The history of the Sikh religious tradition begins with Guru Nanak (1469–1539 CE), who lived and preached in the Punjab region of India. He created his own unique religious philosophy by synthesizing some important concepts from the Hindu and Islamic traditions. Guru Nanak composed nearly one thousand hymns conveying his ideals of the brotherhood of all humanity and the existence of one true God. The one God can be represented by the mantra “Ek Omkar.” The goal of human life is to rid oneself of the bonds of karma and reunite with the one God. This can be achieved through recitation of God’s name and strict obedience to one’s guru.
The Sikh community centered around a guru, or spiritual teacher, until the death of the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 1708. Each guru contributed to the development of the community, and most added hymns to the collection begun by Guru Nanak. Guru Gobind Singh introduced many innovations into Sikh religious life. He formally established the khalsa, or Sikh community, and developed a code of discipline accepted by most Sikhs. According to the khalsa, Sikhs are required to keep five K’s: kesh (uncut hair), kangha (comb), kara (steel bracelet), kirpan (double-edged dagger), and kaccha (short breeches). Guru Gobind Singh also installed a holy text, the Adi Granth, as the future guru of the Sikh community. The community views external rituals and class distinctions as irrelevant to spiritual achievement; Sikhs are exhorted to live a detached, spiritual life with respect and love for humanity.