Jun 19, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Warrior Saints

I’ve written about warriors who battled to defend their religious rights, but never about a warrior culture that rose up within a pacifist religion. They took up arms to defend themselves and their way of life from forces that threatened to murder them and destroy their way of life. Then they went on to help save the world from a marauding evil. Sounds like a great story of fiction doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Let me tell you about the Warrior Saints of India, the Sikhs.

Guru of the Sikhs (Picture via Wikipedia)
In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s a man named Nanak Dev Ji was born and grew up in the Punjab area. He was a respected and loved man. He was very intelligent and inquisitive. At some point he became the founder of a new religious group that was unlike the other religions. Guru Nanak preached that there was no Hindu or Muslim because in the eyes of God we are all equal. Guru Nanak traveled all over the Middle East and into parts of Africa before returning to India to settle down. The followers of Guru Nanak became known as the Sikhs, which means “to learn.”

The pacifist group grew over the decades and centuries. At times the religion was respected by all, Hindu and Muslims included. Guru Nanak was known to meet and speak to the leaders of both Hindu and Muslims. He preached about equality and working hard to achieve goals in life. He even taught that women and men were equal because without women to raise good men, there would be no good men.

In 1670, the 9th leader of the Sikhs, known as Guru Teg Bahadur, was executed for being a stumbling block for the spread of Islam in India. This moment changed the Sikhs forever. The emperor of the Moghuls, Aurangzeb, had enraged the Hindu and Muslim people by the cruelty of the execution, it had been a public beheading, but they had cut one of the Sikhs with him from head to torso. Guru Teg Bahadur had become a martyr. Creating a martyr is never a good thing if you are trying to break the spririt of a group of people.

The execution did not break the Sikhs, what it did was make them look at the world in a new light. The son of Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Rai, began militarizing the Sikhs. He felt that it was now time for them to fight for what they believed. Some Sikhs were also Rajput so he knew that there were some that could help him achieve his goal. Guru Gobind Rai preached the same things about love and equality that the Guru’s before him had, but he also impressed on the Sikhs to take care of their bodies and make themselves strong. Wrestling became popular and eventually the Sikhs developed their own martial arts.

Guru Gobind Rai created the uniform that the Sikhs still wear today. It set them apart from the rest of the people of the region and for the first time it unified the diverse group that the Sikhs had once been. To prove he still wanted everyone to be equal, Guru Gobind Rai had a ceremony where the first five of the Sikh warriors was baptized with a sword, and then he let them baptize him. This was unlike anything anyone had seen in a leader and it motivated the Sikhs even more in their transformation from a completely pacifist group to an army of warriors. His name became Guru Gobind Singh and he then baptized thousands more with steel.

Sikh Infantry fighting Nazi's in France (Picture via Wikipedia)
The message of the Sikhs has not changed. They still work towards an equal society. Their unique uniform, which is most noticeable by the turban covering their long hair, became a symbol of safety. Everyone soon learned that when a Sikh was around, they would fight to protect the rights of anyone who was being oppressed.

The Sikhs are still a force to be reckoned with today as parts of the Indian and British military. During the early 1900’s India allied with Britain both times as soon as Britain asked for their help. The Indian military is about 10-15% Sikh, even though the Sikhs are less than 2% of India’s vast population. Over the centuries they have become talented warriors. Their involvement in the World Wars came without hesitation after the stories of what the Nazis were doing to the Jews reached them. It defied their whole belief in complete equality, not only between men and women, but between people of every religion. Sometimes equality must be fought for.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

I want to give a big thank you and shout out to Mandeep Singh, who guided me in the right direction on my research. I learned more about India than I had ever known before.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, I would never have found all this information without your help.