History of the Sikhs
The Sikh religion started in 1469 with the birth of first guru, Guru Nanak dev ji. From his childhood, he was quite an intellectual and a rational thinker. He was never afraid of challenging the rituals performed in the name of religion. When he was eight, his father arranged a ceremony of 'janeu' (a religious thread worn by hindus). He challenged the priest performing the ritual and declined to wear the janeu saying it is just a ritual and holds no value in God's court. He stressed on honest, truthful and compassionate living which will make us presentable in God's court. He travelled extensively to spread this message of Sikhi and had followers from all walks of life. His four travels in four different directions are famous as four udaasi's. He was followed by nine other gurus, Guru Angad dev ji, Guru Amardas ji, Guru Ramdas ji, Guru Arjan dev ji, Guru Hargobind Rai ji, Guru Har Rai ji, Guru Harkrishen dev ji, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji, Guru Gobind Singh ji.
The fifth guru, Guru Arjan dev ji was executed by the Mughals, after which the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Rai ji militarised the Sikhs making them saint-soldiers. The eighth guru, Guru Harkrishan dev ji was only five years old when he became guru. His physical body left this world at the age of 9. He was serving the people affected by the epidemic of smallpox and cholera. He himself caught smallpox.
The ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur travelled to different parts of India spreading the message of Sikhi. He was approached by Hindu priests, who were concerned about forced conversions of Hindus by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Guru challenged the emperor. He asked the priests to pass the message that if the emperor can convert him to Islam, rest of the Hindus will follow. He was summoned to Delhi by the emperor and was pressured into converting. Failing in doing so, the emperor ordered his execution. This was the first time in history that a prophet of one religion sacrificed his life for the freedom of other religion, with whose philosophy he himself doesn't agree. This was the concept of religious freedom, well ahead of it's time, which is still instilled in the Sikhs.
The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji became the guru at the age of nine. He further militarised the Sikhs, kept an army. He initiated the Khalsa in April 1699. In 1708, before leaving this world physically, he passed the guruship to Guru Granth Sahib ji and ordered Sikhs to follow Guru Granth sahib as their everlasting Guru.
Soon after Guru Gobind Singh physically left this world, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur established his kingdom in Punjab. He started to reform the system but could not stay in power for long. The mughals from Delhi ousted and captured him. He was killed in Delhi along with his 600 Sikhs. This was followed by tough period for Sikhs when the Mughals placed bounty for Sikhs' head. Sikhs were asked to accept Islam or death. The commitment to sikhi was bigger than fear of death, and so the Sikhs accepted death. Sikh men were executed and women and children put in prisons. The Sikhs retreated to the jungles.
With the passage of time, they formed twelve militia groups known as 'misls'. These groups held control over different areas of Punjab. They had some infighting at times but always stood united together against any foreign invaders. The Afghans were the main invaders at that time, but the Sikhs also faced opposition and hatred from mughal government.
In 1746, the first massacre of the Sikhs happened, when the forces of Lahore governor Zakariya khan, under Afghan command, along with Lakhpat rai killed about 7000 Sikhs. As a result of this, all the twelve misls of the Sikhs joined together under the command of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and called themselves Dal Khlasa. With all the Sikhs joined together they soon grew in strength.
The second massacre of the Sikhs was in 1762 by Ahmed Shah Abdali, Afghan emperor of Durrani dynasty. He invaded India through Punjab seventeen times. On every invasion, he looted the money and enslaved girls. On his way back to Kabul, in Punjab, the Sikhs used to raid his loot. The Sikhs looted money from him and freed the enslaved girls. As the Sikhs were experts of guerrilla warfare, he couldn't do much. He was infuriated. He came with a big army in 1762, Sikhs tried to retreat with their families to the south, but Abdali moved very quickly and attacked them at Kup Rahira, near Malerkotla. Sikhs were caught off guard as they didn't expect Abdali to move so quick. About 25000-30000 Sikhs were killed in this massacre. That was nearly 70% of the Sikh population at the time. But the Sikhs didn't loose morale, they regrouped and captured Lahore in 1764.
The Sikhs bounced back as major power in the region after this. Soon the whole of Punjab was under the Sikh control.
Ranjit Singh regrouped all he misls under one flag in 1801 and called it 'Sarkar-e-Khalsa'. He was the first maharaja (emperor) of the Sikhs. Under his reign, the Sikh politics saw it's zenith. The empire was great and secular. It's boundaries stretched from Khyber pass in the west to Kangra and Chamba (present day Himachal pradesh) in the east. Kashmir in the north bordering Tibet and Sindh river to the south.
During his empire, the British took over rest of the India under their control. The Sikhs and the British had a treaty to not interfere in each others empires. The treaty stood till Maharaja Ranjit Singh was alive. He died in 1839, when the British interference increased. There was political unrest in Lahore darbar, with most of the heirs to the throne being assassinated. Five year old Duleep Singh was given the throne. There were two Anglo-Sikh wars, after which the British took over the empire and Maharaj Duleep Singh brought to England and raised as a Christian aristocrat.
During the British rule in India, the Sikhs were recruited in the military due the their bravery and loyalty. Sikh soldiers played an important role in saving number of British lives during 1857, the event Indians call 'the first war of independence' and the British as 'The Indian mutiny'. The Sikh soldiers were the only ones staying loyal to the British in 1857. This increased the trust on the Sikhs by the the British and they were recruited in high numbers in the army. The Sikh participation in the great wars was overwhelming given their population. Almost 83000 were killed and about 120,000 injured in the wars.
The Sikhs were also at the forefront for the freedom struggle of India. More than 90% Indians who were given capital punishment were Sikhs and over 80% jailed in Andaman prison were Sikhs.
In early 1900's Sikhs also had movements for religious reforms. Over time, the religious traditions were getting amalgamated with the Hindu religion. To eradicate the Hindu practices from the the religion, the movement was started where the control of Gurudwaras (Sikh place of worship) was taken back from Hindu priests and a committee called 'S.G.P.C.' was formed to control the historical Gurudwaras.
When British left, the Punjab was partitioned among India and Pakistan which saw the greatest migration in the human history. Almost ten million people were uprooted and over one million killed. The Sikhs choose to stay on the Indian side of the border on the assurances and promises made by the politicians.
The struggle for the Sikhs were not over yet. The promises made to the Sikhs by Nehru, Gandhi and rest of the politicians were soon forgotten. Sikhs had to struggle to get their language recognized. They are still struggling to get their religion recognized as they are described as sect of Hindus in the Indian constitution. The self-governed region was denied. So the Sikhs had to start another struggle.
This struggle started the chain of events which led to the third massacre of the Sikhs in 1984. This started by the operation led by Indian army, on the pretext of militancy, was called 'Operation Blue Star' in June 1984. Because the attack was planned on the martyrdom day of the fifth guru, Guru Arjan dev ji, the number of casualties were high. The exact number of casualties is not known. The estimates are between 5000 to 8000. After three months, on 31st October, Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who ordered the operation, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This was followed by government backed three day massacre of the Sikhs throughout India. Official figures report 3000 killings and the unofficial figure is close to 30,000. Even today, the Sikhs are awaiting justice for this state sponsored genocide. This event shook the entire Sikh community. It made them question their place in independent India. Like every other blow this one too brought them closer to their Guru's teachings and they wear their identity with pride, no matter what place and sector they work in.
The Sikhs because of their hard-work and dedication have always stayed the most prosperous community. Today, the Sikhs live in different parts of the world and they have proved to be the valuable members of the society.