Sikh

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Sikh
Nishan Sahib.svg
The Nishan Sahib, flag of the Sikhs
Total population
27 million
Regions with significant populations
 India 19,215,730[1]
 United Kingdom 760,000[2]
 United States 500,000[3]
 Canada 468,000[4]
 Malaysia 100,000[5]
 Australia 72,000[6]
 Italy 70,000[7]
 Thailand 70,000[8]
 Pakistan 50,000[9]
 Philippines 30,000[10]
 Kuwait 20,000[11]
 Spain

10,000-20,000[12]

[13]
 Indonesia 15,000[14]
 France 15,000[15]
 Netherlands 12,000[16]
 Singapore 9,733[17]
 New Zealand 9,507[18]
 Hong Kong 8,000[19]
   Nepal 5,890[20]
 Germany 5,000[21]
 Norway

3,000-5,000[22]

[23]
 Fiji 4,674[24]
 Afghanistan 3,000[25]
 Austria 2,794[26]
 Ireland 1,200[27]
Languages

Punjabi (Gurmukhi)

Among the Sikh diaspora:
Religion
Sikhism
Footnotes
Estimated figure as of 2004.

A Sikh (/sk, sɪk/; Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖ sikkh [sɪkkʰ]) is a follower of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region.[29] The term "Sikh" means disciple, student, or (śikṣa).[30][31] A Sikh is a disciple/subject of the Guru.

One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name. Upon arising early in the morning, the Sikh is to bathe, and cleanse himself in the pool of nectar. Following the Instructions of the Guru, the Sikh is to chant the Name of the Lord, Har. All sins, misdeeds and negativity shall be erased. Then, at the rising of the sun, the Sikh is to sing Gurbani; whether sitting down or standing up, the Sikh is to meditate on the Lord's Name. One who meditates on my Lord, Har, with every breath and every morsel of food – that Gursikh becomes pleasing to the Guru's Mind. That person, unto whom my Lord and Master is kind and compassionate – upon that Gursikh, the Guru's Teachings are bestowed. Servant Nanak begs for the dust of the feet of that Gursikh, who himself chants the Naam, and inspires others to chant it.[32]

According to Article I of the "Rehat Maryada" (the Sikh code of conduct and conventions), a Sikh is defined as "any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh; Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru;".[33] Sikhs believe in the equality of humankind, the concept of universal brotherhood and One Supreme transcendent and immanent God (Ik Onkar).

The Sikh religion was founded by Guru Nanak. The origins of Sikhism lie in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Nanak in these words: "Realization of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living".[34] Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. According to Sikh tradition, the Guru spread his teachings wherever he traveled. Near the end of his life the Guru had many followers from many walks of life and religions. The Guruship was consecutively passed down to nine other Gurus, who were stated to have the divine light of God with them. These Gurus strengthened and expanded the Sikh religion and the revelations of God. The final and last Guruship was bestowed upon a combined institution of holy-book (Granth) immersed in The Guru Granth Sahib Ji[35] and people(Panth) i.e the Guru Khalsa.

Most male Sikhs have "Singh" (Lion), and most female Sikhs have "Kaur" (Princess) as their middle or last names. Sikhs who have undergone the khanḍe-kī-pahul, the Sikh initiation ceremony, can also be recognized by the Five Ks: uncut hair (Kesh); an iron/steel bracelet (kara); a Kirpan, a sword tucked in a gatra strap; Kachehra, a cotton undergarment; and a Kanga, a small wooden comb. Baptized male Sikhs must cover their hair with a turban, while baptized female Sikhs can choose to wear a turban.

The greater Punjab region is the historical homeland of the Sikhs, although significant communities exist around the world.

Philosophy[edit]

Sikhism considers spiritual life and secular life to be intertwined:[36][37] "In the Sikh Weltanschauung...the temporal world is part of the Infinite and partakes of its characteristics."[38] Guru Nanak described living an "active, creative, and practical life" of "truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity" as being higher than a purely contemplative life.[39]

The 6th Sikh Guru Guru Hargobind re-affirmed that the political/temporal (Miri) and spiritual (Piri) realms are mutually coexistent.[40] According to the 9th Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadhur, the ideal Sikh should have both Shakti (power that resides in the temporal), and Bhakti (spiritual meditative qualities). This was developed into the concept of the Saint Soldier by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh.[41]

Protecting the religious and political rights of all people and preventing discrimination is an integral part of the Sikh faith. The 5th Guru Arjan was martyred by the Mughal ruler Jahangir on 16 May 1606 for refusing to convert to Islam. The martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur ( The 9th Guru) while protecting Hindus from religious persecution, in Delhi, on 11 November 1675 AD, is another example of upholding religious freedom; he gave his life to protect the right of Kashmiri Hindus to practise their own religion when they were being forced to convert to Islam by Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor at the time.

According to Guru Nanak, the goal is to attain the "attendant balance of separation-fusion, self-other, action-inaction, attachment-detachment, in the course of daily life",[42] the polar opposite to a self-centered existence.[42] Nanak talks further about the one God or Akal (timelessness) that permeates all life[43]).[44][45][46] and which must be seen with 'the inward eye', or the 'heart', of a human being.[47]

In Sikhism there is no dogma,[48] priests, monastics or yogis.

Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism. Guru Nanak summarized the basis of Sikh lifestyle as: Kirat Karo, Naam Japo and Wand kay Chako, which means work diligently and honestly, meditate on the holy name (Waheguru), and share the fruits of labours with others. The idea that human beings must work for a living and play an active role in society is the basis of this philosophy. The guiding principles of the Sikh faith are Truth, Equality, Freedom and .

The Sikhs revere Guru Granth Sahib as their supreme teacher, 'Guru' means the enlightener. The tenth Guru ended the line of personal Gurūs and transferred his authority to the dual agency of the Sikh scripture Gurū Graṅth Sāhib and to the Guru Khalsa (also Panth). The Panth or the community of followers was to be the physical manifestation of the Gurū, while the Guru Graṅth was to be the scriptural guide for this body of Sikhs.[49]

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi, India. Volunteers prepare roti bread for the worshipers.

Sikhism is an extremely pluralistic religion. The Guru Granth Sahib, in addition to the revelations of the Sikh gurus, contains revelations of various saints and sages of that period. The Mul Mantar, the opening hymn of the holy Guru Granth Sahib, expounds the nature and attributes of God:

There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; immanent in all things; creator of all things; imminent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru’s grace.[50]

Seva (selfless service) is an integral part of Sikh worship, observed in the Gurdwara. Visitors of any religious or socio-economic background are welcomed, where langar (food for all) is always served to people of all origins, the same (vegetarian) food, while sitting together on the same level of the floor.

Interior view of Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib where Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred for refusing to convert to Islam in 1675.
Shri Hazoor Sahib Gurudwara Nanded
Interior view of Gurdwara Hazur Sahib Nanded, Maharashtra, India.

People revered by Sikhs also include:[51]

Early Sikh scholars included Bhai Santokh Singh, Bhai Vir Singh and Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha.

Teachings[edit]

Sikhism believes in one supreme being which is real and immanent and only experienceable in this creation; technically there is nothing in this creation which is devoid of it and distinct of it.

The three main principles of Sikhism are; to remember god, work honestly and share with others (charity).

It teaches that the God is omnipresent, transcendent, omnipotent, and omniscient. It also revolves around the belief in reincarnation. Emphasis is on ethics, morality, and values; the Sikh faith does not accept miracles. The Sikh school of thought believes in a form of reincarnation similar to Karma. The concept of hell and heaven in Sikhism is metaphorical and is said to be experienced by those who chose (or not) to live in the Five Thieves.

Sikhism also believes in an omnipresent Onkar, the one constant in the Universe.

Sikhs recommend five prayers in the morning between 1 and 6 am (the five prayers can be said in succession within one hour for the well-versed): Japji, Anand Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Tav-Prasad Savaiye, Chaupai and Ardas; one prayer in the evening from 5 to 7 pm: Rehras and Ardas; and one before sleeping, around 8 to 10 pm: Kirtan Sohila and Ardas.

Sikh scriptures teach the concept of moderation. Sikhism teaches a person to remove the Five Evils: kaam or kam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment), and ahankar (pride).[52]

Guru Nanak Dev Ji sought to improve the status of women by spreading this message: "From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad when she gives rise to nobility? From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman." (page (Ang) 473). In so doing, he promoted women's rights and equality, a remarkable stance in the 15th century which was actually put into practice by Guru Nanak and the following 9 Gurus.

Sikhism professes democratic institutions such as Guru Khalsa (also Guru Panth) where decisions about the People are made collectively by themselves. This institution is called as Gurmatta. Panth itself translates to the People.

Sikhism teaches that all of humanity was created by the Onkar, which is addressed by many names and understood differently. Sikhism teaches to respect all other religions (tolerance) and that one should defend the rights of not just one's own religion but the religion and faith of others as a human right. At the end of every Sikh prayer is a supplication for the welfare of all of humanity.( Tere Bhanne Sarbat Da Bhala )

Sikhism believes in the concept of a human Soul (Self (spirituality) or consciousness or spirit or astral body). Sikhs believe they can unite and become one with God in this life (Gurmukh), as the consciousness merges with God (Supreme Consciousness) through truthful living and actions and is only a matter of realization. Sikhs always greet each other with the words "Sat Sri Akaal" which literally means "Truth is Time-less being". Truth, truthful living, equality, freedom and justice are the core principles of Sikh philosophy.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the 10th and final living Guru, gave Sikhs their outer physical form and established a new order called the Khalsa. Khalsa Sikhs do not cut their hair kes and as a form of respect cover it with an elegantly tied turban. To keep one's hair is a commitment to accept the body in the natural form in which it was born, and to get rid of vanity relating to outward appearance.

Panj Pyare leading a procession in Wolverhampton, UK

Wearing a turban forms a distinct identity and also makes the Sikhs very easily recognisable. Sikh history is built on examples of brave men and women who defended an ideology built on the fundamentals of human rights and equality of all human beings. This belief often led to conflict with oppressive forces. For more than 300 years the Sikhs were persecuted endlessly. The Sikh human rights struggle morphed into a political struggle which was one of the dominant causes of the fall of the Mughal empire in India and led to the formation of a Sikh kingdom before being annexed by the British in 1849. At the peak of their political power the Sikhs under Maharaja Ranjit Singh controlled a large kingdom centred in Lahore which was also secular and egalitarian. This kingdom had Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in prominent cabinet positions.

An example of Sikhism's commitment to tolerance is the fact that the foundation stone of one of the most prominent Gurdwaras of the Sikhs — Da rbar Sahib, Amritsar also known as the Golden Temple — was laid, not by the many eminent Sikh leaders or the 4th Sikh Guru Ramdas, who was the leader of the Sikhs at that time, but by a Sufi Muslim by the name of Sain Mian Mir.

The Sikh code of conduct strictly forbids the use of intoxicants, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, narcotics and any other foreign substance which disrupt the body; sexual relationship outside marriage; consumption of sacrificial meat (Kutha meat), and cutting of hair.

The Sikh religion also teaches that human life is unique, described as more precious than a diamond, which is obtained after great spiritual deeds and merits are done, and Sikh teachings are filled with guidance on how one should conduct one's self in order to find peace in this life and unite with God.

Five Ks[edit]

Kanga, Kara and Kirpan—three of the five articles of faith endowed to the Sikhs.

The Five Ks, or panj kakaar/kakke, are five articles of faith that all baptized Sikhs (also called Amritdhari Sikhs) are typically obliged to wear at all times, as commanded by the tenth Sikh Guru, who so ordered on the day of Baisakhi Amrit Sanskar in 1699. The symbols are worn for identification and representation of the ideals of Sikhism, such as honesty, equality, fidelity, militarism, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny.[53] The five symbols are:

  • Kesh (uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in the Sikh Turban, Dastar)
  • Kanga (a wooden comb, usually worn under the Dastar)
  • Katchera (Cotton undergarments: historically appropriate during battle due to increased mobility on the ancient battle field when compared to the traditional dhoti dress of the time. They are worn by both sexes as underwear) The Katchera is also a symbol of chastity.
  • Kara (an iron bracelet: functions as a defensive and offensive weapon. Now worn as a symbol of eternity)
  • Kirpan (an iron dagger, which comes in different sizes; for example in the UK, Sikhs can wear a small sharp dagger, whereas in the Punjab Sikhs might wear the traditional curved sword, from one to three feet in length; symbolizes eternity; sometimes used for Bhog of the Karah Prashad).

Sikhs who are unbaptized do not necessarily have to follow these rules.

History[edit]

A Sikh Empire warrior's battle helmet
Cheering Sikh pilgrims arriving in Manikaran

Sikh history, with respect to Sikhism as a distinct political body, can be said to have begun with the death of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev in 1606. Sikh distinction was further enhanced by the establishment of the Khalsa (ਖ਼ਾਲਸਾ), by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.[54] The evolution of Sikhism began with the emergence of Guru Nanak as a religious leader and a social reformer during the 15th century in the Punjab. The religious practice was formalized by Guru Gobind Singh on 30 March 1699. The latter baptized five people from different social backgrounds to form Khalsa. The first five, Pure Ones, then baptised Gobind Singh into the Khalsa fold.[55] This gives Sikhism, as an organised grouping, a religious history of around 400 years.

Generally Sikhism has had amicable relations with other religions. However, during the Mughal rule of India (1556–1707), the emerging religion had strained relations with the ruling Mughals. Hindu Hill rajahs fought frequent battles against Guru Gobind Singh because they were largely opposed to Guru Gobind Singh's caste-less principles of religion. Prominent Sikh Gurus were killed by Mughals for opposing Mughal persecution of minority religious communities.[56] Subsequently, Sikhism militarized to oppose Mughal hegemony. The emergence of the Sikh Empire under reign of the Maharajah Ranjit Singh was characterized by religious tolerance and pluralism with Christians, Muslims and Hindus in positions of power. The establishment of the Sikh Empire is commonly considered the zenith of Sikhism at a political level,[57] during which time the Sikh Empire came to include Kashmir, Ladakh and Peshawar. Jarnail (General) Hari Singh Nalwa, the Commander-in-chief of the Sikh army along the North West Frontier, took the boundary of the Sikh Empire to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass. The Empire's secular administration integrated innovative military, economic and governmental reforms.

The months leading up to the partition of India in 1947 were marked by heavy conflict in the Punjab between Sikhs and Muslims. The effect was the religious migration of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus from West Punjab, mirroring a similar religious migration of Punjabi Muslims in East Punjab.[58]

The 1960s saw growing animosity and rioting between Sikhs and Hindus in India,[59] as the Sikhs agitated for the creation of a Punjab state based on a linguistic basis similar to that by which other states in India had been created. This had also been promised to the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh by Jawaharlal Nehru in return for Sikh political support during the negotiations for Indian Independence.[60] Sikhs obtained the Punjab but not without losing some Punjabi speaking areas to Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan; most notably, Chandigarh was made Union Territory and the joint capital of Haryana & Punjab Punjab on 1 November 1966.

Communal tensions arose again in the late 1970s, fueled by Sikh claims of discrimination and marginalisation by the Hindu dominated Indian National Congress ruling party and the "dictatorial" tactics adopted by the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.[61] Frank[61] argues that Gandhi's assumption of emergency powers in 1975 resulted in the weakening of the "legitimate and impartial machinery of government", and her increasing "paranoia" of opposing political groups led her to instigate a "despotic policy of playing castes, religions and political groups against each other for political advantage". As a reaction against these actions, the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale vocalised Sikh sentiment for justice. This accelerated in Punjab a state of communal violence.

Maharaja Runjeet Singh in a public assembly in the early 19th century.
A proposed flag for Khalistan, the independent Sikh state.

Gandhi's 1984 action to defeat Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led to the attack of the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star and ultimately led to Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.[62] This resulted in an explosion of violence against the Sikh communities in the anti-Sikh riots which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Sikhs throughout India; Khushwant Singh described the actions as being a Sikh pogrom in which he "felt like a refugee in my country. In fact, I felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany".[63] Since 1984, relations between Sikhs and Hindus have moved towards a rapprochement helped by growing economic prosperity; however, in 2002 the claims of the popular right-wing Hindu organisation the RSS that "Sikhs are Hindus" angered Sikh sensibilities.[64] Many Sikhs still are campaigning for justice for victims of the violence and the political and economic needs of the Punjab espoused in the Khalistan movement.[65]

In 1996, the Special Rapporteur for the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia, 1993–2004), visited India in order to compose a report on religious discrimination. In 1997,[66] Amor concluded, "In India it appears that the situation of the Sikhs in the religious field is satisfactory, but that difficulties are arising in the political (foreign interference, terrorism, etc.), economic (in particular with regard to sharing of water supplies) and even occupational fields. Information received from nongovernment (sic) sources indicates that discrimination does exist in certain sectors of the public administration; examples include the decline in the number of Sikhs in the police force and the military, and the absence of Sikhs in personal bodyguard units since the murder of Indira Gandhi".[67] However Sikhs still make up 10–15% of all ranks in the Indian Army and 20% of its officers,[68] while Sikhs form only 1.87% of the Indian population, which makes them over 10 times more likely to be a soldier and officer in the Indian Army than the average Indian.[69]

On the 1999 Vaisakhi Sikhs all over the world celebrated the 300th anniversary of the creation of the Khalsa. Canada Post honoured Sikh Canadians with a commemorative stamp in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of Vaisakhi. On April 9, 1999 The President of India, K.R. Narayanan, also released a commemorative stamp on the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa [70]

Sikh music and instruments[edit]

Woman playing the Dilruba

Sikhs have developed their own instruments: Rabab, Dilruba, Taus, Jori and the Sarinda. The Sarangi was also encouraged by Guru Har Gobind. The Rabaab was first used by Bhai Mardana as he accompanied Guru Nanak on his journeys. Jori and Sarinda were both designed by Guru Arjan. The Taus was made by Guru Har Gobind; it is said that he heard a peacock singing and wished to create an instrument that could mimic its sounds. Taus is the Persian word for peacock. The Dilruba was made by Guru Gobind Singh at the request of his Sikhs. They wished for a smaller instrument, since the Taus was hard to carry and maintain, due to constant battles. After Japji Sahib, all of the shabd in the Guru Granth Sahib are written in raag. The shabd is typically played in accordance with that particular raag. This style of singing is known as Gurmat Sangeet.

When marching into battle, the Sikhs would use drumming to boost their morale and increase excitement. This was called the Ranjit Nagara (Drum of Victory). Nagaras are large war drums that make a thundering sound and measure about 2 to 3 feet in diameter; they are played with two sticks. The special or original Ranjit Nagara, used in past battles, are up to 5 feet across. The beat of the large drums usually meant that the army was marching into battle. They were also taken into the battle sometimes; the Sikhs would raise the Nishan Sahib high, and the opposing forces would know the Singhs were coming. While the Sikhs' spirit was being boosted, the opposing forces would lose morale.

Distribution[edit]

Chart showing India's total Sikh population and their percentage of the total Indian population.

Numbering approximately 27 million worldwide, Sikhs make up 0.39%[71] of the world population, of which approximately 83% live in India. Approximately 76% of all Sikhs live in the northern Indian State of Punjab, where they form a majority (about two thirds) of the population.[72] Substantial communities of Sikhs, i.e., greater than 200,000, live in the Indian States/Union territories of Haryana (with more than 1.1 million Sikh population), Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.[73]

Sikh migration from the then British India began in earnest from the 2nd half of the 19th century when the British had completed their annexation of the Punjab.[58] The British Raj preferentially recruited Sikhs in the Indian Civil Service and, in particular, the British Indian Army, which led to migration of Sikhs to different parts of British India and the British Empire.[58] During the era of the British Raj, semiskilled Sikh artisans were also transported from the Punjab to British East Africa to help in the building of railways. After World War II, Sikhs emigrated from both India and Pakistan, most going to the United Kingdom but many also headed for North America. Some of the Sikhs who had settled in eastern Africa were expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1972.[74] Subsequently the main 'push' factor for Sikh migration has been economic, with significant Sikh communities now being found in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, East Africa, Australia and Thailand.

Map showing world Sikh population areas and historical migration patterns (Est. 2004).[75]

While the rate of Sikh migration from the Punjab has remained high, traditional patterns of Sikh migration that favoured English-speaking countries, particularly the United Kingdom, have changed in the past decade due to factors such as stricter immigration procedures. Moliner (2006)[76] states that as a consequence of the 'fact' that Sikh migration to the UK had "become virtually impossible since the late 1970s", Sikh migration patterns altered to continental Europe. Italy has now emerged as a fast-growing area for Sikh migration,[77] with Reggio Emilia and the Vicenza province being areas of significant Sikh population clusters.[78] The Italian Sikhs are generally involved in agriculture, agro-processing, machine tools and horticulture.[79]

Due primarily to socio-economic reasons, Indian Sikhs have the lowest adjusted decadal growth rate of any major religious group in India, at 16.9% per decade (est. 1991–2001).[80] Johnson and Barrett (2004) estimate that the global Sikh population increases annually by 392,633 Sikhs, i.e., by 1.7% p.a. on 2004 figures, this growth rate takes into account factors such as births, deaths and conversions.

Representation[edit]

Sikhs are represented in Indian politics by the current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is the head of the government (the nominal head is the President of India) and wields the supreme authority, including the nuclear button, and the Deputy Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The current Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, is a Sikh. Past Sikh politicians in India have included former President Giani Zail Singh, India's first Foreign Minister Sardar Swaran Singh, Dr. Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Speaker of the Parliament of India. Pratap Singh Kairon, Union minister, Sikh Indian independence movement leader and former Chief Minister of Punjab.

Prominent politicians of the Sikh Diaspora include the first Asian American to be elected as a Member of United States Congress Dalip Singh Saund,[81] the current UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Parmjit Dhanda MP[82] and the first couple to ever sit together in any parliament in the history of Commonwealth countries Gurmant Grewal and Nina Grewal, who sought apology by the Canadian Government for the historical Komagata Maru incident, and the Canadian Shadow Social Development Minister Ruby Dhalla MP. Baljit Singh Gosal, a Conservative Party MP from Ontario is the Minister of State for Sport in the Canadian Federal Government.Vic Dhillon is a Sikh Canadian politician and current member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Ujjal Dosanjh was the New Democratic Party Premier of British Columbia from July 2004 until February 2005, and currently serves as a Liberal frontbench MP in Ottawa. In Malaysia, two Sikhs were elected as MPs during the 2008 general elections; Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor) and his son Gobind Singh Deo (Puchong). Two Sikhs were elected as assemblymen: Jagdeep Singh Deo (Datuk Keramat) and Keshvinder Singh (Malim Nawar).

Sikhs in the Indian army

Sikhs make up 10–15% of all ranks in the Indian Army and 20% of its officers,[68] while Sikhs form only 1.87% of the Indian population, which makes them a little under 10 times more likely to be a soldier and officer in the Indian Army than the average Indian.[69] The Sikh Regiment is one of the most highly decorated and is believed to be the most courageous, powerful and skilled regiment of the Indian Army,[83] with 73 Battle Honours, 14 Victoria Crosses,[84] 21 first class Indian Order of Merit (equivalent to the Victoria Cross),[85] 15 Theatre Honours and 5 COAS Unit Citations besides 2 Param Vir Chakras, 14 Maha Vir Chakras, 5 Kirti Chakras, 67 Vir Chakras and 1596 other gallantry awards. The highest-ranking General in the history of the Indian Air Force is a Punjabi Sikh Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh.[86] Advanced plans by the MOD to raise an Infantry UK Sikh Regiment were scrapped in June 2007 to the disappointment of the UK Sikh community and Prince Charles of Britain.[87]

Historically, most Indians have been farmers, and even today 66% (two-thirds) of Indians are farmers.[88] Indian Sikhs are no different and have been predominately employed in the agro-business; India's 2001 census found that 39% of the working population of Punjab were employed in this sector (less than the Indian average).[89] The success, in the 1960s, of the Green Revolution, in which India went from "famine to plenty, from humiliation to dignity",[90] was based in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab, which became known as "the breadbasket of India".[91][92] The Sikh majority state of Punjab is also statistically the wealthiest (per capita), with the average Punjabi enjoying the highest income in India, 3 times the national Indian average.[93] The Green Revolution centred upon Indian farmers adapting their farming methods to more intensive and mechanised techniques; this was aided by the electrification of Punjab, cooperative credit, consolidation of small holdings and the existing British Raj developed canal system.[94] Swedish political scientist, Ishtiaq Ahmad, states that a factor in the success of the Indian green revolution transformation was the "Sikh cultivator, often the Jat, whose courage, perseverance, spirit of enterprise and muscle prowess proved crucial".[95] However, not all aspects of the green revolution were beneficial; Indian physicist Vandana Shiva[96] argues that the green revolution essentially rendered the "negative and destructive impacts of science [i.e. the green revolution] on nature and society" invisible; thus having been separated from their material and political roots in the science system, when new forms of scarcity and social conflict arose they were linked not to traditional causes but to other social systems e.g. religion. Hence Shiva argues that the green revolution was a catalyst for communal Punjabi Sikh and Hindu tensions; despite the growth in material affluence.

A Sikh temple, known as Nanaksar Gurudwara, in Alberta, Canada.

Punjabi Sikhs are prominent in varied professions, such as scientists, engineers and doctors; notable Punjabi Sikhs include nuclear scientist Professor Piara Singh Gill who worked on the Manhattan project; optics scientist ("the father of fibre optics") Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany; physicist and science writer/broadcaster Simon Singh

In the sphere of business, the clothing retailers/brands of UK based New Look and Thai based JASPAL[97] were started by Sikhs. India's largest pharmaceutical company, Ranbaxy Laboratories, is headed by Sikhs.[98] UK Sikhs have the highest percentage of home ownership, 82%, out of all UK religious communities.[99] UK Sikhs are the 2nd wealthiest (after the Jewish community) religious community in the UK, with a median total household wealth of £229, 000.[100] In Singapore, Kartar Singh Thakral has built up his family's trading business, Thakral Holdings/Corp,[101] into a commercial concern with total assets of close to $1.4 billion. Thakral is Singapore's 25th richest person. Bob Singh Dhillon, a Sikh, is the first Indo-Canadian billionaire. Perhaps no Sikh diaspora group has had as much success as those who migrated to North America, especially the Sikhs who migrated to California’s fertile Central Valley. The farming skills of the Sikhs and their willingness to work hard ensured that they rose from migrant labourers to become landowners who control much agriculture in California. American Sikh agriculturists such as Harbhajan Singh Samra and Didar Singh Bains dominate California agriculture and are known colloquially as the "Okra" and "Peach" kings respectively.

Prominent Sikh intellectuals, sportsmen and artists include the veteran writer Khushwant Singh, England cricketer Monty Panesar, former 400 m runner Milkha Singh, Indian wrestler and actor Dara Singh, former Indian Hockey Team captains Ajitpal Singh and Balbir Singh (Sr), former Indian Cricket captain Bishen Singh Bedi, Harbhajan Singh, India's most successful off spin Cricket bowler, Bollywood heroine Neetu Singh, actors Parminder Nagra, actresses Neha Dhupia, Gul Panag, Mona Singh, Namrata Singh Gujral, Archie Panjabi and director Gurinder Chadha.

The Sikhs have migrated to most parts of the world, and their vocations are as varied as their appearances. The Sikh community of the Indian subcontinent comprises many diverse sets of peoples, because the Sikh Gurus preached for ethnic and social harmony. These include different ethnic peoples, tribal and socio-economic groups. Main groupings (i.e., over 1,000 members) include: Ahluwalia, Arain, Arora, Bhatra, Bairagi, Bania, Basith, Bawaria, Bazigar, Bhabra, Chamar, Chhimba, Darzi, Dhobi, Gujar, Jatt, Jhinwar, Kahar, Kalal, Kamboj, Khatri, Kumhar, Labana, Lohar, Mahtam, Mazhabi, Megh, Mirasi, Mochi, Nai, Rajput, Ramgarhia, Saini, Sarera, Sikligar, Sunar, Sudh, Tarkhan and Zargar.

There has also emerged a specialised group of Punjabi Sikhs calling themselves Akalis, which have existed since Maharaja Ranjit Singh's time. Under their leader General Akali Phula Singh in the early 19th century, they won many battles for the Sikh Empire.

Digital library[edit]

Launched in 2003 under Nanakshahi Trust, the Panjab Digital Library was a result of the early phase of the digital revolution in Punjab. While most saw the Nanakshahi as a small digitisation organisation, or as an assemblage of some unknown youth working towards capturing some manuscripts on their digital cameras, its founders saw it as a cornerstone of a fundamentally new approach to preserving Punjab’s heritage for future generations. In the shadow of search engines, a systematic approach thought of in the early 2003 reached maturity in 2006. This was when the organisation planned to expand its operations from a mere three employee organisation to one of the leading NGO’s working in the field of digital preservation all over India.

Digitised collections include manuscripts held by the Punjab Languages Department, items from the Government Museum and Art Gallery Chandigarh, Chief Khalsa Diwan, SGPC, DSGMC and manuscripts in the Jawahar Lal Nehru Library of Kurukshetra University, Punjabi Sahitya Academy, Punjab State Archives Department. It also include hundreds of personal collections. With over 9 million pages digitised it is the biggest repository of digital data on Punjab.

Sikhs in the Indian and British armies[edit]

French postcard depicting the arrival of 15th Sikh Regiment in France during World War I. The postcard reads, "Gentlemen of India marching to chasten the German hooligans".

Sikhs supported the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.[102]

By the advent of World War I, Sikhs in the British Indian Army totaled over 100,000, i.e., 20% of the British Indian Army. In the years to 1945, 14 Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Sikhs, a per capita record given the size of the Sikh Regiments.[84] In 2002, the names of all Sikh VC and George Cross winners were inscribed on the pavilion monument of the Memorial Gates[103] on Constitution Hill next to Buckingham palace, London.[104] Lieutenant Colonel Chanan Singh Dhillon was instrumental in campaigning for the memorial building.

During World War I, Sikh battalions fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France. Six battalions of the Sikh Regiment were raised in World War II, and served at El Alamein and in Burma, Italy and Iraq, winning 27 battle honours.

Japanese soldiers shooting blindfolded Sikh prisoners.

Across the world, Sikhs are commemorated in Commonwealth cemeteries.[105]

"In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world, and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith."

— General Sir Frank Messervy[106]

"British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice [in two world wars] and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity, and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans."

— Sir Winston Churchill[107]

Sikhism in the Western world[edit]

Sikhs celebrating the Sikh new year in Toronto, Canada

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Punjabi and Sikhs began to immigrate to East Africa, the Far East, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In 1907 The Khalsa Diwan Society is established in Vancouver, Canada. In 1911 The first Gurdwara is established in London. In 1912 the First Gurdwara in United States was established in Stockton, California.[108]

As Sikhs wear turbans (although different from Middle Eastern turbans) and due to the relatively small number of Sikhs, there have been incidents of Sikhs in Western countries being mistaken for Middle Eastern Muslim or Arabic men. This has led to mistaken attitudes and acts against Sikhs living in the West especially with respect to the 9/11 terrorist attack and recent Iraq War.[109][110] Sikhs are neither Muslims nor from the Middle East. Sikhs make up 60% to 70% of the total population of Punjab, which is the only region in the world where Sikhs are in the majority.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks, some people associated Sikhs with islamic extremists or members of the Taliban. A few days after the attack, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man, was murdered by Frank Roque, who thought that the victim was related to the al-Qaeda. CNN suggested that there has been an increase in hate crimes against Sikh men in the United States and the UK following the 9/11 attack.[109][110]

Sikhism has never actively sought converts; thus, the Sikhs have remained a relatively homogeneous group ethnically.[citation needed] However, mainly due to the activities of Harbhajan Singh Yogi via his Kundalini Yoga focused 3HO (Happy, Healthy, Holy) Organisation, Sikhism has witnessed a moderate growth in non-Indian adherents.[111] In 1998 it was estimated that these 3HO Sikhs, known colloquially as ‘gora’ (ਗੋਰਾ) or ‘white’ Sikhs, totaled 7,800[112] and were mainly centred around Española, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California. A law in Oregon was passed in 1925 banning the wearing of turbans by teachers and government officials. Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund worked together in successfully overturning the law.[113]

In an attempt to foster strong Sikh leaders in the Western world, many youth initiatives have been begun by various organisations. For example, the Sikh Youth Alliance of North America annually organises the Sikh Youth Symposium, a public speaking and debate competition held in gurdwaras around America and Canada.

Art and culture[edit]

A Opaque Watercolour on paper copy of Nakashi 1880c made by a Unknown Artist of Lahore or Amritsar. This Nakashi was used to decorate the walls of Shri Darbar Sahib.
Harmindar Sahib, circa 1870

Sikh art and culture is synonymous with that of the Punjab region. Sikhs can be easily recognised by their distinctive turban of various styles called Dastar and most commonly there is a trend of wearing perfect turbans among Punjabi Sikhs. Sikh girls, specifically, often have very long, black or brown hair. Punjab itself has been called India’s melting pot, due to the confluence of invading cultures, such as Greek, Mughal and Persian, that mirrors the confluence of rivers from which the region gets its name. Thus Sikh culture is to a large extent informed by this synthesis of cultures. Sikhism has forged a unique form of architecture which Bhatti describes as being "inspired by Guru Nanak’s creative mysticism" such that Sikh architecture "is a mute harbinger of holistic humanism based on pragmatic spirituality".[114]

During the extensive Mughals and Afghani persecution of all Sikhs during the 17th century and 18th century,[115] the Sikhs were occupied with preserving their religion as a whole and could not afford much thought to deal with art and culture developments; However with the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Sikh Raj over Lahore and Delhi there was a significant change in the landscape of art and culture in Punjab, Hindus and Sikhs people were now able to construct ornamented construct shrines without the fear of them being demolished or looted.[116]

The reign of the Sikh Empire was the single biggest catalyst in creating a uniquely Sikh form of expression, with Maharajah Ranjit Singh patronising the building of forts, palaces, bungas (residential places), colleges, etc., that can be said to be of the Sikh Style. Characteristics of Sikh architecture are gilded fluted domes, cupolas, kiosks and stone lanterns with an ornate balustrade on square roofs. The "jewel in the crown" of the Sikh Style is the Harmindar Sahib, also called the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India.

Sikh culture is heavily influenced by militaristic motifs, with Khanda being the most obvious; the majority of Sikh artifacts, independent of the relics of the Gurus, have a military theme. This motif is again evident in the Sikh festivals of Hola Mohalla and Vaisakhi, which feature marching and displays of valor respectively.

The art and culture of the Sikh diaspora has merged with that of other Indo-immigrant groups into categories such as 'British Asian', 'Indo-Canadian' and 'Desi-Culture'; however, there has emerged a niche cultural phenomenon that can be described as 'Political Sikh'.[117] The art of prominent diaspora Sikhs such as Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra & Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh ('The Singh Twins'),[118] is informed by their Sikhism and the current affairs of the Punjab.

Bhangra and the Giddha are two forms of indigenous Punjabi folk dancing that have been appropriated, adapted and pioneered by Punjabi Sikhs. The Punjabi Sikhs have championed these forms of expression all over the world, resulting in Sikh culture becoming inextricably linked to Bhangra, even though "Bhangra is not a Sikh institution but a Punjabi one."[119]

Sikh paintings[edit]

Sikh painting is a direct offshoot of the Kangra School of painting. In 1810 Maharaja Ranjeet Singh (1780–1839) occupied Kangra Fort and appointed Sardar Desa Singh Majithia as his Governor of the Punjab Hills. In 1813 the Sikh army occupied Haripur Guler and Raja Bhup Singh became a vassal of Sikh Power. With the Sikh Kingdom of Lahore becoming the paramount power, some of the Pahari painters from Guler migrated to Lahore to enjoy the patronage of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and his Sardars.

The Sikh School of paintings is the adoption of the Kangra Kalam to Sikh needs and ideals. Its main subjects are the ten Sikh gurus and anecdotes from Guru Nanak's Janamsakhis. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, left a deep impression on the adherents of the new faith because of his unmatched bravery and unparalleled sacrifices. Hunting scenes and portraiture are also common in Sikh painting.

See also[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • The Sikhs In History: A Millennium Study by Sangat Singh, Noel Quinton King. New York 1995. ISBN 81-900650-2-5
  • A History of the Sikhs: Volume 1: 1469–1838 by Khushwant Singh. Oxford India Paperbacks (13 January 2005). ISBN 0-19-567308-5
  • The Sikhs by Patwant Singh. Image (17 July 2001). ISBN 0-385-50206-0
  • The Sikhs of the Punjab by J. S. Grewal. Published by Cambridge University Press (28 October 1998). ISBN 0-521-63764-3.
  • The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society by W.H. McLeod. Published by Columbia University Press (15 April 1989). ISBN 0-231-06815-8
  • The Sikh Diaspora: Tradition and Change in an Immigrant Community (Asian Americans — Reconceptualising Culture, History, Politics) by Michael Angelo. Published by Routledge (1 September 1997). ISBN 0-8153-2985-7
  • Glory of Sikhism by R. M. Chopra, Sanbun Publishers, 2001, ISBN 978-3-4734-7119-5.

External links[edit]