Sikhism is a monotheistic, dharmic religion that had its origins in the historical area of Punjab (today split between India and Pakistan), where its followers are still largely concentrated. However, with the advent of British rule in India in the 18th century, Sikh communities have also been established in many other parts of the world, particularly where there are large Indian diasporas. With around 25 million adherents, it is the world’s fifth largest religion.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent around the end of the 15th century. It is one of the youngest of the major world religions and the world’s fifth largest organized religion, as well as being the world’s ninth-largest overall religion. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib, include faith and meditation on the name of the one creator, divine unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for justice for the benefit and prosperity of all and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder’s life. In the early 21st century, there were nearly 25 million Sikhs worldwide, the great majority of them living in Punjab, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru (1469–1539), and the nine Sikh gurus that succeeded him. The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, terminating the line of human Gurus and making the scripture the eternal, religious spiritual guide for Sikhs. Sikhism rejects claims that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth.
The Sikh scripture opens with Ik Onkar (ੴ), its Mul Mantar and fundamental prayer about One Supreme Being (God). Sikhism emphasizes simran (meditation on the words of the Guru Granth Sahib), that can be expressed musically through kirtan or internally through Nam Japo (repeat God’s name) as a means to feel God’s presence. It teaches followers to transform the “Five Thieves” (lust, rage, greed, attachment, and ego). 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”. Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, established the political/temporal (Miri) and spiritual (Piri) realms to be mutually coexistent.
Sikhism evolved in times of religious persecution. Two of the Sikh gurus – Guru Arjan (1563–1605) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–1675) – were tortured and executed by the Mughal rulers after they refused to convert to Islam. The persecution of Sikhs triggered the founding of the Khalsa as an order to protect the freedom of conscience and religion, with qualities of a “Sant-Sipāhī” – a saint-soldier. The Khalsa was founded by the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.
Sikhism was founded in 15th century Punjab by Guru Nanak. Sikhs believe that there is only one god, and the gods of all other religions are simply different manifestations of this single god. Sikhs generally believe that they are required to follow the teachings of the ten gurus, the last one being Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh named Sikhism’s holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, as his successor before his death, thus ending the line of human gurus, and making the scripture the eternal authority on the religion.
Sikhs reject the traditional Hindu caste system in theory (though not necessarily in practice). As part of this philosophy of rejecting social classes, all male Sikhs are required to have the surname Singh, while all female Sikhs are required to have the surname Kaur, as differing surnames have traditionally been seen by Sikhs as an indication of social class. Sikhs are forbidden from cutting their hair, and are also required to cover their hair in public. Male Sikhs traditionally wear a turban (or Dastaar is Punjabi) for this purpose, while female Sikhs traditionally wear a headscarf known as a Chunni (similar but not identical to the Muslim hijab), though an increasing number of Sikh women are opting for the male turban instead.
All Sikhs are required to wear five items at all times as articles of their faith, which are also known as The Five Ks; Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kara (iron bracelet), Kachera (tieable cotton underwear) and Kirpan (iron dagger). The use of the Kirpan is strictly limited to self defence and the protection of others, and Skihs are mandated by their religion to provide assistance to the victims and not turn a blind eye whenever they encounter crimes being committed.
Sikhs have a reputation of being fierce warriors, and contributed significantly to the Allied war efforts in both world wars as part of the British Indian Army’s Sikh Regiment. Today, the Sikh Regiment remains the most decorated regiment in the Indian Army.
Philosophy and teachings
The basis of Sikhism lies in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. Many sources call Sikhism a monotheistic religion, while others call it a monistic and panentheistic religion. According to Eleanor Nesbitt, English renderings of Sikhism as a monotheistic religion “tend misleadingly to reinforce a Semitic understanding of monotheism, rather than Guru Nanak’s mystical awareness of the one that is expressed through the many. However, what is not in doubt is the emphasis on ‘one'”.
In Sikhism, the concept of “God” is Waheguru considered Nirankar (shapeless), akal (timeless), and Alakh Niranjan (invisible). The Sikh scripture begins with Ik Onkar (ੴ), which refers to the “formless one”, and understood in the Sikh tradition as monotheistic unity of God. Sikhism is classified as an Indian religion along with Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, given its geographical origin and its sharing some concepts with them.
Sikh ethics emphasize the congruence between spiritual development and everyday moral conduct. Its founder Guru Nanak summarized this perspective with “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is truthful living”.
Concept of life
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.
The traditional Mul Mantar goes from Ik Oankar until Nanak Hosee Bhee Sach. The opening line of the Guru Granth Sahib and each subsequent raga, mentions Ik Oankar (translated by Pashaura Singh):
“There is one supreme being, the eternal reality, the creator, without fear and devoid of enmity, immortal, never incarnated, self-existent, known by grace through the true Guru.”
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.
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 realises 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 Jivanmukti (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 Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. 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 devotion (Shakti and Bhakti)
Sikhism was influenced by the Bhakti movement, but it was not simply an extension of Bhakti. 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 emphasises “nirguni Bhakti”, that is loving devotion to a divine without qualities or physical form. However, Sikhism also accepts the concept of saguni, 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. Baptised 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 Vaheguru (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
The Sikh Gurus taught that by constantly remembering the divine name (naam simran) and through selfless service, or sēvā, the devotee overcomes egoism (Haumai). This, it states, is the primary root of five evil impulses and the cycle of rebirth.
Service in Sikhism takes three forms: “Tan” – physical service; “Man” – mental service (such as studying to help others); and “Dhan” – material service. Sikhism stresses kirat karō: that is “honest work”. Sikh teachings also stress the concept of sharing, or vaṇḍ chakkō, giving to the needy for the benefit of the community.
Justice and equality
Sikhism regards God as the true king, the king of all kings, the one who dispenses justice through the law of karma, a retributive model and divine grace.
The term for justice in the Sikh tradition is “Niau”. It is related to the term “dharam” which in Sikhism connotes ‘moral order’ and righteousness. According to the Tenth Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh, states Pashaura Singh – a professor of Sikh Studies, “one must first try all the peaceful means of negotiation in the pursuit of justice” and if these fail then it is legitimate to “draw the sword in defense of righteousness”. Sikhism considers “an attack on dharam is an attack on justice, on righteousness, and on the moral order generally” and the dharam “must be defended at all costs”. The divine name is its antidote for all pain and vices. Forgiveness is taught as a virtue in Sikhism, yet it also teaches its faithful to shun those with evil intentions and to pick up the sword to fight injustice and religious persecution.
Sikhism does not differentiate religious obligations by gender. God in Sikhism has no gender, and the Sikh scripture does not discriminate against women, nor bar them from any roles. Women in Sikhism have led battles and issued hukamnamas.
Ten gurus and authority
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, but maintained that he was only a guide and teacher. Nanak stated that the human Guru is mortal, 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 highest expression of truthfulness – God.
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 arrested 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 Akal Takht is located in the city of Amritsar. The leader is appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Pabandhak Committee (SPGC). 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.
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, Sur, Trilochan, while the two Muslim bhagats were Kabir and Sufi saint Farid.
Guru Granth Sahib
The Guru Granth Sahib is the holy scripture of the Sikhs, and regarded as the living Guru.
The Guru Granth started as a volume of Guru Nanak’s poetic compositions. Prior to his death, he passed on his volume to Guru Angad (Guru 1539–1551). 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 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 text comprises 6,000 śabads (line compositions), which are poetically rendered and set to rhythmic ancient north Indian classical 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.
Language and script
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 vision in the Guru Granth Sahib, states Torkel Brekke, is a society based on divine justice without oppression of any kind.
The Granth begins with the Mūl Mantra, an iconic verse which received Guru Nanak directly from Akal Purakh (God). The traditional Mul Mantar goes from Ik Oankar until Nanak Hosee Bhee Sach.
One God Exists, Truth by Name, Creative Power, Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless Form, Unborn, Self-Existent, By the Guru’s Grace.
The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, named the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib as his successor, terminating the line of human Gurus and making the scripture the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal Guru, where Gods/Gurus word serves as the spiritual guide for Sikhs.
All Sikhs are commanded to take the Granth as Guru.
The Guru Granth Sahib is installed in Sikh Gurdwara (temple); many Sikhs bow or prostrate before it on entering the temple. 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 copies of the Guru Granth Sahib are not regarded as material objects, but as living subjects which are alive. According to Myrvold, the Sikh scripture is treated with respect like a living person, in a manner similar to the Gospel in early Christian worship. Old copies of the Sikh scripture are not thrown away, rather funerary services are performed.
In India the Guru Granth Sahib is even officially recognised by the Supreme Court of India as a judicial person which can receive donations and own land. Yet, some Sikhs also warn that, without true comprehension of the text, veneration for the text can lead to bibliolatry, with the concrete form of the teachings becoming the object of worship instead of the teachings themselves.
Relation to Hinduism and Islam
The Sikh scriptures use Hindu terminology, with 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, but not to worship.[self-published source] 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 Guru Granth Sahib acknowledges the Vedas, Puranas and Quran, it does not imply a syncretic bridge between Hinduism and Islam, but emphasises focusing on nitnem banis like Japu (repeating mantra of the divine Name of God – Vaheguru), instead of Muslim practices such as circumcision or praying on a carpet, or Hindu rituals such as wearing thread or praying in a river.
The Dasam Granth is a scripture of Sikhs which contains texts attributed to the Guru Gobind Singh. The Dasam Granth is important to a great number of Sikhs, however it does not have the same authority as the Guru Granth Sahib. Some compositions of the Dasam Granth like Jaap Sahib, (Amrit Savaiye), and Benti Chaupai are part of the daily prayers (Nitnem) 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 of the divine name of God Vaheguru and from memory of specific passages from the Gurū Granth Sāhib, like the Japu (or Japjī, literally chant) hymns is recommended immediately after rising and bathing. Baptized Sikhs recite the five morning prayers, the evening and night prayer. 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 Sikh community volunteers.
Guru Amar Das chose festivals for celebration by Sikhs like Vaisakhi, wherein he asked Sikhs to assemble and share the festivities as a community.
Vaisakhi is one of the most important festivals of Sikhs, while other significant festivals commemorate the birth, lives of the Gurus and Sikh martyrs. Historically, these festivals have been based on the moon calendar Bikrami calendar. In 2003, the SGPC, the Sikh organisation in charge of upkeep of the historical gurdwaras of Punjab, adopted Nanakshahi calendar. The new calendar is highly controversial among Sikhs and is not universally accepted. Sikh festivals include the following:
Vaisakhi which includes Parades and Nagar Kirtan occurs on 13 April or 14 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.
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.
Band Chor Diwas has been another important Sikh festival in its history. In recent years, instead of Diwali, the post-2003 calendar released by SGPC has named it the Bandi Chhor divas. Sikhs celebrate Guru Hargobind’s release from the Gwalior Fort, with several innocent Raja kings who were also imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1619. This day continues to be commemorated on the same day of Hindu festival of Diwali, with lights, fireworks and festivities.
Hola Mohalla is a tradition started by Guru Gobind Singh. It starts the day after Sikhs celebrate Holi, sometimes referred to as Hola. Guru Gobind Singh modified Holi with a three-day Hola Mohalla extension festival of martial arts. The extension started the day after the Holi festival in Anandpur Sahib, where Sikh soldiers would train in mock battles, compete in horsemanship, athletics, archery and military exercises.
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.
Ceremonies and customs
Khalsa Sikhs have also supported and helped develop major pilgrimage traditions to sacred sites such as Harmandir Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patna Sahib, Hazur Nanded Sahib, Hemkund Sahib and others. Sikh pilgrims and Sikhs of other sects customarily consider these as holy and a part of their Tirath. The Hola Mohalla around the festival of Holi, for example, is a ceremonial and customary gathering every year in Anandpur Sahib attracting over 100,000 Sikhs. Major Sikh temples feature a sarovar where some Sikhs take a customary dip. Some take home the sacred water of the tank particularly for sick friends and relatives, believing that the waters of such sacred sites have restorative powers and the ability to purify one’s karma.[note 1]
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).
The Sikh marriage ritual includes the anand kāraj ceremony. The marriage ceremony is performed in front of the Guru Granth Sahib by a baptized Khalsa, Granthi of the Gurdwara. The tradition of circling the Guru Granth Sahib and Anand Karaj among Khalsa is practised since the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das. Its official recognition and adoption came in 1909, during the Singh Sabha Movement.
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 a double-edged sword while liturgical prayers are sung; it 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 baptised are referred to as Kesdhari or 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 baptised Sikh females.
Baptised Sikhs 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.
Sikhism’s principal religious text, the Guru Granth Sahib, is written in a number of languages and dialects, including Punjabi, Sanskrit, Persian, Khadi Boli Hindi, Braj Bhasha, Arabic, Sindhi, Rajasthani and Awadhi. This vast combination of tongues was commonly used among all religious figures in Northern India at the time and is collectively known as Sant Bhasha (“saint language”). Due to the fact that the vast majority of Sikhs are either from Punjab, or of Punjabi descent, the Punjabi language is widely spoken among Sikh communities. Depending on where they are established, Sikhs usually also speak the local languages. For instance, it is common for Sikhs living in India to also speak Hindi, or those living in Malaysia to also speak Malay, with the better educated ones usually able to speak English as well.
Amritsar. Home to the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the “Golden Temple”, the holiest site in the world for Sikhs.
Anandpur Sahib. The city where the last two Sikh gurus lived and where Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa army in 1699.
Nanded. Guru Gobind Singh travelled to Nanded and proclaimed he would be the last of the human gurus, making Nanded his permanent abode and establishing the holy book Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal living guru. The Hazur Sahib is one of the five Takhts (Sikh seats of authority), and where Guru Gobind Singh died and was cremated.
Patna. The capital of Bihar houses one of the five Takhts and was the birthplace of the tenth and final guru, Gobind Singh.
Bathinda. Home to the Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, one of the five Takhts, where Guru Gobind Singh compiled the final version of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book.
Dera Baba Nanak. Home to the Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak, built on the site of a well that Guru Nanak was said to have sat next to while meditating on God. Another important site is the Gurdwara Sri Chops Sahib, which houses a cloak that is believed to have been presented to Guru Nanak by a Muslim devotee.
Nankana Sahib. The birthplace of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak.
Kartarpur. Location of the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak is believed to have settled and died after finishing his missionary work. According to legend, Guru Nanak’s body was said to have mysteriously disappeared after his death.
Lahore. Location of the Gurdwara Dera Sahib, where Guru Arjan, the fifth guru, is believed to have been martyred.
Hasan Abdal. Location of the Gurdwara Panja Sahib, which is home to a boulder that is said be imprinted with the handprint of Guru Nanak.
There are no strict dietary restrictions for Sikhs per se, but they are forbidden from eating meat from animals that have been subject to ritual slaughter or slaughter methods resulting in a slow death. This effectively means that Sikhs are not allowed to consume halal or kosher meat. As Sikh temples are required to be welcoming to people of all faiths when serving community meals, only vegetarian food is served at such events.
Sikhs are forbidden from consuming non-medicinal drugs or alcohol, and are also forbidden from smoking. In practice, drinking alcohol is tolerated among much of the Sikh community but smoking or consuming any form of tobacco is a much stronger taboo. Sikhs found to be smoking are often shunned by the community.
When visiting a gurudwara (a Sikh place of worship), you will be required to take off your shoes before entry. If you are not wearing a turban or chunni, you will also need to wear a rumaal, a piece of clothing similar to a bandana or handkerchief. Free temporary rumaals are provided outside most gurudwaras. All gurudwaras welcome visitors of all faiths.