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SIKHISM -The Religion of Thought and Action

The austere color of saffron fluttering high in the breeze. Framed against the lofty indigo of the sky. The Nishan Sahib (religious flag staff), standing , proud, in front of shrines that glow in marble splendour. The air is rent with the tunes of the shabads (devotional hymns) and the passages read from the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of the Sikhs). There is a sense of tranquility that flows into one as soon as one enters the Gurudwara (the Sikh house of prayer). Hands folded in devotion, hands having just held the warmth of the karah parsad (a sacred offering consisting of flour, sugar and ghee made for the God and then distributed to all who visit the Gurdwara). Heads bowed in silent prayer and in awe at the beauty of it all.

Sikhism, the youngest amongst the mainstream religions in the world, has been described as the religion that combines the rationale of thought with the energy  of action.Truly, it is a religion that comprises of a people for whom spontaneity and vigour are keywords. Upholding the Granth Sahib as their supreme Guru, the people are imbibed with a sense of confidence, faith, pride and love that the teachings impart to them.

The birth of Guru Nanak (near Lahore in present Pakistan) in 1469,heralded the origin of Sikhism. When a new religion is born, it consists of a plethora of philosophies and thoughts that it accepts, rejects and adds to from various other religions. Born and bred amidst Indian soil and culture, Sikhism shared certain facets with other religions but also differed in many respects. It maintained a separate and distinct identity with its own line of traditions, but upheld all  other religions and faiths with equal respect. It was Guru Nanak who gave the religion of Sikhism its monotheistic identity. It is he who coined the mul mantra (the key prayer): 'IK ONKAR' (God Is One), 'SATNAAM' (Truth his Name), 'KARTA PURAKH' (He is the Creator), 'NIRBHAU' (He is without fear), 'NIRVAIR' (He is beyond birth and death- The Enlightened One), 'GUR PARSAAD' (He can be known by the Guru's Grace ). It is the prayer that explains the entire concept of this religion. It is this unitary nature of God that the very core of the Sikh school of thought.

The pioneer of this religion, Guru Nanak (AD 1469-AD 1539), was conferred with the title of  'Guru' as he was the initiator of the religion and  thus the teacher. 'Sikh', as the followers called themselves, is a term that originated from the Sanskrit word 'sikhya' itself led to the reality of the existence of a 'Guru'. It was strengthened by the thoughts of his nine successors. The process of succession began with Guru Nanak and culminated with the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh(1666-1708). It was he who proclaimed that from then on, it would be  the Guru Granth Sahib that would be regarded as the Supreme Guru, all others but slaves of god and could not be equated with Him. This equation, if done, would lead to dire consequences. As can be seen from this saying of Guru Gobind Singh, taken from Dasam Granth (verses of the tenth Guru):

    Jo mujhko parmeshwar uchre,
     Wo narak kund mein pare.
                    (Beware whomsoever equates me with Him, he shall perish in hell. )

In fact, all the ten gurus, each of whom consolidated the Sikh Faith in his own way, have always been revered as 'spiritually enlightened' persons but never regarded as incarnations or forms of God. As Guru Gobind Singh points out in Dasam Granth:

Inhi ki kripa se, Saje hum hain,
Nahi mo se garib karor pare.
(I have been elevated by the grace of these people - the Sikhs. Otherwise there are millions of poor like me.)

The Granth Sahib was initially prepared by the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev(1563-1606AD) in 1604 at Amritsar  and installed in the holiest of Sikh shrines the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. The Granth Sahib is regarded as unique as it consists solely of hymns of meditation of God-inspired men who have communicated the divine word in a spirit of deep humility and compassion for mankind. The  Guru Granth Sahib is the Guru's own book through which the Guru speaks to his disciples from age to age. Thus, it is also called Gurbani (the guru's voice). This is not only the holiest scripture of the Sikhs, but also their final and eternal Guru having been installed as such at Nanded in Maharashtra  , in 1708 AD by Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708AD). It contains not only the sacred writings of six Sikh gurus but also those of thirty medieval Hindu saints, Muslims sufis and other holy personalities which were found in harmony with their own divine thoughts and teachings. Most of the latter personalities belonged to the so called low castes and Dalit, depressed or untouchably classes. The Granth Sahib was the embodiment of this devotion of God. Thus was born among the Sikhs, a deep commitment to the holy book. For the Sikhs, the Granth Sahib compiled in the year 1604, is not just sacred text but a living Guru. It is the origin of Sikhs faith. The origin of the Sikh school of thought-both spiritual and social. It is the Granth Sahib that Sikhs turn to when looking for solace and guidance. Sikhism is hence also called a religion of the text. Guru Gobind  Singh was also instrumental in giving a section of the Sikhs- the Khalsas- a distinctive identity, not just physically but in terms of spirit. He wanted the Sikhs to be easily distinguishable even from a distance. But since this trait would make them vulnerable to the prevalent Mughal atrocities, he wanted them to be fearless and be able to defend themselves. The Guru wanted them to be strong in spirit and body. As he mentions in the Bachitra Natak (an autobiographical text) which forms a part of the Dasam Granth:

Chidya naal main baaz ladava,
Tabhi Guru Gobind Singh naam kahawa
(I will make the sparrows capable of fighting the hawks, for it is only then that i will be able to uphold my name.)

Hence on the 30th day of march in the year 1699, Gobind Singh created the 'Khalsa' (the pure); from a gathering that he was addressing at Anandpur Sahib, he selected five people whom he believed to be fearless in spirit and called them the 'Panj piare' (the five beloved ones). Thus was born the Khalsa and the panj piaras formed its first order. Guru Gobind Singh then himself, was inducted into the order by the newly baptized, thus equating himself with the Khalsa. He also instructed the Khalsa to wear five symbols which would distinguish them as such. These five symbols beginning with the letter 'k' kirpan (sword), kesh (long hair), kangha (comb), kara (steel wristband), kacch(shorts). Ever since then , the number five has assumed a religious significance. In addition to the wearing of five symbols, the Khalsa men would also have to add the word 'Singh' (lion) to their names not only to impart a sense of bravery but also to equate the status of each and everyone and do away with the caste names. Likewise, the Khalsa women would add the word (princess) to their names to do the same.

The sense of equality is predominant not only within the Sikh society but is also reflected in their attitude towards other people, as can be illustrated from the incident of Bhai Kanhaiya, a water bearer. At a time of ongoing battle with the Mughals, it was reported to Guru Gobind Singh that Bhai Kanhaiya was giving water to the members of the enemy camp. Bhai Kanhaiya was promptly summoned and asked to explain his doings. His reply to the Guru was that he gave water to the wounded,  without noticing whether the persons was a friend or a foe. Pleased with the answer, the Guru handed him medicinal balm and instructed him to make use of it on the wounded to whom he gave water. It is this sense of equality that makes no distinction between friend or foe, man or woman caste or creed. It prevails on all.

The Sikh approach to life is not that of self-with drawl but that being very much a part of social life and doing one's duty. It was during the the time of Guru Ram Das that the virtue of naam japna (remembering the divine name), kirat karna (earning a living through honest means) and wand chakna (sharing one's earnings with the needy) were nurtured. These were the virtues which according to the Guru, constituted ideal Sikh conducted and thee could only be incorporated while one was a part of society. Hence, the community holds prime importance in Sikhism as it is a religion that has its  principles deeply rooted in the social set up.

The first virtue of Nam japna  or the recitation of the name of God can be done when one is alone but is encouraged through sangat (congregation). Kirtans (devotional hymns set to the tune of certain ragas), a way of chanting the name of Waheguru (the Almighty), evoke the best response in one's self when sung in sangat. The role of sangat has been highlighted in the Sikh tradition and emphasizes the need for social involvement and commitment. It is an ideal medium for inspiring the individual to participate in social life as a member of an ideal social unit. The second of these virtues is that of Kirat Karna which tells a Sikh to do honest labour without exploiting anyone. The third virtue , Wand Chhakna, encourages the Sikh to share with other what is earned through honest means. This incorporate the principles of daswandh and langar. Daswandh, literally means one-tenth of one's income and a true Sikh is supposed to donate the amount . Since not all Sikh can donate that much, they give whatever they can. Even a single rupee is worth a million when it has been earned of honest labour. Langar (the community kitchen which feeds everyone free of cost) is yet another way of sharing amongst the community. It is a feeling that binds all irrespective of caste, creed and color. Sikhism has been coined as a religion of 'spirit' - one that stresses not only on the relationship between man and God but also on the importance of relationship amongst mankind. It believes in equality of people and hence makes no distinction between caste, creed, color or gender. The concept of langar, which requires people to sit and eat together, strengthens this belief. In fact, this virtue which was nurtured by Guru Ram Das has been given utmost importance. As the saying goes:

Devotees taking Langar

Pehle pangat, pichhe  Sangat
(First eat together and then worship together.)

This stresses that one can worship God only when one sees every human being as  equal. It can also be understood from the saying 'Sarbat da bhala' which means and also generates a feeling of goodwill towards all. Sikhism rejects social divisions of every kind and preaches that what helps man ultimately is not what caste he is born in but what he does. In a religion where the position of a person is determined by one's deeds, the spirit of sewa (voluntary work done as part of the duty of a Sikh) holds immense significance. For the service of humanity is deemed the services rendered unto God himself.


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