Thursday, December 2, 2010


Shri Bhupinder Singh Suri

 Guru Nanak Dev Ji instituted the concept of Sangat and Pangat, Sangat (congregation) was the mixing together of devotees in worship – recitation of hymns and singing of shabad, and listening to discourses. The Sangats were established all over the places visited by Guru Nanak Dev  right from the beginning and eventually emerged as missionary centres of Sikhism. That infused a social spirit and formed an attempt at communal living apart from group moksha (deliverance from birth and death) instead of emphasis on individualism and individual  moksha in  Hinduism.  It also provided the people a platform to exchange views on common problems and generate a feeling of communal and national consciousness at a time when sense of nationalism was absence among the populace.
The Langar or free kitchen was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. "..the Light of God is in all hearts."
For the first time in history, Guruji designed an institution in which all people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same pangat (literally "row" or "line") to share and enjoy the food together.
The institution of Guru ka Langar has served the community in many ways. It has ensured the participation of women and children in a task of service for mankind. Women play an important role in the preparation of meals, and the children help in serving food to the pangat. Langar also teaches the etiquette of sitting and eating in a community situation, which has played a great part in upholding the virtue of sameness of all human beings; providing a welcome, secure and protected sanctuary.
Everyone is welcome to share the Langar; no one is turned away. The food is normally served twice a day, every day of the year, and some Gurdwaras Langar is served 24 hours a day. Each week a family or several families volunteer to provide and prepare the Langar. This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed, and caterers are not allowed. All the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is done by volunteers and or by voluntary helpers (Sewadars).  Besides the Langars attached to gurdwaras, there are improvised open-air Langars at the time of festivals and gurpurbs. Specially arranged Langars on such occasions are probably the most largely attended community meals anywhere in the world. There might be a hundred thousand people partaking of food at a single meal in one such langar. Wherever Sikhs are, they have established their Langars. In their prayers, the Sikhs seek from the Almighty the favour.
Guru-ka-Langar (lit. 'Gurus' communal dining-hall) is a community kitchen run in the name of the Guru. Often referred to as the Guru's Kitchen it is usually a small room attached to a gurdwara, but at larger gurdwaras, such as the Harmandir Sahib, it takes on the look of a military kitchen with tasks arranged so that teams of sewadars prepare tons of food (all meals are vegetarian) for thousands of the Gurus' guests daily. The Langar is run by sevadars 'volunteers doing selfless service’ Sikhs and others who wish to help. It is a community kitchen and anybody can help in its running. This function of Sewa results in a community feeling in peoples' minds as they drop their mask of ego. The feeling of "I" or "me" is forgotten as they perform this valuable service to humanity.
An essential part of any Gurdwara is the Langar, or free kitchen. Here the food is cooked by sevadars and is served without discrimination to all. After the Sadh Sangat has participated in any ceremony, they are served the Guru’s Langar. It was inspired by Guru Nanak’s act of serving food to wandering holy men when given money by his father to strike a good bargain. The practice of serving food to all was started with Guru Nanak’s Sikhs at Kartarpur. The Guru’s Langar is always vegetarian, and traditionally is made up of simple, nourishing food. Strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness are important when preparing the Langar (i.e., washed hands, never tasting it while cooking). Individuals with communicable diseases should not participate in the preparation of Langar. It is also suggested that Gurbani be recited during the preparation.
Guru Nanak and his successors attached a great deal of importance to langar and it became, in their hands, a potent means of social reform. The former gave it the central place in the dharamsala he established at Kartarpur at the end of his preaching tours. Guru Nanak, as did Guru Angad, toiled in the fields to provide for himself and for his family and to contribute his share to the common langar.  Guru Nanak Dev had such of his disciples as could afford to set up dharamsalas and langars. Among them were 'Sajjan Thag, then lost to godly ways, and a wealthy nobleman, Malik Bhago, both of whom had converted to his message. Bhumia, formerly a dacoit, was asked by Guru Nanak to turn his kitchen into a langar in the name of God. A condition was laid upon Raja Shivnabh of Sangladip (Sri Lanka) that he open a langar before he could see him (Guru Nanak). The Raja, it is said, happily complied.
Guru Angad opened Guru-ka-langar at Khadur where he had established his headquarters. The expression of service and a belief in the unreality of caste and class distinction is but an extension of earliest teachings of the Sikh Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth master, strengthened such an attitude among the Sikhs and in all rites emphasized the spirit of fellowship of and duty. A communion ceremony was specially designed to encourage an outlook of equality among all in the faith. After the Amrit ceremony all who are baptized in Sikh style partake of cooking of consecrated flow, purified butter and sugar - known as Karah Parsaad and thus set themselves free from meaning less restriction between man and man. It is obvious that the langar serves a dual purpose. It is a symbol of Sikh recognition of equality among all people, to whatever caste, creed, color, nationality of religion that may belong. it also helps the Sikhs to put into practice the spirit of social service.
Guru Angad Dev  wife also contributed a great to serve Langar. The couple had a son Dasu and daughter Amro by the time they met Guru Nanak. Later on they had another daughter Anokhi, and a second son, Datu. Khivi heard about Guru Nanak from her friend Mai Bihari. Lehna overheard the hymn of Japji composed by Guru Nanak. The couple became interested in meeting Guru Nanak. They stopped over to meet the Guru while on a pilgrimage to worship Durga. Impressed by all they saw and heard the couple and their two children ended up staying with Guru Nanak and devoted themselves to the Guru's service.  Khivi became very involved in organizing, providing and serving meals to whomever came to see Guru Nanak. Her husband Lehna was an ardent devotee of Guru Nanak who named him Angad Dev and appointed him to succeed as second Guru. In her role as the Guru's wife, Mata Khivi carried on making sure only the best and tastiest foods were served from the Guru's kitchen. After her husband's demise she served with Guru Amar Das and helped him to establish langar as a permanent institution in Sikhism. She continued to be active in the langar for the remainder of her life serving along side both Guru Raam Das and Guru Arjun Dev.
Mata Khivi is revered in the Guru Granth Sahib for her selfless devotion and service in the guru's communal free kitchen. She lovingly and impartially gave comfort with her own hands in sustenance of langar, providing nourishment for both body and soul. The minstrels Sata & Balvand wrote:
Balvandd kheevee nek jan jis bahutee chhaao patraalee||
Balwan declares that Khivi is a noble wife who provides to all the soothing shade of her leaves.

Langar doulat vanddee-ai ras anmrit kheer ghiaalee||
From her kitchen, she distributes the wealth of ambrosial nectar in her rice pudding made with ghee. SGGS-967
Guru Angad Dev wife Mata Khivi looked after its arrangements and personally served in the preparation and distribution of food. She always served a sweet dish of rice-milk (khir), the coveted food of Panjab is. The Guru's two minstrels, Satta and Balwand, have thus praised her:
Baiwand Kitivi nek jan jis bahuti chhaon patiali,
Langar daulat wandiai ras amrit khir ghiali.
[Says Balwand, Khivi was a noble person who offered great help and. distributed in the langar riches like ambrosial preparation of sugar-cane juice, rice and milk all boiled together as well as ghee or clarified butter.]
Bhai Gurdas recapitulates the everyday duties of a Sikh thus: A Sikh is to rise from his bed in the last watch of the night and take his bath. He should then repeat the Name in silence and absolute concentration as instructed by the Guru. His next duty is to go to the Sangat and there, steeped in true reverence, recite and listen to the holy hymns. And before partaking of his food, he should distribute a part of it to others. At dusk he is enjoined upon to recite the Sodar and before retiring the Sohila Sahib
By the time of accession, the institution of kirtan, sangat and pangat had taken firm rooms. Guru Amar Das took decisive steps to further consolidate the Sikh movement. Guru Amar Das further improved the quality of food served in Guru-ka-Langar which now included choicest food and dainty dishes (though he himself partook only saltless rice, lentils and curd). He also made partaking of food in Guru-ka-Langar compulsory  for anyone wishing to see him.  The principle of Guru-ka-Langar is so important that even when the ruler of India Emperor Akbar visited Guru Amar Das Ji, he too had to first sit in pangat lined up with commoners sharing simple foods cooked by Sikhs who months before may have been from any of India's castes. Anyone had to take Langar before he was allowed to meet with the Guru. Hence the mighty Emperor who was usually served elaborate dishes with complicate sauces, all of which had to be first tasted to assure he was not poisoned sat amongst people formerly of all castes and religions, which outside of the Sikh Langer people of differing religions would not even drink water from those of another religions' well. Or take food cooked by other of a differing religions hands.
The Langar started by Guru Nanak was truely a revolutionary idea. Akbar was so impressed by the Langar and the service that it shared to people of any religion, that he offered a great jagir (a sizeable estate with several villages and the right to the products and produce produced by the tenants) as a contribution to the langar' maintainance. As the Mahima Prakash records, the Emperor refused to step on the silks spread out for him by his servants when going to call on the Guru. He turned aside the lining with his own hands and walked to the Guru’s presence barefoot. The Guru would not accept the Emperor's offer of the jagir, so Akbar offered it as a wedding present for the Guru's daughter. It is believed that the gifted land, is today, the city of Amritsar.  A Sikh has thus been given a simple holy routine for daily practice. He has been asked to cultivate a certain discipline. A true Sikh has to be unceasing in his devotion for the Guru and service to the Sangat. Sangat is also called Satsangat (congregation of true ones) or Sadh sangat (the congregation of the saints). The sangats played a significant role in the development and the success of Sikh missionary work. The Sikh belief is that the Guru lives in the sangat. The guild of devotees represents the Guru and can guide the community for various purposes. Those who join the sangat learn to serve the people and in the company of the true ones disciples get lesson of Love for the Holy Name. "In holy company we become true and develop love for the word".
    When a Sikh joins the sangat, he comes in contact with noble people. He feels a great change in himself. It helps him to remove his egotism, angularities and eccentricities. He learns to work in c co-operative and democratic set-up and by doing so his sense of selfishness vanishes. In sangat all disciples are equal. They pray together and share meals with each other. They get pleasure in offering voluntary service for community development and social welfare. The Sikh Gurus established sangats at different places and the members of these sangats dug wells for the benefit of the masses, built rest-houses and looked after the needs of the poor and the disabled. Through these sangats service was done not just to the Sikhs but also to the members of other communities. The Sikh Gurus established Dharamshalas. Such places of worship and shelter catered to the needs of pilgrims, visitors and the homeless. These were Langars with such hospices where religion was preached in a practical manner. The Sikh concept of charity or philanthropy is a widely social concept. Charity or Dan in the Sikh religion is not merely "giving alms". It rather stands for service. The exhortation of Dan was meant to create an economic agency, which through offerings made to the Gurus, served to keep the Sikh Langars alive. Later on, it crystallized into the institution of Daswandh (tithe) and the Gurus established Masands for its collection.
As the faith gradually grew and gained popularity a situation arose when it became necessary to organize the Sangats and provide the Sikhs with convenient local centers. It was to meet this necessity that the Manji-system was reorganized during the days of Guru Amar Das. He divided the 'Sikh spiritual empire' into 22 manjis. Manjis literally means 'couches' on which the Gurus sat and issued instructions on their audiences. These manjis organized the Sikh sangats and as the Sangats multiplied steadily so grew the Guru-ka-Langar, a free community kitchen, which is an essential part of every Sikh Gurdwara or the Sikh temple. The Masands, together with the Sangats forward the pivot of the organization during the time of Guru Arjan and for several decades had creditably served the cause of Sikhism. The well-knit organization of the Sangats and the Masands not only kept the Sikhs together and in touch with the Guru, but also provided them with funds necessary for the various kitchens at different places and for other common purposes.
   'Man lives by bread, but not by bread alone. And he lives not just for bread, there is some higher and nobler aim to live for.' This is what a devout Sikh feels. The Sikh Gurus combined worship and bread. A Sikh Temple is the 'Temple of worship and Prayer', and the Langar attached to it is the 'Temple of Bread'. In the Common Kitchen people who come to eat together sit in Pangats. This is the arrangement for feeding the people in Guru-Ka-Langar since its inception. Pangat-system was popularized by Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of Sikhs. Pangat in the community mess gives practical training in discipline of service. Disciples of the Guru not only sit together in congregation to pray together but also sit in the Langar to share the food. Both these are important part of the Sikh Religion.   Probably the most largely attended community meal in the whole world is the Langar of the Sikhs. When the Sikh people celebrate the birthday of a Guru, or a death anniversary of a martyr, free meals are provided for all who participate in the celebrations. In such mass meals not only the Sikhs but members of other communities so often join to share the food in the name of the Guru. Normally there is a dining hall with every Sikh Gurdwara which is of great importance. Suitable space and proper arrangement for the pantry, the kitchen for the cooking are essential for a langar. Supply of water, vegetables, lentils, milk, sugar and ghee (purified butter) and other amenities are to be ensured first to run a langar smoothly. The maintenance of the langar is the responsibility of the community.  The concepts of Sangat and Pangat are two of the most important and significant aspects of Guru Nanak`s teachings of Sikh faith. He successfully used these two aspects to spread his idealism among his disciples and also to establish his athoughts effectively. He mainly used Sangat and Pangat to establish his thought of One God and equality of all the human beings, something that was almost unthinkable in his period of time
When Guru Hargobind settled at Kiratpur, Langar continued to exist there. Mohsin Fani, who lived at Kiratpur during the last phase of Guru's life, mentions an incident. One of the Guru's disciples was Jhanda, a rich man. One day the Guru asked his Sikhs to fetch fuel wood from the jungle for Guru-ka-langar. Jhanda used to wait on the Guru daily. On this occasion he remained absent for two days. The Guru sent men to inquire about him. He was not found at home. A search was made in the neighbourhood. He was seen coming from a jungle with a bundle of firewood on his back. Hargobind remonstrated with hirn for having undertaken such a menial job. He replied that the Guru had asked his Sikhs to fetch wood. He was a Sikli and therefore went to the jungi'e. As he was not accustomed to break wood, it took him time to collect it.
The seventh Guru, Har Rai, preserved the tradition at Nahan where he lived for twelve long years. It was maintained during the time of Guru Har Krishan. As Guru Tegh Bahadur remained mostly on the move, a mobile langar followed him.
Guru Gobind Singh not only maintained his own langar, but insisted on others to do so. One day in disguise he called at the langars of his notable and rich disciples rather at odd hours. He found most of them unwilling to receive him before time. Bhai Nandlal, however, served him as best as he could. The following day he narrated his experience in a durbar and advised them to offer something to eat to visitors even at irregular times. The Guru continued "There is nothing equal to the bestowal of food. Blest is the man who giveth to the really hungry. Let no one fix a time for the exercise of this virtue. It is not necessary to consider whether it is night or day, evening or morning, whether the moon is dark or full, or if there is a particular anniversary. Nor is it necessary to consider what the social position of the applicant may be. Avoid all delay in such a matter. Charity is of all gifts the
Guru Gobind Singh Ji says: “ May the kitchen and the Sword prevail in the World”. “Deg Teg Jag maih Dou Chleh!” Deg and Teg are Persian words, meaning the kettle and the sword respectively. Deg literally means a cooking -pot. It symbolically stands for the free kitchen or Langar; whereas Teg is the sword represents dignity and power. Deg to feed the poor and the stanger, regardless of caste and religion; and “Tag” the Sword, to destroy the oppressor of humanity and protect the oppressed. Hence Deg and Teg are symbols of service and power. Many of the Sikhs started their own Langars at Anandpur. One day, Guru Gobind Singh went out incognito on an inspection of Langars. He found out that Bhai Nand Lal maintained the Langar well, while others were indifferent to the needs of poor. He warned them and remarked, “The mouths of the poor are Guru’s receptacles of gifts”.
Once Guru Gobind Singh, disguised as an ordinary pilgrim, made a surprise check of the langars at Anandpur. He discovered that Bhai Nand Lal’s langar was the best maintained (he had been turned away at several other Langars, where he was told to come back when the food was ready), but at Bhai Nand Lal's he had been served even though the Langar was not yet ready with the usual meal. He complimented him and asked others to emulate his standards of dedication and service. One of Guru Gobind Singh’s commandments was that a Sikh visiting another Sikh’s door must be served food, without hesitation or delay. Another of his sayings ran: “Gharib da munh guru ki golak hai — to feed a hungry mouth is to feed the Guru.” This spirit of common sharing and of mutual co-operation and service was the underlying principle of the Sikh tradition of langar.

An Ardas(prayer) is performed asking the Guru Granth Sahib to accept the Karah Parsad (4), food and bless the sevadars who prepared it and bless those that eat from the Langar. When recite the Ardas it is ask Guru to bless the Prasad and the Langar. Langar don’t cut with a knife; it is cut with a Kirpan ( A dagger, sword or sheath knife with one cutting edge). The root word of kirpan is Kripa, which means grace. Langar and prasad touch with the kripan, thereby passing Guru’s Grace into it. Steel is a conductor of energy. Further, the energy of the steel also transfers to the Langar and parsad, giving it that extra strength, tempered by the sweetness of the Anand. The blade is sharpened steel to give us the sharp edge of discrimination so that we can act wisely. We cover the Langar and Prasad to protect it. All the colors, or vibrations, the head must be covered and shoes removed in this hall, the Langar should be served on the floor with the sangat sitting cross-legged.

- o 0 o -


Shri Bhupinder Singh Suri
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in the fifteenth century Punjab on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and ten successive Sikh Gurus (the last one being the sacred text Guru Granth Sahib Ji). It 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). Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit root meaning "disciple", or śika meaning "instruction".
The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in Waheguru—represented by the phrase ik ōakār, meaning one God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. 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 Gurū Granth Sāhib Ji, 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 Ji, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Sikh religion. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are associated with the history, society and culture of Punjab. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 26 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in Punjab, India although there is a significant Sikh diaspora. Until India's partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now Pakistani Punjab. The Harimandir Sahib, known popularly as the Golden Temple, is a sacred shrine for Sikhs.
The origins of Sikhism lie in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Guru Nanak in these words: "Realisation of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living". Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. Sikh principles do not attach any importance to asceticism as a means to attain salvation, but stresses on the need of leading life as a householder.
In Sikhism, God—termed Waheguru—is shapeless, timeless, and sightless: nirakār, akāl, and alakh. The beginning of the first composition of Sikh scripture is the figure "1"—signifying the universality of God. It states that God is omnipresent and infinite, and is signified by the term ēk ōakār. 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 māyā, 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 viāpak) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Guru 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, Guru Nanak wrote that there are many worlds on which God has created life. Guru Nanak's teachings are founded not on a final destination of heaven or hell, but on a spiritual union with God which results in salvation. The chief obstacles to the attainment of salvation are social conflicts and an attachment to worldly pursuits (Māyā), which commit men and women to an endless cycle of birth—a concept known as reincarnationMāyā—defined as illusion or "unreality"—is one of the core deviations from the pursuit of God and salvation: people are distracted from devotion by worldly attractions which give only illusive satisfaction. However, Guru Nanak emphasised māyā as not a reference to the unreality of the world, but of its values. In Sikhism, the influences of ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust—known as the Five Evils—are believed to be particularly pernicious. The fate of people vulnerable to the Five Evils is separation from God, and the situation may be remedied only after intensive and relentless devotion.
Guru Nanak designated the word guru (meaning teacher) as the voice of God and the source and guide for knowledge and salvation. Salvation can be reached only through rigorous and disciplined devotion to God. Guru Nanak distinctly emphasised the irrelevance of outward observations such as rites, pilgrimages, or asceticism. He stressed that devotion must take place through the heart, with the spirit and the soul. A key practice to be pursued is nām: remembrance of the divine Name. The verbal repetition of the name of God or a sacred syllable is an established practice in religious traditions in India, but Guru Nanak's interpretation emphasized inward, personal observance. Guru Nanak's ideal is the total exposure of one's being to the divine Name and a total conforming to Dharma or the "Divine Order". Guru Nanak described the result of the disciplined application of nām simra as a "growing towards and into God" through a gradual process of five stages. The last of these is sac khaṇḍ (The Realm of Truth)—the final union of the spirit with God.
Guru Nanak stressed now kirat karō: that a Sikh should balance work, worship, and charity, and should defend the rights of all creatures, and in particular, fellow human beings. They are encouraged to have a chadī kalā, or optimistic, view of life. Sikh teachings also stress the concept of sharing—vaṇḍ Chhakkō—through the distribution of free food at Sikh gurdwaras (lagar), giving charitable donations, and working for the good of the community and others (sēvā). The term guru comes from the Sanskrit gurū, 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. Guru Nanak was the first guru and appointed a disciple as successor. Guru Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. Before his death, Guru Gobind Singh decreed that the Gurū Granth Sāhib would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs. The Sikhs believe that the spirit of Guru 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. After Guru Nanak's passing, the most important phase in the development of Sikhism came with the third successor, Guru Amar Das. Guru Nanak's teachings emphasised the pursuit of salvation; Guru Amar Das began building a cohesive community of followers with initiatives such as distinctive ceremonies for birth, marriage, and death. Guru Amar Das also established the manji (comparable to a diocese) system of clerical supervision.
Guru Amar Das's successor and son-in-law Guru Ram Das founded the city of Amritsar, which is home of the Harimandir Sahib and regarded widely as the holiest city for all Sikhs. When Guru Ram Das's youngest son Arjan succeeded him, the line of male gurus from the Sodhi Khatri family was established: all succeeding gurus were direct descendants of this line. Guru Arjan Sahib was captured by Mughal authorities who were suspicious and hostile to the religious order he was developing. His persecution and death inspired his successors to promote a military and political organization of Sikh communities to defend themselves against the attacks of Mughal forces.
The Sikh gurus established a mechanism which allowed the Sikh religion to react as a community to changing circumstances. The sixth guru, Guru Hargobind   was responsible for the creation of the concept of Akal Takht (throne of the timeless one), which serves as the supreme decision-making centre of Sikhdom and sits opposite the Darbar Sahib. The Sarbat Ḵẖālsā (a representative portion of the Khalsa Panth) historically gathers at the Akal Takht on special festivals such as Vaisakhi or Diwali and when there is a need to discuss matters that affect the entire Sikh nation. A gurmatā (literally, guru's intention) is an order passed by the Sarbat Ḵẖālsā in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. A gurmatā may only be passed on a subject that affects the fundamental principles of Sikh religion; it is binding upon all Sikhs. The term hukamnāmā (literally, edict or royal order) is often used interchangeably with the term gurmatā. However, a hukamnāmā formally refers to a hymn from the Gurū Granth Sāhib which is given as an order to Sikhs.
Guru Nanak (1469–1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Rāi Bhōi dī Talwandī, 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. Guru 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 God and religion. He would not partake in religious rituals or customs and oddly meditated alone. 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 amazing 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 on his arival, he declared: "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" (in Punjabi, "nā kōi hindū nā kōi musalmān"). 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 immersed in worldly life. To Nanak, who believed in the ideal of rāj mai jōg (detachment in civic life), both his sons were unfit to carry on the Guruship.
In 1538, Guru Nanak chose his disciple Lahiā, a Khatri of the Trehan clan, as a successor to the guruship rather than either of his sons. Lahiā was named Angad Dev and became the second guru of the Sikhs.  Guru Nanak conferred his choice at the town of Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi, where Guru 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 Guru Nanak's son. On Guru Nanak's advice, Guru 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. Guru Angad continued the work started by Guru Nanak and is widely credited for standardising the Gurmukhī script as used in the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.
Guru Amar Das, a Khatri of the Bhalla clan, became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73.  Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the guruship of Guru Amar Das. He preached the principle of equality for women by prohibiting purdah and sati. Guru Amar Das also encouraged the practice of langar and made all those who visited him attend lagar before they could speak to him.   In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have lagar. Guru 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 , a Khatri of the Sodhi clan, as the fourth Sikh guru.
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 Ādi Granth (literally the first book) and included the writings of the first five gurus and other enlightened Hindu and Muslim saints. 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.
Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords—one for spiritual and the other for temporal reasons (known as mīrī and pīrī 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, Guru Har Rai became guru followed by Guru Harkrishan, the boy guru, in 1661. No hymns composed by these three gurus are included in the Sikh holy book.
Guru Tegh Bahadur became guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675. Guru 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 Piārē when he formed the Khalsa on 13 April 1699. From here on in he was known as Guru Gobind Singh.
From the time of Guru 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 Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru 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, Guru Gobind Singh sent Aurangzeb the Zafarnamah (Notification/Epistle of Victory).
Shortly before his death, Guru Gobind Singh ordered that the Gurū Granth Sāhib (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, Guru Arjan Dev, in 1604.
A former ascetic was charged by Guru Gobind Singh with the duty of punishing those who had persecuted the Sikhs. After the guru's death, Baba Banda 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 First and Second 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.
There is one primary sources of scripture for the Sikhs: the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The Gurū Granth Sāhib may be referred to as the Ādi Granth—literally, The First Volume—and the two terms are often used synonymously. Here, however, the Ādi Granth refers to the version of the scripture created by Arjan Dev in 1604. The Gurū Granth Sāhib refers to the final version of the scripture created by Guru Gobind Singh.
There are other other sources of scriptures such as the Dasam Granth and so called Janamsakhis. These however, have been the subject of controversial debate amongst the Sikh community.
The Ādi Granth was compiled primarily by Bhai Gurdas under the supervision of Guru Arjan Dev between the years 1603 and 1604.  It is written in the Gurmukhī script, which is a descendant of the Laṇḍā script used in the Punjab at that time. The Gurmukhī script was standardised by Guru Angad Dev, the second guru of the Sikhs, for use in the Sikh scriptures and is thought to have been influenced by the Śāradā and Devanāgarī scripts. An authoritative scripture was created to protect the integrity of hymns and teachings of the Sikh gurus and selected bhagats. At the time, Guru Arjan Sahib tried to prevent undue influence from the followers of Prithi Chand, the guru's older brother and rival.
The original version of the Ādi Granth is known as the kartārpur bī and is claimed to be held by the Sodhi family of Kartarpur. (In fact the original volume was burned by Ahmad Shah Durrani's army in 1757 when they burned the whole town of Kartarpur.) 
The final version of the Gurū Granth Sāhib was compiled by Gobind Singh in 1678. It consists of the original Ādi Granth with the addition of Teg Bahadur's hymns. The Guru Granth Sahib is considered the Eleventh Guru of the Sikhs.
Punjabi: ਸੱਬ ਸਿੱਖਣ ਕੋ ਹੁਕਮ ਹੈ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਾਨਯੋ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ
Transliteration: Sabb sikkha kō hukam hai gurū mānyō granth.
English: All Sikhs are commanded to take the Granth as Guru.
It contains compositions by the first five gurus, Guru eg Bahadur and just one śalōk (couplet) from Guru Gobind Singh. It also contains the traditions and teachings of sants (saints) such as Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, and Sheikh Farid along with several others. The bulk of the scripture is classified into rāgs, with each rāg subdivided according to length and author. There are 31 main rāgs within the Gurū Granth Sāhib. In addition to the rāgs, there are clear references to the folk music of Punjab. The main language used in the scripture is known as Sant Bhāā, a language related to both Punjabi and Hindi and used extensively across medieval northern India by proponents of popular devotional religion. The text further comprises over 5000 śabads, or hymns, which are poetically constructed and set to classical form of music rendition, can be set to predetermined musical tāl, or rhythmic beats.
The Granth begins with the Mūl Mantra, an iconic verse created by Guru Nanak:
Punjabi: ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ
ISO 15919 transliteration: Ika ōakāra sati nāmu karatā purakhu nirabha'u niravairu akāla mūrati ajūnī saibha gura prasādi.
Simplified transliteration: Ik ōakār sat nām kartā purkh nirbha'u nirvair akāl mūrat ajūnī saibha gur prasād.
English: One Universal Creator God, The Name Is Truth, Creative Being Personified, No Fear, No Hatred, Image Of The Timeless One, Beyond Birth, Self Existent, By Guru's Grace.
All text within the Granth is known as gurbānī. Gurbānī, according to Guru Nanak, was revealed by God directly, and the authors wrote it down for the followers. The status accorded to the scripture is defined by the evolving interpretation of the concept of gurū. In the Sant tradition of Guru Nanak, the guru was literally the word of God. The Sikh community soon transferred the role to a line of men who gave authoritative and practical expression to religious teachings and traditions, in addition to taking socio-political leadership of Sikh adherents. Guru Gobind Singh declared an end of the line of human gurus, and now the Gurū Granth Sāhib serves as the eternal guru, with its interpretation
Sikhs adhere to long-standing practices and traditions to strengthen and express their faith. The daily recitation from memory of specific passages from the Gurū Granth Sāhib, especially the Japu (or Japjī, literally chant) hymns is recommended immediately after rising and bathing. Family customs include both reading passages from the scripture and attending the gurdwara (also gurduārā, meaning the doorway to God; sometimes transliterated as gurudwara). There are many gurdwaras prominently constructed and maintained across India, as well as in almost every nation where Sikhs reside. Gurdwaras are open to all, regardless of religion, background, caste, or race. Worship in a gurdwara consists chiefly of singing of passages from the scripture. Sikhs will commonly enter the temple, touch the ground before the holy scripture with their foreheads, and make an offering. The recitation of the eighteenth century ardās is also customary for attending Sikhs. The ardās recalls past sufferings and glories of the community, invoking divine grace for all humanity.The most sacred shrine is the Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar, famously known as the Golden Temple. Groups of Sikhs regularly visit and congregate at the Harimandir Sahib. On specific occasions, groups of Sikhs are permitted to undertake a pilgrimage to Sikh shrines in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, especially at Nankana Sahib and other Gurdwaras. Other places of interest to Sikhism in Pakistan includes the samādhī (place of cremation) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore.
The Sikh faith also participates in the custom of "Langar" or the community meal. In the afternoon, all temples are open to anyone of any faith for a free meal. People can enter and eat together and are served by faithful members of the community. This is the main cost associated with gurdwaras and where monetary donations are primarily spent.
Festivals in Sikhism mostly centre around the lives of the Gurus and Sikh martyrs. The SGPC, the Sikh organisation in charge of upkeep of the gurdwaras, organises celebrations based on the new Nanakshahi calendar. This calendar is highly controversial among Sikhs and is not universally accepted. Several festivals (Hola Mohalla, Diwali, and Guru Nanak's birthday) continue to be celebrated using the Hindu calendar. Sikh festivals include the following:
  • Gurpurabs are celebrations or commemorations based on the lives of the Sikh gurus. They tend to be either birthdays or celebrations of Sikh martyrdom. All ten Gurus have Gurpurabs on the Nanakshahi calendar, but it is Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh who have a gurpurab that is widely celebrated in Gurdwaras and Sikh homes. The martyrdoms are also known as a shaheedi Gurpurab, which mark the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur.
  • Vaisakhi or Baisakhi normally occurs on 13 April and marks the beginning of the new spring year and the end of the harvest. Sikhs celebrate it because on Vaisakhi in 1699, the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, laid down the Foundation of the Khalsa an Independent Sikh Identity.
  • Bandi Chhor Divas or Diwali celebrates Guru Hargobind's release from the Gwalior Fort, with several innocent Hindu kings who were also imprisoned by Jahangir, on 26 October 1619.
  • Hola Mohalla occurs the day after Holi and is when the Khalsa Panth gather at Anandpur and display their warrior skills, including fighting and riding.
Guru Nanak taught that rituals, religious ceremonies, or idol worship is of little use and Sikhs are discouraged from fasting or going on pilgrimages. However, during the period of the later gurus, and owing to increased institutionalisation of the Sikh religion, many ceremonies and rituals did arise. Converts to Sikhism are welcomed. The morning and evening prayers take about two hours a day, starting in the very early morning hours. The first morning prayer is Guru Nanak's Jap Ji. Jap, meaning "recitation", refers to the use of sound, as the best way of approaching the divine. Like combing hair, hearing and reciting the sacred word is used as a way to comb all negative thoughts out of the mind. The second morning prayer is Guru Gobind Singh's universal Jaap Sahib. The Guru addresses God as having no form, no country, and no religion but as the seed of seeds, sun of suns, and the song of songs. The Jaap Sahib asserts that God is the cause of conflict as well as peace, and of destruction as well as creation. Devotees learn that there is nothing outside of God's presence, nothing outside of God's control. Devout Sikhs are encouraged to begin the day with private meditations on the name of God.
Upon a child's birth, the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at a random point and the child is named using the first letter on the top left hand corner of the left page. All boys are given the middle name Singh, and all girls are given the middle name Kaur. Sikhs are joined in wedlock through the anand kāraj ceremony. Sikhs are required to marry when they are of a sufficient age (child marriage is taboo), and without regard for the future spouse's caste or descent. The marriage ceremony is performed in the company of the Guru Granth Sahib; around which the couple circles four times. After the ceremony is complete, the husband and wife are considered "a single soul in two bodies."
According to Sikh religious rites, neither husband nor wife is permitted to divorce. A Sikh couple that wishes to divorce may be able to do so in a civil court but this is not condoned. Upon death, the body of a Sikh is usually cremated. If this is not possible, any means of disposing the body may be employed. The kīrtan sōhilā and ardās prayers are performed during the funeral ceremony (known as antim sanskār).
Khalsa (meaning "pure") is the name given by Guru Gobind Singh to all Sikhs who have been baptised or initiated by taking ammrit in a ceremony called ammrit sañcār. The first time that this ceremony took place was on Vaisakhi, which fell on 29 March 1698/1699 at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It was on that occasion that Guru Gobind Singh baptised the Pañj Piārē who in turn baptised Guru Gobind Singh himself.
Baptised Sikhs are bound to wear the Five Ks (in Punjabi known as pañj kakkē or pañj kakār), or articles of faith, at all times. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, ordered these Five Ks to be worn so that a Sikh could actively use them to make a difference to their own and to others' spirituality. The 5 items are: kēs (uncut hair), kaghā (small comb), kaā (circular iron bracelet), kirpān (dagger), and kacchā (special undergarment). The Five Ks have both practical and symbolic purposes.
Worldwide, there are 25.8 million Sikhs and approximately 75% of Sikhs live in the Indian state of Punjab, where they constitute about 60% of the state's population. Even though there are a large number of Sikhs in the world, certain countries have not recognised Sikhism as a major religion. Large communities of Sikhs live in the neighboring states, and large communities of Sikhs can be found across India. However, Sikhs only make up about 2% of the Indian population.
In addition to social divisions, there is a misperception that there are a number of Sikh sectarian groups such as Namdharis and Nirankaris. Nihangs tend to have little difference in practice and are considered the army of Sikhism. There is also a sect known as Udasi, founded by Sri Chand who were initially part of Sikhism but later developed into a monastic order.
Sikh Migration beginning from the 19th century led to the creation of significant communities in Canada (predominantly in Brampton, along with Malton in Ontario and Abbotsford, Mission, Lower Mainland, Surrey in British Columbia), East Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom as well as Australia and New Zealand. These communities developed as Sikhs migrated out of Punjab to fill in gaps in imperial labour markets.  In the early twentieth century a significant community began to take shape on the west coast of the United States. Smaller populations of Sikhs are found in within many countries in Western Europe, Mauritius, Malaysia, Fiji, Nepal, China, Pakistan, Afganistan, Iraq, Singapore, Mexico and many other countries.