Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji founded the Sikh way of life in the fifteenth century as an ideology to reconcile the Human Race. Guru Nanak was a revolutionary teacher- his teachings that women and men were equal, that caste was unimportant, and that there are many paths to the One God- were ahead of their time. The title "Guru," or enlightener, was passed onwards to 9 more individuals throughout Sikh history, who shared the light of Truth of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji. These 9 Gurus also shaped the legendary Sikh traditions. In 1708 CE, the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, bestowed the title of Guru upon the holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is recognized as the eternal enlightener.
There are no central governing bodies in the Sikh religion. The governing authority of the Sikh community is the united collective voice of the Sikh community itself, second to the Supreme Authority of the sacred scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. The collective will of the Sikh community is traditionally formally announced from the Sri Akal Takhat Sahib.
Number of Adherents
About twenty-three million worldwide, with the majority in India's Punjab region.
Sikhs have no clergy, believing an established clergy to invite corruption. A clergy also establishes rank, which is in direct opposition to the Sikh theology of the equality of all. Sikhs do not recognize castes.
Sikh Place of Worship
A Sikh place of worship is called a Gurdwara, meaning "house of the Guru, " or "door to the Guru." Sikhs believe the first temple or pilgrimage is within one self.
Requirements to Join
A special initiatory rite is required to join the Khalsa, or community of the Pure. The Khalsa are the devout initiates of the religion. Initiated Male Khalsas adopt the mandatory last name "Singh," meaning "Lion;" females take the name "Kaur," meaning "Crown Prince (an emphasis on equality)." The Khalsas historic mission has been to fight oppression and injustice.
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Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which was first compiled in 1604, and finalized in the early 1700s before being bestowed the title of "Guru," or eternal enlightener in 1708. The eternal enlightener Granth Sahib contains the hymns of reflection and teaching on the lifestyle of the Pure of mind, heart, soul and conduct. The central teaching of the Guru Granth Sahib is reflection on the ultimate Truth, the Name of God.
The 5 Ks
Sikhs (Khalsas) follow strict traditions of dress including the observance of five dress articles, also called Kakaars:
- Kesh (uncut hair)
- As a reminder to do no harm to the body. Dastaar, (turban) Sikhs voer their hair under a turban.
- Kanga (a wooden comb)
- A wooden comb, used for keeping hair clean and to encourage cleanliness of the mind.
- Kaccha (cotton underwear)
- A undergarment worn to remind Sikhs of their vow of abstinence from adultery.
- Kara (a steel bracelet)
- A steel bracelet, signifying devotion to truth.
- Kirpan (sword)
- A ceremonial sword, symbolizing a vow to protect the weak and helpless.
The 5 Ks date from the creation of the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
Holidays and Observances
The Sikh main holiday is Vaisakhi which falls on 13th April each year. This is recognized as the day of the initiation of the Khalsa in 1699.
Basic Teachings and Beliefs of Sikhism
Sikh beliefs conform to neither Western nor Eastern standards. Sikhs believe in Universal Love above all else, as the key to Truth. The law of karma and the cycle of birth and death including reincarnation is also a central teaching. Sikhs believe in a single Supreme God, who is within and outside of all, and refute idolatry. The basic teachings of Sikhism are to earn an honest living, to share ones earnings, and to contemplate on the essential truth, the Name.
Code of Conduct
The Sikh religion prohibits idolatry, the observance of a caste system, and the use of alcohol or tobacco. Sikhs also avoid meat that is not humanely slaughtered, and prefer a vegetarian diet. Kosher and Halal meats are forbidden because they are believed to be inhumanely slaughtered. Sikhism also prohibits adultery and pre-marital sex.
Unfortunately, due to the events of September, 2001, many Sikhs have been misidentified as Muslim extremists because their dress is similar to those affected by Osama bin Laden. Many Sikhs have been harassed, assaulted, or even killed. Sikhism bears no resemblance to fanatical Islamic sects, and Sikhs believe in the equality of all human beings, regardless of gender, religion, race, or social status. That said, many Muslims have also been victimized in North America and Sikhs strongly denounce any violence or discrimination towards other innocent civilians.
Symbols of Sikhism
The universal Sikh symbol is a glyph (called a Khanda) composed of a central, straight edged sword, symbozing truth surrounded by two curved swords representing temporal power and authority.