"Guru" a Sanskrit word referred to a teacher, a saint, an esteemed person or a religious preacher. But in Sikhism a Guru means the enlightened one, the messenger of God who speaks the word of the Almighty to impart knowledge of truth and life. In Sikhism Guru is basically used for the ten eminent saints who established this faith.Sikhism defies worship of idols and pictures of God in an anthropomorphic form or that of saints and sages. Sikhism believes that Guru is the messenger of God and the sacred and divine knowledge was transferred from one Guru to the other for the enlightenment of mankind.
The Sikh faith has been established and guided by ten eminent gurus with Guru Nanak DevJi being the first guru and Guru Govind Singh Ji the last. After Guru Govind Singh Ji, the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy doctrine of the Sikhs is seen as the eleventh living guru of the faith. The Sikh Gurus and their contribution to the faith can be studied as:
- Guru Nanak DevJi: Guru Nanak the first Guru of the Sikhs established the Sikh faith. Born on October 20, 1469 at Talwandi (presently known as Nankana Sahib, Pakistan) Guru Nanak defied the social inequalities and was against the religious practices, idol worship and superstitions prevalent in the society. He believed in one God and saw all religions as equal. A master of several languages like Sanskrit, Punjabi and Persian, Guru Nanak travelled to Mecca, Baghdad, Arabia and Persia and also across India; and spoke at various religious institutions about his views on superficial religious practices, superstitious beliefs, caste system and plight of widow. He also spoke of his perception of God and religion. He respected all religions and never tried to convert anyone to his faith.
- Guru Angad: Born in 1504 Guru Angad the second guru of the Sikhs created the Gurmukhi script and introduced it to the Sikhs. The Guru Granth Sahib is in Gurmukhi script is considered to be the foundation of Punjabi dialect. A selfless man, Guru Angad guided the Sikhs towards prayers and their significance. He opened several schools to educate the children and enhance literacy. He also established the “Mall Akhara” for the physical and spiritual development of the youth. He not only wrote the first biography of Guru Nanak Dev but also wrote 63 shlokas incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. He also promoted the 'Guru kaLangar' which was introduced by Guru Nanak Sahib.
- Guru Amar Das: Born in 1479, Guru Amardas, the third guru of the Sikhs opposed casteism and untouchability. He reinforced the concept of the free kitchen or Guru KaLangar and to promote social equality made all his disciples from sections society have a joint meal sitting together without any discrimination. The Anand Karaj marriage ceremony was also introduced by him. He not only abolished the Sati Pratha but also abolished the PurdaPratha prevalent during those days.
- Guru ArjanDev: Guru Arjan, the third son of Guru Ram Das, and an esteemed scholar was born in 1563. He not only wrote the Sukhmani Sahib but was also the first Sikh guru to compile the AdiGranth or the Guru Granth Sahib where he also included the hymns of several saints of different faiths. He also established the Sri Darbar Sahib, now the Golden Temple, an epitome of universal faith symbolized by its four doors placed at four different directions and opened for all without discrimination. He was the first martyr in the history of the Sikhs.
- Guru HarGobind: Recognised as the “soldier saint,” Guru HarGovind was born in 1595 to Guru Arjan Dev. He prepared a small army, to curb the violence against the weaker sections and to protect the oppressed, thus laying the principles of Miri-Piri. He was the first to raise the sword and taught the importance of raising the sword in self-defence and the protection of the weak and of the religion. He at the age of 13 raised Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, ten feet above the ground.
- Guru HarRai: Born in 1630, he spent his life in worship and meditation of the almighty and propagating the philosophy of Guru Nanak. A peaceful man he never involved in any armed conflict but he always enhanced the warrior spirit of the Sikhs and dedicated his life towards spreading the message of God and nationalization.
- Guru HarKrishan: Youngest of the Sikh Gurus, Guru HarKrishan was born in 1656. At the age of five he with his knowledge and divine powers surprised the Brahmin Gurus. An epitome of service, purity and truth Guru HarKrishan devoted himself in the service and care of people suffering from an epidemic in Delhi regardless of their cast and creed. Impressed by his humanitarian deed the Muslim population gave him the title of BalaPir or child prophet.
- Guru TeghBahadur: Born in Amritsar in the year 1621 he dedicated his life to safeguard the Hindu religion, their sacred thread “Janaeu” and the “Tilak” and also built the Anandpur town. He believed every person was free to worship and so he sacrificed his life fighting for the religious and social rights of the oppressed Hindus.
- Guru Govind Singh: The tenth Guru of the Sikhs Guru Govind Singh ji was born in 1666 to Guru TeghBahadur. In 1699 he formed the Khalsa changing introducing a new saint-soldier ideology of the Sikhs and adorning them with the sacred five K's or symbols. He also endowed the Sikhs with a new title, i.e. “Singh (lion) or Kaur (princess)”.
- Guru Granth Sahib: On the 3 October 1708, the Guru Granth Sahib was appointed as the eleventh living guru of the Sikhs.Also known as the AdiGranth this holy doctrine of the Sikhs is the supreme spiritual authority and no ceremony is complete if performed in the absence of the Guru Granth Sahib. Written in Gurmukhi script it is the treasure-trove of verses and hymns spoken by the Sikh Gurus and saints of various other faiths.