The Basics Of Sikhism
Sikhism arose as an attempt to harmonize Islam and Hinduism. But viewing Sikhism as a harmonization of the two religions do not capture the theological and cultural uniqueness of Sikhism. To call Sikhism a compromise between Islam and Hinduism would be taken as an insult akin to calling a Christian a heretical Jew. Sikhism is not a cult nor a hybrid but a distinct religious movement.
The recognized founder of Sikhism, Nanak (1469–1538), was born to Hindu parents in India. Nanak is said to have received a direct call from God establishing him as a guru. He soon became known in the Punjab region of Northeast India for his devotion and piety and his bold assertion, “There is no Muslim, and there is no Hindu.” He accumulated a considerable number of disciples (sikhs). He taught that God is one, and he designated God as the Sat Nam (“true name”) or Ekankar, combining the syllables ek (“one”), aum (a mystical sound expressing God), and kar (“Lord”).
This monotheism does not include personality nor should it be blurred with any kind of Eastern pantheism (God is all). However, Nanak retained the doctrines of reincarnation and karma, which are notable tenets of Eastern religions such as with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Nanak taught that one can escape the reincarnation cycle (samsara) only through mystical union with God through devotion and chanting. Nanak was followed by an unbroken line of nine appointed gurus that maintained the leadership into the 18th century (1708).
Sikhism was originally pacifist, but it could not stay that way for long. Its rejection of the supremacy of Mohammad the prophet was taken as blasphemy and inspired much opposition from the historically warlike faith of Islam. By the time of the tenth guru, Gobind Rai, also known as Gobind Singh (“lion”), the Khalsa, a world-renowned class of Sikh warriors, had organized. The Khalsa were characterized by their “five K’s”: kesh (long hair), kangha (a steel comb in the hair), kach (short pants), kara (a steel bracelet), and kirpan (a sword or dagger worn at the side). The British, who had a colonizing presence in India at that time, made use of the Khalsa as warriors and bodyguards.
Gobind Singh was eventually assassinated by Muslims. He was the last human guru. Who was his successor? The Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth, took his place as indicated by its alternate name, Guru Granth. The Adi Granth, while not worshipped, is ascribed divine status. Despite its pacifist roots, Sikhism has come to be known as militant, which is unfortunate because such militancy stems largely from geographical issues outside of Sikh control. The hotly contested border of India and Pakistan partitioned in 1947 cuts directly across the Punjab region where the Sikhs had had a high degree of autonomy.
Efforts to retain their political and social identity have often failed. Terrorists have taken extreme measures to establish a Sikh state, Khalistan, but the majority of Sikhs are peace-loving people.
In conclusion, we may say that Sikhism has historical and theological traces of both Hinduism and Islam but cannot be properly understood as a mere hybrid of these two. It has evolved into a distinct religious system.
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