Etymology of Sikh
The term ‘Sikh’ is believed to have its origins in the Sanskrit language, precisely from two expressions namely, ‘siksha’ or ‘sishya’. In Sanskrit, the expression ‘siksha’ conventionally means ‘teaching’ while ‘sishya’ refers to a ‘student’ or ‘disciple’.
History of Sikhs
A close study of the pages of Indian history reveal the exploits of the Sikhs like Maharaja Ranjit Singh and in the later years Bhagat Singh who put up a brave front in the face of the severe tyranny unleashed by the British colonisers.
Concept of Sikhism
Researchers have come up with multiple accounts while defining the concept of Sikhism. According to one school of thought, a person can only qualify as a Sikh if he adheres to the practice of the ‘Panth’ and the ‘Granth’. It emphasises that those who have placed their supreme faith in the knowledge articulated through the spirit of the community or ‘Panth’ and those revealed in the Holy Book or ‘Granth’ can be termed as Sikhs.
Sikhism can be roughly said to have originated in the second half of the 15th century, with the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469 AD. Much of the information about Nanak is available from the accounts of the Janam-sakhis or hagiographers and his teachings have been compiled in the Granth Sahib or the Adi Granth, the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs. Guru Nanak was succeeded by Guru Angad Dev and this practice continued till the 10th Guru Gobind Singh who pronounced the Guru Granth Sahib as the heir to this illustrious tradition. For the Sikhs, the essence of their religion is primarily monotheistic. The ‘Granth Sahib’ which was compiled by the 5th Sikh Guru Arjan Dev laid down the tenets in the form of hymnical compositions in the Gurmukhi script.
Society and Religion of Sikhs
The Sikh community practices the ‘Gurmat’ which contains the central principle governing Sikhism i.e. faith in One Supreme Divine Being. The basic philosophy inherent in the Sikh religious faith propounds the presence of an omniscient God who pervades all forms of creation and whose principal intention is to enlighten the human beings with a realization of the purpose of their birth in the universe. The final culmination, according to Sikhism, lies in union with the supreme Divine Being. Sikhism condemned idolatry and hence the Sikhs vouch for the formless deity or the ‘nirakara’.
The Sikh Gurus called for total abolition of ceremonial offerings, rituals and other forms of blind superstition that were common in those days. Every individual was considered to be uniform and equal before the eyes of the God, irrespective of caste and class distinctions. The Sikhs developed a progressive outlook, owing considerably to the Sikh religious faith.
Sects of Sikhs
There are several Sikh sects, four of which are particularly important. These sects are considered to be offshoots of Sikhism. Though there are differences in ideology, there are also striking similarities. Some of the sects of Sikhs are as follows;
Khalsa Sikhs: Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru was the founder of the Khalsa system. In 1699, the Khalsa Sikhs or 'Amritdharis' were established as a martial force or 'saint-soldiers' who had to follow a set of five principles or adhere to the five 'K's. The regulatory codes of the Khalsa Sikhs entailed an obligation to wear the 'panj kaakar' or 'panj kakke' (five Ks) as part of their daily garb. These are: 'Kanga' or comb, 'Kara' or iron armlet, 'Kes' referring to long uncut tresses, the 'Kachha' or a form of breeches and finally the dagger strapped across the body called 'Kirpan'. These objects are symbolic of the various ideologies that have been upheld by Sikhism like equality, sincerity, loyalty, fight against oppression and contemplation of the name of God. The male Khalsa Sikhs have been bestowed the title of 'Singh' meaning lion while the women are attributed as 'Kaur' meaning 'princess'.
Sahajdhari Sikhs: Contrary to the Amritdharis or Khalsa Sikhs, there are also the 'Sahajdharis'. A Sahajdhari Sikh is one who agrees to embrace the principles advocated by Sikhism in their own will. The Sahajdharis enjoy certain relaxations and do not have to rigidly comply with the 'panj kakke' rules that are mandatory for the Khalsa Sikhs.
Jat Sikhs: There are also the Jat Sikhs belonging to the Bajwa, Deol, Dhillon, Mangat, Sindhu and many others who are known for their prowess in agriculture and farming and were christened by the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh.
Khatri Sikhs: The Khatri Sikhs are famous for their military expertise and includes the Bedi, Sodhi, Bhalla clans.
Namdhari Sikhs: The Kukas or the Namdhari Sikhs worship the tenets of their chieftain Jagjit Singh contrary to the authority of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Festivals of Sikhs
The Sikh festivals are organized according to the Nanakshahi calendar. The most significant of all Sikh festivals are the Baisakhi celebrating the onset of the spring season and Gurupurabs celebrated in honour of the Sikh Gurus. Hola Mohalla and Diwali are also observed by the Sikhs.