Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
World: South Asia
The Sikh Khalsa: Community of the Pure
Work continues at the Golden Temple in time for Vaisakhi 99
By Indarjit Singh OBE, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations
The creation of the Khalsa was the culmination of a process of social and spiritual uplift begun two centuries earlier by Guru Nanak - the founder of Sikhism born in 1469.
Central to Guru Nanak's teaching was a belief in one God: the supreme creator who is beyond the limited human frame of birth, death, form or gender.
In marked contrast to the bigotry of the times, Guru Nanak taught that no one religion has a monopoly of truth and, as different paths to the same one God, all should be respected.
He taught the Sikhs a higher view of tolerance involving the readiness to give one's life for another's beliefs.
Origins in martyrdom
The story of the Khalsa begins with the martyrdom in Delhi of Guru Teg Bahadur, the 9th Guru of the Sikhs.
The Guru, who disagreed with many aspects of Hindu teachings, was publicly beheaded by the Mughal rulers for trying to protect the Hindu community's right to freedom of worship. The Mughal emperor then challenged the Sikhs, who at the time could not be distinguished from other Indians, to claim their master's body. But in the event no one came forward.
The Guru's young son Gobind now became Guru, and, as he grew into manhood, he constantly stressed that Sikhs should always be ready to stand up for their beliefs, however difficult the circumstances.
Then he decided to put the community to the test.
The beloved five
It was the spring festival of Vaisakhi 1699 and everyone was out in the open, celebrating the gathering of the winter harvest.
A second Sikh stepped forward and again the Guru emerged alone, his sword again apparently covered in blood. In the same way a third, fourth and fifth volunteer accompanied the Guru into the tent.
He called the five Sikhs the Panj Piare - the beloved five.
Then the Guru put water in a bowl for sprinkling over the five in a simple initiation ceremony. He said prayers as he stirred the water with a short steel sword; symbolising the need for strength.
The Guru's wife, Mata Sundri, then came forward and placed some sugar crystals into the holy water or amrit as a reminder that strength must always be balanced by sweetness of temperament.
After completing his prayers, the Guru then sprinkled the amrit over the five.
The Panj Piare were asked to wear five distinctive symbols of their new identity:
In a move to end social divisions the five dropped their surnames - then linked to caste or occupation - and took the common name 'Singh', literally 'lion', a reminder of the need for courage.
At the same time, the Guru gave Sikh women the name or title 'Kaur', or 'princess' to emphasise dignity and complete equality.
Inspiration for the future
The Guru now knew that Sikhs were prepared to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, whatever the challenge. The infant Sikh community had proved its courage and he was confident that it could now flourish without the need for further living Gurus. Before he was killed in 1708, Guru Gobind was to vest the authority of the Gurus in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
The story of the creation of the Khalsa is, appropriately for the new millennium, a story of new beginnings and high ideals that can inspire both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike in the years ahead.