Pashaura Singh. Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices. Editor: Thomas Riggs. Volume 1: Religions and Denominations. Detroit: Gale, 2006.
Sikhism originated in the Punjab region of northwestern India five centuries ago. The founder, Guru Nanak, lived from 1469 to 1539. Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that stresses the ideal of achieving spiritual liberation within a person’s lifetime through meditation on the divine name. It is also oriented toward action, encouraging the dignity of regular labor as a part of spiritual discipline. Family life and socially responsible living are other important aspects of Sikh teachings.
Sikhism is the youngest of the independent religions of India, where its members make up about 2 percent of the country’s 1 billion people. Most live in the Indian state of Punjab. What makes Sikhs significant in India is not their numbers but their contribution in the political and economic spheres.
The global population of Sikhs is between 23 and 24 million. Substantial communities of Sikhs have been established in Southeast Asia, East Africa, the United Kingdom, and North America through successive waves of emigration. Beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century, a quarter million Sikhs settled in the United States. Observant male Sikhs everywhere are recognized by their beards and turbans, which are the very symbols of their faith.
Sikhism is rooted in a particular religious experience, piety, and culture and is informed by the unique inner revelation of its founder, Guru Nanak, who declared his independence from other thought forms of his day. Those who claimed to be his disciples were known as sikhs, or “learners.” Notwithstanding the influences he absorbed from the contemporary religious environment—particularly the devotional tradition of the medieval sants, or “poet-saints,” of North India, with whom he shared certain similarities—Guru Nanak established a foundation of teaching, practice, and community from the standpoint of his own religious ideals. Among the religious figures of North India, he had an especially strong sense of mission, compelling him to proclaim his message for the benefit of his audience and for the promotion of socially responsible living.
Nanak was born to an upper-caste professional Hindu family of the village of Talwandi, present-day Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. Much of the material concerning his life comes from hagiographical janam-sakhis (birth narratives). His life may be divided into three distinct phases: his early contemplative years, the enlightenment experience accompanied by extensive travels, and a foundational climax that resulted in the establishment of the first Sikh community in the western Punjab. A local Muslim nobleman employed the young Nanak as a steward at Sultanpur Lodhi. Being a professional accountant of the Khatri (warrior) caste, he worked diligently at his job, but his mind was deeply absorbed in spiritual concerns. Thus, it is not surprising that he spent long hours of each morning and evening in meditation and devotional singing. Early one morning, when he was bathing in the Vein River, he disappeared without leaving a trace. Family members gave him up for dead, but three days later he stepped out of the water with cryptic words: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.”
This statement, made during the declining years of the Lodhi sultanate, must be understood in the context of the religious culture of the medieval Punjab. The two dominant religions of the region were the Hindu tradition and Islam, both making conflicting truth claims. To a society torn with conflict, Nanak brought a vision of a common humanity and pointed the way to look beyond external labels for a deeper reality. After his threeday immersion in the waters—a metaphor of dissolution, transformation, and spiritual perfection—Nanak was ready to proclaim a new vision for his audience. In one of his own hymns in the Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture, he proclaimed, “I was a minstrel out of work, the Lord assigned me the task of singing the divine Word. He summoned me to his court and bestowed on me [the] robe of honoring him and singing his praise. On me he bestowed the divine nectar [amrit] in a cup, the nectar of his true and holy Name” (Adi Granth, p. 150).
The hymn is intensely autobiographical, explicitly pointing out Guru Nanak’s own understanding of his divine mission, and it marked the beginning of his ministry. He was then 30 years of age, had been married to Sulakhani for more than a decade, and was the father of two young sons, Sri Chand and Lakhmi Das. He set out on a series of journeys to both Hindu and Muslim places of pilgrimage in India and elsewhere. During his travels he came into contact with the leaders of different religious persuasions and tested the veracity of his own ideas in religious dialogues.
At the end of his travels, in the 1520s, Guru Nanak purchased a piece of land on the right bank of the Ravi River in West Punjab and founded the village of Kartarpur (Creator’s Abode). There he lived for the rest of his life as the “spiritual guide” of a newly emerging religious community. His attractive personality and teaching won him many disciples, who received his message of liberation through religious hymns of unique genius and notable beauty. They began to use the hymns in devotional singing (kirtan) as a part of congregational worship. Indeed, the first Sikh families who gathered around Guru Nanak in the early decades of the sixteenth century formed the nucleus of a rudimentary organization of Nanak-panth. (The word panth literally means “path,” but here it refers to those Sikhs who followed Guru Nanak’s path of liberation.)
Guru Nanak prescribed the daily routine, along with agricultural activity for sustenance, for the Kartarpur community. He defined the ideal person as a Gurmukh (one oriented toward the Guru), who practiced the threefold discipline of “the divine Name, charity, and purity” (nam-dan-ishnan). Indeed, these three features—nam (relation with the divine), dan (relation with the society), and ishnan (relation with the self)—provided a balanced approach for the development of the individual and the society. They corresponded to the cognitive, the communal, and the personal aspects of the evolving Sikh identity. For Guru Nanak the true spiritual life required that “one should live on what one has earned through hard work and that one should share with others the fruit of one’s exertion” (Adi Granth, p. 1,245). In addition, service (seva), self-respect (pati), truthful living (sach achar), humility, sweetness of the tongue, and taking only one’s rightful share (haq halal) were regarded as highly prized ethical virtues in pursuit of liberation. At Kartarpur, Guru Nanak gave practical expression to the ideals that had matured during the period of his travels, and he combined a life of disciplined devotion with worldly activities set in the context of normal family life. As part of the Sikh liturgy, Guru Nanak’s Japji (Meditation) was recited in the early hours of the morning, and So Dar (That Door) and Arti (Adoration) were sung in the evening.
Guru Nanak’s spiritual message found expression at Kartarpur through key institutions: the sangat (holy fellowship), in which all felt that they belonged to one spiritual fraternity; the dharamsala, the original form of the Sikh place of worship; and the establishment of the langar, the dining convention that required people of all castes to sit in status-free lines (pangat) in order to share a common meal. The institution of langar promoted a spirit of unity and mutual belonging and struck at a major aspect of caste, thereby advancing the process of defining a distinctive Sikh identity. Finally, Guru Nanak created the institution of the Guru, or preceptor, who became the central authority in community life. Before he died in 1539, Guru Nanak designated one of his disciples, Lehna, as his successor by renaming him Angad, meaning “my own limb.” Thus, a lineage was established, and a legitimate succession was maintained intact from the appointment of Guru Angad to the death of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the 10th and last human Guru of the Sikhs.
The second Guru, Angad (1504-52), consolidated the nascent Sikh Panth in the face of the challenge offered by Guru Nanak’s eldest son, Baba Sri Chand, the founder of the ascetic Udasi sect. Guru Angad further refined the Gurmukhi script for recording the compilation of the Guru’s hymns (bani). The original Gurmukhi script was a systematization of two types of business shorthand Guru Nanak doubtless used professionally as a young man. This was an emphatic rejection of the superiority of the Devanagri and Arabic scripts (along with Sanskrit and the Arabic and Persian languages) and of the hegemonic authority they represented in the scholarly and religious circles of the time. The use of the Gurmukhi script added an element of demarcation and self-identity to the Sikh tradition. In fact, language became the single most important factor in the preservation of Sikh culture and identity and became the corner-stone of the religious distinctiveness that is part and parcel of the Sikh cultural heritage.
A major institutional development took place during the time of the third Guru, Amar Das (1479-1574), who introduced a variety of innovations to provide greater cohesion and unity to the ever-growing Sikh Panth. These included the establishment of the city of Goindval; the biannual festivals of Divali and Baisakhi, which provided an opportunity for the growing community to get together and meet the Guru; a missionary system (manji) for attracting new converts; and the preparation of the Goindval pothis, collections of the compositions of the Gurus and some of the medieval poetsaints.
The fourth Guru, Ram Das (1534-81), founded the city of Ramdaspur, where he constructed a large pool for the purpose of bathing. It was named Amritsar, meaning “the nectar of immortality.” To build an independent economic base, the Guru appointed deputies (masands) to collect tithes and other contributions from loyal Sikhs. In addition to a large body of sacred verse, he composed the wedding hymn (lavan) for the solemnization of a Sikh marriage. Indeed, it was Guru Ram Das who explicitly responded to the question “Who is a Sikh?” with the following definition: “He who calls himself Sikh, a follower of the true Guru, should meditate on the divine Name after rising and bathing and recite Japji from memory, thus driving away all evil deeds and vices. As day unfolds he sings gurbani [utterances of the Gurus]; sitting or rising he meditates on the divine Name. He who repeats the divine Name with every breath and bite is indeed a true Sikh [gursikh] who gives pleasure to the Guru” (Adi Granth, pp. 305-6). Thus, the liturgical requirements of the reciting and singing of the sacred word became part of the very definition of being a Sikh. The most significant development was related to the self-image of Sikhs, who perceived themselves as unique and distinct from the other religious communities of North India.
The period of the fifth Guru, Arjan (1563-1606), was marked by a number of far-reaching institutional developments. First, at Amritsar, he built the Harimandir, or Darbar Sahib (later known as the Golden Temple), which acquired prominence as the central place of Sikh worship. Second, he compiled the first canonical scripture, the Adi Granth (Original Book), in 1604. Third, Guru Arjan established the rule of justice and humility (halemi raj) in the town of Ramdaspur, where everyone lived in comfort (Adi Granth, p. 74). He proclaimed, “The divine rule prevails in Ramdaspur due to the grace of the Guru. No tax [jizya] is levied, nor any fine; there is no collector of taxes” (Adi Granth, pp. 430, 817). The administration of the town was evidently in the hands of Guru Arjan, although in a certain sense Ramdaspur was an autonomous town within the context and the framework of the Mughal rule of Emperor Akbar. Fourth, by the end of the sixteenth century the Sikh Panth had developed a strong sense of independent identity, which is evident from Guru Arjan’s assertion “We are neither Hindu nor Musalaman” (Adi Granth, p. 1,136).
Fifth, dissensions within the ranks of the Sikh Panth became the source of serious conflict. A great number of the Guru’s compositions focus on the issue of dealing with the problems created by “slanderers” (nindak), who were rival claimants to the office of the Guruship. The Udasis and the Bhallas, the latter formed by Guru Amar Da’ss eldest son, Baba Mohan, and his followers, had already established parallel seats of authority and had paved the way for competing views of Sikh identity. The rivalry of these dissenters had been heightened when Guru Arjan was designated for the throne of Ram Das in preference to his eldest brother, Prithi Chand, who even approached the local Mughal administrators to claim the position of his father. At some point Prithi Chand and his followers were branded Minas (dissembling rogues).
Finally, the author of Dabistan-i-Mazahib (“The School of Religions”), a mid-seventeenth-century work in Persian, testifies that the number of Sikhs had rapidly increased during Guru Arjan’s period and that “there were not many cities in the inhabited countries where some Sikhs were not to be found.” In fact, the growing strength of the Sikh movement attracted the unfavorable attention of the ruling authorities because of the reaction of Muslim revivalists of the Naqshbandi order in Mughal India. There is clear evidence in the compositions of Guru Arjan that a series of complaints were made against him to the functionaries of the Mughal state, giving them an excuse to watch the activities of the Sikhs. The liberal policy of Emperor Akbar may have sheltered the Guru and his followers for a time, but in May 1606, within eight months of Akbar’s death, Guru Arjan, under torture by the orders of the new emperor, Jahangir, was executed. The Sikh community perceived his death as the so-called first martyrdom, which became a turning point in the history of the Sikh tradition.
Indeed, a radical reshaping of the Sikh Panth took place after Guru Arjan’s martyrdom. The sixth Guru, Hargobind (1595-1644), signaled the formal process when he traditionally donned two swords, symbolizing the spiritual (piri) as well as the temporal (miri) investiture. He also built the Akal Takhat (Throne of the Timeless One) facing the Darbar Sahib, which represented the newly assumed role of temporal authority. Under his direct leadership the Sikh Panth took up arms in order to protect itself from Mughal hostility. From the Sikh perspective this new development was not taken at the cost of abandoning the original spiritual base. Rather, it was meant to achieve a balance between temporal and spiritual concerns. A Sikh theologian of the period, Bhai Gurdas, defended this martial response as “hedging the orchard of the Sikh faith with [the] hardy and thorny kikar tree.” After four skirmishes with Mughal troops, Guru Hargobind withdrew to the Shivalik hills, and Kiratpur became the new center of the mainline Sikh tradition. Amritsar fell into the hands of the Minas, who established a parallel line of Guruship with the support of the Mughal authorities.
During the time of the seventh and eighth Gurus, Har Rai (1630-61) and Har Krishan (1656-64), the emphasis on armed conflict with the Mughal authorities receded, but the Gurus held court and kept a regular force of Sikh horsemen. During the period of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur (1621-75), however, the increasing strength of the Sikh movement in rural areas again attracted Mughal attention. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s ideas of a just society inspired a spirit of fearlessness among his followers: “He who holds none in fear, nor is afraid of anyone, Nanak, acknowledge him alone as a man of true wisdom” (Adi Granth, p. 1,427). Such ideas posed a direct challenge to the increasingly restrictive policies of the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, who reigned from 1658 to 1707. Not surprisingly, Guru Tegh Bahadur was summoned to Delhi by the orders of the emperor, and on his refusal to embrace Islam he was publicly executed in Chandni Chowk on 11 November 1675. The Sikhs perceived his death as the second martyrdom, which involved larger issues of human rights and freedom of conscience.
Tradition holds that the Sikhs who were present at the scene of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s execution shrank from recognition, concealing their identity for fear they might suffer a similar fate. In order to respond to this new situation, the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, resolved to impose on his followers an outward form that would make them instantly recognizable. He restructured the Sikh Panth and instituted the Khalsa (pure), an order of loyal Sikhs bound by a common identity and discipline. On Baisakhi Day 1699 at Anandpur, Guru Gobind Singh initiated the first so-called Cherished Five (panj piare), who formed the nucleus of the new order of the Khalsa. The five volunteers who responded to the Guru’s call for loyalty, and who came from different castes and regions of India, received the initiation through a ceremony that involved sweetened water (amrit) stirred with a two-edged sword and sanctified by the recitation of five liturgical prayers.
From the perspective of ritual studies, three significant issues were linked with the first amrit ceremony. First, all who chose to join the order of the Khalsa through the ceremony were understood to have been “reborn” in the house of the Guru and thus to have assumed a new identity. The male members were given the surname Singh (Lion), and female members were given the surname Kaur (Princess), with the intention of creating a parallel system of aristocratic titles in relation to the Rajput hill chiefs of the surrounding areas of Anandpur. Second, the Guru symbolically transferred his spiritual authority to the Cherished Five when he him-self received the nectar of the double-edged sword from their hands and thus became a part of the Khalsa Panth and subject to its collective will. In this way he not only paved the way for the termination of a personal Guruship but also abolished the institution of the masands, which was becoming increasingly disruptive. Several of the masands had refused to forward collections to the Guru, creating factionalism in the Sikh Panth. In addition, Guru Gobind Singh removed the threat posed by the competing seats of authority when he declared that the Khalsa should have no dealings with the followers of Prithi Chand (Minas), Dhir Mal (Guru Har Rai’s elder brother, who established his seat at Kartarpur, Jalandhar), and Ram Rai (Guru Har Krishan’s elder brother, who established his seat at Dehra Dun). Finally, Guru Gobind Singh delivered the nucleus of the Sikh Rahit Maryada (Code of Conduct) at the inauguration of the Khalsa. By sanctifying the hair with amrit, he made it “the official seal of the Guru,” and the cutting of bodily hair was thus strictly prohibited. The Guru further imposed a rigorous ban on smoking. He made the most visible symbols of external identity, the so-called five Ks, mandatory for the Khalsa, as explained below under SACRED SYMBOLS.
The inauguration of the Khalsa was the culmination of the canonical period in the development of Sikhism. Guru Gobind Singh also closed the Sikh canon by adding a collection of the works of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, to the original compilation of the Adi Granth. Before he died in 1708, he terminated the line of personal Gurus, and he installed the Adi Granth as the eternal Guru for Sikhs. Thereafter, the authority of the Guru was invested together in the scripture (Guru Granth) and in the corporate community (Guru Panth). Sikhism thus evolved in response to four main elements. The first of these was the ideology based on the religious and cultural innovations of Guru Nanak and his nine successors. The second was the rural base of Punjabi society. During the period of Guru Arjan the founding of the villages of Taran Taran, Sri Hargobindpur, and Kartarpur in rural areas saw large numbers of converts from the local Jat peasantry. It may have been the militant traditions of the Jats that brought the Sikh Panth into increasing conflict with Mughal authorities, a conflict that shaped the future direction of the movement. The third factor was the conflict created within the Sikh community by dissidents, which originally worked to counter and then, paradoxically, to enhance the process of the crystallization of the Sikh tradition. The fourth element was the period of Punjabi history from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, in which the Sikh Panth evolved in tension with the Mughal authorities. All four elements combined to produce the mutual interaction between ideology and environment that came to characterize the historical development of Sikhism.
The nature of ultimate reality in Sikh doctrine is succinctly expressed in the Mul Mantar (seed formula), the preamble to the Sikh scripture. The basic theological statement reads as follows: “There is one Supreme Being [‘1’ Oankar], the Eternal Reality, the Creator, without fear and devoid of enmity, immortal, never incarnated, self-existent, known by grace through the Guru. The Eternal One, from the beginning, through all time, present now, the Everlasting Reality” (Adi Granth, p. 1). The numeral “1” at the beginning of the original Punjabi text represents the unity of Akal Purakh (the Timeless One, or God), a concept that Guru Nanak interpreted in monotheistic terms. It affirms that Akal Purakh is one without a second, the source as well as the goal of all that exists. As the creator and sustainer of the universe, he lovingly watches over it. He is the source of love and grace and responds to the devotion of his humblest followers. Paradoxically, he is both transcendent (nirguna, “without attributes”) and immanent (saguna, “with attributes”). Only in personal experience can he be truly known. Despite the stress laid on nirguna discourse within the Sikh tradition, which directs the devotee to worship a nonincarnate, universal God, in Sikh doctrine God is partially embodied in the divine name (nam) and in the collective words (bani) and in the person of the Guru and the saints.
With regard to the creation of the world, there is Guru Nanak’s cosmology hymn in Maru Raga (Adi Granth, pp. 1035-36). He maintained that the universe “comes into being by the divine order” (Adi Granth, p. 1). Guru Nanak said further, “From the True One came air and from air came water; from water he created the three worlds and infused in every heart his own light” (Adi Granth, p. 19). He employed the well-known Indic ideas of creation through the five basic elements of air, water, ether, fire, and earth: “The Eternal One created nights, the days of the week, and the seasons of the year. With them came wind and water, fire and the regions established below. Amidst them all was set the earth, wherein the Maker meditates. Wondrous the creatures there created, boundless variety, countless their names. All must be judged for the deeds they perform, by a faultless judge in a perfect court” (Adi Granth, p. 7). As the creation of Akal Purakh, the physical universe is real but subject to constant change. For Guru Nanak the world was divinely inspired. It is a place that provides human beings with an opportunity to perform their duty and to achieve union with Akal Purakh. Thus, actions performed in earthly existence are important, for “all of us carry the fruits of our deeds” (Adi Granth, p. 4).
The notions of karma (actions) and sansar (rebirth, or transmigration) are fundamental to all religious traditions originating in India. Karma is popularly understood in Indian thought as the principle of cause and effect. The principle is logical and inexorable, but karma is also understood as a predisposition that safeguards the notion of free choice. In Sikh doctrine, however, the notion of karma underwent a radical change. For the Gurus the law of karma was not inexorable. In the context of the Guru Nanak’s theology, karma is subject to the higher principle of the “divine order” (hukam). The divine order is an “all-embracing principle” that is the sum total of all divinely instituted laws in the cosmos. It is a revelation of the divine nature. Indeed, the law of karma is replaced by Akal Purakh’s hukam, which is no longer an impersonal causal phenomenon but falls within the sphere of Akal Purakh’s omnipotence and justice: “The divine name can wash away millions of sins in a moment” (Adi Granth, p. 1,283). In fact, the primacy of divine grace over the law of karma is always maintained in Sikh teachings, and divine grace even breaks the chain of adverse karma.
Guru Nanak employed the following key terms to describe the nature of divine revelation in its totality:nam (the divine name), shabad (divine word), and guru (divine preceptor). The nam reflects the manifestation of the divine presence everywhere, yet because of their haumai, or self-centeredness, humans fail to perceive it. The Punjabi term haumai (I, I) signifies the powerful impulse to succumb to personal gratification, so that a person is separated from Akal Purakh and thus continues to suffer within the cycle of rebirth (sansar). Akal Purakh, however, looks graciously upon the suffering of people. He reveals himself through the Guru by uttering the shabad (divine word) that communicates a sufficient understanding of the nam (divine name) to those who are able to hear it. The shabad is the actual “utterance,” and in “hearing” it one awakens to the reality of the divine name, immanent in all that lies around and within.
The institution of the Guru carries spiritual authority in the Sikh tradition. In most Indian religious traditions the termguru stands for a human teacher who communicates divine knowledge and provides his disciples with a cognitive map for liberation. In Sikhism, however, its meaning has evolved into a cluster of doctrines over a period of time. There are four focal points of spiritual authority, each acknowledged within the Sikh tradition as Guru: (1) doctrine of eternal Guru, (2) doctrine of personal Guru, (3) doctrine of Guru Granth, and (4) doctrine of Guru Panth. First, Guru Nanak used the term in three basic senses: the Guru is Akal Purakh; the Guru is the voice of Akal Purakh; and the Guru is the word, the truth, of Akal Purakh. To experience the eternal Guru is to experience divine guidance. Guru Nanak himself acknowledged Akal Purakh as his Guru: “He who is the infinite, supreme God is the Guru whom Nanak has met” (Adi Granth, p. 599). In Sikh usage, therefore, the Guru is the voice of Akal Purakh, mystically uttered within the human heart, mind, and soul (man).
Second, the personal Guru functions as the channel through whom the voice of Akal Purakh becomes audible. Nanak became the embodiment of the eternal Guru only when he received the divine word and conveyed it to his disciples. The same spirit manifested itself successively in those who followed. In fact, Guru Nanak by-passed the claims of his own son Sri Chand, disqualified by his ascetic ideals, in favor of a more worthy disciple. Guru Angad followed the example of his master when he chose the elderly disciple Amar Das in preference to his own sons. By the time of the third Guru, however, the hereditary pattern asserted itself when Amar Das designated as his successor his son-in-law, Ram Das, who, in turn, was followed by his youngest son, Arjan, the direct ancestor of all later Gurus. Nevertheless, the succession in each case went to the most suitable candidate, not automatically from father to eldest son. In Sikh doctrine a theory of spiritual succession was advanced in the form of “the unity of Guruship,” in which there was no difference between the founder and the successors. Thus, all represented one and the same light (jot), just as a single flame can ignite a series of torches. The same principle is illustrated in the Adi Granth by the fact that the six Gurus contributing to the Sikh scripture signed their compositions “Nanak,” each being identified by the code word Mahala (King) and the appropriate number. Thus, the compositions labeled Mahala 1 (M 1) are by Guru Nanak, and those labeled M 2, M 3, M 4, M 5, and M 9 are by Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjan, and Guru Tegh Bahadur, respectively.
Third, in Sikh usage the Adi Granth is normally referred to as the Guru Granth Sahib, which implies a confession of faith in the scripture as Guru. As such, the Guru Granth Sahib carries the same status and authority as did the 10 personal Gurus, from Guru Nanak through Guru Gobind Singh, and it must, therefore, be viewed as the source of ultimate authority within the Sikh Panth. In actual practice Guru Granth Sahib performs the role of Guru in the personal piety and corporate identity of the Sikh community. It has become the symbol of ultimate sanctity for the Sikh Panth, and it is treated with the most profound respect when it is installed ceremonially in a gurdwara (Guru’s house), the Sikh place of worship.
Finally, the key phrase Guru Panth is normally employed in two senses: first, as the Panth of the Guru, referring to the Sikh community in general; and second, as the Panth as the Guru, pointing specifically to the Sikh community’s role as a Guru. This doctrine fully developed from the earlier idea that “the Guru is mystically present in the congregation.” At the inauguration of the Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh symbolically transferred his authority to the Cherished Five when he received initiation from their hands. Sainapati, the near contemporary author of Gur Sobha (1711), recorded that Guru Gobind Singh designated the Khalsa as the collective embodiment of his divine mandate: “Upon the Khalsa which I have created I shall bestow the succession. The Khalsa is my physical form and I am one with the Khalsa. To all eternity I am manifest in the Khalsa. Those whose hearts are purged of falsehood will be known as the true Khalsa; and the Khalsa, freed from error and illusion, will be my true Guru.” Thus, the elite corps of the Khalsa has always claimed to speak authoritatively on behalf of the whole Sikh Panth, although at times non-Khalsa Sikhs interpret the doctrine of Guru Panth as conferring authority on a community more broadly defined. As a practical matter, consensus within the community of Sikhs is achieved by following democratic traditions.
In order to achieve a state of spiritual liberation (jivan mukati) within one’s lifetime, one must transcend the unregenerate condition created by the influence of haumai. In fact, haumai is the source of the five evil impulses traditionally known as lust (kam), anger (krodh), covetousness (lobh), attachment to worldly things (moh), and pride (hankar). Under the influence of haumai a person becomes self-willed (manmukh), one who is so attached to his passions for worldly pleasures that he forgets the divine name and wastes his entire life in evil and suffering. This unregenerate condition can be transcended by means of the strictly interior discipline of nam-simaran, or “remembering the divine Name.” This three-fold process ranges from the repetition of a sacred word, usually Vahiguru (praise to the eternal Guru), through the devotional singing of hymns with the congregation, to sophisticated meditation on the nature of Akal Purakh. The first and the third levels of this practice involve private devotions, while the second refers to a corporate activity. On the whole the discipline of nam-simaran is designed to bring a person into harmony with the divine order (hukam). The person thus gains the experience of ever growing wonder (vismad) in spiritual life, and he achieves the ultimate condition of blissful equanimity (sahaj) when the spirit ascends to the “realm of Truth” (sach khand), the fifth and the last of the spiritual stages, in which the soul finds mystical union with Akal Purakh, or God.
The primacy of divine grace over personal effort is fundamental to Guru Nanak’s theology. There is, however, neither fatalism nor any kind of passive acceptance of a predestined future in his view of life. He proclaimed, “With your own hands carve out your own destiny” (Adi Granth, p. 474). Indeed, personal effort in the form of good actions has a place in Guru Nanak’s view of life. His idea of “divine free choice,” on the one hand, and his emphasis on a “life of activism” based on human freedom, on the other, reflect his ability to hold in tension seemingly opposed elements. Guru Nanak explicitly saw this balancing of opposed tendencies, which avoids rigid predestination theories and yet enables people to see their own free will as a part of Akal Purakh, as allowing Sikhs the opportunity to create their own destinies, a feature stereotypically associated with Sikh enterprise throughout the world.
Moral Code of Conduct
In his role as what the sociologist Max Weber called an “ethical prophet,” Guru Nanak called for a decisive break with existing formulations and laid the foundations of a new, rational model of normative behavior based on divine authority. Throughout his writings he conceived of his work as divinely commissioned, and he demanded the obedience of his audience as an ethical duty. In fact, Guru Nanak repeatedly proclaimed that the realization of the divine truth depended upon the conduct of the seeker. At the beginning of his Japji (Meditation), he raised the fundamental question “How is Truth to be attained, how the veil of falsehood torn aside?” He then responded, “Nanak, thus it is written: submit to the divine order [hukam], walk in its ways” (Adi Granth, p. 1). Truth obviously is not obtained by intellectual effort or cunning but only by personal commitment. To know truth one must live in it.
The salient features of Sikh ethics are as follows. First, the Sikh ethical structure stands on the firm rock of a “living faith” in Akal Purakh. Accordingly, an action is right or an ideal is good if it contributes toward the love of Akal Purakh. Second, the seeker of the divine truth must live an ethical life. An immoral person is neither worthy of being called a true seeker nor capable of attaining the spiritual goal of life. Any dichotomy between spiritual development and moral conduct is not approved in Sikh ethics. In this context Guru Nanak explicitly said, “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is truthful living” (Adi Granth, p. 62). Indeed, truthful conduct (sach achar) is at the heart of Sikh ethics.
Third, the central focus in the Sikh moral scheme involves the cultivation of virtues such as wisdom, contentment, justice, humility, truthfulness, temperance, love, forgiveness, charity, purity, and fear of Akal Purakh. Guru Nanak remarked, “Sweetness and humility are the essence of all virtues” (Adi Granth, p. 470). These virtues not only enrich the personal lives of individuals, but they also promote socially responsible living. The Gurus laid great stress on the need to earn one’s living through honest means. In particular, living by alms or begging is strongly rejected. Emphasizing hard work and sharing, Sikh ethics forbids withdrawal from social participation. Fourth, the Gurus offered their own vision of the cultivation of egalitarian ideals in social relations. Such ideals are based on the principle of social equality, gender equality, and human brotherhood. Thus, it is not surprising that any kind of discrimination based on caste or gender is expressly rejected in Sikh ethics.
Fifth, the key element of religious living is to render service (seva) to others in the form of mutual help and voluntary work. The real importance of seva lies in sharing one’s resources of “body, mind, and wealth” (tan-man-dhan) with others. This is an expression toward fellow beings of what one feels toward Akal Purakh. The service must be rendered without the desire for self-glorification, and, in addition, self-giving service must be done without setting oneself up as a judge of other people. The Ardas (Petition, or Sikh Prayer) holds in high esteem the quality of “seeing but not judging” (anadith karana). Social bonds are often damaged beyond redemption when people, irrespective of their own limitations, unconscionably judge others. The Sikh Gurus emphasized the need to destroy this root of social strife and enmity through self-giving service.
Finally, in Guru Nanak’s view all human actions presuppose the functioning of divine grace. Thus, one must continue to perform good actions at all stages of spiritual development to prevent a “fall from grace” and to set an example for others. Sikhism stresses the dignity of regular labor as a part of spiritual discipline. This is summed up in the following triple commandment: engage in honest labor (kirat karani) for a living, adore the divine name (nam japana), and share the fruit of labor with others (vand chhakana). The formula stresses both the centrality of meditative worship and the necessity of righteous living in the world. The Sikh Gurus placed great emphasis on a spirit of optimism (charhdi kala) in the face of adverse circumstances. They stressed the ideals of moderate living and disciplined worldliness in contrast to the ideals of asceticism and self-mortification. In this context Guru Nanak proclaimed, “As the lotus in the pool and the water fowl in the stream remain dry; so a person should live, untouched by the world. One should meditate on the Name of the Supreme Lord” (Adi Granth, p. 938).
The Adi Granth (Original Book) is the primary scripture of the Sikhs. It contains the works of the first 5 and 9th Sikh Gurus, 4 bards (Satta, Balvand, Sundar, and Mardana), 11 Bhatts (panegyrists associated with the Sikh court), and 15 Bhagats (devotees such as Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Shaikh Farid, and other medieval poets of Sant, Sufi, and Bhakti origin). The standard version contains a total of 1,430 pages, and each page is identical. The text of the Adi Granth is divided into three major sections. The introductory section includes three liturgical prayers. The middle section, which contains the bulk of the material, is divided into 31 major ragas, or Indian musical patterns. The final section includes an epilogue consisting of miscellaneous works that could not be accommodated in the middle section.
The second sacred collection, the Dasam Granth (Book of the 10th Guru), is attributed to the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, but it must have extended beyond his time to include the writings of others as well. Mani Singh, who died in 1734, compiled the collection early in the eighteenth century. Its modern standard version of 1,428 pages consists of four major types of compositions: devotional texts, autobiographical works, miscellaneous writings, and a collection of mythical narratives and popular anecdotes.
The works of two early Sikhs, Bhai Gurdas (1551-1636) and Bhai Nand Lal Goya (c. 1633-1713), make up the third category of sacred literature. Along with the sacred compositions of the Gurus, their works are approved in the official manual of the Sikh Rahit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) for singing in the gurdwaras.
The last category of Sikh literature includes three distinct genres: the janam-sakhis (birth narratives), the rahit-namas (manuals of code of conduct), and the gurbilas (pleasure of the Guru) literature. The janam-sakhis are hagiographical accounts of Guru Nanak’s life produced by the Sikh community in the seventeenth century. The rahit-namas provide rare insight into the evolving nature of the Khalsa code in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The gur-bilas mainly focuses on the mighty deeds of two warrior Gurus, Guru Hargobind and, particularly, Guru Gobind Singh.
All Sikhs initiated into the order of the Khalsa must observe the Sikh Rahit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) as enunciated by Guru Gobind Singh and subsequently elaborated. The most significant part of the code is the enjoinder to wear five visible symbols of identity, known from their Punjabi names as the five Ks (panj kakke). These are unshorn hair (kes), symbolizing spirituality and saintliness; a wooden comb (kangha), signifying order and discipline in life; a sword (kirpan), symbolizing divine grace, dignity, and courage; a steel “wrist-ring” (kara), signifying responsibility and allegiance to the Guru; and a pair of short breeches (kachh), symbolizing moral restraint. Among Sikhs the five Ks are outer symbols of the divine word, implying a direct correlation between bani (divine utterance) and bana (Khalsa dress). The five Ks, along with a turban for male Sikhs, symbolize that the Khalsa Sikhs, while reciting prayers, are dressed in the word of God. Their minds are thus purified and inspired, and their bodies are girded to do battle with the day’s temptations. In addition, Khalsa Sikhs are prohibited from the four cardinal sins (char kurahit): “cutting the hair, using tobacco, committing adultery, and eating meat that has not come from an animal killed with a single blow.”
Early and Modern Leaders
During the eighteenth century the Khalsa Sikhs were largely occupied in fighting the armies of Mughals and Afghan invaders, until Sikhs emerged victorious with the establishment of rule in the Punjab under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who reigned from 1799 to 1839. This brought settled conditions for the Sikh community, and territorial expansion attracted people of different cultural and religious backgrounds into the fold of Sikhism. The contemporary appearance of the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar owes much to the munificent patronage of the maharaja. He patronized scribes, who made beautiful copies of the standard version of the Sikh scripture that were sent as gifts to the Sikh takhats (thrones) and other major historical gurdwaras. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule was marked by religious diversity within the Sikh Panth.
The loss of the Sikh kingdom to British India in 1849 created a new situation for the Sikh Panth. In fact, the modern religious and cultural transformation within the Sikh tradition took place during the colonial period at the initiatives of the Singh Sabha (Society of the Singhs). This reform movement began in 1873 at Amritsar under the leadership of four prominent Sikhs: Sardar Thakur Singh Sandhanvalia (1837-87), Baba Khem Singh Bedi (1832-1905), Kanvar Bikrama Singh (1835-87) of Kapurthala, and Giani Gian Singh (1824-84) of Amritsar. The principal objective of the Singh Sabha reformers was to reaffirm the distinctiveness of Sikh identity in the face of the twin threats posed by the casual reversion to Hindu practices during Sikh rule and the explicit challenges from actively proselytizing religious movements such as Christian missionaries and the Arya Samaj (Society of the Aryas). The Tat Khalsa (Pure Khalsa), the dominant wing of the Singh Sabha movement, succeeded in eradicating all forms of religious diversity by the end of the nineteenth century and established norms of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The reformers were largely successful in making the Khalsa ideal the orthodox form of Sikhism, and they systematized and clarified the Khalsa tradition to make Sikhism consistent and effective for propagation. Indeed, the Tat Khalsa ideal of Sikh identity, which was forged in the colonial crucible, was both old and new.
Further, in the Anand Marriage Act of 1909 the Tat Khalsa reformers secured legal recognition of a distinctive ritual for Sikh weddings, and they reestablished direct Khalsa control of the major historical gurdwaras, many of which had fallen over the years into the hands of corrupt Mahants (Custodians) supported by the British. Inspired by the Tat Khalsa ideal, the Akali movement of the 1920s eventually secured British assent to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925. The immediate effect of the act was to make available to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC; Chief Management Committee of Sikh Shrines) the enormous political and economic benefits that came from control of thegurdwaras. In 1950, after a consensus was reached within the Sikh community, the standard manual, entitled Sikh Rahit Maryada, was published under the auspices of the SGPC. The manual has ever since been regarded as an authoritative statement of Sikh doctrine and behavior.
Master Tara Singh (1885-1967), a president of the SGPC, was the dominant figure on the Sikh political scene for the middle third of the twentieth century. Later Gurcharan Singh Tohra (born in 1924) held the office of the president of the SGPC for more than two decades. The first woman ever to become president of the SGPC was Bibi Jagir Kaur, who held the office in1999-2000. Parallel to the SGPC, the Akali Dal (Army of the Followers of the Timeless One) has functioned as a Sikh political party. Two saintly figures, Sant Fateh Singh (1911-72) and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal (1932-85), were among the prominent leaders of the Akali Dal. After the 1984 assault by Indian government troops on the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar, how-ever, the Akali Dal was divided into several factions, with Parkash Singh Badal becoming the leader of the dominant group.
Major Theologians and Authors
The first acknowledged Sikh theologian was Bhai Gurdas (1551-1636), whom Guru Arjan chose to act as his assistant during the final recording of the Adi Granth. He was a poet of rare insight whose works are generally regarded as the “key to the Guru Granth Sahib.” The most influential among his writings are 39 lengthy vars (ballads) that provide extensive commentaries on the teachings of the Gurus. Throughout his works Bhai Gurdas deals with essential doctrines taught by the Gurus (gurmat): the unity of Guruship, the Sikh way of life, Sikh morality, holy fellowship, the ideal Sikh who has turned toward the Guru (gurmukh), and so on.
Santokh Singh (1788-1843) was the most prominent of all Sikh hagiographers. He earned considerable popularity owing to the fact that he covered the complete range of the Guru’s lives in Braj Bhasha, which consists of 51,820 verses. His magnum opus, Suraj Prakash, is frequently used in Sikh discourses (katha) in the gurdwaras. Kahn Singh Nabha (1861-1938) was a renowned scholar of Tat Khalsa ideals. His Mahan Kosh (1930), an encyclopedia of Sikh literature, is a permanent monument to his unmatched industry and erudition. The name of Max Arthur Macauliffe (1837-1913) is deeply revered in the Sikh Panth. A British civil servant assigned to Punjab, he rose to be a deputy commissioner in 1882 and a divisional judge in 1884. Meanwhile, he studied the literature of the Sikhs, and in 1893 he resigned his position to devote his time exclusively to the writing of the six-volume The Sikh Religion (1909), containing the lives of the 10 Gurus and of the poet-saints (bhagats) of the Adi Granth, together with extensive translations of their works. Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), a celebrated poet, scholar, and exegete, was the leading intellectual of the Singh Sabha movement and has continued to command considerable respect for his many literary works. Bhai Jodh Singh (1882-1981) was a patriarchal figure for many years in the field of Sikh theology, and his Gurmat Niranay (1932) offers a systematic statement of Sikh doctrines.
Ganda Singh (1900-87) was a doyen of Sikh history whose critical works became influential in northern India. Harbans Singh (1921-98), a distinguished inter-preter of Sikh history and tradition, edited the four-volume The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism (1992-98), thus offering a valuable contribution in the area of Sikh studies. Khushwant Singh (born in 1915) has made his mark as a Sikh journalist, and his classic two-volume A History of the Sikhs, originally published in 1963 and published in India in 1977, is widely acclaimed. J.S. Grewal (born in 1927) is considered to be the father of the field of modern Sikh and Punjab studies. As a leading Western scholar of Sikh religion and history, W.H. McLeod (born in 1932) has single-handedly introduced, nourished, and advanced the field of Sikh studies. His works have been received with much enthusiasm and global critical acclaim, and on a number of occasions he has represented the Sikhs and Sikhism to both academic and popular audiences in the English-speaking world. The credit for exporting Sikhism to the West, however, goes to Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (born in 1929), popularly known as Yogi Bhajan, who founded the Sikh Dharma movement in the United States in 1971. The movement, which is best known as 3HO (Healthy Happy Holy Organization), claims several thousand Western adherents scattered over some 17 countries.
Sikhism is strictly a lay organization, which makes the issue of religious authority within the Panth a complex one. The Sikh Panth recognizes no priesthood, and there is no centralized “church” or attendant religious hierarchy. At the inauguration of the Khalsa on Baisakhi Day 1699, Guru Gobind Singh chose five Sikhs (panj piare, the “Cherished Five”) of proven loyalty to receive the first initiation of the double-edged sword and then to administer it to the Guru himself and to others. He thus symbolically trans-ferred his authority to the Cherished Five, who became responsible for conducting initiation ceremonies. According to well-established tradition, Guru Gobind Singh conferred his spiritual authority upon the scripture (Guru Granth) and the community (Guru Panth) together when he died in 1708. Since then the twin doctrines of Guru Granth and Guru Panth have successfully provided cohesive ideals for the evolution of the Sikh community.
In 1925 the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC; Chief Management Committee of Sikh Shrines) came into being as an elected body to manage shrines in the Punjab. As a democratic institution, it eventually became the authoritative voice of the Sikh community in religious and political affairs. In order to maintain its control over the large Sikh community, it invokes the authority of the Akal Takhat in Amritsar, which is the seat of religious and temporal authority among Sikhs. The Akal Takhat may issue edicts (hukam-namas) that provide guidance or clarification on any aspect of Sikh doctrine or practice. It may punish any person charged with a violation of religious discipline or with activity “prejudicial” to Sikh interests and unity, and it may place on record individuals who have performed outstanding service or made sacrifices for the sake of the Sikh cause.
The gurdwaras in the Sikh diaspora have their own managing committees. Each congregation (sangat) is a democratic community. Because there are no priests or ordained ministers, lay people actively participate in the various functions of a gurdwara on a voluntary basis. Each gurdwara, however, has an official granthi, or “reader” of the Sikh scriptures, who is responsible for conducting its routine rituals. As with other Sikh institutions, gurdwaras play a central role in community life by making it more religiously and culturally homogenous. They offer a wide variety of educational and cultural programs, such as the teaching and perpetuation of the Punjabi language and of Sikh music and songs among new generations. Some gurdwaras operate a Sikh version of a Sunday school, where children are given formal instruction in the tenets of Sikhism, while others support Sikh charitable and political causes.
Houses of Worship and Holy Places
The Sikh house of worship is the gurdwara, which literally means “the door of the Guru.” In fact, a gurdwara is any place that houses the Guru Granth Sahib. The preeminent gurdwara of the Sikhs is the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar, which is constructed in the center of a pool of particular sanctity. A gurdwara generally has an impressive white dome constructed on the model of the architecture of the Darbar Sahib. The presence of a public gurdwara is signaled by a triangular saffron Khalsa flag (nishan sahib) flying above it.
There are five major historic gurdwaras in India, each of which fulfills a special role in the Sikh Panth. These are thetakhats (thrones) that play a temporal role in addition to the spiritual functions of all gurdwaras. Akal Takhat is the supreme seat of temporal authority of the Sikh faith, and from its balcony all matters of vital importance to the Panth as a whole are promulgated. The remaining four takhats are associated with the life of Guru Gobind Singh. They are Sri Harmandir Ji in Patna, marking his birthplace; Kesgarh in Anandpur Sahib, birthplace of the Khalsa; Sri Damdama Sahib in the village of Talvandi Sabo, where Guru Gobind Singh rested following his withdrawal to southern Punjab in 1706; and Sri Hazur Sahib in Nander, where he died in 1708. These holy places attract Sikh pilgrims from throughout the world.
What is Sacred?
As the creation of Akal Purakh, all life is sacred in Sikhism. First, human birth is sacred because it is the epitome of creation: “All other creation is subject to you, [O man/woman!], you reign supreme on this earth” (Adi Granth, p. 374). Indeed, human life provides an individual with the opportunity to remember the divine name and ultimately to join with the Supreme Being. Second, all of the five elements of creation are sacred because they sustain life: “Air is the Guru, water the Father and earth the mighty Mother of all. Day and night are the caring guardians, fondly nurturing all creation” (Adi Granth, p. 8). The protection of the environment is, therefore, an act of sacred duty in Sikhism. Third, all historical places associated with the lives of the 10 Gurus are sacred. Similarly, the Guru’s writings, their weapons, and other articles associated with them are sacred relics preserved by the Sikh community. Finally, bathing in the pool of the “nectar of immortality” at the Darbar Sahib at Amritsar is regarded as a sacred activity, since it offers an opportunity to the individual to listen to the continuous singing of the Guru’s hymns. Thus, through spiritual cleansing one washes away one’s sins.
Holidays and Festivals
The most important day in the Sikh calendar is Baisakhi (Vaisakhi) Day, which usually falls on 13 April. It is celebrated as the birthday of the community, since on this day in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh inaugurated the Khalsa. Following a solar calendar, it is celebrated as New Year’s Day in India, and Punjabis celebrate it as a grain harvest festival. Sikhs also celebrate the festival of lights, Divali, to mark the release of Guru Hargobind, who was imprisoned under the Mughal emperor Jahangir. The Darbar Sahib in Amritsar is illuminated for the occasion. The date of Divali varies according to the Indian lunar calendar, but it generally falls during October. Hindus celebrate with the theme of material wealth. It was the third Guru, Amar Das, who originally introduced the celebration of these two seasonal festivals to the Sikh Panth. Guru Gobind Singh added the observance of Hola Mahalla, the day after the Hindu festival of Holi (March/April), for the purpose of military exercises and organized athletic and literary contests. In addition, the anniversaries associated with the births and deaths of the Gurus are marked by the “unbroken reading” (akhand path) of the Sikh scripture by a relay of readers in approximately 48 hours. Such occasions are called Gurpurbs (holidays associated with the Gurus). In particular, the birthdays of Guru Nanak (usually in November) and Guru Gobind Singh (December/January) and the martyrdom days of Guru Arjan (May/June) and Guru Tegh Bahadur (November/December) are celebrated throughout the world.
Mode of Dress
Sikh women in India often wear salwars, pajama-like trousers, with a long tunic called a kameez over them. This is regarded as a regional dress of the Punjab. The trousers and tunics are comfortable and functional in the rural Punjabi villages, where more than 70 percent of the Sikh population is concentrated. In addition, the sari has become popular among urban Sikh women. It is worn with a full blouse that covers the midriff, so that the injunction warning against “wearing clothes which cause pain to the body or breed lustful thoughts” (Adi Granth, p. 16) is obeyed. To cover their heads, Sikh women wear a muslin scarf (dupatta/chunni).
In villages Sikh men normally wear tight-legged pajama-like trousers with long shirts that hang on the outside. In towns and cities, however, most men wear Western-style trousers and suits, with shirts buttoned at the collar and occasionally a tie. Indeed, Western dress has influenced Sikh men more than women. The Sikh granthis, gianis (traditional scholars), and sants (saints) normally wear white dress that consists of a turban, a long outer shirt (cholara), tight-fitting trousers (reb pajama), a sash (kamar-kasa), and an undergarment (kachh), as well as a sword (kirpan) with a belt running diagonally over the right shoulder. These five garments are part of Khalsa dress (bana).
The turban has a particular prominence in Sikh dress. Most Sikhs normally wear turbans of three colors—deep blue, white, and saffron—all of which have religious significance. For Khalsa Sikhs the significance of deep blue lies in the “highest ideals of character” (nili siahi kada karani) and in the “deepest urges in the life of spirituality” (Adi Granth, p. 16), since the blue sky stands for the highest horizon and the blue ocean stands for the depth. The color white stands for purity, while saffron represents the spirit of sacrifice in Sikh mores. Sikhs may wear a turban of any color, however, to match their clothes. They commonly wear a peaked turban to cover their long hair, unshorn out of respect for its original, God-given form.
The Adi Granth does not prescribe dietary rules, although it lays emphasis on “consuming only those foods which do not cause pain in the body or breed evil thoughts in the mind” (Adi Granth, p. 16). Most Punjabi Sikhs have a diet of simple vegetables and milk products. One favorite is a diet of corn bread and mustard greens (makki di roti and sag) with buttermilk (lassi). Punjabis also eat rice and chapati, a flat wheat bread, supplemented by a lentil curry (dal) and other vegetables. The Sikh Rahit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) strictly forbids the consumption of kuttha meat (halal meat prepared according to the Muslim convention) but permits the eating of jhataka meat (meat killed with a single blow). Sikhs in Punjabi villages frequently consume the meat of goats and chickens. In order to maintain the egalitarian emphasis of the Gurus, the serving of eggs and meat is not permitted in the community kitchens (langars) ofgurdwaras, where the food is exclusively vegetarian. The use of tobacco and other drugs is strictly prohibited to Khalsa Sikhs. Similarly, the consumption of alcohol is forbidden, although a large majority of the Punjabi population, particularly those from villages, is renowned for its use of hard liquor.
The daily routine of a devout Sikh begins with the practice of meditation upon the divine name. This occurs during theamritvela, the “ambrosial hours” (that is, the last watch of the night, between three and six in the morning), immediately after rising and bathing. Meditation is followed by the recitation of five liturgical prayers, which include the Japji of Guru Nanak. In most cases the early-morning devotion concludes in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib—that is, the scripture serving as Guru—in which the whole family gathers to receive the divine command (vak laina, or “taking God’s word”) by reading a passage selected at random. Similarly, a collection of hymns, Sodar Rahiras (Supplication at That Door), is prescribed for the evening prayers, and the Kirtan Sohila (Song of Praise) is recited before retiring for the night.
Congregational worship takes place in the gurdwara, where the main focus is upon the Guru Granth Sahib, installed in a ceremony every morning. Worship consists mainly of the singing of scriptural passages set to music, with the accompaniment of instruments. The singing of hymns (kirtan) in a congregational setting is the heart of the Sikh devotional experience. Through such kirtan the devotees attune themselves to vibrate in harmony with the divine word, which has the power to transform and unify their consciousness. The exposition of the scriptures, known as katha (homily), may be delivered at an appropriate time during the service by the granthi of the gurdwara or by the traditional Sikh scholar (giani). At the conclusion of the service, all who are present join in reciting the Ardas (Petition, or Sikh Prayer), which invokes divine grace and recalls the rich common heritage of the community. Then follows the reading of the vak (divine command) and the distribution ofkarah prashad (sanctified food).
Rites of Passage
The central feature of the key life-cycle rituals is always the Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture serving as Guru. When a child is to be named, the family takes the baby to the gurdwara and offers karah prashad (sanctified food). After giving thanks and offering prayers through Ardas, the scripture is opened at random, and a name is chosen beginning with the same letter as the first composition on the left-hand page. Thus, the process of vak laina (divine command) functions to provide the first letter of the name. The underlying principle is that the child derives his or her identity from the Guru’s word and begins life as a Sikh. To a boy’s chosen name the surname Singh (Lion) is added, and to a girl’s chosen nameKaur (Princess) is added. In some cases, however, particularly in North America, people employ caste names (for example, Ahluwalia, Dhaliwal, Grewal, Kalsi, Sawhney, or Sethi) as the last element, and for them Singh and Kaurbecome middle names. In addition, the infant is administered sweetened water that is stirred with a sword, and the first five stanzas of Guru Nanak’s Japji are recited.
A Sikh wedding, according to the Anand (Bliss) ceremony, also takes place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, and the performance of the actual marriage requires the couple to circumambulate the sacred scripture four times to take four vows. Before the bridegroom and the bride make each round, they listen to a verse of the Lavan, or “wedding hymn” (Adi Granth, pp. 773-74), by the fourth Guru, Ram Das, as given by a scriptural reader. They bow before the scripture and then stand up to make their round while professional musicians sing the same verse with the congregation.
During the process of their clockwise movements around the scripture, they take the following four vows: (1) to lead an action-oriented life based upon righteousness and never to shun the obligations of family and society; (2) to maintain a bond of reverence and dignity between them; (3) to keep enthusiasm for life alive in the face of adverse circumstances and to remain removed from worldly attachments; and (4) to cultivate a “balanced approach” (sahaj) in life, avoiding all extremes. The pattern of circumambulation in the Anand marriage ceremony is the enactment of the primordial movement of life, in which there is no beginning and no end. Remembering the four marital vows is designed to make the life of the couple blissful.
The key initiation ceremony (amrit sanskar) for a Sikh must take place in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. There is no fixed age for initiation, which may be done at any time the person is willing to accept the Khalsa discipline. Five Khalsa Sikhs, representing the collectivity of the original Cherished Five (panj piare), conduct the ceremony. Each recites from memory one of the five liturgical prayers while stirring the sweetened water (amrit) with a double-edged sword. The novice then drinks the amrit five times so that his body is purified from the influence of five vices, and five times the amrit is sprinkled on his eyes to transform his outlook toward life. Finally, the amrit is poured on his head five times to sanctify his hair so that he will preserve his natural form and listen to the voice of conscience. Throughout each of the procedures the Sikh being initiated formally takes the oath by repeating the following declaration: Vahiguru Ji Ka Khalsa! Vahiguru Ji Ki Fateh! (Khalsa belongs to the Wonderful Lord! Victory belongs to the Wonderful Lord!). Thus, a person becomes a Khalsa Sikh through the transforming power of the sacred word. At the conclusion of the ceremony avak (divine command) is given, and karah prashad is distributed.
Finally, at the time of death, both in the period preceding cremation and in the postcremation rites, hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib are sung. In addition, a reading of the entire scripture takes place at home or in a gurdwara. Within 10 days of the conclusion of the reading, a bhog (completion) ceremony is held, at which final prayers are offered in memory of the deceased.
Although Sikhism is an organized religion, the issue of membership is complex. Punjabi society is kinship-based, with most of the people Sikhs by birth. To a certain extent it is a closed society, and Sikhs are not ordinarily known as aggressively expansionist in urging their beliefs upon others. Despite the absence of an active agenda to proselytize non-Sikhs into the tradition, people may join Sikhism of their own free will. In fact, conversion to Sikhism indicates the extent to which a person incorporates the ideals of the Guru (gurbani, prashad, amrit, rahit, and so on) into his life when he formally joins the Khalsa order through the initiation ceremony. It is interesting to note that in Sikh society the idea of conversion does not carry with it the same notions as in Christianity, out of which the term originally evolved. On the one hand, Sikhism does not actively seek converts by knocking on people’s doors, but, on the other, it does not refuse admission to any person who makes a conscious effort to join the Sikh fold.
In the 1970s a group of American and Canadian Caucasians converted to the Sikh faith at the inspiration of their Yoga teacher, Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (Yogi Bhajan), who founded the Sikh Dharma movement. These so-called white, orgora, Sikhs, male and female alike, wear white turbans, tunics, and tight trousers. They live and raise families in communal houses, spending long hours in meditation and chanting while performing various postures of tantric yoga. They have thus introduced the Sikh tradition into a new cultural environment. Most Punjabi Sikhs have shown an ambivalent attitude toward these converts. On the one hand, they praise the strict Khalsa-style discipline of the white Sikhs; on the other hand, they express doubts about the mixing of the Sikh tradition with the ideals of tantric yoga.
The ability to accept religious pluralism is a necessary condition of religious tolerance. Religious pluralism requires that people of different faiths be able to live together harmoniously, which provides an opportunity for spiritual self-judgment and growth. It is in this context that Sikhism expresses ideals of coexistence and mutual understanding. Sikhism emphasizes the principles of tolerance and the acceptance of the diversity of faith and practice. It is thus able to enter freely into fruitful interreligious dialogue with an open attitude. Such an attitude signifies a willingness to learn from other traditions and yet to retain the integrity of one’s own tradition. It also involves the preservation of differences with dignity and mutual respect.
The Sikh Gurus were strongly opposed to the claim of any particular tradition to possess the sole religious truth. Indeed, a spirit of accommodation has always been an integral part of the Sikh attitude toward other traditions. The inclusion of the works of the 15 medieval non-Sikh saints (bhagat bani, the “utterances of the devotees” of Sant, Sufi, and Bhakti origins), along with the compositions of the Gurus, in the foundational text of the Sikhs provides an example of the kind of catholicity that promotes mutual respect and tolerance. For instance, the Muslim voice of the devotee Shaikh Farid is allowed to express itself on matters of doctrine and practice. This is the ideal Sikhs frequently stress in interfaith dialogues.
The presence of the bhagat bani in the Sikh scripture offers a four-point theory of religious pluralism. First, one must acknowledge at the outset that all religious traditions have gone through a process of self-definition in response to changing historical contexts. Thus, in any dialogue the dignity of the religious identities of the individual participants must be maintained. One must be able to honor a commitment as absolute for oneself while respecting different absolute commitments for others. For this reason the quest for a universal religion and the attempt to place one religious tradition above others must be abandoned. Second, the doctrinal stand-points of different religious traditions must be maintained with mutual respect and dignity. Third, all participants must enter into a dialogue with an open attitude, one that allows not only true understanding of other traditions but also disagreements on crucial doctrinal points. Finally, the experience of the person of another faith must be incorporated into the self.
Guru Nanak advocated the virtue of justice in its legal sense and made it the principal characteristic of the ruler and the administrator. Thus, he severely condemned the contemporary Muslim jurist (qazi), who had become morally corrupt by selling justice and who had no concern for truth: “The qazi tells lies and eats filth” (Adi Granth, p. 662). In those days the qazi took “bribes” in order to deprive people of justice (Adi Granth, p. 951), and in Punjabi culture the phrase “to eat filth” came to refer to “unlawfully earned food.” Guru Nanak further proclaimed, “To deprive others of their rights must be avoided as scrupulously as Muslims avoid the pork and the Hindus consider beef as a taboo” (Adi Granth, p. 141). Here one can see how, on religious grounds, Guru Nanak regarded the violation of human rights as a serious moral offense. The Sikh view of justice is, in fact, based on two principles: first, respect for the rights of others; and, second, the nonexploitation of others. To treat everyone’s right as sacred is a necessary constituent of justice. A just person will not exploit others, even if he has the means and opportunity for doing so.
Guru Gobind Singh advocated the doctrine that, in the pursuit of justice, a person must try all peaceful means of negotiations. Only when all such methods of redress have failed does it become legitimate to draw the sword in defense of righteousness. The following celebrated verse of the Zafarnama (“Letter of Victory”), written to Emperor Aurangzeb, makes this point explicitly: “When all other methods have been explored and all other means have been tried, then may the sword be drawn from the scabbard, then may the sword be used” (verse 22). In this context W.H. McLeod, in his book The Sikhs, has made an important observation: “None of this should suggest that the Panth exists only to breathe fire or wield naked swords.” The use of force is allowed in Sikh doctrine, but it is authorized only in defense of justice and then only as a last resort. Moreover, in the face of tyranny, justice can be defended and maintained only through sacrifices. The Zafarnama stresses that no sacrifice is too great for the sake of truth and justice: “It does not matter if my four sons have been killed, the Khalsa is still there at my back” (verse 78). For the Sikhs of the Khalsa the dominant ethical duty is the quest for justice. As McLeod has said in his book Sikhism, “The Khalsa was created to fight injustice, and fighting injustice is still its calling.”
Indeed, Sikhism is dedicated to human rights and resistance against injustice. It strives to eliminate poverty and to offer voluntary help to the less privileged. Its commitment is to the ideal of universal brotherhood, with an altruistic concern for humanity as a whole (sarbat da bhala). In a celebrated passage from the Akal Ustat (“Praise of Immortal One”), Guru Gobind Singh declared that “humankind is one, and that all people belong to a single humanity” (verse 85). Here it is important to underline the Guru’s role as a conciliator who tried to persuade the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah to walk the ways of peace. Even though Guru Gobind Singh had to spend the major part of his life fighting battles that were forced upon him by Hindu hill rajas and Mughal authorities, a longing for peace and fellowship with both Hindus and Muslims may be seen in the following passage from the Akal Ustat: “The temple and the mosque are the same, so are the Hindu worship [puja] and Muslim prayer [namaz]. All people are one, it is through error that they appear different … Allah and Abhekh are the same, the Purana and the Qur’an are the same. They are all alike, all the creation of the One” (verse 86). The above verses emphatically stress the irenic belief that the differences dividing people are in reality meaningless. In fact, all people are fundamentally the same because they all are the creations of the same Supreme Being. To pursue this ideal, Sikhs conclude their morning and evening prayers with the words “Says Nanak: may thy Name and glory be ever triumphant, and in thy will, O Lord, may peace and prosperity come to one and all.”
Rejecting the ascetic alternative, Guru Nanak stressed the way of the householder as the ideal pattern of life for the person who seeks liberation. His successors upheld the ideal of family life, expressing it in their own lives as well as in their teachings. The third Guru, Amar Das, proclaimed, “Family life is superior to ascetic life in sectarian garb because it is from householders that ascetics meet their needs by begging” (Adi Granth, p. 586). To understand family relationships, one must address issues of caste and gender from the Sikh perspective.
In Punjabi society family life is based upon broad kinship relationships. Every individual is a member of a joint family, abiradari (brotherhood), a got (exogamous group), and a zat (endogamous group). Like most other Indians, Sikhs are endogamous by caste (zat) and exogamous by subcaste (got). That is, a Sikh may marry within the same caste but not within the same subcaste. Descent is always patrilineal, and marriages link two groups of kin rather than two individuals. Within the framework of the patriarchal structures of Punjabi society, the cultural norms of honor (izzat) and modesty play a significant role in family relationships. The Gurus employed the term pati, which essentially refers to the core of a person, encompassing honor, self-respect, and social standing.
Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus emphatically proclaimed that the divine name was the only sure means of liberation for all four castes: the Khatri, originally the Kshatriya (warrior); the Brahman (priest); the Shudra (servant/agriculturalist); and the Vaishya (tradesman). In the works of the Gurus, the Khatris were always placed above the Brahmans in the caste hierarchy, while the Shudras were raised above the Vaishyas. This was an interesting way of breaking the rigidity of the centuries-old caste system. All of the Gurus were Khatris, which made them a top-ranking mercantile caste in Punjab’s urban hierarchy, followed by Aroras (merchants) and Ahluwalias (brewers). In the rural caste hierarchy an absolute majority (almost two-thirds) of Sikhs are Jats (peasants), followed by Ramgarhias (artisans), Ramdasias (cobblers), and Mazhabis (sweepers). Although Brahmans are at the apex of the Hindu caste hierarchy, Sikhs place Brahmans distinctly lower on the caste scale. This is partly because of the strictures the Sikh Gurus laid upon Brahman pride and partly because the reorganization of Punjabi rural society conferred dominance on the Jat caste.
Doctrinally, caste has never been one of the defining criteria of Sikh identity. In the Sikh congregation there is no place for any kind of injustice or hurtful discrimination based upon caste identity. In the gurdwara, Sikhs eat together in the community kitchen, share the same sanctified food, and worship together. The Sikh Rahit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) explicitly states, “No account should be taken of caste; a Sikh woman should be married only to a Sikh man; and Sikhs should not be married as children.” This is the ideal, however, and in practice most Sikh marriages are arranged between members of the same endogamous caste group. Caste, therefore, still prevails within the Sikh community as a marriage convention. Nevertheless, intercaste marriages take place frequently among professional Sikhs in India and elsewhere.
The Sikh Gurus addressed the issues of gender within the parameters established by traditional patriarchal structures. In their view an ideal woman plays the role of a good daughter or sister and a good wife and mother within the context of family life. They condemned both women and men alike who did not observe the cultural norms of modesty and honor in their lives. It is in this context that images of the immoral woman and the unregenerate man are frequently encountered in the scriptural texts. There is no tolerance for any kind of premarital or extramarital sexual relationships, and rape in particular is regarded as a violation of women’s honor in Punjabi culture. Rape amounts to the loss of family honor, which in turn becomes the loss of one’s social standing in the community. The notion of family honor is thus intimately linked to the status of women.
The third Guru, Amar Das, proclaimed, “They are not said to be husband and wife, who merely sit together. Rather, they alone are called husband and wife who have one soul in two bodies” (Adi Granth, p. 788). This proclamation has become the basis of Sikh engagement and marriage, which traditionally emphasizes a spiritual commitment between two partners over any material or physical advantages of the union. At every step the traditions surrounding Sikh marriages aim to ensure the spiritual compatibility of the couple to be married. To this end Sikh marriages are arranged by the families of the prospective couple. While the involvement of the couple itself has increased over time, the involvement and input of the family has remained vital. This emphasis on family, reflected in every aspect of Sikh life, from the communal eating halls of the gurdwaras to the common practice of identifying oneself through one’s parentage, is among the most important precepts of Sikhism. At every stage in the Sikh process of engagement and marriage, the opinion of each partner’s family is respected, considered, and valued.
The issue of gender has received a great a deal of attention within the Sikh Panth. It is notable that the Sikh Gurus offered a vision of gender equality within the Sikh community and took practical steps to foster respect for womanhood. They were ahead of their times when they championed the cause of equal access for women in spiritual and temporal matters. Guru Nanak raised a strong voice against the position of inferiority assigned to women in society at the time: “From women born, shaped in the womb, to woman betrothed and wed; we are bound to women by ties of affection, on women man’s future depends. If one woman dies he seeks another; with a woman he orders his life. Why then should one speak evil of women, they who give birth to kings?” (Adi Granth, p. 473). He sought to bring home the realization that the survival of the human race depended upon women, who were unjustifiably ostracized within society. Guru Amar Das abolished the customs among women of the veil and of sati (self-immolation) and permitted the remarriage of widows. He further appointed women as Sikh missionaries. Indeed, Sikh women were given equal rights with men to conduct prayers and other ceremonies in gurdwaras.
In actual practice, however, males dominate most Sikh institutions, and Sikh women continue to live in a patriarchal society based on Punjabi cultural assumptions. In this respect they differ little from their counter-parts in other religious communities in India. Although there is a large gap between the ideal and reality, there is clear doctrinal support for the equality of rights for men and women within the Sikh Panth. In contemporary times the feminine dimension of the Sikh tradition has received considerable attention. Under the influence of feminist movements, for example, Sikh women have begun to assert themselves in addressing the bioethical issues of birth control and abortion. Sikhism does not approve of abortion just because raising a child would be “inconvenient to one’s lifestyle” or, in the case of female children, “uneconomical.” When, however, the mother’s life is in danger, or in cases of incest and rape, Sikhism allows abortion of the fetus by medical procedure. On the other hand, it regards the cloning of humans as unethical, since this is seen as “playing God rather than walking in His will.”
After the independence of India in 1947, there was growing hostility between the government and the Akali Dal, the Sikh political group, over the issue of increased autonomy for the provinces. The Congress government evidently sought to provoke disruption within the Akali ranks by promoting the interests of a young militant leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranvale (1947-84), who followed a fundamentalist approach. He proved more radical than the moderate Akali leadership, and to instigate religious violence, he occupied the building of the Akal Takhat in the Darbar Sahib complex. This led to an assault by the Indian army on the complex in June 1984, which resulted in the death of Bhindranvale along with many other Sikhs. Consequently, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984 by her own Sikh bodyguards. For several days unchecked Hindu mobs in Delhi and elsewhere killed thousands of Sikhs. The militancy in Punjab created a worldwide identity crisis within the Panth, with Sikhs becoming divided into liberal and conservative camps.
In the diaspora Sikhs have faced new issues and challenges with respect to the wearing of the five Ks. From time to time fierce controversy has erupted in particular over the right to wear the kirpan (sword) and over the minimum size required. Normally a total length of six inches, with a blade of about two and a half inches, is regarded as satisfactory. The constitution of India specifically protects the right of Sikhs to wear and carry a kirpan as a symbol of their faith. Many Canadians and Americans, however, perceive the kirpan to be a weapon and object to it on the grounds of public safety. Again and again, whenever the question of the kirpan as a religious symbol or a weapon has arisen, Sikhs have had to fight legal cases. For instance, in January 1994 three Sikh students wearing kirpans were excluded from school in Fresno, California. In June 1994 a federal court judge turned down a request by the children that they be allowed to attend school wearing their kirpans while the lawsuit was being resolved. The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, however, ruled in September 1994 in favor of the Sikh children, overruling a lower-court decision that had backed the school district. The appellant court ruled that the school district had not tried to compromise with the children, who said they were willing to wear shorter, blunt kirpans sewn securely into a sheath. Thus, the children returned to school with their kirpans, and through mediation it was agreed to limit the length of the blade of the kirpan to the legal limit of two and a half inches.
Another problem for Sikhs is a widespread misunderstanding of who they are. This was shown, for example, after the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. The first victim of the backlash was a Sikh, Balbir Singh Sodhi of Arizona, who was shot dead by an angry gunman calling himself a patriot. Sodhi was a victim of mistaken identity, a target because the gunman took him to be a Middle Easterner. Indeed, there remains a great deal of ignorance in North America about Sikhs and their religious traditions. People simply do not know who and what Sikhs are, and they look at the Sikh turban and kirpan with suspicion. They do not realize, for example, that the Sikh style of turban is distinctively different from any style worn by people from the Middle East or Afghanistan or even from the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent. In response to such threats, the Sikh community has mobilized to reach out to various ethnic groups, with prominent Sikh leaders participating in interreligious dialogues as a way of bridging the gulfs of mutual ignorance and misunderstanding among different cultures of the world.
Sikhism is the only world religion in which the founder was a musician who preached his message primarily through song and music, and it is thus a forceful example of the combination of religion and music. Indeed, sacred music is at the heart of the Sikh devotional experience. Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus laid great emphasis on ragas that would produce a balancing effect on the minds of both listeners and performers. Further, Guru Arjan created a theological and musical coherence in the very structure of the Adi Granth when he placed both classical and folk traditions side by side in the final sequence. The key organizing principle of the Sikh scripture is based upon a welldefined system of 31 classical ragas, along with an equal number of regional varieties. The Adi Granth presents a combination of lyrical and rational elements and is far more complex than any simple explanation or description. It should be added that understanding the ragas of the Adi Granth and their organization solely in terms of the modern North Indian musical tradition is inadequate. Modern North Indian music is unlikely to go back to traditions before Tansen (died in 1586), the most famous musician in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar, and it is probably traceable only to the eighteenth or nineteenth century. In fact, scholars of music have taken a keen interest in examining the influence of both the Adi Granth raga system and of treatises of the time on modern North Indian musical traditions, since the former seems to be crucial in understanding the latter.
Sikh artistic activities began with the illumination of the manuscripts of scriptural traditions in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The opening folio of the first canonical text of the Adi Granth (1604) was profusely decorated. Sikh scribes followed the Koranic tradition of illuminating the margins and the opening folios of the text. The earliest existing paintings of Guru Nanak go back to a janam-sakhi (birth narrative) of the mid-seventeenth century. Although the janam-sakhi genre of illustrations continued to evolve, it changed dramatically with the coming of the printing press to the Punjab in the nineteenth century. Sikh arts such as painting, carving, armour, brassware, jewelry, textiles, and architecture flourished under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who reigned from 1799 to 1839, and under other Sikh rulers. The works of artists and of writers such as Emily Eden, who published the well-known Portraits and People of India in 1844, have provided evidence of fine court paintings, the romantic artwork of visiting European dignitaries, the dazzling treasures of the Sikh kingdom, evocative images of the court of Ranjit Singh, with its handsome Sikh warriors, and the distinctive elements of Sikh architecture. Murals and frescoes, in particular, became popular at the time of the reign of Ranjit Singh. There are wall paintings of major events from Sikh history at the Darbar Sahib and at other historical gurdwaras.
In the twentieth century, in addition to the popular art of bazaar posters, great works of art emerged from the talent of renowned Sikh artists such as Sobha Singh (1901-86) and Kirpal Singh (1923-90). Sobha Singh, who was particularly known for his portraits of the Gurus, was skilled in the Western classical technique of oil painting, but his themes came from the romantic lore of the Punjab, from Indian epics, and from the Sikh tradition. Kirpal Singh’s specialization was capturing on canvas episodes from Sikh history, including aweinspiring scenes of martyrs and the realistic portrayal of battle scenes. Some of his original works are displayed in the Central Sikh Museum in the Darbar Sahib complex at Amritsar. A number of Sikh women have also made a name for themselves as artists. For instance, Amrita Shergill (1911-41) was a talented artist who depicted scenes of Indian village life. The works of Amrit Kaur Singh and Rabindra Kaur Singh have shown the cohesion of modern Sikh family life in the multicultural north of England. Similarly, Arpana Caur’s painting 1984, depicting the massacre that occurred during the Indian army’s assault on the Darbar Sahib complex, shows the dark side of India.
A rich literary tradition began in the early Sikh community with the writing of the Guru’s hymns in the Gurmukhi script. The principal source of Sikh devotional literature is, of course, the Adi Granth, which may be seen as the main inspiration behind the poetic works of Bhai Gurdas and other Sikh writers. The janam-sakhis, which represent the first Punjabi prose form, belong to a second category of devotional literature. As a literary genre they enjoyed complete dominance before the emergence of the twentieth-century novel. It is easy to see the impact of Sikh devotional literature on the writings of celebrated modern authors such as Bhai Vir Singh, Kahn Singh Nabha, and Mohan Singh Vaid. Their writings reflect a spirit of optimism, resolute determination, faith, and love toward fellow human beings. Max Arthur Macauliffe, who went to India as a civil servant of the British government, resigned from his post to devote his life to Sikh devotional literature. It was people such as these who played a leadership role in the Singh Sabha reform movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although Western forms have become common in contemporary Punjabi literature, Sikh devotional literature is still a source of inspiration for the passionate lyricism of the new generation of writers, as it was for Bhai Vir Singh, whose cosmic vision can be traced to the works of the Gurus.