Sikhism is the youngest of the world's monotheistic ecclesiastic traditions. The word Sikh is inferred from the Sanskrit word uizya, adherents. Founded in the late 15th century by Guru Nenak, Sikhs are a fraternity of almost 25,000,000 people. Even though Sikhism is historically connected to the Punjab, a territory that connects southern Asia with the Middle East, millions of Sikhs have left the Punjab and now reside and work in North America, Western Europe, and many former British colonies.
Guru Nenak, born on November 15 1469, into a Ksatriya clan Talwandi, the modern day Lahore in Pakistan, was a Hindu by birth. At the age of 28, he was said to experience a spiritual revelation that resulted in his leaving his normal domestic life behind and embarking on extended pilgrimage. Close to twenty years later, he ceased his travels, procured a farmhouse in the lush farmlands of the central Punjab, and founded a city named Karterpur (City of God).
At Karterpur, Nenak became Guru Nenak, and the regular routine of the lives of his followers was constructed along the lines of his spiritual ideals. Guru Nenak provided the original Sikh community at Karterpur with an institutional structure. He composed hymns of great beauty and had them documented in a distinct script called Gurmukh.
These hymns formed the core of the Sikh sacred text, the Edi Garanth (The Original Book). He also created the practice of three daily prayers and established the institution of community kitchen, where all Sikhs were to eat together as a sign of their belief in human equality.
Towards the end of the 16th century, the Sikhs had become powerful enough to be seen as a threat by the Mughal Dynasty, and a period of tension culminated in the execution of Guru Arjan, the sitting Guru of the time. The Sikh community, under the leadership of his successor, Guru Hargobind, responded by formally rejecting the Mughal's authority and declaring the Guru to be both temporal and spiritual head. As a result, the Sikhs community were forced to leave the Punjab plains and move to the Himalayan foothills for sanctuary, where they remained throughout the 17th century.
Given this decidedly hostile political climate, the Sikh's belief in divine justice took the form of Guru Gobind Singh's declaration of the Sikh community as the 'Khelse', or people of the God. In the process, he gave the community a new understanding of their special relationship to God and its mission to participate in establishment of the 'khelse rej', the Kingdom of God).
Guru Gobind Singh established a ritual of initiation where fresh water is transformed into sweet nectar by reciting the celestial word given to the Sikhs, while blending it with a double-edged sword, representing God's power and righteousness. Having consumed the nectar, a Sikh is transformed into a Singh ("lion") and must now observe the rahit (code of conduct).
The Rahit involves observance of the kesh (uncut hair), kaghe (a comb), kirpan (a sword), karhi (a steel bracelet), and kache (long shorts).
Guru Gobind Singh thus gave the community both a strengthened identity and a political vision. These helped the Sikhs develop a powerful myth that the land of the Punjab belongs to them, the special gift of the tenth Guru. They waged relentless military campaigns, and eventually, managed to create a powerful kingdom in the region. The collective understanding of being the Khelse, the special ones, prevented the Sikhs from actively converting others to their faith, and even at the peak of their political power, they remained a small minority in the Punjab. Despite their minority status however, they were able to hold on to the Punjab by sheer determination and military skill, somewhat reminiscent of the Jews.
Guru Nenak's theology is built on the concept of the unity to the creator God, who governs the universe with his command centered on twin principles of justice and grace. As the creator and preserver, God is the sole legitimate object of human worship.
The cosmos came into existence as part of the divine decree. Being the construction of God, the universe and all the inhabitants in it are delegated a high degree of sacredness, with humanity placed at the top of the hierarchy. Humans, regardless of their societal and gender characteristics, have the rare chance to attain liberation, the release from the endless cycle of life and death and achieving oneness with the Creator.
However, this quest for liberation is hindered by a fundamental human imperfection: self-centeredness. This is managed by developing a relationship with God based on love and fear obeisance and the cultivation of constant remembrance of Him. Guru Nenak traced the movement towards liberation in five distinct realms. The first three mark the preparation: the recognition that the universe moves in concord to a divine plan and the Creator alone judges man's activity; the realization of the utter vastness and complexity of the creation; and the humility arising from an understanding of the humble nature of humanity's existence in the cosmos.
These realms complete the preparation for a believer to receive the divine grace of the Creator, which then leads to the realm of truth. Commitment to diligence, sharing with the collective, and service to fellow humans are the other basis in one's pursuit of liberation. Guru Nenak holds the individual responsible towards achieving the collective liberation. A victorious soul is one who achieves liberation for itself, and in addition, aids in the liberation of others in the collective. It is a moral imperative of a Lion.
The Original Book, the canonical scripture of the Sikhs, which includes the hymns of the 6 Sikh Gurus and the narratives of the Sikh court.
The book of the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, written by himself and his disciples, primarily on the Khelse.
A romantic and moralistic narrative on the life and works of Guru Nenak.
The Sikhs are required to recite three prayers daily, at dawn, sunset and before going to bed. For these prayers, Sikhs normally recite their own set of sacred hymns that have been passed down through the generations in their family, and the hymns generally remain in its original form.