Sikh History, Doctrine and Symbolism



Historical Overview of Sikhism


Two principle developmental stages: first pacific, the second more militant


First Period: Early Sikhism: Begins in Northern India, 15th century

1.      Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

a.       To the historian, not much known for certain about his life; but an important tradition of  stories abut Nanak within the Sikh tradition

b.      Writings preserved in the Sikh scripture -- the Adi Granth (first book. Cf. adi-kavi = Valmiki, first poet)

c.       Born into a Hindu family, Kshatriya, near Lahore [show on atlas];   married at 19, 2 sons; Muslim school, studied Persian and Arabic, learned about Islam, close friend was Muslim musician and servant (Mardana); Early group of followers, bathed in river every morning before dawn, sang religious songs in his home evenings

d.      30 years old: divine call.  Didn’t return one day from morning bath, friends couldn’t find for 3 days, then showed up w/no explanation, only this cryptic statement:

                                                  i.      There is neither Hindu nor Mussalman, so whose path shall I choose?  I shall follow God’s path.  God is neither Hindu nor Mussalman and the path which I follow is God’s”

e.       Later explained - a vision, carried up to God’s presence, God gave Nanak a cup of nectar and then gave him a promise of happiness and a mission to honor the name of God, to teach others to honor the name of God.

2.      Basic Points of Nanak’s Teaching (closer look at Sikh doctrine on Tuesday)

a.       Expressed his faith in a simple statement, which comes at the beginning of the Adi Granth, and which is repeated silently each day by observant Sikhs [p.501]

b.      Meditation on the divine name, singing hymns, worship > bring abut consciousness of God.

c.       Accepted karma and rebirth

d.      People fail to recognize the presence of God all around them, in the world because they are blinded by ignorance and self-centeredness, seduced by passions.

e.       Insisted on the oneness of God, and that there is no other.

f.       Purpose of meditating on the divine name is to begin to hear the voice of God speaking mystically in their souls, finally to ascend higher and higher until one achieves union with God, the Eternal One. God can be known only experience of mystical union

                                                  i.      Rejected divine images and many outward practices of popular religion.

g.      Nanak moved from place to place, singing and spreading his religious message [nanak2]

3.      Was Nanak a Sant?  A question of origins.  Sikhs insulted by claim that Nanak’s teachings came from the Sant traditions.


Second Period

1.      Nanak dies (1539).  His teachings are continued through nine successors, ending in the Death of Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. By that time, Sikh community had changed greatly from its earlier form.

a.       Babur had invaded India and initiated a period of struggle and violence.  Important part of Sikh history set in this context of struggle.

2.      Guru Arjan (fifth guru, ruled 1581-1606): began building the Golden Temple in Amritsar, enlarged its pool into an artificial lake. [image from studyaids]

a.       Four major entryways, signaling that it was open on all sides, members of all four castes had equal status as disciples

b.      Gathered teachings and hymns of first four gurus into the Adi Granth.  Had the Adi Granth installed in the Golden Temple

c.       Arjan’s death was extremely important for the changes that would follow in Sikhism. Refused to remove certain passages from the Adi Granth - tortured (forced to sit on a hot iron plate over a file, burning sand poured on him]. Initiated official policy of Mughal hostility against Sikhs - militant tradition.

d.      Arjan advised his son, Hargobind (the 6th guru [image]) to sit fully armed on throne, wear two swords tradition of martyrs: one symbolized spiritual authority, one temporal authority - new militancy.

3.      Gobind Singh (tenth guru, 1675-1708): “The Lion”. 

a.       Aurangzeb’s efforts to impose Islam , executed the 9th guru in Delhi. His son, Gobind Singh, was a child when he received the title of guru.

b.      1699: Reunited Sikhs by establishing a new order of the Khalsa. Called together a gathering of Sikh warriors, called for volunteers to die for the Sikh cause.
Claimed that God demanded a blood sacrifice.  Five warriors volunteered, Gobind Singh led them one by one into his tent and emerged four times with a bloody sword.  After the fifth, Gobind Singh brought out all his warriors alive, he had substituted a goat for the sacrifice of each man. [image: Gobind 3]

c.       First initiates: gave each a 2-edged dagger, declared that they would be know henceforth as Singh (“lion”)

d.      Member of the Khalsa identified by 5 special symbols (the five Ks)

                                                  i.      Not to cut the hair on his head or his beard

                                                ii.      Carry a comb

                                              iii.      Wear a steel bracelet

                                              iv.      Wear a sword (dagger)

                                                v.      Wear shorts pants

e.       Women could also join: wear single edged dagger

4.      A militant organization from an inwardly focused, meditative tradition.

a.       All four sons assassinated, proclaimed that the line of gurus would end with himself,  In the future would be the Sikh community, the Khalsa, the Adi Granth



After Gobind Singh (1708) - Modern History

1.      Aurangzeb’s efforts to impose Islam, assassinated 9th guru.

2.      Formation of the Khalsa.  An external identity becomes mandatory

3.      Most of the 18th century. Continuous warfare with neighboring states and with Mughal forces, then Afghani forces.

4.      Heroic period.  Great fighters.

5.      Punjab becomes part of British India when the Maharaja and his forces cave in to them (1839)

6.      Sikhs proved to be resilient.  British favored Sikhs as marital race, recruited them for army, preserved their traditional dress, morale;

7.      20s: Sikhs struggled with British authorities to keep control of their religious centers (gurdwaras).

8.      Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 - division of Punjab in to Western Punjab (in Pakistan) and Eastern Punjab, where most of the Sikh population resettled, Sikh majority.  Sikhs managed to recover form the chaos of partition fairly quickly.

9.      Later concerns for more state independence > extremists wanting a separate Khalistan.  Group of extremists under leadership of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, lodged themselves in the Golden Temple in June 1984.    Military action ordered by Indira Gandhi.  Assassinated by her bodyguard in October.  Gave rise to violence against Sikhs all across India


Sikh Doctrine and Symbolism

1.      The divine order of the universe = harmony

a.       nam simaran = the inner discipline of “remembering the name” > brings one within the divine harmony.  Takes the following forms:

                                                  i.      Repetition of a word or mantra

                                                ii.      Singing of devotional hymns

                                              iii.      Meditation

2.      After the shift toward militancy with Hargobind Singh (son of Arjan): The doctrine of miri-piri: signals this shift

a.       Spiritual concerns remains as strong

b.      miri - temporal authority; piri - spiritual authority inherited from successors (piri)

3.      Sikh Symbolism:

a.       The Khanda: This symbol derives its name from the double-edged sword (also called a Khanda) which appears at the center of the logo.

                                                  i.      Three components:

1.      The double-edged sword is a metaphor of Divine Knowledge, its sharp edges cleaving Truth from Falsehood. Khanda was used by Guru Gobind Singh Ji for preparing Amrit by stirring it in the sweetened water kept in an iron Bowl (Baata).  The khanda is the creative power of God which controls the destiny of the whole creation. It is sovereign power over life and death.

2.      The circle around the Khanda is the Chakar. The Chakar being a circle without a beginning or and end symbolizes the perfection of God who is eternal.

3.      The Chakar is surrounded by two curved swords called Kirpans. These two swords symbolize the twin concepts of Miri and Piri - Temporal and Spiritual authority introduced by Guru Hargobind. They emphasize the equal emphasis that a Sikh must place on spiritual aspirations as well as obligations to society.

b.      Ik Onkar: "There is Only One God". The first two words in the Guru Granth Sahib & one of the cornerstones of Sikhism. They appear at the beginning of the Mul Mantra written by Guru Nanak describing the qualities of God in the Japji.

c.       Gurdwara: “the guru’s door,” “by means of the Guru [‘s grace]