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More about Sikh Identity & Faith
Scriptures are the sacred writings of a religion. Each major religion claims to have its sacred writings compiled and preserved in a single volume, which is regarded, as holy. The holy book of the Sikh faith is called GURU GRANTH Sahib. No Sikh ceremony is regarded as complete unless it is performed in the presence of the Holy Granth. The first and original copy of the holy book was compiled by the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, and was formally installed in the sacred shrine of Harmander Sahib in 1604. It thus became the ‘Bible’ of the Sikhs, and was called Aad Granth (original holy book). Later Guru Gobind Singh reproduced a fresh copy of the Aad Granth, adding some compositions of the 9th Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and bestowed the status of Guru-ship on the holy Granth.
The Holy Granth contains the actual words or verses as uttered by the Sikh Gurus, and hence the name ‘Gurmukhi’ (meaning from Guru’s mouth) used for Panjabi Script in which it is written. Though the language of the Granth is mainly Panjabi, the language of Panjab, the native land of the Gurus, it is often a mixture of medieval Hindi of Biraj variety commonly known as ‘Sant Bhasa’ in northern India. There is also a smattering of some other languages and dialects e.g., Farsi. Every copy of the Holy Granth, whatever the size must consist of 1430 pages. A unique feature of the Granth is that it also contains a good number of passages or verses written by non Sikh Saints e.g. Muslims, Hindus and even so called ‘untouchables’. This was done to demonstrate Sikhism respect for other saints and tolerance for all faiths. Altogether the Granth includes 5,894 SHABADS (hymns or holy verses), which are arranged in 31 RAGAS (musical measures) in accordance with popular beats and rhythms prevalent in contemporary India.
The first approved English translation of the Granth was made by Max Arthur Macauliffe and was published by Oxford University press in 1909. Prior to this Macauliffe a German missionary, Dr. Ernest Trumpp, had also attempted to translate the Granth into English in 1877, but this was considered unacceptable by Sikh scholars. Another rendering of the Granth, in free verse, was produces by Dr. Gopal Singh, and Dr. Manmohan Singh has also produced an excellent translation in prose.
Extracts from comments by eminent scholars of comparative religion --
“The Guru Granth Sahib is certainly one of the world’s masterpieces of poetry. It is legitimately the ‘Bible of the Universal Religion’. ”
Prof. Abdul Majid Khan
“In the real sense of the word, the Guru Granth is a synthesis of scriptures, a spiritual dictionary and a marvellous book, meant for the betterment and spiritual uplift of humanity.”
Dr Rajindera Parasad
“ The Sikh Gurus were patriots and reformers, but in no way partisans. What is more they, believed in practising TRUTH rather than merely preaching it. The Adi Granth is indeed a monument to their universal and rational outlook, their catholicity and earnest search for spiritual truth.”
Miss Pearl S. Buck
“Shri Guru Granth Sahib is a source-book, an expression of man’s loneliness, his aspirations, his longings, his cry to God and his hunger for communications with that Being. I have studied the scriptures of other great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes.”
Prof. Arnold Toynbee
“....The Adi Granth is part of mankind’s common spiritual treasure. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion and its scriptures, the Adi Granth will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world. For Nanak, the fundamental truth was that, for a human being, the approach to God lies through self-abnegation.”
Dr G. S. Mansukhani
“The Granth’s preachings are conceived of fundamental truths and are therefore timeless. Its key message is related to the realities of this world and the conditions of our own existence. It does not advocate renunciation but rather living in the midst of the world and facing its challenges.”
Dasam Granth and other Titles of early Sikh Religious Literature
Dasam means tenth. This is another collection of writings attributed to the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh which is revered by many Sikhs, though not in the same way as the Guru Granth Sahib. Opinions also differ about the contributors to the collection, which include many references to Hindu theology, mythology, history and philosophy. Indeed the whole compilation of 1428 pages may be divided into mythological, philosophical, autobiographical and even erotic parts; the largest part devoted to retelling tales of Hindu mythology. Of the 18 works included in the Dasam Granth collection the following compositions are regarded as more significant:
(b) Bachittar Natak and Zafarnama which are more like autobiographies, although the Zafarnama is a smaller composition in the form of a letter.
There is little doubt that the Dasam Granth was compiled to awaken heroic sentiments amongst the Sikhs so as to inspire them in their fight against the social injustice of the Hindu priestly class and the religious intolerance of the Muslim rulers. Apart from Panjabi, the collection has used other languages such as Persian, Biraj-Hindi as well as Sanskrit words.
Janam Saakhi means biography (literally, birth story). About two or three generations after the death of Guru Nanak, hagiographies about the founder were written. It is not very clear who wrote the first Janam Saakhi or whether it was based on any authentic material, but once one was written, others followed suit, adding or deleting details according to their source, imagination and inclination. According to some linguists and literary critics the style of these Janam Saakhis is such that with the exception of one Janam Saakhi by Bhai Mani Singh, they seem to have been written by some semi-literate scribes for the consumption of the uneducated masses. “They abound with stories of miracles performed by the Guru and contradict each other on material points. Nevertheless, the Janam Saakhis can not be wholly discarded because they were based on legend and tradition which had grown around the Guru in the years following his demise, and furnish useful material to augment the bare but proved facts of his life.” (Khushwant Singh, History of the Sikhs Vol. 1, P 299)
Rehit Nama means code of conduct. There are a number of Rehit Namas written for Sikhs. Again, though not strictly religious scriptures, these compositions reflect in their content the general sample and spirit of Sikhism as was preached and practised by Guru Gobind Singh and his Sikhs. Different authors have not all interpreted the codes in exactly the same way, however, the compositions by Bhai Nand Lal are regarded as more important and authentic by most Sikhs.
Vaaran, Bhai Gurdas
’Vaar’ is like a ballad eulogising or praising a
person or action. Bhai Gurdas is the author of thirty-nine such Vaars
called ‘Vaaran’ which he wrote between fifty to seventy years after the
death of Guru Nanak during the life of Bhai Budda Ji who knew the Guru.
Bhai Gurdas unfortunately did not use the available knowledge and
resource to write a Janam Sakhi (biography) about Guru Nanak, but
whatever references he had made about the Guru in his Vaars are
regarded as authentic.
(The Sikh Form and The Five Ks)
The most noticeable thing about Sikhs is their distinctive appearance, especially because of a turban and uncut but well cared for, hair and beard. Guru Nanak himself started this tradition of keeping hair intact and covering the head with a turban. The rest of the nine Gurus encouraged their Sikhs to do the same. The following quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib clearly shows that long before Guru Gobind Singh made it obligatory, the keeping of long hair and the wearing of a turban was actively preached by all the Gurus.
“Let living in His presence,
With mind rid of impurities,
Be your discipline.
Keep the God-given form intact,
With a turban donned on your head. ”
However, it was Guru Gobind Singh who introduced a unique form of baptism, ‘Amrit’, for the Sikhs and asked that they wear a certain uniform as a matter of Sikh discipline. This uniform consists of five ‘Articles of Faith’ known as The Five Ks. Naturally, for Sikhs these are essentially religious symbols which have deep spiritual as well some practical significance. The Five Ks are called ‘KAKAAR’ because each of them begins with the letter ‘K’. They are:
1. KESH (hair)
Sikhs should treat their hair as a gift from God, which crowns the body. It is God’s trust. To keep this God-given form intact, like the rest of the body, is the first and foremost duty of a Sikh. The hair is an article of Sikh faith. Keeping hair uncut confirms a Sikh’s belief in the acceptance of God’s Will, and is symbolic of Humility and Wisdom.
2. KANGHA (comb)
Sikhs use a small wooden comb because it can be worn easily in the hair all the time. Apart from its practical utility, a comb is clearly symbolic of cleanliness. Just as a comb helps to remove the tangles and cleans the hair, similarly Sikhs are reminded to get rid of any impurities of thought by repeating God’s Name ‘Waheguru’ in their mind.
3. KARRA (steel bracelet)
Karra literally means a link or bond. It is a special steel bracelet, which is worn on the right wrist like a ‘wedding ring’ on a finger, which signifies a bond between the two people. The Karra is the Guru’s own ‘symbolic ring’ to all his Sikhs signifying their unbreakable link or bond with the Guru as well as among themselves, i.e. belonging to the brotherhood of the Khalsa. The circle is also a symbol of restraint, and as such a Karra is a constant reminder to the Sikh of ideal behaviour and strong character.
4. KACHH (pair of shorts)
It is also known as Kachha or Kachhaira. This is a special type of shorts, and is symbolic of a high moral character. Like boxer shorts, a Kachh can be worn on its own without causing embarrassment. Also it is a practical dress, quite useful in hot weather, and for swimming and sports activities.
5. KIRPAAN (sword)
Although a kirpaan is a sword. Sikhs regard it as an article of faith. Kirpaan comes from the words ‘Kirpa’ and ‘Aan’. Kirpa means an act of kindness, a favour; and ‘Aan’ means honour, respect, self-respect. It is an instrument, which adds to ones self-respect and self-defence. Thus for Sikhs, a Kirpaan is symbolic of power and freedom of spirit. All baptised Sikhs should wear a short form of Kirpaan (approx. 6” - 9” long) on their person, sheathed and secured. Calling it a dagger or a knife is demeaning this article of faith.
“He alone is my true disciple, friend, kinsman and brother,
Who accepts the Guru’s discipline;
He who is guided by his own ego O brother,
Is separated from the Lord and gets no comfort.”
The turban is commonly associated with India because of the common belief that most Indians wear turbans, although hardly 10% of the total male population of India wear turbans regularly. The unpleasant events relating to the turban wearing Talebans of Afghanistan and their supporters have also put the turban in focus, which has nothing in common with the Indian and, indeed, the Sikh turban.
In India, Sikhs constitute only 1.8% of the total population; and as such not all turbaned Indians are Sikhs. Moreover, a Sikh turban is usually different because of its style and smart look. The Sikhs believe that like other parts of the body, long hair is a gift from God, which is to be kept intact, cared for and well dressed. The turban is thus the most respected part of a Sikh’s attire.
Throughout India and indeed in some other parts of the world with significant Indian communities, the distinctive Sikh turban, in general, is synonymous with bravery, pride and honour. Over the years people have known that the turbaned Sikh will help and protect the defenceless, regardless of creed, colour or caste. The turban really does symbolise behaviour of the highest standard.
Although essentially a religious outfit, the SIKH TURBAN, in practical terms, is not without its merits. It is more hygienic than a hat or cap because it can be easily washed like other clothes. Contrary to what many people think, the turban is light in weight and soft on the head, although its cushion like appearance may give the wrong impression of being bulky or heavy. Also, the turban is inexpensive to buy and easy to make. It is always a made-to-measure thing, as it goes with the contour or shape of the head.
Turban is an ideal headgear for winter and summer, whether in tropical or in temperate climates. It keeps the head and ears cosy and comfortable during ice-cold winds, as well as protecting it from the heat of the perspiring sun. Similarly, for all ‘uniformed’ jobs, such as a company conductor or driver, a postman or policeman, a barrister or a judge, the smart looking Sikh turban is automatically a suitable item of uniform for the head. For variety and liking, there is a limitless choice of colours. Match it with your suit, shirt or necktie – there is no restriction on colour. However, blue and white are particular favourites with certain Sikhs; e.g. white with elderly Sikhs and priests, dark blue or black with members of a Sikh political party called Akali Dal. Saffron is another popular colour for many Sikhs.
Learning to tie a turban is a gentle and natural process from children to adults. Usually, a boy of 8 to 10 years of age acquires the initial skill in making his own turban; to him it is perhaps as easy or as difficult as lacing up his boots or tying up his necktie unaided by his parents. Usually male Sikhs wear turbans, though ladies can do so if they so desire, as some do.
A typical adult Sikh Turban is five metres long and one metre wide. This length is smoothly turned around the head six times by clockwise movements of the hands. Both ends of the ‘length’ must be tucked in properly – i.e. the beginning or finishing ends of the turban should not be left loose as can be seen with many non-Sikh turbans.
Most Sikhs prefer to wear another small under-turban as well, just as we use underwear. Again, it could be of any colour, although often it is white. This under-turban may be kept on at bedtime as well, when the main turban is taken off. Similarly, during swimming and sports, the turban is replaced by a small scarf called ‘PATKA’ or handkerchief, which is knotted at the top to keep the hair intact. In fact a PATKA is becoming more popular with young Sikhs at school. (Recently, some Sikh adults have started to wear a patka more often in their daily routine of work, which is not as respectable as a turban.)
Sikh Basic Belief
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ
IK ONKAAR SAT NAAM KARTA PURKH
ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ
NIR BHAU NIR VAIR AKAAL MOORAT
ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
AJOONI SAIBHANG GUR PARSAAD
The MOOL MANTAR represents the basic essence of Sikh belief. The opening sentence of the Holy Guru Granth begins with this verse, and every Sikh is expected to recite it daily. A literal translation of the Mool Mantar is given below:
IK ONKAAR ONE GOD
SAT NAAM TRUTH, the NAME
KARTA PURKH The CREATOR
NIR BHAU WITHOUT FEAR
NIR VAIR WITHOUT ENMITY
AKAAL MOORAT The TIMELESS BEING
SAIBHANG SELF EXISTENT
GUR PARSAAD By the GURU’S GRACE
In simple terms the Guru’s message to his Sikhs is
to remember that God is One and the only One Eternal Truth, Who is the
All-Pervading Creator, an Embodiment of Harmony and Immortality, and
Who is beyond birth and death, Un-incarnated, Self-Illuminated and
The above composition is regarded as the NATIONAL ANTHEM of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh was a pillar of strength for the helpless and the downtrodden. From these humble people he created a new nation, called the Khalsa. He showed them the way to fight tyranny and injustice. Whilst leading the Khalsa in this crusade, Guru Gobind Singh lost his father, mother and four sons at the hands of despotic rulers. Despite these supreme sacrifices, he was undeterred and continued to instil pride, courage and strength in the Khalsa. The above verses are fully attributed to the philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh and his Khalsa and hence the Sikh National Anthem
ਦੇਹ ਸਿਵਾ ਬਰੁ ਮੋਹਿ ਇਹੈ ਸੁਭ ਕਰਮਨ ਤੇ ਕਬਹੂੰ ਨ ਟਰੋਂ ॥
ਨ ਡਰੋਂ ਅਰਿ ਸੋ ਜਬ ਜਾਇ ਲਰੋਂ ਨਿਸਚੈ ਕਰਿ ਅਪੁਨੀ ਜੀਤ ਕਰੋਂ ॥
ਅਰੁ ਸਿਖ ਹੋਂ ਆਪਨੇ ਹੀ ਮਨ ਕੌ ਇਹ ਲਾਲਚ ਹਉ ਗੁਨ ਤਉ ਉਚਰੋਂ ॥
ਜਬ ਆਵ ਕੀ ਅਉਧ ਨਿਦਾਨ ਬਨੈ ਅਤਿ ਹੀ ਰਨ ਮੈ ਤਬ ਜੂਝ ਮਰੋਂ ॥੨੩੧॥
DEH SHIVA BAR MOHE IHAI SHUBH KARMAN TEY KBHU NA TARON
NA DARON AR SIYO JAB JAI LARON NISCHAI KR APNI JEET KARON
AR SIKH HAUN APNE HI MUN KAU EH LAALCH HOU GUN TAU UCHRON
JAB AAV KI AUDH NIDHAAN BANAY AUT HE RANN ME TAB JOOJH MARON
O, Lord, Grant me this boon
May I never refrain From righteous acts;
May I fight fearlessly All foes in life’s battle
With confident courage Claiming victory!
May Thy glory be Grained in my mind,
My highest ambition be Singing Thy praises;
When the time comes For this life to end,
The original book of the Sikh code of conduct called ‘Rehat Maryada’ was written in Panjabi. It’s authors, according to the publishers Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak committee (SGPC), which is the supreme council of the Sikhs in India, were ‘men of profound learning who had not only deeply meditated on Sikhism, but lived it; and who drew upon the collective wisdom of an extra ordinarily fervent generation of Sikh divines and intellectuals, apart from a large number of texts, for compiling these rules’. More recently, the first faithful translation of the original Panjabi version was published by the SGPC in 1994, dividing the text into six sections, thirteen chapters and twenty seven articles. (See appendix.)
Here is given a summary of important instructions,
which the Sikhs are expected to follow.
(a) Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!
(The Khalsa belongs to God, the victory belongs to God.)
All practising Sikhs, who have joined the brotherhood of the Khalsa after undergoing the ‘Amrit’ ceremony, are expected to greet each other with the above salutation. Since this is the preferred salutation of the Khalsa, they may be ‘habitually’ seen greeting the other ‘clean shaven’ or non-Sikhs with the same phrase ‘Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh.’
(b) Sat Sri Akal
(Literally, Truth is God or God is Truth), sharing of this phrase carries the implied message to remember God, remember Truth whatever the time, state or circumstances.
This greeting is more common among Sikhs, who have not yet passed through the initiation ceremony of receiving Amrit. Being of a rather more secular nature, it is also preferred to be shared by a majority of Sehajdhari / non-practising Sikhs and non-Sikhs.
This phrase of ‘Sat Sri Akal’ is also universally used
by all Sikhs as a loud and enthusiastic salutation called Jaikara,
in announcement or
approval of a collective action or decision. For more details, please
read the essay on ‘Sat Sri Akal its status and significance’ given
later in this book.
Sikhs share relevant greetings by exchanging greeting cards on certain Gurpurbs or festivals, such as:
(i) Guru Nanak’s Birthday in November
(ii) Guru Gobind Singh’s Birthday & the New year in January
(iii) The Birth of Khalsa or Vaisakhi in April
(iv) Diwali festival (Bandichhor Divas) in October/November
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