5. Early Sikh History and Formation
Sikhism is an independent religion that emerged in the environment of Hinduism and Islam. Sikhism as a religious movement developed at the beginning of the 16th century in North-West India. The Sikhs fought against the Great Mughals between the 17th and 18th centuries and created their state in the Punjab (1765 - 1849), India. Sikhism as the religion was a protest against the caste system of Hinduism and political domination of the Muslim Mughal dynasty. The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak (1469 - 1539). His traveling and preaching got him even to Mecca, and towards the beginning of the 16th century, he finally settled in the Punjab. Over time, the Sikhs became an independent group, a kind of state within a state, with its unique ideology, laws, and leaders. The fourth Guru of Sikhs was Ram Das (1534 - 1581), who became famous as a connoisseur and interpreter of Sikh hymns. He founded the Amritsar city ("Pond of Immortality"), which became the biggest spiritual center of Sikhism.
4. Fundamental Beliefs
The fundamental principles of the Sikh religion are also inscribed in the holy book of this religion, the Guru Granth Sahib. Sikh means a "disciple." Sikhs believe in one God, the Almighty Creator, who is all-pervading, incomprehensible, and unattainable. His real name is not known to anyone. Only God Himself knows the purpose of creation, which is filled with love by His Grace. The Sikh’s God leads no one nor to punish anyone. He exudes Compassion and Love, and devoid of hate and passion. God could be seen in two ways: as a Nirgun (Absolute) and as Sargun (personal God within each one of us). According to the Sikhs teachings, before creation, God existed as the Absolute, but in the process of creation, he started to express himself. Before creation, there was nothing - no heaven, no hell, and no three worlds - only formless.
3. Arts and Music
Hymns known as Gurbani are used by devout Sikhs to spread the sacred words of Sikhism. Shabad Kirtans are a Sikh’s classic traditional music and is designed to find peace and tranquility in the souls of both a singer and listener. The Gurus of Sikhism all sang words from the Guru Granth Sahib in the form of Shabad Kirtans using local folk music styles and instruments. The traditions continue to be followed today.
2. Cultural Significance and Diaspora
Sikhs are not required to perform elaborate rituals, go on pilgrimages or fast. Sikhs men all carry the surname or middle name of "Singh" while women have "Kaur" associated with them. Sikhs are also strictly forbidden to beg for alms. Religion dictates the Sikh men to wear five items on their persona all the time: uncut hair (hidden inside a turban), a sword (kirpān), kaṛā (a metallic bracelet), a kind of undergarment, and kaṅghā (a wooden comb). Today's young Sikhs are retreating from their centuries-old traditions. They neglect turban, do regular shaving and wear normal civilian clothes. The inhabitants of the Indian state Punjab, called Punjabis dominate in the Sikh’s ethnic composition. Sikhs also live in Southeast Asia, Africa, on the island of Fiji, in the United States, Canada, the UK, Thailand, as well as in Russia. The total number of Sikhs reaches over 30 million. Thus, the number of adherents of Sikhism ranks the 9th place among the world's religions.
Aware of their unique identity, in the 16th century the Sikhs were forced to unite in the face of Islamization from the Mughal Empire. At that time Sikhism finally formed as an ethnoreligious group. One of the threats that Sikhism faces these days is that Indians do not recognize Sikhism as a religion separate from Hinduism. Male Sikhs with a beard, wearing a turban, more and more perceived worldwide as the followers of Hinduism. Hindus say that Sikhism is just one of many forms of their religion. Such claims pave the way for fear that Sikhs could fail to retain their distinctive religious identity and over time immerse into Hinduism. In fact, some Sikh traditions are very close to those of Hindus. Although the Sikh Gurus condemn the caste differences, the caste system is still alive among certain sections of the Sikhs. Caste system enveloping social and cultural life is one of the most deep-rooted aspects of the Hindu faith. When the Sikhs adhere to the caste system, they contradict themselves, stating of being different religion whatsoever, while carry along all cultural and moral foundations of Hinduism. Another threat of Sikhism is survival difficulties for Sikhs living outside India, which totals to around 40%. The other countries' lifestyle calls for adaptation to the cultures of the material-oriented and business traditions. Such adaptations often are against the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. The same difficulties are experienced by Sikhs living outside the community. Often they have to deviate from the practice required in Sikhism. Differences in the interpretation of the doctrine in its connection with modern life lead to disagreement among the Sikhs themselves. Despite the difficulties, the religion continues to grow. And the last but not least, the principle of Sikhism to abstain from putting pressure on the other person for the sake of own interests is increasingly distributed as a universal moral standard.