Sikh art and culture

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The Sikhs are adherents to Sikhism the fifth largest organized religion in the world, with around 23 million adherents. Sikh History is around 500 years and in that time the Sikhs have developed unique expressions of art and culture which are influenced by their faith and synthesize traditions from many other cultures. Sikhism is Punjab's only indigenous religion with all other religions coming from outside Punjab (with the possible exception of Punjabi Hinduism since the oldest Hindu scripture – the Rig Veda – was composed in the Punjab region. Some other religions, like Jainism, may also claim to have originated in Punjab since Jain symbolism has been found among artifacts of the Indus Valley Civilization). All the Sikh gurus, saints and majority of the martyrs in Sikh history were from Punjab and from the Punjabi people. Punjabi culture and Sikhism are considered inseparably intertwined. "Sikh" properly refers to adherents of Sikhism as a religion, not an ethnic group. However, because Sikhs often share strong ethno-religious ties, many countries, such as the U.K., recognize Sikh as a designated ethnicity on their censuses.[1] The American non-profit organization United Sikhs has fought to have Sikh included on the U.S. census as well, arguing that Sikhs "self-identify as an 'ethnic minority'" and believe "that they are more than just a religion".[2]

The Sikh Art, Culture intertwinement with Punjabi culture[edit]

Sikh art and culture is synonymous with that of the Punjab region. The Punjab itself has been called “India’s melting pot”,[3] due to the confluence of invading cultures, such as 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.

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”.[4] The keynote of Sikh architecture is the Gurdwara which is the personification of the “melting pot” of Punjabi cultures, showing both Islamic, Sufi and Hindu influences. The reign of the Sikh Empire was the single biggest catylst 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. The “jewel in the crown” of the Sikh Style is the Harmandir Sahib.

Sikh culture is heavily influenced by militaristic motifs, with Khanda [disambiguation needed] being the most obvious; thus it is no surprise that 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 Vasakhi which feature marching and practicing displays of valor respectively.

The art and culture of the Sikh diaspora has been merged with that of other indo-immigrant groups into categories such as 'British Asian', 'Indo-Canadanian' and 'Desi-Culture'; however there has emerged a niche cultural phenomenon that can be described as 'Political Sikh'. The art of prominent diaspora Sikhs such as Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra [5] and Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh ('The Singh Twins'),[6] is informed by their Sikhism and the current affairs of the Punjab.

Culture of Sikh communities[edit]

Although the Punjabi Sikhs form the majority of the Sikh population, the Sikh community is varied and includes people who speak the Assamese language, the Kashmiri language, the Telugu language and many more. The many communities following Sikhism is detailed below.

Afghani Sikhs[edit]

The Sikhs of Afghanistan have a unique culture which has elements of the culture of Afghanistan.

American Sikhs[edit]

Harbhajan Sing Puri is credited with raising awareness of Sikhism amongst the non Asian community of the United States of America. This community is known as the white Sikh community which practices Sikhism and maintains a distinct culture.[7] [8]

Assamese Sikhs[edit]

Although the ancestors of the Sikhs of Assam were from Punjab, the Assamese Sikhs have been living in Assam[9] for over 200 years. The community traces its origins to the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who took his army to Assam. According to the 2001 census, there were 22,519 Sikhs in Assam,[10] out of which 4,000 are Assamese Sikhs.[11]


Assamese Sikhs follow the Sikh religion and celebrate Sikh festivals. However, they also celebrate local festivals such as Magh Bihu and wear traditional Assamese dress. Their language is the Assamese language.[12][13]

Agrahari Sikhs[edit]

Agrahari Sikh is a Sikh community found in eastern India including state West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. Agrahari Sikhs, also known as Bihari Sikhs, have lived for centuries in Bihar and Jharkhand.[14]

Bihari Sikhs share their culture with the local Bihari community. The men generally wear the local dhoti and women wear the Sari. They also celebrate local festivals such as the Chath festival. [15]

Dakhni Sikhs[edit]

Dakhni Sikhs are the descendants of the Sikh soldiers who came to the South in the early 19th century when the Nizam of Hyderabad raised a Sikh contingent in his army.[16]

Dakhani Sikhs are the descendants of Sikh soldiers sent by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to support the Nizam. After the death of the Maharaja, the soldiers who remained there, married local women and adopted their language and culture. The traditional dress of women is the saree. The native language of Dakhni Sikhs is the Telugu language [17]

Kashmiri Sikhs[edit]

Ethnic Kashmiri Sikhs speak the Kashmiri language and observe Kashmiri culture. They trace their ancestry to the Sikh soldiers who settled in Kashmir under the Maharaja Ranjit Singh rule in 1819. However, the soldiers permanently settled in Kashmir.[18]

Punjabi Sikhs[edit]

Punjabi Sikhs follow the Punjabi culture. Their traditional dress includes the Punjabi Salwar Suit, Punjabi Tamba and Kurta, Punjabi juti and Patiala salwar.

In addition to the Sikh festivals using the Nanakshahi calendar, Punjabi Sikhs observe traditional Punjabi festivals using the Punjabi calendar.

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, such that Sikh Culture has become inextricably linked to Bhangra, even though "Bhangra is not a Sikh institution but a Punjabi one."[19]

Sindhi Sikhs[edit]

Main article: Sindhis in India

In addition to celebrating Sikh festivals, Sindhi Sikhs celebrate festivals such as Cheti Chand, the Sindhi new year. Sindhi Sikhs speak the Sindhi language.

South Indian Sikhs[edit]

There are Sikh communities in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra who settled there centuries ago.

The Sikhs comprise Banjara, Lubana and Satnami. The process of blending into southern India for the Sikligars began at the time of 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, who came to the Deccan and passed away in 1708 at Nanded (Maharashtra).

Sikligars came to southern India as expert arms-making camp followers of the tenth Guru. Sikligar is a compound of the Persian words `saiqal` and `gar` meaning a polisher of metal.[20] The traditional occupation of the Sikligars is crafting kitchen implements.

Banjaras are a nomadic tribe who traditionally travelled with merchandise and are found across a large swathe of northern India, as well as in the south. Sikh Banjaras too travelled with armies of the past supplying them with provisions. [21]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Petition to Disaggregate Sikhs Correctly in the 2010 Census". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Memorandum Regarding the Tabulation of Sikh Ethnicity in the United States Census". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  3. ^ the Crafts of the Punjab
  4. ^ The magnificence of Sikh architecture
  5. ^ Textile artist Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra
  6. ^ Singh Twins Art Launches Liverpool Fest
  7. ^ Re-imagining South Asian Religions: Essays in Honour of Professors Harold G. Coward and Ronald W. Neufeldt [1]
  8. ^ 31 05 2010 Nidhi Sharma for RT [2]
  9. ^ Himadri Banerjee Institute of Sikh Studies [3]
  10. ^ Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner (2001). "Census of India 2001: Population by religious communities". Government of India. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  11. ^ The Tribune Surjit Hans 24 08 2003 [4]
  12. ^ Deccan Hrald 23 04 2012 [5]
  13. ^ The Tribune Surjit Hans 24 08 2003 [6]
  14. ^ "Sikhs and Sikhism in Eastern and North-Eastern India". Institute of Sikh Studies. 
  15. ^ Calcutta Mosaic: Essays and Interviews on the Minority Communities of Calcutta : edited by Nilanjana Gupta, Himadri Banerjee, Sipra Mukherjee[7]
  16. ^ Zee New 18 10 2011 [8]
  17. ^ The Tribune 28 10 2014 Birinder Pal Singh
  18. ^ Kashur The Kashmiri Speaking People By Mohini Qasba Raina [9]
  19. ^ Bhangra & Sikhi by Harjinder Singh
  20. ^ Zee New 18 10 2011 [10]
  21. ^ Zee New 18 10 2011 [11]