An Introduction to Sikhism
An Overview of Sikhism
Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 26 million across the world. Most Sikhs live in Punjab in India and, until India's partition, millions of Sikhs lived in what is now Pakistani Punjab. According to the 2001 census there are more than 650,000 Sikhs in the United States.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in fifteenth century Punjab (then a part of India) on the teachings
of Guru Nanak Dev and ten successive Sikh Gurus (the last one being the sacred text Guru Granth Sahib). It is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. This system of religious philosophy and expression has been traditionally known as the Gurmat (literally the counsel of the gurus) or the Sikh Dharma. Sikhism originated from the word Sikh, which comes from the Sanskrit root śiṣya meaning "disciple" or śikṣa meaning “instruction.”
The origins of Sikhism lie in the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors. The essence of Sikh teaching is summed up by Nanak in these words: "Realisation of Truth is higher than all else. Higher still is truthful living". Sikh teaching emphasizes the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender. Sikh principles do not attach any importance to asceticism as a means to attain salvation, but stresses on the need of leading life as a householder.
The traditions and philosophy of Sikhism were established by ten specific gurus from 1499 to 1708. Each guru added to and reinforced the message taught by the previous, resulting in the creation of the Sikh religion. Nanak was the first guru and appointed a disciple as successor. Gobind Singh was the final guru in human form. Before his death, Gobind Singh decreed that the Gurū Granth Sāhibh would be the final and perpetual guru of the Sikhs.
Some Key Concepts in Sikhism
The principal belief of Sikhism is faith in waheguru—represented using the sacred symbol of ik ōaṅkār, the Universal God. Sikhism advocates the pursuit of salvation through disciplined, personal meditation on the name and message of God. A key distinctive feature of Sikhism is a non-anthropomorphic concept of God, to the extent that one can interpret God as the Universe itself. The followers of Sikhism are ordained to follow the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus, or enlightened leaders, as well as the holy scripture entitled the Gurū Granth Sāhib, which, along with the writings of six of the ten Sikh Gurus, includes selected works of many devotees from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. The text was decreed by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, as the final guru of the Khalsa Panth. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctively associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab.
Sikh Scriptures and Sources for Further Information
There is one primary sources of scripture for the Sikhs: the Gurū Granth Sāhib. The Gurū Granth Sāhib may be referred to as the Ādi Granth—literally, The First Volume—and the two terms are often used synonymously. Here, however, the Ādi Granth refers to the version of the scripture created by Arjan Dev in 1604. The Gurū Granth Sāhib refers to the final version of the scripture created by Gobind Singh. A simple brief introduction to Sikhism can be found in the book Sikhism by Gurinder Singh Mann. A comprehensive web site for further information is http://www.sikhnet.com.
Selected Sikh Observances
Observant Sikhs adhere to long-standing practices and traditions to strengthen and express their faith. The daily recitation from memory of specific passages from the Gurū Granth Sāhib, especially the Japu (or Japjī, literally chant) hymns is recommended immediately after rising and bathing. Family customs include both reading passages from the scripture and attending the gurdwara (also gurduārā, meaning the doorway to God; sometimes transliterated as gurudwara). There are many gurdwaras prominently constructed and maintained across India, as well as in almost every nation where Sikhs reside. Gurdwaras are open to all, regardless of religion, background, caste, or race.
Worship in a gurdwara consists chiefly of singing of passages from the scripture. Sikhs will commonly enter the temple, touch the ground before the holyscripture with their foreheads, and make an offering. The recitation of the eighteenth century ardās is also customary for attending Sikhs. The ardās recalls past sufferings and glories of the community, invoking divine grace for all humanity.
The most sacred shrine is the Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar, famously known as the Golden Temple. Groups of Sikhs regularly visit and congregate at the Harimandir Sahib. On specific occasions, groups of Sikhs are permitted to undertake a pilgrimage to Sikh shrines in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, especially at Nankana Sahib and other Gurdwaras. Other places of interest to Sikhism in Pakistan includes the samādhī (place of cremation) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore.
The Sikh faith also participates in the custom of "Langar" or the community meal. In the afternoon, all temples are open to anyone of any faith for a free meal. People can enter and eat together and are served by faithful members of the community. This is the main cost associated with gurdwaras and where monetary donations are primarily spent.
Sikh festivals include the following: