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Sikhism (//), or Sikhi (Punjabi: ਸਿੱਖੀ Sikkhī, pronounced [ˈsɪkːʰiː], from Sikh, meaning a "disciple", or a "learner"), is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of South Asia during the 15th century. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder's life. Being one of the youngest amongst the major world religions, with 25-28 million adherents worldwide, Sikhism is the ninth-largest religion in the world.
Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, and the ten successive Sikh gurus. After the death of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, became the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal Guru, where the scripture's word serves as the spiritual guide for Sikhs.
Sikhism emphasizes simran (meditation on the words of the Guru Granth Sahib), that can be expressed musically through kirtan or internally through Nam Japo as a means to feel God's presence, and to have control over the "Five Thieves" (lust, rage, greed, attachment and conceit). Hand in hand, secular life is considered to be intertwined with the spiritual life. Guru Nanak taught that living an "active, creative, and practical life" of "truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity" is above the metaphysical truth, and that the ideal man is one who "establishes union with God, knows His Will, and carries out that Will". He also established the system of the langar, or communal kitchen, in order to demonstrate the need to share and have equality between all people. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, established the political/temporal (Miri) and spiritual (Piri) realms to be mutually coexistent.
The development of Sikhism was influenced by the Bhakti movement, however, Sikhism was not simply an extension of the Bhakti movement. Sikhism developed while the region was being ruled by the Mughal Empire. Two of the Sikh gurus – Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur, after they refused to convert to Islam, were tortured and executed by the Mughal rulers. The Islamic era persecution of Sikhs triggered the founding of the Khalsa, as an order for freedom of conscience and religion. A Sikh is expected to embody the qualities of a "Sant-Sipāhī" – a saint-soldier.
- 1 Sikh terminology
- 2 Philosophy and teachings
- 3 Scripture
- 4 Observances
- 5 History
- 6 Sikh people
- 7 Sikh diaspora
- 8 Prohibitions in Sikhism
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
The majority of Sikh scriptures were originally written in Gurmukhī alphabet, a script standardised by Guru Angad out of Laṇḍā scripts used in North India. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs, which means students or disciples of the Guru. The anglicized word 'Sikhism' is derived from the Punjabi verb Sikhi, with roots in Sikhana (to learn), and Sikhi connotes the "temporal path of learning".
Sikhism is a monistic religion and states that there is one supreme entity holding control of the entire universe. This entity is referred to as Ik Onkar.
Philosophy and teachings
The basis of Sikhism lies in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. The essence of Sikh teaching is summated by Guru Nanak's words: "Realization of Truth is higher than all else. High still is truthful living".
Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. Sikh principles encourage living life as a householder.
Sikhism is a monistic form of monotheistic (panentheistic) religion. In Sikhism, the concept of "God" is Vāhigurū—is shapeless, timeless, and sightless (i.e., unable to be seen with the physical eye): niraṅkār, akaal, and alakh. The beginning of the first composition of Sikh scripture is the figure "1"—signifying the universality of "God". It states that "God" is omnipresent and infinite with power over everything, and is signified by the term Ik Onkar. Sikhs believe that before creation, all that existed was "God" and "God's" hukam (will or order).
The concept of God
God in Sikhism is known as Ik Onkar, the One Supreme Reality. or the all-pervading spirit (which is taken to mean god). This spirit has no gender in Sikhism, though translations may present it as masculine. It is also Akaal Purkh (beyond time and space) and Nirankar (without form). In addition, Nanak wrote that there are many worlds on which it has created life.
Nanak further states that the understanding of Akaal is beyond human beings, but at the same time not wholly unknowable. Akaal is omnipresent (sarav viāpak) in all creation and visible everywhere to the spiritually awakened. Nanak stressed that god must be seen from "the inward eye", or the "heart", of a human being: devotees must meditate to progress towards enlightenment of heavenly life. Guru Nanak emphasized the revelation through meditation, as its rigorous application permits the existence of communication between god and human beings.
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ॥
Transliteration: ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha'u niravair(u) akāl(a) mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan gur(a) prasād(i).
"There is but one all pervading spirit, and truth is its name! It exists in all creation; it does not fear; it does not hate; it is timeless and universal and self-existent, You will come to know it through seeking knowledge and learning!"
Māyā—defined as a temporary illusion or "unreality"—is one of the core deviations from the pursuit of God and salvation: where worldly attractions which give only illusory temporary satisfaction and pain which distract the process of the devotion of God. However, Nanak emphasised māyā as not a reference to the unreality of the world, but of its values. In Sikhism, the influences of ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust—known as the Five Thieves—are believed to be particularly distracting and hurtful. Sikhs believe the world is currently in a state of Kali Yuga (Age of Darkness) because the world is led astray by the love of and attachment to Maya. The fate of people vulnerable to the Five Thieves ('Pānj Chor'), is separation from God, and the situation may be remedied only after intensive and relentless devotion.
The timeless truth
According to Guru Nanak the supreme purpose of human life is to reconnect with Akal (The Timeless One), however, egotism is the biggest barrier in doing this. Using the Guru's teaching remembrance of nām (the divine Word or the Name of the Lord) leads to the end of egotism. Guru Nanak designated the word 'guru' (meaning teacher) to mean the voice of "the spirit": the source of knowledge and the guide to salvation. As Ik Onkar is universally immanent, guru is indistinguishable from "Akal" and are one and the same. One connects with guru only with accumulation of selfless search of truth. Ultimately the seeker realizes that it is the consciousness within the body which is seeker/follower of the Word that is the true guru. The human body is just a means to achieve the reunion with Truth. Once truth starts to shine in a person's heart, the essence of current and past holy books of all religions is understood by the person.
Guru Nanak's teachings are founded not on a final destination of heaven or hell but on a spiritual union with the Akal which results in salvation or Jivanmukta (liberation whilst alive), a concept also found in Hinduism. Guru Gobind Singh makes it clear that human birth is obtained with great fortune, therefore one needs to be able to make the most of this life. Sikhs believe in reincarnation and karma concepts found in Hinduism and Buddhism. However, in Sikhism both karma and liberation "is modified by the concept of God's grace" (nadar, mehar, kirpa, karam etc.). Guru Nanak states "The body takes birth because of karma, but salvation is attained through grace". To get closer to God: Sikhs avoid the evils of Maya, keep the everlasting truth in mind, practice Shabad Kirtan, meditate on Naam, and serve humanity. Sikhs believe that being in the company of the Satsang or Sadh Sangat is one of the key ways to achieve liberation from the cycles of reincarnation.
Power and meditation (Shakti and Bhakti)
Sikhism was influenced by Bhakti movement, but it was not simply an extension of the Bhakti movement. Sikhism, for instance, disagreed with some views of Bhakti saints Kabir and Ravidas.
Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru and the founder of Sikhism, was a Bhakti saint. He taught, states Jon Mayled, that the most important form of worship is Bhakti. Guru Arjan, in his Sukhmani Sahib, recommended the true religion is one of loving devotion to God. The Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib includes suggestions on how a Sikh should perform constant Bhakti. Some scholars call Sikhism a Bhakti sect of Indian traditions, adding that it emphasizes "nirguni Bhakti", that is loving devotion to a divine without qualities or physical form. However, Sikhism also accepts saguni concept, that is a divine with qualities and form. While Western scholarship generally places Sikhism as arising primarily within a Hindu Bhakti movement milieu while recognizing some Sufi Islamic influences, Indian Sikh scholars disagree and state that Sikhism transcended the environment it emerged from.
Some Sikh sects outside the Punjab-region of India, such as those found in Maharashtra and Bihar, practice Aarti with lamps during bhakti in a Sikh Gurdwara. But, most Sikh Gurdwaras forbid the ceremonial use of lamps (aarti) during their bhakti practices.
While emphasizing Bhakti, the Sikh Gurus also taught that the spiritual life and secular householder life are intertwined. In Sikh worldview, the everyday world is part of the Infinite Reality, increased spiritual awareness leads to increased and vibrant participation in the everyday world. Guru Nanak, states Sonali Marwaha, described living an "active, creative, and practical life" of "truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity" as being higher than the metaphysical truth.
The 6th Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, after Guru Arjan martyrdom and faced with oppression by the Islamic Mughal Empire, affirmed the philosophy that the political/temporal (Miri) and spiritual (Piri) realms are mutually coexistent. According to the 9th Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, 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.
The concept of man as elaborated by Guru Nanak, states Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, refines and negates the "monotheistic concept of self/God", and "monotheism becomes almost redundant in the movement and crossings of love". The goal of man, taught the Sikh Gurus, is to end all dualities of "self and other, I and not-I", attain the "attendant balance of separation-fusion, self-other, action-inaction, attachment-detachment, in the course of daily life".
Singing and music
Sikhs refer to the hymns of the Gurus as Gurbani (The Guru's word). Shabad Kirtan is the singing of Gurbani. The entire verses of Guru Granth Sahib are written in a form of poetry and rhyme to be recited in thirty one Ragas of the Classical Indian Music as specified. However, the exponents of these are rarely to be found amongst the Sikhs who are conversant with all the Ragas in the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak started the Shabad Kirtan tradition and taught that listening to kirtan is a powerful way to achieve tranquility while meditating; Singing of the glories of the Supreme Timeless One (God) with devotion is the most effective way to come in communion with the Supreme Timeless One. The three morning prayers for Sikhs consist of Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib and Tav-Prasad Savaiye. Baptized Sikhs - Amritdharis, rise early and meditate and then recite all the Five Banis of Nitnem before breakfast.
Remembrance of the divine name
A key practice by Sikhs is remembrance of the Divine Name (Naam – the Name of the Lord). This contemplation is done through Nām Japna (repetition of the divine name) or Naam Simran (remembrance of the divine Name through recitation). The verbal repetition of the name of God or a sacred syllable has been an ancient established practice in religious traditions in India, however, Sikhism developed Naam-simran as an important Bhakti practice. Guru Nanak's ideal is the total exposure of one's being to the divine Name and a total conforming to Dharma or the "Divine Order". Nanak described the result of the disciplined application of nām simraṇ as a "growing towards and into God" through a gradual process of five stages. The last of these is sach khaṇḍ (The Realm of Truth)—the final union of the spirit with God.
Service and action
Meditation is unfruitful without service and action. Sikhs are taught that selfless service, or sēvā, and charitable work enables the devotee to kill the ego. Service in Sikhism takes three forms: "Tan" - physical service; "Man" - mental service (such as studying to help others); and "Dhan" - material service. Guru Nanak stressed now kirat karō: that a Sikh should balance work, worship, and charity, and should defend the rights of all human beings. They are encouraged to have a chaṛdī kalā, or optimistic - resilience, view of life. Sikh teachings also stress the concept of sharing—vaṇḍ chakkō—through the distribution of free food at Sikh gurdwaras (laṅgar), giving charitable donations, and working for the good of the community and others (sēvā).
Justice and equality
Sikhism regards "Justice" and "Restorative Justice" and "divine justice" as trumping any subjective codes of moral order. The word in Punjabi used to depict this is "Niau" which means justice. The word "dharam" (righteousness) is also used to convey justice "in the sense of the moral order". "An attack on dharam is an attack on justice, on righteousness, and on the moral order generally". According to the Tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh "when all efforts to restore peace prove useless and no words avail, lawful is the flash of steel, it is right to draw the sword".
Men and women are equal in Sikhism and share the same rights. In contrast, while other faiths have been arguing in recent times on female priest ordination, women have been leading prayers at Sikh temples since the founding of Sikhism.
The term guru comes from the Sanskrit gurū, meaning teacher, guide, or mentor. The traditions and philosophy of Sikhism were established by ten gurus from 1469 to 1708. Each guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak was the first guru and appointed a disciple as successor. Guru Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. Before his death, Guru Gobind Singh decreed in 1708, that the Gurū Granth Sāhib would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs.
Guru Nanak stated that his Guru is God who is the same from the beginning of time to the end of time. Nanak claimed to be God's mouthpiece, God's slave and servant and even God's dog, but maintained that he was only a guide and teacher, was neither a reincarnation of God nor in any way related to God. Nanak stated that the human Guru is mortal and not divine, who is to be respected and loved but not worshipped. When Guru, or Satguru (The true guru) is used in Gurbani it is often referring to the internal soul rather than a living Guru.
Guru Angad succeeded Guru Nanak. Later, an important phase in the development of Sikhism came with the third successor, Guru Amar Das. Guru Nanak's teachings emphasised the pursuit of salvation; Guru Amar Das began building a cohesive community of followers with initiatives such as sanctioning distinctive ceremonies for birth, marriage, and death. Amar Das also established the manji (comparable to a diocese) system of clerical supervision.
Guru Amar Das's successor and son-in-law Guru Ram Das founded the city of Amritsar, which is home of the Harimandir Sahib and regarded widely as the holiest city for all Sikhs. Guru Arjan was captured by Mughal authorities who were suspicious and hostile to the religious order he was developing. His persecution and death inspired his successors to promote a military and political organization of Sikh communities to defend themselves against the attacks of Mughal forces.
The Sikh gurus established a mechanism which allowed the Sikh religion to react as a community to changing circumstances. The sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, was responsible for the creation of the concept of Akal Takht (throne of the timeless one), which serves as the supreme decision-making centre of Sikhism and sits opposite the Harmandir Sahib. The Sarbat Ḵẖālsā (a representative portion of the Khalsa Panth) historically gathers at the Akal Takht on special festivals such as Vaisakhi or Hola Mohalla and when there is a need to discuss matters that affect the entire Sikh nation. A gurmatā (literally, guru's intention) is an order passed by the Sarbat Ḵẖālsā in the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. A gurmatā may only be passed on a subject that affects the fundamental principles of Sikh religion; it is binding upon all Sikhs. The term hukamnāmā (literally, edict or royal order) is often used interchangeably with the term gurmatā. However, a hukamnāmā formally refers to a hymn from the Gurū Granth Sāhib which is a given order to Sikhs.
|Chronology of the ten Sikh Gurus|
The word Guru in Sikhism also refers to Akal Purkh (God), and God and Guru are often synonymous in Gurbani (Sikh writings). Sikhism does not subscribe to the theory of incarnation or the concept of prophethood, states Singha, but "it has a pivotal concept of Guru; He is not an incarnation of God, not even a prophet; He is an illumined soul."
There is one primary scripture for the Sikhs: the Gurū Granth Sāhib. It is sometimes synonymously referred to as the Ādi Granth. Chronologically, however, the Ādi Granth – literally, The First Volume, refers to the version of the scripture created by Guru Arjan in 1604. The Gurū Granth Sāhib is the final expanded version of the scripture compiled by Guru Gobind Singh. While the Guru Granth Sahib is an unquestioned scripture in Sikhism, another important religious text, the Dasam Granth, does not enjoy universal consensus, and is considered a secondary scripture by many Sikhs.
The Ādi Granth was compiled primarily by Bhai Gurdas under the supervision of Guru Arjan between the years 1603 and 1604. It is written in the Gurmukhī script, which is a descendant of the Laṇḍā script used in the Punjab at that time. The Gurmukhī script was standardised by Guru Angad, the second guru of the Sikhs, for use in the Sikh scriptures and is thought to have been influenced by the Śāradā and Devanāgarī scripts. An authoritative scripture was created to protect the integrity of hymns and teachings of the Sikh gurus, and thirteen Hindu and two Muslim bhagats of the Bhakti movement sant tradition in medieval India. The thirteen Hindu bhagats whose teachings were entered into the text included Ramananda, Namdev, Pipa, Ravidas, Beni, Bhikhan, Dhanna, Jaidev, Parmanand, Sadhana, Sain, Surdas, Trilochan, while the two Muslim bhagats were Kabir and Sufi saint Farid.
Guru Granth Sahib
The final version of the Gurū Granth Sāhib was compiled by Guru Gobind Singh in 1678. It consists of the original Ādi Granth with the addition of Guru Tegh Bahadur's hymns. The Guru Granth Sahib is considered the Eleventh and final spiritual authority of the Sikhs.
- Punjabi: ਸੱਬ ਸਿੱਖਣ ਕੋ ਹੁਕਮ ਹੈ ਗੁਰੂ ਮਾਨਯੋ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ।
- Transliteration: Sabb sikkhaṇ kō hukam hai gurū mānyō granth.
- English: All Sikhs are commanded to take the Granth as Guru.
The text comprises 6,000 śabads (line compositions), which are poetically rendered and set to rhythmic ancient north Indian classical form of music. The bulk of the scripture is classified into thirty one rāgas, with each Granth rāga subdivided according to length and author. The hymns in the scripture are arranged primarily by the rāgas in which they are read.
The main language used in the scripture is known as Sant Bhāṣā, a language related to both Punjabi and Hindi and used extensively across medieval northern India by proponents of popular devotional religion (bhakti). The text is printed in Gurumukhi script, believed to have been developed by Guru Angad, but it shares the Indo-European roots found in numerous regional languages of India.
The Granth begins with the Mūl Mantra, an iconic verse created by Nanak:
- Punjabi: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
- ISO 15919 transliteration: Ika ōaṅkāra sati nāmu karatā purakhu nirabha'u niravairu akāla mūrati ajūnī saibhaṅ gura prasādi.
- Simplified transliteration: Ik ōaṅgkār sat nām kartā purkh nirbha'u nirvair akāl mūrat ajūnī saibhaṅ gur prasād.
- Translation: One God Exists, Truth by Name, Creative Power, Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless Form, Unborn, Self-Existent, By the Guru's Grace.
The predominant bulk of Guru Granth Sahib is compositions by seven Sikh Gurus – Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. It also contains the traditions and teachings of thirteen Hindu Bhakti movement sants (saints) such as Ramananda, Namdev among others, and two Muslim saints namely Kabir and the Sufi Sheikh Farid. The vision in the Guru Granth Sahib, states Torkel Brekke, is a society based on divine justice without oppression of any kind. The Sikh scripture uses Hindu terminology extensively, with hundreds of references to the Vedas, and the names of gods and goddesses in Hindu bhakti movement traditions, such as Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Rama, Krishna in order to explain its divine message. It also refers to the spiritual concepts in Hinduism (Ishvara, Bhagavan, Brahman) and the concept of God in Islam (Allah) to assert that these are just "alternate names for the Almighty One".
While the Granth acknowledges and respects the God in the Vedas, Puranas and Quran, it does not imply a syncretic bridge between Hinduism and Islam, but emphasizes focusing on Japu (repeating mantra with the name of God), instead of Muslim practices such as circumcision or praying on carpet, or Hindu rituals such as wearing thread or praying in river.
Guru Granth Sahib is considered by Sikhs to be the eleventh and the final Guru of Sikhism. It is installed in Sikh Gurdwara (temple), many Sikhs bow or prostrate before it on entering the temple, and just like Rama or Krishna symbols are cared for in some large Hindu temples, the Guru Granth Sahib is installed every morning and put to bed at night in many Gurdwaras. The Granth is revered as eternal gurbānī and the spiritual authority.
The Dasam Granth is a scripture of Sikhs which contains texts attributed to the Tenth Guru. The Dasam Granth is important to a great number for Sikhs, however it does not have the same authority as Adi Granth. Some compositions of the Dasam Granth like Jaap Sahib, (Amrit Savaiye), and Benti Chaupai are part of the daily prayers/lessons (Nitnem) of/for Sikhs. The Dasam Granth is largely versions of Hindu mythology from the Puranas, secular stories from a variety of sources called Charitro Pakhyan – tales to protect careless men from perils of lust.
Five versions of Dasam Granth exist, and the authenticity of the Dasam Granth is amongst the most debated topics within Sikhism. The text played a significant role in Sikh history, but in modern times parts of the text have seen antipathy and discussion among Sikhs.
The Janamsākhīs (literally birth stories), are writings which profess to be biographies of Nanak. Although not scripture in the strictest sense, they provide a hagiographic look at Nanak's life and the early start of Sikhism. There are several—often contradictory and sometimes unreliable—Janamsākhīs and they are not held in the same regard as other sources of scriptural knowledge.
Observant Sikhs adhere to long-standing practices and traditions to strengthen and express their faith. The daily recitation from memory of specific passages from the Gurū Granth Sāhib, especially the Japu (or Japjī, literally chant) hymns is recommended immediately after rising and bathing. Family customs include both reading passages from the scripture and attending the gurdwara (also gurduārā, meaning the doorway to God; sometimes transliterated as gurudwara). There are many gurdwaras prominently constructed and maintained across India, as well as in almost every nation where Sikhs reside. Gurdwaras are open to all, regardless of religion, background, caste, or race.
Worship in a gurdwara consists chiefly of singing of passages from the scripture. Sikhs will commonly enter the gurdwara, touch the ground before the holy scripture with their foreheads. The recitation of the eighteenth century ardās is also customary for attending Sikhs. The ardās recalls past sufferings and glories of the community, invoking divine grace for all humanity.
The gurdwara is also the location for the historic Sikh practice of "Langar" or the community meal. All gurdwaras are open to anyone of any faith for a free meal, always vegetarian. People eat together, and the kitchen is maintained and serviced by Sikhs.
The festivals in Sikhism are mostly centred around the lives of the Gurus and Sikh martyrs, the most sacred events being Vaisakhi and the births of Guru Nanak, Guru Ram Das and Guru Gobind Singh. The SGPC, the Sikh organisation in charge of upkeep of the historical gurdwaras of Punjab, organises celebrations based on the new Nanakshahi calendar. This calendar is highly controversial among Sikhs and is not universally accepted. Sikh festivals include the following:
- Gurpurbs are celebrations or commemorations based on the lives of the Sikh gurus. They tend to be either birthdays or celebrations of Sikh martyrdom. All ten Gurus have Gurpurbs on the Nanakshahi calendar, but it is Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh who have a gurpurb that is widely celebrated in Gurdwaras and Sikh homes. The martyrdoms are also known as a shaheedi Gurpurbs, which mark the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur. Since 2011 the Gurpurb of Guru Har Rai (March 14) has been celebrated as Sikh Vatavaran Diswas (Sikh Environment Day). Guru Har Rai was the seventh guru, known as a gentle man who cared for animals and the environment. The day is marked by worldwide events, including tree plantings, rubbish clearances and celebrations of the natural world.
- Nagar Kirtan involves the processional singing of holy hymns throughout a community. While practiced at any time, it is customary in the month of Visakhi (or Vaisakhi). Traditionally, the procession is led by the saffron-robed Panj Piare (the five beloved of the Guru), who are followed by the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh scripture, which is placed on a float.
- Vaisakhi which includes Parades and Nagar Kirtan occurs on 13 April. Sikhs celebrate it because on this day which fell on 30 March 1699, the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, inaugurated the Khalsa, the 11th body of Guru Granth Sahib and leader of Sikhs till eternity.
- Bandi Chhor celebrates Guru Hargobind's release from the Gwalior Fort, with several innocent Hindu kings who were also imprisoned by Jahangir, on 26 October 1619. This day usually commemorated on the same day of Hindu festival of Diwali.
- Hola Mohalla occurs the day after Holi and is when the Khalsa gather at Anandpur and display their individual and team warrior skills, including fighting and riding.
Ceremonies and customs
Guru Nanak taught that rituals, religious ceremonies, or idol worship are of little use and Sikhs are discouraged from fasting or going on pilgrimages. Sikhs do not believe in converting people but converts to Sikhism by choice are welcomed. The morning and evening prayers take around two hours a day, starting in the very early morning hours. The first morning prayer is Guru Nanak's Jap Ji. Jap, meaning "recitation", refers to the use of sound, as the best way of approaching the divine. Like combing hair, hearing and reciting the sacred word is used as a way to comb all negative thoughts out of the mind. The second morning prayer is Guru Gobind Singh's universal Jaap Sahib. The Guru addresses God as having no form, no country, and no religion but as the seed of seeds, sun of suns, and the song of songs. The Jaap Sahib asserts that God is the cause of conflict as well as peace, and of destruction as well as creation. Devotees learn that there is nothing outside of God's presence, nothing outside of God's control. Devout Sikhs are encouraged to begin the day with private meditations on the name of God.
Upon a child's birth, the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at a random point and the child is named using the first letter on the top left hand corner of the left page. All boys are given the last name Singh, and all girls are given the last name Kaur (this was once a title which was conferred on an individual upon joining the Khalsa).
Sikhs are required to marry when they are of a sufficient age (child marriage is taboo), and without regard for the future spouse's caste or descent. Sikhs are joined in wedlock through the anand kāraj ceremony. The marriage ceremony is performed in the company of the Guru Granth Sahib; around which the couple circles four times. After the ceremony is complete, the husband and wife are considered "a single soul in two bodies.",
According to Sikh religious rites, neither husband nor wife is permitted to divorce unless special circumstances arise. A Sikh couple that wishes to divorce may be able to do so in a civil court.
Upon death, the body of a Sikh is usually cremated. If this is not possible, any respectful means of disposing the body may be employed. The kīrtan sōhilā and ardās prayers are performed during the funeral ceremony (known as antim sanskār).
Baptism and the Khalsa
Khalsa (meaning "Sovereign") is the collective name given by Guru Gobind Singh to those Sikhs who have been initiated by taking part in a ceremony called ammrit sañcār (nectar ceremony). During this ceremony, sweetened water is stirred with double-edged sword while liturgical prayers are sung and is offered to the initiating Sikh, who ritually drinks it. Many adherents of Sikhism do not undergo this ceremony, but still adhere to some components of the faith and identify as Sikhs. The initiated Sikh, considered reborn, is referred to as Khalsa Sikh, while those who do not get baptized are referred to as Sahajdhari Sikhs.
The first time that this ceremony took place was on Vaisakhi, which fell on 30 March 1699 at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It was on that occasion that Gobind Singh baptised the Pañj Piārē—the five beloved ones, who in turn baptised Guru Gobind Singh himself. To males who initiated, the last name Singh, meaning "lion", was given, while the last name Kaur, meaning "princess", was given to baptized Sikh females.
Baptised Sikhs ritually wear five items, called the Five Ks (in Punjabi known as pañj kakkē or pañj kakār), at all times. The five items are: kēs (uncut hair), kaṅghā (small wooden comb), kaṛā (circular steel or iron bracelet), kirpān (sword/dagger), and kacchera (special undergarment). The Five Ks have both practical and symbolic purposes.
Guru Nanak (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Rāi Bhōi dī Talwandī, now called Nankana Sahib (in present-day Pakistan). His parents were Khatri Hindus. As a boy, Nanak was fascinated by God and religion. He would not partake in religious rituals or customs and oddly meditated alone. His desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home and take missionary journeys.
In his early teens, Nanak caught the attention of the local landlord Rai Bular Bhatti, who was moved by his amazing intellect and divine qualities. Rai Bular Bhatti was witness to many incidents in which Nanak enchanted him and as a result Rai Bular Bhatti and Nanak's sister Bibi Nanki, became the first persons to recognise the divine qualities in Nanak. Both of them then encouraged and supported Nanak to study and travel. At the age of thirty, Nanak went missing and was presumed to have drowned after going for one of his morning baths to a local stream called the Kali Bein. He reappeared three days later and declared: "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" (in Punjabi, "nā kōi hindū nā kōi musalmān"). It was from this moment that Nanak would begin to spread the teachings of what was then the beginning of Sikhism. Although the exact account of his itinerary is disputed, hagiographic accounts state he made five major journeys, spanning thousands of miles, the first tour being east towards Bengal and Assam, the second south towards Andhra and Tamil Nadu, the third north towards Kashmir, Ladakh, and to Mount Sumeru in Tibet, and the fourth tour west towards Baghdad and Mecca. In his last and final tour, he returned to the banks of the Ravi River to end his days.
There are two competing theories on Guru Nanak's teachings. One, according to Cole and Sambhi, is based on hagiographical Janamsakhis, and states that Nanak's teachings and Sikhism were a revelation from God, and not a social protest movement nor any attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam in the 15th century. The other states, Nanak was a Guru. According to Singha, "Sikhism does not subscribe to the theory of incarnation or the concept of prophethood. But it has a pivotal concept of Guru. He is not an incarnation of God, not even a prophet. He is an illumined soul." The hagiographical Janamsakhis were not written by Nanak, but by later followers without regard for historical accuracy, and contain numerous legends and myths created to show respect for Nanak. The term revelation, clarify Cole and Sambhi, in Sikhism is not limited to the teachings of Nanak, they include all Sikh Gurus, as well as the words of past, present and future men and women, who possess divine knowledge intuitively through meditation. The Sikh revelations include the words of non-Sikh bhagats, some who lived and died before the birth of Nanak, and whose teachings are part of the Sikh scriptures. The Adi Granth and successive Sikh Gurus repeatedly emphasized, states Mandair, that Sikhism is "not about hearing voices from God, but it is about changing the nature of the human mind, and anyone can achieve direct experience and spiritual perfection at any time".
Scholars state that in its origins, Sikhism was influenced by the nirguni (formless God) tradition of Bhakti movement in medieval India. Nanak was raised in a Hindu family and belonged to the Bhakti Sant tradition. The roots of the Sikh tradition are, states Louis Fenech, perhaps in the Sant-tradition of India whose ideology grew to become the Bhakti tradition. Furthermore, adds Fenech, "Indic mythology permeates the Sikh sacred canon, the Guru Granth Sahib and the secondary canon, the Dasam Granth and adds delicate nuance and substance to the sacred symbolic universe of the Sikhs of today and of their past ancestors".
Growth of Sikhism
In 1539, Guru Nanak chose his disciple Lahiṇā as a successor to the guruship rather than either of his sons. Lahiṇā was named Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. Nanak conferred his choice at the town of Kartarpur on the banks of the river Ravi, where Nanak had finally settled down after his travels. Though Sri Chand was not an ambitious man, the Udasis believed that the Guruship should have gone to him, since he was a man of pious habits in addition to being Nanak's son. On Nanak's advice, Guru Angad moved from Kartarpur to Khadur, where his wife Khivi and children were living, until he was able to bridge the divide between his followers and the Udasis. Guru Angad continued the work started by Guru Nanak and is widely credited for standardising the Gurmukhī script as used in the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.
Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindval became an important centre for Sikhism during the guruship of Guru Amar Das. He preached the principle of equality for women by prohibiting purdah and sati. Guru Amar Das also encouraged the practice of langar and made all those who visited him attend laṅgar before they could speak to him. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of the Punjab to have laṅgar. Guru Amar Das also trained 146 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 Jēṭhā, a Khatri of the Sodhi clan, as the fourth Sikh guru.
Jēṭhā 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. Before Ramdaspur, Amritsar was known as Guru Da Chakk. In 1581, Guru Arjan—youngest son of the fourth guru—became the fifth guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for building the Harimandir Sahib, he prepared the Sikh sacred text known as the Ādi Granth (literally the first book) and included the writings of the first five gurus and other enlightened Hindu and Muslim saints. In 1606, he was tortured and killed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir, for refusing to make changes to the Granth and for not converting to Islam. His martyrdom is considered a watershed event in the history of Sikhism.
Guru Hargobind became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords—one for spiritual and the other for temporal reasons (known as mīrī and pīrī in Sikhism). Sikhs grew as an organized community and under the 10th Guru the Sikhs developed 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 Har Krishan helped to heal many sick people. Coming into contact with so many people every day, he too was infected and taken seriously ill and later died. No hymns composed by these three gurus are included in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Guru Tegh Bahadur became guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675. Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed by Aurangzeb for helping to protect one's right to freedom of religion, after a delegation of Kashmiri Pandits came to him for help when the Emperor began to persecute those who refused to convert to Islam. He was succeeded by his son, Gobind Rai who was just nine years old at the time of his father's death. Gobind Rai further militarised his followers, and was baptised by the Pañj Piārē when he inaugurated the Khalsa on 30 March 1699. From here on in he was known as Guru Gobind Singh.
From the time of Nanak the Sikhs had significantly transformed. Even though the core Sikh spiritual philosophy was never affected, the followers now began to develop a political identity. Conflict with Mughal authorities escalated during the lifetime of Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.
Sikh confederacy and the rise of the Khalsa
The tenth guru of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh, inaugurated the Khalsa (the collective body of all initiated Sikhs) as the Sikh temporal authority in the year 1699. The Khalsa is a disciplined community that combines its spiritual purpose and goals with political and military duties. Shortly before his death, Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed the Gurū Granth Sāhib (the Sikh Holy Scripture) to be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs, to be worshipped and bowed to.
The Sikh Khalsa's rise to power began in the 17th century during a time of growing militancy against Mughal rule. The creation of a Sikh Empire began when Guru Gobind Singh sent a Sikh general, Banda Singh Bahadur, to fight the Mughal rulers of India and those who had committed atrocities against Pir Buddhu Shah. Banda Singh advanced his army towards the main Muslim Mughal city of Sirhind and, following the instructions of the guru, punished all the culprits. Soon after the invasion of Sirhind, while resting in his chamber after the Rehras prayer Guru Gobind Singh was stabbed by a Pathan assassin hired by Mughals. Gobind Singh killed the attacker with his sword. Though a European surgeon stitched the Guru's wound, the wound re-opened as the Guru tugged at a hard strong bow after a few days, causing profuse bleeding that led to Gobind Singh's death.
After the Guru's death, Baba Banda Singh Bahadur became the commander-in-chief of the Khalsa. He organized the civilian rebellion and abolished or halted the Zamindari system in time he was active and gave the farmers proprietorship of their own land. Banda Singh was executed by the emperor Farrukh Siyar after refusing the offer of a pardon if he converted to Islam. The confederacy of Sikh warrior bands known as misls alongside the development of the Dal Khalsa achieved a series of sweeping military and diplomatic victories, eventually creating a Sikh Empire in the Punjab under the emperor, Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1799.
The Sikh empire had its capital in Lahore, spread over almost 200,000 square miles (520,000 square kilometres) comprising what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. The Sikh nation's embrace of military and political organisation made it a considerable regional force in 19th century India and allowed it to retain control of the Sikh Empire in the face of numerous local uprisings. The order, traditions and discipline developed over centuries culminated at the time of Ranjit Singh to give rise to a common religious and social identity.
After the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839, the Sikh Empire fell into disorder and, after the assassination of several successors, eventually fell on the shoulders of his youngest son, Maharaja Duleep Singh. Soon after, the British began to attack the Sikh Kingdom. Both British and Sikh sides sustained heavy losses of both troops and materials in the hard-fought First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars. The Empire was eventually annexed by the United Kingdom, bringing the Punjab under the British Raj.
A quarter of a century later, Sikhs formed the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the Shiromani Akali Dal to preserve Sikhs' religious and political organization. Of the violence that accompanied the Partition of India, historians Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh write:
There are numerous eyewitness accounts of the maiming and mutilation of victims. The catalogue of horrors includes the disembowelling of pregnant women, the slamming of babies' heads against brick walls, the cutting off of victims limbs and genitalia and the display of heads and corpses. While previous communal riots had been deadly, the scale and level of brutality was unprecedented. Although some scholars question the use of the term 'genocide' with respect to the Partition massacres, much of the violence manifested as having genocidal tendencies. It was designed to cleanse an existing generation as well as prevent its future reproduction.
The newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths vary, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.
The emergency meeting of the joint defense council on 16 August agreed to strengthen the Punjab boundary force as quickly as possible. Nehru and liquat visited Lahore, Ambala, Jilandur and Amritsar together to see for themselves what was going on and to appeal for peace. They tried to remind everyone that both India and Pakistan had pledged to protect the minorities after the partition and that there was no need for anyone to move home but they were shouting against the hurricane. Each new outrage, each new massacre brought the thirst for revenge and desperate need to flee from the terror as the scale of disaster mounted, Tara Singh and other Sikh leaders toured the province in military vehicles, appealing to stop the violence, but their followers had tasted blood, and it was too late for Tara Singh to stop what he had begun.
Sikhs faced initial opposition from the Government in forming a linguistic state that other states in India were afforded. The Akali Dal started a non-violence movement for Sikh and Punjabi rights. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a leader of the Damdami Taksal in 1977 and promoted a more militant solution to the problem. In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to launch Operation Blue Star to remove Bhindranwale and his followers from the Darbar Sahib. Bhindranwale and his accompanying followers, as well as many innocent Sikhs visiting the temple, were killed during the army's operations. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The assassination was followed by the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. and Hindu-Sikh conflicts in Punjab, as a reaction to Operation Blue Star and the assassination.
Sikhs firmly believe in sewa (service to community and God) and simran (remembrance of God), the two tenets of Sikh life. The list of prominent Sikhs in humanitarian activities include Bhai Kanhaiya (1648–1718), Bhagat Puran Singh (1904–1992), Bhai Trilochan Singh Panesar (1937–2010).
According to Sewa Singh Kalsi, the Sikh people have gained a reputation through history for being
sturdy, hardworking and adventurous; they are a people who have earned the reputation for being extremely brave and loyal soldiers. They have also become known for being a militant people.
Beginning in 1968, Yogi Bhajan (later of the 3HO movement) began to teach classes kundalini yoga, resulting in a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism (known as white Sikhs) in the United States. Since then, thousands of non-Punjabis have taken up the Sikh belief and lifestyle primarily in the United States, Canada, Latin America, the Far East and Australia.
Although the Sikh Gurus and Sikh religious teachings criticize the hierarchy of the caste system, the caste system is still present in some Sikh communities. The caste system is most commonly still employed in rural Punjabi villages. According to Sunrinder S, Jodhka, the Sikh religion does not advocate discrimination against any caste or creed, however, in practice, Sikhs belonging to the landowning dominant castes have not shed all their prejudices against the lower castes or dalits. While dalits would be allowed entry into the village gurudwaras they would not be permitted to cook or serve langar (communal meal). Therefore, wherever they could mobilise resources, the dalits of Punjab have tried to construct their own gurudwara and other local level institutions in order to attain a certain degree of cultural autonomy. In 1953, the government of India acceded to the demands of the Sikh leader, Master Tara Singh, to include Sikh castes of the converted untouchables in the list of scheduled castes. In the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, 20 of the 140 seats are reserved for low-caste Sikhs.
Over 60% of Sikhs belong to the Jat caste, which is a rural caste. Despite being very small in numbers, the often wealthy mercantile Khatri and Arora castes wield considerable influence within the Sikh community. Other Sikh castes include the Ramgarhias (artisans), the Ahluwalias (formerly Kalals [brewers]) and the two Dalit castes, known in Sikh terminology as the Mazhabis (the Chuhras) and the Ramdasias (the Chamars).
Sikhism is the ninth-largest amongst the major world religions, and one of the youngest. Worldwide, there are 25.8 million Sikhs, which makes up 0.39% of the world's population. Approximately 75% of Sikhs live in the Punjab, where they constitute about 60% of the state's population. Large communities of Sikhs live in the neighboring states such as Indian State of Haryana which is home to the second largest Sikh population in India with 1.1 million Sikhs as per 2001 census, and large communities of Sikhs can be found across India. However, Sikhs only comprise about 2% of the Indian population.
Sikh migration to Canada began in the 19th century and led to the creation of significant Sikh communities, predominantly in South Vancouver, British Columbia, Surrey, British Columbia, and Brampton, Ontario. Today temples, newspapers, radio stations, and markets cater to these large, multi-generational Indo-Canadian groups. Sikh festivals such as Vaisakhi and Bandi Chhor (the Sikh version of the Hindu festival Diwali) are celebrated in those Canadian cities by the largest groups of followers in the world outside the Punjab.
Sikhs also migrated to East Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom as well as United States and Australia. These communities developed as Sikhs migrated out of Punjab to fill in gaps in imperial labour markets. In the early twentieth century a significant community began to take shape on the west coast of the United States. Smaller populations of Sikhs are found within many countries in Western Europe, Mauritius, Malaysia, Fiji, Nepal, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Singapore, Mexico, the United States and many other countries.
Prohibitions in Sikhism
Some prohibitions include:
- Cutting hair: Cutting hair is forbidden in Sikhism for those who have taken the Amrit initiation ceremony. These Amritdhari or Khalsa Sikhs are required to keep unshorn hair.
- Intoxication: Consumption of alcohol, non-medicinal drugs, tobacco, and other intoxicants is forbidden in Sikhism. Some Nihangs of Punjab orally consume cannabis sativa, opium and other narcotics to assist meditation.[verification needed]
- Priestly class: Sikhism does not have priests, but does have liturgical service which employs people for a salary to sing hymns (Kirtan), officiate an Ardās Puja or marriage, and perform services at a Gurdwara. Any Sikh can become a Granthi to look after the Guru Granth Sahib, and any Sikh is free to read from the Guru Granth Sahib.
- Eating meat : Sikhs are strictly prohibited from eating meat from animals slaughtered by halal method, known as Kutha meat, where the animal is killed by exsanguination (via throat-cutting). Typically meat is not served in community free meals such as langar. In some small Sikh Sects, i.e. Akhand Kirtani Jatha eating any meat is believed to be forbidden, but this is not a universally held belief. The meat eaten by Sikhs is sourced from Jhatka method of producing meat.
- Adultery is forbidden.
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- Sikhism (indigenously known as Sikhī) originated from the word Sikh, which comes from the Sanskrit root śiṣya meaning "disciple", or śikṣa meaning "instruction".)
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In Sikhism, the diversity of God's kingdom is perceived as a dynamic positive force. It is believed that all religious traditions are equally valid and capable of enligtening their followers. Sikhism rejects the view that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly regarding Absolute Truth. Sikhism strongly rejects the practice of converting people to other religious traditions.
- David Lorenzen (1995), Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791420256, pages 1-2, Quote: "Historically, Sikh religion derives from this nirguni current of bhakti religion"
- Louis Fenech (2014), in The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies (Editors: Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199699308, page 35, Quote: "Technically this would place the Sikh community's origins at a much further remove than 1469, perhaps to the dawning of the Sant movement, which possesses clear affinities to Guru Nanak's thought sometime in the tenth century. The predominant ideology of the Sant parampara in turn corresponds in many respects to the much wider devotional Bhakti tradition in northern India."
- Sikhism, Encyclopedia Britannica (2014), Quote: "In its earliest stage Sikhism was clearly a movement within the Hindu tradition; Nanak was raised a Hindu and eventually belonged to the Sant tradition of northern India,"
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- Rehat Maryada
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For endless eons, there was only utter darkness. There was no earth or sky; there was only the
infiniteCommand of His Hukam.
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You are the One True Lord and Master of all the other beings, of so many worlds.
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- Note: some disagree with this viewpoint, and state that guru in Sikhism is "not a teacher or a guide", but "God's own manifestation"; see: Bhagat Singh & G.P. Singh, Japji, 2002, Hemkunt Press, page 9; Quote: "(...) In Sikh religion the word 'Guru' does not denote a teacher, or an expert or a guide in human body. When God manifested his attributes in person, that person was called 'Guru Nanak'"
- Parrinder, Geoffrey (1971). World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present. United States: Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-87196-129-7.
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Quote: Halal is the method preferred by Muslims and Jhatka by the Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, etc.
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