Sikhism Road Paper

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Sikhism is an eclectic faith combining the teachings of Hinduism and other traditions first laid down by its founder, Guru Nanak (1469–1539?), in the Punjab region of India. Sikhs have migrated to many parts of the world and set up large communities; they stress respect for other faiths, emphasize a sense of social duty, and give great importance to the equality of all human beings.

Sikhism is a religion that developed in the Punjab area of the Indian subcontinent in the fifteenth century CE. The founder of the religion was Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 CE in Talwandi. Guru Nanak was originally a Hindu, but drew upon a range of religious influences in creating his distinctive spiritual message. In his early years he earned his living by keeping financial records, but was attracted to the religious life, and made a series of journeys to religious sites that were significant to both Muslims and Hindus. It seems that he traveled to Varanasi (Benares), to the very south of India, and also to Mecca. After this long period of pilgrimage, Guru Nanak moved to the village of Kartarpur in the Punjab where he gathered around himself a community of disciples. Toward the end of his life, Guru Nanak selected a man named Lehna to be his successor. From then onward, Lehna became known as Guru Angad.

In his teachings Guru Nanak laid the religious foundations of Sikhism, but his spiritual successors amplified the teachings. After Guru Angad there were eight other Sikh gurus, culminating in Guru Gobind Singh, who died in 1708 CE. The teachings of some of the Sikh gurus, along with those of several Hindu and Muslim teachers, were ultimately gathered together into the definitive scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The names and dates of the ten Sikh gurus are: Guru Nanak (1469–1539?); Guru Angad (1504– 1552); Guru Amar Das (1479–1574); Guru Ram Das (1534–1581); Guru Arjun (1563–1606); Guru Hargobind (1595–1644); Guru Har Rai (1630–1661); Guru Hari Krishen (1656–1664); Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621?–1675); Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708). It was decided by Guru Gobind Singh that he would be the last person who was guru, and that from then onward, the scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, would become the guru.

Religious Beliefs

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that lays emphasis upon the relationship of the individual with God. The Sikh scripture emphasizes the influence of God in creating an ethical unity or the Punjabi hukam in the universe. The goal of human beings should be to try to live according to this ethical principle, while at the same time not being egoistic or focused on the self. If the individual tries diligently to adhere to this way of life, then with the grace of God, it is possible to attain salvation. Sikhs may also use a form of meditation involving the repetition of the name of God, to assist in achieving salvation. The state of salvation is sometimes described by the Punjabi term sahaj, which indicates the merging of the individual with the divine.

In a Sikh community, worship is normally focused upon a gurdwara. This is a place of communal worship, in which is kept a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib. This scripture is regarded with great reverence by the Sikhs, as it is considered to be one of the principal ways in which God reveals his teachings to humanity. The holy book is kept on a pedestal at one end of a large prayer room, in which when services are being held, men sit on one side and women on the other. Worship at the gurdwara may consist of readings from the Guru Granth Sahib, the singing of hymns accompanied by music, and also spiritual talks.

After the worship, there is often a communal meal or langar. This social custom was instituted by the Sikh gurus to emphasize the equality of all people. In the India of the time, there were a number of prohibitions about food that related to the caste which a person occupied. The Sikh gurus felt that these were inappropriate, and the langar was developed to stress the absence of social divisions among Sikhs. Guru Nanak was opposed to extravagant forms of religious ritual, and this is reflected in the relative simplicity of Sikh worship. Sikhism does not particularly attempt to convert people to its faith. While Sikhs are very proud of their own religion, they also show respect for other faiths.

Historical Development

Sikhism developed at a period of conflict in northern India, exacerbated by the geographical position of the Punjab on the natural invasion route from the north into India. The historical period covered by the Sikh gurus saw intermittent conflict between the developing Sikh community and the Muslim invaders of India. The Sikhs felt, to some extent, the need to defend their community militarily in order to survive. But relations with the Mughal Empire were at times very friendly. Guru Amar Das, for example, was a contemporary of the Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled 1556–1605 CE), and it seems likely that the two men did in fact meet, under very amicable circumstances. Guru Arjan, on the other hand, possibly because of political conflict, alienated the emperor Jahangir (ruled 1605–1627) and was subsequently executed. The emperor Aurangzeb (ruled 1659–1707) instituted a period of stricter observance of Islamic views. There was conflict with the Sikhs, and the ninth guru, Tegh Bahadur, was ultimately executed. His son, Guru Gobind Singh, became leader of the Sikh community, and introduced changes that were to have long-term consequences for Sikhs. Besides establishing the Sikh scripture as Guru, he instituted the khalsa, or community of people who had been formally accepted as Sikhs. Members of the khalsa tend to be recognized by five characteristics: they do not cut their hair; they wear a comb to keep it in order; and they wear a sword, a steel bangle on the wrist, and a pair of shorts beneath their outer garment. These customs have given Sikhs a sense of coherence as a community.

Influence of Sikhism

Although there was some continuing conflict between Sikhs and Muslims, the Sikh community managed to sustain its sense of identity. In recent times, Sikhs have migrated to many parts of the world and set up large and successful communities, for example in Canada and in London. Sikhism has emphasized a number of principles that are of value to the world faith community. It has stressed a respect for other faiths; it has emphasized a sense of social duty, and given great importance to the equality of all human beings.


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