Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. There are over thirty million Sikhs worldwide, although the vast majority live in the northern region of India. There are over one million Sikhs in North America and a half a million in the UK. Sikhism was founded during the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent by Guru Nanak. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples). Sikhism is monotheistic, and its adherents worship one God known generally as Satiguru (the True Guru), Vahiguru (the Wonderful Lord), or Akal Purakh (the Timeless Being).
Sikhs understand their religious tradition in terms of Sikh history. While tradition provides a grand narrative of the history of the Sikh Gurus and their disciples since its beginning in 1469, there is little in terms of corroborative contemporary material.
It begins with the birth of Guru Nanak, who is summoned into the presence of the eternal Guru (God) and entrusted with spreading the faith. Close to death, Guru Nanak nominates as successor his disciple Lehana, who is renamed Guru Angad. This incident is related in a hymn in the scripture. Guru Angad then nominates Amar Das, who later nominates Guru Ram Das. Guru Ram Das’ youngest son Arjan was then made Guru, and it was under him that the completion of Amritsar as well as the compilation of the Sikh scripture in 1604 takes place.
Sikh men and women cover their heads at all times as an expression of respect to their Gurus. The Sikh turban (also called a dastaar, pagri, or pagg) symbolizes discipline, integrity, humility, and spirituality. It has been an important part of the Sikh faith from the beginning. The turban is a mandatory part of Sikh faith, not a social custom, or a hat that can be easily taken on or off.
The Three Principles of Sikhism are:
- Kirat Karo – Work hard and honestly
- Wand Ke Chhako – Share what you have with the needy
- Naam Jappo – Always remember God throughout the day
Sikhs also observe the Five Ks.
- Kesh (uncut hair)
- Kara (a steel bracelet)
- Kanga (a wooden comb)
- Kaccha (cotton underwear)
- Kirpan (steel sword)
Sikhs also believe in the transmigration of the soul and the doctrine of karma. Humanity is caught in the never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth and must meditate upon the Nam, that aspect of the divine which is present everywhere in the universe, through a discipline called nam simran (remembering the Name [of God]) to ultimately break the cycle and merge into the divine. Often Sikhism is understood as either a sect of Hinduism or of Islam, but it is neither. It is a unique religious tradition which shares some similarities with both of the above-mentioned traditions.
For Sikhs death is not to be mourned but rather contemplated, and the departed life is remembered with the reading and singing of the scripture. Many Sikhs, however, do mourn and follow what the orthodox refer to as “Hindu rites” of observance, namely organized lamentation by women and the practice of keeping an oil lamp (diva ) lit for a year after the death. Sikhs believe that one who lives a good life and constantly remembers God will not be reborn. Instead he or she will “enter” what Guru Nanak refers to as Sach Khand, the True Realm, the end of one’s spiritual journey. To explain beyond this, claims the first Guru, is “harder than steel.”