THURSDAY, JANUARY 5: It’s the birth anniversary of Sikhism’s last human guru today, Guru Gobind Singh, born in 1666. The Sikh faith follows the direction of 10 spiritual leaders, or gurus, and the last in line—Gobind Singh—succeeded his father at just 9 years old. As Guru Gobind Singh served the last in line of human gurus, some argue that he had the most influence on Sikhs’ practices today. (Learn more in an article from the Times of India.)
During a childhood filled with lessons in Persian, Sanskrit and the art of war, Gobind saw his father face a dilemma: the Mughal emperor of India was attempting to convert all Indians to Islam under heavy persecution. When his father was martyred, the young Gobind had already been appointed the next guru; during his lifetime, Gobind would teach Sikhs not to accept exploitation and to practice righteousness even in the face of death. (Wikipedia has details.) Gobind established the Khalsa Panth, a group of soldiers for Sikhism, and several of the customs that Sikhs maintain today. Upon his death, he assigned Guru Granth Sahib—the Sikh holy book—the title of everlasting and permanent guru. (Learn more at Sikh-history.com.)
Birthday celebrations can include everything from processions and martial arts demonstrations to readings from the Guru Granth Sahib. It’s common for gurdwara volunteers to serve meals to thousands of devotees as they flow in and out of the gurdwara during this special day.
Although some Sikhs commemorated the guru’s birth at the end of last month, the Nanakshahi calendar—introduced in 1998—designates Jan. 5 as the fixed date for the 10th guru’s birthday. (Check out a photo of the Golden Temple in India, brightly lit for birthday celebrations.) The calendar is accepted by approximately 90 percent of global gurdwaras, with the exception of some orthodox sects of Sikhism.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.