The Sikh Belief




The Sikh Belief


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The Sikh Belief


The Sikhs are people who follow the teachings of ten leaders, whom they call Gurus.  All the Gurus lived between 1469 and 1708, in the part of northern India called the Punjab.


The first Guru was born in 1469.  The main religions in India at the time were Hinduism and Islam.  Members of these two religions followed practices which Guru Nanak rejected.  Muslims (followers of Islam) and Hindus saw God in different ways.  Hindus also divided people into different groups, called casts according to what family they were born into; Muslims did not.  Some 17th Century Indian rulers also used their power to force Hindus into becoming Muslims.  Guru Nanak wanted to bring the two religions together into a new one.


Joining and Dividing


Despite all this, the ten Gurus felt that the two religions could and should learn to respect one another.  They looked for common ground which would bring the two groups together and found a different way of thinking about religion.


Over the centuries the Gurus guided the Sikh religion as it grew in numbers and strength in India, but by 1947 the Punjab, the birthplace of Sikhism, was divided between India and Pakistan.  Many Sikhs who had lived in what became Pakistan found themselves homeless so they went to join other Sikhs who had settled in different countries.


The word ‘Sikh’ means ‘disciple’ and Sikhs follow the teaching of Guru Nanak, who lived in India from 1469 to 1539.  Sikhs believe in one god and that in every man there is a spark of divine life, a part of God.  The aim of life is for this spark once again to be joined with God.


The Ten Gurus


Guru Nanak (1469 -1539)

Guru Angad ( 1539 – 1552)

Guru Amar Das (1552 – 1574)

Guru Ram Das (1574 – 1581)

Guru Arjan (1581 – 1606)

Guru Har Gobind (1606 – 1644)

Guru Har Rai (1644 – 1661)

Guru Har Krishan (1661 – 1664)

Guru Tegh Bahadur (1664 – 1675)

Guru Gobind Singh (1675 – 1708)


Sikhs do a variety of jobs in the countries where they live.  Many of them run their own businesses as this is something which is encouraged by Sikh teaching. Also, it is easier for the Sikhs to practise their religion fully (for example, wear the turban) if they work for themselves.


For most people, Sikh men are easily recognised by their turbans.  Not all men who wear turbans are Sikhs (they may be Hindus or Muslims) and some Sikh men do not wear turbans, while some Sikh women do.  People are not Sikhs because of what they wear but because they follow the Gurus’ teaching.


There are five things a Sikh must wear as part of his religion:

  • Kesh (long hair).  For the Sikh this is a sign of his devotion to God, and the Sikh wears his turban to keep his hair tidy. The long hair and turban are a symbol of the Sikh religion and a man who cuts his hair and no longer wears the turban rejects his religion.  Some Sikh men have had trouble at work when they refused not to wear their turbans, but nowadays most employers are sympathetic.


  • Kirpan.  (A short two-edged sword).  Many times in the past the Sikhs have had to fight for their survival and now they carry the Kirpan as a symbol of their fight against evil.  Sometimes Sikhs just wear a small brooch designed like a Kirpan although on ceremonial occasions they carry a proper sword.



  • Kangha.  A comb which keeps the hair neatly in place in a bun on the top of the man’s head.



  • Kara.  A steel bangle worn on the right wrist to remind them of God, who like a circle has no beginning and no end.  It also serves as a reminder that the hand should never be put to evil use.


  • Kacha.  Short underpants that look like football shorts.  Most Indian men wear baggy trousers but the Sikhs took to wearing shorts in order to be able to move more quickly when attacked.  Nowadays they are worn under trousers.




The basic practice of the religion is to remember God by constantly repeating his name.  Guru Arjan said “The praising of his name is the highest of all practices.”

By constantly recalling god’s name, the Sikh believes that all selfish desires and human misery will fall away.  The chanting is not just mechanical but so fixes the worshipper’s attention upon the character of God, that the good qualities possessed by God also appear in the person who is chanting.  God is called either Nam (“The Name”) or “Waheguru” (Wonderful Lord).  The Sikhs never try to represent God in picture or idol form and therefore have no images or idols.


Sikhism is opposed to discrimination based on gender, colour, creed, race or social class.  Sikh women are regarded as equal with their male counterparts in all walks of life.  Services in the Gurdwara can be led by either men or woman.  Sikhs believe that all religions offer a path to God and should therefore be respected.


Unlike Hindus sometimes do, a Sikh does not think it right to cut oneself off from the world.  He or she is expected to put his or her faith to the test in everyday life and to live a life of selfless service to others.  To serve god, a Sikh must love and serve other people.


For Sikhs, human life is only one of the many possible kinds of life.  The human bodies in which people live are not the only bodies they have ever had, or will ever have.  Sikhs believe that they have lived before, perhaps as animals or plants, even as rocks and stones.   However, they believe that it is only when they are born into human beings that they have the ability to respond to the love of the God who created them.






Sikhs don’t feel that they should mourn and be unhappy when someone dies.  The main prayer used at Sikh funerals is the Sohila Mahala which Sikhs say every night when they go to sleep.  Sikhs feel that there is no reason to feel sad when people die as this is just like them going asleep.  Since a Sikh lives many lives, according to what they believe, death is just another stage in those lives.  The Guru Granth Sahib is read from beginning to end after a funeral.  The funeral is often followed by a feast and gifts are made to charity.


The Gurdwara and the Guru Granth Saib


When Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708 he told his followers that there would be no more Gurus and instead the people were to be guided by the words of the Gurus which were written down and put into a book called the Guru Granth Sahib.


The Guru Granth Sahib is written in the Gurumkhi script which Guru Angad developed and all Sikhs need to learn Gurumkhi so that they can read the scriptures.  It may be read out in the Sikh place of worship, the Gurdwara, by any Sikh man or worman.  Some Gurdwaras have a person (known as a Granthi) who is paid to be a full-time reader; he or she may often act as a teacher.  When it is being read the book is placed on a special platform and shaded by a canopy or cloth hanging over it. A fan is waved over it because the human Gurus had fans waved over them as a sign of respect.


Respect for the word


The Guru Granth Sahib is always treated by Sikhs with the same respect which they had for the human Gurus.  No ceremony other than a funeral can take place unless it is there and so it has an important place in every major event of a Sikh’s live.  It is not kept on a shelf with other books and when a family has a copy it has a special room to itself.  It has 1,430 pages.


Any room where the Guru Granth Sabib is kept is treated as holy; it must be kept clean and people entering must remove their shoes and cover their heads to show how they honour the book.


All copies of the Guru Granth Sahib are identical and have 1,430 pages.  Many Sikhs would like to have their own copy but this is not always possible because they may not be able to read it or give it a room of its own.


When Sikhs gather together for worship, it is usually in a special building known as a Gurdwara which means ‘door of the Guru’ or ‘God’s house’.  Services can be held anywhere as long as the Guru Granth Sahib is present, but most take place in the Gurdwara.


Different shapes, one purpose


The Gurdwara is at the heart of the Sikh community but it is not the building itself that is important, it is the gathering together of Sikhs in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib which gives the Gurdwara its special place in Sikh life.


Gurdwaras can come in many different shapes or sizes; some are specially built, while others, especially outside India, are houses or other buildings which have been converted for the purpose.  All Gurdwaras, however, have certain features in common.  No-one is allowed to bring tobacco, alcohol or any other intoxicating drug into the Gurdwara.  Gurdwaras always have a special room where services are held and another where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept when it is not in the worship room.


The Worship room


Outside this room there is a place to leave shoes.  As people enter they place offerings of food and money on the carpet in front of the special platform on which the Guru Granth Sahib rests.  After they have made their offerings, they bow to the scriptures and then sit down.


Sikhs do not have any special day for worship.  The main service of the week takes place on the rest day of the particular country they are in.  In Ireland the main service is on Sunday evening.


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