Nanak, the first Master of Sikh Dharma, lived for 70 years. He was born in Talwandi, Pakistan, and passed away in Kartarpur Ravi, Pakistan. His father, Mehta Kalyan Chand, was known as Kalu Ji, and his mother was Mata Tripta Ji. His devoted wife was named Mata Sulakhni Ji. Nanak was blessed with two sons, Baba Sri Chand Ji and Baba Lakshmi Das Ji.
Though born into a Hindu family, Guru Nanak vehemently rejected the idea of dividing people based on religion. Instead, he preached the Oneness of the Creator and the fundamental brotherhood and sisterhood of all beings. He believed that the Divine resided within each individual, erasing all distinctions of caste, creed, gender, or nationality. His profound philosophy emphasized recognizing the innate Divinity in all human beings. By living in awareness of this Divine Light within, one could lead a life filled with love, truth, patience, peace, and contentment.
Guru Nanak attained enlightenment and spiritual realization at around the age of 30. After meditating in a river for three days, he emerged with a powerful vision of reality, Divinity, and human existence. He documented this profound experience in a song called "Japji Sahib" – the Song of the Soul. With Japji Sahib, humanity gained insight into what a Master experiences at the moment of enlightenment, described in Nanak's own words.
Japji Sahib became the cornerstone of the new spiritual tradition that Nanak founded. After his enlightenment, Guru Nanak embarked on a 15-year journey, traveling extensively through India, Asia, and Persia. He united people from all walks of life and sang divine songs in praise of the Creator, Creation, and the spiritual journey through time and space. During his travels, he also collected songs from other mystics that resonated with his own visions and experiences of the Divine. Afterward, he settled down and lived as a farmer, continuing to impart his teachings to all those who sought wisdom from him.
Guru Angad, the second Master of Sikh Dharma, was born in Sarai Matta, India. His father's name was Pheru Mall Ji, and his mother was Daya Kaur Ji. He was married to Mata Khivi, and they had two sons named Dassu Ji and Dattu Ji, along with two daughters named Bibi Amro Ji and Bibi Anokhi Ji.
Following in the footsteps of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad diligently continued to share the profound teachings of his predecessor. Additionally, he experienced states of mystical vision, which inspired him to compose songs from his own spiritual experiences. To facilitate the community's understanding and singing of these divine songs, Guru Angad standardized the Gurmukhi script. "Gurmukhi" translates to "from the mouth of the Guru." The script, with its simple and clear pronunciation rules, enabled people to recite the songs of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, as well as those of mystics from other lands and languages that Guru Nanak had collected. Gurmukhi, in a way, could be considered the world's first tape-recorder, as it was an alphabet designed to preserve the essence of sound, irrespective of the language in which a song was written.
Under Guru Angad's guidance, his wife, Mata Khivi, played a crucial role in developing and nurturing langar, the concept of community meals. In the Indian society of that time, people of different castes or social classes did not dine together. Guru Nanak had initiated a tradition of having people of all castes sit together and share meals as a means to foster community and dismantle the artificial divisions based on social class. Mata Khivi took this tradition to new heights during Guru Angad's leadership, turning it into an institution that promoted unity and equality among all.
Guru Amar Das, the third Master of Sikh Dharma, was born in Basarke, India. His father's name was Tej Bhan Ji, and his mother was Mata Lakhmi Ji. He was married to Mata Mansa Devi Ji, and together, they had two sons named Mohan Ji and Mohri Ji, as well as two daughters named Bibi Dani Ji and Bibi Bhani Ji.
At the time Guru Amar Das became the Guru, he was already an elderly man, but his commitment to sharing and expanding the teachings of the Gurus remained steadfast. He also experienced mystical moments, which he eloquently conveyed through his compositions. Among his notable works is the Anand Sahib, the Song of Bliss, an integral part of the five daily prayers for those who have taken Amrit (initiation). Guru Amar Das penned numerous other compositions too, leaving a significant spiritual legacy.
Guru Amar Das initiated the concept of langar, or community meals, in various locations. Additionally, he diligently trained ministers to support and disseminate the teachings of the Sikh Masters. During his lifetime, he made special efforts to train and appoint 52 female ministers and 22 male ministers to serve in specific regions. He was a firm advocate of humility, service, dedication, equality, honor, and respect, particularly emphasizing the upliftment and empowerment of women. His teachings continue to inspire generations to this day.
Guru Ram Das, the fourth Master in Sikh Dharma, was born in Lahore, Pakistan. His father's name was Hardas Ji Sodhi, and his mother was Mata Daya Kaur Ji. He entered wedlock with Bibi Bhani Ji, the daughter of Guru Amar Das.
Similar to the preceding Sikh Gurus, Guru Ram Das experienced mystical visions and expressed his divine insights through songs that illuminated the nature of the Divine and the human journey. Among his notable compositions is the Lavaan, the sacred Sikh wedding ceremony, which he composed on his own wedding day with Bibi Bhani. Additionally, he penned four songs called the Engagement Shabads, along with numerous other compositions.
Guru Ram Das laid the foundation of the city of Amritsar and initiated the construction of the Harimandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, which stands as the holiest shrine for Sikhs across the globe. He personally led the excavation of the sacred water tank surrounding the Temple, renowned for its reputed healing powers. The Harimandir Sahib was designed with four doors, one on each side, symbolizing its openness to people from all castes, backgrounds, languages, and religions.
Moreover, Guru Ram Das encouraged people to establish small businesses, promoting economic prosperity within the community. His efforts played a significant role in establishing Amritsar as a religious center and spiritual hub for Sikhs.
Guru Arjan, the fifth Master in Sikh Dharma, was the youngest son of Guru Ram Das. He was born in Goindwal, India, and his earthly journey concluded in Lahore, Pakistan, where the Gurdwara of Dehra Sahib was established. His mother was Mata Bhani Ji, and his devoted wife was Mata Ganga Ji. They were blessed with one son, Hargobind, who later became Guru Hargobind Sahib.
Guru Arjan carried forward the unfinished work of his father by completing the construction of the Harimandir Sahib.
Furthermore, he undertook the monumental task of compiling the Adi Granth, the predecessor to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. Understanding that the Shabad Guru (the Divine Word) formed the foundation of Sikh practice, Guru Arjan brought together a compilation of sacred songs. This collection included hymns from the previous Sikh Gurus, as well as songs from Hindu and Sufi mystics, along with his own sacred writings. As a master of the sound current of the Shabad, Guru Arjan discerned which songs resonated with the Universal Teachings and incorporated them into the Adi Granth. For him, the Adi Granth embodied the eternal, universal wisdom of the Shabad Guru, emphasizing that the Word itself was the Teacher – not any human being.
During his leadership, the community surrounding Guru Arjan thrived and achieved great prosperity. However, this led to political intrigue, and the Mughal Emperor Jahangir challenged the sovereignty of Guru Arjan and his people. In order to safeguard the independence of the community, Guru Arjan willingly endured five days and five nights of torture. He was chained to a scorching metal plate while his captors poured burning sand on his body. Remarkably, Guru Arjan maintained a smile throughout, seeing the Divine hand behind it all. He recognized the Creator's presence in every aspect of the ordeal and affirmed his Union with the Divine. After the five days and nights, Guru Arjan was allowed to bathe in a nearby river. In a transcendent moment, he dived into the water and dissolved into Light. His physical form was never seen again, as he merged with the Divine in eternal bliss.
Guru Hargobind, the sixth Master in Sikh Dharma, was born in Wadali, India, and passed away in Kiratpur, India. He was the son of Guru Arjan and Mata Ganga Ji. Guru Hargobind had three wives: Mata Damodri Ji, Mata Nanaki Ji, and Mata Mahan Devi Ji, and he was blessed with five sons and a daughter.
Following the tragic loss of Guru Arjan, the Sikh community underwent a profound transformation. For a century, they had nurtured a deep meditative tradition founded on peace and tolerance. However, after the sacrifice of his father, Guru Hargobind recognized the necessity for the community to be capable of defending itself. This marked the beginning of the martial practice of the Sikhs. Guru Hargobind became a formidable warrior and trained the Sikhs in the art of combat.
Yet, the Sikh martial tradition remained rooted in the principles of peace and tolerance taught by the earlier Gurus. Sikh warriors only engaged in defense and never initiated aggression. In the centuries to come, amid relentless religious persecution, the Sikhs would stand as protectors of the right for all individuals to freely practice their faith. They never sought confrontation, seized others' property, or used force to subjugate people. Instead, they utilized their strength to shield themselves from unjust attacks and to protect the vulnerable.
Guru Hargobind is credited with creating Gatka, the martial art of the Sikhs. He also constructed the Akal Takhat, or the Throne of the Undying One, adjacent to the Harimandir Sahib. This symbolized that the Sikh community was spiritually sovereign and governed itself socially and politically. This principle, known as Miri Piri, was a direct assertion to the ruling Emperor of the time that the Sikhs acknowledged no higher authority in their lives than God and Guru.
Throughout his life, Guru Hargobind engaged in numerous battles, bravely defending the fundamental human rights of the people living in that era. His legacy stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of spirituality and martial valor in the Sikh tradition.
Guru Har Rai, the seventh Master in Sikh Dharma, was the beloved grandson of Guru Hargobind. He was affectionately known as the "tender-hearted" Guru. Born in Kiratpur, India, his father was Guruditta Ji (son of Guru Hargobind Ji), and his mother was Mata Nihal Kaur Ji. Guru Har Rai's wife was Mata Kishan Kaur Ji, also known as Mata Sulakhni Ji.
After the era of battles and wars during Guru Hargobind's time, Guru Har Rai ushered in a period of healing and peace. As a young child, while walking with his grandfather, Guru Har Rai's robes accidentally brushed against a rose bush, causing all its petals to fall. The sensitive Guru Har Rai was deeply moved by this incident and wept for the harm done. In response, Guru Hargobind advised him never to engage in battle. When Guru Hargobind passed on the mantle of Guruship to Guru Har Rai, he instructed him to avoid fighting and to travel with a security guard of 2500 people to ensure his protection.
Guru Har Rai possessed remarkable skills as an herbalist and healer. He became renowned for his expertise in natural medicine and maintained a beautiful herbal garden from which he crafted his remedies. Additionally, he exhibited exceptional hunting abilities, but he always refrained from taking the lives of animals. Instead, he compassionately captured them and brought them back to the town, establishing a zoo for the community to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Throughout his life, Guru Har Rai exemplified the values of kindness, non-violence, and the healing power of nature. His legacy stands as a beacon of compassion and peacefulness in the Sikh tradition.
Guru Har Krishan, the eighth Master in Sikh Dharma, assumed the Guruship at the tender age of five and left this world at the age of 8 in New Delhi, India, where the Gurudwara of Bangala Sahib stands today. He was born in Kiratpur, India, to Guru Har Rai and Mata Kishan Kaur.
Upon the young Guru's ascension, some members of the community questioned the ability of a little boy to lead them. One such individual, Lal Chand, challenged Guru Har Krishan to a scriptural debate. In response, Guru Har Krishan humbly requested that Lal Chand find someone to speak on his behalf. Lal Chand brought a deaf, mute, and illiterate water-carrier named Chhaju Ram to represent the Guru. Touching Chhaju Ram's head with his shoe, Guru Har Krishan miraculously awakened the water-carrier's abilities. Chhaju Ram then delivered a simple yet profoundly moving discourse on the meaning of scripture, leaving Lal Chand in awe. The community fully embraced the child's leadership, and Lal Chand sought forgiveness from Guru Har Krishan.
During his time in Delhi, a devastating epidemic of smallpox afflicted the area. Compassionate Guru Har Krishan went to the heart of the outbreak and, through his divine blessing, caused a spring of sacred water to emerge. This miraculous water possessed the power to heal the afflicted people. Guru Har Krishan took on the suffering and sickness of the region, even contracting smallpox himself, all in an effort to alleviate the suffering of others. In this selfless act, he sacrificed his life to save the lives of countless others, exemplifying the essence of Sikh teachings and embodying the spirit of service and compassion.
Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Master in Sikh Dharma, was born in Amritsar, India, and departed from this world in Delhi, India. He was the youngest son of Guru Hargobind and Mata Nanki Ji. His devoted wife was Mata Gujri Ji, and their son, Gobind Rai, later became Guru Gobind Singh.
Since his youth, Guru Teg Bahadur possessed a profound and contemplative nature. Prior to becoming the Guru, he spent numerous years in meditation, and his wife wholeheartedly joined him in these rigorous spiritual practices. Like the first five Sikh Gurus, Guru Teg Bahadur experienced mystical revelations of the Shabad (Divine Word) and shared his spiritual experiences through his divine songs. Following in the footsteps of Guru Nanak, he embarked on extensive travels, establishing new Sikh communities and nurturing existing ones that had not been visited by any of the Gurus since Guru Nanak's time.
The final phase of his life became a remarkable testament to the Sikh commitment to inter-faith tolerance and the right of every individual to freely follow their chosen religious path. During the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a vicious campaign of conversion was initiated, coercing Hindu leaders to accept Islam or face inhumane torture and death. Seeking intervention, a group of Hindu leaders appealed to Guru Teg Bahadur to speak on their behalf with the Emperor. Despite knowing that it could lead to his own death, Guru Teg Bahadur agreed. He offered the Emperor a proposition – if the Emperor could convert him, all Hindu leaders would embrace Islam. However, if the Emperor failed to convert him, the Hindus would be left in peace.
Guru Teg Bahadur, along with three of his devoted Sikhs – Bhai Matti Das, Bhai Sati Das, and Bhai Dayala – willingly allowed themselves to be imprisoned by Aurangzeb and subjected to horrifying torture. The three Sikhs tragically lost their lives, but Guru Teg Bahadur's torture persisted. The Emperor persistently sought a miracle from the Guru to prove his holiness or induce conversion. However, Guru Teg Bahadur steadfastly refused to perform any miracles or renounce his faith. Instead, he would compassionately suggest that they could spend their time together in meditation and prayer instead. Eventually, realizing the Guru's unwavering commitment, the Emperor ordered his beheading.
Before agreeing to go to prison, Guru Teg Bahadur had written a note to the Emperor, to be delivered after his death. In this poignant message, Guru Teg Bahadur stated, "This, then, is the greatest miracle – that I gave my head but not my faith." His supreme sacrifice became a powerful symbol of unwavering devotion and love for the principles of religious freedom and equality.
Guru Gobind Rai, later known as Guru Gobind Singh, was the tenth Master in Sikh Dharma, living for 42 years. He was born in Patna, India, and his final days were in Nanded, India, where the revered Gurdwara of Hazoor Sahib stands today. His father was Guru Teg Bahadur, and his mother was Mata Gujri. Guru Gobind Singh had three wives - Mata Jeeto, Mata Sundari, and Mata Sahib Kaur - and four valiant sons - Ajit Singh, Jujhar Singh, Zorawar Singh, and Fateh Singh.
At a tender age of 9, Guru Gobind Rai witnessed the tragic events of his father's confinement, torture, and ultimate sacrifice. These experiences deeply impacted him, and in the ensuing years, the Sikhs would be called upon time and again to defend against Aurangzeb's forces, protecting people from religious bigotry and persecution.
Guided by the Divine, Guru Gobind Rai sought to create a society of individuals devoted to defending the dignity and divinity of all humanity. To achieve this, he initiated the Amrit ceremony, an auspicious occasion where Sikhs are initiated into the Khalsa, a dedicated community committed to living in equality, peace, and readiness to fight and sacrifice to uphold justice and freedom from oppression.
Throughout the battles that followed, Guru Gobind Singh suffered heart-wrenching losses, as his two elder sons gave their lives in the fight. The two younger sons were unjustly captured and met a tragic fate. Despite these immense personal hardships, Guru Gobind Singh remained in surrender to the Divine Will, acknowledging that his children had come from the Creator and that it was time to return them home. He taught his Sikhs that all those lying dead on the battlefield were equally his sons, emphasizing the sacred bond of brotherhood and equality among all.
During his life, the Adi Granth compiled by his great-grandfather Guru Arjan was lost. To preserve and expand upon its teachings, Guru Gobind Singh dictated the entire Adi Granth from memory and included the compositions of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur. The result was the creation of the revered Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh passed the mantle of the Guruship to the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, signaling the end of the era of physical Gurus and ushering in the reign of the Shabad Guru as the eternal Spiritual Light and Guide for the Sikh community.