Ik Onkaar - There Is Only One God
Sikhism is one of the younger faiths of the world, as compared with religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity or Islam. It is a monotheistic faith, preaching the existence of only one God, and teaching ideals that may be universally accepted today and in the future: honesty, compassion, humility, piety, social commitment, and most of all tolerance for other religions.
The word 'Sikh', derived from the Sanskrit word 'shishya', means a disciple, a learner, a seeker of truth. A Sikh believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, embodied in the Sikh Holy Scripture, Guru Granth Sahib1. Additionally, he or she must take Amrit2, the Sikh Baptism.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The succeeding nine Gurus nurtured and developed his ideas and teachings. Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru, brought to an end to the line of human Gurus and in 1708, installed Guru Granth Sahib, as the permanent Guru of the Sikhs.
The Sikh Gurus provided guidance for about 240 years. They taught the basic values of freedom, brotherhood, charity, obedience, understanding, sympathy, patience, humility, simplicity, and piety, and outlined the path to spirituality in life. The Gurus themselves said that they were human and were not to be worshipped as God . They considered themselves to be mere servants of God. Guru Gobind Singh said:
"See me only as the slave of God.
Let this be known beyond the shadow of doubt."
The Basic Belief of the Sikhs
The Mool Mantar (literally, the root verse; the first hymn composed by Guru Nanak) sums up the basic belief of the Sikhs. Guru Granth Sahib begins with the Mool Mantar. Every Sikh is expected to recite it daily. The English translation is given below:
Ik Onkaar There is only one God
Sat Naam His Name is Truth
Karta Purkh He is the Creator
Nir Bhau He is without fear
Nir Vair He is without hate
Akaal Moorat He is beyond time (Immortal)
Ajooni He is beyond birth and death
Saibhang He is self-existent
Gur Parsaad He is realised by the Guru's grace.
The Ten Gurus of the Sikhs
The "Guru"3 in Sikhism is an enlightener and messenger. The word 'Guru' does not always refer to a human being. The Guru's word or hymn is also Guru.
"The universe is the temple of God but
without the Guru darkness reigns supreme."
The Gurus have raised the conscience of the Sikhs to such a level where they can be one with God. They are the light bearers for humanity. They are the messengers of the Timeless. They renew the eternal wisdom. They are universal men who free our minds from bigotry and superstitions, dogmas and rituals, and emphasise the simplicity of the religion. They appear outside in human form to those who crave for visible and physical guides. The enlighteners are the inner selves.
The first of the Gurus and the founder of the Sikh religion was Guru Nanak. He was born in Talwandi, now known as Nankana Sahib (near Lahore in Pakistan) in 1469 AD. Guru Nanak married and had two sons. This was the darkest period of India's history when the people were absolutely divided and demoralised. Guru Nanak himself describes the scene in the following words:
"The age is a knife. Kings are butchers. They dispense justice when their palms are filled. Decency and laws have vanished, falsehood stalks abroad. Then came Babar to Hindustan (India). Death disguised as a Moghul made war on us. There was slaughter and lamentation. Did not Thou, O Lord, feel the pain?"
In addition, the priests had reduced religion to a mockery. The public was blind in its faith, and governed by superstitions. Seeing all this, Guru Nanak started building a nation of self-respecting men and women, devoted to God and their leaders, filled with a sense of equality and brotherhood. He pronounced, for the benefit of all:
"To worship an image, to make pilgrimage to a shrine, to remain in a desert, and yet have an impure mind, is all in vain; to be saved worship only the TRUTH."
"Keeping no feeling of enmity for anyone. God is contained in every bosom."
"FORGIVENESS is love at its highest power."
"Where there is forgiveness there is God Himself."
"Do not wish evil for anyone."
"Do not speak harsh of anyone."
"Do not obstruct anyone's work."
"If a man speaks ill of you, forgive him."
"Practice physical, mental and spiritual endurance."
"Help the suffering even at the cost of your own life."
Against social inequality Guru Nanak preached:
"There is only One Father of us all, And we are all His children.
Recognise all human race as one."
Giving women their proper place in society, He said,
"Born of women, nourished by women, wedded to women, why do they revile women? How can women be called inferior when they give birth to kings and prophets?"
Guru Nanak was a friend of the down-trodden.
"There are low castes, lowliest of the low.
I, Nanak, have my place with them; what have
I to do with the high born? God's grace is
there where the down-trodden are taken care of."
He also preached the concept of "Honest-Productive-Labour", kirat kamai.
"Only such a person can realise the spiritual
path who earns by the sweat of his brow and
shares his earnings with the needy."
There was not a single aspect of earthly or spiritual life which was not enlightened by Guru Nanak. He passed away on 7 September 1539.
The second Guru, Siri Guru Angad Dev Ji, was born in 1504 and first met Guru Nanak in 1532. Guru Angad invented and introduced the Gurmukhi (written form of Punjabi) script and made it known to all Sikhs. The scripture of Guru Granth Sahib Ji is written in Gurmukhi. This scripture is also the basis of Punjabi language. Guru Angad was a model of self-less service to his Sikhs and showed them the way to devotional prayers.
The third Guru, Siri Guru Amardas Ji, was born in 1479. He met Guru Angad in 1541 who transmitted the same Light to Guru Amardas in 1552. Guru Amardas took up cudgels of spirituality to fight against caste restrictions, caste prejudices and the curse of untouchability. He strengthened the tradition of the free kitchen, Guru Ka Langar (started by Guru Nanak), and made his disciples, whether rich or poor, whether high born or low born (according to the Hindu caste system), have their meals together sitting in one place. He thus established social equality amongst the people. Guru Amardas introduced the Anand Karaj marriage ceremony for the Sikhs, replacing the Hindu form. He also completely abolished amongst the Sikhs, the custom of Sati, in which a married women was forced to burn herself and die with the funeral of her husband. The custom of Paradah, in which a woman covered her face with a veil was also done away with.
The fourth Guru, Siri Guru Ramdas Ji, was born in 1534. He became the Guru in 1574. He started the construction of the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. The temple remains open on all sides and at all times to every one. This indicates that the Sikhs believe in One God who has no partiality for any particular place, direction or time.
The fifth Guru, Siri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, was bestowed upon with the "Divine Light" by Guru Ramdas Ji in 1581. He was born in 1563. Guru Arjan was a saint and scholar of the highest quality and repute. He compiled the hymns and compositions of Guru Nanak and his other predecessors, selected the sacred scriptures of some Hindu and Muslim saints, composed his own hymns and thus compiled the Adi Granth4. He proved that holy beings of whatever caste or creed are equally worthy of respect and reverence. The achievements and the works of Guru Arjan upset the reigning Emperor, Jahangir who implicated him and tortured him in most inhumane way. The Guru suffered quietly and bravely and set to the whole world an unequaled example of self-sacrifice and peaceful sufferings. Despite being made to sit in boiling water, and on a red hot iron plate while burning sand was poured over his body, he chanted cheerfully and softly "Sweet is Thy Will, My Lord; Thy grace alone I Beseech". He breathed his last in 1606.
The sixth Guru, Siri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, was born in 1595. He became Guru in 1606. He built many religious shrines and felt the necessity of imparting the spirit of soldiership to the Sikhs and urged them to be well versed in the art of using sword and other arms for self-defence and self-preservation. He himself wore two swords, Miri, representing political sovereignty and Piri, signifying spiritual sovereignty; a balance of material and spiritual life in the world.
The seventh Guru, Siri Har Rai Ji, born in 1630, spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the Gospel of Guru Nanak. He also continued the grand task of nation-building initiated by Guru Hargobind.
The eighth Guru, Siri Har Krishan Ji, was born in 1656. The "Divine Light" was bestowed upon him in 1661. To the Sikhs he proved to be the symbols of service, purity and truth. The Guru gave his life while serving and healing the epidemic-stricken people in Delhi. Anyone who invokes Him with a pure heart has no difficulties whatsoever in their life.
The ninth Guru, Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, was born in 1621 in Amritsar. He became Guru in 1664. He established the town of Anandpur. The Guru laid down his life for the protection of Hindus, their Tilak (devotional mark painted on the forehead) and their sacred thread. He was a firm believer in the right of people to the freedom of worship. It was for this cause that he faced martyrdom for the defence of the down-trodden Hindus. So pathetic was the torture of Guru Tegh Bahadur that his body had to be cremated clandestinely at Delhi while his head was taken four hundred kilometers away to Anandpur Sahib for cremation.
The tenth Guru, Siri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, was born in 1666 and became Guru after the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. He created the Khalsa (The Pure Ones) in 1699, changing the Sikhs into a saint-soldier order with special symbols and sacraments for protecting themselves. He fought many wars against oppression. His four sons also gave their lives in defence of their faith. He died in 1708.
Thus the tree whose seed was planted by Guru Nanak, came to fruition when Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, and on 3 October 1708, appointed Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru. He commanded: "Let all bow before my successor, Guru Granth. The Word is the Guru now."
Guru Granth Sahib5 is the scriptures of the Sikhs. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib. The Granth was written in Gurmukhi script and it contains the actual words and verses as uttered by the Sikh Gurus. Initially known as the Adi Granth, it was compiled by the fifth Guru Arjan and installed in 1604, in the Harimander Sahib (known as Golden Temple), Amritsar. The tenth Guru Gobind Singh added to the Adi Granth the composition of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. It is believed that four copies of the Granth Sahib were prepared; the first one was sent to the Harimander Sahib at Amritsar, the second to Anandpur, the third to Patna and the fourth was kept by him at Nander. Guru Gobind Singh did not include his own verses in the Granth due to his modesty and humility.
When Guru Gobind Singh ended the line of living Sikh Gurus by raising the Adi Granth to the status of a permanent Guru and renamed it Guru Granth Sahib. He then commanded the Sikhs that it was to be revered as the body and spirit of the Ten Gurus.
Every copy of Guru Granth Sahib consists of 1430 pages. It contains the Banis (the sacred compositions) of the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru as well as a number of passages of verses written by several saints from Muslims, Hindus and even so called "untouchable". This was done to demonstrate the Sikh respect for other saints and tolerance for all faiths. Altogether, Guru Granth Sahib includes 5894 Shabads (hymns or holy verses) which are arranged in 31 Ragas (musical measures). The first verse is Mool Mantar (or Mantra), the Root Verse, followed by daily prayer or Nitnem namely, Japji, Sodar and Kirtan Sohila. The remaining verses have been arranged according to their individual musical patterns or Ragas which began with Siri Raga and end with Jai-jiwanti.
Guru Granth Sahib is an anthology of prayers and hymns. Most of the hymns are addressed to God and often describe the devotee's condition: his aspirations and yearning, his agony in separation and his longing to be with Lord. The subject of Guru Granth Sahib is truth: how to live a truthful living, that is, an ultimate for an ideal person. As Guru Nanak states in the Mool Mantra, God is the Ultimate Truth and one has to cultivate those qualities which are associated with him, in order to like Him. The basic concept behind the hymns is that sacred music, when sung or listened to with devotion and undivided attention, can link the individual's consciousness with God. A mind may become stable and enjoy the peace of His divine Presence, as listening to the hymns can exert a powerful influence on the mind and help to establish its communion with God.
In Guru Granth Sahib, revelation and Raga go hand in hand. The Gurus were emphatic about the religious value of sacred music or Kirtan and stressed its continuous use, as source of divine joy and bliss. Sacred music is fine art wedded closely to the spiritual theme. It is devotional music in praise of the Glory of God conveyed by melody and rhythm. The goal or objective of Kirtan is to put the individual soul in tune with God.
Guru Granth Sahib is a book of Revelation. It conveys the Word of the Master through His messengers on earth. It is universal in its scope. The greatness of Guru Granth Sahib lies not only in its being the holy scripture of the Sikhs but also in it being a general scripture available to mankind, intended for everybody, everywhere.
The Granth also explains what Guru Nanak meant by a "perfect individual" or a Gurmukh. It is a remarkable storehouse of spiritual knowledge and teachings. It does not preach any rites or rituals but stresses meditation on the Name of God. Through its teachings, it can enable men and women to lead a purposeful and rewarding life while being productive members of a society. It seeks universal peace and the good of all mankind. Guru Granth Sahib also stresses the democratic way of life and the equality of all people. It teaches that we are Karm Yogis, that is, we reap what we sow. The emphasis is on moral actions, noble living and working for the welfare of all people. Respect and veneration for Guru Granth Sahib does not imply idol worship, but rather respect for a divine message, the ideas and ideals contained in the Sikh scripture. Meditation on the True Word, Satnam or the Wonderful Enlightener, Waheguru, or on any line of a verse in Guru Granth Sahib, may bring the true devotee or disciple to be in tune with God.
Guru Gobind Singh invited his followers from all over India to a special congregation at Anandpur on Baisakhi Day, 30 March 1699. He asked, with a naked sword in his hand, "Is there any one among you who is prepared to die for the Sikh Faith?" When people heard his call, they were taken aback. Some of the wavering followers left the congregation, while other began to look at one another in amazement. After a few minutes, a Sikh from Lahore named Daya Ram stood up and offered his head to the Guru. The Guru took him to a tent pitched close by, and after some time, came out with a blood dripping sword. The Sikhs thought Daya Ram had been slain. The Guru repeated his demand calling for another Sikh who was prepared to die at his command. The second Sikh who offered himself was Dharam Das. Thereafter, three more, Mohkam Chand, Sahib Chand and Himmat Rai, offered their lives to the Guru.
Later, these five Sikhs were given new robes and presented to the congregation. They constituted the Panj Pyare: the Five Beloved Ones, who were baptised as the Khalsa or the Pure Ones with the administration of Amrit. The Guru declared:
Since Guru Nanak, it is the Charanamrit (water used for washing the Guru's feet) which has been administered to the devotees. But from now on, I shall baptise them with water stirred with a double-edged sword - Khanda.
Upon administering amrit to the Five Beloved Ones, the Guru asked them to baptise him in the same manner, thus emphasising equality between the Guru and his disciples.
Guru Gobind Singh named the new ceremony, Khanday-da-Amrit, namely the baptism of the double-edged sword. He stirred water in an iron bowl with the sword, reciting five major compositions, Japji, Jaap, Anand Sahib, Ten Sawaiyas and Chaupi, while the five Sikhs stood facing him. The Guru's wife put some sugar-puffs into the water. The nectar thus obtained was called Khanday-da-Amrit. This implied that the new Khalsa brotherhood would not only be full of courage and heroism, but also filled with humility.
Briefly, the Khalsa concept has been captured by G.C. Narang in Transformation of Sikhism:
Abolition of prejudice, equality of privilege amongst one another and with the Guru, common worship, common place of pilgrimage, common baptism for all classes and lastly, common external appearance - these were the means besides common leadership and the community of aspiration which Gobind Singh employed to bring unity among his followers and by which he bound them together into a compact mass6.
The creation of Khalsa marked the culmination of about 240 years of training given by the ten Gurus to their Sikhs. The Guru wanted to create ideal people who should be perfect in all respects, that is a combination of devotion (Bhakti) and strength (Shakti). He combined charity (Deg) with the sword (Tegh) in the image of his Sikh.
The Khalsa was to be a saint, a soldier and a scholar, with high moral and excellent character. He or she would be strong, courageous, learned and wise. In order to mould his personality the Guru inculcated in him the five virtues - sacrifice, cleanliness, honesty, charity and courage, and prescribed a Rehat - the Sikh code of discipline. His character would be strengthened by the spirit of God revealed in the Guru's hymns. For this purpose he was asked to recite the five sacred composition or Banis daily.
The combination of virtue and courage is the strength of the Khalsa. This is an assurance against the ruthless exploitation of masses by their masters, and a device for overcoming hurdles that lied in the practice of holiness and spiritualism in daily life. Guru Gobind Singh commanded the Khalsa to use the sword only in times of emergency, that is, when peaceful methods failed and only for self-defence and the protection of the oppressed. His spirit will continue to inspire them for the preservation of peace, order and dignity of mankind for all time to come.
The five K's
The five sacred Sikh symbols prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh are commonly known as Panj Kakars or the 'Five Ks' because they start with letter K representing Kakka in the Punjabi language. They are:
1.Kes or unshorn hair, regarded as a symbol of saintliness. Guru Nanak started the practice of keeping the hair unshorn. The keeping of hair in its natural state is regarded as living in harmony with the will of God, and is a symbol of the Khalsa brotherhood and the Sikh faith. Hair is an integral part of the human body created by God and Sikhism call for its preservation. The shaving or cutting of hair is one of the four taboos or Kurehats.
2.Kangha or the comb is necessary to keep the hair clean and tidy. A Sikh must comb his hair twice a day and tie his turban neatly. The Gurus wore turbans and commanded the Sikhs to wear turbans for the protection of the hair, and promotion of social identity and cohesion. It has thus become an essential part of the Sikh dress.
3.Kara or the steel bracelet symbolises restrain from evil deeds. It is worn on the right wrist and reminds the Sikh of the vows taken by him, that is, he is a servant of the Guru and should not do anything which may bring shame or disgrace. When he looks at the Kara, he is made to think twice before doing anything evil with his hands.
4.Kachh or the soldiers shorts must be worn at all times. It reminds the Sikh of the need for self-restrain over passions and desires. Apart from its moral significance, it ensures briskness during action and freedom of movement at all times. It is a smart dress as compared to the loose dhoti which most Indian wore at that time.
5.Kirpan or the sword is the emblem of courage and self-defence. It symbolises dignity and self-reliance, the capacity and readiness to always defend the weak and the oppressed. It helps sustain one's martial spirit and the determination to sacrifice oneself in order to defend truth, oppression and Sikh moral values.
The Five K's, along with the turban, constitute the Khalsa uniform, which distinguishes a Sikh from any other person in the world, and is essential for preserving the life of the community and fostering the Khalsa brotherhood.
The Five K's are not supposed to foster exclusiveness or superiority. They are meant to keep the Sikhs united in the pursuit of the aims and ideals of the Gurus. They enable them to keep their vows made at the time of baptism. The Sikhs have been known to face torture and death rather than cut their hair or remove any of the sacred symbols.
The Khalsa cannot be anonymous. His religion is known to all. He stands out among people, and any unseemly behaviour or action on his part would be noted as unbecoming of a follower of the Gurus. People would easily blame him if he deviated from the disciplinary code of Guru Gobind Singh.
Along with the maintenance of the Five K's, the Khalsa is required to refrain from committing the four taboos or Kurehats. These are:
1.Trimming, shaving or removing hair from the body.
2 Using tobacco or intoxicants in any form.
3.Eating of kosher or halal meat.
4. Committing adultery.
A Sikh guilty of committing any of these serious breaches is regarded as the fallen one (Patit or Tankhahiya). Guru Gobind Singh declared that as long as the Khalsa followed the Five K's and Sikh code of discipline, he would win glory, but if he showed indifference, his progress would be hampered
The Sikh Insignia - Khanda
The Khanda constitutes three symbols in one. However, the name is derived from the central symbol, Khanda, a special type of double-edged sword which confirms the Sikhs' belief in One God.
*The double-edged sword is the creative power of God which controls the destiny of the whole creation. It is sovereign power over life and death.
*The right edge of the double-edged sword symbolises freedom and authority governed by moral and spiritual values.
*The left edge of the double-edged sword symbolises divine justice which chastises and punishes the wicked oppressors.
*On the left side is the sword of spiritual sovereignty, Piri; on the right side is the sword of political sovereignty, Miri.
There must always be a balance between the two and this balance is emphasised by a inside circle. The circle is what is called the Chakra. This is a symbol of all-embracing divine mani-festation including everything and wanting nothing, without beginning or end, neither first or last, timeless, and absolute. It is the symbol of oneness, unity, justice, humanity and morality. The Chakra was also used by the Sikhs as one of the war weapons against injustice and oppression. Almost all Sikh warriors used to wear it in the eighteenth century.
The Sikh Flag - Nishan Sahib
The Sikh flag is a saffron-coloured triangular-shaped cloth, usually reinforced in the middle with Sikh insignia in blue. It is usually mounted on a long steel pole (which is also covered with saffron-coloured cloth) headed with a Khanda. The Sikh flag is often seen near the entrance to the Gurdwara, standing firmly on the platform, overlooking the whole building. Sikhs show great respect to their flag as it is, indeed, the symbol of the freedom of the Khalsa.
The Sikh Ceremonies
All the Sikh ceremonies like birth, baptism, marriage and death, are simple, inexpensive and have a religious tone. They are held in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and include Kirtan, the singing of appropriate hymns for the occasion, saying of Ardas - formal prayer, and the distribution of Karah Parshad7, sacred food, to the congregation. The baptism ceremony called Amrit described earlier, is the most important of all Sikh ceremonies.
The Naming Ceremony
The Sikh naming or christening ceremony is well established and it takes place in a Gurdwara8 in the presence of relatives and friends. The family offers donations, Karah Parshad and a Rumala which is a covering for Guru Granth Sahib, made of high quality silk, cotton or embroidered cloth. Prayers are offered asking for a special blessing of good health, long life and the Sikh way of life, Gursikhi for the child.
After reciting Ardas, Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random. The first letter of the first word of the hymn on the page is selected as the first letter of the child's name. The given name is common for either sex. The word Kaur meaning 'princess' is added after a girl's name, and the name Singh meaning 'lion' after a boy's. For example, if the first letter is "P", the male child may be given a name like Partap Singh, Pritam Singh or Puran Singh or any other such name beginning with the letter "P". If the newly-born is a girl the name would like wise be, Partap Kaur, Pritam Kaur or Puran Kaur.
When the name is selected by the family, the congregation gives approval by a holy cheer or Jaikara: 'Bolay So Nihal! Sat Siri Akal!' The ceremony ends with the distribution of Karah Prasad, and the placing of the Rumala over Guru Granth Sahib. Sometimes, sweets or Langar, free food from the Guru's kitchen, is served but this is not a part of the ceremony.