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Sikhs, The

Sikhs, The followers of a new religion from Punjab, India established by Guru Nanak. Guru means teacher and the followers came to be known as Sikhs (Learners). Guru Nanak, born into a Hindu family in 1469, loved to travel, Learn and Preach humanity. In those people who taught and preached were titled Guru. So, Guru Nanak developed a new religion and it also included beliefs from the two dominant religions in the Punjab region, Hinduism and Islam. Sikhs refer to God as Sat Guru (true/honest teacher). They have ten gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708). Their holy book is the granth sahib or Adi Granth. Sikhism made its debut in Bangladesh when Gura Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion visited Dhaka in 1504. He started spreading his message in 1499 from Punjab and traveled many parts of Asia on foot. During his brief stay at Dhaka he left his ideals in the minds of many.

A Sikh, (Punjabi sikkh), is a follower of Sikhism and member of a social group with similar culture, customs, and beliefs. It is a monotheistic religion. Sikhism (Sikhi in Punjabi) primarily originated in 15th century Punjab region of South Asia and now constitutes one of the major religions with adherents throughout the world. Sikhism has many values of both Hinduism and Islam along with independent traditions. The term 'Sikh' has its origin in the Sanskrit term sisya meaning 'disciple or student' or siksa, meaning 'instruction or learning'. The core philosophy of the Sikh religion can be understood in the beginning hymn of the holy Guru Granth Sahib.

'There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; immanent in all things; creator of all things; immanent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru's grace.'

In Sikh belief system, everyone has equal rights irrespective of caste, creed, color, race, sex or religion. Sikhism rejects pilgrimage, fasting, superstitions and other such rituals. A Sikh place of worship is called Gurdwara. According to Sikhism, God is everywhere and not in any certain place. Sikhism emphasises community service.

Guru Nanak attempted to reform the moral life of human beings and to remove superstitions from the society. He tried to reconcile Hindu and Muslim thoughts. He preached that God can be found within human beings and does not need the rituals and controversies of existing religions. Nine other gurus followed Nanak. The first five gurus are known as panj-pyare. Apart from Nanak, they are Angad (1504-1552/3), Amardas (1479-1574), Ramdas (1534-1581) and Arjun Singh (1563-1606). Their thoughts and concepts have been collected and compiled into the Granth Sahib.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, summed up the basis of Sikh lifestyle in three requirements: Naam Japo, Kirat Karni and Wand ka Sako, which means meditation on the holy name (Waheguru), work diligently and honestly, and share one's fruits. The Sikhs also revere Bhaghats or Saints belonging to different social backgrounds. The work of these Bhagats is collected in Guru Granth Sahib, and is known as Bhagat-Bani (sacred word of bhagat) as against work of Sikh Gurus being known as Guru-Bani (sacred word of Guru).

Guru Nanak came in east Bengal from Punjab in early 16th century and visited Dhaka via Mithila, Kant Nagar (Dinajpur) Kamroop and Sylhet and he left for Deccan via Chittagong, Calcutta and Jagannathpuri (Orissa). He came to Dhaka by boat, which anchored in Shivpur village in the north of Dhaka (Later it took the name of Rayer Bazar, Dhanmandi and turned Dhanmandi Colony after 1961) Guru Nanak dug a well at the village Zafrabad and consecrated it to the welfare of the local people. Later the Pakistan Government requisitioned the entire area including the well kept under Sikh supervision till 1959.

Sikhs are divided into two sects -Nanak-Panthi and Khalsa. In the broadest sense, Nanak- Panthi refers to the followers of Guru Nanak- the Sikhs. According to the historians, the term Nanak-Panthi was used principally for non-Khalsa Sikhs, and there were many of them in various sects in the late eighteenth century. Nanak-Panthi has been a member of one of the Udasi order. The name Udasi is from the Sanskrit udasin, detachment, and was taken by the followers of Sri Chand (by tradition, 1494-1612), eldest son of Guru Nanak. These ascetics were distinguished from the militant Khalsa Sikhs by their renunciation of the world, their celebacy and rejection of such practices as keeping their hair and beard uncut. Khalsa Sikhs increasingly sought to shape a consciousness of their distinctive character. The British, who fought the Sikhs in two wars (1845-46 and 1848-49), later recruited them for the Indian Army as one of the 'martial races'. Guru Gobind Singh established the militant Sikh order, Khalsa in 1699. Prominent among the distinguishing features are the 'five Ks' (symbol), items that males must have: kes (uncut hair), kirpan (steel sword), kara (steel bangle on the right wrist), kachh (distinctive military-style shorts or undergarment), and the kanga (comb worn in the topknot of the hair). Khalsa Sikhs also wear dark blue garments and turban- not black. Militant Khalsa Sikhs as constituting the whole of the Sikh community, but the Panth, as the Sikh community is known, included a variety of order groups, such as the Nanak-Panthi.

Gurdwara in Bangladesh The gurdwara (literally the gateway of the Guru) is open to everyone. All gurdwaras fly a yellow flag known as nishan sahib. This flag carries the symbols of two curved swords, a double-edged dagger, and a discus. The flag symbolises the union of temporal and spiritual life and the bravery of the Sikhs. The main place of Sikh worship is the Golden Temple at Amritsar in the Punjab. Hukumnamas (directives for religious and daily life) are issued from the Akal Takht Sahib temple, also at Amritsar. The main Sikh temple in Bangladesh is gurdwara nanak shahi, situated on the campus of the university of dhaka.

By the instructions of Baba Gurditta, an Udasi, traced out that Guru Nanak stayed at Dhaka. The place was under Sujatpur Mauza (Dhaka University area). He established a `Manji' over there, which was later, renamed Gurdwara Nanakshahi. Sujatpur Sikh Sangat (religious gathering) is believe to have been built at the initiative of a Sikh priest, Bhai Nathan, sent by the sixth sikh guru, Hargobind Ji (1606-1645), during the reign of Mughal emperor jahangir. He laid the foundation stone. It was originally an Udashi Charan Paduka founded by Baba Nath, Successor of Bhai Almast, in memory of Guru Nanak Dev. The work of the building were completed in 1830 and it commemorates the stay of Guru Nanak, who held here religious discourses, preaching of gospel of one God and universal brotherhood in 1504.

Before the Gurdwara was built, Bhai Natha took the initiative for digging a well of which Mahant Prem Dass made reforms in 1833. During the Baishakhi (for the Sikh community, Baisakhi Festival has tremendous religious significance as it was on a Baishakhi Day in 1699, that guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru laid the foundation of Panth khalsa-the Order of the Pure Ones.) and Guru Nanak birth anniversary, Sikhs and Jats from India visited Guru Nanak Shahi and stayed here.

On the way to Calcutta, Guru Nanak halted at Chittagong and founded a `Manji' at chowkbazar. Later, the Manji was turned into Gurdwara. Another Gurdwara is located at Pahartali Chittagong and it was built for the Sikh Railway Employees.

Guru Nanak himself founded a Gurdwara at Sylhet. According to Abul Fazal, the eminent courtier of emperor Akbar, that during the visit to Sylhet from kamrup, Nanak's follower Bhai Mardana was changed into a lamb by the spell of Noor Shah, a spiritual Fakir of the time. Guru Nanak dispelled it and helped him assume his original shape.

After Guru Nanak, there were nine more Gurus who were the highest religious authority. The Last one, Guru Gobind Singh, proclaimed that after him the Guru of the Sikhs would be the holy book of Sikhism, Guru Granth Sahib (written in Gurumukhi script).

Guru Tegh Bahadur the 9th Guru of the Sikhs also visited Bangladesh in the second half of the seventeenth century. He came to Dhaka from Assam and stayed here for two years (1666-68). He established Gurdwara Sangat Tola at 14, Sreesh Das Lane, Bangla Bazar, Dhaka.

There are Five Gurdwaras in Bangladesh. Two in Dhaka (Dhaka University campus and Banglabazar), two in Chittagong and one in Mymensingh. Other than the one at Dhaka University, most of these Gurdwaras are in crumbling condition. Another Gurdwara, which collapsed in course of time, was built by a young shikh, named Mohan Singh. It was at English Road. There was a temple called Sangat Shutrashasi at Urdu Bazar, but the Shutra Sadhus later destroyed it.

The Gurdwara at Mymensingh was built in 1945 inside the Ganjer Park, beside a kalimandir. Heera Singh, a Bangali Sikh was appointed to assume the charge of supervisor. But all Sikhs left the place during the partition in 1947.

Sikhs constitute a small minority in Bangladesh. There are few Bangladeshi Sikhs in the Country. There are number of Sikhs in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet etc, who are either businessmen or deputies to various Indian High Commission. They usually come from abroad and live here temporarily. So in Every Friday's congregation, held at Gurdwara, where not only Sikh families but also many local people gather there.

Sikh gurus also did not stay very long in Bangladesh to propagate their religion. During the Mughal and British rule, Sikh soldiers used to be posted to Bangladesh for short periods. They kept very much to themselves and did not develop close relationships with the local people from whom they differed not only in religion but also in language and lifestyle.'

Management of Gurdwara After the liberation of Bangladesh (1971), the management of Gurdwara Nanak Shahi and other Sikhs shrines in Bangladesh was handed over to 'Bangladesh Gurdwara Management Board' who conducted its duties from Kolkata. In 1972 Board appointed Bhai kartar Singh, head priest of Gurdwara Nanak Shahi to perform the daily religious functions. Usually the members of 'Balmiki', community comes here. They are followers of Guru Nanak for generation. These people can even read Granth Sahib, written in Punjabi and join weekly religious sessions on Fridays and on special occasions.'

Gurdwara in West Bengal a Sikh community also emerged in West Bengal. Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur visited Malda. A commemorative shrine existed in Old Malda named Gurdwara Nima Serai Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur. Another Gurdwara constructed in New Malda named Gurdwara Singh Sabha. Murshidabad also had Udasi-controlled Gurdwaras dedicated to Guru Nanak Dev, who is said to have visited these places, but they are no longer extant. Guru Nanak Dev, who perhaps visited the ancient Hindu temple at Kali Ghat, Kolkata. Two Sikh Sangats, called Bari Sangat and Chhoti Sangat, have certainly existed for a long time in Kolkata.

By establishing Gurdwara in various places, the Sikhs setup their own society and spread the ideology of their Guru Nanak. [Nasrin Akhter]