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Introduction to Sikhism

 

INTRODUCTION

Over twenty million Sikhs follow a revealed, distinct, and unique religion born five centuries ago in the Punjab region of northern India. Between 1469 and 1708, ten Gurus preached a simple message of truth, devotion to God, and universal equality. Often mistaken as a combination of Hinduism and Islam, the Sikh religion can be characterized as a completely independent faith:

Sikhism rejects idolatry, the caste system, ritualism, and asceticism. It recognizes the equality between both genders and all religions, prohibits the intake of any intoxicants, and encourages an honest, truthful living. Sikhs have their own holy scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Written, composed, and compiled by the Sikh Gurus themselves, the Guru Granth Sahib serves as the ultimate source of spiritual guidance for Sikhs. While the Sikhs hold their Gurus in high reverence, they are not to be worshipped; Sikhs may only worship God.

Members of the Sikh community are mainly concentrated in their homeland, Punjab; however, substantial Sikh populations exist throughout the rest of India and the world. Punjabi, a variant of the Hindi language with some Persian influence, is the spoken and written language of the Sikh people. Male members of the Sikh religion use the name, Singh (lion), as their middle or last name, while females use the name, Kaur (princess). Sikhs tend to be industrious and pioneering; this accounts for their general success wherever they live and settle. The hard-working nature of the Sikhs is derived from their religion, which can be best characterized as a faith of unlimited optimism.

 

BASICS OF SIKHISM

  1. Sikhism is the youngest of the World religions. Its history dates back to 1469.
  2. Its founder Guru Nanak Dev was born in a village called Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, in 1469.
  3. The Sikhs have ten Gurus. It is believed that they all had same soul though they had different bodies, and that it was Guru Nanak Dev's spirit which passed on into his nine successors.
  4. The Sikhs call God as 'Waheguru', meaning that God is great. Their common salutation is Sat Siri Akal (God is supreme and is immortal).
    “Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh”
    has a two fold meaning. It denotes a special relationship between God and those who dedicate their lives to His love and service. Also it is the expression of a devotee’s faith in the ultimate triumph of Truth over Falsehood. This Sikh salutation means “Khalsa belongs to God and to God alone belongs the Victory”.
  5. Guru Granth Sahib is the holy book of the Sikhs. It is believed that the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh bestowed upon the Granth the title of the Guru.
  6. The Sikhs worship only one Almighty God in his abstract form. They are not allowed to worship any idols, images or photographs.
  7. According to the Sikh belief, God is the eternal truth; he is beyond fear, enmity and death. He is unborn and is self illuminated. He himself is the creator, preserver and destroyer.
  8. The Sikhs believe that all existence is controlled by one omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Lord called by different names: Ishwar, Jehovah, Allah and Waheguru.

Who is a Sikh:

A Sikh is any person whose faith consists of belief in One God, the ten Sikh Gurus, the Guru Granth Sahib and other scriptures and teachings of the Sikh Gurus. Additionally, he or she must believe in the necessity and importance of `Amrit’, the Sikh baptism.

God and the Sikhs:

According to the Sikh belief, God is all omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. The sun, moon/s, wind, fire, water, vegetation and all other things which exist are His witnesses. A Sikh must worship only the abstract form of God. The worship of images or any other object is strictly forbidden.

God is both the creator and the destroyer. He is beyond birth and death. He is both merciful and compassionate. He is beyond fear and enmity. He is self illuminated. He is the Master of all the treasures. All our possessions are a result of His grace.

The Sikhs call God as Waheguru, meaning the most wonderful Master.

The belief of the Sikhs in Waheguru is similar to that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam i.e., God is the greatest power, He is supreme, He is the king of kings, He pervades everywhere, He knows the inner thoughts of everyone, He is the giver, He existed before the start of the time, He existed when the time was started, He exists now and He will exist forever.

Relationship with God:

The Sikh Gurus called Waheguru as Master and themselves as his servants. In some hymns they called Him as Father, Mother, Friend and Brother as well1. Like Jesus Christ, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, in one of his hymns, called himself as God’s son2.

Universality:

Sikhism does not believe in asceticism, celibacy or living alone at mountains or in caves or in forests in the search of Truth and God. It also rejects the orders of monasteries. For a Sikh the true life is the life of a householder. Living in a family environment and by serving the community both Truth and God can be realised. Thus it rejects the order of monks (Buddhism and Jainism) and nuns (Christianity).

The Sikh teachings are based on the principles of Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of humankind.

Sikhism rejects the concept of chosen people (as in Judaism) and caste system (as in Hinduism); it also rejects the concept of entering `Nirvana’ without the blessings of God (as in Buddhism and Jainism).

In a Sikh temple people of all the faiths are welcome. The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib also has in it the hymns composed by both Hindu and Muslim saints of various denominations.

The first five baptised Sikhs, called the beloved ones, were also from both lower and upper Hindu castes. They were the first Khalsa, the pure ones:

Bhai Daya Singh, aged 30, a Khatri from Lahore (Punjab)
Bhai Dharam Singh, aged 33, a Jat from Delhi
Bhai Mohkam Singh, aged 36, a washerman from Dwarka (Gujrat)
Bhai Sahib Singh, aged 37, a barber from Bidar (Karnatak)
Bhai Himmat Singh, aged 39, a water carrier from Puri (Orissa)

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth prophet of the Sikhs, urged his followers to drop caste symbols after their names and instead write a common surname: Singh, meaning lion, for men and Kaur, meaning princess for women.

The Khalsa:

A baptised Sikh is called Khalsa, who must observe and follow strict code of conduct.

He must-

    1. worship only one Almighty God,
    2. recite five prescribed banis (hymns) everyday
    3. learn Punjabi language and read Guru Granth Sahib,
    4. wear and observe the significance of five Ks: kesh -uncut hair, kanga-a small comb, kara-a stainless steel bracelet, kirpan - a sword and kuchcha - an underwear.
    5. live a truthful life and treat all humans as equal

He must not-

    1. cut body hair
    2. eat kosher meat,
    3. smoke, take drugs or intoxicants,
    4. have faith in black magic, superstitions, charms and rituals

Rules, Concepts and Commandments:

A Sikh lives by the rules made for him by the ten Gurus. The fundamental rules, concepts and the commandments are as follows:


Worship of God

  1. Worship only God and no one else.
  2. Make worship and prayer a part of your daily life.
  3. Do not make images of God, worship him in his abstract form.

Truthful life and honest living

  1. Work hard and work with honesty.
  2. Lead a truthful life.
  3. Share your earnings with others.
  4. Help the needy and the poor.
  5. Love your children.
  6. Respect your parents.
  7. Do not harm others.

Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man

  1. Believe that everyone is the child of God.
  2. Believe that all human-beings are equal.
  3. Do not discriminate on the basis of colour, religion, cast and creed.

Rituals and Superstitions.

  1. Do not believe in any rituals and superstitions.
  2. Do not believe in the worship of images, tombs and graves.

Social and Family Guidelines

  1. Do not take alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
  2. Do not eat halal meat.
  3. Do not eat any food which inflames the passions.
  4. Be true to your parents and children.
  5. Do not steal.
  6. Do not gamble.
  7. Love and respect your guests.

The belief

  1. Believe in the oneness of the ten Gurus.
  2. Believe in the sovereignty of Guru Granth Sahib
  3. Believe in the spiritual authority of the five takhats.

The Nitnem (Daily prayers)

The banis which must be recited everyday are:

The baniThe authorWhere is it recorded
Japji SahibGuru Nanak Devpages 1-8 Guru Granth Sahib
Jap SahibGuru Gobind Singhpages 1-10 Dasam Granth
SwayasGuru Gobind Singhpages 13-15Dasam Granth
RehrasGuru Nanakpages 8-12 Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Amardas
Guru Amardas
Guru Arjan
Kirtan SohilaGuru Nanakpages 12-13 Guru Granth Sahib
Guru Ramdas
Guru Arjan

The Sikh prayers and their timings:


The prayers are classified as: Individual and Collective prayers. The Individual prayers are Morning prayers: Jap ji, Jap Sahib and Sudha Swayas Evening prayer: Rehras Sahib Night time prayer: Kirtan Sohila

The Congregational prayer is: Morning prayer: Asa di var(composed by Guru Nanak Dev)

In addition to the above prayers a Sikh normally reads the following: At the end of every service or prayer: Anand Sahib (composed by Guru Amardas) At any special occasion or otherwise: Sukhmani Sahib (composed by Guru Arjan) At the time of marriage: Lavan (composed by Guru Ramdas) At the time of cremation: Kirtan Sohila

Some points to remember:

  1. Out of the 10 Gurus, only 3 Gurus lived beyond 50 years of age.
  2. All Gurus were married and had children except Guru Harkrishen who died at the young age of 8.
  3. Guru Arjan, Guru Hargobind, Guru Harrai, Guru Harkrishen and Guru Gobind Singh became Gurus when they were either children or were in their teens. Guru Amardas became Guru when he was in his seventies.
  4. The period of Guruship ranges from 3 years (Guru Harkrishen) to 38 years (Guru Hargobind).
  5. Eight out of ten Gurus founded new towns and set up new gurdwaras and missionary centres there.
  6. The relationship of the Gurus was as follows:
    • Guru Angad to Guru Nanak, a follower
    • Guru Amardas to Guru Angad, a follower
    • Guru Ramdas to Guru Amardas, son-in-law
    • Guru Arjan to Guru Ramdas, youngest son
    • Guru Hargobind to Guru Arjan, only son
    • Guru Harrai to Guru Hargobind, grandson
    • Guru Harkrishen to Guru Harrai, younger son
    • Guru Tegh Bahadur to Guru Harkrishen, grand-uncle
    • Guru Gobind Singh to Guru Tegh Bahadur, only son.

The main sources of Sikh material to understand the religion in depth are:

  1. Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book
  2. Dasm Granth, the holy book of the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh
  3. Janam Sakhis, the life stories of the Sikh Gurus
  4. Hukamnama, the letter written by the Sikh Gurus
  5. Varan Bhai Gurdas, the hymns composed by Bhai Gurdas I & II, contemporaries of Guru Arjan and Guru Gobind Singh Ji respectively.

The Sikh Festivals:

The Sikhs celebrate both religious and social festivals. The religious festivals are however called Gurbpurbs

The important Sikh festival calendar is as follows:

MonthGurpurbOther festivals
Jan-FebBirthday Guru Harrai
Birthday of Guru Harrai
Maghi, Basant
Feb-MarchxxxxxxxxxxHola Mohalla
March-AprilBirthday Guru AngadBaisakhi
April-MayBirthday Guru Arjan
Birthday Guru Tegh Bahadur
May-JuneBirthday Guru Amardas
Martyrdom day Guru Arjan
June-JulyBirthday Guru Hargobind
July-AugustBirthday Guru Harkrishen
August-SeptemberxxxxxxxxxxxxxRakhsha Bandan
September-OctoberBirthday Guru Ramdas
Installation Guru Granth Sahib
October-NovemberBirthday Guru NanakDiwali
November-DecemberMartyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur
December-JanuaryBirthday Guru Gobind SinghLohri

The Sikh Shrine:Gurudwara:

  1. A Sikh shrine is called a Gurdwara, meaning the doorway to the house of God.
  2. The first Gurdwara was built by Guru Nanak Dev at Kartarpur.
  3. The Sikh Gurdwaras must have a religious flag, called Nishan Sahib in the front of the Gurdwara.
  4. Guru Granth is placed on the far side centre of the hall.
  5. There should be no photographs of the Gurus or others in the hall where Guru Granth Sahib is installed.
  6. Gurdwaras normally have two halls/rooms. The main hall where Guru Granth Sahib is placed and the second hall where the community kitchen is served.
  7. All entrants must take off their shoes, wash their feet and cover their heads before entering the main hall.
  8. All Sikh services end with the distribution of parshad (sweet pudding) and langar (dinner/lunch).

    Five historical Sikh gurdwaras have been declared as the Sikh Takhats (thrones). These gurdwaras are vested with the power and authority to regulate the religious life of the Sikh nation. The head priests of these shrines constitute a Sikh parliament and they are empowered with executive, legislative and judicial powers regarding the Sikh religious issues. All Sikhs are under the authority of the five takhats. The takhats are as follows:

    The name of the ShrineThe names of the Guru its relates to:
    Takhat Akal TakhatFounded by Guru Hargobind
    Takhat Patna SahibThe birth place of Guru Gobind Singh
    Takhat Hazoor SahibThe place where Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last.
    Takhat Kesgarh SahibThe birth place of the Khalsa
    Takhat Damdama SahibThe place where Guru Gobind Singh composed the second version of Guru Granth Sahib.

    All the five takhats relate to the two Gurus who were Saint-soldiers.

Excerpts taken from:
‘Sikhism – An Introduction’
Dr Sukhbir Singh Kapoor
Vice Chancellor World Sikh University, London

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