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Punjab History - Rise of the Sikhs

While the Punjab was, during the sixteenth century, a scene of endless contentions for power among foreign powers, a religious sect, humble in its origin, unpretending -in its primitive character, silently arose amidst the tumult of arms, and in spite of persecution, laid the foundations of a great state, which might have exerted a permanent influence upon the political destinies of India. Nanuk [Nanak], a Hindu of the Cshatriya caste and Vidi tribe, was born AD 1469, at the small village of Talwandi (since become a town, and now called Rayapur), on the banks of the Beas, in the district of Bhatti and province of Lahore. Nanuk began to practise the austerities of a holy man, and by his abstractions in the contemplation of the Divine Being, his abstinence and virtue, he acquired great celebrity.

During his travels, in the year 1526, Nanuk was introduced to the Emperor Baber, before whom he maintained his doctrine with firmness and eloquence. Baber is said to have been pleased with the interview, and to have offered him an ample maintenance, which Nanuk refused, observing, that he trusted for support to Him who provided for all, and from whom alone a man of religion and virtue should accept favor or reward. Nanuk is generally termed by Mahomedan historians, Nanuk Shah, to denote his having been a Fakir. The Sikhs call him Baba Nanuk, 'Father Nanuk,' or Guru Nanuk, 'Nanuk the Teacher;' and their writers term him, Nanuk Nirikar, which means, 'Nanuk the Omnipresent.' Nanak died in 1539, by which time the followers of Nanuk had augmented in numbers (amounting, it is said, to 100,000) and become a distinct sect. Their present denomination is derived from the Sanscrit word sicsha, which is a general term, meaning a disciple, or devoted follower, and has been corrupted in the Punjabi dialect into Sikh.

The rule of the powerful Sikh Chiefs of the Cis- and TransSatlej was not sacred by antiquity. Whatever the origin of this people, the Sikh Chiefs were, nevertheless, Autochthones, Earth-born, and their ancestors, but a few generations ago, were themselves driving the plough over the very lands which they ruled as independent Chiefs. But their history is a most important part of the general history of India. Their fierce enthusiasm, in the days when Sikhism was a living faith, enabled them to conquer the Punjab and defy the enmity of the Muhammadan Empire. It was their faith that made them strong, as it was the absence of all religious enthusiasm in the Muhammadans of India which proved their weakness, and ultimately their ruin.

During the long reign of Akbar (1556-1605) the Sikhs increased in number and power under the mild and liberal rule of a Mohammedan emperor who was more than tolerant in all matters of religion. He himself sought diligently for knowledge of other faiths, and Amar Das, the Sikh guru, was one of those who had conferences with him. Rain Das, son-in-law of Amar Das, succeeded him in 1574. He received from Akbar a gift of a piece of land, on which he dug the large square tank afterwards called Amritsar ("the pool of immortality ").

The accession of Jehangir restored the forms and tenets of the Mahomedan faith, which had been discouraged by his father, and with them the spirit of persecution. In the year 1606, a Hindu zealot, named Danichand, whose writings Arjunmal had refused to admit into the Adi-Granth, because the notions they inculcated were irreconcilable with the pure doctrine of the unity and omnipotence of God, had sufficient influence with the Mahomedan governor of the province, to procure the imprisonment of Arjun, who is said to have been put to death in a cruel manner. The martyrdom of their pontiff converted the Sikhs, hitherto an inoffensive sect of quietists, into a band of fanatical warriors; they took arms under Har Govind, the son of Arjunmal, and wreaked their vengeance upon all whom they believed to have been concerned in the atrocious deed.

The contest carried on by Har Govind against the Mahomedans seems to have led to no event of sufficient importance to be noticed by cotemporary writers; but it appears to have been his desire to imbue his party with an irreconcilable hatred, and a desperate spirit of hostility, towards the Mahomedans. It is stated, that he wore two swords in his girdle, and when asked the reason, replied, "One is to revenge the death of my father; the other to destroy the miracles of Mahomed."

From the time of Har Govind, the Sikhs had made no progress, and their records are unsatisfactory. They seem to have suffered in their first attempt to attain political power, by the vigorous rule of the Mogul government, then, under Aurangzeb, in the zenith of its strength, and by their own dimensions. After the death of Tegh Bahadur, their history assumes a new aspect. It is no longer the record of sectaries desirous of protecting themselves, not of injuring others, but that of a nation, actuated by a deep sense of the injuries they had received from a bigoted and tyrannical government.

Guru Govind, the son of Tegh Bahadur, though very young at his father's death, cherished a sentiment of implacable resentment against those who had caused it. Being acknowledged by the Sikhs as their Sat-guru, or spiritual leader, he first conceived the idea of forming the Sikhs into a religious and military commonwealth, and "executed his design with the systematic spirit of a Grecian lawgiver." He succeeded in effecting a complete change in their habits, character, and creed. Guru Govind perceived that the only effectual means of resisting the Mahomedan government were to admit converts from all tribes, to arm the whole population, and to make worldly wealth and eminence objects to which Hindus of every rank might aspire. The latent aim of Nanuk was to abolish the distinctions of caste amongst the Hindus; and Guru Govind resolved to make this equality a fundamental principle of the sect. Guru Govind was the last acknowledged ruler of the Sikhs; a prophecy had limited their spiritual guides to the number of ten. He said to his friends on his death-bed, " I commit the state to God, who never dies." Hence the Sikhs suppose that their state is under the peculiar care of the Deity. Their government, therefore, is a pure theocracy. Har Govind, the sixth Sikh guru, died in 1645.

The popular faith would prove an insurmountable obstacle to any one who should attempt to subject the Sikhs to his rule. After the death of Guru Govind, the Sikhs gradually yielded to the superior power of the Mohammedans. After Nadir Shah's return to Persia, they ventured to take advantage of the confusion into which Nadir's expedition plunged Hindoostan.




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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:16:03 ZULU