It is one of the biggest birthday celebrations in the world: millions of Sikhs will Tuesday mark the 550th birth anniversary of the founder of their religion, the Guru Nanak.
The annual celebration has been given extra significance this year with the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, a secure, visa-free passage between arch-rivals India and Pakistan that gives Indian Sikhs access to the place where the guru died in 1539, now one of the religion’s holiest sites.
Philosopher, poet and one of the world's greatest spiritual teachers, he spent years spreading his message across the country and Asia before finally coming home and giving India's youngest major religion its essential features.#GuruNanakJayanti https://t.co/WrMo0teV2t
— The Wire (@thewire_in) November 12, 2019
Here are some more facts about Sikhs on the anniversary.
What is Sikhism?
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion born in the 15th-century in Punjab –- meaning the land of five rivers, a region spanning parts of what is now India and Pakistan.
Five and a half centuries later, Sikhs number up to 30 million worldwide, with a rich diaspora in places such as Canada, the US and Europe — although the vast majority remain in India.
Read more: Baba Guru Nanak: The Enlightened Founder Of Sikhism
Once rulers of the Punjab, they were considered a martial race by the British colonisers.
Men, in particular, are instantly recognisable by their colourful turbans, used to cover their hair, which they must leave uncut.
That is one of the five articles of their faith they must carry all the time, known as the Five Ks: the Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton underwear), and Kirpan (a curved dagger).
In the lead up to 550, here is a rare clip from 1969 where Sikhs are seen celebrating 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji in Delhi 🙏 #GuruNanak550 pic.twitter.com/njtwGjzRvc
— Sikh Dad (@sikhdad) November 8, 2019
Sikhs worship God, known to them as Waheguru, or “wonderful teacher”, inside gurdwaras, or “doorways to God”. The word “Sikh” means the “seeker”, or the “learner”.
Male Sikhs bear the name “Singh”, which means lion; while women go by “Kaur”, or princess.
Who was Guru Nanak?
Guru Nanak was born in 1469 to a Hindu family at Nankana Sahib, a Pakistani city about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the eastern city of Lahore.
Read more: Hundreds of Indian Sikhs to make historic pilgrimage to Pakistan
Some legends say there were signs of divinity around him from the start, such as the time a cobra was found rearing over his head — not to attack him, but to shade him from the sun as he napped.
As he grew older the Guru began travelling, preaching a faith based on equality and one God.
He died in 1539 in the Punjabi town of Kartarpur, in modern-day Pakistan, where his remains are buried.
Some legends say there were signs of divinity around him from the start, such as the time a cobra was found rearing over his head — not to attack him, but to shade him from the sun as he napped
Nine gurus followed Guru Nanak and there is no living human successor, but the Guru Granth Sahib — the Sikh holy book — is considered the 11th and eternal.
What happens on his birthday?
Sikhs around the world, but especially on the subcontinent, will come together to sing, pray, eat and hold sprawling processions to different gurdwaras.
Sending my best wishes to Sikhs in London and around the world celebrating the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. #GuruNanak550 #LondonIsOpen pic.twitter.com/ikC2PCQ2F5
— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) November 11, 2019
Some of the biggest celebrations will be the site of their one of their holiest shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.
In Pakistan, thousands of Sikhs are expected to mark the occasion at Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur.
Why is this year special?
Apart from it being the 550th anniversary, this year also saw the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor — a secure land link allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the gurdwara in the Pakistani town where the Guru died.
Read more: Indian Punjab Sings “Tappay” For Imran Khan: Sikhs Melody Rang On Twitter
The gurdwara at Kartarpur is so close to the India-Pakistan frontier that its white dome and four cupolas can be seen from across the border.
But the perennial enmity between the South Asian nations, arch-enemies since Pakistan was carved out of colonial India at independence from Britain in 1947, has meant that for decades Indians could not visit — at least, not easily.
Many had likened it to Muslims being able to see Mecca or Medina, but never actually able to visit.
For 70 years, Sikhs in India have been longing to visit Kartarpur, the city established by their founder, Guru Nanak.
Today, that dream finally becomes a reality. Beautiful to see the devotion of those fortunate enough to make the trek to this historic site. pic.twitter.com/sx0srAo44Z
— Simran Jeet Singh (@simran) November 9, 2019
India has long been asking for Sikhs to be given access to Kartarpur, and last weekend their wish was finally granted with the opening of the corridor just days ahead of the birthday celebrations.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk.