Though it is the youngest world religion, dating back only about five hundred years, there are now over 23 million Sikhs worldwide. This makes it the fifth largest world religion. Twenty-two million Sikhs are found throughout South Asia, the largest portion of them residing in the Punjab area of India.
Foundation of Sikhism:
The word ‘sikh’ means ‘disciple’ or ‘learner.’ Guru Nanak Dev Ji founded Sikhism around the fifteenth century. During one of his daily meditations, Nanak disappeared. Three days later he returned, saying God had charged him to spread the message of equality and truth.
Nine gurus followed Guru Nanak, all offering enlightenment and wisdom to followers of Sikhism. Sikhs believe that these ten gurus all shared a divine spirit that was passed from one to another beginning with Guru Nanak. The final guru, Gobind Singh, compiled a book of writings from the gurus, called Guru Granth Sahib, which he declared the “living guru.” Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be the final guru.
Sikhs believe in a cycle of reincarnation that can only be broken through following the teachings of the gurus, leading lives full of integrity, and meditation. These practices are said to free them from the ensnarement of human weakness and conflict. When they are completely free, they are able to merge with god.
Male Sikhs can be identified by the turbans they wear. To a Sikh, the turban symbolizes commitment to discipline, integrity, humility and spirituality.
The Khalsa is a devout group of Sikhs who act as the Sikh army. The Khalsa are identified by five important symbols, though most Sikhs have also adopted them:
- Kesh – long hair that is never cut, to indicate the perfection of God’s creation.
- Kanga – a small wooden comb, to clean the hair and keep it tidy, a symbol of the organized life.
- Kkaccha – short trousers that are worn under regular clothes, representing chastity, continence, and high moral character.
- Kara – a steel bracelet worn as a symbol of dedication and bondage to the guru
- Kirpan – a short ceremonial sword, to add self-respect and self defense, and symbolize power and freedom of spirit.
Initiates into the Khalsa also receive a new surname. Men are called Singh, meaning lion, and women are Kaur, or princess. Most Sikhs, even those who are not amritdari, or initiated into the Khalsa, still take on these surnames.
The Golden Temple:
The most holy site for the Sikh religion is Sri Harimandir Sahib, Temple of God. Also known as the Golden Temple, it serves as a symbol of freedom and spiritual independence. Sikhs are encouraged to make pilgrimages to this holy site, which is located in the city of Amritsar in Punjab, India.
Find more resources at: sikhoutreach.org