Sikhism is a monotheistic and panentheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century CE. Sikhism is one of the youngest of the major religions and the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, with about 30 million Sikhs as of the early-21st century. Sikhism developed from the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru (1469–1539), and of the nine Sikh gurus who succeeded him. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh (1666–1708), named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, bringing to a close the line of human gurus and establishing the scripture as the eternal, religious-spiritual guide for Sikhs. Guru Nanak taught that living an “active, creative, and practical life” of “truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity” is above metaphysical truth, and that the ideal man “establishes union with God, knows His Will, and carries out that Will”. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru (1606–1644), established the concept of mutual co-existence of the miri (political/temporal) and piri (spiritual) realms.

After four centuries of Muslim rule, Kashmir fell to the conquering armies of the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh of Punjab after the Battle of Shopian in 1819.As the Kashmiris had suffered under the Afghans, they initially welcomed the new Sikh rulers. However, the Sikh governors turned out to be hard taskmasters, and the Sikh rule was generally considered oppressive, protected perhaps by the remoteness of Kashmir from the capital of the Sikh Empire in Lahore. The Sikhs enacted a number of anti-Muslim laws, which included handing out death sentences for cow slaughter, closing down the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar, and banning the azaan, the public Muslim call to prayer. Kashmir had also now begun to attract European visitors, several of whom wrote of the abject poverty of the vast Muslim peasantry and of the exorbitant taxes under the Sikhs. High taxes, according to some contemporary accounts, had depopulated large tracts of the countryside, allowing only one-sixteenth of the cultivable land to be cultivated. However, after a famine in 1832, the Sikhs reduced the land tax to half the produce of the land and also began to offer interest-free loans to farmers; Kashmir became the second-highest revenue earner for the Sikh empire. During this time Kashmiri shawls became known worldwide, attracting many buyers, especially in the west.

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