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Sufism is a term for the Islamic mystical tradition. Sufism and three Hindu elements has
had influence on the Sants and through them on Nanak but only marginal.
The North Indian Sant tradition is where the first Sikh leader Nanak was situated.
The term ‘Sant’ may have come from sadhu which is Sanskrit for a holy ascetic or sat which
is truth. Three elements flowed together in the Sant tradition – bakhti, yoga and Sufism.
The Sant tradition drew its vocabulary from Hindu sources.
There were many influential Sant poets like Namdev; Ravidas, a leather worker or
cobbler from Banaras who stated how caste status is irrelevant to spiritual fulfilment;
Kabir, a contemporary of Ravidas who was born into a family of Hinduism and Islam, he
however was of neither.
Nanak is the founder of the line of gurus or inspired teachers. The compilation of his more
than 900 hymns about his religious beliefs and now as Sikh scripture is known as Adi
Granth. He referred to the fundamental divine reality as the “Sat Guru” (True Teacher)
or “Om kara” (Divine One). Nanak insisted that God should be experienced, rather than
talked about. Nanak blended Muslim and Hindu elements into his clothing. Nanak believed
in many principles of both Hinduism and Islam but also criticized many of its elements.
Mardana was a friend of Nanak’s and they visited holy sites together all throughout
Indian. Nanak preached, sought disciples (“Sikh”) and sang devotional songs while
Mardana played musical accompaniment. Nanak was raised in a Hindu family while
Mardana was Muslim. This friendship played into Nanak’s philosophy that there is no
Hindu or Muslim.
Sikh means disciples in Sanskrit and is the name and title give to an adherent of Sikhism.
Angad was the second guru after Nanak. He instutionalized the communal kitchen to feed
disciples that had developed under Nanak. Community meals, a feature of Sikh practice
make a moral rather than ritual statement where all (regardless of caste) eat together.
Amardas was the third guru and under him the community developed its religious
observances and began a shrine tradition.
Ramdas was the fourth guru who founded a town and dug a large reservoir called
Amritsar (pool of the nectar of immortality). Ramdas appointed his son as his successor
setting an important precedent as all subsequent incumbents came from his family (Sodhi).
Arjan was the fifth guru and was responsible for the supervised compilation of the Adi
Granth. He built a new temple at Amritsar called Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple
which has become an administrative centre of Sikhs. Arjan made charitable donations and
started trading links between India’s northwestern frontier into Afghanistan and farther
west. He was killed in Lahore for supporting the rebellion by Khusro.
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