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.
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.
Conflict with Hindu and Islam
One of Sikhism's claims is that it is not a syncretic religion
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.
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").
Over its life, Sikhism has factioned off into many sects, but they are tied together by
their belief in the one True God.
This God, though one god, has two natures within its being. The first nature is called
, and represents a personal god, with physically perfect attributes; someone the Sikhs
can visualize to help them think of their god.
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.
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).
The challenge put to Sikhs is to follow the Gurus' teachings and peel back the layers
to reveal their light.
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].
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.
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.
Another important facet of Sikhism involves a group within the religion, the
. 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
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.
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
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).
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.
Answers many specific questions about Sikhism in a simple question-answer format.
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.
Contains very pro-Sikh articles about Sikh martyrdom and persecution.
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
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. http://www.srigurugranthsahib.org
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.