Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, was born in the month of Kartik (October/November), and his birthday is known as Guru Nanak Jayanti. He was born in 1469 A.D. at Tolevandi some 30 miles from Lahore. The anniversaries of Sikh Guru's are known as Gurpurabs (festivals) and are celebrated with devotion and dedication.
GurPurabs mark the culmination of Prabhat Pheris, the early morning procession that start from the gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and then go around localities singing 'shabads' (hymns). The celebrations also include the three-day Akhand path, during which the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib is read continuously, from beginning to end without a break. On the day of the festival, the Granth Sahib is also carried in a procession on a float, decorated with flowers, throughout a village or city. Five armed guards, who represent the Panj Pyares, head the procession carrying Nishan Sahibs (the Sikh flag). Local bands playing religious music form a special part of the procession.
Free sweets and langar or community lunches are also offered to everyone irrespective of religious faith. Men, women, and children, participate in this karseva as service to the community, cook food and distribute it in the 'Guru ka Langar', with the traditional 'Karah Prasad'.
Sikhs also visit gurdwaras where special programs are arranged and kirtans (religious songs) are sung. Houses and gurdwaras are lit up to add to the festivities. Guru Nanak Dev's life served as a beacon light for his age. He was a great seer, saint and mystic. He was a prolific poet and a unique singer of God's laudation. A prophet of peace, love, truth and renaissance, he was centuries ahead of his times. His universal message is as fresh and true even today as it was in the past and Sikhs all over the world, practice what Guru Nanak Dev preached, to reaffirm their beliefs in the teachings of their founder.
The son of a Kshatriya (warrior) family, he studied Hinduism and Islam. He got married but then he abandoned his family and became an ascetic. Wandering for many years he came under the influence of both Hindus and Muslims (especially Sufi). The Muslim teacher Kabir (died in 1398) made a deep impression on Guru Nanak. He began preaching, "There is no Hindu, there is no Mussulman".
Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine other Gurus. Guru Arjun (1563-1606) the fifth Guru, compiled the "Granth Sahib" (Noble Book) and the tenth Guru, Govind Singh, gave it its final form. The two books are also known as "Adi Granth" (Initial Book), and "Dasam Granth" (Book of the Tenth Guru).
The Sikh temple is called "Gurudwara" (Gum's Gate). A copy of the Granth is kept in every Gurudwara. After the Tenth Guru, the Granth is worshipped as the mystic personality of the Gurus.
The main shrine of the Sikhs is the Golden Temple of Amritsar, in Punjab, where Sikhism has a real hold. The Temple foundations were Laid by the Fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das (1534-1581).
In 1699 Guru Govind Singh introduced the Initiation Rite, drinking sugared water ("amrt"), and abolished caste distinctions. Sikhs were to be distinguished by their name, always with the suffix Singh (lion), and by the five K's: unshorn hair and beard ("kes"), comb in the hair ("kangh"), steel bangle on the right wrist ("kara"), short drawers ("kacch") and steel dagger ("kirpan").
Guru Govind Singh was also responsible for giving the Sikh Religion a marked military character. The soldier-saint became the ideal of the Khalsa or Sikh fraternity. "When all other means have failed, it is righteous to draw the sword", was one of the basic principles of Guru Govind Singh.
The Adi Granth teaches:
There is one God, Eternal Truth is His Name; Maker of all things, fearing nothing and at enmity with nothing; Timeless is His Image; Not begotten, being of His own being; By the grace of the Guru made known to men. As he was in the beginning, the Truth; So throughout the ages He ever has been, the Truth; So even now he is the Truth Immanent; So for ever and ever, He shall be Truth Eternal.
These words express the basic belief of Sikhs. Idolatry is forbidden. True worship consists in singing God's praises and in meditating on His Name. To realise Him speculation is useless, and so are also all pilgrimages, and ascetical practices like fasting and celibacy.
God is the Supreme Guru, "Satnam, Wah Guru" (The True Name, The Wondrous Teacher). The Ten Gurus are reverenced because God spoke through them. Nanak had no other Guru but God. His followers, however, reach God through Guru Nanak and the other nine. When the line ended, the God-given "Word of the Gum", remained embodied in the Granth and the temporal function of the Guru was bestowed on the Khalsa.