What Is the Origin of Sikhism?

Guru Nanak, the Founder of Sikhism

Guru Nanak and Mardana on Mission Tour
Guru Nanak and Mardana on Mission Tour. Photo © [Courtesy Inni Kaur and Pardeep Singh]

Fifteenth Century Origins of Sikhism

The origins of Sikhism may be traced to a part of Punjab which is located in modern day Pakistan where the Sikhism faith originated with its founder First Guru Nanak Dev in the early 1500's. Born into a Hindu family living in the village of Talwandi of Punjab, (now modern day Nankana Sahib of Pakistan), Guru Nanak began to question the rituals that he observed going around him from an early age.

Spiritual Nature

As a child, Nanak spent countless hours deep in meditation on the divine. From the first his elder sister Bibi Nanaki recognized the deep spiritual nature of her brother. His father, however, often scolded him for laziness. The village headman Rai Bullar witnessed several miraculous incidents, and became convinced that Nanak had the blessing of the Divine. He urged Nanak's father to give his son an education. During his school years Nanak astounded his teachers with poetic compositions reflecting his spiritual outlook.

Disillusionment with Rituals

As Nanak matured and approached manhood, his father arranged a coming of age ceremony for him. Nanak refused to participate in the Hindu thread tying ceremony. He insisted that such rituals held no real spiritual value. When his father attempted to get him started in business, Nanak used his money to feed the hungry. Nanak told his exasperated father that he had gotten a good bargain for his money.

Shared Philosophies of One Creative Being

All the while Nanak continued to focus on worshiping one creative being. Nanak's acquaintance with Mardana, a Muslim bard goes deep into the heart of Sikhism's origins. Though their religions differed, they discovered shared philosophies and a common love of the divine.

Meditating together, Nanak and Mardana communed with creator and creation. As their understanding of the divine nature developed, their spiritual relationship deepened.

Enlightenment and Formal Recognition as Guru

Nanak's parents arranged a marriage for him, and he began a family. Rai Bullar helped to arrange employment for Nanak. He relocated to Sultanpur where his sister Nanaki lived with her husband, and took a government job distributing grain. About the time he turned 30, Nanak spiritually awoke to state of complete enlightenment, and became  formally recognized as Guru. With Mardana as his spiritual companion, Nanak took leave from his family and set out on a mission to share the truths revealed to him. Professing a belief in one creator, he preached against idolatry, and the caste system.

Mission Tours

Guru Nanak and the minstrel Mardana made a series of journeys which took them through much of India, the Middle East, and parts of China. The pair traveled together for about 25 years making as many as five separate mission tours on a spiritual quest to illuminate humanity with the Light of Truth. The ever faithful follower Bhai Mardana accompanied Guru Nanak through a series of encounters with simple people, religious leaders, thugs, yogis, and tantric witches to dispel spiritual ignorance and superstitious rituals, while instilling truthful principles and practices.

Spiritual Message and Scripture

Guru Nanak wrote 7,500 lines of inspirational hymns that he sung accompanied by Mardana during their tours. Offering a unique glimpse into the Guru's life, many of his hymns featured the ordinary tasks of every day life illuminated by the insights of divine wisdom. The Guru's message clearly conveyed an unprecedented effort to enlighten a society steeped in superstition. Guru Nanak's teachings illuminated the darkness of spiritual ignorance, barbaric rituals, idolatry, and caste-ism. Guru Nanak Dev's hymns have been preserved along with compositions of 42 authors in the collective works of the divinely inspired scripture Guru Granth Sahib.

Succession and Sikhism

The singular spiritual illumination that Guru Nanak imparted passed through a succession of Ten Sikh Gurus, culminating with Guru Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak established a foundation of three golden rules, upon which each of his successors built. Over the centuries, the Sikh Gurus forged a spiritual path of enlightenment known the world over as Sikhism.