Sikhism is one of the youngest religions. It was founded in the early 1500s CE in Northern India (Punjab) by Guru Nanak. He was raised in the Muslim Mughal Empire as a Hindu, and drew inspiration from both faiths to form his own religion. Nanak composed hymns in his youth, and was led to determine that monotheism was the correct way, rejecting the polytheism of Hindu.
He soon gained a following, and the religion ended up having nine more gurus over the next two centuries. The fifth, Arjun, compiled many hymns and other writings, in the first Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth. The tenth guru, Gobind Singh, was a military hero. He established the community of pure ones (Khalsa), which was an order that utilized spiritual devotion in warfare. Under his rule, more holy books were created.
Since then, after Guru Singh died, there has been no singular leader of the Sikh community. The Sikhs ended up overthrowing the Mughals that they’d risen under in the 1800s, and they founded their own empire in Northern India. Now, most practitioners still live in Punjab, although it is one of the world’s largest religions.
Sikhism mainly follows the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. Nanak said that “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is truthful living.” Sikhism emphasizes morality in everyday life along with spiritual development. This religion is monotheistic and worships the god Waheguru (“wondrous Teacher”), who is a form that is shapeless, timeless, incomprehensible, invisible, and the creator. Waheguru has no gender, but their form is presented as masculine and the creative power as feminine. It is believed by Sikhs that God has created life on multiple planets.
Gurus are very important to Sikhs, although they are viewed as being mortal and not an entity to worship. Instead, Sikhs are told to become a slave to God, while gurus are merely guides and teachers. Sometimes Sikhs refer to “the true Guru,” meaning the highest form of truthfulness and enlightenment one can attain.
Sikhs also believe that there are five thieves that distract humanity from spirituality and are known as “temporary illusions” or “unreality from the world’s values.” These five thieves are the influences of ego, anger, greed, attachment, and lust, although there are other moral distractions from the devotion to God. Sikhs believe that humanity is in an age of darkness due to the love of these thieves that cause separation from God, and that the only remedy is intensive and relentless devotion.
To Sikhs, the purpose of human life is to reconnect with their god, but they believe that egotism is the largest barrier. Guru Nanak described that remembrance of the divine name of their god leads to the end of egotism. Since the name of their god is the source of knowledge and guide to salvation, one connects with their god through the selfless search of truth. Their consciousness is the seeker of the Word that is the true god, and their body is just a human means to achieve the truth.
Sikhs don’t believe in an afterlife destination, but rather a spiritual union with their god which results in salvation or enlightenment during one’s lifetime. They also believe in reincarnation and karma like the other Eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, but don’t describe a need for metaphysical salvation. They state that the body exists due to karma, but salvation is attained through grace. To gain grace, they must avoid the evil thieves and other sins, keep the everlasting truth in mind, practice musical recitation of hymns, meditate, and serve humanity. One way to liberate themselves from reincarnation is to associate themselves with the “true” people.
During everyday life, Sikhs believe that this is part of their infinite reality, and that increased spiritual awareness leads to increased participation in the everyday world. Guru Nanak described that an “active, creative, practical life” of truthfulness, self-control, purity, and fidelity was sometimes higher than the metaphysical truth.
An important part of Sikh worship is singing the hymns of the gurus. Guru Nanak said that listening to hymns was a powerful way to achieve tranquility while meditating. Singing these hymns are the most effective way to come in unity with their god. There are three morning prayers that recited daily, and many songs are written in the form of poetry and rhyme to be recited in thirty-one Ragas of the Classical Indian Music. Many baptized Sikhs rise to meditate early in the morning, recite all five Banis of Nitnem, and eat breakfast.
Another aspect is that Sikhs practice remembrance of the divine name of Waheguru. This is a form of contemplation where Sikhs will repeat the name or remembrance of the name through recitation. This is a common practice throughout ancient religions in India. They believe that by chanting the name, this exposes oneself to their god and conforms them to the divine order.
Sikhs also use service to accompany the remembrance of the divine name to overcome egotism. There are three forms of service: physical service and labor, mental service (dedicating one’s heart to others), and material service, such as financial support. They are taught about giving to the poor to benefit the community, sharing, and completing “honest work.”
There are several festivals that were originally started by several gurus and meant to commemorate Sikh Gurus and martyrs. One main festival is Vaisakhi, which commemorates the inauguration of the Khalsa, which is the 11th body of Guru Granth Sahib and leader of the Sikhs for eternity. It includes a parade of Sikhs singing hymns throughout their community and their holy text, which is placed on a float.
Another important festival is Band Chor Diwas. This remembers the release of Guru Hargobind from the Gwalior Fort with several Raja kings that were imprisoned in the 1600s. This is always held the same day as the Hindu festival of Diwali. Hola Mohalla was started by Guru Gobind Singh, celebrated after Holi. This includes a focus on martial arts and used to include Sikh soldiers engaging in mock battles and competing in horsemanship, athletics, archery, and military exercises. There are also Gurpurbs, which celebrate the birthdays or martyrdom of the Gurus.
Holi is a ceremonial gathering in Anandpur Sahib which attracts over 100,000 Sikhs. Sometimes this includes dipping oneself into sacred water, or taking this water home to friends and family members who are ill.
In Sikh culture, when a child is born, a page of the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random and the child is named using the first letter on the top left hand corner of the left page. All boys are given the surname Singh, and all girls are given the surname Kaur. When a Sikh marries, this is performed in front of the Guru Granth Sahib and a baptized Khalsa.
A Khalsa is a name given to a Sikh who has undergone a nectar ceremony. Sweet water is stirred with a double-edged sword while prayers are sung. The Sikh being initiated drinks it, and they are believes to be reborn as a Khalsa Sikh. After being baptized, they where five items: uncut hair, a small wooden comb, a circular steel or iron bracelet, a sword/dagger, and a special undergarment.
When a Sikh dies, they are cremated. Many prayers are given during the funeral ceremony.
Sikhs only have one primary scripture that is called the Gurū Granth Sāhib. This is a volume of scripture that was compiled by Guru Gobind Singh. This is not questioned by Sikhs as being their true testament, but there are other supplementary materials, such as the Dasam Granth, which is a secondary scripture.
The first volume of the Gurū Granth Sāhib is called the Adi Granth. It was compiled by Bhai Gurdas and Guru Arjan between 1603 and 1604. It is written in a script used in the Punjab during that time period. It was written to protect the integrity of the hymns and teachings of the Sikh Gurus, along with several bhagats of the Bhakti movement in medieval India. The book originally started as a volume of Guru Nanak’s poems and compositions. By the end, it also included works of many other gurus, including 6,000 line compositions for Indian classical music, and many scriptures.
Sikhs view their holy text as a living subject. It is treated like a living person and copies are given funeral services rather than being thrown away. In India, the book is recognized by the government as a judicial person that can receive donations and own land.
The Dasam Granth, on the other hand, includes the autobiography of Guru Gobind Singh, including dissertations on the Chaubis Avatar. This book doesn’t have the same authority as their primary holy text, although many of the compositions are used as daily prayers.
Sikhs practice in a gurdwara, which is the house of worship, and a langar, which is a communal refectory. The Adi Granth must be at all worship services within the gurdwara. To enter a gurdwara, individuals must cover their heads and remove all articles from their feet. Usually, they touch the ground before their holy scripture with their foreheads.
Worship contains singing passages from the scripture and usually contains recitations of the eighteenth century ardas. This recalls past suffering and glories, and it is meant to invoke divine grace for humanity. Many times, there will be a community meal that is held for people of all faiths. These meals will always be vegetarian and are maintained by Sikh community volunteers.