Society U.K. (Regd)
Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
+44 020 8574 1902
+44 020 8574 1912
Charity No: 262404
The Sikhs -
Their Religion & Tradition
The Sikhs -
Their Religion & Tradition
Guru Nanak Sahib (1469 – 1539) was the founder of Sikhism, the fifth
largest world religion today. He introduced a whole-life system
outside the caste system and contemporary religious systems. Guru
Nanak resolved to combat superstition and ritualism, and oppression
in every sphere of social life at every level. He preached the path
of truthful conduct in the robust language of the ordinary working
Guru Nanak was a revolutionary who systematically laid the
foundation of a new theo-political order. He taught that there is
One Supreme Source of all creation (called by whatever name) and no
other. Unique amongst world religions, he described the God Being’s
qualities as: The One Reality Whose Name is ever True; the Creator;
Fearless; without enmity; of Eternal Form, Un-incarnate;
Self-Existent and Self-illuminating; The Enlightener (The Guru), the
Bountiful (and realised through Guru’s Own Grace). These are also
the qualities towards which a Sikh, the devoted seeker after the
Ultimate Reality, aspires. From the interpretation of this founding
mystique formula were developed all the institutions of the Order of
Khalsa, based on human equality and dignity.
Guru Nanak’s mission poses a challenge to the priests and the rulers
alike. The Guru’s challenge to his Sikh is: “If you wish to play the
game of love place your head on the palm of your hand and come my
way”. For the Sikh relationship between the human soul and the
Creator Being, the Universal Soul, is a loving one with complete
trust in the Universal Will (Hukam Razaee) and not one based
on fear. A person who takes up this challenge, sets his or her foot
on the path of truthful conduct leading to a harmonious relationship
with the Lord of every human soul, the Creator Being. Guru Nanak
taught that basic humanity and sense of service is more important
than religious boundaries; that there must be no discrimination
based on gender, race or religion, as all are equal before the One
Creator; that all have the God-given right to live with honour,
dignity and freedom. He travelled thousands of miles over many
years, spreading the divine message throughout the Indian
subcontinent and many other Countries.
To ensure continuity and implementation of his vision of an ideal
social order, Guru Nanak appointed his successor in his own image.
This was repeated from one Guru personality to another. So the nine
human Guru personalities following him are also referred to as
Nanaks one to ten to stress that the succeeding Guru personalities
carried the same light (message) of Guru Nanak. Through selection of
worthy successors, the Sikh institutions started by Guru Nanak were
developed and consolidated over a period of two hundred years.
Nanak X, Guru Gobind Gobind Singh (Guruship 1675 - 1708), made final
preparations for the formal introduction of the Khalsa assertive
identity and fraternity for organisational strength, common
direction and purpose.
Vaisakhi 1699 was the high point of the Sikh tradition.
On the Vaisakhi (harvest festival) day in 1699, at
Anandpur in Punjab, the Guru initiated the first five Sikhs into the
Khalsa Panth (Khalsa means “the pure directly linked to the
Guru” and Panth means “path” or “religious order”). These
were the Five Beloved Ones (Panj Pyare) who had qualified for
admission to the ideal society of Guru Nanak. Thousands then
followed to join Khalsa Panth. Vaisakhi 1699 was the climax of all
that had gone before and the inspiration of all that was to follow.
The Guru introduced an ideal social order based on the precepts of
the first Guru personality, Guru Nanak. As a corollary to fearless
and truthful conduct expected of the Khalsa, the Guru prescribed a
visible distinct identity for the Sikhs. Every Sikh was to keep
unshorn hair (kesh) as a living part of the complete human body and
symbolising a saintly disposition and physical and spiritual harmony
(hair to be covered by a Sikh dastar i.e. Sikh turban); wooden comb
(kangha) to keep the hair tidy; a steel bangle (kara) symbolising
discipline and allegiance to the Guru; a sword (kirpan) reminding a
Sikh of his duty to defend the weak and his/her own honour; and a
pair of shorts prepared in a special way (Kachhehra aslo
referred to as Kachh or Kachha), to allow agile
mobility of the body and symbolising chastity. Thus, kesh
(and turban), kangha, kara, kacchehra and kirpan
are the Five K s (kakars), gifts of Guru Gobind Singh to the
Khalsa. These are not “symbols” but articles of Sikh faith. Gifts
from a loving Guru who sacrificed his parents, his four sons, his
own life and all that he possessed for his beloved Khalsa.
The Guru’s final message to his Sikhs was: Cherish Sikh spiritual
and physical discpline, and keep your distinct identity and I shall
endow you with my power.
The Khalsa concept emerged as a complete system in 1699: in the form
of Khalsa Panth, a nation of saint-soldiers, vested with temporal
authority, directed to look at their sacred literature, the Guru
Granth Sahib for guidance, and provided with ideals and identity to
build their national character. The Khalsa doctrine of
double sovereignty (called Miri-Piri) signifies primary
allegiance to truth (spiritual aspect); therefore, to oppose any
authoritarian regime and to ensure that state must always accept own
limitation of power. Sikhs will not tolerate inequality or injustice
wherever they live. They must not hide; indeed they cannot hide due
to their Guru given distinct identity, and are required to face
injustice head on without fear.
Main features of Sikhism are: God-loving monotheism; no brokerage
between God and human beings; direct access to the scriptures
written in the popular language of the people; freedom from fear;
spiritual and temporal balance through the saint-soldier
disposition; rejection of monasticism; stress on family life and
community obligations; demolition of every traditional excuse used
to perpetuate gender bias; rejection of all types of discrimination.
The three pillars of the Sikh way of life Sikhi are::
meditation on the One True Being, honest work, and charity. A Sikh
is required to cultivate the art of eternal optimism (chardhi
kalla) in the knowledge that all that happens is in the Will
of the Creator. The Guru created a productive, fearless and honest
nation out of powerless people at the fringes of society. He created
leaders out of ordinary men and then subjected himself to the will
of his followers. Thus Sikhism is a “religion” (whole-life
theo-political system) of the people, by the people, for the people.
Some unique events and features of Sikhism are: The Sikh Scriptures,
Guru Ganth Sahib, is a unique compilation by Fifth Nanak, Guru Arjan
Dev in 1604, of the inspired compositions of Sikh Gurus
and other saintly beings from different religious backgrounds
from as early as the 12th Century. Therefore it contains the essence
of over 500 years of The Ultimate Reality as revealed to the human
mind at one with Creator. It is the only original Scriptures
personally authenticated by the founder of a major world religion.
Quite uniquely, Guru Granth Sahib is regarded as the Living Guru of
the Sikhs, being bestowed Guruship by the Guru Gobind Singh in 1708.
The traditional belief is that the foundation stone of Harmandar
Sahib (Golden Temple), the most sacred Sikh shrine, was laid by a
Muslim saint popularly known as Mian Mir. The Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh
Bahadhur gave his life in defence of another religion and generally
for the freedom of all religions. Uniquely in the history of world
religions, Guru Gobind Singh was initiated into the Order of the
Khalsa, by his own disciples. Most unique features of the Sikh
ideology and institutions stress the acceptance of the human race as
one. All people are welcome to the Gurdwara (centre of Sikh
community life) irrespective of their religion, colour, or creed.
Gurdwaras have a community kitchen called “Langar” in which food is
served without distinction. Anyone can become a Sikh, and millions
of people have become Sikhs from many different backgrounds in and
Today there are well over 25 million Sikhs in Panjab, the rest of
the Indian subcontinent and many countries around the world. In
addition, there are millions of “vanjara Sikhs” – traders and
craftsmen - throughout India, who believe in Guru Nanak’s
teaching. Through their hard work and law-abiding nature, Sikhs have
become one of the most prosperous communities. They are respected
for their skills as professionals, administrators and soldiers.
Clearly, the Guru’s formula for living: worship, work and charity
(i.e. to meditate on One absolute Truth, to earn by your own effort
and to share your earnings with others) has worked well for the
Khalsa Panth of the Guru.
Key events in Sikh history:
1469-1708: Ten Gurus, from Nanak Sahib to Gobind Singh established
1708 – 1716: Banda Singh Bahadur, Sikh general appointed by Guru
Gibind Singh, establishes the first Khalsa kingdom in Panjab, paving
the way for the eventual establishment of Khalsa Raj in Panjab.
1716 to 1762: Massive persecution of Sikhs in Panjab by the
authoritarian local Mughal and Hindu rulers. Sikhs survived through
own courage, huge sacrifices and popular support.
1762: The Great Holocaust: Ahmed Shah Abdali comes from Afghanistan
attacks the Sikhs with their families killing over 30,000 Sikh men,
women and children.
1766: Ahmad Shah totally routed by the Sikhs near Lahore.
1765 and 1783: The Khalsa took over Delhi 15 times during this
1783: Khalsa flag hoisted at Red Fort Delhi on 11th March 1783 and
Sardar Baghel Singh led his Khalsa troops into the Fort to be
received by a submissive Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II
1799: Ranjit Singh merges individual Sikh areas North of River
Sutlej. Together with the Sikh states south of River Sutlej, the
Khalsa established a democratic Khalsa administration from Delhi to
Peshawar and from the plains of Sindh to Karakoram mountains in the
1809: Bilateral treaties between Anglo-Sikh Nations.
1845-1849 Anglo-Sikh wars 1845-1849 resulting in the annexation of
by the British in 1849 following bitter battles between the Khalsa
and the combined forces of the British and Indian states (Muslim
poet described these battles as Jang Hind-Panjab i.e. battle between
India and Panjab.).
1846: First British Sikhs regiments raised in 1846, and many more
after the collapse of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The Sikhs helped
the British to crush the Indian Mutiny uprising to prevent return to
the cruel Mughal regime aided by Hindu ministers and minor Hindu
princedoms. Also, the Sikhs had not forgotten the traitorous assault
on Khalsa Raj by the Indians in league with the British in 1849.
1897 Battle of Saragarhi on 12 September, 1897, accepted by UN as
one of the most heroic in military history, in which a detachment of
22 Sikhs of 36th Sikhs fought an action against impossible odds.
Their heroism was acclaimed by the British Parliament.
1854: Maharaja Duleep Singh brought to the UK in 1854 (probably the
first reluctant Sikh immigrant to the UK!). After being dispossessed
of his kingdom in 1849, he was also deprived of the world
famous Koh-I-Nur, the unique diamond, on arrival in England.
1914:The Sikhs enlist in large numbers during the First World War.
1919 to 1947: Sikhs spearhead the movement for the freedom of the
Indian subcontinent from British rule by making over 70 % of the
sacrifices according to published figures.
1939:During the Second World War, Sikhs made a massive contribution
war effort. During both World Wars, some 1.5 million Sikhs fought
for the freedom of humankind and helped to liberate European,
African, and Asian countries. 83,000 Sikhs gave their lives, whilst
110,000 were wounded. Many gallant Sikhs were awarded Victoria
Crosses for their bravery.
1947 Sikhs in the Indian independence negotiations. Sikhs were
promised special concessions by the Indian Union for giving up part
of their homeland. Partition of the subcontinent cost the lives of
estimated 500,000 Sikhs.
1950s: Sikh migration to the UK from early Nineteen-fifties.
1973: A resolution of self-determination is passed to get the
Sikh Nation its rights and what had been promised to the Sikhs
during the independence struggle.
1983: A landmark legal decision by the House of Lords in the Mandla
case: The Sikh ethnic minority status confirmed: House of Lords
(Mandla v Lee (1983) 1 Aller 1062).
1984:The Indian Union Army ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
to attack historical Sikh Gurdwaras including Harmandar Sahib at
Amritsar (Golden Temple complex). Foreign media journalists ordered
out of Panjab in readiness for unlawful killings in Panjab by the
1992:Amnesty International produces a damning report - India -
Torture, Rape & Deaths in Custody.
2002:Campaign for Sikh ethnic monitoring category reaches the Houses
of Parliament. Support by the main political parties for the Sikhs
to be monitored as an Ethnic Minority to accord with the legal
ruling by the House of Lords in Mandla Case (1983). This would
ensure that Sikhs enjoy equal opportunities in all spheres of
Copyright Gurmukh Singh
Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the
Return to the top of the page.
Copyright (©)2016 by Sikh Missionary Society (U.K.)
All Rights Reserved.