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Sikhism is one of the youngest religions, sixth in the world. There about 26 million Sikhs in the world, about 75% of them live in the Punjab, India. Though Sikhs are less than 2% of India’s population, yet they have made a name for themselves in almost all walks of life such as armed forces, agriculture, sports, industry, education, medicine, engineering, transportation etc., through sheer dint of hard work. The present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.

Their adventurous and enterprising nature have taken them to all parts of the world. In Canada, there are about half a million Sikhs, the first Sikh having arrived in Canada as early as 1897. In 1986, Moe Sihota, in British Columbia, became the first Sikh to be elected to a Canadian legislature. In 1993, Gurbakhash Singh Malhi from Ontario became the first turbaned Sikh to become a member of Canadian Parliament. Herb Dhaliwal was the first Asian to get a cabinet position in the Liberal govt. of Canada in 1997. In 2000, Ujjal Dosanjh was the first Asian to become premier of a Canadian province, British Columbia. In 2004, six Sikhs, were elected to the Canadian Parliament and one of them, Ujjal Dosanjh, became the Health Minister of Canada. Again in 2006, six Sikh MP’s were returned to Canadian House of Commons.

The word ‘Sikh’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘shishya’ which means a disciple, a learner, a seeker of truth. Guru means a spiritual teacher or a guide. A Sikh believes in One God, the teachings of the ten Sikh Gurus, and the eternal Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. A Sikh needs a Guru to get spiritual guidance.

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By Jagpal Singh Tiwana

Brief History

Guru Nanak, the founder:

Sikh religion was founded by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 CE at Nankana Sahib near Lahore (Pakistan). Right from his childhood his keen mind would not accept all the empty and meaningless rituals, superstitions and dogmas which passed for religion in those days. He advised both Hindus and Muslims to avoid groundless rituals and be true Hindus and Muslims. He had following in both Hindus and Muslims. Accompanied by a Muslim bard, Mardana who played rebec with him Guru Nanak traveled far and wide in India and outside to spread his message. Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine Sikh Gurus who further nurtured, developed and preached his ideas and teachings. The Sikh Gurus provided guidance for about two centuries, quite about the same time when the Mughal dynasty ruled over India. They taught the basic values of freedom, brotherhood, compassion, charity, humility, simplicity, and piety.

Sikh Gurus

There were ten Sikh Gurus

  • Guru Nanak, 1469-1539

  • Guru Angad, born 1504, Guru 1539-1552

  • Guru Amar Das, born 1479, Guru 1552-1574

  • Guru Ram Das, born 1534, Guru 1574-1581

  • Guru Arjan, born 1563, Guru 1581-1606

  • Guru Hargobind, born 1595, Guru 1606-1644

  • Guru Har Rai, born 1630, Guru 1644-1661

  • Guru Har Krishan, born 1656, Guru 1661-1664

  • Guru Teg Bahadur, born 1621, Guru 1664-1675

  • Guru Gobind Singh, born 1666, Guru 1675-1708

The Sikh Gurus were human beings, not gods, nor were they incarnations of God (God taking human form). The Gurus are never worshiped, although Sikhs hold the Gurus in high esteem ; pictures of Sikh Gurus are often seen in Sikh places of worship and homes.

The Khalsa

Some Mughal rulers were bigots and intolerant towards non-Muslims. They tried to convert Hindus to Islam forcibly. Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, was executed in Delhi in 1675 when he refused to embrace Islam. In 1699, to fight this kind of injustice and to defend the basic human rights, Guru Gobind Singh the tenth Guru of Sikhs, son of Guru Tegh Bahadur, created an order of saint soldiers, known as the Khalsa. The Guru first initiated five volunteers, Panj Piares, who volunteered to die for the cause. Later he himself was baptized by the five volunteers. He then initiated thousands others who were willing to make sacrifices . The Khalsa Sikhs were required to keep unshorn hair and carry weapons especially sword (Kirpan). All baptized men were required to use Singh, meaning lion, and women Kaur, meaning princess, as their last names, thus shedding their caste identity.

The Sikh Holy Book

The fifth Guru Arjan Dev compiled the teachings and writings of previous Gurus as well as those of Hindu and Muslim saints and mystics known at that time into the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, gave the finishing touch to it. He decreed an end to the line of personal Gurus in human form and ordained Granth Sahib as their eternal Guru after him. For Sikhs Guru Granth Sahib is the repository of all spiritual knowledge and authority. In temporal matters all authority rests with the Sikh panth.

Sikhs revere the ten Gurus because they brought to them the divine word. They, however, worship only the one, timeless (Akal) God.


Sikh Kingdom under Maharaja Ranjit Singh

During the eighteenth century, the Sikhs were subjected to various suppressions and persecutions by the rulers of the time. They had to make supreme sacrifices to protect and preserve their faith. The Mughal empire was on the verge of disintegration. The Afghans had started invading the country under Ahmed Shah Abdali. The Sikhs availed of this opportunity to establish their kingdom which they ultimately achieved under Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). The Sikh empire lasted for half a century and was annexed by the British in 1849.

Sikhs have not forgotten the fact that they once ruled over Punjab. During the partition of India in 1947, they also laid claim to an area where they could be in a majority and preserve their language, religion and culture. Sikhs opted to join secular India when they were promised an area “ where they could feel glow of freedom”. In India, they kept demanding and struggling for a region where they could be in majority. Finally after prolonged struggles, protests and agitations and getting sops in form of Sachar Fomula, Regional Committees, they succeeded in 1966 in getting Punjabi Suba, a state in Federal India, where they are in majority- 60% of the population.

Beliefs, Practices, Institutions.

Sikh concept of God

Sikhs believe that there is one supreme Lord who is omnipresent and all pervasive.

  • He is the eternal reality ; He is permanent.

  • He created the universe.

  • He is without fear and enmity.

  • He has no shape

  • He has no gender

  • He is not born, nor does He die to be born again.

God reaches out to humanity through the word, which is conveyed by the Gurus, and which is laid down in the form of shabads, or hymns in Guru Granth Sahib. This forms the backbone of Sikh worship.


Three fundamental rules of Sikh’s life are

Sikhs believe that there is one supreme Lord who is omnipresent and all pervasive.
1. Nam Japo – Remember the Lord
2. Kirt Karo – Earn your living through honest work
3. Vand Chhako –Share your earnings with the needy

Cycle of Life

Sikhs believe that human beings spend their time in a cycle of birth, life, and rebirth. They share this belief with followers of other Indian religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The quality of each particular life depends on the law of Karma. Karma sets the quality of a life according to how well or badly a person behaved in their previous life–you reap what you sow. The only way out of this painful cycle is to achieve union with God by worshipping on divine name.

The Gurdwara

The Sikh place of worship, called Gurdwara, is more than a place of worship. Visitors, irrespective of their religion are offered shelter, comfort and food free of charge. The only conditions being that they remove the shoes, cover the heads and do not carry cigarettes and liquor in their possession. Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a high palanquin under a canopy in the middle of one end of the hall. The worship consists of singing hymns as well as exposition of Sikh history, tradition and religion. Non-Sikhs are always welcome. Any knowledgeable person, man or woman, may perform any Sikh rites. In fact a Sikhs’ life revolves around the Gurdwara. Whenever they move to a new place, they try to establish a Gurdwara even if their number is small. All the ceremonies relating to birth, initiation, marriage, death and celebration of festivals center around the Gurdwara.

Sikhs have built Gurdwaras in memory of their Gurus and heroes especially at places of their births and deaths. Golden Temple in Amritsar is the Mecca of Sikhs. Other historic Gurdwaras are at Anandpur, Damdama, Delhi, Patna and Nander. Historic gurdwaras of Punjab are managed by an elected body of Sikhs, called Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). It has an annual budget of about Rs. 3300 million (in 2007).

About 130 important historical gurdwaras were left in Pakistan after partition of Punjab in 1947. They are managed by Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Sikhs visit these gurdwaras on historic days with the permission of Pakistan and Indian Governments.


Sikh Flag

Gurdwaras usually display and fly the “Nishan Sahib,” a yellow (saffron) triangular flag bearing the Sikh symbol of “Khanda”.


Langar – Free Food

From the time of Guru Nanak about five hundred years ago until today, Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras) all over the world usually run free community kitchens which provide meals to all devotees, pilgrims and visitors, Sikhs or non-Sikhs. These kitchens are manned and funded by volunteers. It is here all – the high and the low , the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the kings and the paupers – share same food sitting together in one row. In the Golden Temple, Amritsar, about 50,000 to 70,000 people eat free food every day in the Gurdwara Langar.


Sikh Calendar

The dates of Sikh festivals have traditionally been defined by using a lunar calendar, with the result that the festivals were not on the same Western date each year. Now a new calendar has been introduced to fix this problem by lining up with the Western calendar so that Sikh festival dates are the same each year. It is called Nanak Shahi Calendar in the name of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh Religion.


Gurpurabs – Anniversaries of Historic Days

Gurpurabs are festivals that are associated with the lives of the Gurus. They are Important historic occasions which are celebrated most enthusiastically by Sikhs.

The most important Gurpurbs are:

  • The birthday of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism (November)

  • The birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa (January)

  • The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev( June

  • The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur (November/December)

  • Baisakhi, the birth of the Khalsa (April)


Akhand path

Sikhs hold akhand paths on Gurpurbs and other important occasions . This is a complete and continuous reading of Sikh scripture (Adi Granth) that takes 48 hours. The reading is done by a team of readers, each reading for about 2 hours. Gurdwaras are decorated for Gurpurbs, and Sikhs dress up in new or smart clothes and join together for special services.

On Important historic days, the Sikh scripture is paraded around the locality in a procession led by the Sikh flag, and accompanied by 5 Sikhs representing the first five members of the Khalsa (the Panj Piaras or Five Beloved Ones).

Place of Women

Sikhism promises women an equal place. It could do no less when it defines God as gender neutral, and is perhaps one of the few major world religions to do so. Female infanticide was strongly condemned by Guru Nanak and his successors. There is no activity in a gurdwara or within the community that is permitted to a man but not to a woman. There is no religious function from which women are barred at any time of their lives.


Sikh Greeting

Sat Sri Akal: “ True is the immortal One” .

When a Sikh meets another Sikh, he greets him with the words “ Sat Sri Akal”.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Sri Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh :

When one Sikh meets a group of Sikhs or starts addressing a congregation in a Gurdwara, he greets them with

"Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Sri Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh which means Khalsa belong to God and Khalsa’s victory is in His name”.

Every major city in the United States and Canada has a Sikh gurdwara and they are open to all.

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