Across the border

How Sikhism changed from Nanak to Gobind Singh, from pursuit of spirituality to the mighty Khalsa

The founder advised followers to shed narrow religious identities. The 10th guru gave Sikhs the 5 Ks, their distinct identity.

Having abandoned his job as a store keeper at the court of the governor of Sultanpur Lodhi, Nanak returned to Rai Bhoi di Talwindi. His father, Mehta Kalu, who had shown much annoyance at the spiritual inclination of his only son at an early age, must have been disappointed once again. Unlike earlier, however, he, perhaps, did not verbally express his frustration. Nanak was no longer the teenager he had slapped when he had spent all the money given to him for business to feed hungry ascetics – an incident immortalised in the story of Sacha Sauda, the true bargain.

Nanak was now a grown man, with two sons of his own. Mehta Kalu had felt the responsibility of a household would distract his son from his pursuit of spirituality. He could not understand that Nanak’s search for truth was not a distraction but a lifelong goal, one that would take him all over the world, in a journey spanning well over two decades. At Sultanpur Lodhi, he had done his job diligently but his quest for spirituality had caught up with him. His close friend from Rai Bhoi di Talwindi, a Muslim Mirasi (from a community of traditional singers and dancers) called Mardana, had followed his guru and together they had started singing Nanak’s verses every night, laying the foundation of kirtan in the Sikh tradition. Nanak realised he could no longer perform his duties for the governor with enthusiasm, hence decided to quit and return to his hometown.

Inclusive approach

Perhaps it was also his provocation of the other employees of the governor that hastened Nanak’s decision to abandon the city. His preaching of his message had unruffled the feathers of many powerful people. “There is no Hindu, no Muslim,” he reiterated. These were Nanak’s initial steps towards an inclusive religious approach. In an environment where religious identities and distinct traditions were a source of major conflict, Nanak was preaching the message of shedding away these narrow identities, the source of the conflict. Years later, he would advise his Muslim and Hindu companions to be a good Muslim if one is born Muslim and a good Hindu if one is born Hindu and that is how they will become devotees (Sikh) of Nanak.

This lack of distinct identity influenced his decision when he took on a religious garb to traverse the world in search of spirituality. Harsh Dhillion, in his book on Nanak, describes how he wore a long cloak similar to what the Muslim dervishes wore. However, unlike their green cloak, his was red. There was a belt around his waist similar to those donned by fakirs, while there was a cap on his head covered by a turban. Diffusion of identity was an important consideration for Nanak in adopting this eclectic attire.

His journeys led him to prominent Hindu and Muslim pilgrimages where he criticised dogmatic rituals in both places. True to his Bhakti and Sufi inspirations, his was a spirituality focused on individuality, to search for the truth not in rituals and pilgrimages but within.

After his death, such was the devotion of his assorted group towards him that Muslims wanted to bury him while Hindus wanted to cremate him. There is now at Kartarpur Sahib close to Narowal, Pakistan, both a grave and a smadh attributed to Nanak.

Path of the gurus

One hundred and sixty years and eight spiritual successors later, Guru Gobind Singh, addressing a large gathering of his followers, exhorted them to sacrifice for the right cause. Nanak, too, had asked for sacrifice. But that was a sacrifice of one’s ego to attain access to a higher spirituality. Guru Gobind Singh was asking for a physical sacrifice. The devotees were asked if they would be willing to lay down their lives for their guru. The first five devotees, the Panj Pyare, volunteered. No physical harm was brought to them but the guru, exhorting their example, told his devotees to be ready for a physical sacrifice if the need be.

On the first of Vaisakh (the second month in the Nanakshahi calendar), on that fateful day, the guru also introduced the 5 Ks of Sikhism – Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (bracelet), Kanga (wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton underwear) and Kirpan (sword) – giving his devotees distinct attire that continues to distinguish Sikhs from members of other religious traditions of South Asia. The time of obscurity was over. There was no more room for the dilution of religious identities. The social and political realities facing the followers of the guru at the time of Guru Gobind Singh were drastically different from that during Guru Nanak’s time.

While Nanak lived a life of political obscurity, besides his brief encounter with Babur, the Sikh gurus after the fifth guru, Arjun, found themselves at the centre of Mughal politics. Guru Arjun was assassinated on the orders of Emperor Jahangir and his son, Guru Hargobind, subsequently incarcerated. While Guru Harkrishan, the eighth Sikh guru was summoned to the court of Emperor Aurangzeb, his spiritual successor, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was assassinated on the orders of the Mughal king, pitting his son, Guru Gobind Singh, in a battle with Aurangzeb. The guru wanted all his devotees under one umbrella, of the Khalsa. Muslim and Hindu devotees of the guru needed to enter the folk of Khalsa. Those who didn’t were rebuked.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was assassinated on Aurangzeb's (above) orders, pitting his son, Guru Gobind Singh, in a battle with the Mughal emperor.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was assassinated on Aurangzeb's (above) orders, pitting his son, Guru Gobind Singh, in a battle with the Mughal emperor.

Sikhism under Guru Gobind Singh emerged as a distinct religion of South Asia. He said both Hindus and Muslims had strayed from the right path and only the passage shown by the gurus could lead them to truth. Once, Nanak told his followers they could access god through any path, Hindu or Muslim, if one followed it earnestly. Now, Guru Gobind Singh was telling his followers that both these paths had been corrupted and only the way of the gurus, represented by the Khalsa, could show them the true path.

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books – Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.

Play

To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LG and not by the Scroll editorial team.