Sikhism was born in the Punjab area of South Asia, which now falls into the present day states of India and Pakistan. The main religions of the area at the time were Hinduism and Islam.
The Sikh faith began around 1500 CE, when Guru Nanak (left) began teaching a faith that was quite distinct from Hinduism and Islam. Nine Gurus followed Nanak and developed the Sikh faith and community over the next centuries.
Oppression of the Sikhs
Sikhism was well established by the time of Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru. Guru Arjan completed the establishment of Amritsar as the capital of the Sikh world, and compiled the first authorised book of Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth. However, during Arjans time Sikhism was seen as a threat by the state and Guru Arjan was eventually executed for his faith in 1606.
The sixth Guru, Hargobind, started to militarise the community so that they would be able to resist any oppression. The Sikhs fought a number of battles to preserve their faith. The Sikhs then lived in relative peace with the political rulers until the time of the Moghal Emperor, Aurangzeb, who used force to make his subjects accept Islam.
Aurangzeb had the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, arrested and executed in 1675.
The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, recreated the Sikhs as a military group of men and women called the Khalsa in 1699, with the intention that the Sikhs should for ever be able to defend their faith. Gobind Singh established the Sikh rite of initiation (called khandey di pahul) and the 5 Ks which give Sikhs their unique appearance. Gobind Singh was the last human Guru. Sikhs now treat their scriptures as their Guru.
Sikhs wear an external uniform to unify and bind them to the beliefs of the religion and to remind them of their commitment to the Gurus at all times. Initiated Sikhs wear the uniform which includes the Kesh (uncut hair), which is kept covered by a distinctive turban, the Kirpan (religious sword), Kara (metal bracelet), Kanga (comb) and Kaccha (under-shorts). They all have deep religious meanings for Sikhs who wear them to honor the Sikh Gurus while being ambassadors for their faith.
After the Gurus
The first military leader of the Sikhs to follow the Gurus was Banda Singh Bahadur (left). He led a successful campaign against the Moghals until he was captured and executed in 1716.
In the middle of the century the Sikhs rose up again, and over the next 50 years took over more and more territory.
In 1799 Ranjit Singh (left) captured Lahore, and in 1801 established the Punjab as an independent state, with himself as Maharaja. He proved an adept ruler of a state in which Sikhs were still in a minority.