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Sikhism

Sikhism

Sikhism originated in the Punjab region, in northwest India, five centuries ago. It is the youngest of all independent religions in India, where the Sikhs are less than 2 percent (1.8%) of India's one billion people. What makes Sikhs significant is not their numbers but their contribution in the political and economic spheres. The global population of the Sikhs is approximately 20 million, which is slightly more than the worldwide total of Jewish people. About 18 million Sikhs live in the state of Punjab, while the rest have settled in other parts of India, including the substantial communities of Sikhs now established in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the United Kingdom, and North America through successive waves of emigration. During the last century, a quarter million Sikhs have settled in the United States of America. The observant male Sikhs are easily recognized by their beards and turbans—which are the very symbols of their faith.

The Origins and Development of Sikhism

Sikhism is rooted in a particular religious experience, piety, and culture and informed by a unique inner revelation of its founder, Guru Nanak (1469–1539). It evolved in response to three main elements. The first of these was the ideology based on religious and cultural innovations of Guru Nanak and his nine successors. The second was the rural base of the Punjabi society. The third significant element was the period of Punjab history. All three elements combined to produce the mutual interaction between ideology and environment in the historical development of Sikhism.

During the period of the ten Gurus (Preceptors), three key events took place in the evolution of Sikhism. The first was the establishment of the first Sikh community at Kartarpur in west Punjab during the last two decades of Guru Nanak's life. To ensure its survival, Guru Nanak formally appointed a successor before he passed away in 1539. Thus, a lineage was established, and a legitimate succession was maintained intact from the appointment of the second Guru, Angad (1504–1552), to the death of Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs. The second event was the compilation of the canonical scripture, the Adi Granth (AG) in 1604 by the fifth Guru, Arjan (1563–1606). It provided a framework for the shaping of the Sikh community. The third was the founding of the institution of the Khalsa (pure) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, an order of loyal Sikhs bound by common identity and discipline.

The inauguration of the Khalsa was the culmination of the canonical period of the development of Sikhism. The most visible symbols of Sikhism known as the Five Ks—namely uncut hair, a wrist ring, a short sword, a comb for the topknot, and breeches—are mandatory to the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh terminated the line of personal Gurus before he passed away in 1708, and installed the Adi Granth as Guru Eternal for theSikhs. Thereafter, the authority of the Guru was to vest in the scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, and the corporate community itself.


Family in Sikh Thought and Practice

Guru Nanak stressed the way of the householder as the ideal pattern of life for the seeker of liberation, rejecting the ascetic alternative. His successors upheld the same ideal of normal family life, expressing it in their own lives as well as in their teachings. The third Guru, Amar Das (1479–1574) proclaimed: "Family life is superior to ascetic life in sectarian garb because it is from householders that ascetics meet their needs by begging" (AG, p. 586). To understand the family relationships, caste and gender issues need to be addressed from the Sikh perspective.

In Punjabi society, family life is based upon broad kinship relationships. Every individual is a member of a joint family, a biradari (brotherhood), a got (exogamous group), and a zat (endogamous group). Like most other Indians, Sikhs are endogamous by caste (zat) and exogamous by subcaste (got). Descent is always patrilineal, and marriages link two groups of kin rather than two individuals. The cultural norms of honor (izzat) and modesty play a significant role in family relationships within the framework of patriarchal structures of Punjabi society. The Gurus employ the term pati that essentially refers to the core of a person, encompassing honor, self-respect, and social standing.

Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus emphatically proclaimed that divine Name is the only sure means of liberation for all four castes: the Khatri (originally Kshatriya, warrior), the Brahmin (priest), the Shudra ("servant") and the Vaishya (tradesman). In the Gurus' works, the Khatris are always placed above the Brahmins in caste hierarchy, while the Shudras are raised above the Vaishyas. This was an interesting way of breaking the rigidity of the centuries-old caste system. All the Gurus were Khatris, and this made them a topranking caste in Punjab's urban hierarchy, followed by Aroras (merchants) and Ahluvalias (brewers). In rural caste hierarchy, an absolute majority (64%) among the Sikhs are Jats (peasants), who are followed by Ramgarhias (artisans), Ramdasias (cobblers) and Mazhabis (sweepers). Although Brahmins are at the apex in Hindu caste hierarchy, Sikhs place them distinctly lower on the caste scale. This is partly due to the strictures that the Sikh Gurus laid upon Brahmin pride and partly to the reorganization of Punjabi rural society that confers dominance on the Jat caste.

Doctrinally, caste has never been one of the defining criteria of Sikh identity. In the Sikh congregation, there is no place for any kind of injustice or hurtful discrimination based upon caste identity. Sikhs eat together in the community kitchen, worship together, and share the same sacramental food in the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship). However, caste still prevails within the Sikh community as a marriage convention. Most of the Sikh marriages are arranged between members of the same endogamous caste group. Nevertheless, intercaste marriages are now taking place frequently among the professional Sikhs in India and abroad.

The Sikh Gurus offered their vision of gender equality within the Sikh community and took practical steps to foster respect for womanhood. They were certainly ahead of their times when they championed the cause of women with equal access in spiritual and temporal matters. Guru Nanak raised a strong voice against the position of inferiority assigned to women in contemporary society: "From women born, shaped in the womb, to woman betrothed and wed; we are bound to women by ties of affection, on women man's future depends. If one woman dies he seeks another; with a woman he orders his life. Why then should one speak evil of women, they who give birth to kings?" (AG, p. 473). Guru Nanak brought home to the harsh critics of women the realization that the survival of the human race depends upon women whom they unjustifiably ostracized within the society. Guru Amar Das abolished the prevalent customs of "veil" and sati (self-immolation) by widows, and permitted widows to remarry. He further appointed women as Sikh missionaries. Indeed, Sikh women have equal rights with men to conduct prayers and other ceremonies in the gurdwaras.

The Gurus were addressing the issues of gender within the parameters set by traditional patriarchal structures. In their view, an ideal woman plays the role of a good daughter or sister, a good wife and good mother within the context of family life. They condemned both women and men alike who did not observe the cultural norms of modesty and honor in their lives. In this context, the images of immoral woman and unregenerate man are frequently encountered in the scriptural texts. There is thus no tolerance for any kind of premarital or extramarital sexual relationships. In particular, Guru Nanak was deeply anguished over the rape of women when Babur's army invaded India in 1526. He employs the Punjabi phrase "stripping of one's honor" to describe the rape of women by the Mughal army. In fact, rape is regarded as a violation of women's honor in the Punjabi culture. It amounts to the loss of family honor, which in turn, becomes the loss of one's social standing in the community. The notion of family honor is intimately linked with the status of women in Punjabi society.

The Anand Marriage Ceremony

The third Guru, Amar Das, proclaimed: "They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather, they alone are called husband and wife who have one soul in two bodies" (AG, p. 788). This proclamation has become the basis of the Sikh engagement and marriage process, which traditionally emphasizes a spiritual commitment between two partners over any material or physical advantages of the union. At every step, tradition surrounding Sikh marriages seeks to insure the spiritual compatibility of the couple to be married.

To this end, Sikh marriages are arranged by the family of the prospective couples. Although the involvement of the couple themselves has increased over time, the involvement and input of the family has remained vital. This emphasis on family, reflected in every aspect of Sikh life, from the communal eating halls of the gurdwaras to the common practice of identifying oneself through one's parentage, is among the most important precepts of Sikhism. At every stage in the Sikh process of engagement and marriage, the opinion of each partner's family is respected, considered, and valued.

A Sikh wedding, according to the Anand (Bliss) rite, takes place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, and the performance of the actual marriage requires the couple to circumambulate the sacred scripture four times to take four vows. Before the bridegroom and the bride make each round, they listen to a verse of the wedding hymn (AG, pp. 773–74) by the fourth Guru, Ram Das (1534–1581), being read by a scriptural reader. Then they bow before the Guru Granth Sahib and get up to make the round while professional musicians sing the same verse in the congregation. During the process of their clockwise movement around the scripture four times, they take the following four vows: (1) To lead an action-oriented life based on righteousness and to never shun obligations of family and society; (2) to maintain a bond of reverence and dignity between them; (3) to keep enthusiasm for life alive in the face of adverse circumstances and remain detached from worldly attachments; and (4) to cultivate a "balanced approach" in life, avoiding all extremes. The pattern of circumambulation in the Anand marriage ceremony is in fact the re-actualization of the primordial movement of life in which there is no beginning and no end. The continuous remembrance of the four marital vows makes the life of the couple blissful.

The standard manual of Sikh Code of Conduct, Sikh Rahit Maryada, explicitly states: "No account should be taken of caste; a Sikh woman should be married only to a Sikh man; and Sikhs should not be married as children." This is an ideal arrangement. In actual practice, however, a large majority of Sikh marriages take careful account of the prospective partner's caste. In initial inquiries, the choosing of a partner requires that the marriage should be arranged with a member of the same zat, but that it must exclude got of the father, the mother, the father's mother, and the mother's mother. In addition, rural Sikhs maintain the custom of village exogamy, such that marriages should not be arranged between two families of the same village. It further ensures that a married daughter does not live in her father's village, strengthening the rule that inheritance in Punjabi village families is always through the male lineage. The custom of village exogamy still operates even when the families move to towns or overseas locations. Most rural Sikhs living in the diaspora know the identity of their "ancestral village," and hence they normally observe this custom (McLeod 1997).

The situation with urban Sikhs is entirely different. By tradition, the Khatris are large-scale traders, and they live in the big cities to conduct their business. The small-scale traders among the Sikhs are mostly Aroras. Both of these groups are not too rigid about caste requirements in choosing a marriage partner. The Khatri and Arora families frequently intermarry, and there is no custom of city exogamy among them. Marriages between cousins (i.e., marrying mother's sister's son or daughter, or marrying father's sister's son or daughter) are also possible. This is due to the influence of Muslim culture on these groups, who moved to India from Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947. Further, marriages between Hindus and Sikhs are common in the case of Khatri and Arora families.


Changing Trends in Sikh Marriages

Sikh marriage patterns are showing signs of significant changes in the following areas. First, a difference between the education of the groom and the bride is narrowing. This preference for comparable educational qualifications in the selection of prospective partners, leading ultimately to the earning capacity of both spouses, shows the growth of individualism and decline in joint families and kinship ties. Such marriages have become possible due to the impact of economic and educational factors, including the processes of urbanization and modernization. Second, a favorable attitude towards intercaste marriages shows the decline of caste ties. Caste as a principle of endogamy is, however, losing its importance more in urban cities than in rural villages. The Singh Sabha reforms within Sikhism in the last century have enhanced this process. Third, young men and women now marry later than they did in earlier times. Finally, obtaining the consent of the young man and the woman in matrimonial alliances, favoring widow remarriage, agreeing to divorce as a last resort, and getting married again after divorce, are the practices that indicate the impact of Western urban influences (Rajagopalan and Singh 1967).

Another tradition has been an important part of the Sikh marriage process. The fundamental respect for the judgement of family is reflected in the ancient practice of not meeting one's partner between the time of engagement and the time of marriage. It is understood that, at the time of engagement, a spiritual commitment to one's fiancé(e) has been made. Respect for the family makes impossible any second-guessing of that commitment. Over many centuries, this practice expanded and became tradition, so that even when the family is unavailable or uninvolved, the custom of not meeting one's fiancé(e) before the marriage ceremony continues. In recent decades, however, many young Sikhs have chosen not to follow this established tradition, and the rigid procedure surrounding Sikh arranged marriages is on the decline. Nevertheless, for many devout Sikhs, the above practice continues to be an important reflection of their faith and tradition. To be forced to ignore or violate long-standing tradition by meeting one's fiancé(e) between the engagement and the ceremony could cloud the sanctity of the marriage process in the minds of those devout Sikhs involved.

In the diaspora, Sikh marriages are undergoing significant changes. The second-generation Sikhs are raising questions concerning the traditional form of marriage. Like their peer groups from other religious faiths, they tend to follow the idea of romantic love in choosing their partners. They frequently date prospective mates to test their compatibility in standard situations. Living in a complex multiethnic environment, they are exposed to people of different faiths and cultures. Not surprisingly, this results in occasional marriages between Sikh and non-Sikh partners. These marriages provide new challenges to both partners to make necessary adjustments in their lives.


Conclusion

In Sikh households, the selection of a marriage partner is arranged formally with parental approval. The idea of romantic love is gaining some popularity among contemporary youth, but economic, educational, and family considerations are still among the important factors in most decisions to marry. Caste endogamy is on the decline among Sikh professionals. Doctrinally, women enjoy complete equality, but in actual practice they have yet to achieve equal representation within various Sikh organizations. In the pluralistic societies of the postmodern world, where emphasis is being placed upon liberty, diversity, tolerance, and equality of race and gender, Sikh ideals are thoroughly in place and congenial to the developing values of the society.


See also:India; Religion

Bibliography

jyoti, s. k. (1983). marriage practices of the sikhs: a study of intergenerational differences. new delhi: deep & deep.

mcleod, w. h. (1995). historical dictionary of sikhism.lanham, md: scarecrow press.

mcleod, w. h. (1997). sikhism. london: penguin books.

rajagopalan, c., and singh, j. (1967). "changing trends insikh marriage." the journal of family welfare 14(2):24–32.

singh, h., ed. (1992–1998). the encyclopaedia of sikhism,vols. 1–4. patiala: punjabi university.

singh, j. (1968). "sikh marriage in transition." social action: a review of social trends 18(3):224–230.

singh, k. (1996). "the condition of women as depicted in the adi guru granth." journal of sikh studies 20(2):9–15.

singh, k., trans. (1994). sikh rahit maryada: the code ofsikh conduct and conventions. amritsar: dharam parchar committee, sgpc.

singh, p. (2000). the guru granth sahib: canon, meaning and authority. new delhi: oxford university press.

talib, g. s., trans. (1984–1990). sri guru granth sahib,vols. 1–4. patiala: punjabi university.

PASHAURA SINGH

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Sikhism

Sikhism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sikhism, a religion that emerged in the Punjab region of India in the fifteenth century, can be said to be the cultural product of the collision between Hinduism and Islam. As such, it combines elements of Islam, such as monotheism and iconoclasm, with certain features of Hinduism, such as the doctrines of reincarnation, karma, and nirvána. While Sikhism is often regarded as a syncretic religion, this interpretation is offensive to Sikhs, who regard their religion as a direct and separate revelation. Crucial to the distinctive character of Sikhism, however, was the rejection of the caste system and its associated rituals and legal apparatus by the Sikh Gurus, or teachers.

Sikhism was founded by Guru Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539), who was born at Talwandi, a village that is now known as Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in Pakistan. Leaving home to gain religious knowledge, Nanak is said to have encountered Kabir (1440-1518), a saintly figure who was revered by the followers of many religious traditions. Nanak promoted religious tolerance and the equality of women. His most famous saying was: There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim. Nanak undertook four extensive journeys around and beyond India, spreading his teaching in Bengal and Assam, in Shri Lanka via Tamil Nadu, in the north toward Kashmir, Ladakh, and Tibet, and finally toward Baghdad and Mecca.

As a system of religious philosophy, Sikhism was traditionally known as the Gurmat (the teachings of the gurus) or Sikh dharma. There were ten Gurus who led the community from the time of Nanaka until 1708. These Gurus came from the Khatri jati, a mercantile caste. The term Sikhism comes from the Sanskrit root sisya, signifying a disciple or student. Sikhs, who now number over twenty-three million adherents around the world, are predominantly inhabitants of the Punjab, where they represent 65 percent of the population. In practical terms, Sikhs are distinguished by the custom in which baptized Sikhs wear the panj kakke (the Five Ks): uncut hair, a small comb, a metal bracelet, a short sword, and a special undergarment. Sikhs served in the British army between 1870 and 1947, and many of them settled outside the Punjab after they were discharged. Thus, there is now a large Sikh diaspora.

Nanak emphasized personal devotion to and intimate faith in God. The principal belief is faith in Vahiguru, or God, who is conceived without gender as a single, personal, and transcendental creator God. Vahiguru is omnipresent and can be comprehended by the heart of the true disciple, who achieves religious enlightenment through meditation. The chief obstacles to knowledge and salvation are human attachment to worldly pursuits and interests that determine human involvement in the endless cycle of birth and death, or samsara. This collection of beliefs about sin, responsibility, rebirth and release can be referred to as the dharma-karma-samsara system that Sikhism shares with other religions of the Indian subcontinent. The pursuit of material interests is an illusion, or maya, which is evident in the Five Evils of egoism, anger, greed, attachment, and lust. These evils can only be avoided by intense meditation and verbal repetition of the name of God. In terms of its social teaching, in addition to rejecting caste, Nanak taught that Sikhs should respect the rights of all creatures, especially of human beings. Sikh teaching also underlines egalitarianism, charity, and the sharing of resources.

There are two sources of scriptural authority in Sikhism: the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth. The Guru Granth Singh may be referred to as the Adi Granth, or the First Volume. The Adi Granth is the scriptural version created by Arjun Dev in 1604, while the Guru Granth Sahib is the final version produced by Gobind Singh. These teachings take the form of hymns arranged into thirty-one ragas (musical forms) in which they were originally composed. These hymns were originally written in many different languages, and there are both Sanskrit and Arabic portions. The Granth is regarded as the living embodiment of the eleven teachers, and great respect is required in reading them, such as covering the head with a turban or piece of cloth.

Under the guruship of Nanaka, Sikhism was an informal collection of followers, but it eventually came to have a political identity. Guru Ram Das (1534-1581) created the city of Ramdaspur, subsequently known as Amritsar. Guru Arjun Dev (1563-1606) built the Golden Temple (Harimandir Sahib), which was completed in 1601, and prepared the sacred text of the Adi Granth. As a result of conflicts with the Mughal authorities, the Sikhs founded the Khalsa (brotherhood and sisterhood of followers who join the community at puberty by undertaking certain rituals) in 1699 to provide for the defense of the community or Panth. As the Sikh community developed a military and political organization, Sikhism became a considerable force in medieval India.

With the death of Banda (Guru Tegh) Bahadur (1621-1675), the ninth Guru of the Sikh faith, the misls, a confederation of Sikh warrior bands, was formed. Toward the end of the Mughal Empire (1526-1858), a Sikh kingdom arose under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with a capital in Lahore and outer boundaries from the Khyber Pass to China. Eventually, this kingdom (1799-1849) came under British control after the Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-1846 and 1848-1849).

The partition of India occurred in 1947, and the Sikhs suffered greatly from the resulting violence. Millions were forced to leave their ancestral homeland in the West Punjab. Although the Sikhs eventually prospered, there has been a movement ( Damdami Taksal ), led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947-1984), to create an independent state of Khalistan. This movement led to clashes with the government and communal violence. Bhindranwale was killed in June 1984 in the Golden Temple during a clash with the Indian army. In retaliation, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard in October 1984.

The attempt to remove Bhindranwale was known as Operation Blue Star in the Indian army, but for Sikhs it represented a desecration of the sacred Golden Temple and the Sikh community. As a result of the military attack, Bhindranwale acquired the status of a martyr, and following Indira Gandhis assassination there was further communal killing of Sikhs. The consequence of these conflicts was to reinforce the sense of Sikh identity, but also to stimulate the exodus of Sikhs to Europe, North America and East Africa, thereby augmenting the already large Sikh diaspora.

SEE ALSO Gandhi, Indira; Hinduism; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Monotheism; Reincarnation; Religion; Secession; Supreme Being

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cole, W. Owen. 1984. Sikhism. In A Handbook of Living Religions, ed. John R. Hinnells, 237255. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, U.K.: Penguin.

Mann, Gurinder Singh. 2001. The Making of Sikh Scripture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Singh, Khushwant 2006. The Illustrated History of the Sikhs. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Smart, Ninian 1989. The Worlds Religions. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bryan S. Turner

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Sikhism

Sikhism. The religion and life-way of those who are Sikhs. The word sikh (Pañjābī; cf. Skt., śikṣya) means ‘a learner’, ‘a disciple’. Sikhs are those who believe in one God (Ik Onkar) and are disciples of the Gurū. In Indian usage, gurū can apply to any religious teacher or guide, but for Sikhs it is restricted to God as Sat Gurū (true teacher), the ten Gurūs (listed under Gurū) from Gurū Nānak (b. 1469 CE) to Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (d. 1708), and to the Ādi Granth (Sikh scripture), known as Gurū Granth Sāhib and revered as such. Sikhs accept initiation with amrit, according to the rahit maryādā which gives detailed requirements. Together Sikhs make up the panth in which it is believed that the guidance of the Gurū is also present, but in a more limited way. Fully committed and initiated Sikhs belong to the khālsā. There are c.14 million Sikhs in India, four-fifths in Pañjāb. In a wide diaspora, the largest community (c.300,000) is in the UK.

Sikhism began in the context of the Muslim–Hindu confrontation in N. India, when some (e.g. Kabīr) were seeking reconciling truth. It was a time also of vivid and moving devotion to God (bhakti), all of which (especially the Vaiṣṇavites) was influential on Gurū Nānak, though even more so was his own profound experience of God. He did not attempt to merge Hinduism and Islam, but simply insisted on the worship of the True Name (Nām), God who can be found within and does not require the rituals and doctrinal controversies of existing religions. God does not become present in the world (in contrast to Hindu understandings of avatāra), but makes his will and his way known. In discerning this, meditation (nām simaran) on śabda (‘sound’) is of paramount importance, especially through repetition of the Name, or on the hymns of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Karma and saṃsāra are accepted: the way to release or liberation is to move one's life against one's own wilful and disordered inclination (haumai) into alignment with the will (hukam) of God. This is only possible because of the help of God, the equivalent of grace, described in many words, e.g. kirpā, nadar, praśād. Those who do so pass through stages (khaṇḍ): dharam khaṇḍ (living appropriately; cf. dharma); giān̄ khaṇḍ (deeper knowledge); saram khaṇḍ (effort or joy); karam khaṇḍ (effort or joy); sach khaṇḍ (bliss beyond words and beyond rebirth, merging with the divine as a drop in an ocean or as a spark in a flame). Sikhs remain grihasth (‘house-holders’), in contrast to the four āśramas of the Hindus, for whom gṛhastha is only one stage, to be followed by progressive renunciation.

Under the first four Gurūs, there was no conflict with the surrounding majority religions, but marks of identity were further developed—e.g. Sikh days in the religious calendar. Under Rām Dās, ‘the tank of nectar’, Amritsar, was built, leading to the Harimandīr (Golden Temple), the centre of Sikh identity. Always more at ease in general with Hindus, Sikhs found tensions with Muslims and the Mughal emperors increasing; this led to the forming of the khālsā under the tenth Gurū, Gobind Siṅgh. The khālsā is the community of Sikhs who have received khaṇḍe-dī-pāhul, and are distinguished by the Five Ks. Various reform movements emerged, notably that of Dyāl Dās (1783–1855) whose Niraṅkārīs (the formless) resisted the use of images, even of the Gurūs; Sain Sahib (d. 1862) whose Namdhāris attacked all reversion to Hinduism and held that a continuing Gurū is necessary; and Sant Niraṅkārī Maṇḍal (the Universal Brotherhood, not to be confused with the Niraṅkārīs), which has modified traditional practices and was banned or boycotted by the Akal Takht in 1978. In response to Christian missionaries, the Siṅgh Sabhā was formed. The British recognized with some gratitude Sikh assistance during the Mutiny, and reinforced their spiritual independence. Partly from this encouragement, the Akāli movement emerged, which secured the return of gurdwārās to Sikh control and remains committed to Sikh autonomy in the Puñjāb (Khālistān).

The communal nature of the Sikh religion is greatly emphasized by its institutions, with sevā (community service) being highly valued. Gurū Nānak had established the dharmsālā as a place of assembly, in distinction from Hindu temples, not least by including the langar as a basis for communal meals. The dharmsālā led to the gurdwārā (though Namdhāris retain the older name). Worship is simple compared with Hindu ritual; and kīrtan is prominent.

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Sikhism

Sikhism

"We are destined to die, as death is an essential part of the life-cycle." These words of Guru Tegh Bahadur (reigned 16641675 C.E.), the ninth of the ten Indian Gurus who founded Sikhism, typify the approach to death of Sikhs. Death for this religion's 20 million members is an essential path in the journey of life and not to be feared. Death is followed by rebirth through transmigrationliterally, metempsychosis, the passage of the soul of a human being or animal after death into a new body of the same or a different species, an understanding common to Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduismunless, through faith and divine favor, the deceased individual is endowed with the knowledge of God (Brahm Gyani ) and released from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth (the laws of karma). Nevertheless, according to Guru Nanak (14691539 C.E.), the first Guru and founder of the line of Gurus, or inspired teachers, "rare are such men in the world whom after testing God has gathered unto his treasury."

At the deathbed of a Sikh, the relatives and friends console themselves and the departing soul by reading the religious hymns of the Sikh Gurus (Gurbani ), especially Sukhmani, the Psalm of Peace, written by the fifth Guru, Arjan (reigned 15811606). When death occurs, no loud lamentations are allowed. Instead, the Sikhs chant Wahiguru Wahiguru ("Hail to the Guru," or "Wonderful Lord"). All dead bodies, whether those of children or of adults, are cremated, usually within twenty-four hours in the Indian subcontinent, but this may occur several days later in other countries where the body can be more easily preserved. Where cremation is not possible, it is permissible to throw the dead body into a sea or river.

The dead body is washed and dressed in new clothes (in the case of a male, complete with the five symbols of the Khalsa, the body of initiated Sikhs instituted in 1699 C.E.) before it is taken out on a bier to the cremation ground. The procession starts after a prayer, with the participants singing suitable hymns from the Sikh scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib ) on the way. At the cremation ground, the body is placed on the pyre, the Ardas is recited, and the nearest relative (usually the eldest son) lights the pyre. When the fire is fully ablaze, Sohila is read and prayers are offered for the benefit of the dead. People then come away and leave the relatives of the deceased at their door, where they are thanked before departing.

The bereaved family, for the comfort of their own souls as well as for the peace of the departed, start a reading of the holy Guru Granth Sahib either at their own house or at a neighboring temple (gurdwara ). Friends and relations take part. After a week or so they again come together when the reading is finished. The usual prayer is offered and the holy food or sacrament (karah prasad ) is distributed. The charred bones of the dead, together with the ashes, are taken from the cremation ground three or four days later and, where this is permitted, thrown into the nearest canal or river (this is not allowed in the West, and therefore relatives often take the ashes to Punjab, India, to be disposed of there). It is forbidden to erect monuments over the remains of the dead, although a suitable monument in the person's honor at another place is permissible.

See also: Cremation; Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective; Hinduism

Bibliography

McLeod, William Hewat. Exploring Sikhism: Aspects of Sikh Identity, Culture, and Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Singh, Harbans, ed. The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, 2nd edition. Patiala, India: Punjabi University, 19951998.

RICHARD BONNEY

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Sikhism

Sikhism (sĬk´Ĭzəm), religion centered in the Indian state of Punjab, numbering worldwide some 19 million. Some 300,000 Sikhs live in Britain, and there are smaller communities in North America, Australia, and Singapore. By the late 1990s Sikhism was the world's fifth largest faith and had some 175,000 U.S. adherents and 225,000 in Canada. Sikhism is heterodox, combining the teachings of Bhakti Hinduism and Islamic Sufism.

The founder and first Sikh guru, the mystic Nanak (c.1469–c.1539), proclaimed monotheism, the provisional nature of organized religion, and direct realization of God through religious exercises and meditation; he opposed idolatry, ritual, an organized priesthood, and the caste system. Angad (1504–52), the second guru, separated the ascetics (udasis) from the laity, eliminated most features of Hinduism, and introduced the Gurmukhi script. Under the fourth guru, Ram Das, Amritsar was founded as a sacred city. Arjun, the fifth guru, compiled devotional poetry by earlier Sikh gurus and other prominent saints into the Sikh scripture, the Adigranth, which remains central to Sikh religious life. Under succeeding gurus the Sikh community gradually united and began to develop military power; the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb responded by executing the ninth guru and ordering the destruction of Sikh temples.

In 1699, Govind Singh (1666–1708), the tenth and final guru, instituted certain practices that have become fundamental to Sikh identity. Through an initiatory rite, after which the initiate takes the surname Singh [lion], he created the military fraternity called the Khalsa, or "pure," whose ideal was the soldier-saint. He introduced the Sikh practices of wearing a turban, carrying a dagger, and never cutting the hair or beard.

By the late 18th cent. the Sikhs had conquered most of the Punjab and established various feudal states; their greatest leader was Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), who established a Sikh kingdom in the Punjab. After his death, conflict with the British caused the Sikh Wars and the subjugation of the Punjab, after which Sikh soldiers formed a significant part of the British armies in India. Despite Sikh protests, the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent divided their homeland. Militant Sikhs and Hindu Jats fought the Muslims of Punjab in a struggle that resulted in over a million casualties. Some 2.5 million Sikhs migrated from West Punjab (in Pakistan) into East Punjab (in India). The years immediately following partition brought a period of relative stability and prosperity.

More recently, militant Sikhs have called for an autonomous Sikh state, Khalistan, within or separate from India. Turmoil in the Punjab erupted in the early 1980s, marked most dramatically by the 1984 storming by the Indian Army of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which had been taken over by militant Sikhs. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in reprisal, after which mobs (some incited by local Congress party leaders) massacred Sikhs throughout India: in Delhi alone, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed. Religious hostilities and communal violence in the Punjab continued into the early 1990s.

Bibliography

See K. Singh, A History of the Sikhs (2 vol., 1963–66); J. D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs (repr. 1966); G. Singh, The Religion of the Sikhs (1971); W. H. McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (1976); J. O'Connell, ed., Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century (1988).

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Sikhism

Sikhism Indian religion founded in the 16th century by Nanak, the first Sikh guru. Combining Hindu and Muslim teachings, it is a monotheistic religion whose adherents believe that their one God is the immortal creator of the universe. All human beings are equal, and Sikhs oppose any caste system. The path to God is through prayer and meditation, but nearness to God is only achievable through divine grace. Sikhs believe in reincarnation, and are taught to seek spiritual guidance from their guru or leader. Begun in Punjab as a pacifist religion, Sikhism (under Nanak's successors) became an activist military brotherhood and a political force. All Sikh men came to adopt the surname Singh (‘lion’). Since Indian independence, Sikh extremists periodically agitated for an independent Sikh state (Khalistan). In 1984, government forces killed Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947–84), the leader of a Sikh fundamentalist revival, at the Golden Temple of Amritsar. In retaliation, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard. More than 1000 Sikhs died in the ensuing riots. See also monotheism

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Sikhism

Sikhism a monotheistic religion founded in Punjab in the 15th century by Guru Nanak. Sikh teaching centres on spiritual liberation and social justice and harmony, though the community took on a militant aspect during early conflicts. The last guru, Gobind Singh (1666–1708), passed his authority to the scripture, the Adi Granth, and to the Khalsa, the body of initiated Sikhs.

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Sikhism

Sikh·ism / ˈsēkizəm/ • n. a monotheistic religion founded in Punjab in the 15th century by Guru Nanak.

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