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(sĭk`ĭzəm), religion centered in the Indian state of Punjab, numbering worldwide some 19 million. Some 300,000 Sikhs live in Britain, and there are smaller communities in North America, Australia, and Singapore. By the late 1990s Sikhism was the world's fifth largest faith and had some 175,000 U.S. adherents and 225,000 in Canada. Sikhism is heterodox, combining the teachings of Bhakti Hinduism and Islamic Sufism.

The founder and first Sikh guruguru
, in Hinduism and Buddhism, spiritual teacher. The guru gives initiation into spiritual practice and instructs disciples, often maintaining a close relationship with them.
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, the mystic Nanak (c.1469–c.1539), proclaimed monotheism, the provisional nature of organized religion, and direct realization of God through religious exercises and meditation; he opposed idolatry, ritual, an organized priesthood, and the castecaste
[Port., casta=basket], ranked groups based on heredity within rigid systems of social stratification, especially those that constitute Hindu India. Some scholars, in fact, deny that true caste systems are found outside India.
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 system. Angad (1504–52), the second guru, separated the ascetics (udasis) from the laity, eliminated most features of Hinduism, and introduced the Gurmukhi script. Under the fourth guru, Ram Das, AmritsarAmritsar
, city (1991 pop. 709,456), Punjab state, NW India. It is a district administrative center, as well as a trade and industrial city where carpets, fabrics of goat hair, and handicrafts are made.
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 was founded as a sacred city. Arjun, the fifth guru, compiled devotional poetry by earlier Sikh gurus and other prominent saints into the Sikh scripture, the Adigranth, which remains central to Sikh religious life. Under succeeding gurus the Sikh community gradually united and began to develop military power; the Mughal emperor AurangzebAurangzeb
or Aurangzib
, 1618–1707, Mughal emperor of India (1658–1707), son and successor of Shah Jahan. He served (1636–44, 1653–58) as viceroy of the Deccan but was constantly at odds with his father and his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, the
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 responded by executing the ninth guru and ordering the destruction of Sikh temples.

In 1699, Govind Singh (1666–1708), the tenth and final guru, instituted certain practices that have become fundamental to Sikh identity. Through an initiatory rite, after which the initiate takes the surname Singh [lion], he created the military fraternity called the Khalsa, or "pure," whose ideal was the soldier-saint. He introduced the Sikh practices of wearing a turban, carrying a dagger, and never cutting the hair or beard.

By the late 18th cent. the Sikhs had conquered most of the Punjab and established various feudal states; their greatest leader was Ranjit SinghRanjit Singh
, 1780–1839, Indian maharaja, ruler of the Sikhs. Seizing Lahore (1799) and Amritsar (1809), he established himself as the leading Sikh chieftain. In 1809 he made a treaty with the British, by which he agreed not to expand his domain south of the Sutlej River.
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 (1780–1839), who established a Sikh kingdom in the Punjab. After his death, conflict with the British caused the Sikh WarsSikh Wars
(1845–49), two conflicts preceding the British annexation of the Punjab. By a treaty with the British in 1809, the Sikh ruler of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh, had accepted the Sutlej River as the southern boundary of his domain.
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 and the subjugation of the Punjab, after which Sikh soldiers formed a significant part of the British armies in India. Despite Sikh protests, the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent divided their homeland. Militant Sikhs and Hindu Jats fought the Muslims of Punjab in a struggle that resulted in over a million casualties. Some 2.5 million Sikhs migrated from West Punjab (in Pakistan) into East Punjab (in India). The years immediately following partition brought a period of relative stability and prosperity.

More recently, militant Sikhs have called for an autonomous Sikh state, Khalistan, within or separate from India. Turmoil in the Punjab erupted in the early 1980s, marked most dramatically by the 1984 storming by the Indian Army of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which had been taken over by militant Sikhs. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in reprisal, after which mobs (some incited by local Congress party leaders) massacred Sikhs throughout India: in Delhi alone, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed. Religious hostilities and communal violence in the Punjab continued into the early 1990s.


See K. Singh, A History of the Sikhs (2 vol., 1963–66); J. D. Cunningham, A History of the Sikhs (repr. 1966); G. Singh, The Religion of the Sikhs (1971); W. H. McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (1976); J. O'Connell, ed., Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century (1988).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

New religious movements are sometimes formed on the borders between two or more established religions. Voodoo (see Voodoo/Vodou/Vodun) is one example. Another is Sikhism. Now numbering some eight million people, it began early in the sixteenth century when its founder, Nanak (1469-1539), had a vision. Steeped in both Muslim and Hindu tradition, Nanak was a mystic poet who believed that God—the all-encompassing God who is called by many names and who is above all understanding—had appeared to him in a vision. "There is no Hindu," he told his followers. "There is no Muslim." Sikhs call God Sat Nam, the True or Absolute Name. It is not important, claimed Nanak, to use only this particular term. God doesn't care what name you use. But it is important to understand that God is not limited by what name we choose to employ. The repetition of Sat Nam is true devotion, equal to any Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca or any Hindu journey to Benares. Freedom is found in submission to Sat Nam.

This is the essence of Sikhism. It combines the mystical tradition of Hinduism, the absolute devotion of ritualistic worship of Brahman, "He who cannot be named," with the fierce Muslim loyalty and submission to the one, all-encompassing Allah, "the God." The name of the religion means "learner."

Nanak thought of himself as a guru, a teacher of the new faith. Nine more gurus were to follow him, and after the death of the tenth and last, the scriptures of Sikhism were composed. They are called the Holy Granth and comprise poems and writings of the ten gurus.

Those who believe in power, Sing of His power; Others chant of His gifts As His messages and emblems; Some sing of His greatness, And his gracious acts; Some sing of His wisdom Hard to understand; Some sing of Him as the fashioner of the body, Destroying what he has fashioned; Others praise Him for taking away life And restoring it anew. Some proclaim His Existence To be far, desperately far, from us; Others sing of Him As here and there a presence Meeting us face to face. To sing truly of the transcendent Lord Would exhaust all vocabularies, all human powers of expression, Myriads have sung of Him in innumerable strains. His gifts to us flow in such plenitude That man wearies of receiving what God bestows; Age on unending age, and lives on His bounty; Carefree, O Nanak, the Glorious Lord smiles.

Sikhism has no formal priesthood. Private worship at home in the morning and evening is encouraged. Worship services at the temple consist of hymns and prayers,

readings from the Holy Granth, sermons, and the sharing of a sort of communion rite at the end of worship and in dinners following the service. For five hundred years, Sikhs sat on the floor while they dined after worship as a physical testimony to equality. During the twentieth century, however, some Sikh temples began to introduce tables and chairs, prompting accusations of elitism from more traditional worshipers.

Sikhism can best be understood as a mainstream, monotheistic religion with a strong emphasis on ethical behavior, seeing itself as a religion that transcends sectarian traditions.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a religious reformist movement that later developed into a religion. Sikhism was founded in the Punjab as one of the bhakti sects by Guru Nanak (1469–1539). A monotheistic religion, it combines many tenets of Hinduism with elements —sometimes conflicting—of bhakti and Sufism. Sikhism finds its foundation in the concept of a single god or divine origin, who is expressed in all that exists. It asserts the equality of all people before god, regardless of caste or social position, and rejects both the elaborate ritual and the asceticism that mark external forms of worship. Early Sikhism reflected the ideology of urban merchant and artisan circles, which opposed the dominance of the feudal lords and the supremacy of Brahmanism.

Under Nanak’s successors, the Sikh sect developed a well-defined organization. Amar Das (1552–74), the third guru, made the power of the guru hereditary and founded the dynasty of spiritual rulers of the Sikhs. The fifth guru, Arjan (1581–1606), compiled the Granth, the Sikh holy book, which is kept in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Sikh religious center. The democratic nature of Sikhism enhanced its popularity among the peasants and artisans. The sharp deterioration of the lot of the peasant community in the second half of the 17th century resulted in a massive influx of Jats (peasants) into the Sikh sect, and the ideology of Sikhism became more clearly antifeudal in nature.

Under the tenth, and last, guru, Govind Singh (1675–1708), major reforms were carried out within the Sikh community. In 1699, Govind Singh called a general congress of Sikhs, at which he declared that the members constituted a community of equals (the Khalsa) and that a general assembly was the supreme organ of Sikhism. The hereditary authority of the gurus was abolished. Several practices were adopted to distinguish Sikhs from the rest of the Punjabi population. All Sikhs were required to wear a turban, long hair, and a beard and always to keep three steel objects—a sword, a comb, and a bracelet—on their persons. The honorific title singh (lion) was conferred on each Sikh. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Khalsa led the struggle of the peoples of the Punjab against the feudal lords and the empire of the Great Moguls. In 1765 the Sikhs created their own state.

The feudalization process within the Sikh community accelerated during the second half of the 18th century, and Sikhism lost the characteristics of an antifeudal democratic ideology. After two bitterly fought wars, the English annexed the Sikh state in 1849 (seeSIKH WARS).

Modern Sikhism is a religion with traditional dogmas. In India its practitioners constitute 1.8 percent of the population and primarily live in the state of Punjab. Class stratification and the exacerbation of social contradictions among Sikhs have resulted in the formation of various sects and political parties.


Guru Nanak. Moscow, 1972.
Kochnev, V. I. “Guru Govind Singkh—reformator sikkhizma.” In the collection Mifologiia i verovaniia narodov Vostochnoi i Iuzhnoi Azii. Moscow, 1973.
Macauliffe, M. A. The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings, and Authors, vols. 1–6. Oxford, 1909.
Ahluwalia, M. M. Kukas, the Freedom Fighters of the Punjab. Bombay, 1965.
Cunningham, J. A History Of the Sikhs. Delhi, 1966.
Singh, Gopal. Guru Nanak. New Delhi, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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