Sikhs, Sikhism


General Information

Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, an Indian religion that originated in the Punjab in northwest India. In 1971, India had approximately 10.3 million Sikhs, 1.9% of the population. Small communities of Sikhs also exist in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, and East Africa.

The movement was founded in the Punjab by Guru Nanak (1469 - 1539), who sought to combine Hindu and Muslim elements in a single religious creed. He taught "the unity of God, brotherhood of man, rejection of caste and the futility of idol worship." He was followed by nine masters, the last of whom was Guru Gobind Singh (1666 - 1708; guru 1675 - 1708), who involved his followers in an unsuccessful martial struggle against Mogul rule.

After Gobind's assassination, the Sikhs were persecuted by the Muslim Mogul rulers until 1799 when, under Ranjit Singh (1780 - 1839), they laid claim to a large part of northwest India. After Ranjit's death his Sikh kingdom disintegrated into anarchy. The British moved into the Punjab, and the Sikh Wars followed (1845 - 46, 1848 - 49).

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The Sikhs were defeated, and the British annexed the Punjab. Sikhism did not recover until the 20th century, when the Sikhs were given control of their holy places (gurdwaras). When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, the western Punjab became Pakistani territory and the eastern Punjab part of India. The Sikhs were victimized by the ensuing communal rioting, especially in Pakistan's Punjab, and about 2,500,000 moved from Pakistan into India.

The holiest place for Sikhs is the Golden Temple at Amritsar (now in the Indian state of Punjab) founded by the fourth guru, Ram Das (guru 1574 - 81). The fifth guru, Arjun (guru 1581 - 1606), gave Sikhism its holy book, the Granth Sahib, which contains hymns of Sikh gurus as well as those of Hindu and Muslim saints such as Kabir.

Sikhs are readily identifiable by their turbans. They take a vow not to cut their hair as well as not to smoke or drink alcoholic beverages. When Gobind Singh founded (1699) the martial fraternity Khalsa ("pure"), his followers vowed to keep the five K's: to wear long hair (kesh), a comb in the hair (kangha), a steel bracelet on the right wrist (kara), soldier's shorts (kachha), and a sword (kirpan). The tradition persists to the present day.

Some of India's Sikhs favor the establishment of a separate Sikh nation. In the early 1980s Akali Dal, a Sikh nationalist party, provoked a confrontation with the Indian government by demanding greater autonomy for Punjab. Unassuaged by the election of a Sikh, Zail Singh, to the largely ceremonial office of president of India in 1982, the militants continued to stage violent demonstrations. As fighting between Sikhs and Hindus became widespread in Punjab, the central government took direct control of the state in 1983. By April 1984 50,000 troops occupied Punjab and the neighboring state of Haryana. Sant Jarnail Bhindranwale, leader of Akali Dal's most intransigent faction, sought refuge from arrest in the Golden Temple.

Karl H Potter

M A Macauliffe, The Sikh Religion (1909); W H McCleod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (1968); G Singh, The Religion of the Sikhs (1971); H Singh, The Heritage of the Sikhs (1964); M Singh, Sikhism: Its Impact (1973).

Basic Creed of the Sikhs

General Information

The basic creed of the Sikhs - the Mul Mantra - gives the idea of Reality in a few telling words. The creed is:
Ekonkar Satnam, Karta Purkh, Nirbhav, Nirvair, Akal Murat, Ajoni, Suabhav, Gur Parsad.

In these words, Guru Nanak praises God and mentions some of His great attributes: He is Truth, self-created, beyond the limits of time, He can be realized through the grace of the Guru. Let us study the meaning of each word of the Mul Mantra.

The only One Absolute God who is forever unfolding. He is the Absolute - the Transcendental. As such, He is Unknowable, Unfathomable. He is beyond description and beyond human comprehension.

His name is true. He really exists. He is not an idea or a hypothesis or an illusion. As one who exists, He is ever changing. He is never the same, evolving and growing. Everything exists in Him and is caused by Him. His name is Truth. He is formless - He is "The Holy spirit" - NAM.

Karta Purkh:
He is the creator of the cosmos. He is responsible for the coming into existence of the whole universe.

He is fearless. He is afraid of no one because He is the Lord of the universe.

He is without any enmity. His love and protection extend to all. This cuts at the root of the theory of the chosen prophets and the chosen people. Like God, a true Sikh must be fearless and impartial. This will help to establish equality and justice.

Akal Murat:
He is Timeless. He is not subject to death.

He is unborn. God does not take birth in any manner. This is the very antithesis of the theory of incarnation.

He is self-existent. He is unique in His own right.

Gur Prasad:
By the grace of the Guru, the Sikh can acquire knowledge of God

The short form of the creed is Ekonkar Satgur Prasad as used in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Core Beliefs of the Sikhs

General Information


Catholic Information

The religion of a warlike sect of India, having its origin in the Punjab and its centre in the holy City of Amritsar, where their sacred books are preserved and worshipped. The name Sikh signifies "disciple", and in later times the strict observants or elect were called the Khalsa. The founder of the sect, Nanak (now called Sri Guru Nanak Deva), a Hundu belonging to the Kshastrya caste, was born near Lahore in 1469 and died in 1539. Being from childhood of a religious turn of mind, he began to wander through various parts of India, and perhaps beyond it, and gradually matured a religious system which, revolting from the prevailing polytheism, ceremonialism, and caste-exclusiveness, took for its chief doctrines the oneness of God, salvation by faith and good works, and the equality and brotherhood of man. The new religion spread rapidly and, under the leadership of nine successive gurus or teachers, soon became an active rival not only to the older Hinduism, but also the newer Mohammedanism of the reigning dynasties. The "disciples" were therefore somewhat ill-treated by the governing powers. This persecution only gave fresh determination to the sect, which gradually assumed a military character and took the name of Singhs or "champion warriors"; under Govind Sing, their tenth and last guru (b. 1660; d. 1708), who had been provoked by some severe ill-treatment of his family by the Moslem rulers, they began to wage active war on the Emperor of Delhi. But the struggle was unequal. The Sikhs were defeated and gradually driven back into the hills. The profession of their faith became a capital offence, and it was only the decline of the Mogul power, after the death of Aurungzeb in 1707, which enabled them to survive. Then seizing their opportunity they emerged from their hiding places, organized their forces, and established a warlike supremacy over a portion of the Punjab round about Lahore.

A reversal took place in 1762, when Ahmed Shah badly defeated them and defiled their sacred temple at Amritsar. In spite of this reverse they manged still to extend their dominion along the banks of the Sutlej and the Jumna Rivers, northwards as far as Peshawar and Rawalpindi, and southwards over the borders of Rajputana. In 1788 the Mahrattas overran the Punjab and brought the Sikhs under tribute. Upon the Mahrattas supervened the British, who received the allegiance of a portion of the Sikhs in 1803, and later on, in 1809, undertook a treaty of protection against their enemy Runjeet Singh, who although himself a prominent Sikh leader, had proved overbearing and intolerable to other portions of the sect. Various other treaties between the British and the Sikhs, with a view of opening the Indus and the Sutlej Rivers to trade and navigation, were entered into; but as these agreements were not kept, the British declared war on the Sikhs in 1845. By 1848, partly through actual defeat, partly through internal disorganization and want of leaders, the Sikh power was broken; they gradually settled down among the rest of the population, preserving only their religious distinctiveness intact. According to the census of 1881 the number of Sikhs was reckoned at 1,853,426, which in the census of 1901 rose to 2,195,339. At the time of writing the census of 1911 is not yet published.

Their sacred books, called the "Granth" (the original of which is preserved and venerated in the great temple of Amritsar) consists of two parts: "Adi Granth", the first book or book of Nanak, with later additions compiled by the fifth guru, "Arjoon, and with subsequent additions from later gurus down to the ninth, and contributions by various disciples and devotees; secondly, "The Book of the Tenth King", written by Guru Govind Sing, the tenth and last guru, chiefly with a view of instilling the warlike spirit into the sect. The theology contained in these books is distinctly monotheistic. Great and holy men, even if divinely inspired, are not to be worshipped-not even the Sikh gurus themselves. The use of images is tabooed; ceremonial worship, asceticism, and caste-restrictions are explicitly rejected. Their dead leaders are to be saluted simply by the watchword "Hail guru" and the only material object to be outwardly reverenced is the "Granth", or sacred book. In practice, however, this reverence seems to have degenerated into a superstitious worship of the "Granth"; and even a certain vague divinity is attributed to the ten gurus, each of whom is supposed to be reincarnation of the first of the line, their original founder -- for the Hindu doctrine of transmigration of souls was retained even by Nanak himself, and a certain amount of pantheistic language occurs in parts of the sacred hymns. Salvation is to be obtained only by knowledge of the One True God through the Sat Guru (or true spiritual guide), reverential fear, faith and purity of mind and morals -- the main principles of which are strictly inculcated as marks of the true Sikh; while such prevailing crimes as infanticide and suttee are forbidden. They place some restriction on the killing of animals without necessity, but short of an absolute prohibition. Peculiar to the sect is the abstention from tobacco, and in part from other drugs such as opium -- a restriction introduced by Guru Govind Sing under the persuasion that smoking was conducive to idleness and injurious to the militant spirit. At the present time an active religious revival is manifesting itself among the Sikhs, having for its object to purge away certain superstitions and social restrictions which have gradually filtered in from the surrounding Hinduism.

Publication information Written by Ernest R. Hull. Transcribed by John Looby. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


CUNNINGHAM, "A History of the Sikhs" (Calcutta, 1904; MACGREGOR, "History of the Sikhs" (2 vols., London, 1846); COURT, "History of the Sikhs"' GOUGH, "The Sikhs and the Sikh Wars" (London, 1897); SAYED MOHAMED LATIF, "History of the Punjab" (Calcutta, 1891); SEWARAM SINGH THAPAR, "Sri Guru Nanak Deva" (Rawalpindi, 1904); BHAGAT LAKSHMAN SINGH, "A short Sketch of the life and Work of Guru Govind Singh" (Lahore, 1909); MACAULIFFE, "The Sikh Religion" (6 vols., Oxford, 1909); TRUMPP, "The Adi Granth, the Holy Scriptures of the Sikhs" (London, 1877), stigmatised by Macauliffe as an unreliable translation.

Also, see:
Shri Guru Granth Sahib - Sikhism

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