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11 Gurus

There are 11 Gurus of Sikhism including 10 Nanaks ("They shared the one light", Ang 966) and the Shri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) which is our eternal living Guru.

1.  Nanak, 1469 -1539, 70 years as Guru

The founder of Sikhism. His journeys (Udasis) from 1500 to 1524 spanned 24 years and covered 28,000 km mostly on foot. He traveled through India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China (Tibet), Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The followers of Nanak were called Kartārīs after Kartarpur which he founded in 1504 and where he preached for the last 18 years of his life till 1539. He composed 974 hymns including the Japji Sahib (which includes Ek Onkar, the Mool Mantra of the Sikhs). Those looking for his miracles should instead study and reflect on his words or Shabads, because they are his true miraclesHis message is of liberation through meditation on the divine name. He was a pioneer of a casteless social order. His lasting legacy is the creation of the Langar or community kitchen. Nanak provided the overall spiritual direction to Sikhism which guided all future Gurus. In fact the SGGS says "They shared the One Light" (Ang 966).

2.  Angad, 1539 – 1552, 13 years as Guru


He was chosen by Nanak. Angad composed the Gurmukhi, the script used for the Punjabi language, as well as 63 hymns. He set up schools to teach youths the regional language, Punjabi, instead of the classical Sanskrit. He started the Mall Akhara (wrestling arena) system. He emphasized the ideal of a sound mind and a healthy body. He helped Sikhism to take its roots.

3.  Amar Das, 1552 – 1574, 22 years as Guru


He became Guru at the age of 73. He started the Manji-Piri system of male and female Sikh preachers.He introduced the Sikh rituals for birth and death. He contributed 907 hymns. His most famous hymn is Anand Sahib. He introduced the Anand Karaj or the Sikh marriage ceremony. He also played a critical role to help Sikhism take its roots.

4.  Ram Das, 1574 – 1581, 7 years as Guru


He founded Amritsar, the most sacred city for Sikhs. He started the Masand system to raise funds thereby enhancing the role of the Manji-Piri system. He composed 638 hymns (more than 10%). The four Lavan i.e., hymns which take place during the 4 pheras of the Sikh marriage ceremony, were composed by him. The fifth through tenth Sikh Gurus were his direct descendants.

5.  Arjan, 1581 – 1606, 25 years as Guru


He was the son of Guru Ram Das. He built the Golden Temple. He installed the first version of the “Shri Guru Granth Sahib” (SGGS) (or the Adi Granth) inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar on 1 September 1604. He introduced Dasvandth with every Sikh donating one-tenth of his income to charity. He was the first Sikh martyr. He was tortured and killed for refusing to convert to Islam. He composed 2,218 hymns, which was the largest contribution to the SGGS (nearly 40%) which he compiled in its first version. The Sukhmani Sahib composition is his.

6.  Hargobind, 1606 – 1644, 38 years as Guru


He was the son of Guru Arjan. Based on his father’s last injunctions, he taught Sikhs that the Guru had to be a military leader as well as a spiritual leader. He established the Akal Takht. He trained soldiers and built a fortress in Amritsar. He was called 'Sachcha Padshah' or the True King. He developed a strong Sikh army and gave the Sikh religion its military character.

7.  Har Rai, 1644 – 1661, 17 years as Guru


He was the grandson of Guru Hargobind. Known to be a very compassionate and kind person, he was concerned not only about the welfare of human beings, but also that of the animals. In fact he was so soft hearted that he even helped to heal the son of Shah Jahan from an almost fatal illness despite the hostility the Mughals had shown to the guru’s predecessors. He encouraged the use of Ayurvedic medicine and established an Ayurvedic hospital and a research centre at Kiratpur Sahib.

8.  Har Krishan, 1661 – 1664, 3 years as Guru


He was the son of Guru Har Rai. He became Guru when he was only 5 years old and was called 'Bal Guru". He died at the age of 8 of smallpox while successfully curing his followers. His last words were “Baba Bakala”. The next Guru would be from the village of Bakala which was the case.

9.  Tegh Bahadur, 1665 – 1675, 10 years as Guru


Tegh Bahadur means “hero of the sword”. He was the son of Guru Hargobind. He founded the Sikh centre of Anandpur. He was also a poet and 115 of his hymns are in the SGGS. He became a martyr in order to protect religious freedom. He was tortured and beheaded in Delhi by the Mughals.

10.  Gobind Singh, 1675 – 1708, 33 years as Guru


He became the Guru in 1675 AD at Anandpur Sahib at the age of 10 years 11 months. He was the son of Guru Tegh Bahadur and was known for his leadership, bravery, and personal sacrifices. He abolished the Masand system which he believed had become corrupt. This effectively abolished the Sikh Clergy i.e., no priests. He initiated the Five K’s of the Khalsa that define Sikhs to date. The Dasam Granth is a collection of poetic compositions attributed to him. Bulleh Shah hailed him as the ‘protector’ of religious freedom and said “Had Gobind Singh not been there, They would all be under Islamic sway.” He was called "Sarbans Dani" because of the supreme personal sacrifices he made. He came out with Version 2 of the Adi Granth which is the SGGS. Before his death, he appointed the SGGS as the last and final living Guru of the Sikhs for all time. Sikhs are not allowed to accept any other person as their Guru. Sikhs have to read, reflect, and rely on the Shabad in the SGGS as their ultimate source of spiritual guidance and authority.

11.  Shri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), 1708 – Forever


The SGGS is often described as the “Parliament of Religions”, a model for interfaith harmony. It is the only religious script in the world that contains views and ideology of people of other religions, caste and creed. 

Guru’s light (Jote) lives in the SGGS. Guru Gobind Ji described the SGGS as the “King of Kings, Sun of suns” and as “God of Gods and above and beyond Praise” in the Jaapji Sahib in the Dasam Granth.


It is a reverential work containing 39 chapters across 1430 Angs (pages) with 5894 shabads (hymns (sacred song) and its verses can be one more lines) and 60 Raags (music melody with a relationship to human moods). It contains 937 hymns of 36 Hindu saints, Muslim Sufis and bards. These include the Sufi saints Baba Farid (134), and Bhikhan (2) and Bhakti saint Namdev (61), Kabeer (292) (also a Sufi). The hymns of the these holy men cover a period of six centuries (from the 12th to the 17th century). The hymns in the SGGS were written in a variety of languages, including Punjabi, Sanskrit, and Persian. Regardless of the author, this gurbani has an equal status as the hymns of the Gurus. The hymns sung in a Gurudwara are called Kirtan.

Sikhs are not supposed to have anything against any religion, only against injustice and religious persecution. The Gurus lives set this example.

12.  Other Key Figures in Early Sikhism


Baba Buddha, Baba Sri Chand (see Udasi), Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Nand Lal, Bhai Kanhaiya, Banda Singh Bahadur, and Baba Deep Singh, all played pivotal roles in early Sikhism.

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