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Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak who was born in 1469 in NorthWest India. It developed in an environment heavily influenced by conflict between the Hindu and Muslim religions.

Sikhism comes from the word Sikh, which means a strong and able disciple. The core beliefs of Sikhism are: belief in one God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. It departs from some of the social traditions and structure of Hinduism and Islam such as the caste system and purdah. Sikhism was influenced by reform movements in Hinduism (e.g. Bhakti, monism, Vedic metaphysics, guru ideal, and bhajans) as well as Sufi Islam.

Its founder, Guru Nanak Dev, was born in 1469 to a Hindu family. After four epic journeys (North to Tibet, South to Sri Lanka, East to Bengal and West to Mecca and Baghdad) Guru Nanak preached to Hindus, Muslims and others, and in the process attracted a following of Sikhs or disciples. Religion, he taught, was a way to unite people, but in practice he found that it set men against one another. He particularly regretted the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims. He wanted to go beyond what was being practised by either religion and hence a well-known saying of Guru Nanak Dev is, "There is no Hindu, There is no Muslim." Guru Gobind Singh reinforced these words by saying "Regard the whole human race as equal".

Guru Nanak was opposed to the caste system. His followers referred to him as the guru (teacher). Before his death he designated a new Guru to be his successor and to lead the Sikh community. This procedure was continued, and the tenth and last Guru, Guru Gobind (AD 16661708) initiated the Sikh ceremony in AD 1699 ; and thus gave a distinctive identity to the Sikhs. The five baptised Sikhs were named Panj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones), who in turn baptised the Guru at his request. This is an empowering and democratizing phenomenon rarely seen in other major religions, i.e. a leader acknowledging the primacy of his followers, although Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and was baptised by John.

Shortly before passing away Guru Gobind ordered that Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture, would be the ultimate spiritual authority for the Sikhs and temporal authority would vest in the Khalsa Panth – The Sikh Nation. The first Sikh Holy Scripture was compiled and edited by the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev in AD 1604.(Although some of the earlier gurus are also known to have documented their revelations.) This is one of the few scriptures in the world that has been compiled by the founders of a faith during their own life time. The Sikh Holy Scripture is particularly unique in that it is written in Gurmukhi script but contains many languages including Punjabi, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri and Persian.

Guru Nanak's doctrinal position is clear, despite the appearance that it is a blend of insights originating from two very different faiths. Sikhism's coherence is attributable to its single central concept – the sovereignty of the One God, the Creator. Guru Nanak called God the "True Name" because he wanted to avoid any limiting terms for God. He taught that the True Name, although manifest in many ways, many places and known by many names, is eternally One, the Sovereign and omnipotent God (the Truth of Love).

Guru Nanak ascribed to the concept of maya, regarding material objects and realities as expressions of the creator's eternal truth, which tended to erect "a wall of falsehood" around those who live totally in the mundane world of material desires (consumerism). This materialism prevents them from seeing the ultimate reality, as God created matter as a veil, so that only spiritual minds, free of desire, can penetrate it by the grace of the Guru (Gurprasad).

The world is immediately real in the sense that it is made manifest to the senses as maya, but is ultimately unreal in the sense that God alone is ultimate reality. Retaining the Hindu doctrine of the transmigration of souls, together with its corollary, the law of karma, Guru Nanak advised his followers to end the cycle of reincarnation by living a disciplined life – that is, by moderating egoism and sensuous delights, to live in a balanced worldly manner, and by accepting ultimate reality. Thus, by the grace of Guru (Gurprasad) the cycle of re-incarnation can be broken, and the Sikh can remain in the abode of the Love of God.

A Sikh should balance work, worship and charity - and meditate by repeating God's name, nama japam (another Hindu practice), to enhance spiritual development. Salvation, Guru Nanak said, does not mean entering paradise after a last judgment, but a union and absorption into God, the true name. Sikhs believe in neither heaven nor hell. They strive for the grace of the Guru during the human journey of the soul.

Political pressure from surrounding Muslim nations forced the Sikhs to defend themselves and by the mid-nineteenth century, the Punjab area straddling modern-day India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir was ruled by them. The Sikh's Khalsa Army defeated the invading British army and signed treaties with China.


History of Sikhism

Guru Nanak (14691538), the founder of Sikhism, was born in the village of Talwandi, now called Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in present-day Pakistan. His parents were of Hindu background and he belonged to the mercantile caste. Even as a boy, Nanak was fascinated by religion, and his desire to explore the mysteries of life eventually led him to leave home. He wandered all over India in the manner of Hindu saints. It was during this period that Nanak met Kabir (14411518), a saint revered by both Hindus and Muslims. He made four distinct major journeys, which are called Udasis spanning many thousands of miles.

In 1538, Guru Nanak chose Lehna, his disciple as a successor to the Guruship rather than his son. Bhai Lehna was named Guru Angad and became the second guru of the Sikhs. He continued the work started by the Founder. Guru Amar Das became the third Sikh guru in 1552 at the age of 73. Goindwal became an important centre for Sikhism during the Guruship of Guru Amar Das. He continued to preach the principle of equality for women, the prohibition of Sati and the practise of Langar. In 1567, Emperor Akbar sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have Langar. Guru Amar Das also trained 140 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, Jetha as the fourth Sikh Guru.

Jetha became Guru Ram Das and vigorously undertook his duties as the new guru. He is responsible for the establishment of the city of Ramdaspur later to be named Amritsar. In 1581, Guru Arjan Dev- youngest son of fourth guru - became the Fifth Guru of the Sikhs. In addition to being responsible for the construction of the Golden Temple, he prepared the Sikh Sacred text and his personal addition of some 2,000 plus hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In 1604 he installed the Adi Granth for the first time as the Holy Book of the Sikhs. In 1606, for refusing to make changes to the Guru Granth Sahib, he was tortured and killed by the Mughal rulers of the time.

Guru Hargobind, became the sixth guru of the Sikhs. He carried two swords – one for Spiritual reasons and one for temporal (worldly) reasons. From this point onward, the Sikhs became a military force and always had 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 Teg Bahadur became Guru in 1665 and led the Sikhs until 1675, when he sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Hindus who had come to him for help.

The final Sikh Guru in human form was Guru Gobind Singh who in 1708 made the Guru Granth Sahib the last, perpetual living guru of the Sikhs.

The Gurus of Sikhism

The Ten Gurus of Sikhism

Sikhism was established by ten Gurus, teachers or masters, over the period 1469 to 1708. These teachers were enlightened souls whose main purpose in life was the spiritual and moral well-being of the masses. Each master added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting to the creation of the religion of Sikhism. Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the first Guru and Guru Gobind Singh Ji the final Guru in human form. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji left this world, he made the Sri Guru Granth Sahib the ultimate and final Sikh Guru.

The ten Gurus were:

  1. Guru Nanak Dev Ji
  2. Guru Angad Dev Ji
  3. Guru Amar Das Ji
  4. Guru Ram Das Ji
  5. Guru Arjan Dev Ji
  6. Guru Hargobind Ji
  7. Guru Har Rai Ji
  8. Guru Har Krishan Ji
  9. Guru Teg Bahadur Ji
  10. Guru Gobind Singh Ji

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Main page: Guru Granth Sahib

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, or SGGS for short, is more than a holy book of the Sikh people. The Granth is the eleventh and final Guru of the Sikhs and is held in the highest regard by the Sikhs and is treated just like a living Guru. The SGGS forms the central part of the Sikh place of worship called a gurdwara. The Holy Scripture placed on the dominant platform in the main hall of the gurdwara during the day. It is placed with great respect and dignity upon a throne with beautiful and colourful fabric.

Sikh Religious Philosophy

The Sikh Religious Philosophy can be divided into 5 Sections:

Primary Beliefs and Principles

  1. "Ek Onkaar" - One God: There is only one God, who has infinite qualities and names; She or he (see note below regarding sex neutrality) is the same for all religions. 'He' has no sex, but is present within all things and all places.
  2. Rise Early and Meditate: The early morning hours, before the rising of the sun are used for meditation and experiencing union with God.
  3. Earn One's Living Righteously: One must work hard and honestly and never live off of others, but give to others from the fruits of one's own labour.
  4. Share With Others: One's home is always open to all. All are served and all are welcomed. The fruits of one's labours are always shared with others.
  5. Re-incarnation, Karma & Salvation: All creatures have souls that pass to other bodies upon death until liberation is achieved.
  6. Remember God: Love God, but hold the awe of her or him as well.
  7. Humanhood: All human beings are equal. We are sons and daughters of Waheguru, the Almighty.
  8. Uphold Moral Values: Defend, safeguard, and fight for the rights of all creatures, and in particular your fellow beings.
  9. Personal Sacrifice: Be prepared to give your life for all supreme principles – see the life of Guru Teg Bahadur.
  10. Many Paths lead to God: The Sikhs believe that Salvation can be obtained by non-Sikhs as well.
  11. Positive Attitude to Life: “Chardi Kala” – Always have a positive, optimistic, buoyant view of life.
  12. Disciplined Life: Upon baptism, Sikhs must wear the 5Ks, strictly recite the 5 prayers (Banis), etc.
  13. No Special Worship Days: Sikhs do not believe that any particular day is holier than any other.
  14. Conquer the 5 Thieves: It is every Sikh's duty to defeat these 5 thieves: pride, anger, greed, attachment, and lust.
  15. Attack with 5 Weapons: Contentment, charity, kindness, positive attitude, humility.

For more on this section select Sikhism primary beliefs and principles.

Underlying Values

The Sikhs must believe in the following Values:

  1. Equality: All humans are equal before God.
  2. God’s Spirit: All Creatures have God’s spirits and must be properly respected.
  3. Personal Right: Every person has a right to life but this right is restricted.
  4. Actions Count: Salvation is obtained by one’s actions – Good deeds, remembrance of God, etc.
  5. Living a Family Life: Must live as a family unit (householder) to provide and nurture children.
  6. Sharing: It is encouraged to share and give to charity 10 percent of one’s net earnings.
  7. Accept God’s Will: Develop your personality so that you recognise happy events and miserable events as one.
  8. The 4 Fruits of Life: Truth, Contentment, Contemplation and Naam, (in the Name of God).

For more information on this section select Sikhism underlying values.

Prohibited Behaviour

  1. Non-Logical Behaviour: Superstitions and rituals not meaningful to Sikhs (pilgrimages, fasting and bathing in rivers; circumcision; worship of graves, idols, pictures; compulsory wearing of the veil for women; etc;)
  2. Material Obsession: (“Maya”) Accumulation of materials have no meaning in Sikhism. Wealth, Gold, Portfolio, Stocks, Commodities, properties will all be left here on Earth when you depart. Do not get attached to them.
  3. Sacrifice of Creatures: Sati – widows throwing themselves in the funeral pyre of their husbands; lamb and calf slaughter to celebrate holy occasions; etc are forbidden.
  4. Non-Family Oriented Living: A Sikh is not allowed to live as a recluse, beggar, yogi, monk, nun, or celibate.
  5. Worthless Talk: Bragging, gossip, lying, etc are not permitted.
  6. Intoxication: Drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking tobacco, and consumption of other intoxicants are not permitted.
  7. No Priestly Class: Sikhs do not have to depend on a priest for performing any religious functions.

For more information on this section select Sikhism Prohibited Behaviour

Technique and Methods

  1. Naam Japo: - Free Service Sewa, Meditation & Prayer Simran, Sacred Music Kirtan
  2. Kirat Karni: - Honest, Earnings, labour, etc while remembering the Lord
  3. Wand kay Shako: - Share your food with others in need, Free Food langar, Donation 10% of income Daasvand, etc.

For more information select Sikhism Technique and Methods

Other Observations

  1. Not Son of God: The Gurus were not in the Christian sense “Sons of God”. Sikhism says we are all the children of God and by deduction, God is our mother/father.
  2. All Welcome: Members of all religions can visit Sikh temples (Gurdwaras) but must observe certain rules – cover your head, remove shoes, no smoking or drinking intoxicants.
  3. Multi-Level Approach: Sikhism recognises the concept of a multi-level approach to achieving your target as a disciple of the faith. For example, “Sahajdhari” (slow adopters) are Sikhs who have not donned the full 5Ks but are still Sikhs nevertheless.


The Punjabi language does not have a sex for God. Unfortunately, when translating, the proper meaning cannot be correctly conveyed without using Him/His/He/Brotherhood, S/He etc., but this distorts the meaning by giving the impression that God is masculine, which is not the message in the original script. The reader must correct for this every time these words are used.

Sikhs Today

Today, Sikhs can be found all over India and also elsewhere in the world. Sikh men as well as some Sikh women can be identified by their practice of always wearing a turban to cover their long hair. The turban is quite different from the ones worn by the Muslim clergy and should not be confused. (In some countries, laws requiring motorcyclists to wear crash helmets had to be modified to accommodate them.) The surname Singh1 (meaning lion) is very common. Of course, not all people named Singh are necessarily Sikhs.

Sikhs Five Ks

Main article: The Five Ks

Practicing Sikhs are bound to wear five items, known as the 5Ks, at all times. It is done either out of respect for the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, or out of sense of duty or from understanding of their function and purpose and relevance in daily life. It is important to note that the 5 k's are not merely present for symbolic purposes. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, ordered these 5 K's to be worn so that a Sikh could activly use them to make a difference to their own spirituality and to others' spirituality.

The 5 items are: Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (small comb), Kara (circular braclet), Kirpan (small sword) and Kacha (shorts).

Sikhs Around the World

A Hindu-Sikh know as Yogi Bhajan brought the Sikh way of life to many young people in the Western hemisphere. In addition to Indian-born Sikhs, there are now thousands of individuals of Western origin who were not born as Sikhs, but have embraced the Sikh way of life and live and teach all over the world.

In the late 1970s and 1980s a limited political separatist movement arose in India with the mission to create a separate Sikh state, called Khalistan, in the Punjab area of India and Pakistan.

Currently, there are about 23 million Sikhs in the world, making it the fifth largest world religion. Approximately 19 million Sikhs live in India with the majority living in the state of Punjab ('greater Punjab' extends across the India-Pakistan border but few Sikhs remained in Pakistan due to persecution during the split of India in 1947). Large populations of Sikhs can be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, and USA. They also comprise a significant minority in Malaysia and Singapore, where they are sometimes made fun of for their distinctive appearance, but are respected for their drive and high education standards, as they dominate the legal profession.

Following the Indian general election, 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh has become the first Sikh Prime Minister of India. He is also the first non-Hindu Prime Minister of India.

Modern Persecution of and Discrimination Against Sikhs

India, 1980s

In India, Sikhs faced persecution following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This assassination was an act of revenge by her Sikh body guards for the Golden Temple Massacre of 1984, when a group of Sikhs following Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge or occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a Sikh holy site.

After attempts at negotiation failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the temple cleared by troops. Refusal to depart resulted in a firefight, with 83 army personnel killed and 493 Sikh occupiers killed(including many innocent regular worshipers who were caught between this unexpected event), as well as many more wounded. Many Sikhs considered the use of force in their holy place to be an unforgivable insult, and her assassination was claimed to be a response. Supporters of the government move argue that attack was justified since large amounts of ammunition were being stored by Sikh militants within the temple, and guns and shells were supposedly recovered during the army action.

In the aftermath of the assassination, many Sikh communities were attacked by some fanatic members Gandhi's Congress Party, then under the control of her son Rajiv Gandhi, who would go on to become Prime Minister. Thousands of Sikhs died as a result of this persecution. [1]

United States, 2000s

Following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack some Americans turned on Sikhs. They mistook symbols of religious belief, such as turbans and beards, for the garb of those who carried out the terrorist attacks. Some vigilantes in the United States threatened and hurt individuals within the Sikh community. In the months after 9-11, the Sikh community received nearly 300 reported incidents of threats, assaults, violence, and even death. While these incidents do not constitute persecution of Sikhs per se, but rather persecution for perceived adherence to Islam, they illustrate a profound lack of awareness of the traditions of the Sikh and the Islamic community. This persecution is ironic since Sikhs fought the Moghuls, followers of the Islamic faith, in India for many years. It is also important that this desultory 'persecution' not obscure the fact that hundreds of thousands of Sikh-Americans live in the United States and enjoy the highest levels of respect and religious tolerance. Still, many Americans are relatively unaware of the Sikhs population in the United States and often times mistake them for practitioners of Islam. SikhNet has been a constant presence for educating people about Sikhs and raising awareness of Sikh values and indentity.

The U.S. senate issued a resolution which condemns bigotry against Sikh-Americans. The texts of Senate Concurrent Resolution 74 and the introductory statement by Senator Richard Durbin from the October 2 Congressional Record are available here:

U.S. Senate condemns bigotry against Sikhs

France, 2000s

The French state has banned children in schools from wearing 'ostentatious' signs of their religion, since September 2003. While the law is primarily intended to ban the Islamic Hijab from schools it catches the Sikh Turban also. Whilst French Sikhs number only 5,000-7,000, internationally Sikhs have been making representations to their Governments to put pressure on France to either drop the ban, or make an exemption for Sikhs. 4 Sikhs were eventually expelled after the first semester.

Other Observations

All Welcomed

Members of all religions can visit Sikh temples (gurdwaras = the Guru's door) but are asked to observe the following rules: Covering the head (there will be bandana-like rumaal's available there), taking off one's shoes, to not smoke (even in the vicinity of the gurdwara), and also to not bring or possess any alcoholic and tobacco related items when entering the gurdwara. Visitors are asked to respect these things for a pleasant visit.

Multi-level Approach

Sikhism recognises the concept of a Multi-level approach to achieving your target as a disciple of the faith. For example, Sahajdhari (slow adopters) are Sikhs who have not donned the full 5Ks but are still Sikhs nonetheless.

See also Sikh religious philosophy.

The Sikh pages

This link will take you to an index of the most important pages on Sikhism, the Sikh pages.

External Links

Audio links

Kirtan links

Nitnem links

1. Japji Sahib

2. Jaap Sahib

3. Anand Sahib

4. Rehras Sahib

5. Kirtan Sohila

6. Tav-Prasad Savaiye

7. Chaupai


Note 1. Singh, which is often thought to be the surname outside of India, is actually the middle name for Sikh men. A lot of reasons lead this to be used or perceived as a last name e.g.

  1. "Coming from a low caste family which is often easily identifiable by surnames. People drop the last name and use Singh as last name.".... is a common misconception. Since surnames are usually associated with castes, many sikhs prefer to drop their surname in favour of Singh.
  2. Errors on identity papers like passports etc.
  3. Singh was supposed to be the common surnames of all Sikhs as a symbol of shattering all caste distinctions.

Last updated: 08-02-2005 00:28:32
Last updated: 08-17-2005 11:33:08