The Sikh gurus are the spiritual masters of Sikhism, who established this religion over the course of about two and a half centuries, beginning in 1469. The year 1469 marks the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Guru Nanak is the first Sikh Guru. He lived for 70 years. He was born in Talwandi, Pakistan, and left his physical body in Kartapur Ravi, Pakistan.
Born into a Hindu family, Guru Nanak rejected the notion of divisions between people based on religion. He taught the Oneness of the Creator and the fundamental brotherhood and sisterhood of all.
He stated that the experience of the Divine dwelled within every person, so there was no difference between people based on caste, creed, gender, or nationality. His simple but profound philosophy rested on recognizing the fundamental Divinity of all people.
When lived in an awareness of the Divine Light within all, human life could become a profound experience of love, truth, patience, peace and contentment.
Guru Angad is the second Sikh Guru. He was born in Sarai Matta, India.
Guru Angad continued sharing the teachings of Guru Nanak. He also entered states of mystical vision and wrote songs from his own experience.
Under Guru Angad’s instruction, his wife Mata Khivi further developed langar– or the community meal. In India, people of different castes or social classes did not eat meals together.
Guru Nanak began a tradition of having people of all castes sit together and eat together – as a way to create community among people and break the false divisions of social class. Mata Khivi was instrumental in seeing that this tradition of eating together flourished into an institution during the second Guru’s reign.
Guru Amar Das
Guru Amar Das is the third Sikh Guru. He was born in Basarke, India.
By the time Guru Amar Das become Guru, he was already an old man. He continued to share and expand the teachings of the Gurus. He also had mystical experiences and shared those experiences through song.
Guru Amar Das founded langar, or community meals, in many places. He also trained ministers to support and share the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. During his lifetime, he specially trained and commissioned 52 female ministers and 22 male ministers to go into particular regions and serve. He taught humility, service, dedication, equality, honor and respect to women.
Guru Ram Das
Guru Ram Das is the fourth Sikh Guru. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan.
Guru Ram Das founded the city of Amritsar and began the process of building the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) which is the most sacred temple for Sikhs around the world.
He undertook the excavation of the tank of water which surrounds the Temple. The water is legendary for its healing powers. He created the Harimandir Sahib so that it would have four doors – one on each side of the building – meaning that it was open to people of every caste, background, language and religion.
Guru Ram Das also encouraged people to start small businesses. He helped establish Amritsar as the religious center for the Sikhs.
Guru Arjan is the fifth Sikh Guru. He was the youngest son of Guru Ram Das. Born in Goindwal, India. He breathed his last in Lahore, Pakistan where the Gurdwara of Dehra Sahib was established.
Guru Arjan also undertook the tremendous task of creating the Adi Granth, which became the predecessor to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Recognizing that the Shabad Guru was the base of the Sikh practice
To protect the independence of the community, Guru Arjan allowed himself to be tortured for five days and five nights. He was chained to a hot metal plate while his captors poured burning sand on his body.
Guru Arjan smiled the entire time, for he saw the hand of the Divine behind it all. He saw the One Creator playing every part in the torture and recognized his Union with the Creator. After five days and nights, Guru Arjan was permitted to bathe in a nearby river. Guru Arjan dove into the water and dissolved into Light. His physical body was never seen again.
Guru Hargobind is the sixth Sikh Guru. He was born in Wadali, India and breathed his last at Kiratpur, India. His father was Guru Arjan and his mother was Mata Ganga Ji.
For 100 years, they had developed a deep meditative tradition founded on peace and tolerance. After the sacrifice of his father, however, Guru Hargobind recognized the need for the community to be able to defend itself. This started the martial practice of the Sikhs.
The Sikh martial tradition, however, stayed rooted in the principles of peace and tolerance taught by the first Sikh Gurus. The Sikh warrior would only defend – never attack.
Guru Har Rai
Guru Har Rai is the seventh Sikh Guru. He was the grandson of Guru Hargobind. Guru known as the “tender-hearted” Guru. He was born in Kiratpur, India.
After the battles and wars of Guru Hargobind’s time, the 7th Sikh Guru ushered in a time of healing and peace. As a child, when walking with his grandfather, Har Rai’s robes brushed a rose bush and all of the petals fell off one of the roses. Har Rai wept at what he had done.
Guru Hargobind instructed the boy that he should never fight in battle. When Guru Hargobind passed the mantle of the Guruship to Guru Har Rai, he told him to never fight, but to take a security guard of 2500 people with him wherever he traveled so that he would always be protected.
Guru Har Krishan
Guru Har Krishan is the eighth Sikh Guru. He became Guru at the age of five and breathed his last at the age of 8 in New Delhi, India, where the Gurdwara of Bangala Sahib has been established. Born in Kiratpur, India.
When the Guruship passed to a young child of 5, there were some in the community who could not believe that a little boy could lead them. One such person, Lal Chand, challenged Guru Har Krishan to debate the meaning of scripture.
In response, Guru Har Krishan requested that Lal Chand go and find someone to speak on the Guru’s behalf. Lal Chand searched the town and brought a deaf, mute and illiterate water carrier, Chhaju Ram, to speak on the Guru’s behalf. Guru Har Krishan touched the head of the water carrier with his shoe.
Suddenly Chhaju Ram became awakened – and proceeded to give a simple but profoundly moving discourse on the meaning of scripture. Lal Chand begged for forgiveness from Guru Har Krishan and the community fully accepted the child’s ability to lead the community.
Guru Teg Bahadur
Guru Teg Bahadur is the ninth Sikh Guru. He was born in Amritsar, India and breathed his last in Delhi, India. He was the youngest son of Guru Hargobind.
Guru had a deeply meditative nature. Spent many years before becoming the Guru in meditation. His wife participated with him in his rigorous meditative practices. Like the first five Sikh Gurus, Guru Teg Bahadur had mystical experiences of the Shabad and shared his experiences through song.
He, along with three of his Sikhs – Bhai Matti Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dayala, willingly allowed themselves to be locked in Aurangzeb’s prison and subjected to truly horrific torture. The three Sikhs died. Guru Teg Bahadur’s torture, however, continued.
The Emperor would ask the Guru for some sign that he was a holy many – some miracle. But Guru Teg Bahadur refused to perform any miracles and refused to convert. Instead, he would ask his torturers, “Why are we spending our time together this way? We could be meditating and praying together, instead.”
Eventually, the Emperor realized that his prisoner would not convert. Rather than freeing Guru Teg Bahadur, he ordered the Guru’s head to be chopped off.
Before agreeing to go to prison, Guru Teg Bahadur had written a note to the Emperor to be delivered to the Emperor after the Guru’s death. When the note was delivered, Guru Teg Bahadur had written very simply. “This, then, is the greatest miracle. That I gave my head, but not my faith.”
Guru Gobind Singh
Guru Gobind Rai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh is the tenth Sikh Guru. He lived for 42 years. He was born in Patna, India and he breathed his last in Nanded, India, where the Gurdwara of Hazoor Sahib is established.
To create a society of people willing to lay down their lives to protect the dignity and divinity of all humanity, Guru Gobind Rai through the guidance of the Creator gave the Sikhs Amrit.
The Order of the Khalsa was established – a group of men and women dedicated to living in equality and peace, but willing to fight and lay down their lives to protect themselves and others from injustice and tyranny.
In the battles that followed, Guru Gobind Singh’s two eldest sons died in the fight. The two younger sons were captured by a Governor in league with Aurangzeb. The younger sons were bricked alive inside a wall and died.
During Guru Gobind Singh’s life, the Adi Granth compiled by his great-grandfather Guru Arjan was lost. Guru Gobind Singh set up his camp and dictated the entire Adi Granth from memory. He also included in it the songs of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur. The result was the creation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
At the end of his life, in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh passed the mantle of the Guruship to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This ended the time of the physical Gurus of the Sikhs. And began the reign of the Shabad Guru, itself, as the Spiritual Light and Guide for the Sikh community.