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The Golden Temple is a sacred shrine for Sikhs
The Golden Temple is a sacred shrine for Sikhs

Sikhism (Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖੀ) is a religion based on the teachings of ten Gurus who lived primarily in 16th and 17th century India. It is one of the world's major religions with over 23 million followers. Sikhism comes from the word Sikh, which in turn comes from its Sanskrit root śiṣya (शिष्य) which means "disciple" or "learner".

The two core beliefs of Sikhism are:

  • The belief in one pantheistic God. The opening sentence of the Sikh scriptures is only two words long, and reflects the base belief of all who adhere to the teachings of the religion: ੴ - Ek Onkar

The Guru Granth Sahib is a sacred text considered by Sikhs to be their eleventh and final Guru. Sikhism was influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as Sufi Islam. It departs from some of the social traditions and structure of Hinduism and Islam (such as the caste system and purdah, respectively). Sikh philosophy is characterised by logic, comprehensiveness, and a "without frills" approach to both spiritual and material concerns. Its theology is marked by simplicity.


History of Sikhism

The Khanda, one of the most important symbols of Sikhism
The Khanda, one of the most important symbols of Sikhism

Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His father, Mehta Kalu was a Patwari- an accountant of land revenue in the government. Guru's mother was Mata Tripta and he had one older sister, Bibi Nanki. From the very childhood, Bibi Nanki saw in him the Light of God but she did not reveal this secret to anyone. She is known as the first disciple of Guru Nanak. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. He wandered all over India in the manner of Hindu saints. It was during this period that Nanak met Kabir (14411518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims. He made four distinct major journeys, which are called Udasis spanning many thousands of miles.

In 1538, Guru Nanak chose Lehna, his disciple as a successor to the Guruship rather than his son. Bhai Lehna was named Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. He continued the work started by the Founder. Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das. He continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guru Amar Das also trained 140 apostles of which 52 were women to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before he died in 1574 aged 95, he appointed his son-in-law, Jetha as the fourth Sikh Guru.

Jetha became Guru Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar. In 1581, Guru Arjan- youngest son of fourth guru - became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for the construction of the Golden Temple, he prepared the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2,000 plus hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In 1604 he installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the Guru Granth Sahib, he was tortured and killed by the Mughal rulers of the time.

Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords – one for Spiritual reasons and one for temporal (worldly) reasons. From this point onward, the Sikhs became a military force and always had a trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Guru Har Rai became Guru followed by Guru Har Krishan, the boy Guru in 1661. Guru Teg Bahadur became Guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675, when he sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Hindus who had come to him for help.

In 1675, Aurangzeb publicly executed the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Sikh mythos says that Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed himself to save Hindus, after Kashmiri pandits came to him for help when the Emperor condemned them for failing to convert to Islam. This marked a turning point for Sikhism. His successor, Guru Gobind Singh further militarised his followers (see Khalsa). After Aurangzeb killed four of Gobind Singh's sons, Gobind Singh sent Aurangzeb the Zafarnama (Notification of Victory).

Shortly before passing away Guru Gobind ordered that Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture, would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would vest in the Khalsa Panth – The Sikh Nation. The first Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan in AD 1604, although some of the earlier gurus are also known to have documented their revelations. This is one of the few scriptures in the world that has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time. The Guru Granth Sahib is particularly unique among sacred texts in that it is written in Gurmukhi script but contains many languages including Punjabi, Hindi-Urdu, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri and Persian. Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib the last, perpetual living guru.

The Gurus of Sikhism

The Ten Gurus of Sikhism

Sikhism was established by ten Gurus — teachers or masters — over the period 1469 to 1708. These teachers were enlightened souls whose main purpose in life was the spiritual and moral well-being of the masses. Each master added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting to the creation of the religion of Sikhism. Guru Nanak was the first Guru and Guru Gobind Singh the final Guru in human form. When Guru Gobind Singh left this world, he made the Sri Guru Granth Sahib the ultimate and final Sikh Guru. The Gurus are believed to have the same spirit, or "jot", but different bodies.

# Name Guruship on Prakash DOB Date of Demise Aged Father Mother
1 Guru Nanak Dev 15 April 1469 15 April 1469 22 September 1539 69 Mehta Kalu Mata Tripta
2 Guru Angad Dev 7 September 1539 31 March 1504 29 March 1552 48 Baba Pheru Mata Ramo
3 Guru Amar Das 25 March 1552 5 May 1479 1 September 1574 95 Tej Bhan Bhalla Bakht Kaur
4 Guru Ram Das 29 August 1574 24 September 1534 1 September 1581 47 Baba Hari Das Mata Daya Kaur
5 Guru Arjan Dev 28 August 1581 15 April 1563 30 May 1606 43 Guru Ram Das Mata Bhani
6 Guru Har Gobind 30 May 1606 19 June 1595 3 March 1644 49 Guru Arjan Mata Ganga
7 Guru Har Rai 28 February 1644 26 February 1630 6 October 1661 31 Baba Gurditta Mata Nihal Kaur
8 Guru Har Krishan 6 October 1661 7 July 1656 30 March 1664 8 Guru Har Rai Mata Krishan Kaur
9 Guru Tegh Bahadur 20 March 1665 1st April 1621 11 November 1675 54 Guru Har Gobind Mata Nanki
10 Guru Gobind Singh 11 November 1675 22 December 1666 6 October 1708 42 Guru Tegh Bahadur Mata Gujri

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib

A man reading the Guru Granth Sahib at the Harmandir Sahib.
A man reading the Guru Granth Sahib at the Harmandir Sahib.
Main article: Guru Granth Sahib

The Guru Granth Sahib is the eleventh and final Guru of the Sikhs, is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated as the Eternal Guru, as instructed by Guru Gobind Singh.

It is perhaps the only scripture of its kind which not only contains the teachings of its own religious founders but also writings of people from other faiths. Besides the Banis of the Gurus, it also contains the writings of saints like Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Sheikh Bhikan, Jaidev, Surdas, Parmanad, Pipa and Ramanand.

The Granth forms the central part of the Sikh place of worship called a gurdwara. The Holy Scripture placed on the dominant platform in the main hall of the gurdwara during the day. It is placed with great respect and dignity upon a throne with beautiful and colourful fabric.

The Guru Granth Sahib is separated into musical measures, called Raags. There are 31 raags within the Guru Granth Sahib.

Interpretations of the Guru Granth Sahib, although translated into English and many other languages, vary from person to person. Its interpretation is based on the mindset and perception of each individual, and its guiding advice can be used for any type of situation, both religious and non-religious.

Sikh religious philosophy

Main article: Sikh religious philosophy

The Sikh religious philosophy can be divided into the following five sections:

Primary beliefs and principles

Main article: Sikhism primary beliefs and principles

Sikhism advocates the belief in one pantheistic God (Ek Onkar) who is omnipresent and has infinite qualities. Sikhs do not have a gender for God nor do they believe God takes a human form. All human beings are considered equal regardless of their religion, sex or race. All are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.

Followers of Sikhism are encouraged to wake in the early morning hours, before the sun has risen, and meditate on God's name. They must work hard and honestly and never live off of others, but give to others from the fruits of one's own labour. A Sikh's home should always be open to all.

Sikhs believe in the concept of reincarnation, yet other beliefs of the afterlife are also accepted. All creatures are believed to have souls that pass to other bodies upon death until liberation is achieved. Sikhs should defend, safeguard, and fight for the rights of all creatures, and in particular fellow human beings. They are encouraged to have a "Chardi Kala" or positive, optimistic and buoyant view of life.

The Sikh religion is not considered the only way to salvation - people of other religions may also achieve salvation. This concept is shared with other Dharmic religions.

Upon baptism, Sikhs must wear the 5Ks, strictly recite the 5 prayers. Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other and generally adopt the religous day of the country within which they reside.

It is every Sikh's duty to defeat these five vices: ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust. Sikhs are encouraged to 'attack' these vices with contentment, charity, kindness, positive attitude and humility.

Underlying values

Main article: Sikhism underlying values

The Sikhs must believe in the following values:

  1. Equality: All humans are equal before God.
  2. God's spirit: All creatures have God's spirits and must be properly respected.
  3. Personal right: Every person has a right to life but this right is restricted.
  4. Actions count: Salvation is obtained by one's actions, including good deeds, remembrance of God, etc.
  5. Living a family life: Must live as a family unit to provide and nurture children.
  6. Sharing: It is encouraged to share and give to charity 10 percent of one's net earnings.
  7. Accept God's will: Develop your personality so that you recognize happy events and miserable events as one.
  8. The four fruits of life: Truth, contentment, contemplation and Naam, (in the name of God).

Prohibited behavior

Main article: Sikhism prohibited behavior
  1. Non-logical behavior: Superstitions and rituals are not meaningful to Sikhs (pilgrimages, fasting, bathing in rivers, circumcision, worship of graves, idols or pictures, compulsory wearing of the veil for women, etc.).
  2. Material obsession: ("Maya") Accumulation of materials has no meaning in Sikhism. Wealth such as gold, portfolio, stocks, commodities, and properties will all be left here on Earth when you depart. Do not get attached to them.
  3. Sacrifice of creatures: (Sati). Widows throwing themselves in the funeral pyre of their husbands, lamb and calf slaughter to celebrate holy occasions, etc. are forbidden.
  4. Non-family oriented living: A Sikh is not allowed to live as a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, nun, or celibate.
  5. Worthless talk: Bragging, gossip, lying, etc. are not permitted.
  6. Intoxication: Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and consumption of other intoxicants is not permitted.
  7. Priestly class: Sikhs do not have to depend on a priest for performing any religious functions. They are not supposed to follow a class/caste system where the priestly class reigns highest. Everyone is equal.

Technique and methods

Main article: Sikhism technique and methods
  1. Naam Japna: - meditation and prayer on the Name of God in Sikhism, which is "Waheguru", it is also called the 'Gur-Manter'. Naam Japna is the repetition of this name.
  2. Kirat Karni: - Honest earnings, labor, etc. while remembering the Lord.
  3. Wand kay Shako: - Share with others in need, free food (langar), donate 10% of income Daasvand, etc.

Other observations

Main article: Sikhism other observations
  1. Not son of God: The Gurus were not in the Christian sense “Sons of God”. Sikhism says all humans are the children of God and by deduction, God is mother/father.
  2. All are welcome: Members of all religions may visit Sikh temples (Gurdwaras), but must observe certain rules: cover the head, remove shoes, no smoking or drinking intoxicants inside, and visitors must not be under the influence of any drugs, especially alcohol.
  3. Multi-level approach: Sikhism recognises the concept of a multi-level approach to achieving one's target as a disciple of the faith. For example, "Sahajdhari" (slow adopters) are Sikhs who have not donned the full 5Ks but are still Sikhs nevertheless.

Note: The Punjabi language does not have a gender for God. Unfortunately, when translating, the proper meaning cannot be correctly conveyed without using Him/His/He/Brotherhood, S/He etc., but this distorts the meaning by giving the impression that God is masculine, which is not the message in the original script. The reader must correct for this every time these words are used.

Sikhs today

Today, Sikhs can be found all over India and elsewhere in the world. Sikh men as well as some Sikh women can be identified by their practice of always wearing a turban to cover their long hair. The turban is quite different from the ones worn by the Muslim clergy and should not be confused with them. The surname or more usually the middle name Singh1 (meaning lion) is very common for males, and Kaur (meaning princess) for women. Of course, not all people named Singh or Kaur are necessarily Sikhs, the Sikhs adopted the name Singh in 1699 during the Birth of the Khalsa. The name Singh is closely linked to the martial antiquities of North India dating back to at least the Eighth Century CE.

The Five Ks

Main article: The Five Ks

Practicing Sikhs are bound to wear five kakaars, or articles of faith, known as The Five Ks, at all times. It is done either out of respect for the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, or out of sense of duty or from understanding of their function and purpose and relevance in daily life. It is important to note that The Five Ks are not merely present for symbolic purposes. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, ordered these Five Ks to be worn so that a Sikh could actively use them to make a difference to their own spirituality and to others' spirituality.

The 5 items are: Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (small comb), Kara (circular bracelet), Kirpan (small sword) and Kacha (shorts).

Sikhs around the world

A Sikh known as Yogi Bhajan brought the Sikh way of life to many young people in the Western hemisphere. In addition to Indian-born Sikhs, there are now thousands of individuals of Western origin who were not born as Sikhs, but have embraced the Sikh way of life and live and teach all over the world.

In the late 1970s and 1980s a limited political separatist movement arose in India with the mission to create a separate Sikh state, called Khalistan, in the Punjab area of India and Pakistan.

Currently, there are about 23 million Sikhs in the world, making it the fifth largest world religion. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India with the majority living in the state of Punjab ('greater Punjab' extends across the India-Pakistan border but few Sikhs remained in Pakistan due to persecution during the split of India in 1947). Large populations of Sikhs can be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, and USA. They also comprise a significant minority in Malaysia and Singapore, where they are respected for their drive and high education standards, as they dominate the legal profession.

Giani Zail Singh was first Sikh to become President of India. Born on 5 May 1916, son of Mata Ind Kaur and Bhai Kishan Singh in a small village named Sandhwan, near Kot Kapura, formerly prince state of Faridkot. In 1982 Giani Zail Singh was unanimously elected by the Congress Party as a choice for President.

Following the Indian general election, 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh has become the first Sikh Prime Minister of India.

Sikhs comprise a large proportion of the Indian Armed Forces. On January 31st 2005, General J.J. Singh became the 22nd Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army (the highest commanding position) and the first Sikh to do so. Also they have a major presence in the Transport Industry in India.

Sikh Communities

Some of the largest Sikh communities exist in Amritsar, Punjab, and other areas of Punjab, in addition to Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Kuwait, Germany, The Netherlands, UAE, UK, USA etc.

The number of Sikh youth is on the rise, as young people study in the growing number of Sikh gurmat schools. Sikh gurmat schools number in the hundreds across the world, but some of the more notable ones have been the Miri Piri Academy (Punjab), Akal Academy (Baru Sahib), Khalsa School (Surrey), and Guru Nanak Public School (UK). Emerging schools include the Guru Nanak Academy (Surrey), Panth Khalsa Study Center (Calgary), and Shan-E-Khalsa Gurmat Academy (Abbotsford).

Practices in Sikh communities around the world are standard with regard to behaviour in a gurdwara, or the manner of conducting certain ceremonies, but personal lifestyle often varies.

Sikh Communities in the News

Recently the Sikh community of New Orleans has been in the news due to Hurricane Katrina and the events surrounding the New Orleans gurdwara in the aftermath of the hurricane.

The Sikh community of Surrey has recently been in the news in relation to two attacks on elderly Sikh men in Surrey's Bear Creek Park, and the Surrey Sikh Community's reaction to these hate-motivated crimes.

Sikh Youth

Sikh youth now take a more active role in learning and preaching on the topic of the Sikh faith, especially with the advent of websites for the promotion of different perspectives on Sikh ideology. The Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia has perhaps one of the oldest running Sikh youth websites. Second in age would probably be the West Coast Sikh Youth Alliance, which operates out of British Columbia and organizes an annual camp. More recent youth initiatives include Ottawa Sikh Youth and BC Sikh Youth.


The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 to a Khatri family in central Punjab (in what is present day Pakistan). After four epic journeys (north to Tibet, south to Sri Lanka, east to Bengal and west to Mecca and Baghdad) Guru Nanak preached to Hindus, Muslims and others, and in the process attracted a following of Sikhs or disciples. Religion, he taught, was a way to unite people, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims as well as certain ritualistic practices that distracted people from focusing on God. He wanted to go beyond what was being practised by either religion and hence a well-known saying of Guru Nanak is, "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim." Guru Gobind Singh reinforced these words by saying, "Regard the whole human race as equal".

Guru Nanak was opposed to the caste system. His followers referred to him as the guru (teacher). Before his death he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead the Sikh community. This procedure was continued, and the tenth and last Guru, Guru Gobind (AD 16661708) initiated the Sikh ceremony in AD 1699 ; and thus gave a distinctive identity to the Sikhs. The five baptised Sikhs were named Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones), who in turn baptised the Guru at his request.

Guru Nanak's doctrinal position is clear, despite the appearance that it is a blend of insights originating from two very different faiths. Sikhism's coherence is attributable to its single central concept – the sovereignty of the One God, the Creator. Guru Nanak called God the "True Name" because he wanted to avoid any limiting terms for God. He taught that the True Name, although manifest in many ways, many places and known by many names, is eternally One, the Sovereign and omnipotent God (the Truth of Love).

Guru Nanak's ascribed to the concept of maya, regarding material objects and realities as expressions of the creator's eternal truth, which tended to erect "a wall of falsehood" around those who live totally in the mundane world of material desires. This materialism prevents them from seeing the ultimate reality, as God created matter as a veil, so that only spiritual minds, free of desire, can penetrate it by the grace of the Guru (Gurprasad).

The world is immediately real in the sense that it is made manifest to the senses as maya, but is ultimately unreal in the sense that God alone is ultimate reality. Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Guru Nanak advised his followers to end the cycle of reincarnation by living a disciplined life – that is, by moderating egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a balanced worldly manner, and by accepting ultimate reality. Thus, by the grace of Guru (Gurprasad) the cycle of re-incarnation can be broken, and the Sikh can remain in the abode of the Love of God.

A Sikh should balance work, worship and charity - and meditate by repeating God's name, Nam japna (to enhance spiritual development). Salvation, Guru Nanak said, does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the true name. Sikhs believe in neither heaven nor hell. They strive for the grace of the Guru during the human journey of the soul.

Political pressure from surrounding Muslim nations forced the Sikhs to defend themselves and by the mid-nineteenth century, the Punjab area straddling modern-day India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir was ruled by them. The Sikh's Khalsa Army defeated the invading British army and signed treaties with China.

All welcomed

Members of all religions may visit Sikh temples (gurdwaras = the Guru's door) but are asked to observe the following rules out of respect for sikh sensibilities:

  • To cover one's head (there will be bandana-like Rumāls available there)
  • To take off one's shoes
  • To not smoke or indulge in the consumption of alcoholic or tobacco-related materials (even in the vicinity of the gurdwara)
  • Not to bring or possess any alcoholic or tobacco-related items, or be under their effects when entering the gurdwara.

Multi-level approach

Main article: Sikh religious philosophy

Sikhism recognises the concept of a multi-level approach to achieving your target as a disciple of the faith. For example, Sahajdhari (slow adopters) are Sikhs who have not donned the full Five Ks but are still Sikhs nonetheless.

The Khalsa

Main article: Khalsa

A baptised Sikh becomes a member of the Khalsa or the "Pure Ones". When a Sikh joins the Khalsa, he/she is supposed to have devoted their life to the Guru, and is expected not to desist from sacrificing anything and everything in a struggle for a just and righteous cause.

The word "Khalsa" has two literal meanings. It comes from Persian. One literal meaning is "Pure" and the other meaning is "belonging to the king". When the word "Khalsa" is used for a Sikh, it implies belonging to the King, where the King is God himself. To become a Khalsa, a Sikh must surrender themselves completely to the supreme King or God and obey God's will without question or delay.

Followers of Sikhism

A Sikh man wearing a turban
A Sikh man wearing a turban

A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. The word Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word shishya which means disciple or student. In the Punjabi language the word Sikh also means humble follower. So a Sikh is a disciple of the Ten Gurus and a follower of the teachings in Sikhism's holy scriptures who they regard as a living guru, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikhs and Punjabis

Since Sikhism originated in the Punjab region, most Sikhs trace their roots to that region (though in recent times, with the spread both of Sikhism and Sikhs, one might encounter Sikhs belonging to other geographical locations across the world). With the revisions of the state boundaries in 1966, 65% of the population in the Indian Punjab made up of Sikhs, whereas Sikhs comprise only 2% of the population in India as a whole. Consequently, and also because the Guru Granth Sahib is written in Gurmukhi, a script of the Punjabi language, most Sikhs are able to speak, read or write the language, or are at least familiar with it.

Sikh names

Main article: Sikh names

A Sikh man often bears a middle name or surname of Singh, which means 'lion', and a Sikh woman can be identified with a second name of Kaur, which means 'princess' ('Kaur' being an exclusively Sikh name). Additionally, except only a very few cases, the same first names as used for men are used for women. In other words, though one may not be able to tell the sex of a Sikh person from his/her first name, the second name of Singh or Kaur makes the distinction completely clear. Unisex first names are a salient example of the complete equality between men and women. Many Sikh's first names have a -pal or -jit suffix endings, such as Inderjit, Harjit, Rajpal and Harpal.

See also

An index of the most important pages on Sikhism, can be found at the Sikh pages.

External links

External Sikhism Info pages

Kirtan links

Text links

Audio links

1. Japji Sahib

2. Jaap Sahib

3. Anand Sahib

4. Rehras Sahib

5. Kirtan Sohila

6. Tav-Prasad Savaiye

7. Chaupai

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