Sikhism comes from the word Sikh, which means a strong and able disciple. A Sikh is a person who believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
Compared with some other eastern religious traditions, Sikhism is a more recent development, which emerged in an environment heavily permeated with conflicts between the Hindu and Muslim religions. Thus, while it has some similarities with both religions it also departs from some of their social traditions such as the caste system and purdah. Sikhism was somewhat influenced by Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) and Islam (e.g. tawhid). While Sikhism reflects its cultural context, it certainly developed into a movement unique in India. Its followers (Sikhs) believe it to be an authenticated new divine revelation.
This religion was founded by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. 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. He wanted to go beyond what was being practiced by either religion and hence a well-known saying of Guru Nanak is, "I am neither a Hindu nor a 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 Singh (AD 1666–1708) initiated the Sikh Baptism 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. This is an empowering and democratizing phenomenon rarely seen in other major religions, i.e. a leader acknowledging the primacy of his followers.
Shortly before passing away Guru Gobind Singh 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. 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 Sikh Holy Scripture is written in Gurmukhi script Punjabi with parts in Sanskrit, Bhojpuri and Farsi.
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 ascribed to the Hindu Vedanta concept of maya, regarding material objects as realities and 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 (consumerism). 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.
Human deeds accumulate karma. A Sikh should balance work, worship and charity - and meditate by repeating God's name, nama japam (another Hindu practice), 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.
History of Sikhism
Guru Nanak (1469–1538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His parents were of Hindu background and he belonged to the mercantile caste. 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 (1441–1518), 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. Guruji continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, even Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guruji trained 140 apostles of which 52 were women to manage the rapid expansion of the religion. Before Guruji 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 Dev , youngest son of fourth guru became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. Guruji was responsible for the construction of the Golden Temple. He was also responsible for preparing the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2000 plus hymns in the SGGS. In 1604 Guruji installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the SGGS Guruji was tortured and killed by the Mughal rulers of the time.
Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. Guruji 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 trained fighting force to defend their independence. In 1644, Guru Har Rai Ji 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.
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 and reinforced to the message taught by the previous and they ‘reined’ in succession resulting to the creation of a new religion that we now call Sikhism. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the First Guru and Guru Gobind Singh the final Guru in human form. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji left this planet, he made the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (SGGS) the ultimate and final Sikh Guru. The SGGS is more than a holy book for the Sikh people.
1. Guru Nanak Dev 2. Guru Angad Dev 3. Guru Amar Das 4. Guru Ram Das 5. Guru Arjan Dev 6. Guru Hargobind 7. Guru Har Rai 8. Guru Har Krishan 9. Guru Teg Bahadur 10. Guru Gobind Singh
For information on this section select The Ten Gurus of Sikhism
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the living, perpetual and current Guru of the Sikhs. The eleventh and final Guru of the Sikhs is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated just like a living Guru. The SGGS forms the central part of the Sikh place of worship called a Gurdwara – the Sikh Church. The Holy Scripture is during the day placed in a large hall on a dominating platform on which is placed the throne upon which the SGGS is with great dignity and respect placed on expensive and colourful fabric.
For more information see Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Sikh Religious Philosophy
The Sikh Religious Philosophy can be divided into 5 Sections:
Primary Beliefs & Principles:
For more on this section select Sikhism Primary Beliefs and Principles
The Sikhs must believe in the following Values:
For more information on this section select Sikhism Underlying Values
Technique and Methods:
‘*’ = 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.
Main article: The Five Ks
The 5 items are: Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kirpan & Kacha which translate into: uncut hair, small comb, bangle, small sword, shorts.
Today, Sikhs can be found all over India and also elsewhere in the world. The observant men 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. (In some countries, laws requiring motorcyclists to wear crash helmets had to be modified to accommodate them.) They almost universally use the surname Singh1 (meaning lion).
Of course, not all people named Singh are necessarily Sikhs. Sikh men are also supposed to have the following items on them at all times: a comb, special underpants, a steel arm bracelet and a sword or dagger. In modern society, of course, one cannot really carry a sword or even a large dagger, but even a good penknife or a miniature dagger is sufficient to express the symbolic meaning. They are known by many as the five 'K's.
By carrying a weapon, the Sikh is reminded of the persecution his religion has experienced and the need to defend the weak against the mighty. The underpants are a symbol of chastity and monogamy. The steel bracelet, the Kara, indicates bondage to God. A corollary being that a Sikh does not bow before anyone except his master i.e God. A Sikh is supposed to never cut his hair, both to indicate a lifelong search for spirituality and acceptance for God's gifts to man. A comb is to keep the hair tidy, a symbol of not just accepting what God has given, but also an injunction to maintain it.
Sikh women would generally wear typical North Indian dress. Ideally they should use the surname Kaur (traditionally believed to mean "princess", but actually means "lioness" to match the singhs as lions), rather than the name Singh that is actually meant only for the men, but few countries allow this.
In the late 1970s and 1980s a limited separatist movement began 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 5th largest world religion. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India with the majority living in the state of Punjab (keep in mind that the '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 sometimes made fun of for their distinctive appearance and are very subjected to stereotypes, but are respected for their drive and high education standards, as they dominate the legal profession.
Sikhs operate a security firm, Akal Security, that provides security for major facilities such as Los Angeles International Airport. Another Sikh security firm provided security at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City until it was destroyed April 19, 1995.
Modern persecution of Sikhs
In India, Sikhs faced persecution following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This assassination was an act of revenge by her Sikh body guards for the Golden Temple Massacre of 1984, when a group of Sikh separatists following Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge or occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a Sikh holy site.
After attempts at negotiation failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the temple cleared by troops. Refusal to depart peacefully resulted in a firefight, with 83 army personnel killed and 493 Sikh occupiers killed, as well as many more wounded. Many Sikhs considered the use of force in their holy place to be an unforgivable insult, and her assassination was claimed to be a response. Supporters of the government move argue that attack was justified since large amounts of ammunition were being stored by Sikh terrorists within the temple, and guns and shells were indeed recovered during the army move.
In the aftermath of the assassination, many Sikh communities were attacked by some fanatic members Gandhi's Congress Party, then under the control of her son Rajiv Gandhi, who would go on to become Prime Minister. Thousands of Sikhs died as a result of this persecution.  (http://www.netphotograph.com/visitors/search/searchimages.zhtml?keyword=10665-&start=0&display=1)
United States, 2000s
Following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack some Americans turned on Sikhs. They mistook symbols of religious belief, such as turbans and beards, for the garb of those who carried out the terrorist attacks. Some vigilantes in the United States threatened and hurt individuals within the Sikh community. In the months after 9-11, the Sikh community received nearly 300 reported incidents of threats, assaults, violence, and even death. While these incidents do not constitute persecution of Sikhs per se, but rather persecution for perceived adherence to Islam, they illustrate a profound lack of awareness of the traditions of the Sikh and Islamic community.
The U.S. senate issued a resolution which condemns bigotry against Sikh-Americans. The texts of Senate Concurrent Resolution 74 and the introductory statement by Senator Richard Durbin from the October 2 Congressional Record are available here:
U.S. Senate condemns bigotry against Sikhs (http://usinfo.org/USIA/usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01100320.htm)
The French state has recently (February 2004) sought to ban children in schools from wearing 'ostentatious' signs of their religion. While the law is primarily intended to ban the Islamic Hijab from schools it catches the Sikh Turban also. Whilst French Sikhs number only 5,000-7,000, internationally Sikhs have been making representations to their Governments to put pressure on France to either drop the ban, or make an exemption for Sikhs.
There are many present day sects of Sikhsim, such as Namdhari, Nirankari, Ravidasi, 3HO led by Yogi Bhajan ("new age" sikhism), Balmiki etc... Namdharis have a living Guru and as such do not install the Guru Granth Sahib in the Gurdwara. Ravidasis believe in bhagat Ravidas (a pre-nanak saint of the bhakti-sant movement) as Guru Ravidas Ji, they do not uphold the 5Ks strictly and they perform Arti in the temple, which is called a Bhawan rather than Gurdwara. Balmikis install the Ramayana in the temple alongside the Guru Granth Sahib and honour Balmiki, the author of the Ramayana as Guru alongside Guru Nanak.
Members of All religions can visit Sikh temples (“Gurdwaras”) but please observe the local rules – Cover Head, No shoes, No Smoking when going in to the Main Hall.
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 5Ks but are still Sikhs nevertheless.
See also Sikh Religious Philosophy
The Sikh Pages
1. Japji Sahib
2. Jaap Sahib
3. Anand Sahib
4. Rehras Sahib
5. Kirtan Sohila
6. Tav-Prasad Savaiye
Note 1. Singh, which is often thought to be the surname outside of India, is actually the middle name for Sikh men. A lot of reasons lead this to be used or perceived as a last name e.g.
de:Sikhismus eo:Sikismo fa:سیکگرایی fr:Sikhisme ja:シク教 pl:Sikhizm sv:Sikhism zh:锡克教