation, all that existed was God and Its hukam (will or order). When God willed, the entire cosmos was created. From these beginnings, God nurtured "enticement and attachment" to maya, or the human perception of reality.
While a full understanding of God is beyond human beings, Nanak described God as not wholly unknowable. God is omnipresent (sarav viapak) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Nanak stressed that God must be seen from "the inward eye", or the "heart", of a human being: devotees must meditate to progress towards enlightenment. Guru Nanak Dev emphasized the revelation through meditation, as its rigorous application permits the existence of communication between God and human beings. God has no gender in Sikhism, (though translations may incorrectly present a male God); indeed Sikhism teaches that God is "Nirankar" [Niran meaning "without" and kar meaning "form", hence "without form"]. In addition, Nanak wrote that there are many worlds on which God has created life. The term guru comes from the Sanskrit guru, meaning teacher, guide, or mentor. The traditions and philosophy of Sikhism were established by ten specific gurus from 1499 to 1708. Each guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of the Sikh religion. Nanak was the first guru and appointed a disciple as successor. Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. Before his death, Gobind Singh decreed that the Guru Granth Sahib would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs. The Sikhs believe that the spirit of Nanak was passed from one guru to the next, " just as the light of one lamp, which lights another and does not diminish ", and is also mentioned in their holy book.

History of Sikhism


Nanak (1469–1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Rai Bhoi di Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib (in present-day Pakistan). His father, Mehta Kalu was a Patwari, an accountant of land revenue in the employment of Rai Bular Bhatti, the area landlord. Nanak's mother was Tripta Devi and he had one older sister, Nanaki. His parents were Khatri Hindus of the Bedi clan. As a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home and take missionary journeys.
In his early teens, Nanak caught the attention of the local landlord Rai Bular Bhatti, who was moved by his intellect and divine qualities. Rai Bular was witness to many incidents in which Nanak enchanted him and as a result Rai Bular and Nanak's sister Bibi Nanki, became the first persons to recognise the divine qualities in Nanak. Both of them then encouraged and supported Nanak to study and travel. Sikh tradition states that at the age of thirty, Nanak went missing and was presumed to have drowned after going for one of his morning baths to a local stream called the Kali Bein. One day, he declared: "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" (in Punjabi, "na koi hindu na koi musalman"). It was from this moment that Nanak would begin to spread the teachings of what was then the beginning of Sikhism. Although the exact account of his itinerary is disputed, he is widely acknowledged to have made four major journeys, spanning thousands of miles, the first tour being east towards Bengal and Assam, the second south towards Tamil Nadu, the third north towards Kashmir, Ladakh, and Tibet, and the final tour west towards Baghdad and Mecca.
Nanak was married to Sulakhni, the daughter of Moolchand Chona, a rice trader from the town of Bakala. They had two sons. The elder son, Sri Chand, was an ascetic, and he came to have a considerable following of his own, known as the Udasis. The younger son, Lakshmi Das, on the other hand, was totally immersed in worldly life. To Nanak, who believed in the ideal of raj mai? jog (detachment in civic life), both his sons were unfit to carry on the Guruship.

Growth of the Sikh community


In 1538, Nanak chose his disciple Lahi?a, a Khatri of the Trehan clan, as a successor to the guruship rather than either of his sons. Lahi?a was named Angad Dev and became the second guru of the Sikhs. Nanak conferred his choice at the town of Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi, where Nanak had finally settled down after his travels. Though Sri Chand was not an ambitious man, the Udasis believed that the Guruship should have gone to him, since he was a man of pious habits in addition to being Nanak's son. They refused to accept Angad's succession. On Nanak's advice, Angad shifted from Kartarpur to Khadur, where his wife Khivi and children were living, until he was able to bridge the divide between his followers and the Udasis. Angad continued the work started by Nanak and is widely credited for standardising the Gurmukhi script as used in the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.
Amar Das, a Khatri of the Bhalla clan, became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindval became an important centre for Sikhism during the guruship of Amar Das. He preached the principle of equality for women by prohibiting purdah and sati. Amar Das also encouraged the practice of langar and made all those who visited him attend la?gar before they could speak to him. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have la?gar. Amar Das also trained 146 apostles of which 52 were women, to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before he died in 1574 aged 95, he appointed his son-in-law Je?ha, a Khatri of the Sodhi clan, as the fourth Sikh guru.
Je?ha became Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar.. Before Ramdaspur, Amritsar was known as Guru Da Chakk. In 1581, Arjan Dev- youngest son of the fourth guru—became the fifth guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for building the Darbar/Harimandir Sahib (called the Golden Temple), he prepared the Sikh sacred text known as the Adi Granth (literally the first book) and included the writings of the first five gurus. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the Granth and for supporting an unsuccessful contender to the throne, he was tortured and killed by the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.

Political advancement


Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords—one for spiritual and the other for temporal reasons (known as miri and piri in Sikhism). Sikhs grew as an organized community and under the 10th Guru the Sikhs developed a trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Har Rai became guru followed by Harkrishan, the boy guru, in 1661. No hymns composed by these three gurus are included in the Sikh holy book.
Tegh Bahadur became guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675. Teg Bahadur was executed by Aurangzeb for helping to protect Hindus, after a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits came to him for help when the Emperor condemned them to death for failing to convert to Islam. He was succeeded by his son, Gobind Rai who was just nine years old at the time of his father's death. Gobind Rai further militarised his followers, and was baptised by the Pañj Piare when he formed the Khalsa on 13 April 1699. From here on in he was known as Gobind Singh..
From the time of Nanak, when it was a loose collection of followers who focused entirely on the attainment of salvation and God, the Sikh community had significantly transformed. Even though the core Sikh religious philosophy was never affected, the followers now began to develop a political identity. Conflict with Mughal authorities escalated during the lifetime of Teg Bahadur and Gobind Singh. The latter founded the Khalsa in 1699. The Khalsa is a disciplined community that combines its religious purpose and goals with political and military duties. After Aurangzeb killed four of his sons, Gobind Singh sent Aurangzeb the Zafarnamah (Notification/Epistle of Victory).
Shortly before his death, Gobind Singh ordered that the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Scripture), would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would be vested in the Khalsa Panth—the Sikh Nation/Community. The first scripture was compiled and edited by the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, in 1604. A former ascetic was charged by Gobind Singh with the duty of punishing those who had persecuted the Sikhs. After the guru's death, Baba Singh Bahadur became the leader of the Sikh army and was responsible for several attacks on the Mughal empire. He was executed by the emperor Jahandar Shah after refusing the offer of a pardon if he converted to Islam.
The Sikh community's embrace of military and political organisation made it a considerable regional force in medieval India and it continued to evolve after the demise of the gurus. After the death of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, a Sikh Confederacy of Sikh warrior bands known as misls formed. With the decline of the Mughal empire, a Sikh Empire arose in the Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with its capital in Lahore and limits reaching the Khyber Pass and the borders of China. The order, traditions and discipline developed over centuries culminated at the time of Ranjit Singh to give rise to the common religious and social identity that the term "Sikhism" describes.
After the death of Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Empire fell into disorder and was eventually annexed by the United Kingdom after the hard-fought Anglo-Sikh Wars. This brought the Punjab under the British Raj. Sikhs formed the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal to preserve Sikhs' religious and political organization a quarter of a century later. With the partition of India in 1947, thousands of Sikhs were killed in violence and millions were forced to leave their ancestral homes in West Punjab. Sikhs faced initial opposition from the Government in forming a linguistic state that other states in India were afforded. The Akali Dal started a non-violence movement for Sikh and Punjabi rights. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a leader of the Bhindran-Mehta Jatha—which assumed the name of Damdami Taksal in 1977 to promote a peaceful solution of the problem. In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to launch Operation Blue Star to remove Bhindranwale and his followers from the Darbar Sahib. Bhindranwale, and a large number of innocent pilgrims were killed during the army's operations.

In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The assassination was followed by the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots massacre and Hindu-Sikh conflicts in Punjab, as a reaction to the assassination and Operation Blue Star.