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What does the word Sikh mean?
It is a Punjabi word deriving from the Sanskrit, shishya, which means 'disciple'.

Who was Guru Nanak?
Guru Nanak, the first Guru, born in 1469 in the Panjab, some 40 miles from Lahore. He was recognised as a very spiritual person from a young age, but began travelling to preach his message around the age of thirty. His teachings focussed on the oneness of God and the equality of all castes and creeds and between men and women espousing Sikhism as a uniquely revealed religion. Showing his tolerance of other faiths he travelled extensively over the Indian sub-continent and Middle East often accompanied by Mardana, an aged Muslim musician, and Bala, a Hindu peasant.

Who were the ten Sikh Gurus?
(G = start date of guruship)
Guru Nanak, 1469 - 1539 G: 1507
Guru Angad Dev 1504 - 1552 G: 1539
Guru Amur Das 1479 - 1574 G: 1552
Guru Ram Das 1534 - 1581 G: 1574
Guru Arjan Dev 1563 -1606 G:1581
Guru Har Gobind 1595 - 1644 G:1606
Guru Har Raj 1630 - 1661 G:1644
Guru Hari Krishen 1656 - 1664 G:1661
Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621 - 1675 G:1664
Guru Gobind Singh 1666 - 1707 G:1675

What are the origins of the military traditions of the Sikhs?
The message of the Sikh faith, although peaceful, has a strong theme of justice and upholding human rights running through it. The Gurus criticised oppressive regimes, such as the invading Mughals. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjun was tortured and put to death by the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir. The sixth Guru then built up an army to defend the rights of the oppressed. Similarly the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was put to death defending the rights of the Kashmiri Brahmins, people of a different faith to his own, to practice their religion. The tenth and last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, is famous for saying that if all other means fail, the raising of the sword is just. Thus the Sikhs built up a strong military tradition which was key to the establishment of the Sikh Kingdom, which lasted until it fell to the British in 1849. During the British Raj Sikhs became loyal to the British and made up a large proportion of the British Indian Army, fighting in both World Wars.

What is the significance of the Khalsa?
In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh called together over 80,000 Sikhs on Vaisakhi Day. Holding up an unsheathed sword he asked the masses, if anyone was prepared 'to offer their head for their Guru and faith'. Five men responded, the Guru leading them in turn into a tent and reappearing each time with a bloodied sword. After some time the Guru reappeared with all five men dressed in saffron robes and carrying swords. He performed an initiation ceremony and proclaimed the five as members of the Khalsa brotherhood. The word Khalsa means 'the pure'. He then bowed down in front of the five and requested that they initiate him. That day many thousands partook 'Amrit' and joined the Khalsa.

What are the five Ks?
They are five religious symbols beginning with the Panjabi letter which sounds identical to 'K':
Kesh (uncut or long hair). Sikhs believe hair should not be cut from any part of the body
Kanga (small wooden comb) required to keep long hair well groomed
Kara (steel bangle) with steel representing strength and the circle of continuity
Kirpan (small sword) a symbol of self-defence and the fight against injustice
Kachhera (a pair of shorts now usually worn under the clothes) which formed part of the military uniform under Guru Gobind Singh and also a symbol of sexual restraint

Are there Sikh scriptures?
The fifth Guru compiled the writings of the Gurus that preceded him and added hymns written by saintly figures from other faiths, into the Adi Granth, and installed the scripture in Harmandir Sahib (now also known as the Golden Temple at Amritsar). The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, added some further verses. He announced that there would be no further human Gurus and renamed the Adi Granth, the Guru Granth Sahib, directing people to draw spiritual guidance from the scriptures.

What are the most important beliefs held by Sikhs?

Sikhs believe:
- in one God without physical attributes or image but present in all people and things
- in a society where men and women are equal and democracy is practised in everyday life
- in earning their living honestly and through hard work
- in sharing what they earn with the poor
- in serving God and their fellow human beings

Where do Sikhs worship?
Sikhs worship at any time and anywhere they happen to be by remembering God and reading verses from the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs also pray together in the gurdwara (place of worship) which is open to everyone. Inside the gurdwara, verses from the Guru Granth Sahib are read and sung to music. The langar, a free community kitchen, is also an important part of the gurdwara.

What is the significance of the Golden Temple?
The Harmandir Sahib (temple of God) was established by the fifth Guru, with the foundation stone being laid by a prominent Muslim. It was built with four doors to show that it was open to people from all places. It was covered in gold leaf during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and became known as the Golden Temple, when the British arrived in Panjab.

Is there a code of conduct for Sikhs?
Sikhs should not remove hair from their bodies, should not commit adultery and are forbidden to smoke or chew tobacco or related substances or to eat meat from ritually killed animals.

What do Sikhs wear?
Sikhs live in many countries of the world and usually wear what is customary in that country. Men generally wear turbans to cover their hair and women often keep their hair covered with a scarf.

What is the origin of Sikh names?
After a child is born the parents visit the gurdwara, pray and open the Guru Granth Sahib at random. The first letter of the first hymn on that page is taken as the first letter of the child's name. The second name of a boy is usually Singh and for a girl is Kaur. These names were given to all Sikhs by the tenth Guru on the first Vaisakhi.

How do you become a Sikh?
A Sikh is any person who believes in:
(i) one Immortal Being
(ii) the ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh
(iii) the Guru Granth Sahib
(iv) the utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and
(v) the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru.
A Sikh
does not owe allegiance to any other religion. Although the majority of Sikhs have origins in the Panjab, there are many people of different races to have become Sikhs.

What are the main Sikh ceremonies or rites of passage?
The Khande di Pahul or Amrit ceremony is an initiation bringing Sikhs into membership of the Khalsa. The marriage ceremony, based on the potential of creating a happy and loving home together, takes place in the gurdwara with the couple sitting in front of the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs are usually cremated and the daily bedtime prayer is read during the cremation. Family and friends will normally gather at a gurdwara and relevant verses are sung.

What are the main Sikh festivals?
Vaisakhi, celebrated on 13 or 14 April each year is the most important date in the Sikh calendar and commemorates the revelation of the Khalsa on Vaisakhi Day in 1699. Sikhs also commemorate the birth anniversaries of the Gurus. Most significant celebrations occur in November for Guru Nanak and December/January for Guru Gobind Singh. The martyrdom days of Guru Arjun Dev (June) and Gur Tegh Bahadur (November/December) are also important commemorations. Bandhi Chorr Divas is celebrated on the same day as the Hindu festival of Diwali, as the sixth Guru was freed and arranged the release of other prisoners of conscience on this day.

Does the Sikh community have a homeland?

The Panjab is considered the homeland of the Sikhs. When India and Pakistan were divided and given independence the Sikhs did not demand a separate homeland, but were promised "the glow of freedom" by the Indian leaders. During Partition in 1947 the Panjab was split into two and two and a half million Sikhs had to leave their homes, lands and gurdwaras and move to India as refugees. However, the Indian authorities did not live up to their promises and Sikhism was not even recognised as a distinct religion in the Indian constitution. The Sikhs tried to establish Panjabi Suba and fought for their fair share in education, employment, industry and politics, but in 1966 the state of Panjab was further divided. Today the Panjab is still part of the Indian state though many Sikhs continue to strive for an independent homeland.

How many Sikhs are there in the world today?
There are more than twenty million Sikhs in the world today and most of them live in the Panjab where they form 60% of the population compared to 2% of the population of India as a whole. Approximately 600,000 live in Britain forming the largest community outside India. There are another 450,000 in the USA and Canada and a number of smaller communities in many countries including East Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Iran, Fiji, Australia, Thailand, Germany and Hong Kong.

How has Sikhism changed or adapted to contemporary Britain?
Whilst the gurdwaras continue to be a strong feature of community life, many young Sikhs, born and brought up away from India, have become organised, creating a new culture which bridges the traditional and the contemporary. Many Sikhs occupy responsible professional positions whilst others have suffered discrimination - in the early period Sikh men often found it difficult to get jobs until they stopped wearing turbans. Whilst women play a leading role in the services and organisation of the gurdwaras and have jobs outside the home there are different expectations for men and women within the family. As with all other communities their lives today are determined by economic, political and social circumstances as well as cultural and religious factors.

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Questions and answers about Sikhism