1. Who made Guru Nanak Dev a Guru? Or how did Guru Nanak find out he was a Guru?
Why does not someone like Guru Nanak come to earth in this time to stop wickedness, thefts, liars, etc.? (May first see Chapter VII Question 3)
(i) A teacher (Guru) is made by his students (disciples) as a father is made by his son. If there are no students, there is no teacher. Guru Nanak taught people how to live their life truthfully. The philosophy he preached was, Truth is above all; highest is truthful living. The people found that his teachings lit the dark path of their lives. The masses, therefore, accepted him as the teacher, Guru. This is how he was declared a Guru. The popular saying about him is:
Nanak Shah Fakir; Hindu Ka Guru, Musalman Ka Pir. Nanak is a great holy man; both Hindus and Muslims accept him as their spiritual guide.
The mass acceptance of Nanak as a Guru took a long time. Therefore, no particular day can be named when he was accepted as Guru by the people. From his very childhood, he had been teaching lessons to the people through the actions of his life. He taught us that the true bargain is sharing our earnings with the needy. The best company, he said, is the association of holy men who love God. At Sultan Pur, he preached that honest living is the right way to earn ones livelihood. Jealousy is a journey on the wrong path. Misappropriation of public stores and money is an antireligious act. When he was working for the Nawab of Sultan Pur, Guru Nanak as usual went to the nearby river Bein to take his bath. He did not return for three days. The villagers and officials got worried and were anxious to see him alive. On the third day, when they saw him coming to the village, they immediately gathered around Guru Nanak. They asked him about his absence. He answered, I have brought a message from the Master to deliver to you. There is no Hindu; there is no Musalman. (Humanity should not be classified as Hindus or Muslims.) We, as human beings, are all His children, hence equal. We cannot be divided into different groups or castes, as high or low. This formal sermon was given in 1499. After this, he quit his job and spent the rest of his life sharing this message with the people. That year may be accepted as the year of the beginning of his Guruship. Guru Nanak is regarded as having been formally accepted as a Guru from that time on. After declaring his message, the Guru decided to carry it to all the people in India and nearby countries. He traveled for about two decades to visit the holy places of different religions and explain his message to the people there. (ii) It is good to know that many of you wish someone like Guru Nanak to be with us and guide us on the right path. Fortunately, not only Guru Nanak but all the Gurus and other Holy persons (Bhagats) are here with us today. We have only to meet them and listen to them. Lessons given in the sacred Gurbani are the Guru. A disciple who obeys Gurbani, will surely achieve the goal of human life. ((Guru Granth Sahib) page 982)
Gurbani is Guru (spirit of the Guru, message of the Guru.) Reading Gurbani is talking to the Guru because the words were actually spoken by the Guru. Whatever the Gurus and Bhagats told people was recorded by them in the form of holy hymns for the benefit of whole humanity. Now, it is for us to take advantage of Gurbani, recite it, sing it, enjoy it and benefit from the directions mentioned there in for our guidance. The original compilation of all these hymns, prepared by Guru Arjun Dev, is still available with us at Kartarpur, Panjab. Later, to it were added the hymns of Guru Teg Bahadur and the scripture was authenticated by Guru Gobind Singh. The scripture is now called Guru Granth Sahib, and as a living spirit of the Gurus. Translations of Gurbani are available in simple Punjabi, English, French and Hindi. People are welcome to read them and enjoy them. However, it is good if the seeker learns the Punjabi language so that he/she can recite and listen to the original holy words uttered by the Godtuned persons and enjoy the spiritual bliss. We know many people, during the Guru period and also after that, guided their lives on the path laid by Gurmat. Today, we have the original directions for the path. The Guru tells us to live the life of SewaSimran and at the same time keep away from ego, lust, anger, greed and other vices. We learn this by reciting and singing Gurbani. Let us make a beginning to live that life and we will find Gurus standing by us and guiding us on the right path. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 394)
(See question 8 as well.)
2. If the ten Gurus were supposed to lead us to a very happy life, why did they lead us through so much destruction and death?
The Gurus guided humanity to the path of truth, peace and happiness. However, the overly zealous religious leaders, Kazis (judges) and Brahmans did not like his preaching or his growing popularity. They were getting donations from the people with false promises of salvation. Sometimes they would extract money from them with the threat of Hell. The rulers and also the judges were sucking the blood of the common man by their corrupt behavior and biased decisions. Guru Nanak raised a voice against all these bloodsuckers of society. Kings are like bloodsucking beasts. The officials act like dogs. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 1288)
Kazi (Judges) are corrupt, Brahmans suck the blood of the helpless. Yogis dont know the path of God. These three (because of their vested interests) are responsible for the problems of the masses. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 662)
The corrupt officials and bigoted religious leaders all joined hands to challenge this movement for human rights founded under the leadership of Guru Nanak. They used their political, social, and financial powers to harass the Gurus and their Sikhs who had, therefore, to undergo tortures and sufferings to save the common, helpless persons. Sikhs ungrudgingly faced a lot of state terrorism and repression. By suffering for the cause of the human rights of the weak, they were teaching us the Sikh principle: The brave man is he who protects the rights of the weak. He continues his fight against oppression even if he gets cut into pieces. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 1105)
Thousands of Sikhs suffered for over a century, but as a result of this, millions of people got their freedom from the tyrannical rulers. Everybody knows that soldiers suffer and die so that their countrymen can live in peace and prosperity. In the same way, the Gurus and the Khalsa, suffered to protect human rights and freedom of religion for every human being. Suffering and death are not as painful as remaining slaves generation after generation without being permitted to practice ones own faith. Such a life of a slavery is not worth living. Suffering and dying while espousing the cause of such suppressed people is a high goal of human life.
3. Why did Guru Gobind Singh have more than one wife? How many marriages did Guru Gobind Singh have?
The wrong impression that the Guru had more than one wife was created by those writers who were ignorant of Punjabi culture. Later authors accepted those writings indicating more than one marriage of the Guru and presented it as a royal act. During those days kings, chiefs, and other important people usually had more than one wife as a symbol of their being great and superior to the common man. Guru Gobind Singh, being a true king, was justified in their eyes to have had more than one wife. This is actually incorrect. In Punjab, there are two and sometimes three big functions connected with marriage, i.e., engagement, wedding, and Muklawa. Big gatherings and singings are held at all these three functions. In many cases, the engagement was held as soon as the person had passed the infant stage. Even today engagements at 8 to 12 years of age are not uncommon in some interior parts of India. The wedding is performed a couple of years after the engagement. After the wedding, it takes another couple of years for the bride to move in with her in laws and live there. This is called Muklawa. A dowry and other gifts to the bride are usually given at this time of this ceremony to help her to establish a new home. Now, the wedding and Muklawa are performed on the same day and only when the partners are adults. A big befitting function and other joyful activities were held at Anand Pur, according to custom, at the time of the engagement of the Guru. The bride, Mata Jeeto Ji, resided at Lahore, which was the capital of the Mughal rulers who were not on good terms with the Gurus. When the time for the marriage ceremony came, it was not considered desirable for the Guru to go to Lahore, along with the armed Sikhs in large numbers. Furthermore, it would involve a lot of traveling and huge expenses, in addition to the inconvenience to the Sangat, younger and old, who wished to witness the marriage of the Guru. Therefore, as mentioned in the Sikh chronicles, Lahore was brought to Anand Pur Sahib for the marriage instead of the Guru going to Lahore. A scenic place a couple of miles to the north of Anand Pur was developed into a nice camp for the marriage. This place was named Guru Ka Lahore. Today, people are going to Anand Pur visit this place as well. The bride was brought to this place by her parents and the marriage was celebrated with a very huge gathering attending the ceremony. The two elaborate functions, one at the time of engagement and the other at the time of the marriage of the Guru, gave the outside observers the impression of two marriages. They had reason to assume this because a second name was also there, i.e., Mata Sundari Ji. After the marriage, there is a custom in the Panjab of giving a new affectionate name to the bride by her inlaws. Mata Jeeto Ji, because of her fine features and good looks, was named Sundari (beautiful) by the Gurus mother. The two names and two functions gave a basis for outsiders to believe that the Guru had two wives. In fact, the Guru had one wife with two names as explained above. Some historians even say that Guru Gobind Singh had a third wife, Mata Sahib Kaur. In 1699, the Guru asked her to put patasas (puffed sugar) in the water for preparing Amrit when he founded the Khalsa Panth. Whereas Guru Gobind Singh is recognized as the spiritual father of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Kaur is recognized as the spiritual mother of the Khalsa. People not conversant with the Amrit ceremony mistakenly assume that Mata Sahib Kaur was the wife of Guru Gobind Singh. As Guru Gobind Singh is the spiritual but not the biological father of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Devan is the spiritual mother of the Khalsa, Mata Sahib Devan is the spiritual mother of the Khalsa but not the wife of Guru Gobind Singh. From ignorance of Punjabi culture and the Amrit ceremony, some writers mistook these three names of the women in the life of Guru Gobind Singh as the names of his three wives. Another reason for this misunderstanding is that the parents of Mata Sahib Devan, as some Sikh chronicles have mentioned, had decided to marry her to Guru Gobind Singh. When the proposal was brought for discussion to Anandpur, the Guru had already been married. Therefore, the Guru said that he could not have another wife since he was already married. The dilemma before the parents of the girl was that, the proposal having become public, no Sikh would be willing to marry her. The Guru agreed for her to stay at Anand Pur but without accepting her as his wife. The question arose, as most women desire to have children, how could she have one without being married. The Guru told, She will be the mother of a great son who will live forever and be known all over the world. The people understood the hidden meaning of his statement only after the Guru associated Mata Sahib Devan with preparing Amrit by bringing patasas. It is, therefore, out of ignorance that some writers consider Mata Sahib Devan as the worldly wife of Guru Gobind Singh.
4. Who built the Golden Temple and when?
The decision found the city now called Amritsar, was made in 1570. The selection of the place was made by Guru Amar Das who deputed Bhai Jetha Ji (later Guru Ram Das) to start the preliminary work. The land chosen belonged to the villages of Gumtala, Sultan Wind, Gilwali and Tung. The people of these villages and others around gathered there to inaugurate the Sikh enter. First, a tank named Santokh Sar was dug for the storage of water and later the digging of the sacred pool was started. The construction of the residential places, markets, business centers, stores, manufacturing units, and other places of work was taken up simultaneously. People of different professions were invited to come and settle around the center to start their work or business. Keeping in mind the growth of the place, more land was purchased later on. The Amritsar gazetteer 1883-1884, states:
In 1577 he (Guru Ram Das) obtained a grant of the site together with 500 bighas (about 100 acres) of land from the Emperor Akbar on payment of Rupees 700 to the Zemindars of Village Tung, who owned the land.
The place during its development, was known as Guru Ka Chak, Chak Ram Das, and Ram Das Pur. With the competition of the sacred pool, Amrit Sarovar, the city became popular as Amritsar. Guru Ram Das completed the digging of the Sarovar. Before his death in 1581, he passed on the Guruship to his youngest son, Guru Arjan Dev. The fifth Guru built the Harimandar Sahib in the middle of the pool and completed the construction of the buildings around there. The foundation of the holy Harimandar Sahib was laid in 1589. A Muslim holy man Mian Mir, was invited by Guru Arjan Dev Ji for this occasion. The building was completed in 1604 and the sacred volume of the Guru Granth Sahib was installed there. Nothing else but Kirtan, i.e., singing virtues of the Lord, goes on all the time there. The present structure of the Harmindar Sahib was constructed by the Khalsa Panth in 1765. The old structure was blown up in 1782 by Ahmed Shah Durrani to subdue the Sikhs. He filled the pool with debris and dead cows to desecrate it. He was told by the Governor of Lahore that the pool and the Harimandar Sahib are the source of the life of the Sikhs. With the hope of ending Sikh power, he destroyed the holy place. The Sikhs stood up for their rights and within three years became strong enough to defeat the Afghans and to hold many of their soldiers as prisoners during 1764. To teach them a unique kind of lesson, they made those very soldiers clean Amritsar pool and then released them without any further punishment. No one was tortured or murdered for desecrating the holy place. They were merely advised not to do that again. The Harimandar Sahib stands there and spreads the message of peace to all the people in the world. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had gold work done on the Harimandar Sahib in 1830. Since the visit of the British, the Harimandar Sahib got its popular name Golden Temple because of the domes and upper story of the Harimandar Sahib being gold plated. The Akal Takhat, situated towards the northern side of the Harimandar Sahib, was built by Guru HarGobind. More buildings were added around the pool and in the vicinity by the Sikh Misls during the later part of the 18th century. The Misls were allotted residential areas for their members so that they could keep the Sikhs there to protect the sanctity of the Harimandar Sahib from the future attacks of the invaders. The peace spread by the Harimandar Sahib was distributed in 1978 when on Baisakhi Day 13 Sikhs were murdered by the false Nirankaris. (A cult supported by the Indian government to clash with the Sikhs and provide a chance for the government to clash with the Sikhs and provide a chance for the government to suppress the Sikhs.) The situation became very tense after that and an outright war in 1984 when Indra Gandhi ordered the Indian army to attack the complex. The army destroyed Akal Takhat, Sikh holy relics and handwritten scriptures of the Gurus times. Many adjacent buildings were heavily damaged and the Golden Temple had hundreds of bullet marks. Thousands of innocent visitors and priests and employees of the Gurdwara committee who were on duty were murdered in cold blood by the army.
5. Where was the first Sikh temple built? And in North America?
(i) It is difficult to say where and when the first Gurdwara was built. The main Sikh center at Amritsar, as mentioned above, was formally inaugurated in 1604 when the holy scripture compiled by the fifth Guru was installed there. The city was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das Ji. The place was chosen by Guru Amar Das in 1570 when the digging of the sacred pool was started jointly with the cooperation of the surrounding villages. Earlier, the preaching were done at Goindwal, a town situated on the western bank of the river Beas. Guru Amar Das built the town and the Baoli (open well with steps leading down to the water level) there for all people irrespective of their caste or faith. Guru Angad Dev had his headquarters in his own village, Khadur, about four miles upstream from Goindwal. Guru Nanak Dev settled at Kartarpur, located on the western bank of river Ravi, where in 1520 he started a center for regular preaching of the Sikh faith. The village, however, was founded much earlier by the Guru, after returning from his journey to Southern India. Earlier than the founding of Kartarpur, there were many places sanctified by the visit or stay of the Guru there. Gurdwaras, however, were built at those places later in memory of the Guru. It cannot be said with certainty when those places were formally inaugurated for preaching the Sikh faith. The birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, Gurdwara Janam Asthan, Nankana Sahib (Pakistan) can be regarded as the oldest Sikh sacred place. It is at this place that Guru Nanak denied being Hindu by refusing to undergo the ceremony of wearing the Janju (thread). He thus, for the first time, indirectly told people that he planned to reveal a new faith and not follow the ancestral faith. The Gurdwara, of course, was built there much later. Gurdwara Sacha Sauda, a few miles from Nankana Sahib, is the place where the Guru gave to the people his first lesson, We should share our earnings with the needy. The Guru gave his formal spiritual sermon in 1499, There is no Hindu; there is no Musalman, at Sultan Pur, Lodhi on the eastern side of the river Beas.
(ii) The Sikhs came to North America sometime during the early 1890s. They did not recognize themselves formally until the first decade of this century. As late as 1898 there was a press report that some unique kind of people (the Sikhs) were seen in Vancouver with uncut hair and turbans on their heads. It was in 1902 that Sikhs came to Vancouver in big groups. It is said the first sacred volume of the Adi Guru Granth Sahib was brought to Vancouver in 1904. The Sikh Sangat started holding their regular functions at that time. By 1906 they had organized themselves and purchased a property at West 2nd Avenue. The first formal Gurdwara was built there in 1908. The same organization, Khalsa Diwan Society, shifted the Gurdwara to its present site, 8000 Ross Street, Vancouver in 1969. It was declared to be the best building in 1978. The Sikhs in California, USA, organized themselves into the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society and built their first Gurdwara in 1911 at Stockton. Sikh Sangats had been formed earlier at other places as well but this was the first registered body of the Sikhs.
6. Does it really matter whether the Sakhis are true or not? They teach us how to be good Sikhs which is what matters.
(i) Sakhis are a part of history; however, the actual details mentioned by the writers/narrators differ and may not be true. This happens all the time with all religions. If two people write about an historical incident they give different details. Many Sakhis were not written at the time they happened. They were only oral history passed on from person to person. It must be remembered that Sikh Sakhis are not fables; they are a part of history. Some differences and variations in them, however, have been introduced because of the perceptions and feelings of the writers and narrators when they were passed on from generation to generation orally. Fables and mythological stories are written for moral lessons. They are acceptable as they have a very important place in the literature of a nation, community, and religion. In the Sikh religion too, people have written such literature to teach lessons to the common, uneducated masses. Sometimes, they are confused with historical Sakhis. That is not in the interest of the Sikhs or the Sikh philosophy.
(ii) It is agreed that the purpose to the Sakhis or the fables is to teach us how to be good people. We should learn lessons from them for guiding us in our lives rather than wasting time in arguing about their details.
7. Who made the Punjabi writings first?
Punjabi is a very old language. Even before the Guru period the language was commonly spoken by the people. The Punjabi script was used to write it. Many characters of Punjabi are quite similar to those of Dev Nagari (Hindi) script. Old writings are found sometimes having a mixture of Gurmukhi (Panjabi) and Dev Nagari script. It was during the period of the second Guru that a formal and extensive teaching of the Gurmukhi script was taken up. The script having been adopted, standardized and popularized by the Gurus became known as Gurmukhi. However, there is proof in the Guru Granth Sahib itself that the 35 letters of Gurmukhi were in use even during the time of Bhagat Kabir. Bhagat Ji has written his hymns based on the Panjabi letters which are included in the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak Dev Ji has also written hymns starting with the Panjabi letters. It is agreed by many scholars that the current forms of many letters were given a final form of the letters made it possible for the script to become popular. Guru Angad Dev Ji did make a big contribution to popularize the Gurmukhi script with the people. He founded schools to teach Gurmukhi. From this some people got the impression that the Gurmukhi script was invented by Guru Angad Dev Ji.
8. Are the pictures of the Gurus real? If not, then why do we hang them up?
If the Guru let somebody paint a picture of him, are you allowed to bow or to pray to it? Is it considered all right to have the pictures of Gurus if you don't worship them?
Let us discuss the Sikh philosophy regarding pictures of the Gurus before answering the questions. According to the Sikh principles, not the physical features of his body, but the words said by the Guru are the Guru. Lessons given in the sacred Gurbani are the Guru. A disciple who obeys Gurbani, will surely achieve the goal of human life. ((Guru Granth Sahib) Page 982) The holy hymns spoken by the Gurus, Bhagats, and other contributors, were compiled and installed as Shabad Guru in the Golden Temple, Amritsar. No pictures or idols of the Guru (none were there), were allowed to be placed in the buildings or depicted on its walls. For making the environment aesthetic and soothing to the mind, flowers, geometrical figures and other artwork was engraved on the walls of the Golden Temple. Pictures and paintings of the Gurus are conspicuous by their absence. One wonders how the false pictures of the Gurus and even their plastic, wooden and metallic idols appeared, not only in the houses of the Sikhs but also in many Gurdwaras. This is nothing but from the Sikh houses and their places of worship. It can easily be known from the historical records as to how fake pictures and then statues of the Gurus entered the Golden Temple and Sikh houses. What seems to be extremely difficult is, how to throw them out of the Gurdwaras and the Sikh psyche. Not only a few credulous Sikhs, some traditional preachers and even a few educated Sikhs have started believing in Guru pictures. They think that keeping pictures of the Guru pictures. They think that keeping pictures of the Gurus in the house is the Gurmat method of showing respect to the Gurus and obeying their blessings. Some Sikhs have seen garlanding the Guru pictures and serving food to them for Bhog, a practice prohibited for the Sikhs. Not all Sikhs, of course, have reached the stage of worshipping the Gurus pictures/paintings as the Hindus worship their idols, but a large number of them are on their way to do that. Some scholars want these pictures (all are surely fake) to be destroyed whereas others suggest that only their worship be prohibited. ((Bhai Gurdas Var) 24-11; 7-20)
Bhai Gurdas explains that the picture of the Guru is his Word, Gurbani, which a Sikh is to love.
(ii) The history of the imaginary Guru pictures is briefly stated below. Then the Keshadhari Sikhs during the 18th century were forced to leave the villages and live in the forests, the nonKeshadhari disciples took care of the Sikh Gurdwaras and the historical places. These disciples did not board the ship of Sikh Faith; they only held it in their hands but kept their feet stuck in the Hindu Boat. The Brahmanical influence, which was still holding their mind, obliged them to depict popular mythological scenes on the walls of the Gurdwaras as they were traditionally depicted on the walls of Hindu temples. When the pictures of the Hindu gods and their consorts appeared on the Gurdwara walls, the pictures of the Gurus had also to appear as a natural sequence. All pictures, of course, differed and were subject to the imagination of the painters. The pictures from the walls moved on the paper and were printed in large numbers to reach every Sikh house and every Gurdwara. Only a few vigilant managers did not permit any kind of pictures, howsoever genuine or superior they were claimed to be, to come even near the boundary of the Gurdwaras. Once the pictures of the Gurus were accepted as true and good by the masses, how could anyone stop them from taking the form of idols and statues? Unfortunately, it appears that they are here to stay at least for the time being. During the 18th century, not only the nonSikh but antiSikh rituals were practiced in Gurdwaras without any objection because the Khalsa had moved to the forests. The sacred places were managed by the Sanatni (Brahmanical) Sikhs or by those Mahants who still believed in Hindu rituals even after associating themselves with the Sikh faith. When the Sikhs lost their Raj in Panjab in 1849, they had time to turn their thoughts towards their faith. They were surprised to find Sikhism already pushed out of the Gurdwaras by Brahmanical rituals. The worship of idols, whether of the Hindu gods or of the Sikh Gurus, is prohibited for the Sikhs. However, both were worshiped by the Sikhs in the precincts of the Golden Temple.
No true pictures of the Guru exist, though some have been claimed to be true pictures. One true picture is totally different from the other true picture. Most of them are modern paintings. Some old sketches / paintings are also available, but all are based on the imagination of the painters. No Guru permitted his painting to be made in his time, because it is against the philosophy of the Sikh faith as mentioned earlier. We should not have Guru pictures in our houses or Gurdwaras. Instead we should have Gurbani hymns written and hung for our guidance in our house. Bending/bowing before the pictures or garlanding them is prohibited even if they were true pictures. The Sikh philosophy tells that words said by the Guru are the Guru (now Guru Granth Sahib). We bow not before a book, as some persons think, but to the Gian (knowledge) therein.
9. Can we make movies with the Gurus as actors as Hindus do with gods?
We do not need movies for teaching people any aspect of our Sikh philosophy. Gurbani is available to us for guiding us on any topic. One can read or listen to hymns every day to obtain the required peace for his/her soul. People expect, not to learn the principles of their faith but to be entertained at movies. Religion is a very serious matter and needs to be learnt respectfully for obtaining guidance in leading ones life on the right path. Religion is not an amusement for relaxation as the movies generally are. We can have a documentary of the Gurdwaras describing their history, their buildings, and the facilities available there for the visitors. This should be free from any kind of false acting. It is disrespectful to the Guru Granth Sahib, the faith, and the Sikhs to use the holy scripture as an actor in the movies. No individual, however high a holy person he may be, can act as a Guru in a movie. We believe our Guru is the word of the Guru, the Shabad Guru, Guru Granth Sahib.