- The Sikh religion emerged at the beginning of 16th century C.E. in the Punjab, a territory hotly contested by Hindus and Muslims at the time. It aimed to find the truths common to both faiths, placing less emphasis on laws and rituals and soon emerged as a third, well-organized, Indian religious community.Though raised as a Hindu, Sikhism’s founder, NANAK (1469–1539), began his adult life in the employ of a Muslim, as was his father. A thought-ful and inwardly oriented youth, he spent periods each morning and evening as a young man in MEDITATION. In his 30th year, his communion with the divine led to an intense experience of God in which he experienced God as the one creator. As a result of the encounter, he quit his job and gave away all his possessions. He began to proclaim his unique message that there is no Hindu and no Muslim. Sikhism would emerge as he began to articulate his message, drawing together what he saw as the best from both faiths. He shared the message in a set of hymns.His message sought to discover what he saw to be the essence of the religious teach-ings around him. In the place of many religious acts, from praying on a prayer mat or living as a renunciant, he called upon people to cultivate the virtues these actions symbolized. For example, he suggested that the essence of asceticism was to remain pure amid impurities. He also called for a casteless society without distinctions based on the family into which one is born. He traveled from Sri Lanka to Tibet spreading his message, although Kashmir and the Punjab proved most receptive.Before his death in 1539, Nanak selected a disciple whom he had named Angad (1504–52) as his successor. Angad would be followed by eight additional GURUS who were selected to lead the Sikh community: Guru Amar Das (1479–1574), Guru Ram Das (1534–81), Guru Arjan Dev (1563–1606), Guru Hargobind (1595–1644), Guru Har Rai (1630–61), Guru Harkrishan (1656–64), Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621–75), and Guru Gobind SINGH (1666–1708).Each of the 10 gurus made his contribution to the development of the faith. For example, the fourth guru began construction on what would become the Golden Temple in AMRITSAR, the phys-ical center of the Sikh community. The formation of the Sikh community, the Khalsa (the pure ones), was completed by the 10th guru, Gobind Singh. He saw to the baptism of new members into the Khalsa by sprinkling with sweetened water stirred with a sword. At the time, each male adopted the name Singh (lion) as his family name. As a visible sign of membership in the community, each male also began to wear the five K’s: (1) kesh, long hair; (2) kangh, a comb; (3) kach, short pants (for quick movement); (4) kara, a steel bracelet; and (5) kirpan, a knife.Through the years, the writing of the gurus were compiled in a book, the Adi Granth. The fifth guru, upon the completion of the Golden Temple, formally installed the volume in the temple, much as Hindus installed statues of dei-ties in their temples. After the death of Gobind Sikh Gurudwara (temple) in Hong Kong (Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California)Singh, his contributions were added to the Adi Granth, and then the book was declared to be the new guru for the community. Since that time, while there are teachers of Sikhism who convey the faith to each new generation, there is no human to whom the status of GURU (teacher) is formerly ascribed.Wherever Nanak traveled, he established local groups called manjis. Over the years, these would mature as gurudwaras, seats of the guru or Adi Granth, the worship centers in which Sikh com-munities gather on a weekly basis.While it had been Nanak’s goal to create a synthesis that would dissolve the differences between Muslim and Hindu, both faiths contin-ued and Nanak’s work had the effect of creating a new religion. A minority community, Sikhs were frequently forced to defend themselves and emerged with a reputation as great warriors. At times aligned with the British, they served with distinction in battles throughout the 19th century, in both India and abroad.Since the death of the last guru, temporal authority in the community passed to the Sri AKAL TAKHT Sahib, a name used to refer to both a building close to the Golden Temple and the Sikh leader who operates from the building. All the issues of import to Sikhs are debated there, and the decrees issued from it are considered binding on the entire community internationally. Another important structure in the community is the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.). It oversees the administration of the worship centers (gurudwaras) in India and car-ries on an extensive publication and education program. In the 1930s, the S.G.P.C. assembled the most noted Sikh scholars and theologians to produce a consensus statement on the standards of Sikh belief and conduct. The result was the Reht Maryada, a defining document of Sikhism, which offers guidelines for conduct both inside the gurudwaras and in the daily life of Sikhs.The Sikh community declined in the 19th century, in part because of the attractiveness of some of the new movements of the Hindu renais-sance, such as the BRAHMO SAMAJ, which shared many affirmations (such as the idea of one God) with the Sikhs. Many Hindus looked upon the Sikhs as just another sect of Hinduism, a position not accepted by most Sikhs. Several revitalization efforts appeared, including the NIRANKARI and SANT MAT movements, but with limited appeal. However, it was the Singh Sabha, the govern-ing body that oversees Sikh communities, that seemed to have the greatest effect with its calling the entire community to a new understanding of itself and its heritage. It called for a new alle-giance to the writings of the gurus and an end to encroachments by Christianity and Hinduism into the gurudwaras.The reemergence of the Sikh community was viewed with alarm in some quarters. Some saw it as a challenge to government authority (i.e., Brit-ish rule). The growing popularity of Sikhism set the stage for the development of Sikh national-ism, with its demands that the Punjab, territory in which the Sikhs predominated, be separated from Hindu India. In the decades since World War I, the tension between the Sikhs and the British, and later the Indian, government has waxed and waned. More extreme elements among the Sikhs responded to government attempts to suppress nationalist aspirations with violence, followed by retaliation by the Indian government.The most significant event in the ongoing bat-tles between the government and the Sikh com-munity occurred in June 1984. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant Sikh leader, and his fol-lowers took refuge in the Golden Temple. Unable to persuade him to surrender, under orders from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Indian army invaded the temple, with significant damage to the sacred property and loss of life. The event was a call to arms for the community. Among other consequences, Sikhs living outside India formed the World Sikh Organization. Then in October, Sikhs who served as Indira Gandhi’s bodyguards turned on her and assassinated her. Though the assassins were later executed, they became heroes to Sikhs.Sikhs had largely been confined to India until the 20th century. Their migration outward was in part motivated by the same factors that sent other groups to the West, but was also stimulated by the tensions created in the Punjab as the community revived. Many Sikhs targeted by the government for their activity as Sikh nationalists migrated to continue their efforts from a base outside India. Before immigration was curtailed, several thousand Sikhs immigrated to western Canada and the United States. Others took advantage of regulations that allowed free movement through the British Commonwealth to settle in the United Kingdom.Migration by Sikhs into the United States increased considerably after anti-Asian immigra-tion laws were rescinded in 1965. Today, several hundred thousand Sikhs reside in North America. American Sikhs hosted Sikh leaders in 1984 for the founding of the World Sikh Organization, which took place in New York City. As the Ameri-can Sikh community grew, it organized the Sikh Foundation in the 1970s, which has more recently been succeeded by the Sikh Council of North America. The council seeks to coordinate and pro-vide communication among the many gurudwaras across the continent.As the Sikh community expanded in the 1970s, it was faced with a new and different phe-nomenon. A man popularly known as Yogi BHAJAN arrived in Los Angeles and claimed to be a Sikh teacher, but also a teacher of HATHA and KUNDALINI and TANTRIC yoga. He organized a movement of mostly young adult men and women, which he called the Sikh Dharma, though it was better known through its educational arm, the HEALTHY, HAPPY, HOLY ORGANIZATION (3HO). After a period of controversy, the Sikh Dharma was recognized as a valid expression of Sikhism, but because of its growth through conversion of individual mem-bers, rather than growth through heredity, it has remained a separate organization.Further reading: W. Owen Cole, Teach Yourself Sikhism (Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1994); K. S. Dug-gal, The Sikh People Yesterday and Today (New Delhi: UBSPD, 1993); Max Arthur Macauliffe, The Sikh Reli-gion, Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, vols. 1–6 (New Delhi: S. Chand, 1985); Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, Sikhism (New York: Facts On File, 1993); H. S. Singha and Satwant Kaur, Sikhism: A Complete Introduc-tion (New Delhi: Hemkunt Press, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.