Origins of Sikhism
- Sikhism is rooted in the teachings of the ten Gurus, the first of which was Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), who was born at Talwandi in the Punjab. At the age of around thirty, he received a call to preach the Word of God.
- His message emphasised the oneness of God and the importance of honesty and integrity in the practice of any religion. The community which he founded became known as Sikhs, meaning disciples, or learners.
- In 1699, the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, instituted Amrit Pahul which initiates Sikhs into the Khalsa Panth, the community of initiated Sikhs.
Central Aspects of Sikhism
The Nature of Sikhism
- The Rahit Maryada is the Sikh Code of Conduct published by the Amritsar-based Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee which organises and administers many gurdwaras, hospitals and other Sikh institutions within the Punjab. The Rahit Maryada defines a Sikh as a believer in the following:
- Akal Purakh (the one immortal God)
- the ten Gurus
- the Guru Granth Sahib
- the Gurbani
- Amrit Pahul and adheres to no other religion
- Sikhism is monotheistic and God is known among Sikhs by a variety of names including Ram, Mohan, Gobind, Hari, Nirankar, although Satnam (meaning “true name”) and Waheguru (meaning “Wonderful Lord”) are among the most used.
- The Mul Mantar is seen as encapsulating the heart of Sikhism. It states: “There is but One God, the Eternal Truth, the Creator, without fear, without enmity, timeless, immanent, beyond birth and death, self-existent: by the grace of the Guru, made known.”
- The Ten Gurus and their teaching, known as the Gurbani or Gurshabad, is viewed as a unity. The Ten Gurus are:
- Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539)
- Guru Angad Dev (1504-1552)
- Guru Amar Das (1479-1574)
- Guru Ram Das (1534-1581)
- Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1606)
- Guru Hargobind (1595-1644)
- Guru Har Rai (1631-1661)
- Guru Har Krishan (1656-1664)
- Guru Tegh Bahadur (1622-1675)
- Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708)
- After the tenth Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib is seen as embodying the living and authoritative Word of God, whilst temporal authority is seen as vested in the Khalsa Panth, instituted by initiation of the Panj Pyare (five beloved ones) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
- The Guru Granth Sahib is a title of honour for scriptures which are otherwise known as the Adi Granth and are written in the Gurmurkhi script.
- The Dasam Granth is also an important book which incorporates the work of a number of poets and also writings of Guru Gobind Singh.
- The Khalsa Panth is seen as a community of equality that recognises no distinction of caste or gender. One who has taken amrit is known as an Amritdhari Sikh.
- Keshdhari is a term that can be used of Sikhs who adopt a beard, uncut hair and turban whether or not they have taken amrit.
- Those who believe in Sikhism, but have not yet been initiated or who have lapsed in their practise are sometimes known as Sahajdhari (literally, “slow adopters”).
- Along with other personal and family names which they may use, all Sikh men have the religious name of Singh, which means “lion”, whilst Sikh women have the religious name of Kaur, meaning princess.
- Being a member of the Khalsa Panth is outwardly marked by the wearing of the 5 Ks of Sikhism, each of which is understood to be of spiritual and practical significance.
- They are known as the 5Ks because the Punjabi for each word begins with the “k” sound. The 5 Ks are:
- Kesh (uncut bodily hair – the hair on the head usually being tied up in the distinctive turban)
- Kangha (a small comb worn in the hair)
- Kara (a steel bracelet)
- Kachhahera (also known as kachchha or kachha – a garnment of knee length and normally worn under other clothes)
- Kirpan (a ceremonial sword)
- Sikhs are called upon to live according to the Rahit Nama, or Code of Discipline, which is believed to interpret the Gurbani and to be based upon the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh.
- Human life is seen as the opportunity for achieving mukti, or freedom from the cycle of rebirth, based upon the karam (actions and their consequences) of this life.
- The barriers to this are seen as:
- haumai (self-centredness)
- kam (lust)
- karodh (anger)
- lobh (greed)
- moh (worldly attachment)
- hankar (pride)
To overcome these barriers, the following qualities are needed:
- santokh (contentment)
- dan (charity)
- daya (kindness)
- parsanta (happiness)
- nimarta (humility)
- Sikhism has identified five stages on the journey to the divine:
- Dharam Khand (realisation of spiritual duty)
- Gian Khand (divine knowledge)
- Saram Khand (wisdom and effort)
- Karam Khand (divine grace)
- Sach Khand (truth)
- Nam Japna, or meditation on God, is seen by Sikhs as both an important individual and congregational activity, with sadh sangat (congregational worship) being seen as particularly important.
- The spiritual life is seen as being something to be lived fully within this world, including marriage, family and work.
- The central principles of Sikh living are:
- nam japna (reciting the name)
- kirat karna (earning a living by honest means)
- vand chhakna (sharing with the needy)
- sewa (service to the wider community)
Diversity within Sikhism
- Sikhism does not acknowledge the validity of traditions based on varying doctrines, although there are groupings whose roots are to be found in various revivalist movements founded by individuals known by such titles as Sant, Bhai or Baba.
- Within the community, there are also social groupings, such as Ramgarhia and Bhatra, which are related to economic categories and family histories.
- There are also a range of groups and movements which understand themselves as being within the Sikh community but whose self-understanding in this regard is disputed.
Written by Professor Paul Weller