A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. Sikhism (Sikhi in Punjabi) primarily originated in 15th century India and now constitutes one of the major religions with adherents throughout the world. The term “Sikh” has its origin in the Sanskrit term śiṣya, meaning “disciple, learner” or śikṣa, meaning “instruction”.
According to Article I of the “Rehat Maryada” (the Sikh code of conduct and conventions), a Sikh is defined as “any human being who faithfully believes in One Immortal Being; ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Sri Guru Gobind Singh; the Sri Guru Granth Sahib; the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru; and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion”. The most common symbol of all Sikhs, because of its simplicity, is uncut hair (including beards for men) and turbans.
The greater Punjab region is the historic homeland of Sikhism. Most Sikhs are Punjabis and come from the Punjab region, although significant communities exist around the world. Punjabis and the Punjab region’s history has been tremendously important in the formation of Sikhism as a religion. One of the most important and very often forgotten beliefs of Sikhism is the non-belief in any caste, group, distinction of any sort within all the human race, which their Gurus (teachers) had left behind. The Punjabi influence is the main reason why Sikhs have, sometimes, been described as an ethnoreligious group outside of India.
Main articles: Sikhism and Sikh Gurus
The core philosophy of the Sikh religion can be understood in the beginning hymn of the holy Guru Granth Sahib
There is one supreme eternal reality; the truth; immanent in all things; creator of all things; immanent in creation. Without fear and without hatred; not subject to time; beyond birth and death; self-revealing. Known by the Guru’s grace.
Guru Nanak, the founder of the faith, summed up the basis of Sikh lifestyle in three requirements: Naam Japo, Kirat Karni and Wand kay Shako, which means meditate on the holy name (Waheguru), work diligently and honestly, and share one’s fruits.
The Sikhs revere Guru Granth Sahib as their supreme teacher, as it is a literal transcript of the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. The tenth Guru appointed Guru Granth Sahib as his successor. Compiled by the Sikh Gurus, and maintained in its original form, Sikhs revere Guru Granth Sahib as their supreme guide. Non-Sikhs can partake fully in Sikh prayer meetings and social functions. Their daily prayers include the well being of all of mankind.
The martyrdom of Shri Guru Teg Bahadur Ji 9th Guru to protect Hindus from religious persecution, in Delhi, on 11 November 1675 AD, is an example to be followed.
Sikhs are required not to renounce the world, and aspire to live a modest life. Seva (service) is an integral part of Sikh worship, very easily observed in the Gurdwara. Visitors of any religious or socio-economic background are welcomed, where langar, (food for all) is always served.
The Sikhs also revere Bhaghats or Saints belonging to different social backgrounds. The work of these Bhagats is collected in Guru Granth Sahib, and is known as Bhagat-Bani (sacred word of bhagat) as against work of Sikh Gurus being known as Gur-Bani (sacred word of guru).
People revered by Sikhs also include:
Bhai Mardana: (One of the first followers and lifelong companion of Guru Nanak)
Bhai Bala: (One of the first followers and lifelong companion of Guru Nanak)
Baba Buddha: (Sikh saint, held the position of high Granthi in the Sikh religion)
Baba Banda Singh Bahadur: (Fought and Defeated Mughal Governor of Punjab Wazir Khan and established Sikh force in Punjab)
Baba Deep Singh: (Sikh saint, defended Golden Temple with his head in his hand)
Bhai Mani Singh (Sikh Scholar, compiled the Dasam Granth)
Bhai Taru Singh (Was a great patron of the poor)
Bhai Gurdas (Known for his interpretation of bani)
Early Sikh Scholars included Bhai Vir Singh and Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha.
The Five Ks, or panj kakaar/kakke, are five articles of faith that all baptized Sikhs (also called Khalsa Sikhs) are typically obliged to wear at all times, as commanded by the tenth Sikh Guru, who so ordered on the day of Baisakhi Amrit Sanskar in 1699. The symbols are worn for identification and representation of the ideals of Sikhism, such as honesty, equality, fidelity, militarism, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny.
The five symbols are:-
Kesh (uncut hair, usually tied and wrapped in the Sikh Turban, Dastar.)
Kanga (wooden comb, usually worn under the Dastar.)
Kachchhera (characteristic shorts, usually white in color.)
Kara (iron bracelet, which in combat are used as brass knuckles, larger ones can be worn on the Dastar as a weapon that can be thrown.)
Kirpan (curved sword, comes in different sizes, for example in the UK Sikhs would wear a small sharp dagger whereas in the Punjab Sikhs would wear the traditional curved sword, from one to three feet in length.)
Essentially Sikh history, with respect to Sikhism as a distinct political body, can be said to have begun with the martyrdom of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev in 1606. Sikh distinction was further enhanced by the establishment of the Khalsa, by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699. The evolution of Sikhism began with the emergence of Guru Nanak as a religious leader and a social reformer during the fifteenth century in Punjab. The religious practice was formalized by Guru Gobind Singh on March 30, 1699. The latter baptised five people from different social backgrounds to form Khalsa. The first five, Pure Ones, then baptized Gobind Singh into the Khalsa fold.This gives the Sikhism, as an organized grouping, a religious history of around 400 years.
Generally Sikhism has had amicable relations with other religions. However, during the Mughal rule of India (1556–1707), emerging religion had strained relation with the ruling Mughals. Prominent Sikh Gurus were martyred by Mughals for opposing some Mughal emperors’ persecution of minority religious communities. Subsequently, Sikhism militarized to oppose Mughal hegemony. The emergence of the Sikh Empire under reign of the Maharajah Ranjit Singh was characterized by religious tolerance and pluralism with Christians, Muslims and Hindus in positions of power. The establishment of the Sikh Empire is commonly considered the zenith of Sikhism at political level, during this time the Sikh Empire came to include Kashmir, Ladakh, and Peshawar. Hari Singh Nalwa, the Commander-in-chief of the Sikh army along the North West Frontier, took the boundary of the Sikh Empire to the very mouth of the Khyber Pass. The Empire’s secular administration integrated innovative military, economic and governmental reforms.
The months leading up to the partition of India in 1947, saw heavy conflict in the Punjab between Sikh and Muslims, which saw the effective religious migration of Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus from West Punjab which mirrored a similar religious migration of Punjabi Muslims in East Punjab.
A Sikh Empire warrior's battle helmet
The 1960s saw growing animosity and rioting between Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus in India, as the Punjabi Sikhs agitated for the creation of a Punjabi Sikh majority state, an undertaking which was promised to the Sikh leader Master Tara Singh by Nehru in return for Sikh political support during the negotiations for Indian Independence. Sikhs obtained the Sikh majority state of Punjab on November 1, 1966.
Communal tensions arose again in the late 1970s, fueled by Sikh claims of discrimination and marginalization by the secularist dominated Indian National Congress ruling party and the “dictatorial” tactics adopted the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Frank argues that Gandhi’s assumption of emergency powers in 1975 resulted in the weakening of the “legitimate and impartial machinery of government” and her increasing “paranoia” of opposing political groups led her to instigate a “despotic policy of playing castes, religions and political groups against each other for political advantage”. As a reaction against these actions came the emergence of the Sikh leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who vocalized Sikh sentiment for justice and advocated the creation of a Sikh homeland, Khalistan. This accelerated Punjab into a state of communal violence.Gandhi’s 1984 action to defeat Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led to desecration of the Golden Temple in Operation Bluestar and ultimately led to Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. This resulted in an explosion of violence against the Sikh community in the Anti Sikh Riots which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Sikhs throughout India; Khushwant Singh described the actions as being a Sikh pogrom in which he “felt like a refugee in my country. In fact, I felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany”. Since 1984, relations between Sikhs and Hindus have reached a rapprochement helped by growing economic prosperity; however in 2002 the claims of the popular right-wing Hindu organization the RSS, that “Sikhs are Hindus” angered Sikh sensibilities. Many Sikhs still are campaigning for justice for victims of the violence and the political and economic needs of the Punjab espoused in the Khalistan movement.
In 1996 the Special Rapporteur for the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of religion or belief, Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia, 1993–2004), visited India in order to compose a report on religious discrimination. In 1997, Amor concluded, “it appears that the situation of the Sikhs in the religious field is satisfactory, but that difficulties are arising in the political (foreign interference, terrorism, etc.), economic (in particular with regard to sharing of water supplies) and even occupational fields. Information received from nongovernment (sic) sources indicates that discrimination does exist in certain sectors of the public administration; examples include the decline in the number of Sikhs in the police force and the absence of Sikhs in personal bodyguard units since the murder of Indira Gandhi”.
Sikh music and instruments
Sikhs have developed their own instruments: Rabab, Dilruba, Taus, Jori and the Sarinda. The Sarangi was also encouraged by Guru Har Gobind. The Rabaab was first used by Bhai Mardana, as he accompanied Guru Nanak Dev on his journeys. Jori and Sarinda were both designed by Guru Arjan Dev. The Taus was made by Guru Har Gobind, it is said that he heard a peacock singing and wished to create such an instrument that could mimic it sounds, Taus is the Persian word for peacock. The Dilruba was made by Guru Gobind Singh at the request of his Sikhs. They wished for a smaller instrument as the Taus was hard to carry and maintain, due to constant battles. After Japji Sahib all of the shabd in the Guru Granth Sahib are written in raag. The shabd is typically played in accordance with that particular raag. This style of singing is known as Gurmat Sangeet.
When marching into battle, the Sikhs would boost their morale and become psyched. This was called the Ranjit Nagara (Drum of Victory). Nagaras are huge war drums, making a thundering sound. These are huge, about 2 to 3 feet in diameter, and played with two sticks. The special or original Ranjit Nagara, used in past battles, are up to 5 feet across. The thundering beat of the huge drums usually meant that the army was marching into battle. It was also taken into the battle sometimes, the Singhs would raise the Nishan Sahib high, the opposing forces would know the Singhs were coming. While the Singhs spirit was boosting, the opposing forces would get more worried.
Numbering approximately 27 million worldwide, Sikhs make up 0.39% of the world population of which approximately 83% live in India. Of the Indian Sikh community 19.2 million, i.e. 76% of all Indian Sikhs, live in the northern Indian State of Punjab, where they form a majority 70.9% of the population. Substantial communities of Sikhs, i.e. greater than 200,000, live in the Indian States/Union territories of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttaranchal and Jammu and Kashmir.
Sikh migration from the then British India began in earnest from the 2nd half of the 19th century when the British had completed their annexation of the Punjab. The British Raj preferentially recruited Sikhs in the Indian Civil Service and, in particular, the British Indian Army, which led to migration of Sikhs to different parts of British India and the British Empire. During the era of the British Raj, semiskilled Sikh artisans were also transported from the Punjab to British East Africa to help in the building of railways. After World War II, Sikhs emigrated from both India and Pakistan, most going to the United Kingdom but many also headed for North America. Some of the Sikhs who had settled in eastern Africa were expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1972. Subsequently the main ‘push’ factor for Sikh migration has been economic with significant Sikh communities now being found in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, East Africa, Australia and Thailand.
Whilst the rate of Sikh migration from the Punjab has remained high, traditional patterns of Sikh migration, that favored English speaking countries, particularly the United Kingdom has changed in the past decade due to factors such as stricter immigration procedures. Moliner (2006) states that as a consequence of the ‘fact’ that Sikh migration to the UK had “become virtually impossible since the late 1970s”, Sikh migration patterns altered to continental Europe. Italy has now emerged as a fast growing area for Sikh migration, with Reggio Emilia and the Vicenza province being areas of significant Sikh population clusters. The Italian Sikhs are generally involved in areas of agriculture, agro-processing, machine tools and horticulture.
Due primarily to socio-economic reasons, Indian Sikhs have the lowest adjusted decadal growth rate of any major religious group in India, at 16.9% per decade (est. 1991–2001).Johnson and Barrett(2004) estimate that the global Sikh population increases annually by 392,633 Sikhs, i.e. by 1.7% p.a. on 2004 figures, this growth rate takes into account factors such as births, deaths and conversions.
Sikhs are represented in Indian politics, with the current Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is the de facto head of the government and weilds the supreme authority , including the nuclear button, and the Deputy Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, both hailing from the community. The current Chief-minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, is a Sikh. Past Sikh politicians in India have included Giani Zail Singh, the former President of India, Dr. Gurdial Singh Dhillon, Speaker of the Parliament of India. Pratap Singh Kairon, Union minister, famous Sikh Indian independence movement leader and former Chief-minister of Punjab (India).
Prominent politicians of the Sikh Diaspora include the first Asian American to be elected as a full voting Member of United States Congress Dalip Singh Saund, the former mayoress of Dunedin Sukhi Turner, the current UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Parmjit Dhanda MP and the famous first couple to ever sit together in any parliament in the history of commonwealth countries Gurmant Grewal and Nina Grewal, who sought apology by the Canadian Government for the historical Kamagatamaru incident, and the Canadian Shadow Social Development Minister Ruby Dhalla MP. Vic Dhillon, is a famous Sikh Canadian politician and current member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Ujjal Dosanjh was the New Democratic Party Premier of British Columbia from July 2004 through February 2005, and currently serves as a Liberal frontbench MP in Ottawa. In Malaysia, two Sikhs were elected as MPs during the 2008 general elections. The two are Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor) and his son Gobind Singh Deo (Puchong). Whereas, two other Sikhs were elected as assemblymen; Jagdeep Singh Deo (Datuk Keramat) and Keshvinder Singh (Malim Nawar).
Sikhs make up 10–15% of all ranks in the Indian Army and 20% of its officers, whilst Sikhs only forming 1.87% of the Indian population, which makes them over 10 times more likely to be a soldier and officer in the Indian Army than the average Indian. The Sikh Regiment is one of the highest decorated and believed to be the most courages, powerful and skilled regiment of the Indian Army, with 73 Battle Honours, 14 Victoria Crosses, 21 first class Indian Order of Merit (equivalent to the Victoria Cross), 15 Theatre Honours and 5 COAS Unit Citations besides 2 Param Vir Chakras, 14 Maha Vir Chakras, 5 Kirti Chakras, 67 Vir Chakras and 1596 other gallantry awards.The highest-ranking General in the history of the Indian Air Force is a Punjabi Sikh Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. Advanced plans by the MOD to raise an Infantry UK Sikh Regiment were scrapped in June 2007 to the disappointment of the UK Sikh community and Prince Charles of Britain.
Historically, most Indians have been farmers and even today 66% (two-thirds) of Indians are farmers. Indian Sikhs are no different and have been predominately employed in the agro-business, India’s 2001 census found that 39% of the working population of Punjab were employed in this sector (less than the Indian average). The success, in the 1960s, of the Green Revolution, in which India went from “famine to plenty, from humiliation to dignity”, was based in the Sikh majority state of Punjab which became known as “the breadbasket of India”. The Sikh majority state of Punjab is also statistically the wealthiest (per capita) with the average Punjabi enjoying the highest income in India, 3 times the national Indian average. The Green Revolution centered upon Indian farmers adapting their farming methods to more intensive and mechanized techniques; note this was aided by the electrification of Punjab, cooperative credit, consolidation of small holdings and the existing British Raj developed canal system.Swedish political scientist, Ishtiaq Ahmad, states that a factor in the success of the Indian green revolution transformation was the “Sikh cultivator, often the Jat, whose courage, perseverance, spirit of enterprise and muscle prowess proved crucial”. However not all aspects of the green revolution were beneficial, Indian physicist Vandana Shiva argues that the green revolution essentially rendered the “negative and destructive impacts of science [i.e. the green revolution] on nature and society” invisible; thus having been separated from their material and political roots in the science system, when new forms of scarcity and social conflict arose they were linked not to traditional causes but to other social systems e.g. religion. Hence Shiva argues that the green revolution was a catalyst for communal Punjabi Sikh and Hindu tensions; despite the growth in material affluence.
Punjabi Sikhs feature in varied professions such as scientists, engineers and doctors; notable Punjabi Sikhs include nuclear scientist Professor Piara Singh Gill who worked on the Manhattan project; optics scientist (“the father of fibre optics”) Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany; physicist and science writer/broadcaster Simon Singh and agricultural scientist Professor Baldev Singh Dhillon.
Sikhs in the Indian and British Armies
By the advent of World War I, Sikhs in the British Indian Army totaled over 100,000; i.e. 20% of the British Indian Army. In the years to 1945, 14 Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Sikhs, a per capita record given the size of the Sikh Regiments.In 2002, the names of all Sikh VC and George Cross winners were commemorated by being inscribed on the pavilion monument of the Memorial Gates on Constitution Hill next to Buckingham palace, London. Lieutenant Colonel Chanan Singh Dhillon (rtd.), Punjabi Indian World War II hero & Veteran, and president of the ex-services league (Punjab & Chandigarh) was instrumental in campaigning for the memorials building.
During World War I, Sikh battalions fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli and France. Six battalions of the Sikh Regiment were raised in the World War II, and served at El Alamein and in Burma, Italy and Iraq, winning 27 battle honours.
Across the world Sikhs are commemorated in Commonwealth cemeteries.
General Sir Frank Messervy
—”In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world, and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”
Sir Winston Churchill
—”British people are highly indebted and obliged to Sikhs for a long time. I know that within this century we needed their help twice [in two world wars] and they did help us very well. As a result of their timely help, we are today able to live with honour, dignity, and independence. In the war, they fought and died for us, wearing the turbans.”
The Battle of Saragarhi
Main article: Battle of Saragarhi
The Battle of Saragarhi is considered one of the greatest stories of collective bravery in human history. On 12 September 1897 a contingent of twenty-one soldiers from the 36th Sikhs led by Havildar Ishar Singh held off an Afghan attack of 10,000 men for several hours. All 21 Sikh soldiers chose to fight to the death instead of surrendering. In recognition of their supreme sacrifice, the British Parliament rose to pay them respect, and each one of them was awarded the Indian Order of Merit (equivalent to the Victoria Cross). The battle has been compared to the Battle of Thermopylae, where a small Greek force faced a large Persian army of Xerxes (480 BC).
The battle is commemorated by Sikhs worldwide on 12 September every year, Saragarhi Day.
Pre-Independence : Sikhs Contribution to Freedom & Promises Made
The Sikhs played a pioneering role in India’s struggle for independence from the British. They made sacrifices wholly out of proportion to their demographic strength (the Sikhs make up less than 2% of the Indian population).
(Figures below provided by Maulana Abul Azad, President of the Congress Party at the time of Indepedence.)
Out of 2125 Indians killed in the atrocities by the British, 1550 (73%) were Sikhs.
Out of 2646 Indians deported for life to the Andaman Islands (where the British exiled political and hardened criminals) 2147 (80%) were Sikhs.
Out of 127 Indians sent to the gallows, 92 (80%) were Sikhs.
At Jalliawalla Bagh out of the 1302 men, women and children slaughtered, 799 (61%) were Sikhs.
In the Indian Liberation Army, out of the 20,000 ranks and officers, 12,000 (60%) were Sikhs.
Out of 121 persons executed during the freedom struggle, 73 (60%) were Sikhs.
The Sikhs, who had thrown themselves, heart and soul, into the Indian independence struggle, were the third party with whom the British negotiated for the transfer of power. However, due to inadaquency of Sikh leadership, misplaced trust, and false promises, the Sikhs lost their claim to power.
In 1929, following a huge peaceful Independence rally was held by Sikhs in Lahore; in the words of The Times, the 500,000 strong procession “put the Congress show into shame and shadow,” Gandhi and Nehru met the Sikh leaders and put forward the notion of Sikh-Hindu unity, a unified India where all Sikh sentiments (social, economical and religious) would be catered for.
The following solemn assurances were made:
“Let God be the witness of the bond that binds me and the Congress to you. Our Sikhs friends have no reason to fear that it would betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. Moreover, the Sikhs are brave people. They know how to safeguard their rights, by the exercise of arms, with perfect justification before God and man, if it should ever come to that” (Young India 19 March 1931)
“No Constitution would be acceptable to the Congress which did not satisfy the sikhs.” (Collected works of M K Gandhi Vol.58. p. 192)
“The brave Sikhs of Panjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the North wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom. (Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress meeting: Calcutta – July, 1944)
The Sikh homeland Panjab was divided and the Sikhs suffered great loss. Sikh shrines such as Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and many more along with the capital city of Lahore was given to Pakistan, over 75% of the most fertile land owned by sikhs was taken by Pakistan and over 500,000 men, women and children lost their lives during the partition.
Art and culture
Sikh art and culture is synonymous with that of the Punjab region. The Punjab itself has been called India’s melting pot, due to the confluence of invading cultures, such as Greek, Mughal and Persian, that mirrors the confluence of rivers from which the region gets its name. Thus Sikh culture is to a large extent informed by this synthesis of cultures.
Sikhism has forged a unique form of architecture which Bhatti describes as being “inspired by Guru Nanak’s creative mysticism” such that Sikh architecture “is a mute harbinger of holistic humanism based on pragmatic spirituality”. The ‘key-note’ of Sikh architecture is the Gurdwara which is the personification of the “melting pot” of Punjabi cultures, showing both Islamic, Sufi and Hindu influences. The reign of the Sikh Empire was the single biggest catalyst in creating a uniquely Sikh form of expression, with Maharajah Ranjit Singh patronising the building of forts, palaces, bungas (residential places), colleges, etc that can be said to be of the Sikh Style. Characteristics of Sikh architecture are gilded fluted domes, cupolas, kiosks and stone lanterns with an ornate balustrade on square roofs. The “jewel in the crown” of the Sikh Style is the Harmindar Sahib.
Sikh culture is heavily influenced by militaristic motifs, with Khanda being the most obvious; thus it is no surprise that the majority of Sikh artifacts, independent of the relics of the Gurus, have a military theme. This motif is again evident in the Sikh festivals of Hola Mohalla and Vaisakhi which feature marching and practicing displays of valor respectively.
The art and culture of the Sikh diaspora has been merged with that of other Indo-immigrant groups into categories such as ‘British Asian’, ‘Indo-Canadian’ and ‘Desi-Culture’; however there has emerged a niche cultural phenomenon that can be described as ‘Political Sikh’. The art of prominent diaspora Sikhs such as Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra & Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, is informed by their Sikhism and the current affairs of the Punjab.
Bhangra and the Gidha are two forms of indigenous Punjabi folk dancing that have been appropriated, adapted and pioneered by Punjabi Sikhs. The Punjabi Sikhs have championed these forms of expression all over the world, such that Sikh culture has become inextricably linked to Bhangra, even though “Bhangra is not a Sikh institution but a Punjabi one.”