Sikhism is an ethical monotheism fusing

elements of Hinduism and Islam. It was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), a

mystic who believed that God transcends religious distinctions.

Beliefs and Practices

Influenced by the devotional emphasis

of bhakti Hinduism and Sufi Islam, Sikhism stresses the unity, truth, and

creativity of a personal God and urges union with him through meditation

on his title, the Name (Nam), and surrender to his will. It also advocates

active service rather than the Hindu ideal of ascetic withdrawal. Loyalty

and justice are admired, smoking and intoxicants forbidden. Sikhism also

rejects the Hindu caste system, priesthood, image worship, and pilgrimage,

although it retains the Hindu doctrines of transmigration and karma. The

ultimate spiritual authority is the Adi Granth, consisting of hymns by

the ten Sikh gurus (Hindi for “teachers”) and Hindu and Muslim devotional

poetry in several languages. All Sikhs may read the Adi Granth, which is

the focus of devotion at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikh religious


Sikhs are expected to join the Khalsa (Punjabi for “pure”), a religious

and military order. Initiates are “baptized” by drinking sweetened water

stirred with a sword, after which Sikh men take the surname Singh (“lion”)

and women take the surname Kaur (“prince,” or here, “princess”). Members

of the Khalsa are instructed to observe the five k’s: They must wear four

symbols of the Sikh faith-soldiers’ shorts (kaccha), an iron bangle (kara),

a steel sword (kirpan), and a comb (khanga)-and they must not cut their

hair (kes).


Nanak, the saintly first guru, wandered over India seeking converts.

He was succeeded by nine gurus whose office became hereditary. The fourth,

Ram Das, founded the Golden Temple. The fifth, Arjun compiled the Adi Granth

in 1604. As the Sikhs became a distinct religious community, they took

up arms against persecution by Hindus and by Muslim rulers of the Mughal

Empire. Oppo Mughal tyranny, the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, formed the Khalsa

in 1699. During the decline of the Mughals, the Sikhs, led by the warrior

Ranjit Singh, created a powerful state in the Punjab about 1800 that eventually

threatened British-controlled India. After internal dissension and two

wars the Punjab was annexed by the British in 1849.

The British governed the Sikhs fairly and, in return for their loyalty

during the Sepoy Mutiny of (1857-1859), gave them preferential land grants.

The Sikhs gained wealth and a great reputation as soldiers and policemen.

Upon independence in 1947, they lost their privileges and found their state

divided between India and Pakistan.

Golden Temple

Located in Amritsar, a city in the

Punjab state of northwestern India, the Golden Temple serves as the most

important house of worship for the Sikhs. Originally built in 1604, the

temple sustained repeated damage from attacks by Afghan invaders. During

the early 19th-century reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the temple was rebuilt

using marble, copper, and an overlay of gold foil. The temple sits on a

small island and connects with land on the west by way of a marble causeway.

Similar Posts