Foundation of the Sikh Panth

Doctrines Guru Nanak taught and practised a devotional and loving attitude (bhakti) towards the Supreme Being, a belief and practice current in the Saints (sants) of his time and area, like Kabir, Ravidas and Namdev - whose hymns are also included in the Sikh's sacred scripture the (Adi Granth also referred to as the Guru Granth Sahib). However there is a uniqueness about Guru Nanak's beliefs, since at the start of his revelation he proclaimed, "There is no Hindu or Muslim. So whose path shall I follow? I shall follow God's path." God is termed Akal Purakh, the Timeless Being. But this is an abridged version of the full doctrinal definition, which Nanak gives on the opening page of the Adi Granth:

"God is the One mystic Sound, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless Form, Unborn and Self-existent, Known by the Guru's Grace. He was the Truth in the beginning, Truth when time began, even now He is the Truth and will always be the Truth."

(Mool mantar, Adi Granth, p.1).

For Nanak liberation (that is, freedom from the compulsive, ignorant and deluding activity of worldly life - samsara) was and is only achieved through the divine Name (nam). Transmigration (the endless round of birth and death) occurred in accordance with one's deeds (karma), and liberation is seen as the ending of this process. This does not necessarily mean that birth and death disappear, but that one will live in the world truly i.e. creatively and subserviently according to Akal Purakh's Will (hukam) and not habitually and destructively according to one's selfish will (haumain). For there is an divinely sanctioned order to things that should be adhered to : "He who created the world watches over it, appointing all to their various tasks." (A.G., p.765).
One is not to renounce worldly life, but live in the world whilst not being of it. Thus the ascetic (sanyasi/yogi/siddha) of the wilderness is married to the householder (grihasti) of the village-city whose aim is to become a jivanmukta, liberated-in-life. A traditional saying is: "Nam japo, kirt karo, vand chhako": Recite God's name, work honestly and share your earnings. Liberation is not something attained after death but realised in life and lived. Nanak believed that liberation was intimately linked with being true in one's deeds: "Highest is truth, but higher still is truthful action". (A.G., p.62) And man, "shall be known as true when he dwells in the pilgrimage of his heart." (A.G., p.468). This is achieved by constantly remembering one's true love (i.e. Akal Purakh) in all action. The mind and heart are to be always focused on Him and His wondrous doings. This, however, can only be achieved if God bestows His grace (nadar). God was seen as a nondual One; in Nanak's mystic vision God is both personal and impersonal; He is seen to be both formless, transcendent (nirgun) and present within in all forms of creation (sagun). This presence of the divine Name, is communicated via sabad, which is the Word, Instruction or mystical Voice of the True Guru (satiguru). If one meditates on this sabad (truth/instruction/name as Guru) then the means of liberation will be appropriately and progressively revealed until one reaches a condition of ineffable and blissful union (sahaj). In Nanak's hymns where there is love (bhaau) for the Supreme Being and fear (bhau) of him, then there is virtue and truth and so also spiritual illumination. Consequently where there is love and fear of another - i.e. of a mother, husband, work, recreation, etc., independent of one's love of God as one and all - then there is duality, delusion and wrongdoing, collectively known as maya.
In Nanak's teaching there are two kinds of people; those who listen and act on the Word of the True Guru called Gurmukh (he who faces the Guru) and those that do not, called Manmukh (he who has turned his back on the Guru and does as he pleases). This is the basic doctrine that all the ten Gurus preach though it takes on different emphasises and forms in each according to the historical time and the audience listening. (See Evolution and Transformation of the Sikh Panth entries).

History Guru Nanak (1469-1538) led a simple pious life. As a young man he received a mystical call from Akal Purakh to preach the means of liberation by the divine Name. Nanak travelled around India (traditionally to east India, Sri Lanka, Mount Sumeru and Mecca) singing the praises of the Lord. He critically challenged the hypocrisy of those claiming to be religious people, and the empty ritualistic behaviour of many Indians. He married Sulakhani and had two sons Lakhmi Das and Sri Chand (see Udasis entry) to show that the one can still be a devout person as well as a family man (grihasti); that those who had taken the vow of celibacy and had renounced the world (yogis, sadhus, siddhas), were no different to 'worldly' people. Finally he settled in a village he founded as Kartarpur on the right bank of the river Ravi, north-east of Lahore. During his life he attracted a sizeable following (the Early Panth) and appointed Angad as the successor True Guru (satiguru) before he died.

Symbols During the time of the first four Gurus the Sikh Panth had no distinctive dress, or external symbols to denote the uniqueness of their faith. This is understandable since the main thrust of the early Gurus, and especially of Nanak, was a shift away from external symbols, rituals and practices of Hinduism and Islam, to a focus on the interiority of religious devotion within the heart. Guru Nanak is said to have cross-dressed the Muslim and Hindu attire.

Adherents Most of the activity of the Sikh Panth was in the Panjab, North India. There are no official numbers. In the 1891 census 542,631 Hindus returned themselves as Nanak-panthi and 432,937 Sikhs returned themselves as Nanak-panthi. (Census of India, 1891, Vol.XX, and vol.XXI. The Punjab and its Feudatories, by E.D. Maclagan, Part II and III, Calcutta, 1892, pp.826-9 and pp.572-3.) (See also the note at the end of the Explanatory Introduction).

Main Centre
 The first centre established by Guru Nanak was and still is at Kartarpur.