Sikhism Definition, History, Beliefs, & Lifestyle (08.06.2018)
Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469–1539) is the founder of Sikhism. His teachings, as well as those of the subsequent nine gurus, form the base of the faith. Sri Guru Nanak Dev was born in the Punjab area of present-day Pakistan, in a small village named Talwandi Sabo, near Lahore. At Sultanpur he had a revelation that it was his mission to preach the path to God and enlightenment. Guru Nanak Dev taught that there was only one God and preached the equality of all people. He discarded the concept of worshipping idols and the notion of caste that was fundamental to the cultures of India and Pakistan.
In one of his more famous remarks, he said that there was no Muslim or Hindu. This comment became one of the foundations of Sikhism.
At Kartarpur, Guru Nanak Dev and his panth (“followers”) constructed the first Sikh temple (gurdwara).
His followers came to be known as Sikhs, meaning “students or “disciples.” Currently there are over 20 million adherents of this faith scattered around the world; about 18 million live in India.
The male members of the faith can be identified by their turbans and their beards. These are both external signs of their religious devotion, even though Sikhism considers one’s internal being to be more important than external appearances. Sikhism teaches that religion should be carried out by experiencing the real world and its problems. Thus, the notion of being a monk or a hermit has no place in Sikhism. Sikhs avoid any kind of mysticism. Also, they tend to avoid religious statues, pilgrimages, and abstract rituals.
Sikhism emphasizes performing honorable actions rather than rote rituals. Sikhs believe that keeping God in one’s mind and heart at all times is the way to live a better life. The faith instructs its adherents to work hard and live honestly. Sikhism also teaches people to treat everyone equally and to be generous to the less fortunate.
Sikhism’s place of devotion is called a gurdwara (temple), a Punjabi word that means “gateway to the guru.” The Sikh holy scripture is called the Guru Granth Sahib (or Adi Granth). It is Sikhism’s most important holy text. The 10th and the last of the Sikh human gurus ruled that the teachings of the book would be the spiritual guide for the Sikh people after his death. Guru Granth Sahib has the status of a human guru and is treated as such by the Sikhs.
Located in the beautiful city of Amritsar in Punjab, the Harmandir Sahib, or Hari Mandir, (also known as the Golden Temple) is the holiest temple for the people of the Sikh faith. The Harimandir Sahib is a sign of the splendor and might of the Sikh people, who are scattered all over the planet. It must be noted that the architecture of the temple is inclusive of symbols linked with other religions. That is an illustration of the spirit of forbearance and approval of other faiths propounded by Sikhism.
The third guru, Guru, Amar Das Ji (1479–1574), began building the temple by enlarging a pool of sacred water. This pool was referred to as the “pool of nectar,” and it is from this name that the name amritsar is derived. Guru Amar Das Ji’s son-in-law Guru Ram Das Ji (1534–81) built the city of Amritsar around the pool. Guru Ram Das Ji’s son Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563–1606) then constructed the temple right in the middle of the pool.
The temple originally had four entrances-west, east, north, and south-symbolizing that people were welcome to come to the temple from any direction. Many come to the temple to immerse themselves in the pool, and people volunteer to clean the pool when needed.
Origins and History
Authorities and historians of Eastern religions regard Sikhism as connected to the Sufi sect of Islam and the Bhakti movement in Hinduism, although it is supplemented by numerous unique practices and beliefs. There are those Sikhs who believe that Sikhism is Hinduism repurified, viewing their own faith as part of the religious tradition of the Hindus.
A good number of Sikhs disagree with the notion, however, claiming that Sikhism is a direct revelation from God and a unique religion unto itself.
After the death of Guru Nanak Dev, a series of nine gurus, all regarded as reincarnations of the first guru, led the movement until 1708. After that the role of guru went to the followers and the sacred text, which is considered the 11th guru.
Beginning in the 16th century Mughal rulers occupied a vast portion of South Asia for more than 200 years. In India their attempts at converting the Sikhs to Islam were met with resistance and were generally unsuccessful. During those times the Sikhs came forward to save Hindus from persecution and forced conversions by the Muslim Mughals. They became the defenders of faith, any faith, so to speak. It is often said that, without the presence of Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708, considered by many to be the final human guru), the entire nation would have been forced to convert to Islam.
In 1801 Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–39) founded the Sikh state of Punjab in northern India. Later, the invasion of the British set off the Sikh Wars (1845–49). In the 20th century this region of India was divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. When the territory became independent in 1947, Sikhs migrated to India from Pakistan and, conversely, Muslims moved to Pakistan from India. During this upheaval there was an enormous loss of human life.
The primary goal of the follower of Sikhism is to build a loving relationship with God. Sikhs believe that there is only one God with many names and that meditation is the best way to get to know God. Also Sikhs believe in samsara (the recurring phase of birth, life, and death), reincarnation (the rebirth of the soul), and karma (the collected sum of a human being’s good and bad actions in his or her time on Earth). These ideas are the same as in Hinduism. Sikhism has no room for the Hindu caste system, however. It maintains that everyone has equal status in God’s eyes, including women. This is a vital principle that pervades Sikh behaviors, beliefs, and rituals.
The Sikhs rejected specific manifestations of women’s treatment within Hinduism and Islam, for example, female infanticide and sati, the Hindu custom of a wife throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, were forbidden by Guru Nanak Dev.
Women share both privileges and responsibilities in Sikhism and participate in every social endeavor with men, including warfare, with one exception: Their primary “function” is still defined as reproduction.
Sikhs pray several times each day.
The lay Sikh is forbidden to worship idols and icons. There is also a stricter element within the Sikh community called the khalsa saints, who believe in the clothing practice of the five k’s: kesh (uncut hair); kanga (the comb that holds up the hair); kachcha (short pants); kara (metal bracelet); and kirpan (a dagger). The five k’s together demonstrate that the person wearing them has devoted himself to a life of loyalty to the guru. That it is the guru’s instruction to observe this clothing practice is reason enough for a Sikh to do so. The significance of the symbols has steadily grown. Every Sikh knows that warriors, martyrs, and saints of the faith since 1699, as well as the present members of the khalsa, have adhered to the same clothing rules. Khalsa men generally take the surname of Singh, which means “lion,” whereas khalsa women take the surname of kaur, which means “princess” or “lioness.” Women also take the khalsa baptism, and the five K’s apply to their appearance.
The Guru Granth Sahib is more than just a holy book in Sikhism. Adherents of the religion see Granth as a living, humanlike guru. The text contains 1,430 pages and holds the original words spoken by the creators of Sikhism (the ten gurus of Sikhism) and by a variety of saints from other religions, including Islam and Hinduism. The Guru Granth Sahib was developed from the Adi Granth, which was written in 1604.
Adi Granth known as “the first book” is seen by many to be similar to the Guru Granth Sahib. It was the last of the Sikh gurus Guru Gobind Singh, who instructed the Sikhs to view the Guru Granth Sahib as the next Guru.
If one visits a gurdwara, or a Sikh temple, the Guru Granth Sahib forms the chief part of the main hall (the darbar sahib). The holy book is positioned on the foremost platform and is covered in a vibrantly colored, high-quality cloth. The platform is perpetually sheltered by a canopy, which is also decked in costly and strikingly colored materials.
The text used in the gurdwara is written in gurmukhi, the standard script of Sikhism.
Holidays and Religious Observances
Because of its original geographical proximity to India and Pakistan, some of the religious observances of Sikhism are closely related to those of Hinduism and Islam. For example, Sikhs observe Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, the 12 Sangrand (Hindu Sankranti), the days that signal the beginning of each month, and the day following Holi, which they call Hola Mohalla, celebrated every year around March 17. Thousands gather to watch mock battles and displays of military skills such as swordsmanship and horseback riding, followed by poetry and musical competitions. Hola Mohalla ends with a huge parade led by the flags of each temple.
Other significant Sikh festivals celebrate anniversaries connected with the lives of the Gurpurbs (the birthdays of the gurus), which are Sikh festivals that commemorate the lives of the 10 human gurus. Sikhs celebrate gurpurbs with the akhand path, a ceaseless recitation of the sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib, from start to finish. The reading is done by a group of men and women.
Each person reads from two to three hours for 48 hours, commencing two days prior to and concluding early on the morning of the guru’s birthday. The gurdwaras are decorated with vibrant flowers and posters portraying various features of the Sikh religion.
Adherents pray, sing, and eat together. On the day of the gurpurb, celebrations begin early in the morning with musical recitals of hymns in the holy book. Singing devotional hymns from the Granth Sahib is called kirtan (or bhajan), and it is a practice Sikhs are required to perform often. Then there are lectures on the faith called katha. These celebrations go on until early afternoon.
There are also specific rituals performed to celebrate rites of passage including birth, naming, puberty, baptism (Baisakhi), marriage, and death.
When a child is born, Sikhs read a special prayer and place a drop of amrit (holy water) on the baby’s tongue. When the mother and child are able to travel, they go to the local temple for the naming of the baby. The baby’s name is selected by opening the Guru Granth Sahib to any page, and the name has to begin with the first letter of the first word of the hymn found on the left-hand side of the page.
Singh (“lion”) is added to boys’ names to emphasize that they must be brave, and Kaur (“princess”) is added to girls’ names to emphasize dignity. After the baby’s name has been decided, it is announced to those gathered in the temple.
When a male child reaches puberty, between 14 and 16, he is initiated in a ceremony called the Dastaar Bandi (wearing of the first turban). Amrit, a mixture of sugar and water, is prepared in an iron bowl as the five Banis (special prayers) are recited by five Sikhs in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book. During the ceremony the amrit is blessed and sprinkled on the hair and eyes of the youths, a prayer is said, followed by a shared meal. Baisakhi is the day on which young Sikhs can join the Khalsa brotherhood, which requires that they observe the Five k’s; April 13 is regarded as the birth of the order and many Sikhs choose to be baptized into the Khalsa brotherhood on this day. The ceremony itself is called Amrit Sanskar.