Sikhism in India

Defining Characteristics: Sikhism is basically a combination of Islamic and Hindu beliefs. It is significant in that it offered an alternative view of the Creator, insisting that all gods are actually one god worshipped under different names in more or less complete forms. The Sikh concept of salvation is a combination of grace and works.

Holy Book: Guru Granth Sahib. This book, originally known as the Adi Granth, is written in a special poetic form using a special script composed of six different languages. Because of this, it is the most difficult-to-read holy book in the world and, in fact, can’t be read by many of its adherents. Despite prohibitions against idolatry, it is revered and virtually worshipped by many Sikh followers.

Founder: Guru Nanak

Founded: Early 16th century

Range: Roughly 7 million Sikhs found primarily in India but found in countries worldwide, including the UK, Canada, and the US.

Sikh Calendar & Festival Dates



Origins of Sikhism

Guru Nanak, a Kshatriya, grew up in a village in northern India. He was heavily influenced by Sufi Islamic and Bhakti Hindu holy men who taught there.

Over time, Nanak became more and more critical of the ritualism and idolatry so prevalent in Hinduism. At the age of 36, he left his family and abandoned himself to undiluted focus on the search for truth. He prayed, fasted, and meditated.

Ultimately, Nanak reached the conclusion that all religions served the same god under different names — a notion that’s also popular in modern times, despite the vastly different characters and values attributed to the various deities. He didn’t officially break with Hindu religion, but he explicitly renounced some common Hindu customs, including idol worship, infanticide, caste, and sacrifices. A gentle man people were drawn to, he called for communal meals in which people of all castes, faiths, and sexes ate together, and walked enormous distances across India and beyond to declare what he believed to be the truth.

He called the “one god” he attributed to all religions Sat Nam — True Name. Sikhs — disciples — of the guru followed his teaching ... Sikhism.

The Gurus

Nine other human gurus came after Nanak’s time. Some significant developments that occurred under their leadership include:

Guru Ram Das: Ram Das, the 4th guru, founded Amritsar and designated it as a place of pilgrimage. Amritsar is the site of the Golden Temple — the most important temple in Sikhism. Guru Arjun: Arjun, the 5th guru, began organizing the faith into a powerful political force. He also compiled Sikhism’s first holy book, the Adi Granth, which included psalms by Guru Nanak.

Guru Gobind Singh: The 10th and last guru, Gobind Singh declared that after him, the holy book, now termed Guru Granth Sahib, was to be the only guru followed by all Sikhs. He also cemented the fighting structure that had been developing under his predecessors.

These militant Sikhs were called Khalsa, and they were certainly a force to be reckoned with: roughly 100 years after Guru Gobind was assassinated by two Muslims, this army of lions shook off Mughal dominance and overthrew hill rajas to bring to life their own Sikh nation there in the fertile Punjab.

Read more about Indian Sikh history.

Other Famous Sikhs

Some other famous or up-and-coming Sikhs of Indian descent include: Mai Bhago, a warrior and one of the most famous women in Sikh history; Mata Khivi,wife of Guru Anghad and the only woman mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib for her compassion in starting the langar system of free kitchens; Bhai Gurdas, a famous scribe, poet, and theologian; Gracy Singh, an actress and dancer; Dr. Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister of India; Bhai Ram Singh, Indian freedom fighter; Herb Dhaliwal, Liberal MP and first Indo-Canadian cabinet minister; Nina & Gurmant Grewal, a married couple and Conservative MPs in the Canadian Parliament; Nikki Randhawa Haley, Indian-American South Carolina state representative and then governor; and feminist author and publisher Urvashi Butalia.


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