Sikh Missionary Society
Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
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Reg Charity No: 262404
The Sikhs and Their Way Of Life
The Sikhs and Their Way of Life

Sikh Missionary Society: Publications: The Sikhs and Their Way of Life:

Some other Topics

Sikh Ethics

Sikh Women

Sikh Sects

Sikh Devotional Music

Sikh Folk Music

Sikh Martial Art – Gatka

Sikh Articles of Faith & the Law

Panjabi Language

The Panjabi Script

Sikh Foods

Sikh Ethics

Ethics is regarded as the ‘Science of Morals’; a study which is concerned with human behaviour, its character and conduct. Morality is not a code of conduct set by someone else, but self-discipline, self consciousness which enables a person to differentiate right from wrong. Therefore, all human beings are subject to certain ethical standards in life. The standards which include righteous conduct and ‘community concern’ lead to the spiritual development of a person. The importance of this social concern is highlighted in Sikhism by the fact that every Sikh prayer ends with the words ‘sarbat-da-bhalla’, seeking God’s blessings for the welfare of one and all. While ushering their disciples towards righteous conduct the Sikh Gurus were able to define some emotions, which the Sikhs must control. They called these emotions ‘five thieves living inside the human body’ and named them as Kaam, Krodh, Lobh, Moh, and Hankaar. These are the FIVE VICES, which can only be countered by employing as many virtues.

1. Kaam (Lust)

The Sikh scriptures list Kaam as one of the chief vices. While normal sexual relation with in marriage are regarded as conducive to a happy married life, extra-marital sex is forbidden. However, excessive sexual indulgence, increases lust, weakens will power and self-control, and may lead one astray from a responsible married life.

O’ lust, you lead men to hell,
And make them wander through a myriad wombs
You cheat all minds and sway the three worlds
Destroy all austerities, meditation and culture.
Your pleasures are illusory
You make one unsteady and weak
And punish the high and low alike.”

(SGGS 1358)

2. Krodh (anger, wrath)

Krodh or anger is the second worst emotion, which is condemned, in the Guru Granth Sahib. It is that uncontrolled excitement which leads to irrational behaviour in an individual, and destroys social relations. This vice stays dormant in one and all, but it can erupt any time if not held at bay by self-control, patience and forgiveness.

“O anger, father of strife, you know no compassion
You have powerful sway over vicious men
Who dance to your tunes as does the monkey
And then have to face punishment
At the hands of those couriers of death
In whose company human beings turn into devils.

(SGGS 1358)

3. Lobh (greed)

Greed is the third vice against which the Gurus warned their Sikhs. It is a desire to possess more than you need, and often to possess what belongs to others. A greedy person should not be trusted.

“O greed you sway even the best men by your waves
And make their minds run in all directions, for more and more
You respect neither friendship, nor ideals, mothers and fathers
You make one do what one must not, and eat what is forbidden
And build what can not be built.”
(SGGS 1358)

4. Moh (attachment)

Excessive worldly love or over attachment to the family may reduce the individual’s chance of viewing things in the right perspective and lead towards illusion. So the Guru says-

“Rid yourself of attachment, it leads to nothing but sin
O’ brave one, shed your attachment and doubts.”
(SGGS 356)

5. Hankaar or Ahen (pride or ego)

Pride is another vice from which human beings suffer. It leads a person towards conceit, vanity and jealousy. The cause of pride could be personal beauty, possession of wealth, high position or possession of power. The Guru says-

“O pride, you cause our comings and goings in the world,
O soul of sin, you estrange friends confirm enmities,

And spread out the web of illusion. . . . . .
Make them experience now pleasure, now pain.”
(SGGS 1358)

Satt or Jatt-Satt (continence), Santokh (contentment), Daya (compassion), Sabbar (patience), Nimmarta (humility) are some important virtues, which help to keep the ‘five thieves’ behind bars.

Sikh Women

It is by woman we are conceived,
And from her that we are born;
It is woman we befriend betroth and marry
It is woman who keeps the race going;
When one woman dies, we seek another;
It is with her we become established in society
Why should she be regarded as inferior
Who gives birth to great men or nobles.

(SGGS. P 473)

Guru Nanak was probably the first among great men and founders of world faiths who directly and forcefully championed the cause of equality of women with men. His declaration made in the above verses was a major instrument for the restoration of rights and privileges, which were enjoyed by men and yet denied to women. Before Guru Nanak all great saints, scholars, priests as well as prophets had mostly shrugged off their responsibility towards denouncing the unfair and degrading treatment of women by men. Indeed some did quite the opposite. The responsibility or guilt for the fall of Adam was squarely laid down upon Eve, and later during the times of St Paul the ‘touch of a woman’ was supposed to defile or desecrate the otherwise pure soul of man. Similarly, according to the Holy Quran. Ulnissa 4-35, the men of Prophet Mohammed were given such instructions “If your wives are over-bearing, advise them against it, if they do not care, banish them to beds apart. If they still persist, scourge them.”

Guru Nanak and his successors witnessed the degradation and demoralisation of women who were not allowed to join men in a mosque or a temple to listen to the chanting of hymns from the Holy Scriptures. They were not allowed ‘Azan’ call, or to lead the holy congregation in prayer. Guru Nanak set upon the task of redressing this inequality and wrong doing and instructed his followers, as in the words of Bhai Gurdas, “Lok Ved Gur Gian Wichaari Ardh Sariri Mokh Duari.” (From the temporal as well as the spiritual point of view, woman is man’s other half in achieving salvation or bringing happiness.)

On one occasion, Guru Nanak encountered some Sidhas (ascetics) and admonished them for their derogatory remarks about women, saying, “Why do you denounce women and yet accept food from them?”

‘Purdah’ or the veil was regarded as a protection for the so-called weak women against the lustful eyes of marauding men. The Guru regarded it as just another attempt by men to keep the women in a subordinate situation. The third Guru Amar Das was more forthright in condemning the wearing of veil, saying:

“Rahu rahu re behuria ghungat jin kadhe”
(SGGS 484)

This was an important and immediate step by him to relieve women of their inferior status. Similarly, he also strongly condemned another Indian custom of the time, called ‘Suttee’ (when a widow burns herself on the pyre of her dead husband.)

In the Sikh way of life women enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as men. Whether it is a matter of reciting the holy Guru Granth to the Sikh congregation in a Gurdwara, or being a member of the local Gurdwara management. They have equal rights to vote to elect representatives of their choice or be elected if they so desire. However, in actual practice there are still some instances where Sikh women have not always been able to enjoy the opportunity of a parallel position.

Sikh women have played an outstanding role in shaping Sikh history and by making their presence felt in all walks of life. One can easily witness this role on any religious or social occasion, celebration or ceremony. In the economic and political field, whether as private entrepreneurs, or as professional practitioners, Sikh women suffer from no religious or social boundaries or barricades with in the Sikh community. Often Sikh women are seen at the forefront of religious processions or political protest marches organised by the Sikh community. No wonder in the year of 300th birth anniversary of the Khalsa a woman (Bibi Jagir Kaur) was chosen to head the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which is the Supreme Council for the management of Gurdwaras, and indeed a representative Parliament of Sikhs in Panjab.

Sikh Sects

A sect is a body or a sub division of the followers of a main religion who begin to think differently and make some changes in their way of life and worship to suit their own opinion or philosophy. Although claim to be part of the same major religion they do not strictly follow all the important tenants of that religion, and hence they are a sect or a break away section whose many ‘religious activities’ are not approved by the main body of their religion. There is hardly a major religion, which has not experienced such breakaway groups or sects. The Sikh religion is no exception in experiencing such sub sections, yet most of the splinter groups in the past, like Minas, Masands, Dhirmalias, Ram Raiyas, Udasis etc. have by and large been re-absorbed into the main body. However, two other groups, namely the Namdharis and Nirankaris stand out much more clearly and need to be mentioned.


‘The Namdhari movement was started by Baba Balak Singh (1799-1861) and was sustained by his disciple Baba Ram Singh of Bhaini in the Ludhiana district of Panjab, which is now the headquarters of the Namdharis. There is another centre at Jiwan Nagar (Sirsa). His brother Hari Singh, who was in turn succeeded by his son Partap Singh and then by Baba Jagjit Singh, succeeded Baba Ram Singh. ‘The Namdhari movement was a puritan movement which came as a protest against the prevailing laxity of morals and sought to revive the old devotional spirit among Sikhs. Namdharis lead austere lives and usually wear the simplest white cotton clothes; with no ornaments save rosaries made of wool. They are strict vegetarians and totally abstain from the use of alcohol and tobacco. Their wedding ceremony is very simple.’ (C.E.S.)

The Namdhari community includes artisans, farmers and traders and is spread across India and abroad. They are also called Kukas. With the passage of time they have drifted away from the main body of the Sikhs by adopting a distinctive dress, and by practising their faith, in the following manner:

(i) They have started observing the old Hindu practice of ‘untouchability’ in the sense that they do not share food prepared by or with Non-Namdharis.

(ii) They believe in the succession of ‘living gurus’ in the form of Baba Balak Singh as 11th guru and Baba Ram Singh 12th etc., which is in direct violation of Guru Gobind Singh’s ordinance. They have made unilateral changes in the traditional Sikh prayer as prescribed in the Sikh Rehat Maryada.


Nirankaris is another breakaway group of the Sikhs, which may be called a sect. This group also started as a reform movement by a Khatri of Peshawar named Bhai Dayal Das (1783-1855) who declared himself a Sikh and was popularly called Baba Dayal Singh. Before his death Baba Dayal Singh appointed his eldest son, Baba Darbara Singh to succeed him with his headquarters in Rawalpindi. He was then succeeded by his younger brother Baba Ratta Ji and then in turn by Baba Gurdit Singh, Baba Hara Singh and his son Baba Gurbakhash Singh.

The word ‘Nirankar’ means the Formless One. Like the Namdharis, in the beginning the Nirankari Sikh movement did credible work in fighting Brahminical orthodoxy, which had crept up among the common Sikhs. They are also strictly vegetarian and abstain from alcohol. However, they have started a number of other practices which are equally forbidden in Sikhism e.g. like Namdharis, they believe their own leader Baba Dayal Das to be the successor to Guru Gobind Singh and that this line of succession is still continuing.


Though not sects, Nihangs and Nirmlas are two other tiny groups of Sikhs, which came into being during the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh. In fact each group was created under the patronage of Guru Gobind Singh to serve a specialist area. Nihangs can be seen as the daredevils of the Khalsa force, who usually wear blue uniform or dress. In Sikh terminology, ’Nihang’ is some one who has nothing to lose and is free from anxiety. They usually, move in Jathas (regiments) and are very distinct in appearance because of their blue robes and tall turbans laced with steel rings. They usually carry spears, swords and shields and have horses and jeeps to keep them on the move for most of the year.

Nirmlas, on the other hand are descendants of the original group of thirteen followers of Guru Gobind Singh who were sent to study Sanskrit at Varanasi and were regarded as learned Sikhs. Bhai Mani Singh was the most respected of these Sikhs. Because of their dwindling number the Nirmlas are hardly noticed these days, some of them seem to have readopted some of the Hindu customs because of the influence of Sanskrit literature.

Sikh Devotional Music

Shabad Keertan by professional Raagis and an amateur Ladies groupThe Sikhs’ love for music is no less than any other community, whether it is devotional hymn singing or folk music associated with Bhangra and Gidha. Devotional music is that which leads the mind away from worldly worries, and generates certain special feelings and emotions, which enable the individual to get attuned with God. ‘Holy singing helps to purify a person’s mind towards leading a life of virtue. It produces an inner urge for noble qualities such as truth, justice, compassion, fearlessness and strengthens moral conduct.’

Sikh devotional music is called Keertan. This is a traditional style of singing the ‘Shabads’ is also popularly known as Shabad Keertan or Gurbaani Sangeet. Each ‘Shabad’ is an independent composition in verse extracted from the Sikh scriptures (Holy Granth), which is sung by the Raagis (hymn singers) conforming, as far as possible, to the style and tone set in the Granth. Generally, a party of three Raagis performs Shabad Keertan, each playing a musical instrument.

Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh Faith, himself started the singing of his devotional compositions to the accompaniment of his companion Mardana’s Rabaab (rebeck). The successive Gurus regarded ‘Shabad Keertan’ as the easiest and most effective way of spiritual fulfilment for devotees. They had professional singers in their courts who sang their hymns in the Indian classical-music style, called Raagas. Good professional and experienced Raagis manage to create a rare tranquil and spiritual atmosphere in the congregational hall.

The Vaaja is a traditional harmonium, which is the most common musical instrument of the Sikh Raagis these days. It has a keyboard rather like a piano, and it is quite simple to learn. It does not cost much and can be carried easily because of its small size (approx 2’ x 1’ x 1’). In Panjabi terminology any instrument which produces a musical note by the blowing or puffing of air is called a Vaaja.

Jorri (literally meaning ‘pair’) are two one-sided drums and each one is called a Tabla. One drum is narrower than the other. Both drums are played by hand; the ‘narrow-top’ is played with the fingers only while the ‘broad-top’ is played with different parts of the hand i.e. the fingertips, the lower hard part of the palm and the whole open palm.

Ballad Singing or Dhaadi Vaaran:

Like a ballad, a ‘Vaar’ is a simple narrative poem referring to a certain person or event. However, Sikh Vaaran or ballads are rather long poetical compositions depicting heroic deeds from Sikh history, which are sung by Dhaadis, who are professional singers and specialise in this field of singing. Usually, the singing group consists of three to four people. Two of them play the Dhad as they sing, alternately, couplets and duets, the other plays the Saarangi; often the fourth (usually the leader) expands on the verses sung in the form of a short lecture as the rest take a breather. This type of music is still very popular with general Sikh peasantry, but is almost confined to the Gurdwara congregations and other open gatherings celebrating a religious festival or fair.

Dhad: This is a small two-sided hand drum with a thin waist. A cloth band is tied round this thin waist, which helps the Dhaadi to hold the Dhad firmly in one hand while he taps (plays) it hard with fingers of the other hand.

Saarangi: This is a small stringed wooden instrument, which is played with a bow. There are four main strings but beneath them there are as many as forty complementary strings, which add to the effect and volume of the sound.

Gurbaani Keertan with a blend of non-traditional musical instruments
Sardar Dya Singh of Australia is a promising Sikh musician renowned for his pioneering initiative in Gurbaani Music. His unique experiment with the globalisation of Gurbaani Sangeet has been taking place since 1992, which has culminated with the production of his ‘CD 300’ winning him the “Male Artist of the Year” World Music Awards held in Sydney, in March 2000. Since 1992, apart from all major cities in Australia, his ‘World Music Group‘ has been invited to many countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, U.K. U.S.A. and Canada. Although, his choice of musical instruments is adventurous, he has based his popular Gurbaani music on classical raags even for mixed eastern-western performances. Outside the Gurdwaras, Dya Singh’s group seems to be quite successful not only in taking the message of Guru Nanak to the young Sikhs, but also to a variety of multi-cultural audiences world-wide.

Sikh Folk Music

Folk music is extremely popular and an important single source of entertainment in the Sikh homeland of Panjab. The two most important elements of the folk music are (i) Folk songs and (ii) Folk dance. Although both have an identity of their own, usually they complement each other. Bhangra and Gidha are excellent examples of such folk music where the degree of song and dance may vary from light singing to vigorous dancing.

Bhangra is the most popular Panjabi dance, which is known for its vigour and speed. As such, a lot of energy and stamina is required to perform this dance for even a few minutes. Originally, Bhangra was regarded as a group dance of men only, dressed in loose colourful clothes. But these days’ women can also join in as equal participants. Similarly, in the past Bhangra was mainly associated with the Panjabi peasantry and with occasions such as Vaisakhi. The farmers performed their dancing feats, on the village common or in the open fields to celebrate the successful harvesting of their wheat crop. But these days its popularity has increased astonishingly to every house, hall, season, occasion and country where there is any significant Panjabi community.

As a group dance, Bhangra can be performed by any number of individuals depending upon the constraints of the space and the formality of the festivity. Professional Bhangra dance teams usually consist of eight to twelve individuals. Each team is complemented by a professional player of Dhole (a large two sided drum) who sets the tone and speed of the dance. Indeed the Dholee (player of the Dhole) is the key person in the successful performance of an authentic or traditional Bhangra.

Now a days the inclusion of professional singers of folk-lores, folk songs and other such Panjabi light songs have not only added to the variety and spice of the Bhangra dance, but also popularised Bhangra far beyond its original domain of Panjab to the lands abroad. However, there is a danger that the excessive element of professional singing may change the whole character of ‘Bhangra’, from being a vigorous dance to a singing exercise dominated by a modern orchestra instead of a dhole.

Gidha, like Bhangra, is also an energetic and impressive Panjabi dance, but it is almost exclusively performed by women. It is also a collective dance where the number of participants and their age matters little. Like any other dance, Gidha marks the celebration of a festivity or happy occasion such as betrothal, marriage, birthday or any such anniversary. In the past, the festival of Tiaan was regarded as such an yearly occasion when all the young and old women of the village used to gather on the village common, participating and enjoying Gidha daily, for almost a week.

Group of ladies performing Panjabi Gidha, and Bhangra performers (in the background) on a Common in Panjab

In the traditional way of Gidha every body stands in a circle, the more the participants the larger the circle; if the space is limited the circle could be two or three deep. From among the large group every time one or two women volunteers move in the middle of the circle and sing loudly a few couplets called Boliaan (light hearted but meaningful taunts), each time ending with gusto to be followed equally by a vigorous dance and ‘tuned clapping’ by every body standing around.

These days, on some of the above occasions, the special gatherings or parties are entertained by some semi-professional groups of women who perform Gidha on invitation. Two important musical instruments played by the performers of traditional Gidha are Dholak (similar but smaller than dhole) and Gharra (a small necked earthen pitcher). Dholak or gharra are often used in the traditional singing of other folklores by women groups, though the use of a gharra is getting rather obsolete.

Ik - Tara or Toomba is yet another Panjabi musical instrument for accompanying folklores and pop-songs. Ik-Tar literally means one string. It consists of a small flat dried pumpkin covered with parchment. Only one finger is used to play this instrument, which is held in the same hand. Algoza and Daphali are two other traditional instruments of Panjabi folk music, which are less commonly seen these days.

A group of semi professional Bhangra performers in England

Sikh Martial Art - Gatka

Gatka is the Sikh martial art of self defence based on speedy movements of the feet and hands using a strong stick or a sword. It is similar to fencing with agile footwork and body movements required for the accurate use of the weapon for defence and counter attack. Like some other forms of martial arts such as Karate, Judo and Kung fu, Gatka requires acute concentration, with a high degree of mental and physical fitness generated by self-discipline. It is essentially a simple and practical art, which is all based upon a single movement called Pentrra. Pentrra in Panjabi literally means ‘tactics’, but in Gatka it means footwork and tactics used effectively, to go for defence and offence. The ‘pentrra’ is practised initially for hours (using no weapons) to help develop the accuracy of the footwork required to keep the body in balance when using weaponry. It can be practised in a number of different ways, e.g. circular motion, simple forward and backward movements and also more complex motions such as star shapes. Gradually a practitioner of Gatka can move on to practise the pentrra using a range of weapons. Some of these weapons include ‘latthi’ (staff), Kirpaan, (Sword) Chakkar (wheel or a disc with spokes).

Though the teachings of the Sikh Gurus remain a constant source for the spiritual uplift of the Sikhs, their contribution towards the physical fitness of their followers cannot be under estimated. Almost all the Sikh Gurus encouraged their Sikhs to attend Akharas (open air gymnasiums) and participate in activities, which helped their physical fitness and good health. In this regard particular mention may be made of the contribution of Guru Anged Dev Ji and later one of his learned Sikh disciples, Baba Budha Ji, who has been remembered by Sikhs as a master of both Shaaster (religious literature) and Shaster (combat weapon). By the time of Guru Hargobind Ji ‘Gatka’ training became a formal practice among Sikhs along with their daily prayers. However, it was probably Guru Gobind Singh who not only mastered the art of Gatka for himself but also raised a whole army of Sikh soldiers equipped with this martial art as a strategic weapon of defence and counter offence. Later, this elite ‘task force’ became popular with the name of Nihangs, who in time became a secluded section of the Sikh community, often living a semi-nomadic life. However, the art of Gatka remains central to their way of life, which they enjoy by exhibiting their skills at special religious and sports festivals.

Today Gatka is becoming more and more popular among the Sikh youth who seem to be fascinated by this martial art. In Britain one may find Gatka clubs in many major towns where there is a significant Sikh population. Some of these Gatka units have been performing this martial art in many Gurdwaras and public places on special occasions or by invitation. The recent formation of an International Gatka Federation is a clear sign that the popularity of Gatka is on the increase.


Sikhs in British Armed Forces

Prince Charles, the British monarch in waiting, meeting the elderly Sikh War veterans, and the younger recruits to the British Armed Forces.

(An extract from a note by the Ministry of Defence)

“The (British) Armed Forces aim to develop an organisational culture that welcomes racial equality and diversity, and places the highest priority in tackling racism. All the three Services, the Navy, Army and Royal Air Force are determined to become more representative of this country’s diverse society and harness the wealth of talents and skills of individuals from different backgrounds across all ethnic groups.”

“The Armed Forces recognise the need to observe specific codes of dress in accordance with particular religious beliefs.… Sikhs in the Armed Forces are permitted to wear the 5 K’s, and male Sikhs can also wear a turban. However, for operational or health and safety reasons, some constraints on the wearing of a turban and keeping facial hair uncut are necessary.”

Sikh Atricles of Faith and the Law

From time to time many Sikhs, who fully adhere to the wearing of articles of Sikh faith, come across some form of discrimination in their public life mainly because some non-Sikhs in authority and employment are not fully aware of the importance of these articles to the Sikhs, as well as their position in the law of the Land.

Some examples of this protection in Law against inadvertent discrimination are given here for general public knowledge.

Letter from the Home Office regarding the Sikh Religious Symbols.

Motor-Cycle Crash Helmet

(Religious Exemption) Act, 1976

Chapter 62

An Act to exempt turban wearing followers of the Sikh Religion from the requirement to wear a crash helmet when riding a motor-cycle. (15th November 1976)

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows: -

1. In section 32 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 there shall be inserted after subsection (2) the following new subsection:

“(2A) A requirement imposed by regulations under this section (whenever made) shall not apply to any follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban.”

2. This Act may be cited as the Motor-Cycle Crash-Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976.

Kirpan is not a Weapon

NEW DELHI, Nov 19 (U.N.I.) – “Kirpan is not a weapon. It is a religious symbol”, said the Speaker, Balram Jakhar, of the Lok Sabha* today.

He was replying to a point of order raised by Mr. Ram Nagina Mishra when Akali Dal member Mr. Tarlochan Singh Tur took the oath in the House with a kirpan dangling from his waist.

Mr. Mishra asked whether any member could come to the House carrying a weapon.

Mr Jakhar assured Mr. Mishra that no one was permitted to come to the House with a weapon.

(*House of Commons, Parliament of India) November 19, 1985.

Sikh’s right to wear turban to school upheld in Britain

By Robert A. Erlandson (London Bureau of The Sun)

London - The House of Lords ruled yesterday that an 18-years-old Sikh was discriminated against when he was denied entry to a private school unless he removed his turban.

Gurinder Singh Mandla, of Birmingham, said last night before he left for the local Sikh Gurdwara [temple] “ to join the whole Sikh community in celebrating such an important case,” that the decision “will have wide-ranging effects for many people, such as those who have been refused admittance to nightclubs because of their headgear.”

Mr Mandla, who said he hopes to be a lawyer like his father, Sewa Singh Mandla, said, “I was really happy when I learned of the decision today. It was a worthwhile fight for the five years it took.”

The appeal was taken to court by the Commission for Racial Equality.

In deciding for Mr Mandla, the five law lords [who sit as an appeal court] unanimously over turned decisions by the country court in Birmingham and the Court of Appeals.

(The Sun, Friday, March 25, 1983)

Helmet exemption for Sikh builders

By Anthony Looch (Parliamentary Staff)

Sikhs will be exempted from wearing safety helmets on construction sites under an amendment added without a vote to the Employment Bill at committee stage in the Lords yesterday, despite some opposition.

Lord STRATHCLYDE, junior Employment Minister, moving the amendment, said despite the Government’s commitment to improved safety standards on building sites, it had in this case yielded to the many representations from the Sikh community.

Considerations of religious freedom and a desire to maintain good relations with the Sikhs had prompted the amendment.

Employers and others would not be liable for damages if a Sikh on a construction site received an injury, which would not have occurred if he had been wearing a safety helmet, Lord Strathclyde added.

(The Daily Telegraph, October 17, 1989)

Panjabi Language

Panjabi is one of the major languages of the Indian sub-continent, and is spoken by well over sixty million people. In Britain and Canada, it is the ‘Home language’ or the ‘Community Language’ of the majority of Asians from the sub-continent. Panjabi belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European family of Languages. Its roots are almost as old as the arrival of the Aryans who first settled in the north west of the then sub-continent of India to which they gave the name Sapt Sindhu (seven waters). After establishing themselves well, in this region, they moved further east towards Bengal and further south towards Gujarat, occupying the whole of the rich Indo-Gangetic plain. However, it was the area in the north west (later renamed as Panjab by the Persians), which was initially the centre of their language and literary activity. As Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, an outstanding linguist of modern India puts it -

“Probably, in the Panjab was the fiercest resistance, and in the Panjab too was the biggest settlement
of the Aryans. In any case, the Panjab formed the nidus of the Aryans in India.......and comparative
purity of the Aryan language in the Panjabi area is fully borne out by the evidence of the Ashoka
inscriptions in the 3rd century B.C., and later.”
Indo-Aryan and Hindi p. 46)

The dominant Aryan language of the earlier period (1500 BC--500 BC) was popularly known as Vedic. The most ancient Hindu scripture Rig Ved was written over 3000 years ago by the learned Rishis who lived in this area mainly along the Jehlum River. Later, because of the influence of great grammarians like Pannani (400 BC, resident of ancient Panjab, called Sapt Sindhu), Vedic became Vedic- Sanskrit, and then simply Sanskrit as it was refined and spoken under the rules of grammar. Since Sanskrit became a language of the elite few, the commonly used language of the ordinary people, which grew out of Vedic, became known as Pali and its associate Prakirts. They in turn gave birth to more common local languages called Apbhranshas, which then developed to make the present day languages of northern India. Dr S.K. Chatterjee put the number of such Indo-Aryan languages as thirteen, of which Panjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Orria, Assami, Kashmiri and Sindhi are the most prominent. Because of both geographical and historical reasons, Panjabi enjoys the closest relationship with its great grand mother Vedic, and for the same reason Panjabi may be regarded as the eldest sister of these modern Indian languages.

According to Professor Om Parkash Kahol,

Panjabi is the most faithful representative of the ancient Indo European speech . . . and if Sanskrit is taken as the nearest approach to that hypothetical language, a comparative study of Panjabi and Sanskrit can go a long way to show how faithfully Panjabi has preserved some of the rarest features, while most other cognate languages have lost them in the process of evolution.” ........................

“Panjabi vocabulary is far older than Hindi vocabulary, the majority of Panjabi words having existed in the present form for much longer period than the corresponding Hindi words. Very few Hindi words are more than one thousand years old and the majority of them are not older than five hundred years. The form of many Panjabi words is two, in some cases, three thousand years old.”
Hindus and the Panjabi state p. 86, 103)

And again, according to Dr. Vidya Bhaskar Arun,

“We can see the hand of Panjabi in the making of Hindi as we know it today. Many of its words, such as Sab (all), Kall (tomorrow) or (yesterday) lamba (long) bicchu (scorpion) bijli (lightning) pakka (firm or ripe) accha (well), so commonly used in Hindi are either due to the influence of Panjabi or imposed Panjabi forms ........ Suffice to say that Hindi owes many of its characteristics to Panjabi.” ............. “ Even in its development as a literary form under the name of Urdu, Hindi owes much to Panjabi influence. It is held by some scholars that Urdu grew out of Panjabi.”
(A Comparative Phonology of Hindi and Panjabi, p xix,xx)

In the words of Prof. Hafiz Mehmood Shirani,

“The language of the land called Panjab is Panjabi. Amir Khusro remembered it as Lahori, Abufazal calls it Multani. The western researchers, by drawing a line, have divided it under the names of eastern and western Panjabi. They call this language as ‘Panjabi’ on the eastern side, and ‘Lehandi’ on the western side.” (p. 78) ……The old Urdu is mainly under the influence of Panjabi. Even today the things, which Urdu is unable to express fully, Panjabi does easily. ”
Urdu in Panjab
(p 294 translated)

The Panjabi Script


The Panjabi script has often been referred to as ‘Gurmukhi’ because of the popular (but mistaken) belief that it had been invented by the second Sikh Guru, Guru Angad, which is wrong. In fact this script was the one introduced to Guru Nanak (the founder of Sikhism) when he first went to school at the age of five or six. However, a major contribution to Panjabi, which the early Sikh Gurus did make, was their popularisation of this indigenous script by adopting it for a written record of their holy verses.

The word Gurmukhi is the compound form of Guru & Mukh. Mukh in Panjabi means ‘face’ or ‘mouth’ so the word Gurmukhi means ‘like the Guru’s face’ or ‘from the Guru’s mouth’. Again, since Panjabi letters are neither like the Guru’s face nor do they come ‘from the Guru’s mouth’, it is inappropriate to call them Gurmukhi. However, the word ‘Gurmukhi’ has been correctly used and understood for the ‘holy utterances’ of the Gurus which have been written down and compiled into the holy Sikh scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib. No piece of writing in Panjabi can or should be called Gurmukhi unless it belongs to the Guru Granth Sahib. Gurmukhi is indeed another word for ‘Gurbani’ (Guru’s holy utterances), which are now transposed into print. Thus, like the name of the land, people and the language, this same word Panjabi is the most appropriate for naming the authentic script of this language and hence the name Panjabi Script*.


The roots of the Panjabi script can easily be traced to the script used for the writing of the Vedic language. The writers of Rig Ved were the inhabitants of the land, which later came to be known as Panjab. They obviously used the language and the script prevalent at that time in that region which was indeed Vedic, later to be called Vedic-Sanskrit. During the post-Vedic period, starting with the birth of Lord Buddha about 600 BC and extending through the Maurya and Gupta dynasties when Pali and other associate Prakirts were the languages of the common people, while Sanskrit became the language of the elite, the same Vedic script was used in both cases. It was called Brahmi, because of Brahmin scribes.

In the next two thousand years or so, just as new and different names were given to the languages developing in different areas of northern India, similarly the scripts used for writing these languages also underwent some changes. The major factors affecting such a change were the passage of time and geographical distance. Today each of the regional language of northern and western India, known by its modern name as Panjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi, Orria and Assami etc. has a distinct identity in terms of its own script, yet it can not deny its Vedic roots.

Prof. O. P. Kahol

“The fact of the matter is that Gurmukhi characters have been evolved from original Brahmi in the same way as modern Devnagri or Bengali. Fortunately, we have with us the shapes of the various letters of our alphabet, at different times in our history, preserved in rock inscriptions, copper plates and coins. The writings in the Baij Nath Temple in Kangra reveal that the letters prevalent in Northwest India near about the 9th century AD were more akin to Gurmukhi than to Devnagri.”
(The Tribune June 3, 1966)

E. P. Newton

The language, which is spoken with some variation through out Panjab, and hence called Panjabi, is usually written in what is known as the Gurmukhi character..... the alphabet consist of 35 letters...... what ever hand ....may have had in modifying their form, most of them have, with slight variation in their structures, come down from a very much more remote antiquity. Of the entire number, no less than twenty one can, though they have under gone some change, be distinctly recognised in the ancient inscriptions, six at least being traceable to the 10th century BC, three to the 5th century BC and twelve to the 3rd century BC”
(p. 1, 2, Panjabi Grammar - 1896)

*Since, the name ‘Gurmukhi’ seems to relate the Panjabi script with Sikh religion, and not with the people or the land of Panjab, almost all Muslims and many Hindus abandoned the use of the only authentic or original script of Panjabi language, which is ‘indeed’ the heritage of all Panjabis. Fortunately, the scripts of other sister languages like Bengali or Gujarati saved themselves from this mistake by not aligning with a religion.

Sikh Foods

Wheat, rather than rice, is the staple diet of the Sikhs, and very few of them are strictly vegetarian. However, Sikhs avoid eating beef out of consideration for Hindu feelings with whom they share many things. Similarly, they may avoid eating pork when they are in the company of Muslims. Sikhs do not believe in ritual slaughter, and any meat prepared as such.

Like many other communities in the world, the Sikhs take great pride in their food and their cooking skills. Children learn to cook when they are young and try to perfect this art before they are married. Many Sikh women reflect unkindly on the mother whose daughter is not an expert in cooking various dishes without any help from notes and recipe books. Many Indian cookery books on the market are written mainly for the benefit of non - Indians. Some of the most common constituents of Sikh meals are:

ROTI or PHULKA: The Roti is made from wholemeal or brown wheat flour and is fairly simple to make. It is flat and round, approximately six inches in diameter and looks like a pancake. The Phulka is a finer version of the Roti and is named as such because it bubbles or puffs up like a saucer-shaped balloon. Chapatti is another name for Roti or Phulka, but this name is not commonly used in Panjabi homes, especially among the Sikhs. Poori is yet another type of Roti, which is smaller in size and is deep-fried.

PARAUTHA: A richer and more nourishing form of Roti is called Parautha. It is made by folding and rolling dough a number of times with or without fillings, and is fried in ghee, margarine or vegetable oil. It takes an expert to make a really good Parautha. It is the most popular and nourishing ‘morning snack’ and is less likely to be eaten in the evening.

SABZI and DAAL: Whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian, no meal in a Sikh family is complete without either a Sabzi (cooked vegetable) or Daal (cooked pulse) or indeed both. This is one area where Indian cooking is difficult to match, not only in the variety of Daals and Sabzees but also in the cooking methods. Pulses, which come in different varieties, are amongst the most popular dishes because they are relatively cheap, easy to cook, tasty and nutritious as well. A proper Panjabi daal is rather dense to be called a soup. Some of the most common items of these vegetarian dishes are:

SABZI - Cauliflower,Cabbage, Lady-finger (Okra), Aubergine, Peas, Green Pepper, Potato, Carrot Turnip, Gourd, Spinach, Ghia, Kadhu, Pumpkin, Green beans as well as combinations such as Mattar-Paneer, Saag-Paneer, Aloo-Gobhi, Aloo-Methi,Ghia-koftaas etc.

PANEER- (specially prepared cheese cubes) It is the most popular vegetarian diet of the Panjabis. Usually cooked in combination with peas, mustard leaf and spices

DAAL - Chana or Chholay (gram or chick peas), Moong (green lentil), Mansoor (red or yellow lentils), Mah or Urad (black lentil), Beans such Raj mah and Ramah etc.

Similarly, SAAG is a kind of cooked and well-spiced thick puree, mainly from fresh green mustard. Being seasonal, it is even more popular than daal and sabzi dishes.

DAHI or YOGURT - An important complementary item to the Panjabi meal and usually enriched with other ingredients before serving, e.g. Raitta (yogurt with grated cucumber)

SNACKS and SWEETS: As far as snacks and sweet dishes are concerned Indian cooking is hard to beat. Although the serving of a dessert after a full meal is not regarded as important, a sweet dish like Kheer (rice pudding) is often served as part of the meal. Many Indian sweets are made from milk, sugar, gram flour and ghee. Some of the most popular ones are - Rasgulla, Gulab-jaman, Barfi, Laddoo, Jallebi, Halwa, Gajrella, Doodh-bare and Ras-malai.

Pakorras (spicy savoury snacks) are among the most common snacks. There are many varieties of Pakorras both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and these are quite easy to make.

Samosas (triangular shaped pastry envelopes with fillings ranging from various vegetables to minced meat) are also very popular but are rather time consuming and expensive to make.

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