23.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which was founded by Guru Nanak in the XV century in Punjab, in the northwest of India.

Sikhism was based at the intersection of two cultures – Hindu and Muslim. The Holy Writ is Guru Granth Sahib, or Adi Granth, which includes the revelations of Sikh Gurus and works of some Hindu poets.

Sikhs form about 2% of the population of India. The total number of followers of Sikhism in the world is about 25 million, and almost all of them are of Punjabi descent.


Origin of Sikhism

The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak. He actively participated in missionary work, and after 25 years of traveling he created a completely independent (like a state within a state) Sikh community called the Shrine of Faith in Kartarpur, Punjab, with its own orders, opinions and leaders. The tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Gobind Singh, eliminated the legacy of the Gurus and transferred the power to the community (Khalsa) itself. In 1716 in Delhi the chief Banda, who was acclaimed a temporary chief by the successors of Gobind Singh, was executed. Later the territory belonging to the Sikhs was divided into twelve Misls (unions of warriors).

In 1767 an autonomous state of Sikhs was created. It was preceded by long-time wars of the Sikhs with the Afghans and the Moguls. At first the state of the Sikhs was a confederation of twelve Misls led by military commanders. Later the military chiefs became feudal princes who started internecine wars for power. By 1820 all power in Punjab was taken by Ranjit Singh, the chief of the Sukerchakia Misl. The English overthrew the last prince of the Sikhs, Dalip (Dhulin) Singh, after the defeat of the Sikhs in 1849.

The guru of the sikhs

The Sikhs believe that a genuine Guru, who has gained insight of God and knows everything, is beyond attainment because only God knows everything, but there is a Guru in every Sikh. This is where the marvelous encouragement felt by every Sikh in the quest for understanding comes from. The doctrine of the Sikhs and their Holy Writ were created by Guru Nanak and the following nine Sikh Teachers. Gobind Singh became the last Guru in human form for the Sikhs. Before his death he proclaimed the Guru Granth Sahib to be the eternal and permanent Guru for the Sikhs. Khalsa Panth, the catechism of the Sikhs, is an addition to their Holy Writ.

Bases of faith

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which appeared where Hinduism and Islam met. It is part of the Bhakti movement (the gurus of which teach being dedicated to God without rituals or vergers) which does not accept succession. The Sikhs created their unique religion, having rejected traditional Hinduism and having not accepted Islam. Guru Nanak proclaimed the rejection of any limitations.

Guru Nanak taught that there is one omnipresent God who should be loved, and that nothing happens without His knowledge. God does not refer to any certain place. His real name is unknown to anybody. He personifies benevolence and love and does not punish anybody.

God is considered as Nirgun (Absolute) and Sargun (God inside each of us). Before the creation, God was an independent Absolute. After the creation He expressed Himself via the name and nature with which He is one. God is not born of anybody or reborn in any form. He is present everywhere as the creating idea, in love itself, benevolence, beauty, ethics, truth and faith. God gives life to everything, but insight cannot be gained of Him, nor can He be described. Only  God is worth worshipping via prayers and meditations.

The Sikhs consider that the previous incarnation of the person, their family and the country in which they were born determine their personality, but they are solely responsible for their actions. The Sikhs do not believe in traditional heaven, hell, karma and sins and consider that those are manipulations of some people towards others. According to the doctrine of the Sikhs, the soul leaving the body of a dying person reunites with nature and stays with God.

The moral and ethical elements of sikhism

The Sikhs teach fraternal love to each human on Earth regardless of origin.

A true Sikh should be a good person, have free will and respect the freedom of others. They show love naturally in all daily and routine activities. There is no enforcement to anything in Sikhism, including good deeds, charity, complex rituals, integrity, studying, chastity or conversion. God is within everyone, and thanks to Him humans have natural desires to perform kind and altruistic actions. Humans, having free will, may observe the laws of nature created by God or may not.

Selfishness (the level of consciousness characteristic of animals) is considered to be a sin. When human beings over expand their consciousness, they begin to see other people as part of themselves and then rise above their ‘I’ to the level of family, then of society, of nature and of God, which is the highest level.

The Sikhs disapprove of five specific vices, which, according to their opinion, are wrath, lust, subjection to other’s will, greed and selfishness. And they celebrate five virtues – temperance, honesty, love, sympathy and humbleness.

The rituals of the sikhs

In his guidance Guru Nanak Dev taught that there is no sense in rituals and ceremonies, and they are not obligatory for Sikhs. But later they were performed in order to unite people, restore traditions, read the Holy Writs and help in the search for internal love.

Every Sikh undergoes the initiation ceremony (Amrshpa-Saisckar or Pahul). The preparation of it involves ablution and the wearing of clean clothes. Any person may become a follower of Sikhism regardless of nationality and sex.

Each day begins with the morning prayer and meditation and ends with the evening prayer. In total the prayers take up two hours per day.

Upon birth the boys receive the ‘Singh’ patronymic, and the girls become ‘Kaur’. Sikhs marry regardless of caste or origin, performing the Anand Karaj ceremony. The dissolution of marriage is forbidden. 

Sikhs are obliged to keep the following (five Ks):

  • Kesh (or Keski): uncut hair hidden under adastar (the turban-shaped headwear);
  • Kangsha: a wooden comb supporting the hair;
  • Kara: a steel bracelet;
  • Kaccha: knee-length undergarments;
  • Kirpan: a sword or a dagger hidden under clothes. This sword cannot be used to gain power, for violence or for threatening behavior.

The main rituals of the Sikhs are the following: the ceremony of naming after birth, the marriage ceremony and the funeral rituals after death.

After the funeral ceremony the dust of the dead person is buried in the water.

Branches of sikhism

Branches of sikhism

Khalsa (Keshdhari) is the main orthodox branch of Sikhism. Those who joint Khalsa observe the rules of outer special features of the Sikhs set by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh. Most followers of Sikhism are Keshdhari.

There is another smaller branch, which is Sahajhari (Nanakpanth). They have more tolerant opinions and observe the order set by the first Guru Nanak.

The Sahajhari are divided into:

  • Udasi who admit only the first Sikh Gurus;
  • Namdhari and Nirankari who believe in the succession of the living Gurus.

However, it should be noted that the traditional Sikhs do not assign Sahajhari to Sikhism.

Ramrai, Nirmala, Bedi and some more Neosikh organizations are even smaller branches.

In some sources Sikhism is called the religion of warriors and the Sikhs are called the people of peace living for war. It was so in ancient times. Now the Sikhs hold a peaceful world view. They perform spiritual practices to raise their consciousness and to break free of the vices of the modern world.