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Impact of Guru Sahib on the Punjab

Sikhism is the only indigenous religion of the Punjab. All other religions, adopted by the people of the Punjab, from time to time, have their origin in some other land, it is only Sikhism which was born in the Punjab. Besides, Sikhism is, perhaps, the only religion, which has been accepted by the Punjabis from the core of their heart. Other religions had been accepted by the Punjabis under force, coercion or greed. Buddhism was accepted by the Punjabis because the ruler was a Buddhist and some people wanted to be associated with the ruling class. When Hindus conquered the Punjab from the Buddhists, several Punjabis embraced Hinduism. When Afghan Muslims came to the Punjab, they forcibly converted a large number of Hindus to Islam. Besides, some Punjabis adopted Islam with the intention of enjoying the benefits of being on the side of the new rulers. No doubt, missionaries like Sheikh Farid and some other Sufis too played their role. The Moghuls, too, forcibly converted a large number of Hindus into Islam.

The religious history of the Punjab is not more than a couple of thousand years old. Before Buddhism, the people of the Punjab, like the people of the rest of the South Asia, did not have any organised religion in the present meaning of the term religion. The Punjabis used to worship fire, water, rivers, sky, sun, ocean, mountains, rain, clouds, stars, sun, moon etc. Cunning elite (later known as Brahmins) presented these natural forces and calamities as gods and goddesses and fooled the simple and ignorant people and made them slaves of these forces. These cunning elite began rituals and black magic activities to "help" the common folk to get rid of these natural forces. Simple people accepted these fraudulent rituals as genuine and thus began the business of the priestly class. By the same time ascetics and Yogis too became a popular "profession" in this zone.

When Punjab became a target of the foreign invaders. The plunder, abduction of women folk, slave trade added to the business of the priestly class. But, soon came the advent of Buddhism. Adoption of Buddhism by Ashoka changed the scenario and a good number of the Punjabis accepted Buddhism. Though in some areas of the sub continent Jainism too was popular but due to its rigorous ideology it could not be accepted by the Punjabis. King Ashoka and his successors were, however, successful in converting a large number of Punjabis to Buddhism but, still, majority of the people of the Punjab did not embrace Buddhism.

After the fall of the Buddhist rulers, the sub continent came under the rule of the Hindus. The Hindus massacred a large number of Buddhist and Jain priests and preachers. This brought an end to the spread of Jainism and Buddhism. The Jains, however, with the passage of time, lost their identity and became a part of Hinduism. Besides, some of the religious traditions, customs, rituals and symbols of Jainism were adopted by Hinduism, this too helped in bringing Jainism into the fold of Hindus. Hinduism, at that time was no religion. It was a conglomeration of worshippers of various natural powers. The elite (Brahmins) had created various mythical gods and goddesses and various sections of elite had created their own gods and goddesses. Most popular among them were Shivji, Vishnu, Brahma, Narayan, Janak etc. With the passage of time Narayan and Janak lost their separate identity but Vishnu, Brahma and Shivji still remained popular. All the three had separate sets of priests and worshippers. The rulers of different countries of the subcontinent patronised different gods and goddesses. Some Brahmins began worshipping more than one god/goddess. With the passage of time the priestly class began keeping images of all these gods and goddesses in their homes and they, like shopkeepers, began performing rituals for the people believing in different sets of gods and goddesses. With the passage of time, all this became a common religion of the people of the zone around seven rivers beyond Sindhu river. Later, they began to be called Hindus. This term, Hindu, was given to the residents of this sub continent by the foreigners, most probably after the name of the river Sindhu. All the people living beyond river Sindhu became Sindhus and gradually Hindus.

Besides these mythical gods and goddesses, the rulers of particular areas too were worshipped as god-kings. Prominent among them were Rama and Krishna. With the passage of time these two also became from god-king to simple gods. The priestly class accepted and concocted stories about their spiritual power and popularised them for their own interest. By this time the priest had begun constructing worship places for different gods and goddess. With the passage of time priests began building joint temples too. This gave them a larger number of worshippers, hence good priestly business.

When Afghan and Moghul rulers came to this land, their atrocities added to the business of the priestly class. Helpless common folk became dependent on unseen forces. Rituals, Havans, prayers, mantras, yajna etc.. became the shield of common folk. Though none of these rituals or black magic could help the people but they had no other resort, hence the business of the priestly class continued. All this went on for a couple of centuries.

But, in the seventh decade of the fifteenth century, the Punjab witnessed a real miracle. It was the birth of Guru Nanak Sahib. The Almighty gave him a command to bring an end to the hypocrisy of the priestly class. Guru Nanak Sahib began his active mission in the year 1507. For the next fifteen years he toured different areas of the subcontinent as well as the Arabic lands. He visited major centres of all the religions and discussed with their caretakers the plight of the people. He studied the principles and rituals of all the religions. He talked to hundreds of thousands of common people. He met missionaries, leaders and the other elite. He found these missionaries as hypocrites and escapists. Finally, he began preaching the mission of the Almighty, the real religion, not of any god or goddess or any religious leader but of the God, the Almighty. He asked the people not to accept any mythical god or goddess or a human leader but worship God and the God only. He forbade them even from accepting him (Guru Nanak) as God or semi-God. He told the people that he was a teacher, an Enlightener but not God. He told them that there should be none between God and a man. The Enlightener tells the path but he is not to be worshipped. Thus the first contribution of Sikhism to Punjab culture was the offer of freedom to the Punjabis from worship of mythical gods and goddesses. This freedom was accepted by the intelligent section of the Punjabis. With this, Sikhism brought an end to ritualism. The new religion was a practical religion. It was not renunciation of the world. It was a path of liberation/self-realisation for every person along with living the life of householder. It was social spiritualism.

The Punjabis, who were, so far, known by the foreign aggressors as weak, fatalist, slave people, were given the lesson of bravery by Guru Sahib. It was Guru Nanak Sahib who told the people not to fear Babur (a Jaabar). He challenged that only that person has a right to be the ruler who is acceptable to the people (Takht bahe takhte ki laik and Kya sultan salam vihoona). Guru Nanak Sahib could call Babur's army as marriage-party of sin, the rulers as tigers and their officials as hounds. Guru Hargobind Sahib asked the Sikhs to reject the false Takht and accept the supremacy of the Throne of the Almighty only. He actually formed an army and challenged the mighty army of the day. He infused the spirit of chivalry among the Brahmins, the so-called low caste Jats and other Shudras. He made Aroras, Banias, carpenters as brave as Rajputs and Khatris were. He broke the veil of falsehood created by the Brahmins that only Rajputs and Khatris could fight. Guru Hargobind Sahib's army comprised of soldiers from each and every caste and all of them were equally great fighters. He taught the people of the Punjab to fear none and none was invincible. It is surprising to note that in those days, a large number of Rajputs, who were known as the greatest warriors as well as men of honour, too had accepted the supremacy of the Moghuls. Some of the Rajputs had offered their daughters and sisters in marriage to the Moghuls in order to win offices and favours. Guru Sahib told the Punjabis not to compromise their honour. He taught them to fight against injustice howsoever powerful may be the enemy of justice and Righteousness. Guru Sahib's message reached the Rajputs of Rajasthan too. Those who wished to live the life of honour came to Guru Sahib at Keeratpur Sahib and sought refuge. Guru Sahib gave refuge to several rebel Rajputs in his State.

Guru Sahib imbued the spirit of bravery, courage and chivalry among the Punjabis. The nation, which always surrendered before every aggressor and accepted his slavery, now decided to fight against not only foreign invaders but also every cruel person. Sikhism told them not to fear (nor even frighten) any one. Sikhism taught the lesson of "defence of the poor, weak, helpless and downtrodden and destruction of terrorism". Those who embraced Sikhism became the finest soldiers on this earth. Before Sikhism, there was no history of bravery in the Punjab but after initiation every Sikh became a valiant fighter and these warriors changed the course of the history of the subcontinent. It is amazing to note that those who did not embrace Sikhism still remained slaves of fate and continued slavery of invaders as well as powerful and cruel rulers. Hence, the spirit of chivalry in the Punjab does not belong to every Punjabi, it is a part of Sikh culture only.

A Sikh is his own master. He is a Sirdar, a leader. He is a Khalsa. Khalsa means sovereign. (This word has its root in the Persian word Khalsa that was used for that land which belonged directly to the sovereign, i.e. sovereign's land, hence Khalsa means Sovereign/Almighty's own. Almighty's own is surely sovereign). Every Sikh, Khalsa, is a Sirdar. This spirit of sovereignty is among the Sirdars only and non-Sirdars don't share this quality with the Sikh nation. Even today, this spirit is not a part of the culture of the non-Sikh Punjabis. A Sikh can not be a subject of any one on this earth. He accepts no ruler except the Almighty. Guru Sahib taught that whereas a Sikh is not subject of any ruler (except the Almighty), the Sikh himself can not be a ruler of the others. A Sikh may be chief of a unit or a manager, but he is not the master of any person, group or people. Every one is a master of oneself and only the Almighty is the Master of every one.

Guru Sahib brought an end to the illusion of the seniority of any caste. A Sikh can not distinguish between one or another caste. Guru Sahib did not deny the inheritance of genes, but, he condemned discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, area or gender. The concept of Langar (sacred community kitchen) is unique to the Sikh nation only. If it is being adopted by the others in one or another form, it is just copying of the Sikh institution. Langar, Sangat (holy congregation) and Pangat (sitting, dining and sharing every thing equally) brings an end to the inferiority complex of the so-called low caste as well as the superiority complex of the so-called high caste/status people.

The caste system was rejected by Guru Nanak Sahib. For him Bhai Lalo (a Tarkhan), Bhai Changa (a Bhatra/Bhaat), Baba Buddha (a Jat), Bhai Mardana (a Mirasi), Bhai Lehna (a Khatri), Bhai Brahm Das (a Brahmin), Bhagat Kabir (a Julaha), Bhagat Ravidas (a Chamar), Rajput ruler of the Mandi State all were Sikhs of the same stature, members of the same Sikh family. None was high or low.

With Khande Di Pahul (the Sikh initiation), Guru Gobind Singh Sahib broke all the barriers of caste, family of birth, life style, culture etc. and made all the Sikhs a part of one brotherhood. All were, now SINGH, with the same family name (nowadays using the caste/family name and even removing the suffix Singh/Kaur from one's name is against Sikh ideology. It is turning back to the vows taken at the time of initiation; an Amritdhari, using his caste with his/her name and deleting Singh/Kaur from his/her name can not be called an Amritdhari in the real sense). Khande Di Pahul made Rajputs, Khatris, Brahmins, Jats, Banias, Tarkhans, Chamars, Sainis, Kamboj, and Chhimbas etc. members of the same family. After having Khande Di Pahul, Bhai Jiwan Singh Ranghreta, Bhai Kirpa Singh (formerly Kirpa Ram) Dutt-Brahmin, Bhai Mani Singh Parmar-Rajput, Bhai Hazari, Bhandari and Darbari Banias, Bhai Zorawar Singh Tarkhan, Bhai Gursa Singh Gahunia-Saini, Bhai Gurditta Jat, Bhai Nanu Singh and Darbara Singh Chhimbas became the members of one family. Hence, there was no distinction of caste or family of birth. It was a great revolution in the subcontinent where a so-called low caste had no right even to worship.

Khande Di Pahul further changed the history of the martial movement in the Punjab. The people of Punjab, who believed that only Khatris and Rajputs were good fighters in the battlefield, found that Khande Di Pahul can turn a Brahmin, a Chamar, a Saini, a Bania and a Tarkhan into an equally good fighter. The history of the subcontinent is a proof of the miracle of Khande Di Pahul. A man after taking Khande Di Pahul gained such a great physical and spiritual power that it turned a timid, a weak and a helpless person into a chivalrous, daring, sacrificing soldier. There is some Divine power in the Khande Di Pahul which sociologists have not been able to explain. People of the same caste who have not taken Khande Di Pahul are no match as against those who have taken Khande Di Pahul

Thus, Khande Di Pahul changed the history of the subcontinent. Though the spirit of sacrifice has its beginning in the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Sahib but after Khande Di Pahul, common people of the subcontinent witnessed an altogether different history. This spirit did not exist only during the period of Guru Sahib but it is alive, even centuries, after and shall ever remain alive. The history of the Sikh Misls (eighteenth century), when Sikhs struggled for about six decades, even without finding a ray of hope, Anglo-Sikh battles, Ghadr Party, Gurdwara Reform Movement, Nanakana Sahib, Jaito, Hasan Abdal Railway Station, Babar Akali Movement, Punjabi Suba Agitation (1955 and 1960-61), Dharam Yudh Morcha, Khalistan Movement, all are replete with sacrifices made by the Sikhs and all this is because of Khande Di Pahul. Guru Sahib taught the Sikhs the lesson to live the life of honour. A Sikh can not accept slavery, he shall always fight for his freedom and honour. This spirit is absent among those Punjabis who are not lucky enough to get Khande Di Pahul.

The spirit of brotherhood and sharing with others is a great gift to the Punjab by Guru Sahib. Before Guru Sahib, there might have been concept of charity or alms but honest earning and sharing with others as part of a brotherhood was alien to this land. Guru Sahib turned the whole of the Sikh nation into a Commonwealth and a family where every one could share the food, the facilities and prosperity. Guru Sahib told the Sikhs that they should consider their kitchen as a common Langar open to all other Sikhs and also be prepared to share their wealth with those who did not have. It is a tragedy that, in the modern age, majority of the Sikhs have forgotten this principle and hence, virtually, they have gone astray from the path of Sikhism. It is due to this that the Sikh nation is suffering a lot. Guru Sahib had said "if a Sikhs lives the life of a Khalsa I shall grant him all my power but when it adopts Brahminic i.e. UN-Sikh like life style, I shall turn my back to him. (Jab lag Khalsa rahe niara tab takk tej dio main sara. Jab eh gahen bipran ki reet main na karon in ki partit). The Sikhs shall continue suffering if they don't live according to Guru Sahib's teachings.

Sewa (selfless voluntary service) is another great contribution of Guru Sahib to the people of the Punjab. Before Guru Sahib, there might have prevailed slavery or forced labour but there was no concept of selfless service of the neighbourhood, brotherhood or society. Guru Sahib not only began a new revolutionary tradition but also spiritualised it. It is remarkable that a genuine Sikh loves to perform even the menial job of a scavenger as a matter of pride. Cleaning toilets, washing floors, cleaning and polishing shoes, washing dishes are considered among the lowest jobs by the people of the world and most of the people will, if it is possible, avoid doing all this. It is amazing that genuine Sikhs will vie each other for doing these services in a Gurdwara. This has nurtured, among the Sikhs, a feeling of being useful members of the society. This spirit of Sewa is almost absent among other Punjabis.

The celebration of the fairs and festivals underwent a great change under the instructions of Guru Sahib. Guru Sahib stopped the celebration of fairs and festivals as occasions of drinking, hooliganism, fighting, rivalry etc.. and turned them into sports and martial competitions. Martial games, singing of heroic ballad, Langar, Keertan (hymn singing) and social service became basic to a Sikh fair. These fairs became socio-spiritual celebrations full of love and enthusiasm.

Guru Sahib infused the spirit of enthusiasm, hard work, early rising, and activity among the people of Punjab. An initiated Sikh rises early in the morning, sings/recites hymns in the praise of the Almighty, begins his work and performs it honestly. The Sikhs' spirit of hard work and their enterprising nature is well known to the people of the world and it is a gift of Guru Sahib. Before Guru Sahib, the Punjab was known as a land of fatalist people. People had surrendered themselves to fate. Guru Sahib taught the people never to surrender but go on struggling till the achievement of goal. Besides, Guru Sahib told the Sikhs to accept every calamity as the Will of the Almighty (Bhana of Waheguru). A Sikh is not a fatalist. He must struggle but if he can not succeed in his mission for the time being, he should accept it as the Will of the Almighty. A Sikh is the greatest optimist on this earth. This feeling is absent among the non-Sikhs of the subcontinent. If it is found, in some degree, among some others, it has definitely been borrowed from the Sikh principles.

Positive thinking is unique to the Sikh culture. Guru Sahib told the Sikh to always remain in high spirits. Death, in Sikhism is not a matter of sorrow or a loss, it is rather completion of a journey. The Sikhs don't use the ordinary meanings of death. In Sikhism it is "going further, to the next stage" (Charhaee karna), it is completion (Poora ho jaana). For a Sikh, so-called happiness, sorrow, birth, death or marriage are one and the same type of occasions. A Sikh performs Keertan to perform each and every ceremony. To observe every type of ceremony, Keertan and Langar are arranged in the same manner. This is a part of the Sikhs' spirit of Charhdi Kala. A Sikh always has a hope for a better tomorrow.

To sum up, all the positive points of the culture of the Sikh-Punjab are a gift of Guru Sahib. Spirit of freedom, independence, leadership, fearlessness, positive thinking, honest earning, sharing with others, tithe (Daswandh), feeling of brotherhood and Commonwealth, Langar, Sangat and Pangat (the concept of social and spiritual equality), casteless society, bravery, hard work, enterprising nature, self respect, humbleness, Sewa, bowing before the Will of the Almighty (Bhana Mannana), optimism and euphoria (Charhdi Kala), to pray for the welfare the whole of the humanity (Sarbat Da Bhala Mangana) are gifts of Guru Sahib. But, Guru Sahib has given all this to those who live the life of a genuine Sikh. Guru Sahib said:
"Living a life according to the Sikh philosophy is loved by me and not the physical appearance of a Sikh". (Rahit piari mujh ko Sikh piara nahen).


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