Sikhs and Their Religion – Sikhism
- The Sikh religion has some twenty-two million adherents worldwide. The Punjab region of northwest India was the original Sikh homeland, with some 10 million Sikhs residing there currently. Another nine million live throughout the rest of India, with the balance spread throughout the world.
- Elsewhere, Sikhs live in most of the free-world countries, predominantly in Great Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia. Early Sikhs came to the US in 1899 to California.
- Sikh men are often distinguished by their unique attire, colorful turbans and facial hair, which are religious tenets.
Sikhs have emanated by and large from the Hindu Indian ethnicity of northwest India. The religion began about five hundred years ago. In time, people from other communities inhabiting Punjab — including Muslims — also adopted Sikhism, owing to its simpler, openminded, rather universal religious ideology and respect for people of all faiths, emphasizing the brotherhood of all mankind, living in harmony with all peoples. Over time it has developed into a unique religious culture, tradition, philosophy and identity of its own. Therefore it is considered a separate religion Hinduism. Yet Sikhs have a close cultural and ancestral relationship with the Hindu community of India.
The Sikh religion was founded by Guru Nanak. Sikhs consider him a prophet-teacher. He was born in a high caste Bedi Hindu family in 1469 in Punjab, India.
- From early on he showed signs of being a very different child. Even as a child, he resented many religious rituals performed in the family and refused to accept janju, a sacred thread worn by Hindu males, declaring it meaningless.
- When sent to a Muslim teacher for study, the teacher soon reported his inability to teach Nanak, because Nanak’s own knowledge (in a spiritual sense) was beyond the teacher’s understanding. Being taught 1 ( alaf – like ‘A” in English) as the first letter of the alphabet of Urdu language, he asked the teacher the meaning of the letter. When teacher said it was just a letter to represent a sound, child Nanak said, “No, it means that there is Only One God” — because the letter looked like the numeral 1 (one). There are records of many such instances of his uniqueness.
- Nanak received revelation in 1496 as a young man after he was lost (thought drowned) for three days while taking a bath in the river Baini in Punjab. After reappearing, he pronounced that “there is no Hindu, no Musalman [Muslim],” meaning that God does not recognize people’s affiliation to one religion or another but rather to an individual’s deeds and spiritual inclinations.
- Guru Nanak traveled for more than 21 years of his adult life carrying his message of the universality of God (the One Supreme Being), the oneness of mankind and equality of all people. He spoke out against superfluous ritualistic practices, religious conflicts, corruption and social injustice. He traveled throughout India, Tibet, Arabia (including the holy city of Mecca), Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly walking or using whatever primitive means of transportation was available in those days.
- He had a friend named Mardana, a musician, who carried his stringed instrument with him throughout. Nanak wrote his inspirations and, together, they sang the spiritual music. Mardana (Sikhs call him Bhai Mardana, meaning “a brother,” but a title of religious honor in this case) traveled with him almost always. People of Iraq were so impressed by them that they raised a memorial in honor of their visit. A Sikh temple (gurdwara) presumably still exists in Iraq. Guru Nanak returned from there to Punjab to settle down and to continue his mission. He took to farming, and the produce was used to feed rich and poor alike in a community kitchen, thus setting all free.
Guru Nanak’s Times
During Guru Nanak’s time, northwest India was ruled by Lodhi (from Afghanistan) and Moghul (from central Asia) dynasties, and theirs was a harsh rule. There was religious persecution and much strife between Muslims and Hindus. There were forcible conversions of Hindus to Islam, and in some situations there was a financial penalty (jazia tax) for being non-Muslim. Guru Nanak worked hard to bring harmony amongst the people of the Hindu and Muslim faiths and to bring about justice for low-caste, downtrodden people — including women — amongst the Hindus. He spoke against child marriage and sati (a practice in which a Hindu married woman was expected to burn herself alive on her husband’s cremation pyre after his death).
- Guru Nanak wrote (in Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scriptures) that . . .
- Kings are like tigers (ferocious animals), and the government officials are like dogs.
- Kazis (judges) are fraudulent and corrupt. Hindu priests are exploiting the people in falsehood. And those who claim to be holy men know nothing about God (they are imposters). These three types of people are the cause of degeneration in society.
- H.R. Gupta (an Indian historian) writes that . . .
- The times of Guru Nanak were marked by political and social tyranny, corruption and narrow-mindedness. Communalism was reigning supreme.
- The caste system had deeply divided the society.
Guru Nanak, in his old age, established a system of transferring divinity to his successors, establishing Guruships to continue his mission. There were 10 Gurus. The last was Guru Gobind Singh. He finalized the writings of the various Guru’s before him, which were earlier compiled in the form of a big a book that Sikhs call the Adi Granth, by Guru Arjan Dev (the fifth guru), and declared that this Granth shall be the religious scriptures for Sikhs, shall be treated like the Eternal Living Guru, and there shall be no human Gurus after him.
Sikhs call these scriptures ”Guru Granth Sahib.” The majority of the writings (hymns, verses) are organized by the Ragas (the musical compositions). The book has 1430 pages.
• Guru Nanak 1469 –
• Guru Angad 1504 – 1552
• Guru Amardas 1479 –1574
• Guru Ram Das 1534—1581
• Guru Arjan Dev 1563—1606
• Guru Hargobind 1595—1644
• Guru Har Rai 1630—1661
• Guru Har Kishen 1644—1656
• Guru Teg Bahadur 1621—1675
• Guru Gobind Sing 1666—1708
What is God? There is only one God, the Supreme Being, the Infinite Spirit, which in the formless (Nirgun) form pervades throughout the cosmos, and is . . .
- the final Truth and Reality
- the Creator, and manifests in His Creation (both immanent and transcendent)
- without fear, and without any sense of animosity or vengeance
- beyond time (immortal)
- can be realized by the Guru’s Grace and direction
- God has established a certain Order in the Creation (His Will), and the creation (Universe) continues to operate in that Order. Birth, Life and Death are a part of that order. These may be considered like Laws of Nature. Everything evolves from that Order.
- We are all children of one and only God.
- Being born as a human being is a blessing of God. It is an opportunity to seek redemption, meaning freedom from cycle of birth and death.
- Sikhism believes in continuity of life. We are not just bodies; we are spiritual beings. Body is only a carrier. End of this life is only a transience into the next phase of life.
- Our divinity inside us is overshadowed by our worldly passions:
- Attachment with worldly materials
Because of our attachment with the physical world and body desires, we are locked into the cycle of Birth and Death.
- The mission of life is not just to serve the body only and exhaust it by fulfilling its desires. Obsession with desires can even take us into lower forms of life. Passions to a degree are also necessary for proper living. Idea is to keep these under control and not be driven by them.
- Mission is redemption or Mukti from the Life and Death cycle, and achieving harmony with the Supreme Being, meaning self realization of being a part of the Supreme Being. This can be achieved by the Grace of the Guru (guidance)
- Change focus from mind/body-consciousness to Spirit/God-consciousness. Mind is a driver of one’s life. The spiritually untrained mind generates desires all the time and is never satisfied. When the body is unable to fulfill its desires, it creates a sense of unhappiness and frustration.
- Live a normal, happy, healthy and clean lifestyle by reducing influence of these passions.
- Live life in a sense of thankfulness to God. When there is happiness, consider it a gift of God. If there are hardships, seek God’s blessings and pray for strength to overcome the hardships.
- Family life is a natural way of life and is encouraged.
- Chemical abuse including tobacco, alcohol, and similar addictions do not permit a healthy and clean life style, and are therefore strongly discouraged in Sikhism. These are impediments to spiritual growth.
There are no laws to obey — only an understanding of the nature of God and relationship with Him. Rituals alone cannot achieve spiritual goals.
Keys to spiritual enhancement and happiness in life
- That we should recognize God’s presence in us by reciting and remembering his name always.
- Ritualistic practices are not of much avail. We should live our lives under His will. While we do our actions, we should accept that whatever happens in life is by His will, whether in happiness or sorrow.
- He is a Giver of all gifts of life, and while we cherish the gifts, we should remember Him in thankfulness always.
Naam Japna – Recitation of Gods glory, and worship, remaining God conscious
Kirat Kamana -- earning livelihood by ethical means
Vand Chhakna -- sharing with others or in short keeping a charitable attitude.
- Guru – means a prophet-teacher, spiritually exalted divine personality who has the inner vision to guide his devotee or a disciple to spiritual reality.
- Sikh – word is the Punjabi version of the Sanskrit word Shishya or Sikhya meaning students, followers, devotees, or disciples. Devotees of Guru Nanak and the subsequent Gurus were popularly known as Guru’s Sikhs, or Chelas.
- Sikhism – was perhaps the name given to religion of Sikhs by some western writer in the absence of any other known name.
- Gurbani – meaning “voice of the guru,” refers to the writings of the gurus, and now the entire text of Sikh scriptures, known as Guru Granth Sahib.
- Gurdwara — meaning “house of the guru,” refers to the Sikh place of worship, (Sikh church or Sikh temple).
Traditional faith symbols (tenets) — The 5 K’s and their history
Creation of Khalsa and Baptism: Guru Gobind Singh called his followers to receive Baptism (take amrit), in a special ceremony on April 13, 1699. After that he declared them as Khalsa (purified and divinely inspired). Every male was given a Singh (Leo, lion) as the second name (or M.I), and Kaur ( princess). They were to shed all caste allegiances, worship only One Supreme Being and not various idols, and any other social taboos. They were sort of spiritually reborn people, having a model personality of a desegregated Indian society united under one God- the Supreme Being. First five who answered his call and were baptized were called Five Beloved Ones. It is interesting to note of the five one was high caste, two were shudras (low castes), and two middle status castes. He himself requested to be baptized and renamed as Gobind Singh. They were ordained to maintain the 5 symbols:
- Kesh – the natural hair. A symbol of spirituality and saintliness, from ancient Indian tradition.
- Kirpan -- sword. A symbol of personal liberty and duty to fight for social justice; now mostly a symbolic replica of a sword, emphasizing basic human rights of all people. (It is wrongly termed as a dagger)
- Karha – a steel bracelet. A sign of allegiance to the guru and equality.
- Kutchha – knee-length shorts made of relatively strong fabric. A secure dress for active lifestyle including time of combat. Also a symbol for self-restraint, dignity of labor, dress of an active working man. Typical dress of Hindu male was a dhoti, a loose, very light fabric wrapped around the lower part sort of like a sari ( for women).
- Kanga – a comb for hair. A symbol emphasizing personal hygiene
Sikh men are often distinguished by their colorful turbans. Though a prominent part of Sikh dress code, it is an ancillary head dress by tradition as well the need, because of uncut natural hair on the head. It was even otherwise a traditional head dress of the elite and the nobles since long before the Sikhs adopted it. It was a crown for the kings, a symbol of dignity and high social status. Many non-Sikh communities in India even today also wear turban. Second President of India Dr. Radha Krishan , a Hindu from south India wore turban always. It is prevalent in many communities in central Asia including Muslims. It comes in various shapes and forms. Unfortunately many confuse Sikhs with Muslims/Arabs because of the turban. It mat be clear by now that sikhs have a totally different background.
Sikhs understand that keeping unshorn natural hair is somewhat not consistent with the world fashion minded culture. However it is the power of faith in these tenets that helped Sikhism survive and grow despite very treacherous times it has gone through requiring tremendous sacrifices for preserving the faith.
In essence this common dress code signifies equality amongst all Sikhs, and emphasizes a spiritually oriented God conscious, socially responsible life style, conscious of the basic human rights of all people.
(Not all Sikhs in the modern times fully follow these 5 K’s, if they are not baptized. However these are individual choices.)
Broader Following of Sikh Religion: There is a large population of people popularly known as Sindhies who hail from a region called Sind in western Punjab (now in Pakistan). Guru Nanak traveled in this region and a large part of Sindhi population are followers of Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. For whatever historic reasons, and perhaps because later Gurus could not spend time in these parts, most of them did not adopt the traditional values of 5K’s, and all aspects of Sikh religion. Nonetheless they are also Sikhs in effect.
Likewise many people particularly from Punjab, who may speaking traditionally be considered or call themselves as Hindus, but follow Sikhism in a spiritual sense and regularly like to participate in gurdwara (sikh temple) services.
Other Important Traditions
Sangat – Tradition of praying in congregation is highly emphasized. It creates a collective divine environment.
Pangat – tradition of eating together in a gurdwara – a symbol of equality of all people regardless of their social status, rich or poor, and without any caste considerations.
Religious Practice includes - recitation of God’s Name, reading, listening to Gurbani, and Keertan, meaning singing the glory of God through Gurbani. Music is very central to Sikh religious practice.
Sikhism believes in One Supreme Being, and calls for a God-conscious, morally and socially responsible life.
For further information, contact Jasbir Singh Bhatia. Phone 407-306-8431; email email@example.com. Visit the gurdwara ( Sikh temple) on Aloma, at 2527 West State Road 426 (between Dean and Chapman), Oveido, FL32765.