Sikhism was founded in the 16th century in Punjab district of what is now divided between India and Pakistan. It was founded by Guru Nanak and is based on his teachings, and those of the 9 Sikh gurus who followed him. The word Sikh comes from the Sanskrit word sikhya, meaning a student or disciple.
Over twenty million Sikhs follow this revealed, distinct, and unique religion born five centuries ago. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with a population of upwards of 30 million worldwide, most of whom live in the Punjab province of India. The 2001 census recorded 336,000 Sikhs in the UK. 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.
The most important thing in Sikhism is the internal religious state of the individual. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which stresses on doing good actions rather than merely carrying out rituals. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to:
- keep God in heart and mind at all times,
- live honestly and work hard,
- treat everyone equally,
- be generous to the less fortunate,
- serve others.
The Sikh scripture is the Guru Granth Sahib, a book that Sikhs consider a living Guru. The tenth Sikh Guru decreed that after his death the spiritual guide of the Sikhs would be the teachings contained in that book, so the Guru Granth Sahib now has the status of a Guru, and Sikhs show it the respect they would give to a human Guru. Guru Gobind Singh decreed that where Sikhs could not find answers in the Guru Granth Sahib, they should decide issues as a community, based on the principles of their scripture.
In Sikhism, a human being, in order to attain God, must rise above five basic vices: lust, anger, greed, pride, ego. Anyone who successfully avoids these five transgressions, and who lives a truthful living, is considered to be a God-conscious person.
Sikhism recognizes other faiths as equally conducive for the development of spirituality; however, as a revealed and distinct religion in itself, Sikhism offers its followers a viable path toward the selfsame goal, God.
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:
||There is only one God
||His Name is Truth
||He is the Creator
||He is without fear
||He is without hate
||He is beyond time (Immortal)
||He is beyond birth and death
||He is self-existent
||Ik Onkaar is expresses itself through Guru, it is only its own Grace and Mercy (Prasaad) that this happens
The community of men and women who have been initiated into the Sikh faith is the Khalsa. The Khalsa celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1999.
Khalsa (meaning “Sovereign”) is the collective name given by Guru Gobind Singh to those Sikhs who have been initiated by taking part in a ceremony called ammrit sancar (nectar ceremony). During this ceremony, sweetened water is stirred with double-edged sword while liturgical prayers are sung and is offered to the initiating Sikh, who ritually drinks it. Many adherents of Sikhism do not undergo this ceremony, but still adhere to some components of the faith and identify as Sikhs. The initiated Sikh, considered reborn, is referred to as Khalsa Sikh, while those who do not get baptized are referred to as Sahajdhari Sikhs.
The first time that this ceremony took place was on Vaisakhi, which fell on 30 March 1699 at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. It was on that occasion that Gobind Singh baptised the Panj Piare—the five beloved ones, who in turn baptised Guru Gobind Singh himself. To males who initiated, the last name Singh, meaning “lion”, was given, while the last name Kaur, meaning “princess”, was given to baptized Sikh females.
Baptised Sikhs ritually wear five items, called the Five Ks at all times. The five items are: kes (uncut hair), kangha (small wooden comb), kaṛa (circular steel or iron bracelet), kirpan (sword/dagger), and kacchera (special undergarment). The Five Ks have both practical and symbolic purposes.
A Khalsa must worship only one Almighty God, recite five prescribed banis (hymns) everyday, learn Punjabi language and read Guru Granth Sahib, wear and observe the significance of five Ks and live a truthful life and treat all humans as equal.
He must not cut body hair, eat kosher meat, smoke, take drugs or intoxicants, have faith in black magic, superstitions, charms and rituals.
Excerpts taken from:
‘Sikhism – An Introduction’