Sikhism is a religion of India that was started by a man named Nanak in the 1400s. He was the first of the ten gurus, or teachers, of the Sikhs. Most Sikhs live in the state of Punjab in north-western India. The word Sikh means ‘learner' or ‘follower'.
Beliefs and Practices
Sikhs believe that there is one God who created the world. All human beings have the opportunity to become one with God. First, however, they must overcome the basic human flaw of self-centredness. This can be achieved through proper reverence for God, commitment to hard work, service to humanity and sharing the fruits of one's labour.
Sikhs accept the Hindu theory of the circle of life – birth, death and rebirth. According to this belief, a person lives many lives, one after the other. Sikhs also accept the theory of karma. According to this belief, a person's status and happiness in life is determined by how well the person behaved in the previous life.
Sikhism forbids idol worship and does not allow God to be represented in pictures. The Sikh religious book is called the Adi Granth (‘First Book') or the Guru Granth Sahib (‘Guru Granth Personified'). It contains nearly 6,000 hymns written by the early gurus. The book itself is treated with great reverence. Followers place it under fine cloths, make offerings to it and put it away in the evening. After the death of the 10th guru, the spirit of the guru was transferred to the Adi Granth. Sikhs accept the Adi Granth as their guru.
Sikhs believe all human beings are equal. They represent this belief by their religious habit of eating together at the gurdwara, the house of worship. The main gurdwara is called the Harimandir, or Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is in the Punjab state of India, near the border with Pakistan. It was built in 1604 and has entrances on all four sides to show that it is open to all people of any belief or social position.
Many Sikhs belong to the order known as Khalsa (‘The Pure'). They follow strict rules of conduct, vowing to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and to devote themselves to prayer. Male members of the order must not cut their hair or beards, and they must cover their hair with a headdress called a turban. They wear a steel bracelet, usually on their right arm, and a long pair of shorts called kachha. They also carry a comb and a sword.
The founder of Sikhism, Nanak, was born in 1469 in a village in what is now Pakistan. He was raised as a Hindu and joined a group that was especially devoted to the god Vishnu. He began to write hymns and organised community hymn singing. According to Sikh tradition, Nanak suddenly disappeared while bathing in a stream. On the third day afterwards he reappeared, and proclaimed, ‘There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim'. He died in 1539.
Nanak was the first of ten gurus of the Sikhs. The last of them was Gobind Singh, who died in 1708. Responding to mistreatment by India's rulers, Gobind Singh created the Khalsa, a special brotherhood of Sikhs that owed its allegiance directly to the Guru.
In the 1840s the Sikhs fought two wars with British forces in the Punjab region. The British controlled India at the time. The Sikhs were defeated, and the Punjab became part of British India. During most of the century that followed, Sikh soldiers served faithfully in the British Army and were rewarded with land.
In 1947 British India gained independence as two separate countries, India and Pakistan. The traditional lands of the Sikhs were divided between the two. Most Sikhs settled in India, where they quarrelled with the Hindu majority. In 1984 the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and hundreds of his followers were killed in an Indian army assault on the Golden Temple. Later that year the Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This led to widespread Hindu violence against Sikhs. These two events caused deep resentment among Sikhs and fuelled a movement demanding the establishment of a separate Sikh state. In 2004, the Sikhs celebrated the appointment of Manmohan Singh as the first Sikh prime minister of India.