The word 'Sikh' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'shishya' which means a disciple, a learner, and a seeker of truth. Sikhism is one of the youngest world religions. Sikhism, the Sikh religion emerged during the early 16th century in the state of Punjab in North India. The founder of this faith was Guru Nanak, who from his childhood was attracted to both Hindu and Muslim saints. Born a Hindu, but also inspired by the teachings of Islam, he began to preach the message of unity of both religions. According to him, the basic teachings of both faiths were essentially the same. Nanak attracted many followers and came to be known as a Guru or a teacher. His disciples came together to form a new religious tradition called Sikhism. It is a strictly monotheistic faith, preaching the existence of only one God, and teaching universally acceptable ideals of honesty, compassion, humility, piety, social commitment, and above all tolerance for other religions.
Legend and History
Sikhism began with Guru Nanak (1469-1539), a member of a trading caste in Punjab who seems to have been employed for some time as a government servant, was married and had two sons, and at age forty-five became a religious teacher. At the heart of his message were a philosophy of universal love, devotion to God, and the equality of all men and women before God.
He set up congregations of believers who ate together in free communal kitchens in an overt attempt to break down caste boundaries based on food prohibitions. As a poet, musician, and enlightened master, Nanak's reputation spread, and by the time he died he had founded a new religion of "disciples" (shiksha or sikh) that followed his example.
Nanak's son, Baba Sri Chand, founded the Udasi sect of celibate ascetics, which continued in the 1990s. However, Nanak chose as his successor not his son but Angad (1504-52), his chief disciple, to carry on the work as the second guru. Thus began a lineage of teachers that lasted until 1708 and amounted to ten gurus in the Sikh tradition, each of whom is viewed as an enlightened master who propounded directly the word of God.
The third guru, Amar Das (1479-1574), established missionary centers to spread the message and was so well respected that the Mughal emperor Akbar visited him. Amar Das appointed his son-in-law Ram Das (1534-81) to succeed him, establishing a hereditary succession for the position of guru. He also built a tank for water at Amritsar in Punjab, which, after his death, became the holiest center of Sikhism.
By the late sixteenth century, the influence of the Sikh religion on Punjabi society was coming to the notice of political authorities. The fifth guru, Arjun Das (1563-1606), was executed in Lahore by the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605-27) for alleged complicity in a rebellion. In response, the next guru, Hargobind , militarized and politicized his position and fought three battles with Mughal forces.
Hargobind established a militant tradition of resistance to persecution by the central government in Delhi that remains an important motif in Sikh consciousness. Hargobind also established at Amritsar, in front of the Golden Temple, the central shrine devoted to Sikhism, the Throne of the Eternal God (Akal Takht) from which the guru dispensed justice and administered the secular affairs of the community, clearly establishing the tradition of a religious state that remains a major issue.
The ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur (1621-75), because he refused Mughal emperor Aurangzeb's order to convert to Islam, was brought to Delhi and beheaded on a site that later became an important gurdwara (abode of the guru, a Sikh temple) in Chandni Chauk, one of the old city's main thoroughfares.
These events led the tenth guru, Gobind Singh (1666-1708), to transform the Sikhs into a militant brotherhood dedicated to defense of their faith at all times. He instituted a baptism ceremony involving the immersion of a sword in sugared water that initiates Sikhs into the Khalsa (khalsa, from the Persian term for "the king's own," often taken to mean army of the pure) of dedicated devotion.
Teachings and Discipline
A Sikh believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus, embodied in the Eternal Shabad Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. The Basic beliefs must be followed in Sikhism. Additionally, a Sikh must also partake Amrit, the Sikh Baptism. Every sikh is supposed to follow the Sikh Code of Discipline. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the beginning of the sixteenth century. The succeeding nine Gurus nurtured, developed and preached his ideas and teachings. The Sikh Gurus provided guidance for about 240 years. They taught the basic values of freedom, brotherhood, charity, obedience, understanding, sympathy, patience, humility, simplicity, and piety, and outlined the path to spirituality in life. The Gurus themselves said that they were human beings and were not to be worshipped as God. They considered themselves to be mere servants of God.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru installed,in 1708, Guru Granth Sahib ji as his successor and the permanent Guru of the Sikhs and brought to an end to the line of human Gurus. Earlier, on Baisakhi day of 29th March,1699 The Birth of The Khalsa took place at Anandpur, Guru Govind Singh ordered his Sikhs to assemble before him as was customary and created a new brotherhood of Sikhs called the Khalsa (Pure Ones). Five men selected for their devotion to the Guru were called Panj Pyares and given nectar (amrit) for initiation into the brotherhood of Khalsa. Later the Guru himself received initiation from Panj Payares as did others.
The members of the new brotherhood were instructed to wear the five outward signs which were the "Five Ks" to be observed at all times: uncut hair (kesh ), a long knife (kirpan ), a comb (kangha ), a steel bangle (kara ), and a special kind of breeches not reaching below the knee (kachha ). Male Sikhs took on the surname Singh (meaning lion), and women took the surname Kaur (princess). All made vows to purify their personal behavior by avoiding intoxicants, including alcohol and tobacco.
In modern India, male Sikhs who have dedicated themselves to the Khalsa do not cut their beards and keep their long hair tied up under turbans, preserving a distinctive personal appearance recognized throughout the world.
Sikhism propounds monotheism, i.e. worship of one God. It also opposes the caste system and believes that all men are equal. However the ideas of karma and rebirth from Hinduism are accepted. Today, many Sikh practices are common to Hindus. Intermarriages between the two communities are also common. However the Sikh community has its own unmistakable identity. Though the Sikhs constitute less than 2 percent of the Indian population, they have become a distinct element in the configuration of the Indian religious tradition and the Indian society.
Gurdwara - The Sikh Place of Worship
Gurdwara (the door or abode of the Guru) is the name given to the Sikh place of worship, commonly addressed as Sikh temple in the western world. "Temple" is a misnomer in context of a Gurdwara and the Sikhs object to the use of this word for their place of worship. To understand the objection of the Sikhs to the word "temple", imagine how a Christian would react if St Peter's Basillica is called "a Catholic Synagogue" or a "Christian Mosque". In the Gurdwara, the Sikh scripture is recited and sung and its exegesis done. The holy book Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a high palanquin under a canopy in the middle of one end of the hall. The Gurdwara is a place where the "Word of the Guru" reins supreme, not only in its recitation but also in practice. It won't be an overstatement to say that a Sikh's life revolves around the Gurdwara, which is why wherever there are even ten Sikh families, they establish a Gurdwara. All the ceremonies related to birth, initiation, marriage, death and celebration of festivals center around the Gurdwara.
Where the Guru Granth Sahib is present, that place becomes a gurdwara . Many Sikh homes contain separate rooms or designated areas where a copy of the book stands as the center of devotional ceremonies.
Throughout Punjab, or anywhere there is a substantial body of believers, there are special shrines where the Guru Granth Sahib is displayed permanently or is installed daily in a ceremonial manner. These public gurdwaras are the centers of Sikh community life and the scene of periodic assemblies for worship.
The typical assembly involves group singing from the Guru Granth Sahib, led by distinguished believers or professional singers attached to the shrine, distribution of holy food, and perhaps a sermon delivered by the custodian of the shrine.
The Five Takhts
'Takht' which literally means a throne or seat of authority is a result of historical growth of Sikhism. There are five Takhats. The first and the most important were established by Guru Hargobind in 1609. It is called 'Akal Takht' (the Throne of the Timeless God. The Guru established it, because he thought that secular political matters should not be considered in the Golden Temple, which is meant purely for worship of God. Here the Guru held his court and decided matters of military strategy and political policy. Later on, the Sikh commonwealth (Sarbat Khalsa) took decisions here on matters of peace and war and settled disputes between the various Sikh groups.
The Sarangi singers sung the ballads of the Sikh Gurus and warriors at this place and robes of honour (saropas) were awarded to persons who rendered distinguished services of the community of men in general. The second seat of authority is called "Takhat Sri Patna Sahib". The Five Takhts are the five gurudwaras and these have a very special significance for the Sikh community. Takht means a throne. They are considered the seats of Sikh religious authority. The important decisions concerning the religious and social life of the Sikh community have been taken here.
Sri Akal Takht Sahib
Akal Takht Sahib literally means Eternal Throne. It is also part of the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. It's foundation was laid by Guru Hargobind Sahib. The Akal Takht is situated opposite to Harmandir Sahib and is connected by a passage. The building of the Akal Takht opposite the Golden Temple has a special meaning. While the Golden Temple stands for spiritual guidance the Akal Takht symbolizes the dispensing of justice and temporal activity. During the day the Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the Golden Temple, while at night it is kept in the Akal Takht Sahib. In earlier days all Sikh warriors sought blessings here before going to battle fields. The Akal Takht is the oldest of the Five Takhts.
Takht Sri Damdama Sahib
Takht Sri Damdama Sahib is situated in the village of Talwandi Sabo near Bhatinda. At this place Guru Gobind Singh stayed here for approximately a year and compiled the final edition of Guru Granth Sahib also known as the Damdama Sahib Bir in 1705.
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib is situated at Anandpur Sahib. It is the birthplace of the Khalsa. The order of the Khalsa was founded here by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. Some of the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh are displayed here.
Takht Sri Hazoor Sahib
Takht Sri Hazoor Sahib is situated on the banks of Godavari River in Maharashtra state. This is the place where Guru Gobind Singh left for Heavenly abode. The inner room of the temple is called Angitha Sahib and is built over the place where Guru Gobind Singh was cremated in 1708.
Takht Sri Patna Sahib
Takht Sri Patna Sahib is situated in Patna city which is also the capital of Bihar state. Guru Gobind Singh was born here in 1666 and he spent his early childhood here before moving to Anandpur Sahib. Besides being the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, Patna was also visited by Guru Nanak and Guru Tegh Bahadur at different points of time.
There are certain festivals that are celebrated by Sikhs all over the world. These comprise of
Bandi-Chhorh Divas (Diwali)
Sikhism has about 20 million believers worldwide but has an importance far beyond those numbers because Sikhs have played a disproportionately large role in the armed forces and public affairs in India for the last 400 years.
Although most Indian Sikhs (79 percent) remain concentrated in the state of Punjab, nearly 3.5 million Sikhs live outside the state, while about 4 million live abroad.
This Sikh diaspora, driven by ambition and economic success, has made Sikhism a world religion as well as a significant minority force within the country.