Sikhism, major religion of India founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century. Sikhism has almost 21 million followers, most of whom live in the Indian state of Punjab. Punjab is the historic homeland of Sikhism, but it has also spread to other parts of northern India, and a significant diaspora exists in Europe and North America. Sikhism is not an ethnic religion and welcomes converts.
The essence of Sikh theology is to be found in the opening hymn of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikhs’ sacred text:
“There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; immanent in all things; creator of all things; immanent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru’s grace.”
Sikhs believe that God (Waheguru), who created the universe and everything in it, is omnipresent, immanent as well as transcendent, and omnipotent. Because God is formless, inscrutable, and beyond the reach of human intellect, a relationship with the Creator can be established only by recognizing divine self-expression and truth. This relationship is possible through meditation on God’s name (nam) and word (shabad), which are the revelation of the divine teacher (the guru). Without the guru’s grace an individual is doomed to the perpetual cycle of death and rebirth.
Guru Nanak was the first of ten gurus of Sikhism. Guru Nanak’s message went beyond personal reflection and mediation to incorporate a new social vision. This was evident in his strong emphasis on social equality, the rejection of all forms of caste distinctions, the collective welfare of all, and the centrality of the concept of seva (service) to the community. The present and the divine in Nanak’s social vision are linked together in three simple injunctions to his followers: to adore the divine name, to work hard, and to share the rewards of one’s labor with others.
|III||WORSHIP, PRACTICE, AND FESTIVALS|
The Sikh code of discipline (Rehat Maryada) prescribes the daily routine for adherents. They should rise early (3 am to 6 am) and, having bathed, observe nam japana by meditating on the divine name, and read or recite daily prayers known as nit nem. This is followed by the reciting of the following scriptures: early morning (3 am to 6 am), Japji Sahib, Jap Sahib, and the ten Swayyas; in the evening, Sodar Rahiras; and at night before retiring, Kirtan Sohila. At the conclusion of each selection, a prayer known as the Ardas must be recited.
As the influence of the Guru’s word is best experienced in the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, Sikhs are required to join a daily sangat (congregation) where, as well as listening to scriptures, they must undertake and perform seva, or service to the community. When entering a gurdwara, one removes one’s shoes and covers one’s hair. Sikhs and non-Sikhs bow before the Guru Granth Sahib by touching their foreheads to the ground. The sangat are served Karah Prashad (sacramental food) at the close of the session. Each gurdwara has a langar (common kitchen) where the sangat are enjoined to share a meal.
The Rehat Maryada also imposes further injunctions: Sikhs are not allowed to eat meat killed in accordance with Muslim custom; the use of all intoxicants is forbidden; they must not cut their hair; and they must be loyal to their marriage partners. For most Sikhs and their families, Sikhism plays a central role in their life cycle. There is a distinctive ceremony for naming the newborn and for baptism into the Khalsa (see below); the learning of Punjabi is seen as essential to understanding the scriptures; the marriage ceremony is specifically defined; and, at death, there are prescribed scriptures to be read and procedures to be followed.
Most Sikh children are considered to be born Sikhs. All Sikhs who follow elements of the code of discipline and are mature enough to appreciate the commitment can undergo baptism into the sacred order of the Khalsa (the pure) established by Guru Gobind Singh at Baisakhi in 1699. Initiation into the Khalsa follows the ceremony known as khande di pahul (tempered with steel) performed by the Panj Piare (the symbolic representation of the five beloved ones who were first baptized, and who subsequently, in turn, baptized Guru Gobind Singh). The Khalsa are required to keep the five Ks: kesh (unshorn hair), kacha (drawers or briefs), kirpan (steel dagger), kara (iron bangle), and kanga (comb). In addition they must strictly adhere to all aspects of the Rehat Maryada. Baptized Khalsa males are renamed as Singh and females as Kaur. While the majority of Sikhs follow aspects of the Rehat Maryada and keep the five Ks, those who follow the strict discipline of the Khalsa are in a minority.
Sikhs celebrate many festivals marking the lives and times of the gurus, particular events in Sikh history, and the popular traditions of Punjab. The birth and death of a guru is referred to as a gurpurb. The martyrdoms of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur are generally observed, while the births of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh are universally celebrated. Baisakhi is the first month of the Sikh new year and also coincides with the harvest season in Punjab. Baisakhi is also important for Sikhs because it marks the time of the year when they normally assembled in the presence of the guru, and as the historic occasion in 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa. Sikhs also celebrate Diwali, which marks the release of the Guru Hargobind from confinement in Gwalior Fort, and Hola Mohalla, a festival started by Guru Gobind Singh for his followers in opposition to the Hindu festival of Holi.
The Guru Granth Sahib is the sacred text of the Sikhs. It was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev in 1604 and is 1,430 pages long. The text includes the hymns and poems of Guru Nanak, his successors, and Muslim and Hindu poets. Upon his death in 1708 Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, ordained that personal guruship was at an end; thereafter it was to be vested in the Guru Granth Sahib.
The development of the Sikh community has been strongly influenced by the course of historical events. Guru Nanak, who was a Hindu by birth, was born at the time of religious reform movements in northern India. While his thought shared many of the features of his contemporaries, his religious doctrine nonetheless marked a radical departure and soon attracted many followers. Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine other gurus. Guru Angad (guru between 1539 and 1552) established the Gurmukhi (from the mouth of the guru) script in which Punjabi is written. Guru Amar Das (guru between 1552 and 1574) founded Goindwall, a place of pilgrimage where Sikhs were encouraged to gather twice a year. Guru Ram Das (guru between 1574 and 1581) is remembered for founding the current site in Amritsar of the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) on land granted by the emperor Akbar. When Guru Arjan Dev assumed the leadership of the community (1581-1606), Sikhism had developed a considerable following in Punjab’s central districts. During his guruship the Darbar Sahib (1604) was completed and the Guru Granth Sahib (also known as the Adi Granth) was compiled. Sikhism’s increasing influence, however, led the Mughal emperor Jahangir to check the growth of the new faith (see Mughal Empire). This move resulted in the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev in 1606.
Guru Hargobind (guru between 1606 and 1644) reacted to these developments by establishing a fortress at Amritsar and the Akal Takhat (seat of temporal authority) opposite the Harimandar Sahib (Temple of God) within the Darbar Sahib complex. The linking of these two forms of authority was further symbolized in his decision to wear two swords that signified the temporal and the spiritual. The leadership of the seventh and eighth gurus (Guru Har Rai, guru between 1644 and 1661; Guru Har Krishan, guru between 1661 and 1664) was largely uneventful as they sought to avoid a direct confrontation with the Mughal rulers, but their successor, Guru Tegh Bahadur (guru between 1664 and 1675), was martyred after making representations to the emperor Aurangzeb against the religious persecution of Kashmiri “pundits” (from Sanskrit pandit, “teachers”). Guru Gobind Singh’s guruship (1675 to 1708) was marked by a growing conflict between the Sikh community and the Mughal and Hindu princely rulers in Punjab. In 1699, at Baisakhi, Guru Gobind Singh decided to further consolidate the development of the community by baptizing the Khalsa. Upon his death Guru Gobind Singh vested the guruship in the Guru Granth Sahib. Thereafter the spiritual and the temporal were embodied in the Guru Panth (the temporal Sikh community) and the Guru Granth Sahib (which would spiritually guide it).
With the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the decline of Afghan influence in Punjab, the 18th century saw the rise of Sikhs to political power in the province. During what is known as the “heroic century,” against considerable odds, the Sikhs, who were the minority religious community in the province, achieved political dominance in Punjab. This rise culminated in 1801 with the establishment by Ranjit Singh of the kingdom of Lahore, which included Afghan territories to the west and Kashmir to the east, and extended to the borders of Tibet. Although Ranjit Singh’s state was the embodiment of Punjabi identity, its fortunes were largely guided by a powerful military meritocracy that was dominated by the Khalsa.
Ranjit Singh’s kingdom lasted until 1849, when it was annexed by the British. During the next century Sikh fortunes waxed and waned as they were first treated with suspicion by the ruling colonial rulers and then recruited in large numbers into the Indian Army. In response to the competitive religious revivalism that took place in Punjab in the late 19th century among the three main traditions (Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism) following the proselytizing activities of Christian missionaries, the Singh Sabha movement attempted to reassert Sikh identity by seeking the removal of Hindu influence and ritual that had accreted the Sikh tradition during the dislocation of the Panth (Sikh community) in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work of the Singh Sabha was completed by the Akali Movement (1920-1925), which successfully removed Hindu mehants (hereditary custodians) of leading gurdwaras, including the Darbar Sahib. This movement established the two premier institutions that have controlled Sikh affairs ever since: the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandak Committee, which manages the affairs of the leading gurdwaras, and the Akali Dal, its political wing.
The Akali Dal opposed the partition of Punjab between India and Pakistan when India gained its independence from Britain in 1947. But when it became a reality the Sikh political leadership opted to join India. Partition divided the Sikh community into two and precipitated the mass transfer of Sikhs (and Hindus) from West Punjab and Muslims from East Punjab. Almost 250,000 people were killed in the riots that followed.
After 1947 the Akali Dal leadership attempted to preserve the distinctive identity of the community by campaigning for a Punjabi Suba (Punjabi-speaking state). This demand was conceded after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. Although the linguistic reorganization of Punjab in 1966 created a majority Sikh state (60 percent), it left many Punjabi-speaking territories outside the new state. The national government’s role in the dismissal of the Punjab’s Akali Dal governments (1967-1971) and lingering resentment about linguistic reorganization led the Akali Dal to adopt the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (ASR) in 1973, which called for greater autonomy for Punjab.
Following the dismissal of the Akali Dal government in 1980, the ASR became the focus of an autonomy movement led by moderate Akalis. However, as this campaign failed to achieve a political settlement with the national government, the militant faction led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale called for direct action that resulted in the gradual breakdown of law and order in Punjab. On June 5, 1984, the Indian Army, in an operation code-named Blue Star, entered the Darbar Sahib complex in order to evict Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers, who had taken refuge in the precinct. The clash resulted in the deaths of about 1,000 people, many of them Sikhs.
In the aftermath of Operation Blue Star, Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards. Her death was followed immediately by pogroms against Sikhs in Delhi in which approximately 3,000 people were killed. In 1985 Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi attempted to restore the political process through the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, but his reluctance to make concessions on the main Sikh demands undermined the moderate Akalis and led to the rise of militant groups campaigning for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan. Between 1984 and 1993, almost 25,000 people were killed in Punjab as a result of militant violence and counterinsurgency operations conducted by the security forces. By the end of 1993 the use of overwhelming force by the police, the paramilitaries, and the army succeeded in eliminating most militant groups.
|VI||SIKHS IN INDIA AND ABROAD|
In India Sikhs constitute about 2 percent of the total population. In Punjab there are 15 million Sikhs, with another 4 million in the adjoining states and territories of Hary?na, R?jasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Mah?r?shtra, Uttaranchal, Jammu and Kashm?r, Madhya Pradesh, and Chand?garh. Small settlements are also to be found in Jharkhand, Him?chal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal. Most Sikhs are traditionally associated with farming, though urban Sikhs are also renowned for their sharp business acumen. The Sikh community is generally seen by outsiders as industrious, entrepreneurial, and adventurous. The success of the Green Revolution in turning Punjab into the granary of India and the richest state in India is mostly associated with the ethic of hard work rooted in the religious and cultural tradition of the Sikh peasantry. These qualities have historically led to heavy Sikh recruitment into the armed forces. Today, Sikhs still constitute a disproportionate share of India’s soldiers and officer corps.
There is a sizable Sikh diaspora (more than 1 million) settled in the United Kingdom (400,000), Canada (300,000), and the United States (100,000). Whereas most of the migrants to the United States (apart from the early settlers at the beginning of this century) had professional backgrounds, settlers in the United Kingdom (with the exception of East Africans) and Canada are mainly of rural background from the central districts of Punjab. In the United Kingdom since the 1970s the Sikh community has provided the mainstay to “Asian success.” There are also small settlements in most European countries, the Middle East, East Asia, Africa, and Australasia, some of which date from the late 19th century. Overall the Sikh diaspora has been very active in promoting the interests of the community to a global audience. Within the Sikh diaspora there is strong reproduction of Sikh institutions, creative adaptation to local conditions and influences, and a growing self-confidence and awareness as a global community.