While both Buddhism and Jainism were inspired by religious and social ideas that emerged from an exclusively Hindu (or, technically speaking, pre-Hindu) background, Sikhism, a more recent development, has equally strong links to Islamic ideals. Sikhism is not new in any absolute sense. Its basic tenet - monotheism - coincides with Muslim doctrine, while the pronounced bhakti character of its devotional literature and many of its doctrines agree with Hinduism. Nevertheless, Sikhism should not be regarded simply as two older religions blended into one, but rather as a genuinely new religion. Its followers believe it to have been authenticated by a new divine revelation.
Guru Nanak(1469-1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His parents were of Hindu background and he belonged to the mercantile caste. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. He wandered all over India in the manner of Hindu saints. It was during this period that Nanak came under the influence of Kabir (1441-1518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims.
After several years of wandering, Nanak had a call to teach. He preached before Jain and Hindu temples and Muslim mosques and, in the process, attracted a number of sikhs or disciples. Religion, he thought, was a bond to unite men, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims and his lifelong aim was to weld them into one. A well-known saying of Nanak is, "There is no Hindu and no Muslim."
Nanak was opposed to the caste system. His followers referred to him as the guru (teacher).Before his death he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead his community. The Tenth and the last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 A.D.) initiated the Sikh Baptism ceremony in 1699 AD ; and thus gave a distinctive identity to the Sikhs. The Five baptised Sikhs were named Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones), who in turn baptised the Guru on his request - an event hitherto unknown in the history of any religion.
Shortly before passing away the Guru ordered that Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would vest in the Khalsa Panth - The Sikh Commonwealth. The Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjun in 1604 A.D. This is the only scripture in the world which has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time.
Nanak's doctrinal position is fairly simple, despite the fact that it is a blend of insights originating from twovery different faiths. Sikhism's coherence is attributable to its single central concept - the sovereignty of the One God, the Creator. Nanak called his god the "True Name " because he wanted to avoid any limiting term for God. He taught that the true Name, although manifest in manifold ways and in manifold places and known by manifold names, is eternally One, the Sovereign and omnipotent God, at once transcendent and immanent, creator and destroyer. If any name is to be used, it should be one like Hari (the Kindly), which is a good description of God's character. God inscrutably predestines all creatures and ordains that the highest creature, man, be served by lower creation. In these articles of Nanak's creed an Islamic element is evident.
But Nanak also subscribed to the Hindu belief in maya (illusion). Even though he regarded material objects as realities and as expressions of the creator's eternal truth, they tend to erect "a wall of falsehood" around those who live totally in the mundane world of material desires. This prevents them from seeing the truly real God who created matter as a veil around God, so that only spiritual minds, free of desire, can penetrate it. The world is immediately real in the sense that it is made manifest to the senses by maya, but is ultimately unreal in the sense that God alone is ultimately real. Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Nanak warned his followers not to prolong their round of reincarnation by living apart from God - that is, by choosing, through egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a worldly manner, abandoning God. To do this is to accumulate karma. One should do nothing but think of God and endlessly repeat God's name (Nama Japam) and so have union with God. Salvation, he said, does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the true name.
Political pressure from surrounding Muslim nations forced the Sikhs to defend themselves and by the mid-nineteenth century, the Punjab area straddling modern-day India and Pakistan was ruled by them. The Sikh khalsa (army) was a match even for the invading British army.
Today, Sikhs can be found all over India and also elsewhere in the world. The men can be identified by their practice of always wearing a turban to cover their long hair (in some countries, laws requiring motorcyclists to wear crash helmets had to be modified to accommodate them) and their almost universal use of the surname Singh (meaning lion). Of course, not all people named Singh are necessarily Sikhs! Sikh men are also supposed to have the following items on them at all times: a steel comb, short breeches, a steel arm bracelet and a sword or dagger. In modern society, of course, one cannot really carry a sword or even a large dagger, but even a good penknife is sufficient to express the symbolic meaning. By carrying a weapon, the Sikh is reminded of the persecution his religion has experienced and the need to defend Sikhism against its enemies. Sikh women would generally wear typically North Indian dress. Ideally they should use the surname Kaur ("princess", or, in a different etymology, "heifer"),rather than the name Singh that is actually meant only for the men, but few countries allow this.