Introduction to Sikhism
Sikhism is by far the youngest religion in the world. However, surprisingly, it is the fifth largest in the number of followers. The followers of Sikhism call themselves Sikhs. The word Sikh means a disciple, and it is a good fit. Sikhs believe in one God and the teachings of the ten Gurus, which are enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.
The Sikh religion is strictly monotheistic, believing in One Supreme God. The description given for God is Absolute yet all pervading, The eternal, The Creator, The cause of causes, Without enmity, Without hate, Both immanent in His creation and beyond it.
The basic postulate of Sikhism is that life is not sinful in its origin and thus God abides in it. The Sikhs do not recognize the caste system, nor do they believe in Idol – worship, rituals, or superstitions. Sikhism consists of practical living, rendering service to humanity, and engendering tolerance and brotherly love towards all. The Sikh Gurus did not advocate retirement from the world in order to attain salvation. It can be achieved by any one who earns an honest living and leads a normal life.
The Sikh Gurus practiced what they preached for well over 200 years and the Sikh beliefs are born out of their examples and sacred writings. Due to this, Sikhs have a strong base when it comes to beliefs. Some of the major Sikh beliefs are:
1) One God
God is the Creator of the Universe
God isn’t born and will never die
God is present everywhere
All human beings are equal
People of all religions and races are welcome in Sikh Gurdwaras
Women have equal status with men in religious services and ceremonies
3) Birth and Death
After a person dies, his soul is born again in another body, human or animal
One’s next life depends on his deeds in the past life
The human life is supreme and it is through this life that we can achieve oneness with God
Finding God takes us out of this life cycle
Sikhs are a peace loving people and stand for Truth and Justice
Guru Gobind Singh Ji said, “It is right to use force as a last resort when all other peaceful means fail.”
The four basic principles for living a good life and leaving the life cycle are:
1) Naam Japna or Simran (Meditation)
One of the basic principles for living a good life
Simran helps you get closer to God
Simran brings a peace of mind
2) Kirat Karni (Work)
The second basic principle for living a good life
Sikhs should only accept what they have earned by honesty and hard work
Sikhs shouldn’t take away what rightfully belongs to others
Guru Nanak Dev Ji said, “Taking away other’s right is as sinful as pork to a Muslim and beef to a Hindu.”
3) Wand Chakna (Charity Donations)
Sikhs should give to the poor and needy in the form of charity
Sikhs should share with others
4) Sewa (Service to Humanity and God)
Sewa is a major part of Sikhism and many people do it at the Gurdwara
A great example of Sewa is the story of Bhai Kanahya, who in a battle gave water to both Sikhs and Mughals.
Bhai Kanahya was asked by Guru Gobind Singh Ji why he was doing it and Bhai Kanahya said, “I do not see a friend or foe, I only see your face everywhere.”
Bhai Kanahya was blessed and started the first Red Cross
Guru Gobind Singh Ji said, “Realize that the human race is one.”
Gurdwaras: Place of God
The word ‘Gurdwara’ means Guru’s home. It is the Sikh place of worship. Gurdwaras, or Sikh Temples, were built at important Sikh historical places in memory of events that had occurred there. It is not easy to name each and everyone. However, like all religions, Sikhism has some Gurdwaras that have more historical significance than others. Harmandir Sahib is the most famous and world known Gurdwara.
Harmandir Sahib is commonly called Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple. The Golden Temple name is given because it is covered in the gold plating. It is the most holy and chief shrine for the Sikhs. It was built by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in Amritsar. It is built in the middle of a square tank called Sarovar. It has four doors, one in each direction, indicating it is open to all. Golden Temple is known world wide. Visitors from all over the world visit this Gurdwara.
Gurdwaras have been built all over the world where there is a Sikh population. The first Gurdwara in north America was built in 1912 in Stockton. A Gurdwara not only serves as a place of worship and singing hymns but also serves as a center to promote Sikh culture and knowledge of Sikh history. Rooms are set aside in Gurdwara buildings for schools/libraries to promote the teaching of Punjabi, religious education, music etc. The Gurdwara provides religious and community service. ‘Nishan Sahib’ (Sikh Flag) flies high on every Sikh Gurdwara. The Gurdwara building has a Congregation hall and a langar hall. They might be your neighbors but you never knew and you did not feel comfortable asking them. In most of the big cities there are Gurdwaras where they hold congregations on Sundays. Feel free to visit them to know more information.
The Baptism ceremony, or Amrit Sanskar, is a central part of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh Ji made it a requirement for the Sikhs. He clarified that Sikhs’ life is incomplete without baptism. Many people believe that it is necessary for one to meet God after their death. In fact, the Guru’s and many Sikh saints today put a lot of emphasis on taking Amrit. Due to these reasons, Amrit Sanskar has a lot to do with Sikh Culture . A Sikh is supposed to submit to God’s will after taking Amrit and he should serve the poor and the downtrodden. The Sikh is prohibited from the 4 things after taking Amrit:
1. Hair Trimming
3. Smoking, drinking and drugs
4. Meat eating
Sikh Symbols: What do they signify?
In the Sikh religion, there are quite a few symbols. However, only some of these symbols apply to all people. What I mean is that some of the major symbols of Sikhism only apply to those people that have been baptized. The major Sikh Symbols are:
The words Ek-Onkar have a firm place in Sikhism and it symbolizes a lot. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji opens with these words. Ek-Onkar means ‘There is one God.’ Many Gurdwaras and Sikh organizations use this symbol on letters and other documents. In fact, many Sikhs also use this symbol on their letters. This constant repetition of Ek-Onkar is done so that Sikhs are constantly reminded that there is only one God in the universe.
The Khanda, like Ek-Onkar is a very important symbol in Sikhism. The Khanda is commonly seen in Gurdwaras and on the Sikh flag. The Khanda symbolizes God’s Universal and Creative Power. In it’s center is a double edged sword, which symbolizes the primal and almighty power of the creator. The ‘Chakra’ or the circle is a symbol of the continuity. The two swords on the outside are symbols of the spiritual and political balance in the universe.
Kesh is one the ‘Panj Kakar’ or ‘Five Ks’ that people have after being baptized. However, Kesh, or uncut hair from everywhere on their body, is one of the two Ski’s that most people have, even if they aren’t baptized. Sikh males tie their hair into a ‘Joora’, or bun. They cover this with a ‘Pag’, or turban . At a younger age, people cover their Joora with a ‘Patka’, a smaller turban. Most females either braid their hair or put it in a bun on the back of their head. There are some women who tie and cover their hair like the men do. A lot of emphasis is put on Kesh because it is the body in the natural way that it was created by God.
The Kangha is another of the Panj Kakar, and it primarily in the possession of people who have been baptized. It is a comb and used for the cleanliness of the hair. Sikhs are asked to clean their hair in the morning and at bed time.
The Kara is the third of the Panj Kakar and it is the other Kakar that most people where, regardless of the fact whether they are baptized or not. The Kara is an iron or steel bracelet that binds the Sikh, who is wearing it, to God. The Kara is used to remind the Sikh to do the right deeds. The Kara is usually worn in the predominant hand so that the Sikh can see the Kara whenever he does anything.
The Kachhera is yet another of the Panj Kakar and it’s worn by people who have been baptized. It ensures agility and freedom of movement. Kachhera is a form of boxer shorts that symbolize chastity and sexual restraint.
The Kirpan is the last of the Panj Kakar and it is only worn by people who have been baptized. However, like the other Panj Kakar, it isn’t worn at all times. This is because Sikhs take it off when they ride on airplanes so they don’t start a commotion. Sikhs agreed to these terms with the FAA.
Nishan Sahib is the name for the Khalsa Flag. Saffron in color and of triangle shape it is a religious flag. It has a black Khanda in the middle. The flag post is also covered in saffron cloth and has a metallic Khanda at the top. Sighting of a Nishan Sahib gives the idea that there is a Gurdwara around.
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