10 Gurus of Sikh: Names, Teachings, History

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  • 0:04 What Are the Sikh Gurus?
  • 0:37 Who Were the Sikh Gurus?
  • 6:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll briefly discuss each of the ten Gurus of Sikhism, focusing on their names, teachings, and history. Beginning with Guru Nanak and the founding of Sikhism, we'll discuss their succession, ending with the tenth leader, Guru Gobind Singh.

What Are the Sikh Gurus?

Founded in the Punjabi region of India over 500 years ago, one would think the Sikh religion would have more than ten Gurus, who are holy leaders and teachers. Sikhism developed in an area where contact between Muslims and Hindus occurred frequently with periods of cooperation and conflict. Sikhism, while sharing some traits with each, is a completely separate religion that follows a single god but believes that all religions follow this god in their own way. Let's look at how each Guru helped shape Sikhism.

Who Were the Sikh Gurus?

Let's cover the Sikh Gurus.

1. Guru Nanak (1469-1539)

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, came from a Hindu family in a village populated by both Hindus and Muslims. At 13, the Guru declined the sacred thread at his coming of age ceremony. Years later, after vanishing for three days, the Guru returned to his family with a revelation from God.

Guru Nanak taught that there is only one god and all religions follow this god in some manner. To obey God, one needs to follow a path of honesty and hard work. The Guru frequently spoke against empty rituals and wrote many poems and hymns to teach his followers. He traveled most of his life to share Sikhism throughout Asia and the Middle East.

2. Guru Angad (1539-1552)

Originally named Lehna, Guru Angad became deeply devoted to Guru Nanak and his teachings. Guru Nanak called Lehna to him and gave him the name Angad from the word ang meaning hand. He then blessed him and named him his successor. Guru Angad's most notable achievements included creating the langar, a free kitchen where anyone could gather and eat, and strongly advocating for children's education.

3. Guru Amar Das (1552-1574)

Guru Amar Das, successor of Guru Angad, lived a simple life devoted to Sikh principles and service to others. He expanded the role of the langar and instituted it in several locations, requiring anyone wishing to meet with him to first dine in the langar. He further taught that all people were equal in the eyes of God, including women. He commissioned a community of Sikhs which became Ramdaspur, later renamed Amritsar. Finally, he collected the writings of all prior Gurus, forming the first manuscripts of the Sikh holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

4. Guru Ram Das (1574-1581)

Near the end of his life, Guru Amar Das nominated his son-in-law Jetha to Guruship, naming him Ram Das. Guru Ram Das' teachings continued the doctrine of equality. He also preached against superstition and the empty adherence to ritual, dietary restrictions, and dress codes. He told Sikhs that engaging in the joys and sorrows of others was equally as important as meditation to spiritual growth.

5. Guru Arjan (1581-1606)

Guru Ram Das selected his youngest son, Arjan, to succeed him after learning of his eldest son's, Prithi Chand's, jealousy and deceitful withhold of letters from his younger brother. Upon taking leadership, Guru Arjan left for Ramdaspur to continue the work there while avoiding his brother. Sadly, Prithi Chand, with the ear of the Mughal Emperor, had his brother imprisoned and tortured to death.

6. Guru Hargobind (1606-1644)

Guru Hargobind accepted the leadership of the Sikh faith only a month before his 11th birthday. The loss of Guru Arjan, his father, and the cruelty of the emperor led Guru Hargobind to decline the Seli, a wool cord worn by every Guru since Nanak. Instead, he asked for a sword. Thus, he began the militarization of the Sikh.

7. Guru Har Rai (1644-1661)

After the tumultuous struggles during Guru Hargobind's leadership, the Guruship of his successor Har Rai was relatively peaceful. Much like his grandfather, Guru Hargobind, he accepted the Guruship at a young age, only 14. The Guru taught simplicity and devotion to God through love and self-sacrifice.

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