Religion professed by 14 million Indians, living mainly in the Punjab. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe in a single God (monotheism) who is the immortal creator of the universe and who has never been incarnate in any form, and in the equality of all human beings; Sikhism is strongly opposed to caste divisions.
Their holy book is the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh instituted the Khanda-di-Pahul, the baptism of the sword, and established the Khalsa (‘pure’), the company of the faithful. The Khalsa wear the Panj Kakas (five Ks): kesh, long hair; kangha, a comb; kirpan, a sword; kachha, short trousers; and kara, a steel bracelet. Sikh men take the last name ‘Singh’ (‘lion’) and women ‘Kaur’ (‘princess’).
Beliefs Human beings can make themselves ready to find God by prayer and meditation but can achieve closeness to God only as a result of God's nadar (grace). Sikhs believe in reincarnation and that the ten human gurus were teachers through whom the spirit of Guru Nanak was passed on to live today in the Guru Granth Sahib and the Khalsa. The Mool Mantra sums up Sikh belief about the nature of God.
Equality is central to Sikhism, in particular the equality of all men and women. Guru Nanak taught that all people are equal regardless of caste, race, or gender, and sought to abolish the Hindu caste system. Women are allowed to hold any office in the gurdwara (Sikh temple and meeting place). The gurdwara contains a langar (communal kitchen), where all, male and female, Sikh and non-Sikh, may eat free food together as equals. It was regarded as important that everyone sat together to eat, and all sat on the floor.
Together with this belief in equality goes toleration. Nanak taught acceptance of all faiths, emphasizing that God would judge people not by their outward religion but by their actions. He attacked ‘empty ritual’, preaching compassion, modesty, piety, and faith in God's will. People of all and no faith are welcomed into the gurdwara. However, Sikhs prefer to retain their distinctive identity, and marriage into other religions is frowned upon, especially if it involves conversion.
The human body is regarded as God-given, requiring appropriate care and respect. Sikhs believe that it is wrong to change aspects of the body, so they do not cut their hair or shave, and they disapprove of cosmetic surgery. They also disagree with circumcision, and do not allow vasectomy or sterilization as a form of contraception. They refrain from using of non-medicinal drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Sikhs disapprove of suicide, including the Hindu custom of suttee (ritual suicide of a widow), on the belief that only God has the right to shorten life.
Practice Sikhs do not have a specific holy day, but hold their main services on the day of rest of the country in which they are living. Daily prayer is important in Sikhism, and the gurdwara functions as a social as well as religious centre. Sikh women take the same role as men in religious observances – in reading from the Guru Granth Sahib at the gurdwara, for example. Special worship also takes place at festivals, such as the melas and gurpurbs, and ceremonial occasions, such as a naming ceremony (called Nam Karan), Amrit Sanskar (baptism into the Khalsa), marriage (Anand Karaj), and funerals. Sikhs also celebrate at the time of some of the major Hindu festivals, but their emphasis is on aspects of Sikh belief and the example of the gurus.
Worship On entering the gurdwara, worshippers remove their shoes and cover their heads. They then bow low to the Guru Granth Sahib, and make an offering of food, money, or a romalla (silk square). Men will sit on the right and women on the left, but everyone sits on the floor. People may not stay for the whole service but will enter and leave while it is continuing.
The service begins with hymns and prayers; a set of beads (mala) may be used to count repetitive prayers. A section from the Adi Granth is read by the granthi (reader). While reading, the granthi will hold a chauri (ceremonial fan) over it as a sign of respect. A sermon or teaching is followed by the Ardas (communal prayer). On special occasions an Akhand Path, a non-stop reading of the entire Guru Granth Sahib, will be made. A vak (random reading of the scriptures) also forms part of certain ceremonies. At the end of the service the congregation share the karah prashad (blessed food), and then everyone will eat at the langar.
Private worship takes place at home. There are set prayers that can be said privately or as a family at different times of the day. Sikhs should rise three hours before dawn to bathe and focus their thoughts on God; thinking about God is known as Nam simaran. Simple prayers include the ‘Nam japan’. At sunrise the ‘Japji’ is recited, in the evening the ‘Rahiras’, and before sleep the ‘Sohila’.
Sikh community Contributing to the community is an important part of Sikhism. Right conduct (kiral karna) is to live a pure, fair, and honest life, at work and at home. Sharing through charitable work (vand chakna) is also essential; members of the Khalsa are expected to give up a tenth of their income. Service should be given selflessly – a concept known as seva.
History On Nanak's death he was followed as guru by a succession of leaders who converted the Sikhs (the word means ‘disciple’) into a military confraternity that established itself as a political power. The last of the gurus, Guru Gobind Singh, instituted the Khanda-di-Pahul and established the Khalsa. He was assassinated by a Muslim in 1708, and since then the Guru Granth Sahib has taken the place of a leader.
Upon the partition of India many Sikhs migrated from West to East Punjab, and in 1966 the efforts of Sant Fateh Singh (c. 1911–1972) led to the creation of a Sikh state within India by partition of the Punjab.
However, the Akali separatist movement agitates for a completely independent Sikh state, Khalistan, and a revival of fundamentalist belief, and was headed from 1978 by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, killed in the siege of the Golden Temple, Amritsar. In retaliation for this, the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in October of the same year by her Sikh bodyguards. Heavy rioting followed, in which 1,000 Sikhs were killed. Mrs Gandhi's successor, Rajiv Gandhi, reached an agreement for the election of a popular government in the Punjab and for state representatives to the Indian parliament with the moderate Sikh leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, who was himself killed in 1985 by Sikh extremists.
Britain's first Sikh school was opened in January 1993 in Southall, West London.
A Changing Spirituality: The Progress of Religion in the 20th Century
The Guru Granth Sahib
The Five Ks
Gurpal Samra's Sikhism Page
Sikhism: History, Beliefs, and Practice
Sikhism Home Page
Victory and Virtue: Ceremonies and Code of Conduct of Sikh
Welcome to Sikhism
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