From: Devinder Gulati <>
Sikhism was, and is, a pacifist creed started by Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and developed by four succeeding Gurus whose writings were compiled in an anthology, the Adi Granth, by the fifth, Guru Arjun, around 1600 AD. The Adi Granth comprises over 6,000 hymns composed by five Gurus (mainly those of the compiler Guru Arjun) and includes compositions of Hindu and Muslim saints as well as some bards. In the final version, made by Guru Gobind Singh, he inserted hymns composed by his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Gobind compiled an anthology of his own, the Dasam Granth. While the Adi (first) Granth is essentially a distillation of the Vedanta in Punjabi, the Dasam (10th) is a compilation of tales of valour of Hindu goddesses, some composed by the Guru himself, others by bards of his court. It is not accorded the same status as the Adi Granth. Thus we have two parallel scriptures, one extolling the virtues of peaceful submission, the other of combating oppression with force. The martyrdom of two Gurus changed the course of Sikh history. Guru Arjun succumbed to torture in Lahore jail in 1606; his son and sixth Guru, Har Gobind, took up arms. Tegh Bahadur was executed in Delhi in 1675; his son Gobind Rai (later Singh) converted a sizeable chunk of hitherto peace-loving Sikhs into the militant fraternity called the Khalsa or the pure.
As a consequence of these historic changes, we have several brands of Sikhs. There are Hindus who believe in Sikhism, visit gurudwaras, have a Granth Sahib in their homes and perform rituals according to Sikh rites. A large section of them are from Sindh, mainly Amils. Then there are Sahaj-dharis (slow adopters) who don’t wear the external forms of the Khalsa viz, unshorn hair and beard. The majority of Sikhs are Khalsa who undergo baptism (pahul), take vows to observe the five Ks-kesh, kangha, kaccha, kada and kirpan-and add the suffix Singh, and if female, Kaur, to their names. Those Khalsa who cut off their hair and shave their beards are regarded as patits (renegades) but still see themselves as Sikhs. The matter becomes more complex as while all the above categories of Sikhs revere only 10 Gurus and the Granth Sahib as their living embodiment, there are two sects-Nirankaris and Namdharis-who have living Gurus but nevertheless describe themselves as Sikhs.
Transition from one Sikh sect to the other, indeed from Hinduism to Sikhism, is without many hassles. Inter-marriage is not uncommon. The relationship between Hindus and Sikhs has always been roti-beti ka rishta (breaking bread in common and giving daughters in marriage), or nauh-maas da rishta (as fingernail is to the flesh). In this situation, the Khalsa find themselves losing ground, as an increasing number of their youth cut their hair and shave their beards to become no different from Hindus believing in Sikhism, while the number of Hindus accepting baptism to become Khalsas is becoming rarer.
When the Khalsa was in the ascendant politically, their numbers rose steadily. After they lost their kingdom in 1849, their population began to decline.Fortunately for them, the British came to their aid by giving them preferential treatment in services like the army and the police, separate electorates and reservation of seats in elected bodies like municipalities, legislatures, the central assembly. With independence such privileges were abolished and the economic benefits that came with being Khalsa disappeared.
In growing numbers, young Sikhs began to abandon the external symbols of the Khalsa. This was more noticeable among Sikhs settled in foreign countries. Wherever they were in large numbers and formed compact social groups-as in some East African countries and Singapore-social pressures kept the younger generation from reneging on their ancestral faith; where they were scattered in small numbers as in England, Canada and the US, a second generation emigrant conforming to Khalsa traditions became a rarity. The same phenomenon is visible among the educated elite who live in Indian cities and are exposed to western influences. Young Sikh boys question the necessity of keeping long hair and growing beards to be religious. The only rational answer is that it gives them a sense of belonging to the Khalsa Panth. Many don’t find that convincing enough and become like Hindus performing Sikh rituals and prayer.
The roots of Sikhism lie deep in the Bhakti form of Hinduism. Guru Nanak picked what he felt were its salient features: belief in one God who is undefinable, unborn, immortal, omniscient, all-pervading and the epitome of Truth; belief in the institution of the Guru as the guide in matters spiritual; unity of mankind without distinction of caste; rejection of idol worship and meaningless ritual; sanctity of the sangat (congregation) which was expected to break bread together at the Guru ka Langar; the gentle way of sahaj to approach God while fulfilling domestic obligations; hymn singing (kirtan); emphasis on work as a moral obligation. A slogan ascribed to Guru Nanak is kirt karo, vand chhako, naam japo (work, share what you earn, take the name of the Lord). There’s little doubt that Nanak felt he had a new message that needed to be conveyed after him, as he nominated his closest disciple Angad to be his successor in preference to his two sons. Angad, likewise, nominated his disciple Amar Das to succeed him. Thereafter, guruship remained among members of the same family, the Sodhis.
The compilation of the Adi Granth around 1604 AD was a landmark in the evolution of Sikhism. Though an eclectic work with compositions of Hindu and Muslim saints, it echoes the Vedanta through most of its nearly 6,000 hymns. There is a new breed of Sikh scholars who bend backwards to prove Sikhism has taken little or nothing from Hinduism. All they need to be told is that of the 15,028 names of God that appear in the Adi Granth, Hari occurs over 8,000 times, Ram 2,533 times, followed by Prabhu, Gopal Govind, Parbrahm and other Hindu nomenclature for the Divine.The purely Sikh coinage ‘Wahe Guru’ appears only 16 times.