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Sikh

Sikh

ETHNONYMS: Khalsa, Singhs, Amrit-dharis, Nanakpanthis, Sahaj-dharis, Kes-dharis

Orientation

Identification and Location. The word Sikh is the Punjabi derivation of the Sanskrit term shishya or "disciple" and refers to someone who acknowledges the teachings of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) and his ten human successors as collected in the Sikh canon. Although Sikhs today generally acknowledge themselves solely as "Sikh," the ethnonyms above may be used to identify specific varieties of Sikhs.

Sikh culture developed in the Punjab region of northwestern India, which was partitioned between Pakistan and Indian in 1947. Since the early twentieth century the Punjab has been considered the homeland of Sikhism by the world's Sikhs. The Punjab is bordered by Pakistan to its west and the Indian states of Rajasthan and Haryana to the south. The north is bounded by the Himalayan Mountains while the eastern boundaries end where Himachal Pradesh and Haryana begin. Most Sikhs are from India and generally identify themselves by their religious tradition, Sikhism. There are Sikhs today, however, who are not ethnically Punjabi, namely western converts to the Sikh tradition who are members of the Khalsa Dharma of the Western Hemisphere organization.

Demography. In the early twenty-first century Sikhs in India form roughly 2 percent of the Indian population or about seventeen million. Worldwide their numbers hover around twenty million.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Sikh people generally is Punjabi, an Indo-European language derived from Indo-Iranian Sanskrit and Prakrit. The script in which Punjabi usually is written is Gurmukhi ("from the mouth of the Guru") which differs considerably from Devanagiri, the script in which many other north Indian languages, particularly Hindi, are written.

History and Cultural Relations

Sikhs understand their religious tradition in terms of Sikh history. This history and religion are of fundamental importance to Sikhs in the twenty-first century as they strive to construct a community. While tradition provides a grand narrative of the history of the Sikh Gurus and their disciples since its beginning in 1469, there is little in terms of corroborative contemporary material. Even the little material that exists is often interpreted through a theological lens.

It begins with the birth of Guru Nanak, who is summoned into the presence of the eternal Guru (God) and entrusted with spreading the faith. Close to death, Guru Nanak nominates as successor his disciple Lehana, who is renamed Guru Angad. This incident is related in a hymn in the scripture. Guru Angad then nominates Amar Das, who later nominates Guru Ram Das. Guru Ram Das' youngest son Arjan was then made Guru, and it was under him that the completion of Amritsar as well as the compilation of the Sikh scripture in 1604 takes place. Both of these events probably brought the Guru and his Panth under the gaze of the Mughal state. In his memoirs the emperor Jahangir reports having had the Guru arrested, beaten, and ultimately executed for his support of Jahangir's rebellious son Khusrau. Sikhs perceive this event as a martyrdom and understand it to have precipitated the doctrine of miri-piri (secularism/spirituality) in 1606 which was formulated by Guru Arjan's son, Guru Hargobind. All Sikhs, according to tradition, would from that point combine the loyalty and secular outlook of the soldier with the spirituality of the saint.

Very little information appears in Mughal sources about the seventh and the eighth Sikh Gurus, Hari Rai and Hari Krishan. For their "histories" we rely solely on a mid-nineteenth-century text popularly known as the Suraj Prakash. Executed in Delhi on 11 November 1675 by Emperor Aurangzeb, however, ensured that the history of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadar, would find its way into the many Persian chronicles of the emperor's reign. Guru Tegh Bahadar is understood as a martyr, upholding the righteous claims of all the dispossessed. To ensure that these claims would be maintained, the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, instituted the Khalsa in 1699 and promulgated the Rahit recorded in the rahit-namas, with its emphasis on behavioral and sartorial Sikh observance. It was with this in hand and the ideals of the tenth Guru in mind that the Sikhs began the second decade of the eighteenth century, the Heroic Period of Sikh history. The Sikhs sacrificed life and limb in the pursuit of these righteous ideals. This sacrifice hardened the Khalsa and eventually culminated in 1799 with the first-ever Sikh kingdom, the Lahore Darbar, under the celebrated Maharaja Ranjit Singh. When he died in 1839 it was only a matter of time before the new imperial power in India, the East India Company, would claim his territories. Indeed, a decade later the Punjab was annexed to the Company after the three Anglo-Sikh wars of 1845-1849.

During the British period came the rise of the Singh Sabha reform movement. This movement emphasized that Sikhs were a unique people and that Sikhism was a unique dispensation which was in no way affiliated with either Hinduism or Islam. It was this group which standardized the history and practices of the Sikhs and made these conform to general nineteenth-century European ideas about religion and history. This standardization is also indebted to the heroic displays of the Akali movement (1920-1925) which strove to free Sikh shrines, gurdwaras, from the hands of their corrupt hereditary managers.

For Sikhs this history is a constant source of pride and honor, a fact evidenced by the large number of Sikh families who own books on Sikh history and the vast number of internet web sites devoted to the topic. The focus upon sacrifice, righteousness, and martial skill and temperament for example had certainly inspired the many Sikhs who valiantly fought in the three Indo-Pakistani wars after Independence. These traditions also guided the Sikhs during the struggle for a separate Punjabi-speaking state, a struggle that finally succeeded in 1966.

The 1980s and early 1990s saw a number of turbulent events for the Sikhs, including the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the desire for a separate Sikh state known as Khalistan, the storming of the Golden Temple in June 1984 which resulted in the death of six hundred innocent pilgrims, and the protracted period of militancy which left thousands of Punjabis dead, including an Indian prime minister and thousands of Sikhs living in Delhi.

Settlements

Sikh settlements or communities almost always include a gurdwara, or "house of the Guru," a place of worship so called because it houses the sacred Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Within the Diaspora gurdwaras can assume just about any size or shape. Within India, however, these buildings usually conform to a standard pattern. This pattern may differ in minor respects, but in one it does not: entrances are found on all four building sides to indicate that members from all of India's four traditional castes may enter, worship, and be fed. They are fed in the guru ka langar or "Guru's Kitchen," established to break down the discriminatory aspects of the caste system. Every gurdwara should house a Guru ka Langar. Every gurdwara should also fly the triangular, saffron colored Khalsa Sikh flag on the outside of the building so that it can be seen from some distance. The room in which the sacred scripture is kept and presented for sacred viewing is called the Prakash Asthan.

Economy

Subsistence. Most Sikhs today work in agriculture and live in rural Punjab, though there are also a fair number who live in cities. Food and other necessities are primarily bought and sold though many farmers eat some of what they grow. Overall Sikhs are generally well-to-do. This is a point of pride amongst Sikhs the world over.

Commercial Activities. Sikhs are generally involved in agriculture, as most belong to the Jat caste. Jats, traditionally, are farmers, though since the early twentieth century there are Jat Sikhs who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and practitioners of other professions. The remainder of the Sikh population is made up of a variety of castes, and perform jobs in a large number of fields. These Sikhs are often, but not always, urban-based.

Industrial Arts. There is no specifically Sikh industrial art.

Trade. The Punjab is known for a large variety of products. Shawls and other textiles; wheat, rice, and other agricultural products; as well as bicycles and other manufactured goods are among some of the many Punjabi products sold commercially throughout the world. Sikhs engage in the trade of all of these Punjabi commodities. There are restrictions regarding with whom a Sikh initiated into the Khalsa may have relations but there are no general restrictions in regard to with whom they trade or from whom they buy.

Division of Labor. Males are generally the principal bread-winners in Sikh households. Since the twentieth century, however, urban Sikh women have been able to work in all fields. Rural Sikh women also work the farm (though the heavy labor is usually reserved for the men) and generally take care of the extended household including housework. Child rearing is done by women.

Land Tenure. When one speaks of land tenure amongst the Sikhs one speaks generally of Jat Sikh land tenure. Most Sikhs belong to the Jat caste and Jats are traditionally the farmer caste and therefore the most powerful and wealthiest rural Sikh caste. Land among Jat Sikhs is handed down to the sons of the owner and only in exceptional cases to daughters (usually the daughter's share is given to her by way of dowry). The importance of land may be seen, for example, in the treatment of widows. The wife of a recently deceased brother is usually married off to another brother in order to ensure that land stays within the family. Land in Jat Sikh society translates into power, and is intimately associated with Jat Sikh notions of self respect and honor.

Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. Sikh doctrine is very derisive towards the discriminatory features of the Indian caste system whose jatis (literally, "birth") often possess the same characteristics as large kinship groups. Generally, however, Sikhs follow caste rules in terms of marriage and commensality outside of the gurdwara. Caste amongst the Sikhs is composed of zat (Hindi: jati ) or the caste proper and got gotra ) or patrilineal line. Every zat has many gots. The most prominent Sikh caste in rural Punjab is Jat, which forms some two-thirds of the Sikh population. In urban areas the two most prominent castes are Khatri and Arora, who are only 10 percent of all Sikhs. Sikh notions of caste are different from caste as it is generally worked out in the rest of India. There are, for example, certain castes like Ramgarhia and Ahluwalia that are found only amongst Sikhs. The Sikh castes that identify themselves as Khatri adhere to their own rules. Although Khatris form only a small percentage of the overall Sikh population all the Sikh Gurus were Khatris. Khatris are internally arranged into a number of endogamous groups, the principal division of which is char-baraha-bavanja or 4-12-52. The first number, four, represents the Bedi, Trehan, Bhalla, and Sodhi gots to which the ten Sikh Gurus belonged. These four groups may only intermarry among themselves. The two remaining numbers represent other Khatri zats, members of whom may only marry among the twelve or the fifty-two respectively.

Kinship Terminology. Sikhs have a wide variety of terms for kin. Elder and younger brothers and sisters all have unique designations, while kin outside the immediate family are named according to whether they are on the mother's or the father's side. Generally this system is bifurcate collateral. Mama and marni are the maternal grandfather and grandmother respectively while dada and dadi are the paternal grandparents. Friends of the family or co-villagers are also designated as either "aunties" or "uncles."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the distinctly Sikh marriage ceremony called anand karaj, the couple is seated before the Guru Granth Sahib. Marriages usually occur within one's zat but outside of one's got. Marriage is generally an arrangement between two families and usually is undertaken to produce male heirs. As of the early twenty-first century many urban Sikhs and those in the Diaspora in particular choose their own marriage partner without concern for family connections and children, though these alliances are still not overly common. Within villages, brides usually relocate to their husband's paternal village and become sisters-in-law to the entire village. Divorce is generally looked down upon, though it does occur.

Domestic Unit. There are both rural and urban domestic units. In villages Sikhs often live in extended family dwellings which include several brothers and their wives and children. This means that there are many people in the household to share the duties of child rearing. In cities, however, domestic units are usually smaller.

Inheritance. Rules for inheritance generally follow those for land tenure. Inheritance is passed down to the sons of the owner or patriarch.

Socialization. Children are reared by the mother and other mothers within the extended family. Well-to-do urban families often employ an ayaha or full-time or part-time care givers. Within villages children may attend village school or visit the gurdwara for education in the Sikh faith. The turban-tying ceremony may be understood as a young male's right of passage.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There are different forms of sociopolitical organization depending upon whether one speaks of rural or urban Punjab. In the countryside predominant social control is vested in five village elders known as the panchayat, whose head elder is the sarpanch. The panchayat and zat govern the behavior of its members. Zats are often ranked hierarchically vís-a-vís other zats in the village. Within towns and cities the nuclear family is the basic unit of social control.

Political Organization. Although panchayats and the sarpanch play a political role within the village, Sikh politics within the Punjab is usually the prerogative of the many Akali Dal parties. Akali Dal literally means the "Army of the Immortal One" (i.e., God) and is known to protect Sikh interests within the Punjab and India. The first Akali Dal was founded in the early 1920s as a group to organize Sikh political dissent. Its membership is usually drawn from Sikhs initiated into the Khalsa Order who are predominately Jat. Its principal agendum is to forward mainly Jat concerns. There are a number of separate Akali Dal factions, each of which is generally named for its leader. Akali Dal (Mann) therefore is the Akali Dal faction led at the beginning of the twenty-first century by the politician Simranjit Singh Mann.

Social Control. Sources of conflict within the culture usually have to do with land and are tied up with Punjabi Sikh notions of self-respect. Family feuds resulting from land disputes, for example, may take generations to iron themselves out or may not be resolved at all. If the problem arises within the village proper, the panchayat may exert control. Sometimes these disputes are settled in courts of law. In the Diaspora, control of a gurdwara is also a point of contention between Sikh families, as a gurdwara is the logical repository of Sikh donations outside of and within India. In the Diaspora, conflicts over gurdwara income are usually settled in law courts.

Conflict. Conflict with other groups within India is sometimes over land and may be settled within the state's courts. Many times, however, conflict results from an insult directed towards a Sikh or the Sikh religion. These too are sometimes settled in court.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Sikhs are monotheists who worship one God known generally as Satiguru (the True Guru) ; Vahiguru (the Wonderful Lord) ; or Akal Purakh (the Timeless Being). Akal Purakh is both transcendent and immanent. The ten human Sikh Gurus intimately understood the message of Akal Purakh and communicated it to humanity. This message is contained within the scripture, the Guru Granth, in which the spirit of the divine mystically dwells. Sikhs also believe in the transmigration of the soul and the doctrine of karma. Humanity is caught in the never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and must meditate upon the Nam, that aspect of the divine which is present everywhere in the universe, through a discipline called nam simran (remembering the Name [of God]) to ultimately break the cycle and merge into the divine. Often Sikhism is understood as either a sect of Hinduism or of Islam, but it is neither. It is a unique religious tradition which shares some similarities with both of the above-mentioned traditions.

These beliefs hold true for Sikhs generally, but particularly for Amrit-dhari Sikhs. These Sikhs are those initiated into the Khalsa Order. Founded in 1699 Sikhs of the Khalsa generally follow the Khalsa Code of Conduct known as the Sikh Rahit Maryada. The Rahit proscribes smoking and eating meat killed in the halal fashion in which the animal is slowly bled to death. Sikhs may eat meat but this must be jhatka, flesh from an animal whose head was severed with a single blow. The Rahit also enjoins Khalsa Sikhs to carry on their person five items known collectively as the Five Ks (as these begin with the Punjabi letter 'k') all of which have symbolic value: kes (uncut hair); kangha (comb); kacchahira (breeches); kara (bangle); and kirpan (short dagger). Today Khalsa Sikhism is considered the normative variety of Sikhism.

Religious Practitioners. There is no recognized priesthood in the Sikh tradition. There are, however, a number of professional religious personnel. Among these are included those who recite the scripture or granthis; traditional Sikh scholars and exegetes known as gianis, and those who put the verses of the scripture to song, ragis. To these may be added sants of a number of varieties. Sants are men or women who are recognized for their piety and their ability to interpret the scriptures. There is one body which is generally recognized as authoritative in terms of Sikh doctrine, however. This is the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), which is headquartered at Amritsar, the holiest Sikh city in the Punjab, where the celebrated Golden Temple is also located.

Ceremonies. There are a small number of specific ceremonies which mark significant points in a Sikh's life: the birth ceremony, the naming of a child, the tying of the turban on young boys, marriage (anand karaj ), initiation into the Khalsa order (amrit sanskar; khande di pahul ), and death. There is also the ceremony of akhand path, an unbroken reading of the Guru Granth Sahib (usually taking forty-eight hours) to mark an auspicious occasion. Whenever Sikhs congregate at a gurdwara the ceremony observed there involves taking a sacred look at the scripture (darshan ) and touching the forehead to the floor before it, singing sacred hymns (kirtan ), listening to a homily (katha ) delivered by an exegete, and eating karah prashad or sanctified food. The ceremony concludes with the ardas, the Khalsa Sikh prayer.

Arts. Many of the arts often considered "Sikh" are also practiced by non-Sikh Indians who would most likely not consider these specifically "Sikh" arts. The only arts that can be considered distinctively Sikh are the recital and singing of the ragas (meters) of the Guru Granth and folk music performed by wandering minstrels known as dhadhis. There have been great Sikh painters such as Sobha Singh, litterateurs such as the Punjabi writers Vir Singh and Nanak Singh, and poets such as Amrita Pritam.

Medicine. According to the Sikh scripture, the best remedy for pain is the remembrance of the Name of the Lord. This is the only specifically Sikh medicine that exists. In terms of physical illness, however, Sikhs observe no restrictions on the type of treatment they seek, and may see homeopathic (Ayurveda ), spiritual, or western-trained doctors.

Death and Afterlife. For Sikhs death is not to be mourned but rather contemplated, and the departed life is remembered with the reading and singing of the scripture. Many Sikhs, however, do mourn and follow what the orthodox refer to as "Hindu rites" of observance, namely organized lamentation by women and the practice of keeping an oil lamp (diva ) lit for a year after the death. Sikhs believe that one who lives a good life and constantly remembers God will not be reborn. Instead he or she will "enter" what Guru Nanak refers to as Sach Khand, the True Realm, the end of one's spiritual journey. To explain beyond this, claims the first Guru, is "harder than steel."

For the original article on the Sikhs, see Volume 3, South Asia.

Bibliography

Grewal, J. S. (1988). Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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

McLeod, W. H. (1984). Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

(1997). Sikhism. New York and London: Penguin.

Oberoi, Harjot (1994). The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Singh, Nikky (1993). The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Singh, Pashaura (2000). The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning and Authority. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

LOUIS E. FENECH

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Sikh

Sikh

ETHNONYM: Sardarji (address)


The approximately 18,000,000 Sikhs who reside in the Punjab and in scattered communities across the world share a reverence for "the ten gurus" (from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh) and the teachings of their scripture, the Adi Granth or Guru Granth Sahib. Worship is central for all devotees of Sikhism, India's youngest monotheistic religion, either in the form of daily observances at home or in corporate worship at the gurdwara, a building designated for congregational ceremonies and social events such as communal kitchens (langar ) providing free food. Many Sikhs also observe a code of conduct and discipline that includes males wearing recognizable marks of orthodoxy (unshorn hair, a comb, a dagger, a steel bangle, and a pair of breeches), a ban on tobacco, and the use of common titles for male and female converts (Singh, "lion," and Kaur, "princess," respectively). This Orthodox group, which has gradually grown to dominate the public life of the community, consists of amritdhari Sikhs (those who have undergone baptism). Other Sikhs in the community do not participate fully in the code of conduct but are accepted as Sikhs because of their devotion, participation in worship, and respect for the gurus.

The Punjab was and remains the homeland for Sikhs. There Sikhism evolved, incorporating various tribes and castes including a preponderance of Jats, rural agriculturalists, who along with others have shown great courage in times of persecution and political turmoil. The first guru and founder of the faith was Guru Nanak (a.d. 1469-1539). By early in the seventeenth century the following had grown to such an extent in the Punjab area that it was seen as a threat to the Mogul rulers. Within a century the last of the ten gurus had died (by 1708), and open rebellion had broken out. By the middle of the eighteenth century bands of Sikh guerrillas were hastening the collapse of the Mogul administration in their area, while keeping Afghan invaders at bay (1747-1769). These military struggles continued, but by the end of that century Ranjit Singh had emerged as leader of the Sikhs and maharaja of the Punjab, a position he retained until his death in 1839. This continuing military activity had greatly encouraged a tradition of constant military readiness in the community, and it largely explains the role of Sikh men in the modern armies of India, Pakistan, and Great Britain.

The numerous shrines and holy spots associated with major events in Sikh history, most notably the Golden Temple at Amritsar, are primarily found in districts now in Pakistan or the Indian Punjab. In the tate nineteenth century, Sikhs began migrating to Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, and nowadays large and often very affluent and highly educated Sikh communities can be found in those areas. A new group of Western Sikh converts, the gora or "white" Sikhs led by Harbajan Singh, are associated with many gurdwaras (houses of worship) in North America and also have their own organizations. Although the centrality of the Punjabi language and culture within the daily lives of Sikhs sometimes divides those with roots in the Punjab from these new converts, common worship, beliefs, and a shared code of discipline tend to overcome the divisions aroused by ethnicity.

Sikh identity and institutions have been strengthened and at times modified by experiences over the last century. Organizing themselves into Singh Sabhas in the late 1800s, Sikhs have emphasized their separateness from Hindus in areas such as theology, ritual, social practice, and politics. These efforts culminated in the dramatic, nonviolent campaign (1920-1925) to wrest Sikh gurdwaras from the hands of British-supported managers, often Hindu, and to place responsibility for all shrines in the hands of the community. Since 1925, the Sikh Gurdwara Protection Committee (a central management committee) has supervised the shrines and also played an important role in Sikh politics. The frustrations of their minority status, coupled with economic problems, helped foster growing Sikh militancy in the 1970s, culminating in the demands for a separate Sikh nation, "Khalistan." The resulting government attack on armed Militants in the Golden Temple (1984) led to a period of continuing political chaos in the Punjab, sparked dramatic episodes such as the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the resulting massacres of many Sikhs, and fostered debate among Sikhs about ideology and strategy. Despite this turbulence, Sikhs still maintain a positive outlook and continue to provide leadership in public institutions and professions wherever they reside.

See also Jat; Punjabi

Bibliography

Barrier, N. Gerald (1970). The Sikhs and Their Literature. New Delhi: Manohar.


Barrier, N. Gerald, and Van Dusenbery, eds. (1990). The Sikh Diaspora. New Delhi: Chanakya.


McLeod, W. H. (1990). The Sikhs. New York: Columbia University Press.


McLeod, W. H. (1990). Who Is a Sikh. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


O'Connell, Joseph, et al., eds. (1988). Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. South Asia Series. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

N. GERALD BARRIER

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Sikh

Sikh (Pañjābī, ‘learner, disciple’). One who believes in one God (Ik Onkar) and is a disciple of the Gurū. For further detail see SIKHISM.

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Sikh

Sikh / sēk/ • n. an adherent of Sikhism. • adj. of or relating to Sikhs or Sikhism.

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Sikh

Sikh XVIII. — Hindi, rel. to Skr. śí⋅ate learns.

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Sikh

Sikhantique, batik, beak, bespeak, bezique, bleak, boutique, cacique, caïque, cheek, chic, clique, creak, creek, critique, Dominique, eke, freak, geek, Greek, hide-and-seek, keek, Lalique, leak, leek, Martinique, meek, midweek, Mozambique, Mustique, mystique, oblique, opéra comique, ortanique, peak, Peake, peek, physique, pique, pratique, reek, seek, shriek, Sikh, sleek, sneak, speak, Speke, squeak, streak, teak, technique, tongue-in-cheek, tweak, unique, veronique, weak, week, wreak •stickybeak • grosbeak • houseleek •forepeak • technospeak • newspeak •doublespeak • hairstreak • tugrik •fenugreek • Realpolitik • Ostpolitik •pipsqueak • workweek

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