In recent days we have had extended discussion starting from some ritualistic instances to several other issues that came up in the course of exchanges. Views expressed covered a vast canvass and doubts expressed about the origin of Sikhi, social linkages of early Sikhs with the Hindus and the question whether most Sikh Gurus were Hindus, albeit with a difference, came to be talked about.

The question about origin of Sikhi seemed to be more rooted in trying to establish if the core principles of Sikhi did get articulated by Guru Nanak and to identify the stage by which Sikhs started identifying themselves as Sikhs.

The argument made for Hindu social linkage of the Gurus were made along the line that our faith had evolved and most of our gurus were Hindus with a different approach to religious thought. Basis for the above statement was that all Sikh gurus were married in Hindu Khatri families and also married their children in the Hindu families. It was therefore deduced that their marriages were conducted following the Hindu way. In the absence of other verifiable information, the marriage connection was considered to provide reasonable comfort with the statement. It was further argued that even Guru Nanak did not initiate separation with Hindus which took more than 200 years to accomplish. The information source cited for the views on Gurus marriages was with Google providing some helpful links.

On the other side it was argued that no Sikh Guru ever led a group of followers to a mosque or a temple for their edification. Bhai Lehna or Amardas used to go to yearly pilgrimages and may have led groups on such journeys but stopped that practice once they came into the fold of Sikhism. We are a little over 500-year-old tradition and such misconceptions of clubbing Sikhism and Hinduism, for examples, could arise. There may have been cultural, familial and doctrinal roots that Sikhism shares with the other religions extant in India at that time but to argue that Sikhism is a part of Hinduism or the Gurus were Hindus is facile but false.

The discussion revealed the depth of doubt and consequential lack of comfort of many among us with some unexplored questions relating to the Gurus and early Sikhs and our lingering urge to get closer to the facts especially because the historical records are not much help nor can their authenticity be trusted. The need therefore seemed to be to find some more clear and reliable writing that could be of help in reconstructing and reconciling the self image of early Sikhs – it being broadly accepted that the looming threat that the Sikhs faced following the martyrdom of Guru Arjun would perforce have distanced those who saw themselves as being other than Sikhs from the followers of Gurus for the prudent reasons of safety.

To explore the expression of Sikh identity as the faith travelled along its journey guided by the early Gurus, we thought that possibly the most reliable source could be the writings in the SGGS by the Gurus and others associated with the Gurus, as well as the writings of Bhai Gurdas who was contemporary of and also very closely associated with the Gurus starting from the 3rd up to the 6th Guru. These writings do in fact throw up a lot of clear indicators of the thinking of the Gurus about their Sikhs, the Guru-Sikh relation, the preferred description of the path preached by the Gurus and its linkage to the divine. The brief discussion presented in the following text should provide answers to the above queries in a clear and credible manner.   


The word sikh literally has two connotations – teaching and disciple. This word also was used by the Gurus to designate those who came to accept their persuasion through initiatory rites – like Sikh as in Sikhism. The word sikh and its derivative forms like sikhi, sikhda, sikhya, gursikh etc. have been used pretty liberally in Guru’s writings. Sikhda is a variant of Sikh. Gursikh means Sikh of the Guru and can also mean teaching of the Guru, depending on the context.

In the following paragraphs, some of such verses by the Gurus have been reproduced where the sense of the word sikh or its derivative form appears to be Sikh or the initiated follower to the Panth – indicating the beginning and continuity of such designation by the Gurus for their followers who had adopted to live by their persuasion.

Guru Nanak:

Guru Nanak has left some very clear indicators that the name Sikh was assigned by the Guru to his followers.  The verses cited below point clearly to Sikhs and reflect on their beliefs and values, the Guru’s sense of esteem for his Sikhs and the nature of Guru-Sikh relation:

The company of Sikh is obtained only by Grace. He restrains his wandering mind, and keeps it under control. Without the Guru, one is lost and continues coming and going. Given divine mercy, he experiences union – Dhhaavath Raakhai Thaak Rehaaeae Sikh Sangath Karam Milaaeae Gur Bin Bhoolo Aavai Jaaeae Nadhar Karae Sanjog Milaaeae – Asa M I, p. 412

Gurmukh Sikh blessed with His glance of grace obtains the gift of Naam that the giver Guru gives away day and night – Ahinis Laahaa Har Naam Paraapath Gur Dhaathaa Dhaevanehaar  Gurmukẖ sikẖ soī jan pāey jis no naḏar kare karṯār – M I, p. 1256

He alone who understands the patient’s illness is said to be a Guru, a Sikh, and a physician – so gurū so sikẖ kathīale so vaiḏ jė jāṇai rogī – M I, p. 503. The Sikh of the Guru thus is seen by the Guru as a highly evolved person and it is no wonder that the Guru says that those who come to believe are saved, and carried across with the Sikhs of the Guru – Mannai ṯarai ṯāre gur sikẖ – Japji, M I, p. 3

Sikhs are reminded to not forget to chant Raam – the infinite, inaccessible, incomprehensible Lord – who himself lets the Gurmukh fathom His un-weighable being — and whose Gursikhs serve at the feet of the Guru — [and] the Guru loves his Sikhs, day and night – Math Bisaras Rae Man Raam Bol Aparanpar Agam Agochar Guramukh Har Aap Thulaaeae Athul Thol —Gur Charan Saraevehi Gurasikh ThorGur Sikh Piaarae Dinas Raat – Basant M I, p. 1170.  

The Guru instructs Sikhs who have lost their moorings. He sets those gone astray on the right path. Such a Guru is with you ever and anon and the Sikhs are persuaded to serve night and day, the pain destroyer Guru companion – Bhoolae sikh Guroo Samajhaaeae Oujharr Jaadhae Maarag Paaeae  This Gur Saev Sadhaa Dhin Raathee Dhukh Bhanjan Sang Sakhaathaa Hae– Maru M I, p. 1032.

One who bathes in the ambrosial water of spiritual wisdom takes with him the virtues of the sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage. The Guru’s teachings are [of rare value, like] gems and jewels; Sikh who serves, will search the teachings out. There is no sacred shrine equal to the Guru. The Guru encompasses the ocean of contentment – Amrit Neer Giaan Man Majan Athasath Theerathh Sang Gehae Gur Oupadhaes Javaahar Maanak Saevae sikh Suo Khoj Lehai Gur Samaan Theerathh Nehee Koe Sar Santhokh Thaas Gur Hoe – Parbhati M I, p. 1328.

Guru, the giver, gives away the precious gift obtained through Har Naam day and night. That servant Sikh, who the Creator blesses with His grace, receives it to become Gurmukh – Ahinis Laahaa Har Naam Paraapath Gur Dhaathaa Dhaevanehaar  Gurmukh sikh Soee Jan Paaeae Jis No Nadhar Karae Karathaar – Malhar M I, p. 1256. Through the Guru’s word, one merges in the absolute, and intuitively receives the immaculate essence. O Nanak that Sikh who seeks and finds the way does not serve any other – Gur Bachanee Avigath Samaaeeai Thath Niranjan Sehaj Lehai  Naanak Dhoojee Kaar N Karanee Saevai Sikh S Khoj Lehai  – Ramkali Ghosht, M I, p. 940.

Guru Amar Das:

By the time of Guru Amardas the numbers of Sikhs had increased. Their spread sangats were guided by the Guru appointed Manjidars. The direction coming from the Guru continued to be words of inspiring explication of Sikhi and also persuasion to reinforce some of the ritual practices that had developed – witness:

Come let us all the Gursikhs continually chant Waaho! Waaho – hail, hail! The Perfect Guru is pleased with Waaho! Waaho! – Vaahu Vaahu Gurasikh Nith Sabh Karahu Gur Poorae Vaahu Vaahu Bhaavai – Gujri ki Var, M III, p. 515. This chant eventually transformed into the present day naam chant of Wahiguru – wondrous guru! The Guru also reinforced the call to his beloved Sikhs to sing the true Bani – Āvhu sikẖ saṯgurū ke pi▫āriho gāvhu sacẖī baṇī – M III, p. 920.

The Guru proclaimed: blessed, blessed is that Sikh of the Guru, who goes and falls at the feet of the true Guru. Blessed, blessed is that Sikh of the Guru, whose mouth utters Raam, the Har Naam. Blessed, blessed is that Sikh of the Guru whose heart, hearing Har Naam, goes into a state of bliss. Blessed, blessed is that Sikh of the Guru, who serves the true Guru to obtain the gift of Hari Naam. That Sikh of the Guru is forever deserving of deepest respect who walks the way of the Guru – Dhhann Dhhann So Gurasikh Keheeai Jo Sathigur Charanee Jaae Paeiaa  Dhhann Dhhann So Gurasikh Keheeai Jin Har Naamaa Mukh Raam Kehiaa  Dhhann Dhhann So Gurasikh Keheeai Jis Har Naam Suniai Man Anadh Bhaeiaa  Dhhann Dhhann So Gurasikh Keheeai Jin Sathigur Saevaa Kar Har Naam Laeiaa  This Gurasikh Kano Hano Sadhaa Namasakaaree Jo Gur Kai Bhaanai Gurasikh Chaliaa – Pauri 18, Vadhans ki Var, M III, p. 593

In fact, the Sikh who walks the way willed by the Guru is friend, family and like a brother – So sikẖ sakẖā banḏẖap hai bẖāī jė gur ke bẖāṇe vicẖ āvai – M III, p. 601. The Sikhs listen to the teachings imparted by the true Guru – updhaes J dithaa Satguroo So Suniaa sikhee Kannae – Gauri M III, p. 314.  The ultimate is when the light merges in the Light and Guru and Sikh become one – So gurū so sikẖ hai bẖāī jis joṯī joṯ milāe – M III, p. 602. This comes to be if a Sikh turns to the Guru with sincere faith – Hovai ṯa sanmukẖ sikẖ koi jīahu rahai gur nāle – M III, p. 919.

 Guru Amardas indicates that the Sikhs of the Guru were well versed in Sikhi so much so that the Guru acknowledged that even as the true Guru posed the riddle, the Guru’s Sikhs searched the way out – Ėh muḏāvaṇī saṯgurū pāī gursikẖā laḏẖī bẖāl – M III, p. 645. Sikhs had come of age.

Guru Ram Das:

 The direct message to the Sikhs comes through clear and direct in the compositions of Guru Ramdas who succeeded Guru Amardas. He had served in the house of Nanak from his young days, and his vision of the Sikh is flattering: Guru’s Sikh, and the Sikh’s Guru, are one and the same; both spread the Guru’s teachings – Guroo sikh sikh Guroo Hai Eaeko Gur Oupadhaes Chalaaeae – Asa M IV, p. 444. He even seeks the life companion, sibling, Sikhs of the Guru to instruct him on the way to merge with Har – Mere parān sakẖā gur ke sikẖ bẖāī mo kao karahu upḏes har milai milāiā – M IV, p. 493.

His definition of a Sikh is often cited: The one who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the true Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on Har Naam. Choosing to rise early, he is to bathe and cleanse his self in the pool of nectar [of naam]. Then following instructions of the Guru, he chants Har, Har that erases all the sins, misdeeds and negativity. As the sun rises, he is to sing Gurbani and meditate on Naam whether sitting or standing. The GurSikh who meditates on Har, Har, with each breath and every morsel of food is thought of fondly by the Guru. The Guru bestows his teachings on that GurSikh, unto whom my divine Master turns his compassion. Servant Nanak begs for the dust of feet of that such GurSikh who himself chants and inspires others to chant Naam – gur sathigur kaa jo sikh akhaaeae s bhalakae out(h) har naam dhhiaavai  oudham karae bhalakae parabhaathee eisanaan karae a(n)mrith sar naavai  oupadhaes guroo har har jap jaapai sabh kilavikh paap dhokh lehi jaavai  fir charrai dhivas gurabaanee gaavai behadhiaa out(h)adhiaa har naam dhhiaavai  jo saas giraas dhhiaaeae maeraa har har so gurasikh guroo man bhaavai  jis no dhaeiaal hovai maeraa suaamee this gurasikh guroo oupadhaes sunaavai  jan naanak dhhoorr ma(n)gai this gurasikh kee jo aap japai avareh naam japaavai – Gauri M IV, p. 305.

GurSikhs will work for the one who labors diligently for the Guru, the true Guru but for those who come not with clear conscience and depart on their vocation of cheating – never will the GurSikhs come close to them – Gur saṯgur agai ko jīo lāe gẖālai ṯis agai gursikẖ kār kamāvai  Jė ṯẖagī āvai ṯẖagī uṯẖ jāe ṯis neṛai gursikẖ mūl na āvai – M IV, p. 317. Guru-Sikh amiability is summed up beautifully when Guru Ramdas says: just as the earth turns beautiful when rain falls, so does Sikh blossom forth meeting the Guru – Jio ḏẖarṯī sobẖ kare jal barsai ṯio sikẖ gur mil bigsāī – M IV, p. 758.

Guru Arjan:

By now the Sikh identity was not only clear – it also was seen to be threatening by Muslims and Hindus. That eventually culminated in the set of circumstances that caused the Guru to be martyred by torture under the orders of Emperor Jehangir. The Guru has left a huge corpus of his divine compositions that give a glimpse of his deep commitment to love for all humanity and respect for other faith traditions. Nonetheless his appreciation of and love for the Sikhs is boundless. Sukhmani has so much to say about what the Guru would do for Sikhs: The true Guru cherishes his Sikh. The Guru is always merciful to his servant. The Guru washes away the filth of evil intellect of His Sikh. Through the Guru’s teachings, he chants the Naam. The true Guru cuts away the bonds of his Sikh. The Sikh of the Guru abstains from evil deeds. The true Guru gives his Sikh the wealth of Naam. The Sikh of the Guru is very fortunate. The true Guru arranges this world and the next for his Sikh. O Nanak, with the fullness of his heart, the true Guru moulds his Sikh – sathigur sikh kee karai prathipaal saevak ko gur sadhaa dhaeiaal sikh kee gur dhuramath mal hirai gur bachanee har naam oucharai sathigur sikh kae ba(n)dhhan kaattai gur kaa sikh bikaar thae haattai sathigur sikh ko naam dhhan dhaee gur kaa sikh vaddabhaagee hae sathigur sikh kaa halath palath savaarai naanak sathigur sikh ko jeea naal samaarai – Gauri Sukhmani, M V, p. 286

Not only that, he saw in GurSikhs the potential catalysts for societal transformation and the foundational concept of Halemi Raaj in fact is built around the central role of GurSikhs. The Guru says in the mini epic verse that he sought out the Guru’s Sikhs, and brought them into the realm of halemi raaj where the compassionate Lord had commanded that the writ of humility and modesty shall prevail – Gurasikhaa Lehadhaa Bhaal Kai – Sri Rag M V, p. 73. No wonder then that the Guru says: When I see a Sikh of the Guru, I humbly bow and fall at his feet – Jo Dheesai Gurasikharraa This Niv Niv Laago Paae Jeeo – Suhi M V, p. 763

Guru Gobind Singh:

The tenth Master revealed the Khalsa and that has become the dominant face of the Sikh way of life since then. The Guru has spoken very lovingly about the Khalsa and his praise in many ways is reminiscent of similar expressions by earlier Gurus about Sikhs. Without getting into the question of Sikh & Khalsa, let me say that Guru Gobind Singh also prayed for the well being of all Sikhs as his kin and servers of the Creator: Sukhi basai merau parwara, sevak sikh sabhai kartaaraa – Chaupai, Patshahi X


The word Panth literally means the path or the way – used mainly in the context of spiritual pursuits. Guru Nanak and successor Gurus have used the word Gurmukh for a very highly spiritually evolved, Guru oriented person– explicated at length in sidha ghosht and also by the third Guru. Guru Nanak has used the words Gurmukh Panth indicatively summing up the totality of his beliefs or persuasion that came to be spread by him. The verses below suggest that the Gurus clearly were promoting a Panth.

The Praise of the Lord is my occupation; and Gurmukh Panth my pure religion – Har Keerath Reharaas Hamaaree guramukh panthh Atheethan – . Asa M I, p. 360. The Panth is manifest to Gurmukhs and they face no obstructions at the Lord’s door – guramukhaa No panthh Paragattaa Dhar Thaak N Koee Paae – Sri Rag M IV, p. 42. Says Nanak, this is the path of liberation [mukat panth] attained by becoming a Gurmukh – Naanak Kehath Mukath panthh Eihu guramukh Hoe Thum Paavo – Gauri M IX, p. 219. The Sikhs travel with the Guru, the true Guru, on panth marag – Maarag panthh Chalae Gur Sathigur Sang Sikhaa – Tukhari M IV, p. 1116.

Bhatts have also used the term dharam panth and uttam panth [gur sangat] for the path of the Gurus in some of their compositions. Witness: Lehnaa established the path of righteousness and Dharma – Lehanai panthh Dhharam Kaa Keeaa – Savaiye: Bhatt Gayand, p. 1401. The support of earth [praising Guru Ramdas] has established Dharma Panth, on which he does not wander in distraction and remains lovingly attuned to the Lord – Dhhram panthh Dhhariou Dhharaneedhhar Aap Rehae Liv Dhhaar N Dhhaavath Hai – Savaiye: Bhatt Mathura, p. 1404. Gur Sangat is heard of as the most exalted Panth, joining which, the fear of death is removed – Eik Outham panthh Suniou Gur Sangath Thih Milanth Jam Thraas Mittaaee – Savaiye: Bhatt Balh, p. 1406


The Gurus have also used the words Gurmukh Gursikh and Gurmukh Sikh, conjointly or in the same verse. This suggests the expectation and persuasion by the Gurus for Sikhs to put the teachings into practice and try to evolve as Gurmukhs. In other words the pointer is that their Panth shows the way. The concept of Guru in Sikh thought is eternal and therefore it is not restricted or constrained by any sectarian considerations. Likewise the term gurmukh has non-sectarian connotation and has been used for ancient Rishis and mythological figures like Prahlad, Balmiki etc. Terms GurSikh and Sikh however have been used for those who chose to follow and live by the teachings of the Gurus from the house of Nanak. The following two verses show that a gurmukh could be living as a gursikh and a sikh as gurmukh: Blessed, blessed is the good fortune of those Gurmukhs, who live as Gursikhs, and conquer their minds – Dhhan Dhhan Bhaag Thinaa guramukhaa Jo gurasikh Lai Man Jinathiaa – Sorath M III, p. 649. I am sacrifice to those Sikhs who are Gurmukhs – Ho Balihaaree Thinn Kano Jo guramukh sikhaa – Sorath M III, p. 650.


The writings of Bhai Gurdas have often been referred to as providing a key to understanding of Gurbani. His writings also provide some authentic insights into the early Sikh praxis and the way Gurus and Sikhs related. We have tried to put together some select verses from his compositions that reflect on the couple of questions that we are looking at.

Were Gurus Sikhs?

The question is answered about the first six Gurus that had been revealed by the time of Bhai Gurdas in the following verse: God himself created the true Guru Nanak. Becoming Gursikh, Guru Angad joined the family. The true Guru liked becoming Gursikh of Guru Amar Das. Then Gursikh Ram Das came to be known as the Guru. Thereafter Gursikh Guru Arjan manifested as the Guru. Gursikh Hargobind cannot remain concealed even if somebody wishes to – Satigur Naanak Dayu Aapu Oupaaiaa. Gur Angadu Gurasikhu Babaanay Aaiaa. Gurasikhu Hai Gur Amaru Satigur Bhaaiaa. Raamadaasu Gurasikhu Guru Sadavaaiaa. Guru Arajanu Gurasikhu Paragatee Aaiaa Gurasikhu Harigovindu N Loukai Loukaaiaa – Vaar 20, Pauri I

Linkage with the Eternal & Gurmukh Panth

Salutation to that primal Lord who is known by the true name of Satgur. Transforming all the four varnas into Gurikhs, the true Guru Nanak has initiated Gurmukh Panth, the true way —- establishing abode of truth in the form of holy congregation – Aadi Purakh Aadaysu Hai Satiguru Sachu Naau Sadavaaiaa. Chaari Varan Gursikh Kar Gurmoukhi Sachaa Panth Chalaaiaa — Saadhsangat Sach Khand Vasaaiaa – Vaar 29, Pauri 1

From one Oankar emerged thousands of fruits – Guru, Sikh, Sadhsangat – Ikadoo Hoi Sahas Phalu Guru Sikh Saadh Sangati Aoankaaraa – Vaar 29 Pauri 20. Gursikh gurmukhs attain to the fruit of peace and harmony – Guramoukhi Gurasikhu Soukh Phal Paaay – Vaar 25 Pauri 8

Initiation Process of Sikhs

The disciple after getting initiated by the Guru comes to be known as a Sikh – Gur Deekhiaa Lai sikhi sikhu Sadaaiaa – Vaar 3, Pauri 11. Having received the teachings of the Guru, the Sikhs become Gursikhs and join sadhsangat wherever they find it – Gur sikh Lai Gurasikh Honi Saadhasangati Jag Andari Jaanee – Vaar 24 Pauri 22

First the Guru makes the Sikh sit close to his feet and preaches to him. Having explained the significance of the congregation and dharamsal, the Sikh is inducted to perform seva – Pahilay Guri Oupadays Dae sikh Pairee Paaay. Saadhasangati Kari Dharamasaal sikh Sayvaa Laaay – Vaar 9, Pauri 17. The Guru makes Sikhs understand the holy congregation, the true name, gnosis and meditation on the Guru – Sadhsangat Sachu Naau Gur Giaanu Dhiaanu sikhaa Samajhaaiaa – Vaar 6, Pauri 1.

Sikhs listen to, write down and make others write the hymns of the Gurus – Gurabaanee Souni sikhi Likhi Likhaaiaa – Vaar 20 Pauri 6. Listening to teachings of the Guru, the Sikh gains inner awareness though he may look like a simpleton – Gur sikhee Gur sikh Sunn Andari Siaanaa Baahari Bholaa – Vaar 4, Pauri 17.

Sikh Society & Transmission

One is a Sikh, two make company of the holy and in five resides God — In town after town and country after country there are myriads of Sikhs – Iku sikhu Dui Saadh Sangu Panjeen Paramaysaru — Nagari Nagari Mai Sahans sikh Days Days Lakhaysaru – Vaar 13, Pauri 19. Devoted Gursikhs are innumerable because dharamsals flourish everywhere – Gurasikh Saadh Asankh Jagi Dharamasaal Thaai Thaai Suhaaiaa – Vaar 23 Pauri 2.

The progeny of the swan like Sikhs of Guru is also Gursikh – Hans Vans Gurasikh Gurasikh Jaaiaa – Vaar 20 Pauri 7. Lineage of true Guru is like that of paramhans and their Sikhs live by the same hans tradition – Satigur Vansee Param Hansu Guru sikh Hans Vansu Nibahandaa – Vaar 26 Pauri 29.


It should become evidently clear from the above citations that Guru Nanak started Gurmukh Panth – the path of Gurmukh. His followers were called Sikhs after their initiation. On their further understanding of the Guru’s teachings and learning to be a part of the sadhsangat at the dharamsal they were known as Gursikhs. A pious Sikh or Gursikh could attain to being a Gurmukh – a state that was open to all pious persons, subject to divine grace. In the eyes of the Gurus, there was no difference between the Guru and the Sikh – that was their boon and also the challenge that the Sikhs had to live by!

New Delhi, 6 July, 2012

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