As a devout Sikh, I have been a witness to shifting shades of Sikhism in the Valley for nearly two decades. Sikhism, as a religion found its roots in Northern India during the 1500 CE, it was approximately the same time that it found its way into the lush valleys of Jammu and Kashmir with the ‘Udasis’ or journey of the spiritual quest of Guru Nanak Sahib, the first guru of Sikhs. It is said that during his quest for spiritual enlightenment in Ladakh and beyond, Guru Nanak Sahib stayed in Kashmir and interacted with local saints and spiritual leaders. During his interactions or discourses, Guru Nanak Dev made a lot of followers. It is etched in Sikh history that Guru Nanak Dev made Pandit Braham Das, a learned Pandit from the area of Mattan in Kashmir, his first Sikh.Pandit Braham Das is said to have learned his lesson in humility from Guru Nanak Dev and so had become his disciple in the quest for inner peace and spirituality. Many ‘Chhevin Patshahi’ or ancient Gurudwaras at places like Pathar Sahib, Mattan, Avantipur, and Bandipur stand as a testament to the journey undertaken by Guru Nanak Dev in his quest for spirituality.
The sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Singh was next to continue preaching's in the region of Kashmir. It is said that after the resolution of differences with Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, Guru Hargobind Singh accompanied him to Kashmir and made numerous halts at various locations to spread the teachings of Sikhism. In his journeys, Guru Hargobind Singh stayed at places like Mirpur Kain, Samani, and Srinagar. Biru Datt, Mula and Bhai Jhanda are some of the well-known figures in Sikh history who became his disciples and joined the path of Sikhism from the region. Later, Guru Har Rai and Guru Gobind Singh are also said to have visited Kashmir. All these Personal journeys by various Gurus were followed by ‘Masands’ or preachers to the region. Bhai Pheru, Bhai Madho Sodhi, Bhai Garhia, and Bhai Makhan Shah Lubana are some of the important preachers who had a great contribution to the spreading of the teachings of Sikhism in the region. The self-sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru to uphold freedom of worship and human dignity at the request of a delegation of Kashmiri pandits led by Pandit Kirpa Ram is an important event in the annals of Sikh history in Kashmir.
It was this event that led to the joining of many Kashmiris into the army of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh in the Battle of Chamkaur in their fight for human dignity and equality. The later Sikh history in the region speaks of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur a devout and powerful Sikh who was instrumental in defeating the tyrants in the region of eastern Punjab. Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered Kashmir in 1819 CE. During his reign from 1819 to 1846, the region of Jammu and Kashmir saw peace and prosperity with development in agriculture and crafts. The era under the Sikh dynasty in the region of Jammu and Kashmir is said to be the golden age of tolerance and progress. Unlike the Afghans, the Sikh rule provided for much-needed peace and stability that reflected in the prosperity of the region.
The history of Sikhism in the valley of Kashmir saw its own share of ups and downs during the Muslim rule in the region for the greater part of history. Sikhism in Kashmir, survived the onslaughts by the Afghans, and the tyrannical rule by many Muslim Dynasties and continued to shine and spread the word of Guru Nanak Dev. Historically, the Sikhs of Kashmir have had a glorious contribution to the cultural, educational, and spiritual development of Kashmir. Sikhism in Kashmir has stood the test of time against all imaginable odds and yet shines as a ray of hope in various pockets in the region of Kashmir. May the syncretic culture keep flourishing in the Vale profound.