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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Nānak

(1469-1539). Founder of the religion of Sikhism, who lived in northwest India (now a part of Pakistan). Raised a Hindu in an area when there were many Muslims, as a young man he studied both Hindu and Muslim scriptures, coming to the conclusion that there could not be separate Gods for the two religions, but that there must be one God for the whole of humanity. When his father objected to Nānak’s practice of giving alms to the needy and all holy men, Nānak left home and, in the company of a Muslim friend, Bhai Mardana, traveled widely throughout India, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East spreading his message of the one God and the brotherhood of humanity, rejecting the caste system, idolatry, and ritualism, and extolling his praise of God through song (bhajan). He also taught the equality of women, that all persons alike have deity inherent in them, therefore should be accorded the same treatment and opportunities. His sermons, as well as those of his successors in the office of Sikh Guru, and the devotional poetry of such non-sectarian mystics as Kab…r, were later (1604) collected into the Sikh holy book, the šdi Granth (lit. “first collection”) or Guru Granth Sahib.

After Nānak’s death, the Sikh community was led by a succession of gurus, the fourth of whom, Guru Ram Das, established Amritsar as the Sikh’s holy city. It is now the location of the Golden Temple. Later gurus meddled in Mughul politics and were executed. Under the Mughal emperor Arungzeb, Sikh temples were destroyed and the Sikh community began its transformation from a peaceful religion into a militant brotherhood. The tenth and last guru, Govind Singh, introduced the practices of never cutting the hair (which is kept up in a turban), carrying a dagger, wearing a steel bracelet, etc. as signs of being a Sikh. He also introduced baptism into the community of the pure (khalsa), after which one’s name was changed to Singh (“lion”). When the partition of India and Pakistan occurred in 1947, some 2½ million Sikhs moved from Pakistan, where they were persecuted by Muslims, to India.

See also SIKHISM.

R.W.B.

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