Sikhism is a major religion that found its genesis in 16th century northern India with the teachings of Guru Nanak and nine successive Gurus (Teachers). This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (Teachings of the Gurus).
Sikhism is characterized by a belief in one God - Ek Onkar. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus and other saints as scripted in the Guru Granth Sahib. A text written by the Gurus, it was decreed by the tenth Guru as the last and final Guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism shares some similarities in philosophy with that of Bhakti movement and Sufism. Some consider Sikhism to be a syncretic religion, although this is not a widespread belief held by Sikhs; the Sikh Gurus maintained that their message had been revealed directly by God.
Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctly associated with the history and culture of the Punjab region. Adherents of Sikhism, known as Sikhs (literally students) number over 23 million across the world. However, most of Sikhs live in the state Punjab in India, and most Sikhs trace their ancestries to the Punjab. The Khalsa is the ideal brotherhood of all Sikhs, which developed in history as a community, religious, political and military system the Punjab.
Guru Nanak Dev (1469–1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore (in what is present-day Pakistan). His father, Mehta Kalu was a Patwari—an accountant of land revenue in the government. Nanak's mother was Mata Tripta and he had one older sister, Bibi Nanki. His parents, Kalu Mehta and Mata Tripta, were Hindus of the Khatri caste. From early childhood, Bibi Nanki saw in her brother the Light of God but she did not reveal this secret to anyone. She is known as the first disciple of Guru Nanak. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. It was during this period that Nanak was said to have met Kabir (1440—1518), a saint revered by those of different faiths. He made four distinct major journeys, which are called Udasis, spanning many thousands of kilometres.
In 1538, Guru Nanak chose Lehna, his disciple, as a successor to the Guruship rather than his son. Bhai Lehna was named Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. He continued the work started by the Founder. Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das. He continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guru Amar Das also trained 140 apostles of which 52 were women, to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before he died in 1574 aged 95, he appointed his son-in-law Jetha as the fourth Sikh Guru.
Jetha became Guru Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar. In 1581, Guru Arjan — youngest son of the fourth guru — became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for building the Golden Temple, he prepared the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2,000 plus hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In 1604 he installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the Guru Granth Sahib, he was tortured and killed by the Mughal rulers of the time.
Guru Har Gobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords — one for Spiritual reasons and one for temporal (worldly) reasons. From this point onward, the Sikhs became a military force and always had a trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Guru Har Rai became Guru followed by Guru Har Krishan, the boy Guru, in 1661. Guru Tegh Bahadur became Guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675, when he sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Hindus who had come to him for help.
In 1675, Aurangzeb publicly executed the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed himself to protect Hindus, after Kashmiri pandits came to him for help when the Emperor condemned them to death for failing to convert to Islam. This marked a turning point for Sikhism. His successor, Guru Gobind Singh further militarised his followers (see Khalsa). After Aurangzeb killed four of Gobind Singh's sons, Gobind Singh sent Aurangzeb the Zafarnama (Notification of Victory).
Shortly before passing away Guru Gobind ordered that the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Scripture), would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would be vested in the Khalsa Panth – The Sikh Nation. The first Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan in AD 1604, although some of the earlier gurus are also known to have documented their revelations. This is one of the few scriptures in the world that has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time. The Guru Granth Sahib is particularly unique among sacred texts in that it is written in Gurmukhi script but contains many languages including Punjabi, Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri and Persian. Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib the last, perpetual living guru.
Sikhism advocates the belief in one God who is omnipresent and has infinite qualities. This aspect has been repeated on numerous occasions in the Guru Granth Sahib and the term Ek Onkar signifies this.
Sikhs do not have a gender for God nor do they believe God takes a human form. All human beings are considered equal regardless of heir religion, sex or race. All are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty. Sikhs should defend, safeguard, and fight for the rights of all creatures, and in particular fellow human beings. They are encouraged to have a "Chardi Kala" or positive, optimistic and buoyant view of life.
Sikhs believe in the concept of reincarnation. All creatures are believed to have a spirit that can pass to other bodies upon death until liberation is achieved. The Sikh religion is not considered the only way to salvation — people of other religions may also achieve salvation. This concept is shared with other Dharmic religions.