| Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    I. Group Profile

    1. Name: Sikhism

    2. Founder: Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (known as Guru Nanak)

    3. Date of Birth: 1469

    4. Birth Place: the Punjab area of what is now Pakistan (map)

    5. Year Founded: 1499

    6. Sacred or Revered Texts: Sri Guru Granth Sahib

    7. Cult or Sect:

      Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.

    8. Size of Group: around 20 million followers worldwide, 80% in India 1

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    II. History of the Group

      Guru Nanak and the Founding

      The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, was born into a Hindu family. He followed this lifestyle for many years and had established his own family when he decided to leave in search of a Truth that he did not believe was to be found in his present life situation. Nanak traveled for several years, learning and seeking this Truth or Reality.

      In 1499 (around the age of 30), Guru Nanak is said to have had a life-altering conversion experience, though the location of this epiphany is debated. Some say it occurred in a forest, while others say that Nanak was bathing in a river. He disappeared for three days, and then returned an altered man. Nanak claimed that God, the True Name, had confronted him and asked him to spread a message of truth and love.

      Nanak's first words after returning from this experience embodied this calling: "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim." (This quote is addressed in more detail in another section of this page). After this conversion and calling, Nanak travelled all over the Punjab region spreading his ideas of love and truth, which caught on quickly with many people.

      By the time Nanak died, his new movement had a following, and Guru Angad stepped into the leadership of the group. Angad was followed by eight other Gurus (making a total of ten human Gurus), all of whom were highly revered leaders, teachers and warriors. The teachings of the ten Gurus were compiled at the end of the last human Guru's life to create the Guru Granth Sahib (or Adi Granth). This book contained all the wisdom by which Sikhs lived, and was venerated by all Sikhs as the eternal successor to the tenth and final Guru. 2 The Guru Granth Sahib remains as the present Guru of the Sikh faith and is treated as a person would be. (More details about the Guru Granth Sahib can be found below in the Beliefs section).

      Conflict with Hindu and Islam

      One of Sikhism's claims is that it is not a syncretic religion 3 (i.e., created by the merger of two religions, in this case, Hindu and Islam), but that it is its own new creation and new idea that has simply adopted some Hindu and Muslim concepts. This issue was actually addressed during the first moments of Sikhism's life, in Guru Nanak's words "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim." Nanak's search for the True values and Reality had been instigated because he began to see less and less Truth in humankind. Specifically, Nanak began to see deterioration and exploitation in the Hindu and Islam religions. His statement therefore, pertained to the fact that Nanak saw no people who were True Hindus or True Muslims because they were blocked from the truth by their corruption. 4 The new faith, as commanded by God, would spread the ideas of searching for the True love and reality in this world, which had been perverted by their culture. "Sikh" actually means "learner" or "disciple," adhering to Nanak's call.

      Another problem faced by the Sikhs is more political. In 1947, when the nations of Pakistan and India emerged from Britain's control of the area, the Sikhs and their homeland were split in half by the two countries' boundaries. 5 Sikhs, fleeing to India, were then separated from many of their most revered and historical sites. Since that time, Sikhs have experienced persecution by Hindus and Muslims on several occasions, and many lives have been lost on both sides.

      A culmination of this conflict was realized in 1984 in two stages. The first was an attack by the Indian/Hindu army on a Sikh temple. Supposedly, some rebellious Sikh leaders were hiding there, planning against the government. During this conflict, called Operation Blue Star, many Sikhs died unarmed at the hands of heavily armed Indian soldiers. The Indian leader who authorized this June attack was Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, who was a spark for the next conflict, in October. This second riot began because of the assassination of Indira Ghandi by her two Sikh bodyguards. Below are several links to websites that, with varying aproaches, expand greatly on these 1984 incidents:

      The Sikhs, as a result of their persecution and struggle, have wanted to form their own Sikh nation and call it Khalistan ("land of the Pure"). 6 There are also websites maintained by Sikhs today which give updates on the necessity of and progress towards establishing the Khalistan (see links below).

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    III. Beliefs of the Group

      Central Beliefs

      Over its life, Sikhism has factioned off into many sects, but they are tied together by their belief in the one True God. 7 Sikhism is strictly monotheistic, and reveres its god so formally that they will avoid calling it "God" and instead call the being "True Name" since they believe all other names to be limiting. 8 One of Guru Nanak's first recorded prayers after his conversion embodies central Sikh theological ideas and is still said by Sikhs. It has been given the name "Mool Mantra" and reads as follows:

        There is One God,
        Eternal Truth is His name;
        Maker of all things,
        Fearing nothing and at emnity with nothing
        Timeless is His Image;
        Not begotten, being of His own Being;
        By the grace of the Guru, made known to men. 9

      This God, though one god, has two natures within its being. The first nature is called Saguna , and represents a personal god, with physically perfect attributes; someone the Sikhs can visualize to help them think of their god. Nirguna is the second nature, and it is said to be beyond attributes and too big to grasp. This God is also known as Akaal Purakh, Niranjan, and other names. 10 Basically, the Sikh god is the same Reality realized through two different perspectives -- intellect and love. 11 The Gurus, then, are the few humans who have come to know both aspects of the reality of God. 12

      Sikhs believe that humans relate to God through meditation. They believe the human soul is in essence divine, and inherently good. According to Sikhs, a "spark of the Divine Light" resides in each human soul, but it is covered by layers of human weaknesses and faults (the mind, the senses and the ego). 13 The more worldly life a Sikh lives, the more dense and numerous the layers of evil around the light.

      The challenge put to Sikhs is to follow the Gurus' teachings and peel back the layers to reveal their light. 14 This is done through living by pure love, or Bhakti (also a Hindu concept). By loving humans purely, Sikhs can look at themselves less and reveal their light more, thereby growing into a more intense love for the divine. 15 Sikhs warn against separating these two loves (for people and for God) because of the duality it inflicts on the thought. Sikhs strive to a universal concept of love, so that God and people together will be incorporated into every aspect of their lives. 16

      The purpose of Sikh life is stated in three stages by William Young: to penetrate the 'Wall of Falsehood,' through praise and compassion (meditation), to the end of absorption into God Himself ["Him" is used for convenience, though Sikhs believe God has no real gender]. 17

      Absorption into the True Name is the goal of every Sikh, but they believe that this goal is usually not realized after one life. Sikhs can come closer to God (or move farther away from Him) in each life, hopefully progressing over time towards this "absorption," where the body is left and the soul blends with the essence of God and experiences True Reality. This is regarded as perfect bliss by Sikhs. Because of this view, Sikhs do not look at death as a loss, but rather as the possibility that their loved one has finally joined God's being.

      Accessory Beliefs

      The Guru Granth Sahib , the sacred text of Sikhs, is a very important part of Sikh faith and life. It is so highly valued that there are many precautions and rules that must be followed to ensure that it is kept holy. The book is not allowed to be translated out of its native language because its meaning would be distorted.

      In every Sikh worship service, the Guru Granth Sahib is the central focus. While in its presence, Sikhs must remove their shoes and cover their heads out of respect. The Guru Granth Sahib is read by the Granthi, a person in the community with a greater understanding of the book who leads the worship, but who is not thought of as above the other people. In worship services, the Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a pedestal of pillows, and is opened and closed ceremoniously. It is transported with the utmost care. Some Sikhs may have a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib in their homes, but (as is required) they give it a room of its own and create an altar of pillows and beautiful cloths on which to place it. Most Sikhs read the Guru Granth Sahib everyday and meditate upon it, and full cover-to-cover readings are not infrequent as a method of prayer or thanksgiving. 18

      Another important facet of Sikhism involves a group within the religion, the Khalsa . This is a body of followers who have volunteered to serve the community in a military aspect (they are thought of as the Sikh army), and to also follow certain more rigorous lifestyle guidelines. The story of the founding of the Khalsa is very interesting, and can be found at . 19 Members of the Khalsa are identified by five physical signs (the five Ks):

      • Kesh(uncut hair),
      • Kanga(a wooden comb),
      • Kkaccha(shorts worn under regular clothes),
      • Kara(a steel bracelet), and
      • Kirpan(a short sword, not ever used for violence).

      These members, when initiated, take on a new surname: Singh (lion) for the men, and Kaur (princess) for the women This group is highly revered among the Sikhs for their committment.

      Worship Practices

      Sikhs hold worship services in what they call 'gurdwaras' ("gates to the gurus"), the most revered of which is the Golden Temple at Amritsar, in India. These services, held on Sundays for several hours, contain a mixture of singing, meditation (an important part of their communication with God) and readings from the Guru Granth Sahib . Since Sikhs recognize no day of the week as more holy than others, the fact that worship services take place on Sunday is solely out of convenience (because everyone is off of work at that time). The Sikh worship service is led by a "granthi" who reads from the Guru Granth Sahib during the service.

      Granthis are not looked at as above other Sikhs because of their position; rather, they are regarded simply as people who have more knowledge of the sacred texts than most people. Again, this is consistent with the Sikh ideals of unity and equality. One interesting function of the Guru Granth Sahib is that it is used in naming children. When a new baby is born and welcomed into the community, the baby's parents have the Granthi or an equivalent person open the Guru Granth Sahib to a random page, and the child's first name must begin with the first letter of the first word at the top of the left-hand page.

      On This-worldly Matters

      The teachings of Sikhism have clear implications for this-worldly issues. First (and most unusual in their surrounding culture), Sikhs believe that women are exact equals with men. Women are allowed to be educated, to serve as the Granthi during services, and also to be in the Khalsa. Daughters are treated with no less respect than sons, and brothers promise to always honor and protect their sisters. Sikhs do not participate in any meaningless rituals, and do not worship any images, for they believe it "brings God down to the level of an object" and also diverts attention from God to the object itself. 20 Sikhs do not perform miracles, and they believe that drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking deter a human from God's way of life and further separate that person from Truth. The greatest resistance put up by Sikhs is against the Indian caste system. All Sikhs believe that every human is equal, regardless of birth or upbringing. They try to give every person an equal chance to become great, because they realize that they are all faulted in one way or another. 21

      Compared to Hinduism and Islam

      Islam and Sikhism are similar in that they are monotheistic. Though Muslims believe in prayer to God, they do not put as much emphasis on discovering what is True through meditation, as do Sikhs. Islam follows the structure of its Five Pillars, while Sikhism values other ways of worshipping and serving God. Sikhs also believe that their faith is not the only way to God, a belief that is in sharp variance with Muslim teachings.

      Hinduism is mainly different from Sikhism in that Hindus recognize many different gods with different purposes. Also, an important issue is that Sikhs reject the idea of castes, to which Hinduism holds firmly. This difference can cause mutual discordance because one side may feel that others are being left out, while the other side feels unworthy people are too warmly welcomed. Sikhism and Hinduism do, however, share the belief of reincarnation and the upward (or downward) spiral of consecutive human lives hopefully leading to a union with God and a breaking from the cycles of the world. (These and other differences have led to physical conflict, as explained above in the History section of this page).

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    IV. Links to Sikhism Web Sites

      The Sikhism Home Page
      Contains lots of great images and pictures, along with text on philosophy, scriptures, origin, development, way of life, and a detailed glossary.

      Sikhism: History, Beliefs, Practices, Etc.
      Gives basic information on Sikhs (and on other religions) in a concise manner, with a section on the fairly recent "Sikh dispute concerning furniture."

      Contains discussions and articles on Sikhism. Also links to other religions for comparison. Special features: Sikh Jeopardy and Sikh crossword puzzles in the Young Khalsa homepage section, which has a link on the main page.

      Intro to Sikhism
      Answers many specific questions about Sikhism in a simple question-answer format.

      Burning Punjab
      Gives detailed reports on Operation Bluestar, Sikh martyrdom and genocide, human rights, and others. Describes itself as "Punjab's First Ever Media Site on Sikh Holocaust."

      Abuse of the Human Rights of Sikhs in India
      Has graphic pictures of victims of the recent conflicts, explains all of the instances that occurred in 1984.

      General information on Sikhism, gurdwaras and the Reht Maryada -- the official Sikh Code of Conduct, along with information on the annual Sikh Games in Australia and a link to that site.

      History of the Sikhs
      Everything about Sikh history, even from before Guru Nanak's time.

      BBC World Service: Sikhism
      Full of clearly-presented, basic information of Sikhs, as well as a link to a dictionary of Sikh-related terms.

      Fort: Panth Khalsa
      A great summary of Sikh beliefs, eyewitness accounts of Operation Bluestar, history of Sikh Sovereignty and information about several Sikh leaders being held against their will.

      Khalsa Networks
      Contains very pro-Sikh articles about Sikh martyrdom and persecution.

      Bharat Rakshak Consortium of Indiam Military website
      A pro-Indian/Hindu view of the Bluestar conflict. Takes a day-by-day approach to their side of the story.

      Khalistan: The New Global Reality
      Articles that focus on the Khalistan and movements to further its establishment.

      Council of Khalistan
      Has many articles in relation to Sikhs and American politics, and also articles on Sikhism in India.

      Sikh Seek: The Sikhism web guide for finding anything Sikh
      Links to anything and everything related to Sikhism.

      Sikhism, thy name is Love and Sacrifice
      With audio and video files and many colorful pictures, this site provides basic information on Sikhism, but is also detailed enough to interest Sikhs themselves.

      Gurpal Samra's Sikhism Page
      Not very informative, but has a collection of great pictures of temples; also includes a link to a pictoral history of Sikhism.

      Edmonton Community Network's comparative page
      A good resource for links to Sikhism as well as to Jainism and Hinduism for comparison.
      Aimed at Sikhs in their everyday life (less on Sikhism itself), but still very interesting and educating on Sikh life outside of the actual religion.

      The Sikhnet Work
      Another site geared more towards Sikhs, but with interesting and current information for non-Sikhs as well.

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    V. Bibliography

    Aidala, Anthony. 1985.
    "Social Change, Gender Roles, and New Religious Movements." Sociological Analysis 46: 287-316.

    Bennett, Olivia. 1990.
    Listening to Sikhs. London: Unwin Hyman.

    Claiborne, William. 1996.
    "Self-Styled Zen Master Has Attained Financial Nirvana." The Record (20 December): A40.

    Jain, Nirmal Kumar. 1979.
    Sikh Religion and Philosophy. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers.

    Kohli,Surindar Singh. 1994.
    Real Sikhism. New Delhi: Harman Publishing House.

    Levinson, David. 1996.
    Religion: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia. New York: Oxford Press. pp. 217-220

    McMullen, Clarence Osmond. 1989.
    Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Sikhs in Rural Punjab India. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

    Singh, Patwant. 2000.
    The Sikhs. New York: Knopf Press.

    Singh, Sirdar Kapur. 1993.
    Sikhism: An Oecumenical Religion. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies.

    Smith, Huston. 1991.
    The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: Harper-Collins. pp. 1-11.

    Young, William. 1995.
    The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 165-170.

    | Profile | History | Beliefs | Links | Bibliography |

    VI. Footnotes

    1. BBC World Service: Sikhism
    2. The Sikhism Home Page
    3. Young, William. The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. p.165.
    4. Kohli, Surindar Singh. Real Sikhism. p.117.
    5. Young, William. The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. p.168.
    6. Young, William. The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. p.168.
    7. Levinson, David. Religion: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia. p.217.
    8. Young, William. The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. p.170.
    9. Bennett, Olivia. Listening to Sikhs. p.42.
    10. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.23.
    11. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.23.
    12. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.23.
    13. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.36-38.
    14. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.36-38.
    15. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.36-38.
    16. Jain, Nirmal Kumar. Sikh Religion and Philosophy. p.36-38.
    17. Young, William. The World's Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues. p.170.
    18. BBC World Service: Sikhsim
    19. BBC World Service: Sikhism
    20. Kohli, Surindar Singh. Real Sikhism. p.199.
    21. Kohli, Surindar Singh. Real Sikhism. p.186,189,194,196.

    Created by Summer McCoy
    For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
    (Fall Term, 2000)
    University of Virginia
    Last modified: 07/24/01