Sikhs believe in one God, revealed to humankind through the Guru. The Sikh view of God is summarized in the mool mantar – an expression used, in full or in abbreviated form, at the start of every collection of verses in Siri Guru Granth Sahib. The mool mantar is: “One God, Eternal, The Reality, The Name, The Creator and The Doer, Immanent, Fearless, Without rancor, transcending time, Never born, Self-existent, through the Guru’s Grace.”
The Sikh faith denounces idolatry and hypocrisy and holds that ultimate joy is obtained through constant remembrance of God, enabling one to see God in oneself and in all of God’s Creation. The relationship between God and creation is analogous to that between the ocean and the wave. Once this is understood, there can be no inequality among people, and no intolerance. One sees God in everything. A set of beliefs, a cohesive organization, and a special history define the faith and consequently the unique identity of its adherents.
The Khanda is the symbol of the Sikhs. It derives its name from the double-edged sword which appears at the center of the logo and is a metaphor of Divine Knowledge. The circle around the Khanda is the Chakar and symbolizes the perfection of God who is eternal. The Chakar is surrounded by two curved swords called Kirpaans which symbolize the equal emphasis on spiritual aspirations and obligations to society.
The Sikh Faith is one of the youngest major religions of the world. It was founded by Siri Guru Nanak Sahib in the South Asian Region of Punjab. The Sikh religion started with ten Gurus from Siri Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539 CE) to Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib (1666-1708 CE). Before he left the mortal world, Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib instructed the Sikhs to regard the Granth Sahib as their eternal Guru. The Siri Guru Granth Sahib consists of verses given by six of the ten Gurus as well as selections from the works of several Hindu and Muslim saints and holy men. It is the Sikh scripture and regarded as the Word of God.
Sikhs number about 20 million worldwide but constitute a majority in Punjab, India. There were few Sikhs living outside of India until 1960. The number of Skihs in western countries has grown remarkably with changes in immigration laws as well as persecution and unemployment in Punjab. They now constitute visible minorities in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Many Sikhs in these countries have achieved distinction in various professions, in business and farming, as well as in public service. The number of gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in USA has grown from only a couple in the 1960’s to over two hundred.
Customs and People
A Sikh follows the Gurus’ teachings and tries to live by them to achieve liberation while leading the life of an ordinary householder. A Sikhs’ motto is Naam japo, kirt karo, vand chhako, i.e., remember God, engage in honest labor, and share the fruits of that labor. A Sikh seeks the company of others who love God and rejoices in shared love of the divinity. The Sikh Rehit Marayada (Principles of Sikh Living) outlines the practices of the faith and its people. Formally-initiated Sikhs are required to keep the 5K’s – kes (uncut hair), kachch (special type of shorts), kara (an iron bangle), kripaan (a sword) and kangha (a small wooden comb). Sikhs don’t use alcohol or tobacco.
The Sikhs have no priests. Any Sikh, man or woman, can officiate at any religious ceremony. They run the mundane affairs of their religion through a democratic system prescribed by the tenth Guru. Whenever Khalsa Sikhs get together in good faith and make a decision, it has the same force as if the Guru had made that decision himself. The tenth Guru said: “Khalsa is my form and in Khalsa I reside.” Sikh places of worship are managed by committees elected by the membership of each Gurdwara. Historical shrines within Punjab are managed by an elected committee called the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). In various countries around the world numerous autonomous Sikh congregations elect committees to run their organizations. Most of the congregations respect the SGPC and look to it and to the Jathedar (leader) at Siri Akal Takhat Sahib for guidance. Small congregations unable to afford the expenses of building and maintaining a Gurdwara, meet for worship in rented facilities.
The Sikhs observe the anniversaries of birth, ascension to the Guruship, and passing away of their Gurus with special readings from Siri Guru Granth Sahib, Akhand Paaths, speeches, and processions. The most significant observances are of the birthdays of Siri Guru Nanak Sahib and Siri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, and of the martyrdom of Siri Guru Arjan Sahib. The formation of the Khalsa is observed with great enthusiasm in mid-April of each year.
The Gurdwara is the Sikh house of worship. The Sikhs worship and pray to One God using the language of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the source of instruction and guidance in meeting God. The prayer is individual as well as congregational. All prayers end with Ardaas (supplication) remembering all the Gurus and the martyrs, invoking God’s blessing upon all Sikhs and on all humanity, asking for the gift of being a good Sikh, and offering thanks for all that God has given and continuously provides. A Sikh will also say Ardaas before and after any significant activity to invoke God’s blessing. Sikhs do not worship idols or pictures and do not use them for any purpose whatsoever. Congregational worship typically includes singing of verses from Siri Guru Granth Sahib. The singing, called keertan, is accompanied by playing harmonium (an accordion-type instrument) and tablaa (a pair of drums). Services are on Sunday morning and last 2 to 3 hours. Visitors are welcome but must remove shoes and cover their head with a scarf before entering the worship space.
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