Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, was born Gobind Rai in Patna, Bihar on 22 December 1666 CE. His birthday generally falls in December or January—or occasionally twice within one year—when calculated according to the Hindu Bikrami calendar; according to the Sikh Nanakshahi calendar, it is observed annually on 5 January.
When he was nine years old, his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was killed by the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb for refusing to convert to Islam, and Gobind Rai became guru. He spent his boyhood learning Persian, Sanskrit, Braj and Urdu and becoming proficient in the martial arts. In the midst of a tumultuous political situation, he gained stature as both a religious figure and a soldier. A leader of principle and intense spiritual devotion, he was also dedicated to fighting oppression and injustice: “When all modes of righting a wrong have failed,” he professed, “it is righteous to draw the sword.”
In 1699 CE, during the festival of Vaisakhi, Gobind Singh created the khalsa (‘pure order’), initiating, in the first instance, five men who became known as the panj piara, the ‘five beloved’. Thousands of men and women subsequently joined the community of believers, pledging to stay true to the code of discipline set down by their guru.
Before he died in 1708, Gobind Singh passed on the guruship to the Adi Granth, the Sikh holy book, at which point it became known as Guru Granth Sahib.
Among the Sikhs, the celebration of the anniversary of the birth or death of a guru is known as a gurpurb, and usually lasts for three days. A procession—led by five men representing the panj piara and followed by devotees singing hymns—typically occurs the day before the actual event. There is also usually an akhand path, a continuous reading of the Guru Granth Sahib over 48 hours.