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Population percentage Sikh map
Punjab Region in South Asia

Punjab is a region in South Asia that includes parts of India and Pakistan

Sikhism is a fairly new religion that began in the 1400’s CE in northern India. Followers of the religion are called Sikhs (seeks). Worldwide, Sikhs number more than 23 million, making them the 5th largest religion. More than 90 percent of Sikhs live in the Punjab region which includes India and parts of Pakistan. India also has a state called Punjab where Sikhs form close to 65 percent of the population.


Sikhism is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. He was the first of 10 gurus (teachers or masters) of the Sikh religion. Guru Nanak challenged the main religious beliefs of his time. He rejected the caste system and rituals that divided society. The main belief in Sikhism is faith in one God—Vāhigurū. This all developed against Islam in Pakistan and Hinduism in India--Sikhs were often persecuted for their beliefs.

Sikhism has a complicated belief system as it pertains to who and where God exists. Sikhs believe in one God, which sounds like they would be monotheistic. However, they also believe God is within all things in the universe. For example, God is in the dirt, water, air, and within all living things. Got isn't a person in the sky--God IS the sky and doesn't take any other form. The idea that God is everything in the universe is called Pantheism. Pan means "all" and theism means God (from the Greek theos).

However, Sikhs also believe that God is bigger than just the universe. God extends beyond the physical universe. This idea is called Panentheism. These words were invented well after the development of Sikhism, so Sikhs might not use these terms to define their faith, but religious scholars have defined Sikhism's conceptualization of God as a form of panentheism.

Pantheism vs Panentheism graphic
Fresco of Guru Nanak

Fresco of Guru Nanak from the 19th Century

Around the age of 30, Guru Nanak reported a profound encounter with God. Inspired by this experience, he began spreading the message of the oneness of God through hymns known as shabads. Subsequently, Guru Nanak founded a village, persisting in his preaching and contributing to the formation of what would evolve into the Sikh tradition.

Nanak stressed that God can only be “seen” from "the inward eye", or the "heart" of a human being.   Followers are encouraged to reach enlightenment (total knowledge). Nanak emphasized understanding God through meditation, which allows communication between God and human beings.  Meditation is a mental exercise where you try to go beyond regular thinking and reach a state of deep relaxation, awareness, and thought.

The Sikhism holy books are called Adi Granth and Dasam Granth. They are a collection of around thousands of hymns and other text written by the 10 Gurus. Sikhs regard this as more than just scripture--they believe it is the 11th and final living Guru.

Nanak stressed that Sikhs should balance work, worship, and charity, and should defend the rights of all creatures, and in particular, fellow human beings.  The 10th guru began the tradition of Khalsa, which means to be pure or free. This guru witnessed his father being beheaded--evidence of the persecution of Sikhs. Since the late 1600’s many Sikh men have made it a tradition to join the military and Sikh warriors have been feared and respected by their enemies.  This continues today, as many Sikhs are members of the Indian Army.  All boys are given the middle name or last name Singh (Sanskrit for “lion”), and all girls are given the middle name or last name Kaur (daughter, lioness, or princess).

Sikh soldiers

Sikh warriors playing and demonstrating a form of Sikh martial arts

The Harmandir Sahib Sikh temple

The Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India, known informally as the Golden Temple, is the holiest gurdwara of Sikhism

There are very few required rituals or ceremonies in Sikhism. Sikhs do not preach to non-believers (evangelism). In addition, Sikhs don’t fast (not eating) or have required pilgrimages (religious trips), but followers still make trips to their temples. Sikh temples are called gurdwaras.  They are open to all people, regardless of religion, background, caste or race. Gurdwaras often have a large hall that can be used for weddings or other meetings. Every gurdwara has a large room where the Adi Granth can be found and read.

Sikh men are required to follow the 5 K’s of Sikhism.  Kes is the requirement to not cut your hair, maintain a beard and wear a turban.  Kangha is a small comb they must carry and use to brush their hair twice a day.  Kara is a circular bangle bracelet that all Sikhs wear to remind them of the one god Vahiguru.  Kirpan is a dagger (knife) all Sikh men must carry at all times.  Finally, Kaccha is a special undergarment with a drawstring to remind Sikh to keep their chastity and to be ready for battle at all times. 

The Five Ks are not just symbols to be left on the shelf, but articles of faith that form the identity and commitment to the Sikh way of life. Most Sikh men do their best to follow the Five K's when possible.

The Five Ks comb dagger and bracelet

The comb, bracelet, and dagger Sikh men should carry according to the 5 K's

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